Turkish Party Leader Gives Great Christmas Gift to Armenian Cause

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Dec. 27, 2007

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 county’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 Armenian Genocide.

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 denialist claims.

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 Perincek’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 Turkey’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.