By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
I recently became aware of the Turkish government’s expulsion of an American teacher, violating her freedom of expression.
In an article published by the Gatestone Institute on April 8, 2018, Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut mentioned that Norma Jeanne Cox, a lecturer at Istanbul University, and subsequently at the Middle East Technical University in Gaziantep, Turkey, had spoken to “her students and colleagues about the 1915 Armenian genocide, the forced assimilation of Kurds, and protested against the film The Last Temptation of Christ. For these ‘crimes,’ she was arrested, fired from her job and ultimately deported. The [Turkish] Ministry of the Interior claimed that Cox had been expelled and banned from re-entering Turkey due to ‘her separatist activities, which were incompatible with national security.’ In a suit she filed with the European Court of Human Rights — which in 2010 convicted Turkey of violating her freedom of expression — Cox argued that her rights had been violated by Turkey because of her Christian faith and dissenting opinions.”
Since Ms. Cox’s case was not widely publicized, I looked up her lawsuit filed at the European Court of Human Rights on August 28, 2002 against the Turkish government and the judgment it rendered in her favor on May 20, 2010.
Here are the details of her lengthy case: On September 23, 1985, the deputy governor of Gaziantep sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior recommending that Ms. Cox, a Philadelphia native, be expelled from Turkey because of her “harmful activities.” She was accused of telling her students and colleagues at the university that “the Turks had expelled the Armenians and had massacred them. Moreover, the Turks had assimilated the Kurds and exploited their culture,” as stated by the European Court. In 1986, Ms. Cox was expelled from Turkey and her return was banned. Subsequently, she returned to Turkey and was arrested for distributing leaflets against the film The Last Temptation of Christ. She was expelled from Turkey again in 1989. In 1996, Ms. Cox returned once again to Turkey and during her departure, officials stamped her passport that she was banned from entering Turkey.
On October 14, 1996, Ms. Cox filed a lawsuit against the Turkish Ministry of the Interior at an Ankara Court, arguing that her expulsion was “in breach of domestic legislation, the [Turkish] Constitution and international conventions, including Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.” The Interior Ministry told the judge that Ms. Cox “had discussions with her students and colleagues about Turks assimilating Kurds and Armenians, and Turks forcing Armenians out of the country and committing genocide.” On October 17, 1997, the Ankara court rejected Ms. Cox’s lawsuit. Her appeal to the Supreme Court of Turkey was dismissed on January 20, 2000.
Ms. Cox then filed a complaint against Turkey in the European Court of Human Rights on August 28, 2002. The Court concluded that “there has been an interference with the applicant’s rights guaranteed by Article 10 of the [European] Convention” which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Furthermore, the European Court judged that “the ban on the applicant’s re-entry into Turkey was designed to repress the exercise of her freedom of expression and stifle the spreading of ideas.”
Ms. Cox had asked the European Court to award her 100,000 euros in damages “as a result of her deportation” since “she had to leave Turkey and had lost her job and income.” She had also asked for 100,000 euros for “non-pecuniary damage.”
The European Court decided that since it only dealt with Ms. Cox’s complaint about the violation of her freedom of expression, it had excluded the issues regarding her deportation and her loss of employment and income in Turkey. As a result, the Court ordered the Government of Turkey to pay Ms. Cox 12,000 euros within three months of the judgment for “non-pecuniary damage,” as well as any U.S. income tax she may owe on the awarded amount. In case the payment by Turkey was made after the deadline of three months, it had to pay an interest payment at the rate of three percentage points added to the simple interest rate equal to the marginal lending rate of the European Central Bank.
Ms. Cox had also claimed 20,000 euros for costs and expenses, but had not submitted any bills or any other information quantifying this claim. In the absence of such information and substantiation, the Court made no award in this respect.
Ms. Norma Jeanne Cox told me last month that she would like to return to Turkey as a “Christian Missionary to preach the gospel.” After several expulsions, a few years ago she had made one more attempt to go to Turkey. When she arrived at the Istanbul airport, she was not allowed to enter the country and was sent back to the United States on the next available flight!