Sassounian: European Court of Human Rights Provides More Options to Sue Turkey

While there is frequent talk about the pursuit of Armenian claims against Turkey in the International Court of Justice (World Court), the possibility of taking legal action in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is rarely mentioned, despite its distinct advantages.

The key difference between the two courts is that only governments can file lawsuits in the World Court, while any individual, group, or state can take legal action in the ECHR, giving Armenians countless possibilities for lawsuits against the Turkish state. Litigants before ECHR must first exhaust all domestic remedies and be from one of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, which includes both Armenia and Turkey.

It is not a coincidence that Turkey leads the list of countries being sued in the ECHR; in the last two and half years alone, over 20,000 cases have been filed against it. Contrary to popular belief, Turkey has no choice but to comply with all ECHR judgments if it wants to maintain its membership in the Council of Europe. This explains why the Ankara government has diligently paid tens of millions of dollars to litigants after losing hundreds of ECHR judgments.

A case in point is ECHR’s Oct. 1, 2013 decision against Turkey, in which the court awarded over 5 million euros (close to $7 million) to two Greek brothers, Ioannis Fokas and Evangelos Fokas, who live in Katerini, Greece. The Turkish courts had barred them from inheriting their sister Polikseni Pistika’s buildings in Turkey because of their Greek nationality.

In their lawsuit, the Fokas brothers claimed that “they had been deprived of the ownership and use of three immovable properties in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul, namely three buildings and land, which they were entitled to inherit from their sister.” The expropriated properties consisted of an 8-story building worth 3.3 million euros, a 6-story building worth 1.4 million euros, and a 4-story building worth 400,000 euros, based on the appraisal by an Istanbul real estate agency.

The ECHR found that the Turkish courts’ “refusal to recognize the applicants’ status as heirs constituted an interference with their right to peaceful enjoyment of their possessions and that such interference was incompatible with the principle of lawfulness. … Accordingly, recognition of the applicants as the heirs of Polikseni Pistika…would place them in the position they would have been in, had the State [Turkey] not expropriated the deceased’s property. … In those circumstances, an award of compensation for the pecuniary loss seems to be the most appropriate just satisfaction (see Nacaryan and Deryan vs. Turkey, no. 19558/02 and 27904/02, 16-17, January 8, 2008). The Court considers that such an award principally corresponds to the amount that the applicants could legitimately expect to have obtained as compensation for the loss of their property, had there been a mechanism to request such compensation.”

Based on the above ruling, the European Court awarded the Greek brothers 5 million euros for their expropriated real estate, and compensated them for their “anguish and frustration which the applicants must have experienced over the years in not being able to use their properties.” The ECHR ordered the Turkish government to pay the amount of the award to the applicants within three months.

In the referenced Nacaryan and Deryan vs. Turkey case, the ECHR found that Turkish courts had also violated the rights of Yeran-Janet Nacaryan and Armen Deryan by claiming that as Greek citizens, they could not inherit the property of their deceased relative in Turkey, “on the ground that the condition of reciprocity between Greece and Turkey had not been met.” The ECHR declared Turkey guilty and awarded the two Greek-Armenian applicants a total of 500,000 euros.

At the international conference of Armenian lawyers held in Yerevan last July, Constitutional Court chairman Gagik Harutunyan announced the formation of a committee of experts to study the legal merits of filing a lawsuit against Turkey to remedy the massive losses resulting from the Armenian Genocide.

Given the fact that the ECHR provides many more opportunities for European Council litigants than the World Court, the recently formed Armenian committee of legal experts should cast a wider net in considering the possibilities of filing lawsuits against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights, as well as in national and international courts.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. I think all these cases, and I’m sure many more others, are significant enough to be publicized to the world to expose the false Turkish democracy. Another thing that needs to be publicized is the ridiculous laws of reciprocity deliberately enacted to take advantage of and trample upon the rights of non-Muslims in Turkey.

    Furthermore, the ECHR should be flooded with many more legitimate and discriminatory cases against Turkey to hold Turkey’s feet to fire and to remind the Turkish leaders that they can’t put in place these ad-hoc laws to make life miserable for non-Muslims, as a method to get rid of them, and that there will be a price to pay for their actions and abuse of power.

    All non-Muslim communities should take full advantage of the rights granted to them by the ECHR, and denied by the Turkish government, to bring Turkey to its knees by reminding it that those days of mistreating non-Muslims with impunity are over and that they will be held accountable for their belligerent discriminatory bogus actions and laws.

  2. thank you for sharing this interesting venue to pusue the Armenian Cause. I have the following questions:
    how much is the court’s decision obligatory to Turkey? What happens if Turkey does not comply? Did Turkey actualy pay 500,000 Euros toNacaryan and Deryan? Thanks for your time.

  3. You are providing an oversimplified view of the ECHR. There are many legal hurdles to bringing a Genocide-related case: statute of limitations, standing, potential remedies, etc.

  4. What BS! The Turks conquered and acquired the land in winning the war and the loosing side is trying to take them to court… cmon this is the spoils of war im afraid. Armenians get over it!

  5. Josef, the Armenian Genocide was not a war! It was a barbaric assault carried out under the cover of war. The European Court of Human Rights is an appropriate place to seek justice for these human rights abuses. I’m afraid your theory regarding the spoils of war is spoiled.

    Vartan Papaz, I believe genocide has no statute of limitations.

  6. An imperial army, backed by two other imperial armies, and millions of armed & sympathetic civilians vs. a minority civilian population that was not allowed to own weapons.

    Sounds like a war to me.

  7. The more option(s) Harut refers to may be ONE, that is called Class Action Lawsuit,which embodies a Group of people taking action.
    Individual lawsuits as explained in his essay/article,whether we like or not depends on ¨individuals¨themselves.They may keep on it.
    I´d rather we (our int´l Attorneys prepared the CLASS ACTION file and lodged it with this European Court of Human rights,where chances are ,as a nation dislodged, raped, massacred put to fire and above all subjected to Genocide can best proceed and in my humble/modest viewpoint PRESS FOR BLOOD MONEY.
    This has antecedents(the Jews vs Germany)and can more likely be judged as REAL ,ratified by other such instances as well then …
    Time for great Turkey to cough up!!!!
    if coffers empty then through the incoming Transit Duties of the passage of oil via that country.At least half to armenian heirs of the survivors..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.