Geoffrey Robertson QC and Amal Clooney Represent Armenia in ECHR

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) saw the proceedings of an extremely high-profile case regarding the issue of freedom of expression and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The case featured the esteemed Geoffrey Robertson QC among others, such as Amal Clooney, in the 17-member team representing the Republic of Armenia in the aforementioned case.

The case reached the highest echelon of European courts following numerous appeals on the behalf of Doğu Perinçek, who was found guilty of racial discrimination in 2007 after branding the Genocide as an “international lie” in Switzerland. It is, of course, against the law to deny the Armenian Genocide in Switzerland due to several pieces of anti-racism legislation.

Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the left-wing Turkish Workers’ Party, had his appeals to higher Swiss courts dismissed – and thus filed a complaint to the ECHR in June 2008 on the basis of the encroachment of his freedom of expression. The Turkish government followed as a third party on the case with written comments questioning the veracity of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The ECHR sided with Perinçek in December 2013, stating that his conviction under Swiss anti-racism laws was “unjustified”.

The Republic of Armenia has since challenged the ECHR verdict, and is being represented by barristers from Doughty Street Chambers in London. The case was heard on Wednesday 28 January in Strasbourg, and featured extremely moving oratories by Robertson QC and Clooney. Robertson accused Perinçek of being an admirer of Talaat Pasha, as well as travelling across Europe and inciting racial hatred by consistently denying the Genocide in speeches. Perinçek, described as “an incorrigible genocide denier, a criminal and a vexatious litigant pest” argued that he had been imprisoned in Turkey for defending Kurds – and therefore had no wish to incite racial hatred.

Amal Clooney, who also worked with Robertson QC on the Elgin Marbles case, attracted rows of paparazzi to the court proceedings – sparking a social media fervour surrounding the case and Clooney’s involvement. She accused Turkey of “double standards on freedom of expression”, hypocritical due to its “disgraceful record on freedom of expression”.

Despite the case bringing significant attention to the issue of the Armenian Genocide, there is clear dichotomy for our people between the issue of judicial precedent in favour of the Armenians, and the concept of freedom of expression. If the court judgement were to rule in our favour, it would set a legal precedent to prevent the future denial of the Armenian Genocide by European citizens. This could inevitably lead to its official recognition by more European states, a crucial step forward in bringing justice for the 1.5 million who perished. However the judgment would also undermine freedom of expression even further – with Europe still reeling from ‘Je Suis Charlie’.  Although the Doughty Street lawyers emphasised that they had no wish to prevent historical debate, several Professors of Law across the globe have criticised the nature of the court proceedings. It must be concluded that the issue of the Genocide can only be solved by historians and enforced by lawyers – and this case could set an important precedent for our cause.

The ECHR proceedings can be watched here.
A simple summary of the aforementioned case can be found here.

—Emin Moskofian

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