In a move hailed by Armenia, Cyprus enacted on Thursdaya law making it a crime to publicly deny the 1915 Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey.
A bill unanimously passed by the Cypriot parliament made corresponding changes in the country’s existing legislation dealing with denial of crimes against humanity. Until now it required prior rulings by international courts.
“Today is a historic day,” the parliament speaker, Yiannakis Omirou, said, according to the Reuters news agency. “It allows parliament to restore, with unanimous decisions and resolutions, historical truths.”
The east Mediterranean island, partly occupied by Turkey since 1974, was one of the first countries worldwide in 1975 to recognize as genocide the World War One-era slaughter of some 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is one of the world leaders expected to attend the April 24 commemorations in Yerevan of the 100th anniversary of the genocide.
The passage of the Cypriot bill coincided with a visit to Nicosia by an Armenian parliamentary delegation headed by speaker Galust Sahakian. The latter met with Omirou and addressed the Cypriot parliament later on Thursday.
“I express our profound gratitude for the adoption by the Cyprus House of Representatives of the bill criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide,” Sahakian said in his speech. He described Cyprus as a “country that has for centuries displayed its friendly and brotherly attitude towards Armenia.”
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was also full of praise for the Greek Cypriots. “This is a symbolic event coming on the eve of the centenary of the Armenian Genocide,” Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian said in a written statement.
“With the passage of this bill Cyprus has made an important contribution to the noble task of preventing genocides and crimes against humanity,” added Nalbandian.
There was no immediate reaction to the development from official Ankara.
Official Yerevan reacted just as positively to the passage in recent years of similar bills by the parliaments of Switzerland, Slovakia and Greece. The French parliament also criminalized Armenian genocide denial in 2012. However, France’s highest court subsequently declared the move unconstitutional, citing French legislation guaranteeing freedom of speech.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) cited similar grounds when it struck down in 2013 a Swiss court ruling against a Turkish politician who branded the Armenian genocide an “international lie” during a lecture tour in Switzerland.
The Swiss government responded by appealing against the ECHR verdict. The Strasbourg-based court’s Grand Chamber opened hearings on the appeal, strongly backed by the Armenian government, in January.