Today’s Zaman – December 25, 2013 – A milestone verdict on ‘Armenian genocide’

The denial of the so-called “Armenian genocide” will no longer be considered a punishable act amongst the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe, including Armenia, thanks to a historic verdict made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on a suit filed by Turkish politician Doğu Perinçek against Switzerland.
In a public statement made on May 7, 2005, in Lausanne, Perinçek said: “The claim that the Ottoman authorities perpetrated the crime of genocide against the Armenians was an international lie.” At the instigation of a Swiss Armenian association, a local Lausanne court found Perinçek guilty of racial discrimination because of this statement. Perinçek filed a lawsuit at the ECtHR against this decision and the court decided that Switzerland had violated Perinçek’s freedom of expression.
The Armenians suffered a similar setback last year in France. In 2001, The French Parliament had passed a law that consisted of one single sentence, which reads as follows:
“France publicly recognizes the Armenian genocide of 1915.”
This text looks more like a political declaration than a law in due form. But it was the first step of a bigger aspiration, namely the criminalization of the denial of the Armenian genocide. In fact, a law to achieve this goal was adopted by the lower chamber of the French parliament in 2006, but it was overturned by the upper chamber. The Armenians did not give up. In 2012, a French deputy, Mme. Boyer, initiated another law containing similar content. This time, the same senate, contradicting what it had done six years ago, voted in favor of this law. But this time the French Constitutional Council disappointed the Armenians by overturning the Boyer’s law. The Armenian aspiration to make the denial of the genocide a punishable offence was thus shelved once and for all in France. However, the Armenians were hoping to achieve in other countries what they failed to achieve in France. With the latest verdict of the ECtHR, this hope is now gone for the member countries of the Council of Europe as well.
The ECtHR verdict has implications beyond recognizing Perinçek’s right of expression:
First, Turkey has so far been hesitant to go to international courts to challenge the Armenian claim of genocide because of fear of losing the case. Now, the verdict has eased Turkey’s hand.
Second, the Swiss Armenian association hoped to teach Perinçek a lesson on what not to do on the Armenian genocide issue, but it inflicted irreparable damage to the Armenian efforts to criminalize the denial of genocide because the verdict will now push several countries to think twice before they consider passing a law in their respective parliaments to recognize the Armenian genocide.
True, the recognition of genocide and punishing its denial are two different subjects. But now that the denial has ceased to be a punishable act, passing a law to recognize the Armenian genocide will become an ineffective gesture to the Armenians at the cost of antagonizing Turkey unnecessarily. Turkey should try to explain to the member countries of the Council of Europe that passing such a law is a futile exercise that is devoid of a field of application.
Third, the ECtHR verdict invalidates certain provisions of the EU Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia, especially Article 1(c) that makes the denial of the crime of genocide a punishable offence and probably Article 2(4), which authorizes national tribunals to qualify an act as genocide. Therefore, the framework decision will have to be adjusted to the new situation created by the ECtHR verdict. Turkey should raise this issue with the EU at the meetings of the Association Council.
Having said this, no matter how important the court verdict is, we should not lose sight of the fact the verdict does not deny that the Armenian genocide took place. It simply says that to state publicly that a genocide did not take place should not be considered a punishable act.
If wisdom prevails, both Turkey and Armenia may use this ECtHR verdict to overcome their reciprocal prejudices and put an end to their centennial conflict.

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