A Swiss court found a Turkish politician guilty on Friday of denying that mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 amounted to genocide, the first such conviction under Swiss law.
Dogu Perincek, head of the leftist-nationalist Turkish Workers' Party, called the branding of the killings as genocide "an international lie" during a speech in the Swiss city of Lausanne in July 2005.
Judge Pierre-Henri Winzap sentenced him at the Lausanne criminal court to a 90-day suspended jail term and fined him 3,000 Swiss francs ($2,461), in line with the prosecutor's request, Swiss news agency ATS reported. He ordered Perincek to pay a symbolic fine of 1,000 Swiss francs to the Swiss-Armenian Association for "moral injury".
Winzap told the court Perincek was an "arrogant instigator" and "racist" who had intentionally denied the genocide, which Swiss public opinion considered "an established historic fact".
The 65-year-old politician, whose party has no seats in the Turkish parliament, was convicted under a 1995 Swiss law which bans denying, belittling or justifying any genocide. The maximum penalty is three years. Twelve Turks were acquitted of similar charges in 2001.
Perincek, who submitted 90 kg (200 lb) of historical documents, argued there had been no genocide against Armenians, but there had been "reciprocal massacres". "I defend my right to freedom of expression. There was no genocide, therefore this law cannot apply to my remarks," he said in his opening statement on Tuesday. He told reporters he would appeal the sentence which he denounced as "unjust and impartial" and "imperialist".
The case has further soured relations between neutral Switzerland and Turkey, which denies any genocide during the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in World War One.
Armenia says around 1.5 million Armenians perished in the killings, while Turkey says the deaths were part of inter-ethnic fighting, disease and famine in which both sides suffered. Ankara was incensed last year when France's parliament approved a bill that made it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. The bill did not become law.
The U.S. Congress is widely expected to back a resolution next month recognizing the killings as genocide. The Bush administration is opposed to the move, fearing the impact on relations with its NATO ally.
The Swiss-Armenian Association said the ruling showed the Swiss law was an "important and efficient instrument". "The tribunal's decision today confirmed the opinion expressed during parliamentary debates that the article of the criminal code in question does not only apply to the Shoah (Jewish Holocaust)," it said in a statement.
Also on Friday, a Turkish court on Friday fined two men for insulting and threatening via e-mail Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of the tiny Armenian community, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Gokmen Akman was given a fine of 1,287 Turkish liras ($910) on charges of both insulting and threatening the patriarch, while Hasan Ezer was sentenced to pay 77 Turkish liras ($55) for just insulting Mesrob II, the report said. According to the indictment, the two men sent e-mails to the patriarch in October 2004 which read "We will finish you off" and "We will drive you crazy."
Turkey's 80,000-strong Armenian community, which lives mainly in Istanbul, generally keeps a low profile for fear of becoming a target for ultranationalists in the row over the World War I massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire.
In January, ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, hated for his views on the Armenian massacres, was shot dead outside his office in a murder which prosecutors believe was the work of ultra-nationalists. Since then, anxiety has engulfed the Armenian community, and in recent interviews Mesrob II has said that his office had been receiving threats. On Wednesday, one of two men charged by an Istanbul court for firing outside an Armenian church at the weekend claimed that his real target had been the patriarch.