Turkish foreign ministry summoned Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner on March 26 to Ankara to express rage at an anti-Turkish referendum protest held in front of the Swiss parliament in Bern. This protest featured thousands of Swiss nationals and included many Kurdish demonstrators and aggravated the already troubled tensions between Switzerland and Turkey.
Turkey demanded that Ambassador Haffner launch a criminal investigation of the participants in this protest and take precautions against future protests. While both the organizers of the protest and the city of Bern assure that the protest was peaceful, one sign depicted President Erdogan with a pistol against his head. Erdogan responded, “Switzerland took it a step further. Their leftist parties and the terrorists … have come together and carried out a march. In the Swiss parliament, they hang my picture with a gun to my head. The Swiss parliament remains silent in the face of this.”
The Turkish government holds that this protest supported terrorism, as the poster called for the assassination of the president. Michael Song, a spokesman for Switzerland’s Social Democrats and an organizer of the event, confirms that this poster had hostile intent, saying, “This was the only poster which fell below the limits of decency. All other posters were decent.”
Many Turkish citizens are advocating for “No” in the referendum that will take place April 16 to potentially replace the parliamentary system with an executive presidency, giving Recep Tayyip Erdogan extensive powers. One protester explained, “We are afraid when we arrive at the airport in Turkey. We’re afraid that we’ll be arrested or questioned by the Turkish authorities under false accusations.”
Erdogan accused Switzerland, as well as other European nations such as Germany and the Netherlands, of banning “Yes” rallies while allowing “No” demonstrations to take place. Switzerland asserts that, because it has a large population of Turkish expatriates, banning the “Yes” rallies was solely for security reasons.
This most recent protest against Turkey and Switzerland’s support of “No” rallies further strain relations between the two nations. Thus, it remains to be seen how Switzerland will respond to Turkey’s demands.