ANKARA (Hurriyet)–Turkey’s President on Tuesday appeared to defend a controversial online petition campaign in Turkey apologizing for the Armenian Genocide, saying “everyone can express their opinions freely,” reported the Turkish Hurriyet daily newspaper.
Abdullah Gul’s remarks came during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov. The two leaders met for talks on regional and international cooperation.
The unprecedented apology was initiated earlier this month by a group of 200 Turkish academics, journalists, writers and artists apologizing for what they called the "Great Catastrophe that Ottoman Armenia’s suffered in 1915."
Their petition was posted on a special website (www.ozurdiliyoruz.com) on Monday. More than 7,000 Turks signed it as of Tuesday evening, indicating their names, occupations and places of residence.
“I cannot conscientiously accept the indifference to the Great Catastrophe that Ottoman Armenia’s suffered in 1915, and its denial,” reads the petition. “I reject this injustice and acting of my own will, I share the feelings and pains of my Armenian brothers and sisters, and I apologize to them.”
The signatories were careful not to describe the Armenian massacres as genocide, a highly sensitive term resented by the Turkish state and nationalist circles. Some prominent intellectuals that have used the word have been prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness.” One of them, Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink, was gunned down by a nationalist teenager in January 2007.
The “Great Catastrophe” evoked by the authors of the petition appears to be a translation of the Armenian phrase “Mets Yeghern” frequently used with regard to the 1915 massacres.
Turkish nationalists were quick to criticize the online apology. The Associated Press news agency reported that a group of some 60 retired Turkish diplomats issued a statement on Monday describing the move "as unfair, wrong and unfavorable to national interests."
"Such an incorrect and one-sided attempt would mean disrespecting our history," the diplomats said.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the opposition Nationalist Action Party said: "No one has the right to insult our ancestors, to present them as criminals and to ask for an apology."
"We are not betraying anyone. We are merely telling the Armenia’s that we share their grief," countered Gila Benmayor, a journalist and columnist for Hurriyet newspaper. Benmayor told the Associated Press that she signed the petition because she believes "the time has come for change."
Among the intellectuals who initiated the apology is Hasan Cemal, a veteran columnist working for another leading Turkish daily, “Milliyet.” Cemal is a gran’son of Ahmed Djemal Pasha, one of the three top “Young Turks” that ruled Ottoman Turkey during the final years of the empire and masterminded the genocide of more than a million Ottoman Armenia’s.
The petition’s signatories also include Cem Ozdemir, the ethnic Turkish leader of Germany’s Green Party.