Ever since news of her Hollywood relationship entered the public arena, Amal Clooney has been the talk of the town. On Wednesday 28th January, the British barrister-turned-celebrity laid her case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) against a Turkish politician who denied the Armenian genocide.
Between 1915-1917, Turkey’s Ottoman rulers massacred 1.5 million Armenians as they looked to expand their empire. The Turkish position is that the intent to kill Armenians was not genocidal. Therein lies the issue because they claim the killings were part of a conflict and not a systemic purge. Uh oh.
Along with Geoffrey Robertson QC, Mrs. Clooney is representing Armenia, supporting Switzerland in a case against Dogu Perincek, Chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party. Mr Perincek was convicted eight years ago in Switzerland under its anti-racism laws for dismissing the Armenian genocide of 1915 as an ‘international lie’; however, this decision was reversed by the ECtHR in December 2013 on the grounds that his right to freedom of speech was violated. The Armenian argument is that the implications of the 2013 decision ‘casts doubts about the reality of a genocide that Armenian people suffered a century ago’.
On the topic of freedom of speech, the decision is understandable but confusing, given Turkey’s track record on freedom of expression: the ECtHR itself has found against the Turkish government on 224 separate occasions on such matters. A fine example of double standards if ever there was one. The Armenian position was clearly iterated by Mrs Clooney – who argued for Turkish accountability over the massacre, not a limitation on free speech. Moreover, Mr Perincek’s thoughts and actions don’t reflect those of a man comfortable in his own skin. On the one hand he claims to ‘share the pain of Armenian citizens’, yet on the other he’s racked up significant Air Miles travelling across Europe in search of a genocide denial conviction to rouse his supporters. His conscience is about as clear as mud.
Turkey believes the genocide is not a matter of ‘general consensus’. The Turkish Foreign Ministry’s rhetoric on the issue is somewhat frightening as they claim ‘our memory does not support the Armenian narrative on the events of 1915’. The reality, however, is that whenever the truth has threatened to expose the establishment, dissidents have been systematically silenced. In 2007, newspaper editor Hrant Dink was assassinated for his views and ethnicity as an Armenian. In other words, the Turkish government’s stance appears to be ‘#jesuischarlie, but only when it suits me’.
It seems ludicrous that denial of this genocide remains an ongoing issue. Perhaps this is because the world’s biggest political superpowers in America and Britain are yet to recognise the genocide; only 18 countries in total acknowledge it. Given Turkey’s strategic location for bases and resources, it suggests America is complicit in denying the genocide for reasons of political expediency. As for Britain, the unofficial 51st State of America – it’s likely we haven’t recognised the genocide because we’re content with following the commands of our North American cousins. Instead, the task of promoting the injustices of the past have been left to members of the Armenian diaspora, which include the likes of Kim Kardashian (yes, her) and Serj Tankian of ‘System of a Down’. Not that I’m implying there’s any political appeasement taking place by the ECtHR (the judiciary is an independent body after all), it is a worrying state of affairs given that the highest continental court has previously failed to find Turkey guilty of genocide in spite of overwhelming evidence.
All the people of Armenia want are for the record books to be corrected. With the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide coming up on April 24th, it would be fitting if Clooney and Co could help close the book on 100 years of turmoil. As Amal Clooney states, Armenia will have its day in court.
By Kamran Khan