The sense of the Perinçek v Switzerland case
MAXIME GAUINThe hearing for the Perinçek v. Switzerland case, in front of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), will take place in January 2015, and so will coincide with the centennial of the 1915 events. After the decision of the French Constitutional Council in February 2012, finding the Boyer bill in contradiction with the Declaration of Human Rights (1789), the ruling of the ECHR was a major blow for Armenian nationalism. The Court found a violation of Doğu Perinçek’s freedom of speech, and rejected the accusation of “racism.” The ECHR “shares the opinion of the Turkish government, who claims Holocaust denial is the main driving force of anti-Semitism today. In fact, it judges that this is still a current phenomenon, which the international community must be firm and vigilant against. One cannot affirm that the dismissal of the description of ‘genocide’ for the tragic events that occurred in 1915 and the following years might have the same repercussions.” The Court added, even more remarkably, that “the present case is clearly distinct from cases bearing on the denial of Holocaust crimes,” because the Holocaust deniers “had not only contested the simple legal description of a crime, but also denied historic facts,” and because these facts “had been judged to be clearly established by an international jurisdiction,” with “a clear legal basis, i.e. Article 6, paragraph C), of the Statutes of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.”
This distinction is crucial and, indeed, well substantiated. For the Armenian case, the only attempt of an international tribunal, by the British government in Malta, totally failed. More than two years of investigation (1919-1921) were not sufficient to find any evidence against any of the 144 Ottoman ex-leaders interned in Malta; the seized Ottoman documents explicitly warned against measures susceptible to lead to massacres and ordered the protection of the relocated Armenians. If any evidence of “genocide” had existed, it would have been found by the British. These Ottoman documents seized by the British army and published more than 35 years ago by Salâhi Sonyel include:
“Armenian Deportations: A Reappraisal in the Light of New Documents,” Belleten, January 1972 and “The Displacement of Armenians: Documents, Ankara, 1978.” Nobody has ever been able to find a satisfactory explanation to conciliate the “genocide” charge with these orders.
“Furthermore, the Court considers, with the applicant, that ‘genocide’ is a well-defined legal concept … It is thus a very strict legal concept, which is, moreover, difficult to prove. The Court is not convinced that the ‘general consensus’ to which the Swiss courts have referred, to justify the conviction of the applicant, can bear on these very specific points of law.” In other terms, the ECHR noticed an obvious but fundamental fact: There is no consensus on the “Armenian genocide” charge. Indeed, since its emergence in the public debate, in 1965, these accusations have been challenged, with documentation, by respectable historians such as Edward J. Erickson, Bernard Lewis, Guenter Lewy, Stanford Jay Shaw and Gilles Veinstein.
The ECHR’s ruling is an unprecedented demolition of the core of the Armenian nationalist claims. Not surprisingly, there was huge pressure on the Swiss government, who violated its tradition of neutrality and accepted filing a poorly substantiated application to the Grand Chamber. Currently, there are unbelievable pressures on the Grand Chamber itself, both from Armenia and from the diaspora.
However, the re-examination of this case offers a new opportunity to see what Armenian activism is. Among the third parties, there are the Switzerland-Armenia Association (ASA) and the Coordination Council of France’s Armenian Associations (CCAF). The ASA was established in 1992 by James Karnusian, who had also established, two decades before, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), a terrorist, racist and anti-Semitic organization. Correspondingly, the co-chairmen of the CCAF are Jean-Marc “Ara” Toranian, a former spokesman of the ASALA, and Mourad Papazian, author of vitriolic articles supporting Armenian terrorism during the 1980s.
The Grand Chamber now has the choice between freedom of speech and those who defend a totalitarian conception of justice in the name of “democracy.”
Maxime Gauin is a researcher at the Center for Eurasian Studies (AVIM) and a PhD candidate at the Middle East Technical University history department.