The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a Turkish politician had the right to deny that a massacre of Armenians during the Ottoman empire’s rule in 1915 was a genocide.
The court said that when Dogu Perincek said the “Armenian genocide is a great international lie”, he should not have been found guilty of racial discrimination in Switzerland.
The ECHR judges said that denying the genocide was not an attack on the dignity of individuals in the Armenian community, overruling an Armenian appeal presented in January by Amal Clooney.
Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party, made his comments about the genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians – a fact Turkey disputes as well as the number of those killed – in Switzerland in 2005.
Switzerland-Armenia, a lobby group, soon after filed a criminal complaint against him in July as it is against Swiss law to deny the genocide as part of the country’s anti-racism laws.
Mr Perinçek was found guilty of racial discrimination in 2007 in Switzerland because “his motives were of a racist tendency”, according to a later description of the case in an ECHR press release in 2013.
The Turkish national exhausted legal routes in Switzerland to appeal the judgment but his appeal was dismissed and in June 2008, he lodged an application to the ECHR complaining that his freedom of expression was breached.
The Turkish government also submitted written comments as a third party questioning the veracity of the genocide. In December 2013, the ECHR agreed with Mr Perinçek and said his conviction was “unjustified”.
In January, Armenia challenged the ECHR’s verdict and was represented in the case by lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers in London.
Amal Clooney presented Armenia’s case and accused Turkey of double standards on freedom of expression for defending a Turkish Leftist.
She said that the Strasbourg judges initial judgement was wrong for saying that the conviction was unjustified.
“It cast doubt of the reality of genocide that Armenian people suffered a century ago,” she said.
“Armenia must have its day in court. The stakes could not be higher for the Armenian people.”
The ruling was still welcomed by Armenia’s government, despite ruling in favour of Mr Perincek because the court had recognised Armenians right to protection against hate speech.
Gevorg Kostanyan, Armenia’s prosecutor general, said “It means that states in Europe can punish Armenian genocide denial if it is calculated to incite violence or racial disharmony.
“The judgement is a very good result for Armenia and for Armenians,” he added.
That interpretation was backed by Geoffrey Robertson QC, the high-profile British lawyer representing Armenia, who said the ruling clearly stated Armenians had “a right to respect for their history”.
The ECHR said it did not have the authority to rule on whether the Armenian killings were a genocide or not, which was a job for international criminal courts.
“The context in which they were made had not been marked by heightened tensions or special historical overtones in Switzerland,” the ruling said.
“The Swiss courts appeared to have censured Mr Perincek simply for voicing an opinion that diverged from the established ones in Switzerland,” it said, while emphasising that “the dignity” of the victims of the massacres and the “dignity and identity of modern-day Armenians” were protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECHR’s Grand Chamber ruling is final and binding on all Council of Europe members.
Source: The Telegraph