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10 December 2023

Turk's EU minister stands by genocide comments

By Reuters

Turkey's EU affairs minister repeated on Tuesday his denial that Ottoman Turks had committed genocide against Armenians nearly 100 years ago, in a challenge to Swiss officials who are investigating whether similar comments last month broke the law.

Turkey summoned the Swiss ambassador on Monday to complain about the decision by Swiss officials to investigate minister Egemen Bagis's comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos and also at a concert in Zurich.

"I said there on that day that what happened in 1915 was not genocide and I repeat that today. Nobody should doubt that I will give the same answer every time I am asked," Bagis told a news conference.

"I don't recognise any power that can detain any minister of the Turkish Republic. I am very much at ease on this subject," he said. "If necessary I would go again to Davos and say the same thing."

Swiss anti racism laws make it illegal to deny a genocide.

Last month, the French Senate approved similar legislation, prompting an angry response from Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan termed the legislation "discriminatory and racist".

More than 130 lawmakers who had voted against the bill have appealed to France's highest court, the Constitutional Council, to overturn the law, arguing that the events in 1915-17 were still the subject of historical contention, and the legislation ultimately infringed the right to free speech.

The court has a month to decide.

Armenia, backed by many historians and parliaments, says about 1.5 million Christian Armenians were killed in what is now eastern Turkey during World War One in a deliberate policy of genocide ordered by the Ottoman government.

The Ottoman empire was dissolved at the end of the war, but successive Turkish governments and the vast majority of Turks believe the charge of genocide is an insult to their nation. Ankara argues there was heavy loss of life on both sides during fighting in the region.

An attorney for the Zurich state prosecutor's office said Swiss officials had started an initial probe into Bagis's remarks after receiving a complaint from the Switzerland-Armenia group. As a minister, Bagis may enjoy immunity from prosecution.

Swiss authorities have taken legal action against several people who have denied the Armenian genocide. The most prominent case is the conviction of Turkish politician Dogu Perincek, who was fined 3,000 Swiss francs in 2007.