Amal Clooney, a world-famous lawyer, urged the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) not to give the green light to public denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide on Wednesday as she represented Armenia in a high-profile case involving a controversial Turkish politician.
Clooney pointed to “overwhelming evidence” of the World War One-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks at the start of hearings in Strasbourg on an appeal lodged by Switzerland and backed by Armenia.
The case stems from a 2007 Swiss court ruling against Dogu Perincek, the leader of a small Turkish nationalist party who branded the Armenian genocide an “international lie” during a lecture tour in Switzerland. Perincek was fined by the court in line with a Swiss anti-racism law that bans any act of denying, belittling or justifying genocide. The ruling was upheld by the Swiss Federal Court.
Acting on an appeal filed by Perincek, the ECHR ruled in December 2013 that the Swiss verdicts violated an article of the European Convention on Human Rights that guarantees freedom of expression. It also said that there is no “general consensus" that the mass killings and deportations of Armenians constituted genocide.
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice responded by asking the Strasbourg court’s Grand Chamber to review the case. The Armenian government welcomed the move, saying that it will act as a third party in the hearings on the Swiss appeal.
Armenia’s Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian is personally representing the government in the case along with an international legal team comprising Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson, a British-Australian attorney and academic.
“It is an honor to appear before you today on behalf of the government of Armenia,” Clooney told a panel of senior ECHR judges in her opening remarks broadcast live on the Internet. “The stakes could not be higher for the Armenian people,” she said.
The Lebanese-born attorney, who married Hollywood film star George Clooney in September, deplored the 2013 Strasbourg court verdict, saying that it “cast doubt on the reality of genocide that Armenian people suffered a century ago.”
“The court did not explain why it was overruling the Swiss court, which had heard and examined 90 kilograms of evidence on the matter. Instead, the lower court reached its conclusions that the genocide was not proved or even provable without using any of the fact-gathering tools that were available to it,” she said before listing some of the well-known facts about the genocidal character of the 1915 massacres.
“Armenia is not here to argue against freedom of expression any more than Turkey is here to defend it,” Amal Clooney went on. “This court knows very well how disgraceful Turkey’s record on free expression is. You have found against the Turkish government in 224 separate cases on freedom of expression grounds.”
Perincek, meanwhile, remained adamant in denying a premeditated government effort to exterminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian population. He said that making a public expression of his views, which essentially reflect the official Turkish version of events, a crime would deal a serious blow to free speech. Perincek, 72, also insisted that he did not mean to offend Armenians.
Robertson brushed aside these assurances, calling the Turkish politician an “incurable genocide denier.” Britain’s “The Daily Telegraph” newspaper quoted Robertson as saying that Perincek deliberately travelled across Europe in order to provoke a conviction for genocide denial and “arouse his supporters in Turkey.”
The landmark case is being closely watched in both Turkey and Armenia, coming ahead of the 100th anniversary of the genocide to be marked in April. According to “Hurriyet Daily News,” several prominent Turkish politicians, including former European Affairs Minister Egemen Bagis, travelled to Strasbourg to attend the hearings. Large groups of Armenians and Turks staged rival demonstrations outside the court building during the proceedings.