A Turkish prosecutor has opened an investigation that could lead to criminal charges against the authors of an online apology for the World War One killings of Armenians, state-run news agency Anatolian reported on Friday.
The state prosecutor in Ankara is probing whether the group of intellectuals who offered the apology violated Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which criminalizes "insulting the Turkish people," Anatolian reported.
The group under investigation set up an online apology in December for the "catastrophe" Armenians experienced more than 90 years ago, a topic still considered taboo in Turkey.
Turkey denies allegations that groups of Ottoman Turks conducted genocide against Armenians, killing 1.5 million beginning in 1915. European Union applicant Turkey has promised to expand political freedoms, such as free speech, and improve minority rights to meet the bloc's human rights criteria for membership. Turkey changed Article 301 last year in response to EU criticism and the law requires the Justice Minister to approve any court case, but conviction still carries a jail sentence.
The group of writers, academics and other intellectuals set up a petition at www.ozurdiliyoruz.com (We Are Sorry) that offered Armenians a personal apology and called for the Turkish government to acknowledge the killings. The statement stopped short of referring to the killings as genocide, a term strongly opposed in Ankara, but the army and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan slammed those involved.
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said last month that the online petition could undermine efforts to improve relations with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties. The two sides launched talks last year on normalizing relations.
Turkey in the past has prosecuted academics and authors, including Nobel Prize-winning writer Orhan Pamuk, for remarks criticizing the official stance on the Armenian issue.