Turkish Intellectuals Issue Apology to Armenians

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A group of about 200 Turkish intellectuals on Monday issued an apology on the Internet for the Armenian Genocide earlier in the century 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.

But 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.

“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.”

Nearly 8,000 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.

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- Karabagh. Turkey backs Azerbaijan’s claims to the region, which has traditionally been a part of Armenia, but during the Soviet times, was handed to Azerbaijan by Stalin.

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.