Despite the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in favor of a Turkish national claiming the right to deny the Ottoman-era massacres of Armenians constituted genocide, Armenia says the Strasbourg-based body has “fully met” its requirements concerning the landmark case.
Armenia’s Prosecutor’s Office released a statement on Thursday shortly after the publication of the verdict resolving Dogu Perincek’s dispute with the government of Switzerland in favor of the Turk.
The case was sparked by a Swiss court’s 2007 conviction of Perincek, chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party, after he said publicly the “Armenian genocide is a great international lie.”
The Swiss court then ordered the Turkish politician to pay a fine after finding him guilty of racial discrimination for his remarks, which he repeated on several occasions.
After his conviction, Perincek took the case to the ECtHR, arguing that his freedom of speech was infringed. A lower chamber of the ECtHR, ruling in December 2013, rejected the Swiss court’s conviction, saying that the Turk’s remarks fell within the boundaries of free speech. Switzerland appealed that ruling, and the case came before the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber.
Turkey has always denied that the Ottoman-era killings and deportations of 1.5 million Armenians were a pre-meditated attempt to wipe out the Armenians. But despite Turkey’s vehement protests, more than two dozen nations have so far recognized the killings as genocide.
The Republic of Armenia participated in the case in the status of a third party and was represented by Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian.
“As a third party in the case the Republic of Armenia expected the European Court’s decision to exclude wordings that could in any way call into question the fact of the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Prosecutor’s Office said in its statement.
“In today’s ruling, the European Court noted that in this case it is not up to the Court to decide whether the mass killings and deportations committed against Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 are qualified as genocide from the perspective of the content provided to this concept in international law. Then, the Grand Chamber established that the Court does not have the legal competence to make legal statements on this issue, regardless of the aspect from which it is done.”
“In its judgment the Court declared that Armenians have “the right to respect for their and their ancestors’ dignity including their right to respect for their identity constructed around the understanding that their community has suffered genocide”. The Court thereby also stated that the beliefs of the Armenians and their dignity in this connection are subject to protection under the Convention standards.
“Finally, in the specific case regarding Perincek, the European Court defined that criminal liability for him is not generally against the case law of the European Court, but it stated that Swiss law was wrongly applied against Perincek. In other words, criminalization of the denial of the Armenian Genocide was considered to be legitimate, which, however, should be done exclusively within the framework of the European Convention,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Giro Manoyan, a chief foreign policy spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), described the judgment of the ECtHR as “timid”, but said it cannot be considered as a defeat for Armenia.
Manoyan noted that seven out of the 17 judges voted against the decision. “It could be worse if it suddenly upheld the first decision, that is, to say that denying [the Armenian Genocide] is not a problem because the fact [of genocide] is not confirmed. But there are also positive points, as all articles about the disputed nature of the Armenian Genocide are removed. And, secondly, it is not that it is an absolute decision that one can deny the Armenian genocide and go unpunished.”
Meanwhile, Vladimir Karapetian, a foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition Armenian National Congress, said the Perincek v Switzerland case ruling raised concerns.
“It was with deep regret that we learned the news that the ECtHR gave priority to freedom of speech over criminal liability for denying the Armenian Genocide. In this sense, of course, it cannot but raise concerns,” he said. “At the same time, I think that it will also have some influence on other countries that have passed such legislation, on people who would like to speak on the Armenian Genocide.”
Armen Martirosian, deputy chairman of the opposition Heritage party, also stopped short of describing the ruling as positive for Armenia. He thinks that Armenia’s “civilizational choice” has also influenced the court in Strasbourg. “We demand justice and good attitude towards ourselves from one model of civilization, but are under the influence of a totally different model of civilization. Therefore, all this should have influenced [the ruling] and I think it did.”
Samvel Farmanian, of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, said he did not think that the ECtHR will be an obstacle to the further process of international recognition of the Armenian genocide. Even though, he acknowledged that Turkey will try to use it. “I’m not saying it is positive or negative, because it would be very wrong to look at it from this standard. What I’m saying is that, at the end of the day, the tasks that the government of the Republic of Armenia has pursued in connection with the ruling have all been fully encompassed.”