Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1232, (5 - 11 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Clooney goes to court for Armenia

Lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney is appearing for Armenia at the European Court of Human Rights in a case drawing new attention to Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, reports Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

Al-Ahram Weekly

International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney and UK barrister Geoffrey Robertson appeared at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France, last week. They were representing Armenia in the century-old dispute between Armenia and Turkey over the 1915 genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenians, in which 1.5 million people died.

The case comes following an appeal by Switzerland to the ECHR after a previous ruling that the right of the leader of the Turkish Workers Party, Doğu Perinçek, to express his views had been violated by a Swiss court.

In 2007 Perinçek was sentenced to four months in prison after saying the Armenian Genocide was an “international lie” at a conference in Lausanne in 2005. Denial of the genocide is against Swiss law.

In 2008 Perinçek appealed to the ECHR, citing his right to freedom of expression, and in December 2013 the ECHR found in Perinçek’s favour. Turkey and Armenia then became parties to the case, and the appeal against the 2013 decision began last week.

In her opening statement, Clooney said the judge’s decision in the 2013 case was “simply wrong,” but added that in bringing the appeal Armenia did not want to prohibit free speech. “Armenia is not here to argue against freedom of expression any more than Turkey is here to defend it. This court knows very well how disgraceful Turkey’s record on freedom of expression is,” she said.

As many observers have noted, Turkey’s claim to defend free speech is ironic at best. In December, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrested opposition journalists and accused them of “forming a terrorist organisation” and “trying to seize control of the state.”

Only last week, Turkish authorities arrested a former Miss Turkey for “insulting” Erdogan by quoting him in a poem published on social media. In September 2014, the US-based Human Rights Watch also said that Erdogan and the ruling Turkish Justice and Development Party were taking far-reaching steps to weaken the rule of law, control the media and clamp down on critics and protesters, stating that these “changes are really worrying.”

Paparazzi who filled the courtroom for the appeal appeared to be more interested in the fact that one of the two lawyers is the wife of actor George Clooney than the case being heard.

Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), told Al-Ahram Weekly that the media storm in no way distracted from the importance of the case. “Armenians worldwide welcome Amal Clooney and Geoffrey Robertson’s compelling presentation of the facts, the law and the morality of Armenia’s case against the denial of the Armenian Genocide,” he said.

Their stature as international human rights lawyers will help focus the world’s attention on this still unpunished genocide, he said, brining Turkey’s denial campaign into the light of day and contributing to the growing international consensus that there must be resolution of the crime, Hamparian added.

Some observers say that the case may be understood to be about freedom of expression and that the judges may again decide against Switzerland, though this should in no way be seen as endorsing Turkey’s views on the genocide.

Others say that denying the genocide should be understood as a hate crime under Swiss law in the same way that denying the Holocaust is a punishable offence in many countries. One judge at the court said that Perinçek’s case remains strong because it turns on freedom of speech and not the genocide.

In his remarks to the court, Robertson described Perinçek as a “vexatious litigant pest” and he questioned why the court was “giving comfort to genocide deniers.”

“What is really worrying are the vast errors of Chamber 2, which we urge the Grand Chamber to correct, in the fact that they promote the idea that the Holocaust is the only real genocide ... it is wrong to excuse or to minimise other mass murders on the grounds of racist religions because they had fewer victims or different methods of killing.

“What matters to Armenians, to Jews, to Bosnians and Cambodians, to Rwandan Tutsis and today to Yazidis is not the manner of their death or whether an international court has convicted the perpetrators, but the fact that they were targeted as unfit to live because they were Jews or Armenians or Yazidis.

“The reasoning in this judgement [in 2013] damages the vital human rights cause of genocide prevention … That there is any doubt about the truth of the Armenian Genocide should not feature in its [the court’s] reasoning. It was not, as genocide deniers pretend, a tragedy. It was a crime, an international crime of genocide.”

In the past many observers, including British prime minister Winston Churchill, described the events as the “Armenian Holocaust.” Robertson recently published a book titled An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians? The book argues that the 1915 events constituted a crime against humanity, known today as genocide. Robertson will also be a speaker at an international conference marking the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in New York in March.

Diaspora Armenians are organising events across the world to mark the centenary of the genocide in April. However, in what is being seen as a cynical move, Erdogan last month sent invitations to more than 100 international figures, including Armenian President Serj Sarkissian, asking them to participate in the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli which will be marked in Turkey on the same day as the genocide centenary. The move is seen as an attempt to distract attention from the centenary of the genocide, which Turkey continues to deny.

Amal Alamuddin Clooney, 37, is the daughter of a Lebanese family. Her father is a Druze businessman who moved to London when Amal was a child, after the outbreak o Df the Lebanese Civil War. She has previously acted in other high-profile cases, including those involving former Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah Al-Senussi and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“The case of Doğu Perinçek shows that Turkey’s walls of denial are crumbling and Ankara’s obstruction of justice will be the next to fall,” Hamparian told the Weekly.

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