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Diyarbakır Bar officials acquitted of insult in ‘Armenian genocide’ statement

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A Turkish court has acquitted the former president and 10 executives of a bar association in the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakır on charges of insulting the state in a statement they issued on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in 2018, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

Cihan Aydın, former president of the bar association, and 10 executives stood trial at the Diyarbakır 11thHigh Criminal Court on charges of violating Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), which stipulates a prison sentence of between six months and two years for insulting “Turkishness” and the Turkish state.

They were indicted for their statement in support of the Armenian people on April 24, 2018, when an Armenian genocide allegedly carried out by the Ottoman state in 1915 was commemorated. They referred to the killings of the Armenian people during the final days of the Ottoman Empire as a “genocide,” a term categorically rejected by Turkey.

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

Turkey accepts that both Armenians and Turks died in huge numbers as Ottoman forces fought czarist Russia. But Ankara vehemently denies a deliberate policy of genocide.

In the last hearing of their trial on Monday, the court ruled for the acquittal of the defendants on the grounds that the elements of a crime did not exist.

The bar association’s former president Aydın said during the hearing that their statement was a call to face the truth about what happened to the Armenians in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. He said while 34 percent of Diyarbakır’s population comprised Armenians at the time, today there are only 10 to 15 Armenians in the city.

“The question we are looking for an answer to is what happened to the Armenian population. … We don’t look at the issue the way politicians do. We look at it from the point of view of truth and confrontation. Ours was a statement that prompted the people living in this region to live together peacefully,” Aydın said.

The bar’s current president, Nahit Eren, said the Diyarbakır Bar association does not remain indifferent to the social problems in the country and it will never do so.

In 2021 US President Joe Biden became the first US leader to use the term genocide in an annual message on the anniversary of the 1915-1916 massacres, drawing criticism from Turkey.

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