Waiting for Perincek

Vartan Matiossian

On March 11, 2014, Switzerland appealed the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case Perincek v. Switzerland (27510/08), which had set a very troubling and controversial precedent of freedom of expression. On December 17, 2013, the ruling had overturned the conviction of Turkish politician Doğu Perinçek in 2007 by a Swiss police court, upheld by two other courts, for stating that the Armenian genocide was an “international lie” in a number of conferences held in Switzerland in 2005. We are still waiting for the response to the appeal from the Great Chamber of the ECHR.

One particular paragraph of the partially dissident opinion by judges Vučinić and Pinto de Albuquerque is by itself a powerful indictment of the Turkish denialist politician himself (and of denialist practices), and includes an interesting equation that should be a teaching moment for most people. The judges took the pains of including the name(s) of the Armenian genocide in the language and the alphabet of the victims, along with the name of the Jewish genocide in the language of the victims (but not the alphabet). Here is the paragraph in our translation from the French original, as there is no English official translation of the ruling and the partially dissident opinion:
"As the Court has said in the case Garaudy, to accuse the victims themselves of falsifying history is 'one of the most acute forms of racial defamation towards [them] and hate incitement towards them' and, therefore, is 'of nature that disturbs gravely the public order' and goes against the rights of others. This consideration must be equally applied to Armenians. The sufferings underwent by an Armenian due to the genocidal policy of the Ottoman Empire have no less value than those of a Jew under Nazi genocidal policy. And the denial of the Hayots Tseghaspanutyun (Հայոց Ցեղասպանութիւն) or Meds Yeghern (Մեծ Եղեռն) is no less dangerous than the denial of the Shoah."(1)
Several notes are in order:
1) Hayots Tseghaspanutyun literally means "Genocide of Armenians." Of course, it is also used as "Armenian Genocide."
2) The use of the conjunction or means that the event under denial has two names: Hayots Tseghaspanutyun and Meds Yeghern.
3) The transcription Meds Yeghern, patterned and popularized by President Barack Obama's five statements of 2009-2014, was never used before him.
4) Since Hayots Tseghaspanutyun means "Armenian Genocide" and is synonym with Meds Yeghern, then Meds Yeghern means "Armenian Genocide."
5) The transcription Hayots Tseghaspanutyun follows Eastern Armenian phonetics, but the writing Հայոց Ցեղասպանութիւն is in the traditional orthography. This points out to its source from the Diaspora and not from the Republic of Armenia. 
The indisputable equation Hayots Tseghaspanutyun = Armenian Genocide = Meds Yeghern has been recorded in a legal document from a court of international law. So much for the views that Meds Yeghern does not mean anything to Americans--as if Americans were the center of the world--and has no "judicial meaning."
President Obama has been saying Meds Yeghern for five years.  However, some Armenians in the Diaspora--outside the United States, obviously--have known what Meds Yeghern actually means and have been the source of the minority opinion.
One wonders where the innocent kid has been all this time to tell the emperor that he is naked, e.g. that President Obama has been saying "Armenian Genocide" for five years (and not the ridiculous mistranslation "Great Calamity").
One wonders whether one day we will allow ourselves to be the masters of the narrative, at least,  to fight with tooth and nails every time people try to steal the words of our language from under our nose.
When they steal the words of our language, they still our voice. This is why we end barking up the wrong tree.
Because we allow them to leave us without an authentic voice to say what actually needs to be said.

[1]http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-139276 (emphasis added). Together with many Armenian organizations worldwide, the Human Rights Association in Turkey, a group on the forefront of the recognition of the Armenian genocide within the country, demanded an appeal with a letter to the Swiss Minister of Justice; in the paraphrase of the main arguments of the dissenting opinion, Medz Yeghern appeared with a curious translation, which was not in the original document: “To accuse the victims of distorting history is an invitation to most violent racist defamation and hate. The sufferings of an Armenian due to the Ottoman Empire’s genocide policy is [sic] not less serious than those of a Jew under the Nazi’s genocidal policies. Denial of the Meds Yeghern (“Great enormity,” i.e. “infamous crime” in Armenian) is not less dangerous than the denial of Shoah” (“Turkey Rights Group Dissapointed in ECHR Decision, Urges Appeal,” The Armenian Weekly, February 24, 2014). The odd translation “great enormity” is provided only by an online translation software (Google Translate). Incidentally, the French translation inserted a choice of its own, “Great Atrocity”: “La négation du ‘Medz Yeghern’ (‘Grande Atrocité’, c’est-à-dire ‘crime infâme’ en Arménien) n’est pas moins dangereuse que la négation de la Shoah” (“L’association turque des droits de l’homme demande à la Suisse de faire appel,” Nouvelles d’Arménie en Ligne, February 26, 2014, http://www.armenews.com/article.php3?id_article=97623).

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