A Turkish politician has won a landmark case against the Swiss authorities following an important freedom of speech ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday
The Court ruled that Doğu Perinçek was within his rights to reject the description of the mass killings of Armenians in the
Ottoman Empire a century ago
as ‘genocide’, as it was not tantamount to inciting racial hatred. However, the
court refused to be drawn on how the massacres should be described.
Why Switzerland convicted Doğu Perinçek
The leader of the Turkish Workers Party had found himself in the dock in
in 2005 for stating
that the "Armenian genocide is a
great international lie." The Swiss Armenian Association filed a
criminal complaint against Perinçek, claiming his comments contravened Swiss anti-racism
laws and incited hatred, which Perincek vigorously denied. Switzerland
The veteran politician does not deny the massive suffering and loss of Armenian life during 1915-1918. However, he claims the circumstances did not amount to genocide.
His defence was not accepted by the Swiss courts. In 2007, they convicted Perinçek, asserting "his motives were of a racist tendency" and ordered him to pay a fine.
Perinçek refused and after exhausting the appeals process in
, he took his case to
the ECHR claiming his right to freedom of speech had been infringed. In 2013,
the European court found in his favour and overturned the Swiss court’s verdict.
This decision was appealed by the Swiss authorities. Both
also became parties to the case, aware of the legal implications the ECHR’s final
ruling would have on the issue. Armenia Armenia
was represented by barristers Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson QC from ’s Doughty Street
Chambers, the former ensuring widespread international media coverage of the
genocide claims Armenia
The deaths occurred during an horrific four-year war, where invading powers were trying to carve up the rump of the
Ottoman Empire. They had promised
Armenians their own homeland if they revolted against Turkish rule. It was in
argues, that many innocent Armenians perished, alongside hundreds of thousands
of Turks. Turkey
|Thousands of Armenians perished during forced deportations during WWI|
The ECHR’s ruling
On 15 October, the ECHR’s 17-judge Grand Chamber laid down its judgement in the case of Perinçek v.
Chamber is the ECHR’s highest court: its decisions are final and binding on all
members of the Council of Europe. Switzerland
In a majority 10-7 ruling, the Grand Chamber upheld the ECHR’s earlier decision that Perinçek's remarks "did not amount to advocacy of hatred or intolerance".
The judges noted that the Swiss courts appeared to have "censured [Perinçek] for having simply expressed an opinion divergent from those held in
and that Perinçek's conviction had been "unnecessary"
to protect the rights of the Armenian community. Switzerland
The ECHR said it did not have the authority to rule on whether the Armenian killings amounted to genocide or not. It argued such matters were for the international criminal courts to decide.
The Court added that "the dignity" of the victims of the Ottoman massacres and the "dignity and identity of modern-day Armenians" is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Rauf Denktaş backed Perinçek
Following the verdict, the Swiss authorities said they would review the ruling carefully to determine what changes were needed to their penal code.
|Rauf Denktaş (left) with Doğu Perinçek in 2005|
Doğu Perinçek hailed the decision as a “monumental victory” and acknowledged the role of the late TRNC President Rauf Denktaş, who had backed his campaign against Swiss censorship. The late Turkish Cypriot leader, a lawyer by profession, had joined Perinçek in
Lausanne in 2005, where he publicly refused to
kow-tow to ’s
new genocide denial laws, telling Perinçek to stand firm as he would eventually
be victorious. Switzerland
Perinçek believes the landmark ruling will make it easier for people to challenge the Armenians over their 1915 claims
While some Armenians have slammed the decision, others have pointed to the seven dissenting judges who viewed the Armenian case more favourably, and that the ruling could be interpreted in favour of genocide recognition.