Turkish court acquits 2 human rights activists who recognized Armenian genocide

Photo: Bianet

Two human rights activists from a leading rights organization in Turkey have been acquitted of insult charges against the Turkish nation and government due to their remarks recognizing the mass killings of Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire as “genocide,” the Turkish Minute reported, citing the Bianet news website.

Eren Keskin, the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Association (İHD) and also a prominent lawyer, and Güllistan Yarkın, a member of an İHD commission fighting against racism and discrimination, faced charges under the controversial Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which concerns insulting the Turkish nation, parliament, government or Turkishness.

Keskin and Yarkın faced the charges, which carry a prison sentence of between six months and three years, due to a commemoration ceremony held by the İHD in 2021 in memory of the victims of the mass deportation of Armenians under Ottoman rule during World War I. Both Keskin and Yarkın recognize the killings as genocide, while the Turkish government categorically rejects the claim.

Thursday’s hearing at an İstanbul court was observed by other human rights activists and representatives from civil society organizations who wanted to show solidarity with Keskin and Yarkın.

Plainclothes police officers were allowed to stay in the courtroom despite requests from the defendants for their removal. Keskin said she felt pressured by their presence.

Keskin said in her defense statement that she thinks what happened to Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire before the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 is tantamount to genocide. She said the ordeal of the Armenians should be discussed in Turkey and that such a discussion will help the democratization of the country and the expansion of freedoms, while adding that no laws can prevent people from expressing their views on the issue.

“I think the 1915 [incidents] constituted a genocide. Turkey should confront with this and pay reparations for it. I do not accept the accusations against me,” said Keskin, adding that she wants to enjoy the same freedoms as those who claim the mass killings of the Armenians was not a genocide.

The court ruled for the acquittal of both defendants on the grounds that the elements of a crime were not established.

The Armenians — supported by historians and scholars — say 1.5 million of their people died in a genocide committed under the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Ankara accepts that both Armenians and Turks died in huge numbers as Ottoman forces fought czarist Russia.

But Turkey vehemently denies a deliberate policy of genocide and notes that the term had not been legally defined at the time.

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