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(AFP, AP) - An Istanbul court on Friday sentenced Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink to a six-month suspended sentence for "insult to the Turkish national identity." Both Dink and his lawyer, Fethiye Cetin, and said they would appeal the decision.

Dink, editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, was on trial for a February 2004 article calling on Armenians to "turn to the new blood of independent Armenia, which alone can free them of the burden of the Diaspora." In the article, which dealt with the collective memory of the Armenian massacres of 1915-1917 under the Ottoman Empire, Dink also called on Armenians to symbolically reject "the adulterated part of their Turkish blood."

The court said Dink's article "was not an expression of opinion with the aim of criticizing, but was intended to be insulting and offensive," the semiofficial Anatolia news agency said.

"Our client has done absolutely nothing wrong," Cetin told AFP, but said she would not comment further without seeing the minutes of the hearing.

Dink, who did not attend the hearing, told AFP that he would appeal "to the full extent of the law." "If the sentence is confirmed, it will mean I have insulted these people (the Turks) and it would be great dishonor for me to live on the same street, in the same neighborhood, in the same country as them," he said.

"Such a thing would be impossible for me... If I cannot explain to this (Turkish) society that I had no such intentions, I'll leave the country, I'll go away."

Armenians have long demanded that Turkey and other nations recognize the killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the 20th century as genocide. In the past, Turks could be prosecuted for agreeing, and a clause in the new penal code allows prosecutors to interpret statements harmful to Turkish identity as a crime. The EU has asked Turkey to change the clause or risk endangering its EU bid. Turkey officially opened EU membership negotiations early Tuesday, but its bid is opposed by a majority of Europeans.

Dink, speaking in Turkish, told the Associated Press that the sentence was an attempt to silence him. "But I will not be silent," he said. "As long as I live here, I will go on telling the truth, just as I always have." Dink said he would bring the case to Turkey's Supreme Court and to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary.

"If it is a day or six months or six years it is unacceptable to me," he said. "If I am unable to come up with a positive result, it will be honorable for me to leave this country."

Dink is also facing charges for remarks he made at a human rights conference in 2002 criticizing Turkey's national anthem and an oath taken by Turkish schoolchildren each day in which they say, "Happy is the one who says, 'I am a Turk."'

Dink said then that he did not feel like a Turk, but like an Armenian who is a citizen of Turkey. He also objected at the time to a line in the national anthem that says "smile upon my heroic race," saying the emphasis on race was a form of discrimination. Dink will go to trial for those comments in February.

Award-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has been indicted under the same accusation as Dink for saying in an interview with a Swiss magazine that "one million Armenians were killed in Turkey." His trial opens on December 17.

In a meeting in Ankara Thursday, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Ollie Rehn urged Turkey to amend the law on national identity in the penal code and said the EU would be watching Pamuk's trial closely. The cases highlight the challenges still facing Turkey as it tries to enact reforms to harmonize with EU norms. The government has promised to lift restrictions on freedom of expression, and has also committed to improving its treatment of minorities under its agreement with the EU.

(Photolur photo: Hrant Dink.)
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