(AFP) - A Turkish court on Thursday began hearing a case against a journalist of Armenian descent on charges that he insulted Turks in remarks at a conference three years ago, the Anatolia news agency reported.
Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian-language weekly Agos, could face up to three years in prison if found guilty by the court in the southeastern Turkish city of Sanliurfa where the conference on minorities and human rights was held.
Dink, who was not present at the hearing, told AFP from his office in Istanbul that he believed the suit stemmed from his response to a question on what he felt when, at primary school, he had to take an oath with which elementary school days begin in Turkey. The patriotic verse which all students in Turkey have to memorize and recite begins with the lines: "I am a Turk, I am honest, I am hardworking".
"I said that I was a Turkish citizen but an Armenian and that even though I was honest and hardworking, I was not a Turk, I was an Armenian," Dink explained. He said he also criticized a line in the Turkish national anthem that speaks of "my heroic race".
"I said I did not feel like singing that line because I was against the use of the word 'race', which leads to discrimination," Dink said.
Dink is on trial with Seyhmus Ulek, deputy chairman of the Mazlum-Der Human Rights Association, who is accused of insulting the Turkish Republic and could also face up to three years in jail if convicted. "At the conference, I raised objections against the Republican project of creating a one-nation country," Ulek told AFP.
Expanding minority rights is one of the issues Turkey must address before it can join the European Union, with which it is scheduled to start membership talks on October 3. Under the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, the founding accord of modern-day Turkey, Turkey recognizes Greeks, Jews and Armenians as religious minorities, but any attempt to put ethnic identity forward is still largely untolerated.