The European Court of Human Rights has ruled it was not illegal for a Turk to deny the Armenian "genocide." The court ruled that a previous Swiss court ruling violated freedom of expression.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has sided with a Turkish citizen's right to free speech in denying the mass killing of Armenians during World War I constituted "genocide."
The freedom of speech case arose after Dogu Perincek, a longtime Turkish nationalist leftist and head of the Patriotic Party, was convicted by a Swiss court in 2007 and ordered to pay fines after he called the Armenian genocide a "great international lie" developed by the "imperialist" enemies of Turkey in a number of speeches in Switzerland in 2005.
The Swiss court and Switzerland-Armenia Association, which filed the criminal complaint, had accused Perincek of racial discrimination and incitement against Armenians in violation of Swiss law, which recognizes the Armenian massacres as "genocide."
Perincek challenged the Swiss verdict at the ECHR, whose lower chamber ruled in 2013 that the conviction violated his freedom of speech. The Swiss and Armenians then appealed the ruling and the case went to the ECHR's Grand Chamber.
The ECHR Grand Chamber's 10 to seven vote binding decision on Thursday, however, found Perincek's comments did not amount to incitement or contempt towards the victims of the Armenian massacres, nor did the comments seek to justify genocide.
The Swiss ruling was "an interference with the exercise of his right to freedom of expression," the ECHR said.
Perincek and his lawyers had argued there was no historical consensus on whether there was "genocide."
Commenting on Twitter after the verdict, Perincek said, "This is a historical debate, not a legal argument. This is defense of the nation. A war for independence."
The ECHR said that it did not have judgment over whether the massacres were a "genocide," but did make a distinction with the Holocaust, denial of which could amount to racial hatred and incitement.
Dispute over intentions
The terminology to describe deaths remains a major impediment to relations between Armenia and Turkey. The neighbors cut diplomatic ties with each other in the 1990s.
Turkey denies the massacre, deportation and starvation of Armenians starting in 1915 in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire amounts to ethnic cleansing, though it does recognized many Armenians died.
Turkey argues ethnic Armenians represented a fifth column backed by Russia and Britain during World War I and the mass death of Armenians was not "intentional," a key requirement in the legal definition of genocide.
Turkey also says hundreds of thousands of Muslims died from war, starvation, cold and disease in eastern Anatolia during the war. Turkey puts the number of Armenians who died at around 500,000, while Armenia puts the number at about 1.5 million out of a prewar population of some 2 million.
More than 20 countries have recognized the massacres as "genocide," including France and Germany.
Historians are split on this issue as well, often along political and national lines.