Apologetic Turks heading for jail?

A group of Turkish authors who initiated an online apology for the WWI killings of Armenians may get jail sentences for ‘insulting the Turkish people’.

A Turkish prosecutor has opened an investigation into a group of intellectuals that created a web-page apologising for the massacre of Armenians in Turkey that started in 1915. The state prosecutor of Ankara is checking whether the apology violates Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which calls ‘insulting Turkish people’ a criminal deed and carries a jail sentence for those convicted.

The group of suspects set up a web-page which included an apology for the ‘catastrope’ in the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) that took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. Writers, academics, and other intellectuals posted a petition at www.ozurdiliyoruz.com (We Are Sorry) and offered a personal apology to Armenians, and also called on the Turkish government to acknowledge the fact of the massacre. The term ‘genocide’ was not used though.

The mass murder is recognised as genocide by Russia and 21 other countries, but in Turkey the topic is taboo. The authorities strongly oppose the use of the term ‘genocide’ and say the figures are greatly exaggerated, with only thousands murdered. Turkey and Armenia have no diplomatic ties to this day, though in 2008 they started talks on normalising relations. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, the petition may be instrumental in undermining efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

Article 301 of penal code was amended last year following pressure from the EU, an organisation that Turkey would like to join in the future. Now the Justice Minister has to approve any court case. Europe is also demanding that Turkey expands its political freedoms, freedom of speech and improves minority rights to meet EU standards for membership.

Turkey has a record of prosecuting journalists, academics and authors for using the word ‘genocide’ when talking about the events that took place in 1915-1917. Among those who have faced such charges is Nobel Prize-winner writer Orhan Pamuk, when he stood accused of ‘insulting Turkey’s national character’. On that occasion, however, the Justice Ministry threw out the prosecution’s case following an international outcry.