The Swiss Foreign Ministry has not approved the art project titled ‘The Streetlights of Memory’ to be erected in Geneva in memory of the Armenian Genocide.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry has not approved the art project titled ‘The Streetlights of Memory’ to be erected in Geneva in memory of the Armenian Genocide. Didier Burkhalter, Foreign Minister and serving President of the Swiss Confederation, sent a letter to the Geneva Canton recommending that the authority “refuses to grant a building permit”. The letter is a “recommendation”, however, following this decision taken as a result of the “initiatives” taken by the Foreign Ministry of Turkey and Turkish organizations in Switzerland, a new location for the monument may besought. The first location determined by the Geneva City Council was the Ariana Park, near the United Nations Geneva Centre.
The letter was issued following President of the Swiss Confederation Burkhalter’s meeting in Bern with Geneva Canton ministers François Longchamp and Antonio Hodgers, and it recommends that the authority “refuses to grant a building permit in the planned location”. The grounds for this decision are explained as the need to “preserve an impartial and peaceful setting allowing the United Nations and other international organisations to carry out their functions in the best possible working conditions.”
Felicien Mazzola, spokesperson for the Geneva City Council Department of Culture, however, stated that they still want to erect the 8-metre bronze memorial designed by French Armenian artist Melik Ohanian, and that they will consider another location. The two locations under consideration are the Beaulieu and Cropettes parks.
‘The Streetlights of Memory’ project, accepted by the Geneva City Council in 2008, has since been at the centre of continuing dispute, and has faced numerous obstacles, most of which were caused by the pressure applied by the Foreign Ministry of Turkey and Turkish organizations in Switzerland. According to Ueli Leuenberger, co-president of the Swiss parliamentary group Switzerland-Armenia, the recent developments are also the outcome of the pressure from Turkey on Swiss authorities.
Two aspects of the project discomfort Turkey: Although it is not a “Genocide Memorial” per se, it has been conceived to keep the memory alive of those who lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide. The other aspect is that the proposed location is near the United Nations Geneva Centre. This symbolic location also disturbs Turkey.
Turkey is using the G-20 Summit to be held in 2015 in Antalya against Switzerland. Switzerland wants to take part, yet the invitation is in Turkey’s hands, and the art project to be erected close to the UN building is also part of the bargain.
Turkey’s pressure on the Swiss Confederation began first with Turkish organisations in Switzerland. Stefan Kristensen, coordinator of the project said, “At first, led by Celal Bayar, the eponymous grandson of the infamous Celal Bayar, Turkish organisations in Switzerland began to apply pressure against the project”. This was followed by two letters of criticism sent by the former Foreign Minister and current Prime Minister of Turkey Ahmet Davutoğlu to the former Foreign Minister and current President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter. Davutoğlu then visited Switzerland and held a meeting with Burkhalter, and following a discussion over the monument; a statement was made declaring the existence of a “strategic partnership” between the two countries.
Although the Geneva Canton is not legally obliged to follow the “recommendation”, the search for an alternative location has now accelerated.