Swiss-Turkish troubles: shadows from a distant past suddenly jeopardise diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Turkey. A report.

AuteurBucher, Marcel
Fonction Politics

Outspoken Swiss foreign minister Micheline Calmy-Rey often invites criticism. But when her official visit to Turkey envisaged in autumn 2003 was suddenly 'suspended' by the Turkish government, it was not chiefly due to her fault (although her desire to visit the troubled Kurdish region met with disapproval). The 'suspension' was due to the recognition of the 1915 Armenian massacres as genocide by the cantonal government of Vaud.

After the Swiss national parliament had adopted an analogous resolution in December 2003, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a sharp protest. (Previously, the EU Parliament, the UN and France had also condemned the Armenian genocide.) The Swiss government was accused of having taken the decision simply for internal political reasons, thereby offending the feelings of the Turkish people and ignoring the specific causes of the Armenian tragedy.

Even today, certain Turkish historians pretend that it was the Armenians together with the Russians who massacred 900,000 Turks and that, since Switzerland had played no part in modern Turkish history, it had no business interfering now. This is untrue as in some way Switzerland can be considered the cradle of modern secular Turkey, which even replaced the Islamic Sharia law by the Swiss Civil Code.

First Christian Nation

Mainly settled in the mountainous plateau of Anatolia and Transcaucasia, the Armenians were the first nation to adopt the Christian faith early in the fourth century. These very cultured people had their own traditions, alphabet and architectural style.

Independent Armenia fought many invaders until it was finally subjected by the Turks, nomadic warriors from Central Asia who later on founded the huge Ottoman Empire. Their Sultan considered it his mission to spread the true faith of Islam in a continuous jihad against the infidels, especially by conquering the coveted Kizilelma or "Red Apple" (Europe).

In his realm, non-Muslims were second-class citizens subject to dis. criminatory laws. The Armenians did not like their subservient status and despised the Turks as uncivilised barbarians. But due to their expertise in many fields, a growing number of them became very wealthy and Influential, especially as bankers, who handled the finances of the Sultanate, thereby arousing the envy of poor Muslims.

In the 19th century, Turkey--called the 'Sick Man at the Bosporus'--suffered catastrophic setbacks during costly wars, entailing even national bankruptcy. The...

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