Position Paper of the Switzerland-Armenia Association

July 19, 2008 | Switzerland-Armenia Association | Bern

Armenia and Turkey: Secret Negotiations in Bern

The Switzerland-Armenia Association (SAA) is pleased that Switzerland has been chosen the location for the dialogue on the resumption of diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. The secret negotiations which apparently started on 8th of July, 2008 in Bern were confirmed indirectly by the Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan on 18th of July, 2008. At face value, this development is positive. However, the SAA believes that Turkey’s intention is to cast doubt again on the internationally legally recognized fact of the genocide of the Armenians of 1915-1917 and to slow down its further international recognition. This is all the more unacceptable as Switzerland has unequivocally condemned the denial of the Armenian genocide and its factual recognition at the level of the Federal Court. The SAA is convinced that a genuine dialogue between the two countries makes sense only if Turkey opens the borders with Armenia, which have been closed unilaterally since 1993.

For more than a month, the Armenian side has sent repeated signals in favor of a dialogue with Turkey. Federal Chancellor Micheline Calmy-Rey’s visit to the Armenian capital Yerevan on 26th and 27th of June of this year signaled Switzerland’s readiness to mediate. Since Armenia`s independence in1991, there have been no diplomatic relations between Turkey and Armenia. Since the summer of 1993, Turkey has unilaterally blocked the borders with Armenia because of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and because of the strategic alliance with Azerbaijan. Until today, Turkey has made the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Karabakh and the renunciation of Armenia’s international recognition of the genocide of 1915-1917 the precondition for the opening of the borders. In addition, Turkey has suggested for many years a “bilateral historic commission” between the two countries in order to reevaluate the facts of 1915-1917.

SAA is not against a scientific and broadly based international commission, which would thoroughly examine the unexplored aspects of the Armenian genocide and publish the findings. On the contrary, SAA believes it is high time that such initiatives be taken primarily under the auspices of the United Nations. ASA, however, is against all attempts to water down, marginalize or deny the fact of the genocide of the Armenians.

It would not be the first time that Switzerland attempts to negotiate between the two countries, especially on the genocide issue. Already on the 9th of July, 2001, under the initiative of the US Department of State, a first meeting between TARC (Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission) took place in Geneva between an unofficial Turkish delegation of six representatives (including former high-level diplomats whose foreign activities were closely linked to the denial of the Armenian genocide) and an Armenian delegation of four. At that time, the talks failed because of issue of the the Armenian genocide recognition. After the succeeding 2002 common election of a neutral legal body, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) was to determine whether or not the international public law definition of the United Nations of genocide was also applicable for the massacres of 1915-1917. Thereafter the Turkish delegation withdrew from the TARC. In 2004 the ICTJ unequivocally recognized that the fate of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire had to be confirmed as genocide. Turkey, unwilling to accept this judgment, terminated the dialogue and brought an end to the commission.

In the past, Switzerland and the head of the Swiss Foreign Ministry, Micheline Calmy-Rey have tried to clarify the matter of the “historical commission,” however, without much success, as Turkey was constantly determined to avoid the term genocide. Switzerland did mention an international commission, however, without clarifying what the tasks of this commission would have been. For this reason, SAA continues to be skeptical. It does not seem to be serious to engage in a dialogue to preserve the appearance of a diplomatic game, especially with a country such as Turkey where intellectual forces are legally prosecuted or murdered because of their opinions and publications on the genocide of the Armenians. The case of the publisher Ragip Zarakoglu, who was condemned for breaking the modified and allegedly EU-compliant article 301 of the Turkish penal code is a case in point. Another example is the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in January 2007.

The genocide of the Armenians is not negotiable! An improvement of the diplomatic relations between Ankara and Yerevan will only happen when Turkey unequivocally recognizes the historic truth of the 1915-1917 genocide and refrains from weakening this recognition through deceptive maneuvers. These Turkish intentions need to be recognized by the Swiss Government. Only thus will Switzerland be able to continue to fulfill her role as a credible mediator.


Sarkis Shahinian
President of the Switzerland-Armenia Association




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