BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The European Court of Human Rights issued last week a critical Armenian Genocide-related ruling in the case of Dogu Perincek vs. Switzerland.
Perincek, the leader of a minor Turkish political party, had traveled to Switzerland in 2005 with the intention of daring the Swiss authorities to punish him for denying the Armenian Genocide. He brazenly called the Armenian Genocide an “international lie.”
In response to a criminal complaint filed by the Switzerland-Armenia Association, Perincek was tried and fined for racial discrimination by the Lausanne Police Court in March 2007. A Swiss Appeals Court confirmed his sentence, ruling that he had violated Article 261bis of the Criminal Code. The National Council (parliament) of Switzerland had already recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2003. Perincek then appealed his case to the Federal Tribunal, the highest court in Switzerland, which reconfirmed his sentence.
On June 10, 2008, Perincek appealed his sentence to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, claiming that many of his rights, including freedom of expression, were violated by the Swiss courts. He demanded a compensation of 140,000 euros for moral and financial damages, and court expenses.
On Dec. 17, 2013, the European Court dismissed most of Perincek’s claims (Articles 6, 7, 14, 17, 18 of the European Convention) and rejected his demand for compensation. However, five out of the seven Judges ruled that Switzerland had violated Perincek’s right to free expression (Article 10).
This was a highly unusual ruling since freedom of expression is not an absolute right in European jurisprudence. Many European states impose restrictions on free speech, including imprisonment for denying the Holocaust. Punishing Holocaust denial, while condoning rejection of the Armenian Genocide, is an unacceptable double standard. Either denial of both genocides should be outlawed or neither.
The European Court’s 80-page ruling was not easy to read, not only because it was in French, but more importantly, the five Judges who ruled in Perincek’s favor misinterpreted almost all issues. A whole book could be written to rebut their countless factual mistakes. The Judges misrepresented Perincek’s allegations, Swiss laws and court rulings, facts of the Armenian Genocide and its international recognition, while repeatedly contradicting themselves. To make matters worse, the four-page press release issued by the Registrar of the Court last week further distorted the Court’s verdict, thereby completely confusing the international media about the details of case.
The five Judges who endorsed Perincek’s false accusations were: Guido Raimondi (Italy), Peer Lorenzen (Denmark), Dragoljub Popovic (Serbia), Andras Sajo (Hungary), and Helen Keller (Switzerland). The opposing Judges were: Nebojsa Vucinic (Montenegro) and Paulo Pinto de Albuquerque (Portugal). In a seven-page addendum to the verdict, Judges Raimondi and Sajo contradicted themselves again, while making excuses for ruling in Perincek’s favor. Having raised questions about the veracity of “the Armenian massacres,” after claiming that their task is not to assess the facts of the genocide, the two concurring Judges assert that the destruction of the Armenian people was government-sponsored, thereby acknowledging its genocidal nature. Yet they insisted on referring to the Armenian Genocide as “Mets Yegherrn” (sic) which they translate as “the Grand Crime.” Dissenting Judges Vucinic and Pinto de Albuquerque, on the other hand, attached to the verdict their 19-page well-researched comprehensive report on the Armenian Genocide. This valuable study should be translated into several major languages and disseminated worldwide.
More urgently, Armenian government officials and major diaspora organizations have asked the Swiss government to appeal the European Court’s fallacious verdict to its 17-judge Grand Chamber before the 90-day deadline. Armenia’s Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan has called on Armenians worldwide to protest the Court’s verdict by contacting their governments and sending letters of complaint to the Court. The Armenian National Committee in Europe pledged to take all necessary measures to object to the Court’s ruling, urging Switzerland to file an appeal.
If left unchallenged, the European Court’s ruling would have a chilling effect not only on efforts to criminalize denial of the Armenian Genocide in other European countries, particularly France, but more importantly, on the forthcoming Centennial of the Genocide. The Court’s verdict, as it stands, is an endorsement of the denialist stance of both Turkey and Perincek, who is currently serving a life sentence in a Turkish jail for engaging in criminal activity! Turkey had directly intervened in this case by submitting extensive testimony to the European Court. The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a bold statement shamelessly applauding the Court’s verdict and boasting about its support for freedom of expression! Under Article 301 of Turkish Penal Code, telling the truth about the Armenian Genocide is a crime, while in Switzerland lying about the Genocide is an offense!
For the sake of truth and justice, it is imperative that the Swiss government appeal the Court’s verdict and not succumb to Turkish political and economic pressures.