Sassounian’s column of March 15, 2007
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
A Swiss Court last week found Dogu Perincek, the leader of the radical leftist Turkish Workers’ Party, guilty of denying the Armenian Genocide. Perincek is described by prominent Turkish historian Halil Berktay as a "former Marxist, Maoist turned ultra-nationalist, ultra statist, [and] ultra-militarist."
Two years ago, he was detained and interrogated in Switzerland after stating that the Armenian Genocide was "an imperialist lie." He then dared the Swiss authorities to try him on charges of denying a genocide that he claimed never occurred.
Perincek arrived in Switzerland last week with a planeload of his fanatical supporters who describe themselves as members of the "Talat Pasha Committee." He claimed that he had brought with him 90 kilos (over 200 pounds) of "irrefutable" Russian and Armenian documents that backed his denials of the Armenian Genocide. In advance of the trial, he repeatedly expressed his conviction that he would be able to prove in court, once and for all, that the Armenian Genocide "was a lie," thus forcing the Swiss to abolish the law banning the denial of the genocide.
Testifying on behalf of Perincek in court were four notorious Turkophiles : Prof. Justin McCarthy from the United States ; Norman Stone, a British denialist who teaches in Turkey ; Jean-Michel Thibaux, a Frenchman who recently moved to Turkey, Turkified his name and became a Turkish citizen ; and Prof. Paul Leidinger from Germany. Testifying against Perincek were genocide specialists Yves Ternon and Raymond Kevorkian from France and Tessa Hofmann from Germany.
In a pointed reference to the load of documents presented by Perincek, the Swiss prosecutor told the court : "90 kilos of paper do not wipe out 90 years of history ; and one million pages cannot get rid of one million victims."
Judge Pierre-Henri Winzap was not too impressed either by Perincek’s documents or the arguments presented by the four pro-Turkish academics. The Judge stated that the denial of the accepted historical fact of the Armenian Genocide was an arrogant provocation. In fact, the Swiss Parliament had recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2003, despite heavy pressure from the Turkish government. The Judge fined Perincek $7,350 in lieu of a 90-day suspended jail term, ordered him to pay a $2,450 fine and $4,750 for court costs.
In addition, the court warned Perincek that should he deny the Armenian Genocide again within the next 24 months, he could face imprisonment. Perincek thus became the first person to be convicted under Switzerland’s anti-racism law for denying the Armenian Genocide. Article 261bis of the Swiss penal code — which outlaws the denial, minimization or justification of genocide — was heretofore applied only to those who denied the Jewish Holocaust.
Perincek’s supporters tried unsuccessfully to pressure the Swiss judiciary by holding noisy rallies outside the courthouse, waving large Turkish flags and banners. In a highly inappropriate move, the Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek met with his Swiss counterpart Christoph Blocher in Bern during the weekend before the trial. Blocher, who is the leader of the right-wing Swiss Popular Party, was severely criticized by Swiss politicians and the media for having suggested in October 2006 during a visit to Turkey that this particular Swiss law should be dropped.
Next in line to be tried for having denied the Armenian Genocide during an earlier visit to Switzerland could be Yusuf Halacoglu, the head of the Historical Society of Turkey. Contrary to Perincek’s defiant behavior, openly challenging the Swiss authorities to try him in court, Halacoglu has been reticent to return to Switzerland fearing interrogation and possible detention.
The Switzerland-Armenia Association (SAA) and its co-president, Sarkis Shahinian should be commended for initiating the court proceeding against Perincek and sparing no effort in attaining this successful outcome. Given the special role of the SAA in this case, the Judge ordered Perincek to pay to the Swiss Armenian organization an additional $9,000 for legal expenses and "moral compensation."
Clearly, this court case is bound to have far-reaching consequences for the Armenian Cause. For years, Turkish denialists gleefully noted that the Armenian Genocide could not be qualified as such, since there were no court verdicts to that effect. Furthermore, this verdict transcended the conviction of Perincek as a lone Turkish individual. There were several indications that the Turkish government itself was both directly and indirectly implicated in this trial : Jean-Michel Thibaux, in responding to a question from the Judge, admitted that he was contacted by the Turkish Foreign Ministry and asked to testify on behalf of Perincek ; several officials of the Turkish Consulate General in Geneva attended the trial ; and when the Judge asked Perincek to disclose his income, he divulged that he merely earned about $2,500 a month. Despite his limited income, Perincek somehow had managed to charter a large airliner to transport his supporters from Turkey to Switzerland. Since it was obvious that the Turkish authorities were backing Perincek in a variety of ways, his conviction was a major setback for the Turkish state as well. In a written statement, the Turkish Foreign Ministry declared : "The court case was inappropriate, groundless and controversial in every sense."
Fortunately, Perincek is now intent on doing even more damage to Turkish denialism. He stated that he would appeal his conviction to a higher Swiss court, and failing there, he would take his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Should Perincek go through with his planned appeals and lose, Armenians would score more significant victories, attaining legal recognition of the Armenian Genocide in both Swiss and European courts.
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