By Elias Hazou
LAWMAKERS on Monday agreed to amend current legislation criminalising the denial of genocide if the genocide in question has been recognised by the House.
The matter is fundamentally about the Armenian genocide, and resurfaced last week due to the upcoming visit to Cyprus of the speaker of the Armenian National Assembly to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
As it stands, the law states that denial of crimes against humanity and genocide is a criminal offence only where the crime in question has been recognised by irrevocable decision of an international court.
Cyprus is among 22 countries that have recognised the Armenian genocide. However, because the International Criminal Court has not recognised it, thus far denial of the genocide was not a criminal offence here.
House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou was keen to add a clause to the legislation, making genocide denial a criminal offence whether it has been recognised by an international court or by a resolution of the Cyprus parliament.
Following debate at the House legal affairs committee on Monday, the parties took on board Omirou’s legislative proposal, but with a modification – denial of genocide will constitute a criminal offence only where the House resolution recognising that genocide was unanimous.
Omirou had wanted the law amended before or during the visit here by Galust Sahakyan, speaker of the Armenian National Assembly.
Sources from the ruling DISY party told the Mail that the House may hold an extraordinary session of the plenum on Thursday morning, before the scheduled plenary, to pass the legal amendment.
Sahakyan, due on the island on Wednesday, is on Thursday afternoon scheduled to address the House of Representatives.
While on an official trip to Armenia last November, Omirou appears to have promised his Armenian counterpart that Cyprus would criminalise the denial of the Armenian genocide, as other countries – Switzerland, Slovakia, Greece – have done.
The same DISY sources dismissed the notion, as reported by daily Simerini, that Omirou and the presidency were at odds over amending the law.
The only reservations the president had was that the government was not consulted on the matter, which pertains to foreign policy.
The sources also refuted media reports that DISY MPs had argued in committee against criminalising denial because it might anger the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, particularly at this juncture when peace talks may resume.
Cyprus was the first European country (and the second worldwide, after Uruguay) to officially recognise the Armenian genocide. On April 24, 1975, Resolution 36 was voted unanimously by the House of Representatives.
Given that decision was unanimous, the criminalisation amendment now being proposed should automatically apply to the Armenian genocide.
In turn that suggests that criminalising denial of that event was never a point of contention among MPs – except perhaps for the fact that DISY was making the point of principle that such decisions must be unanimous, in this way giving the government of the day – via the ruling party’s votes in the House – leverage in foreign policy-related matters.
Under the law, the denial or “flagrant downgrading” of recognised war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, provided the crime has been recognised by an international court, is punishable by up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of €10,000.
The governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan deny the Armenian genocide. International organisations officially recognising the Armenian Genocide include the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the World Council of Churches.
The Armenian genocide was the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects from their historic homeland within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey.
It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923.