STRASBOURG (Public Radio of Armenia) — Human rights lawyers Geoffrey Robertson QC and Amal Clooney issued a statement on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision on October 14 in the case of Perinçek v Switzerland. The two represented the government of Armenia.
Another attorney, Prof. Payam Akhavan of McGill University in Canada, represented the NGO Coalition (Turkish Human Rights Association, Truth Justice Memory Centre and International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies).
The case pitted Dogu Perinçek, a center-left politician from Turkey, against the government of Switzerland. At stake was that he objected to the muzzling of what he called was his free speech by the Swiss government, which bans the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The judges pronounced that Perinçek was within his rights to deny the Armenian Genocide, however, they upheld the truth of the Genocide.
In a divided opinion, the majority of ten judges held that the Swiss judgment against Perinçek’s denial and minimization of these events violated his freedom of speech under the European Convention on Human Rights. However, seven judges, including the President of the Court, held that “the massacres and deportations suffered by the Armenian people constituted genocide are self-evident. The Armenian genocide is a clearly established historical fact. To deny it is to deny the obvious.” The majority of ten judges also confirmed “the massacres and mass deportations suffered by the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 onwards” and only differed in its view that it “has not authority to make legally binding pronouncements” on whether these events “can be characterized as genocide within the meaning of that term under international law”.
Said Akhavan in his statement, the court “clearly, unanimously, and emphatically confirmed the historical truth” of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Clooney and Robertson said in their statement, “We are pleased that the European Court of Human Rights today endorsed our argument on behalf of the Government of Armenia, which intervened in the case between Dogu Perinçek and Switzerland. The decision is a victory for Armenia. Today the European Court ruled that the applicant’s freedom of speech should not have been restrained because it was not likely to incite violence or racial hatred. Thus Perinçek should not have been prosecuted by the Swiss authority because his rant, in the Turkish language, would have had no impact at all on social harmony and race relations in Switzerland.”
They added that the government of Armenia intervened to correct the lower court’s ruling that had cast doubt on the Armenian Genocide.
“As counsel we sought to correct this grave error, and the Grand Chamber has done so. Today’s judgment did not dispute the fact of the Armenian genocide: ten judges said the question should not have been addressed at all whilst seven stated that “the Armenian genocide is a clearly established historic fact,” they said.
Perinçek himself did not deny that these atrocities did in fact take place, but simply denied their characterization as “genocide” and blamed the 1.5 Armenian victims for their own fate by portraying them as “traitors” and “aggressors”. The majority found that his statements should not have been penalized by the Swiss courts, because they did not pose a threat to Armenians in Switzerland.
Akhavan noted that in doing so, “the majority did not give sufficient weight to the convincing evidence submitted by the NGO Coalition, demonstrating Perinçek’s racist motives by reference to his previous conduct in Turkey, and its impact on the vulnerable Armenian minority that has been subjected to a campaign of hate speech and violence.” He emphasized that “this aspect of the decision is unfortunate at a time when there is an alarming increase in ultra-nationalist hate speech and violence in Turkey. The fact that Mr. Perinçek leads the Talaat Pasha Committee (named after the “Ottoman Hitler”) that the European Parliament has characterized as a ‘xenophobic and racist’ organization is itself the most obvious evidence of his discriminatory motives.” Professor Akhavan regretted moreover, that the majority disregarded the Istanbul Penal Court’s finding in the Ergenekon trial that Mr. Perinçek had incited hatred and violence against Armenians, on the grounds that instead of relevant excerpts, the NGO Coalition should have produced the full 17,000 page judgment!
According to Akhavan, “the divided opinion of the Grand Chamber, and the alarming increase in extremist violence in Turkey, is the clearest indication that the question of racist hate speech against Armenians is far from resolved, and that it will require constant vigilance. What is clearly established by the Judgment however, is unanimity among all seventeen judges, that the Armenians did in fact suffer massacres and mass deportations at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 onwards, irrespective of its legal characterization one way or another.”