By Harut Sassounian
While Turkey was pressuring the French President not to support a bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide, it had to cope with Greece, yet another country that just adopted a law making it illegal to deny genocides, including the Armenian Genocide. Greece is the third European country, after Slovakia and Switzerland, to pass such a law. The Swiss law, however, is under review by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for violating a Turkish defendant’s freedom of speech.
The French Parliament (2011) and Senate (2012) adopted a similar law to punish genocide denial which was overturned by the French Constitutional Council. To replace the failed law, French Deputy Valerie Boyer submitted a new bill to the Parliament last week. President Francois Hollande has also pledged to back the criminalization of Armenian Genocide denial.
Despite legal uncertainties regarding such laws in Europe, the Greek Parliament adopted by a vote of 54 to 42, on Sept. 9, an anti-hate crime law -- Combating Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism -- making it illegal to deny the Jewish Holocaust, and genocides recognized by international courts or by the Greek Parliament, i.e., the genocide of Pontus Greeks, the genocide of Asia Minor Greeks, and the Armenian Genocide. Those violating this new law would be fined up to 30,000 euros, and imprisoned for up to three years.
The Greek law stems from the European Union’s 2008 “Framework Decision against Racism and Xenophobia,” which urged all EU states to adopt laws that punish racism, xenophobia, denial of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Caught by surprise, Turkish officials and Azerbaijani propagandists made confusing statements about the Greek law. Initially, the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the Greek law, claiming that “it contradicts democratic principles and freedom of speech.” Soon however, the Foreign Ministry reversed itself and expressed the hope that the new Greek law would help protect the rights of Turks living in Greece! It should be noted that Greece adopted this law, despite Pres. Erdogan’s warning at the NATO Summit in Wales on Sept. 5 to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who flatly told the Turkish President that the Greek law would not violate international law. A similar warning was issued by Erdogan to the French President that adopting any new laws on the Armenian Genocide could complicate the relationship between their countries.
Azeri commentators also made contradictory claims even though the Greek law has nothing to do with Azerbaijan. One Azeri writer alleged that the Greek law does not mention the Armenian Genocide and that the Greek Parliament has never recognized the Armenian Genocide. Of course, both of these claims are completely false. Clearly, this Azeri writer does not know that the Greek Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide on April 25, 1996, and on July 10, 1996 Pres. Konstantinos Stefanopoulos signed a decree, declaring April 24 to be “the memorial day of the genocide of the Armenians by Turkey.”
A second Azeri, V. Seyidov, not only acknowledged that the Greek law covers the Armenian Genocide, but went ahead and dared Greek police to arrest him after planning to state in Athens that “the Armenian Genocide is not a historical fact”! Assuming Mr. Seyidov would dare to carry out his bluff, it remains to be seen whether he will be thrown into a Greek jail or hailed as a ‘hero’ by denialists in Turkey and Azerbaijan, depending on ECHR’s final ruling.
Armenia’s Foreign Minister and Parliament praised Greece for adopting the law on criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. However, it is high time that the Armenian Parliament officially recognize the Greek Genocide in Ottoman Turkey. Past efforts to do so have been quashed by the Armenian government for unknown and incomprehensible reasons!
On Sept. 22, Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia is scheduled to meet with Greek Prime Minister Samaras in Athens, during which His Holiness is expected to express his gratitude to the Greek government for adopting the law against genocide denial.
On the eve of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, it would be most salutary if ECHR would overturn its earlier ruling on the Swiss law and if France would adopt a new law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide, paving the way for other European countries to follow suit.