By Daren Butler and Ercan Ersoy, Reuters
A lawyer instrumental in trials of writers who challenge Turkey's limits on freedom of speech vowed on Wednesday to advance a nationalist campaign which has put Ankara at odds with the European Union.
Bitter EU critic Kemal Kerincsiz has come to prominence this year through his involvement in bringing charges against internationally renowned novelist Orhan Pamuk and other writers for comments on the Armenian issue and insulting "Turkishness". The EU, which Turkey wants to join, is pushing Ankara to improve freedom of expression as a condition for membership, but nationalist lawyers and the judiciary are undermining the drive. This week he filed a complaint to prosecutors about comments made by Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink, prompting a fresh probe of the writer just a week after a previous conviction.
"You cannot view what writers like Hrant Dink and Orhan Pamuk have said as freedom of expression. They are provoking the situation under the Armenian diaspora's influence," Kerincsiz told Reuters in his office in an Istanbul apartment block. "We will not allow insults and abuse of Turkishness in the name of freedom of expression. We will continue to defend Turkishness and the rights of Turks from Central Asia to Western Thrace (in eastern Greece)," he said.
Kerincsiz heads the Grand Lawyers' Association which claims 800 members in Istanbul and devotes itself to nationalist causes. As he spoke, his colleagues prepared placards for a pro-Turkish Cypriot demonstration they were staging in Istanbul. The latest target of his campaign was an interview which Dink gave to Reuters on July 14 in which he said Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of Ottoman forces during World War One.
"Dink has sealed his own fate with this comment. He has convicted himself. It is now impossible from him to escape his suspended sentence and a new conviction," said Kerincsiz.
Armenians say about 1.5 million of their people were killed in a genocide by Ottoman Turks in 1915. Turkey strongly rejects this and says both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks suffered mass killings in a bitter partisan conflict. The European Parliament has called on Turkey to recognize the Armenian massacres as a genocide before it joins the bloc.
The High Court of Appeals last week confirmed a six-month suspended jail sentence for Dink under a controversial article of Turkey's penal code which outlaws insults to "Turkishness". The EU has urged Turkey to scrap Article 301, which carries a jail sentence of up to three years, arguing it restricts freedom of expression. The government says the revised penal code, introduced last year, needs more time to be tested.
"Nobody will have the strength to abolish 301, neither the political powers or the European Union," Kerincsiz. "If you get rid of it your are recognizing the Armenian genocide allegations."
Cases against Pamuk and four columnists collapsed on a legal technicality, but only after drawing a sharp rebuke from the EU, which Turkey aims to join, and from human rights groups. Ankara began EU membership talks last October but is not expected to join the wealthy bloc for many years. Kerincsiz wants Turkey to halt those talks immediately, annul its customs union with the bloc and review its NATO and U.S. relations.
"The European Union means slavery and a prisoner's chains for Turkey," he said.