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Turks apologize for Armenian massacres
Prominent intellectuals show regret online for World War I-era atrocities
Mon., Dec. 15, 2008
ANKARA, Turkey - A group of about 200 Turkish intellectuals on Monday issued an apology on the Internet for the World War I-era
massacres of Armenians in Turkey.
The group of prominent academics, journalists, writers and artists avoided using the contentious term "genocide" in the apology, using
the less explosive "Great Catastrophe" instead. "My conscience does not accept that (we) remain insensitive toward and deny the Great
Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected in 1915," read the apology. "I reject this injustice, share in the feelings and pain
of my Armenian brothers, and apologize to them." The apology is a sign that many in Turkey are ready to break a long-held taboo against
acknowledging Turkish culpability for the deaths.
Historians estimate that, in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what is
widely regarded as the first genocide of the 20th century. Armenians have long pushed for the deaths to be recognized as genocide.
While Turkey does not deny that many died in that era, the country has rejected the term genocide, saying the death toll is inflated and the
deaths resulted from civil unrest during the Ottoman Empire's collapse.
Nearly 2,500 members of the public also signed the online apology, giving their support to the intellectuals.
Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted after he commented on the mass killings in 2005. Hrant Dink, an ethnic
Armenian journalist was shot outside his Istanbul office in 2007, following his prosecution for comments he made about the killings of
Armenians. Turkish nationalists have criticized the online apology and on Monday a group of some 60 retired Turkish diplomats
described 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 Nationalist Action Party said: "No one has the right to insult
our ancestors, to present them as criminals and to ask for an apology."
By late Monday, there were no public threats of legal action over the petition. "Many in Turkey today, in good faith, believe that nothing
happened to the Armenians. For many years, the official line has been that this was a secondary event that occurred in the conditions of
World War I. But the truth is not so," Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University and one of the petition's organizers told
Vatan newspaper in an interview. 'Voice from the conscience' "It is a voice from the conscience. Those who want to apologize can, those
who don't want to don't have to," he said. Gila Benmayor, a journalist and columnist for Turkey's mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper
said she signed the petition because she believes "the time has come for change." "Some things need to spoken, need to be discussed
and expressed in an open way," she told The Associated Press. She said she did not hesitate to sign the petition because the wording
was not controversial. "The words were carefully chosen so as not to upset any side," she said. "We are not betraying anyone. We are
merely telling the Armenians that we share their grief."
The apology comes at a time when Turkey and Armenia have taken steps toward repairing ties. The two neighbors have no diplomatic
relations and their shared border has been closed since 1993, when Turkey protested Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkey backs Azerbaijan's claims to the disputed region, which has a high number of ethnic Armenian residents but is located within
Azerbaijan's borders. In September, however, President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish leader to visit Armenia, where he and
Armenian President Serge Sarkisian watched their countries' football teams play a World Cup qualifying match.