Armenian Genocide Case: Free Speech, Or Human Rights Breach?

On January 28, 2015, the European Court of Human Rights convened in Strasbourg in the Armenian genocide case of Dogu Perincek –vs– Switzerland. As TIME reports, while visiting Switzerland in 2005, Perincek, Chairman of Turkey’s Worker’s Party, called the 1915 killing spree which claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians an “international lie.”

TIME reports that in 2007, the Swiss court fined Perincek on the grounds that his statement violated that country’s laws prohibiting genocide denial. Perincek filed and won an appeal on the grounds that the decision violated his right to free speech. Switzerland then rebutted with a counter appeal, dealing another blow in the semantic cage match that is the Armenian Genocide case.

As the Armenian Weekly reports, Perincek’s lawyer Mehmet Cengiz defended his client’s right to free speech, arguing his statements were a “legal assessment” of the events of 1915 and should not be taken as “racist.” His client never denied the massacres themselves, he explained, but merely resented their labelling as “genocide.” “The dispute between the parties concerns the legal definition of the tragic events that took place 100 years ago,” Cengiz argued. Perincek chimed in saying that “Freedom of expression means liberty for different, even deviating opinions.”

Perincek chimed in saying that “Freedom of expression means liberty for different, even deviating opinions.”

Representing the Swiss government and Armenia as a third party, Doughty Street Chamber attorney Geoffrey Robertson cautioned against genocide denial, claiming it “can make genocide survivors and their children and grandchildren feel the worthlessness and contempt and inferiority that the initial perpetrators intended.”

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Doughty Street barister Amal Alamuddin Clooney, whose celebrity status as Mrs. George Clooney has made the story entertainment news, evoked the horrors of the 1915 mass murders. She spoke of the beheadings, the death marches, the concentration camps, the bloody Euphrates swelled with corpses. She reminded the courts of the “90 kilos of evidence” it had examined proving the occurrence of the killings and quoted the German ambassador to Turkey who condemned the latter for seeking the “total obliteration of the Armenians.” “Armenia is not here to argue against freedom of expression anymore than Turkey is here to defend it,” Clooney stated, once again exposing the absurdity of the semantics debate that has characterized the Armenian Genocide case.

“Armenia is not here to argue against freedom of expression anymore than Turkey is here to defend it,” Clooney stated, once again exposing the absurdity of the semantics debate that has characterized the Armenian Genocide case.

She closed with the most astute observation that the primary perpetrators of the massacres that nearly exterminated the entire Armenian race had been sentenced to death for mass murder, not genocide, simply because the word “genocide” had yet to be invented at the time of their trial.

A verdict has yet to be released.

Photo Credit: The Telegraph