BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Dogu Perincek, leader of the Turkish Workers’ Party, failed last week to repeat in Greece the denialist show he orchestrated in Switzerland 10 years ago. Along with members of his blasphemous Talat Pasha Committee, Perincek had planned to travel to Athens to challenge the recent Greek law banning denial of the Armenian Genocide. He dreamed of becoming ‘a hero’ by filing a lawsuit against Greece in the European Court of Human Rights after his anticipated arrest for violating that law.
Back in 2005, after his detention by Swiss police, Perincek was found guilty of denying the Armenian Genocide. When Switzerland’s Federal Court (Supreme Court) confirmed his sentence, Perincek appealed the verdict in 2008 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). On December 17, 2013, five out of seven ECHR judges ruled in Perincek’s favor, claiming that the Swiss courts had violated his freedom of speech. Three months later, Switzerland appealed ECHR’s flawed ruling to the court’s 17-member Grand Chamber which is scheduled to review the earlier verdict on January 28, 2015.
Fortunately, Perincek’s planned prank in Greece ran into multiple walls! To begin with, he could not leave Turkey due to a travel ban after his conditional release from jail as participant in a coup plot. In his absence, when his Party’s 13-member delegation arrived at Athens airport, the Greek authorities wisely decided to deport the group back to Turkey rather than create a spectacle by arresting them. The Greek police used the excuse that the Turkish visitors’ travel documents were not in order.
Upon returning to Istanbul, the expelled Turks were hailed as ‘heroes’ by fellow Party members. Perincek promptly blamed Pres. Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu for their “extremely shameful decision,” preventing him from going to Greece to deny the Armenian Genocide. Perincek’s followers also accused Turkey’s Ambassador to Greece of colluding with the Greek government to undermine their mission. In response, Turkish Ambassador Kerim Uras blamed the Talat Pasha Committee members for damaging their own plans by announcing them in advance, despite the Ambassador’s admonition to arrive in Athens quietly and go public after getting there! Uras added that due to the Turkish delegation’s premature public statements, the Armenian community in Athens was prepared to hold a counter protest.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defended the court’s ban on Perincek’s travel to Greece. During a press conference, Cavusoglu refuted Perincek’s accusation that Ankara had tried to undermine his committee’s trip to Greece. However, a much more important trip awaits Perincek on January 28, when he expects to attend the hearing of Switzerland’s appeal of his case at ECHR in Strasbourg. Even though Cavusoglu had told Perincek in a phone conversation that the Turkish government did not object to his going to Strasbourg, the Foreign Minister warned that the final decision to lift Perincek’s travel ban rested with Turkey’s Supreme Court. Ankara now needs to balance the disadvantage of boosting the standing of an ultranationalist critic of the ruling Party against the advantage of backing an overzealous denialist during the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish and international media widely disseminated the breaking news I had first reported in a previous column, disclosing that Amal Clooney along with Geoffrey Robertson and other distinguished attorneys would represent Armenia at the ECHR hearing on January 28. The news of Mrs. Clooney’s involvement in this legal case prompted a bizarre reaction from Perincek who told the Turkish press: “The woman can attend the court hearing, but even if the wife of Jesus comes, she has no chance of success”!
Since my last column, several readers have pointed out the little-known family link between Mrs. Clooney (Amal Ramzi Alamuddin) and ‘Papa’ Jakob Kuenzler, a Swiss missionary known as “the father of Armenian orphans.” Kuenzler and his wife had diligently aided the Armenian community in Ourfa for 25 years until the Genocide. Then in the 1920’s, the Kuenzlers began working for Near East Relief, evacuating thousands of Armenian orphans from Turkey to Ghazir, Lebanon, where Armenian girls wove the famous ‘White House rug’ which was donated to U.S. Pres. Calvin Coolidge in 1925. The Kuenzlers’ daughter Ida married Najib Alamuddin, the cousin of Amal’s grandfather, Khalil Alamuddin. In 1970, Ida Kuenzler published a remarkable book about her father’s devoted humanitarian work: “Papa Kuenzler and the Armenians.”