STRASBOURG, France: Turkish opposition politician Dogu Perincek said claims the Ottoman Empire orchestrated genocide in Armenia were an “imperialist lie” in front of the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) Wednesday, in what was the final session in a lengthy legal battle over freedom of speech versus European laws that criminalize denial of genocide.
Dogu Perincek, the Chairman of the Turkish Worker’s Party, was placed under investigation in 2005 for labeling what is known as the Armenian Genocide an “international lie” at an academic conference in Switzerland, which Armenia views as akin to incitement, and counter to the law of the European Union.
Armenia claims that 1.5 million persons were killed as a result of a direct campaign from the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923; Turkey has claimed that mass killings, which did take place, were carried out in the context of war by the empire, and not part of a campaign to exterminate a people.
European law stipulates that genocide, as defined in 1948, cannot be denied, and gives protections to third parties who may be offended by the denial of events.
Although Perincek was sentenced to 90 days in prison and fined 3,000 Swiss francs ($2,500) in 2007 by the Court of Lausanne in Switzerland for the denial of the genocide, he was acquitted Dec. 17, 2013 by the ECHR, which found that the decision of the Lausanne court was contrary to the freedom of expression.
The court also noted in its 2013 ruling that although Perincek disputed the term of “genocide,” he did not deny that massacres or killings had taking place.
“Freedom of expression means liberty for different, even deviating opinions,” said Perincek before the court Wednesday morning in prepared remarks.
“In Europe, the accusation of the ‘Armenian Genocide’ has been turned into a taboo and a tool to discriminate Turkish people. Today, Turks and Muslims are the clack people of Europe. Let also the oppressed ones defend themselves,” he said.
Outside the court Wednesday dual groups of demonstrators supporting Armenia and Turkey held signs in support of their cause.
“Denial is not freedom of speech” was written in French on signs of a small group demonstrating in favor of the charges against Perincek.
A delegation of approximately 250 Turkish Worker’s Party members and members of the Talaat Pasha Committee, whose namesake Prime Minister of the empire in 1915 ordered many of the “deportations” of Armenians, flew from Istanbul to support Perincek in what is the final chapter of his legal battle at the court, although the full explanation of a verdict may take further weeks to be publicized, Worker’s Party members told The Cairo Post.
Lawyer Amal Clooney represented the Armenian side, and said during her intervention that Perincek’s comments “dishonor the memories” of those who died in the conflict that began in 1915, and said that the evidence for the “atrocities is overwhelming.”
“This court is not the forum, and Dogu Perincek is not the defendant” whose case should decide a historical consensus regarding the issue, she said, adding “Armenia is not here to fight freedom of expression, but Turkey is not here to defend it.”
The Armenian Genocide is also referred to as the Armenian Holocaust, and is recognized as genocide by 23 countries. The United States has not taken an official national position on the conflict.
Armenians claim that approximately 1.5 million, out of a total population of 2 million, Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923 by the Ottoman Empire, with those surviving fleeing in an Armenian diaspora to a number of countries.
Lawyer Mr. Stefan Talmon, who spoke on behalf of the state of Turkey, concluded his remarks in defense of Mr. Perincek by saying, “the fact that he called it an ‘international lie’ does not provide evidence of racism or an attack on Armenians,” adding “at most, it may be related to any holder of that opinion. Calling something an international lie, as calling a group of certain persons liars. As such, it has no racial connotation.”
The court hearing adjourned at midday, and the judges withdrew to deliberate, and announced they would declare the verdict at a later time.