ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–A group of Turkish intellectuals who initiated an online apology for what they called the “Great Catastrophe” of 1915 may get jail sentences for ‘insulting the Turkish people’, Reuters reported.
A Turkish prosecutor has opened an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the authors of the online petition. The state prosecutor in Ankara is probing whether the group of intellectuals who offered the apology violated Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which criminalizes "insulting the Turkish people," Anatolian reported.
The group under investigation set up the online apology in December, garnering over 26,000 signatures in support of the initiative and sparking a long overdue discussion in Turkey about the Armenian Genocide, a topic still considered taboo in Turkey.
Turkey, a European Union applicant, has promised to expand political freedoms, such as free speech, and improve minority rights to meet the bloc’s human rights criteria for membership. Turkey changed Article 301 last year in response to EU criticism and the law requires the Justice Minister to approve any court case, but conviction still carries a jail sentence.
The group of writers, academics and other intellectuals set up a petition at www.ozurdiliyoruz.com (We Are Sorry) that offered Armenia’s a personal apology and called for the Turkish government to acknowledge the killings. The statement stopped short of referring to the killings as genocide, a term strongly opposed in Ankara, but the army and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan slammed those involved.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said last month that the online petition could undermine efforts to improve relations with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties. President Abdullah Gul, in early January, followed suit, warning the campaign could have a negative effect on Turkish-Armenian reconciliation. The two sides launched talks last year on normalizing relations.
Turkey in the past has prosecuted academics and authors, including Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk, for remarks criticizing the official stance on the Armenian issue. In January 2007, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who had similarly been prosecuted under Article 301, was gunned down by a nationalist teenager for advocating a more honest discussion about the genocide.