YEREVAN (ArmRadio)–The Turkish government’s stranglehold on discussion of the Armenian Genocide among its people is weakening, according to Armenia’s leading expert on the country.
Turkey is not the same country it was three years ago, Ruben Safrastyan, the Director of the Oriental Institute at Armenia’s National Academy of Sciences said Monday.
Safrastyan’s remarks come a week after 200 Turkish intellectuals launched an internet petition apologizing to the Armenia’s for what they called the "injustice" of the "Great Catastrophe" of 1915. The petition, which has drawn the ire of Turkish nationalists and government officials, garnered over 20,000 signatures by Monday, stirring a media storm on the topic and challenging long-held taboos on the Armenian Genocide.
Incidentally, the petition has not yet been met with legal action under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code criminalizing discussion on the Armenian genocide on the grounds it insults the Turkish state.
The infamous law still plays a major role in the state’s censorship of the issue, Safrastyan said, but the government’s control over public discourse surrounding the genocide is weakening year by year and the atmosphere of fear surrounding the taboo topic is slowly diminishing.
Safrastyan hailed the unprecedented apology campaign for its ability to break through Turkey’s thick wall of denial, describing it as “a first step” to building “more principled” initiatives that will see more open discussion of the genocide.
The number of prominent intellectuals officially endorsing the petition was “very small,” Safrastyan noted, adding that these “voices cannot be viewed as the opinion of Turkish society.” Another glaring shortfall of the campaign, he explained, was its “avoidance of the word genocide in the apology letter, using the less explosive Great Catastrophe instead.”
Armenia and Turkey have seen an apparent thaw in relations since President Serzh Sarkisian met with his Turkish counterpart in Armenia to watch a soccer game between their national teams. The meeting, which kicked off a series of negotiations between Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers, has raised prospects that Ankara may be ready lift its blockade and normalize relations with Yerevan.
According to Safrastyan, however, the situation developing between the two countries cannot be described as a thaw in relations. According to him, the developmen’s that have followed Gul’s visit to Armenia can only be considered as “a step forward in the relations between the two countries” rather than the establishment of dialogue.