Monday, 20 January 2014

European Court rules denying Armenian “genocide” not a crime


The European Court of Justice has ruled that it is not a criminal offence to deny the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 were “genocide”. The case came about following a decision by the Swiss Parliament to make such denials an offence. As a result, Doğu Perinçek (pictured), leader of Turkey’s Labour Party, was fined following his comments on the issue at a 2005 debate in Switzerland, in which he called the Armenian genocide "an international lie".

The ECJ, which upholds the 47-nation European Convention on Human Rights, said the Swiss law against genocide denial violated the principle of freedom of expression. It added that the evidence about the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 did not equate to the legal understanding of genocide:

"Genocide is a very narrowly defined legal notion which is difficult to prove…Mr Perincek was making a speech of a historical, legal and political nature in a contradictory debate."

As part of its ruling made on 17 December 2013, the court drew a distinction between the Armenian case and denying the Nazi Holocaust. In the latter, the court argued, "the plaintiffs had denied sometimes very concrete historical facts such as the existence of gas chambers…They denied crimes committed by the Nazi regime that had a clear legal basis. Furthermore, the facts they denied had been clearly been established by an international tribunal."

A similar effort by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy to make it compulsory to refer to the Armenian tragedy as “genocide” was ruled "an unconstitutional violation of the right to freedom of speech and communication" by France's Constitutional Council in 2012.

While Armenians are bitterly disappointed about the verdict, many in Turkey view the ruling a major victory not only for Perinçek, but also for Turkey. Many Turkish historians, politicians and other global commentators have long argued that the Armenian account of the events of 1915 is neither truthful nor balanced.

Switzerland has three months to appeal against the ECJ ruling.


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