By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
In a historic decision on December 12, Switzerland's Federal Tribunal
confirmed a lower court's conviction of Turkish Party leader Dogu
Perincek for denying the Armenian Genocide.
The ruling by the Federal Tribunal (Supreme Court) has far-reaching
consequences much beyond the borders of Switzerland. For years,
Turkish officials have claimed that the Armenian mass killings of
1915-23 could not be viewed as a case of genocide since there was no
court verdict to that effect. Turkish denialists persistently ignored
the ample documentation provided by historians, genocide scholars,
resolutions adopted by the European Parliament and legislatures of
more than 20 countries, a UN human rights panel, and verdicts of
Turkish Military Tribunals in 1919.
Two years ago, Perincek, the leader of Turkey's Workers' Party, went
to Switzerland and challenged the Swiss authorities to try him for
violating local laws on denying genocide. He claimed that he could not
have violated the country's laws against genocide denial since there
never was an Armenian genocide. He hoped that by obtaining a not
guilty verdict, he would become a Turkish national hero for having
single-handedly ended Armenian accusations of genocide against Turkey.
Neither Perincek nor the Turkish government that backed his risky
adventure seemed to realize that while winning the court case would
promote their denialist agenda, a guilty verdict would deal a
devastating blow to their continued refusal to acknowledge the
During his visit to Switzerland in July 2005, Perincek called the
Armenian Genocide an "international lie" and was promptly detained and
interrogated by Swiss Police. He was released, pending a fuller
investigation of his statements. Charges were subsequently filed
against him. For his mandated court appearance, Perincek returned to
Switzerland in March 2007 with a planeload of fanatical supporters who
described themselves as members of the "Talat Pasha Committee," in
honor of the mastermind of the Armenian Genocide. He also brought with
him over 200 pounds of "documents" that supposedly backed his
Testifying on Perincek's behalf were four notorious Turkophiles:
Prof. Justin McCarthy from the United States; Norman Stone, a British
denialist who teaches in Turkey; Jean-Michel Thibaux, a former
Frenchman who had recently moved to Turkey, acquired Turkish
citizenship and changed his name to "Atakan Turk"; and Prof. Paul
Leidinger from Germany. Testifying against Perincek were genocide
specialists Yves Ternon and Raymond Kevorkian from France and Tessa
Hofmann from Germany.
Despite attempts by the Turkish government to pressure the Swiss
authorities to drop the charges, the Lausanne Court of First Instance
found Perincek guilty and fined $7,350 in lieu of a 90-day suspended
jail term, ordered him to pay a $2,450 fine and $4,750 for court
costs. In addition, the court warned Perincek that should he deny the
Armenian Genocide again within the next 24 months, he could face
imprisonment. Perincek thus became the first person to be convicted
under Switzerland's anti-racism law for denying the Armenian
Genocide. Article 261bis of the Swiss penal code -- which outlaws the
denial, minimization or justification of genocide -- was heretofore
applied only to those who had denied the Jewish Holocaust. Perincek
was also ordered by the court to pay $9,000 for legal expenses and
"moral compensation" to the Switzerland-Armenia Association which had
initiated the lawsuit against Perincek. Since Ankara had sided with
Perincek and provided legal and material support for
his trial, the guilty verdict also implicated the Turkish government
which declared the trial to be "inappropriate, groundless and
controversial in every sense."
Fortunately for Armenians, Perincek stubbornly persisted in his
efforts to challenge the Swiss legal system, thus causing even more
damage to Turkey's denialist campaign. In June 2007, Perincek took his
case to the Swiss Court of Appeal which confirmed his guilty
verdict. Thus, within the short span of three months, Perincek helped
confirm the fact of the Armenian Genocide through the verdicts of two
Swiss courts. Not satisfied, Perincek then appealed his case to the
Swiss Federal Tribunal which confirmed the verdicts of the lower
courts on December 12, 2007.
The Federal Tribunal ruled that there was an overall consensus that
the Armenian Genocide had taken place and that Perincek had not been
able to prove the contrary, thus making light of his 200 pounds of
anti-Armenian "documents" and dismissing the testimonies of the four
so-called scholars who testified on his behalf. The Court also said
that Perincek was "motivated by racism and nationalism," and not a
desire for "historical debate." In countering Perincek's argument that
not all countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide, the Court
stated that even a United Nations resolution condemning the denial of
the Jewish Holocaust received only 103 votes out of the 192 member
states in January 2007. The Court further declared that the refusal of
some countries to acknowledge such genocidal acts for political
reasons does not cast doubt on their validity.
It is noteworthy that the Swiss Federal Tribunal stated in its verdict
that "the denial of the Genocide constitutes a threat to the identity
of the Armenian people." The Court also asserted that
PerincekÂ¢s conviction "contributes to the protection of the
human dignity of the members of the Armenian community who define
themselves by the memory of the Genocide of 1915."
Thanks to Perincek and his shortsighted backers in Ankara, Armenians
have won a very significant victory. This is the first time that the
highest court of any country passes judgment on the Armenian Genocide,
thus serving as a precedent for all future court cases on this issue.
Despite his overzealous efforts to counter the recognition of the
Armenian Genocide, Perincek and Turkish officials who support him have
only managed to undermine TurkeyÂ¢s massive denialist
campaign. Perincek announced last week that he will be appealing his
conviction to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Should
he go through with that appeal, he would be making an even more
substantial contribution to the Armenian Cause, by furthering the
legal recognition of the Armenian Genocide through Europe's highest
court of law.
Armenian foreign minister: For historians and experts in
international relations the fact of Armenian Genocide is settled
According to him, the Turkish approach is to raise all debated issues, to receive an answer that suits Turkey and only after that to restore the diplomatic relations and open the border that was closed by Ankara one-sidedly in early 1990s. “Show to me two neighboring country in Europe that have no debated issues and problems, but none of them resorts to closing borders,” Oskanyan noted.
After listing all pre-conditions for Turkey to establish the relations with Armenia, the foreign minister noted that up to 1998, when the position of the authorities was relatively mild, Turkey was focusing upon one of the pre-conditions – settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. After leadership changed in Armenia, the situation became more complicated and Turkey started insisting upon all the three point equally.
The minister stressed that from the point of view of the international law, the Turkish pre-conditions stand no criticism. The question of NKR is a problem of Azerbaijan and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic; in this connection, Turkey’s interference and its attempt to make the relations with Armenia upon the Nagorno Karabakh conflict has no grounds. Moreover, there are some contradictions taking into account the Cyprus problem as well as the Treaty of Kars and the Moscow Treaty that are still in force de jure, believes Oskanyan.
The second pre-condition is recognition of Turkey’ border by Armenia, the minister noted, adding that if Turkey really wants to settle the issue, it must establish diplomatic relations that automatically mean mutual recognition of borderlines and non-interference into each other’s domestic affairs and so on. Speaking on Ankara’s claim to forget about a possibility of Turkey recognizing the Armenian Genocide and let historians discuss the issue, Oskanyan noted that for historians of not only Armenian origin and international experts in genocide issues the question has been settled long time ago. Moreover, until Article 301 of the Turkish constitution prohibiting mentioning of the Armenian Genocide exists, discussions and objectivity of Turkish historians still remains an open question. Recently, Oskanyan noted, claims for hampering activity of the Armenian Diaspora in seeking worldwide recognition of the Armenian Genocide and its discussion at parliaments of other nations. However, noted the foreign minister, it is internal affair of each country whether to recognize or not the Armenian Genocide; Armenia does not meddle in the issue.
Members of international organizations and Armenian political parties are participating in the hearings. Representatives from Turkey declined to participate in the hearings.