Turkey should have invited Switzerland instead of Azerbaijan to G-20

Turkey should have invited Switzerland instead of Azerbaijan to G-20

Turkey and Switzerland have never been best pals in the years preceding the 2000s. During the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) rule, the relationship started having an inconsistent course with ups and downs. The Swiss parliament’s decision in 2003 to recognize the World War I Armenian tragedy as genocide despite government opposition was not appreciated by Turkey.

The Armenian issue became an even bigger headache between the two countries when Doğu Perinçek, a Turkish political activist, who has repeatedly said the 1915 tragedy was not genocide during his visits to Switzerland, was found guilty by a Swiss court in 2007. The Turkish government canceled the visits of Swiss ministers, including the then-foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

Yet interestingly the same year, 2007, Switzerland became a key actor in the reconciliation effort between Turkey and Armenia. Under Swiss mediation, Turkey and Armenia signed in 2009 the historic protocols to normalize their relations. Unfortunately the protocols have not yet been implemented, but this has not affected the good atmosphere between Ankara and Bern. In fact in 2011 Micheline Calmy-Rey who by then had become the president of the country, visited Turkey and as a gesture, was asked to address the forth ambassadorial meeting held in Ankara. By then Perinçek’s case was already being discussed in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Fearing that the court case could turn into a ruling about whether Armenian killings amounted to genocide or not, Ankara wasn’t specifically happy initially about Perinçek’s decision to apply to the court in Strasbourg. Let’s also not forget that Perinçek was (long after he took the case to ECHR) sentenced as part of the Ergenekon case which evolved around claims of plot to topple the government. He was later released.

In 2013 ECHR decided in favor of Perinçek and ruled Switzerland violated his freedom of speech. This was a historic decision. First, because it send a straight message to those countries who took steps or plan to take steps to criminalize (Armenian) genocide denial.  Second, although it has not ruled whether Armenian massacres amounted to genocide, it did underline the fact that this was an issue under debate – that, of course, did not make Armenians happy at all.

I am sure at that stage, deep down, the Turkish state was indeed grateful to Switzerland and Perinçek for this outcome. Perhaps Switzerland even expected to be awarded by Turkey for this unintended consequence; like being invited to the G-20 meeting as a special guest, as Ankara was to take over the presidency for 2015?

But Switzerland angered Ankara by objecting to the ruling and the case was taken to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber for the final verdict. Interestingly, despite Ankara’s reaction, I was told that Switzerland was among many other countries that wished to be invited by Turkey to the G-20 summit. According to G-20 procedures, the presidency can invite (in addition to the permanent members) a country that it sees as a very close friend and obviously in Turkey’s case it was Azerbaijan.

Still as a Turkish nation, we should be thankful to Switzerland for reminding the Turkish state of the importance of freedom of speech. Because ironically, while the AKP is heavily criticized for its poor record on freedom of expression, the representative of Turkish state underlined the importance of freedom of speech in his address to the hearing at the Grand Chamber that took place last week.

Turkey’s envoy in Strasbourg recalled a previous decision of the Court that ruled “the opinions expressed on these issues by one side may sometime offend the other side but […] a democratic society requires tolerance and broadmindedness in the face of controversial expressions.”

I wish AKP’s ruling elites were in the court that day. But then again, as far as AKP rulers are concerned, democratic values are recalled only when they suit their interests.