Strasbourg, France– The European Court of Human Rights delivered a Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Perinçek v. Switzerland at a public hearing today, October 15, 2015.
The lead counsel for the NGO Coalition (Turkish Human Rights Association, Truth Justice Memory Centre and International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies), Professor Payam Akhavan of McGill University in Canada, a former UN prosecutor at The Hague, emphasized that the Court’s Judgment “clearly, unanimously, and emphatically confirmed the historical truth” of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. In a divided opinion, the majority of ten judges held that the Swiss judgment against Mr. 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 is 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”.
Mr. 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 million 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. Professor Akhavan noted that in doing so, “the majority did not give sufficient weight to the convincing evidence submitted by the NGO Coalition, demonstrating Mr. 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!
The dissenting opinion of the seven judges, including that of the President, is highly significant, in asking:
Why should criminal sanctions for denial of the characterization of the massacres of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 as “genocide” constitute a violation of freedom of expression, whereas criminal sanctions for Holocaust denial have been deemed compatible with the Convention?
According to Professor 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.”
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