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A Turkish-Armenian newspaper columnist claimed on Friday to have received hundreds of deaths threats after altering a famous quote from the founder of modern Turkey to make a case for sweeping reforms in the country.


The quote was drawn from a 1923 speech by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in which he urged the Turkish youth to fight hard for their homeland. “Your first duty is to preserve and to defend Turkish Independence and the Turkish Republic forever,” declared Ataturk.

“Your first duty is to be a human being,” Sevan Nisanyan, an Istanbul-based ethnic Armenian intellectual, countered in an October 29 article published by the “Taraf” daily. “This is the very foundation of your existence and your future. This foundation is your most precious treasure.”

Speaking to RFE/RL by phone, Nisanyan said the appeal infuriated nationalist Turks and he has since received about 800 e-mails and letters containing verbal abuse and threats to kill him. “People have gone mad,” he said. “The reaction has been like ‘How dare an Armenian write such strong and negative things about Ataturk?’”

Some of those letters were reprinted by “Taraf” this week. “We will make you write the correct version of the ‘Address to Youth’ with your own blood. … I’ll kill you like that Hrant Dink dog,” one of them read, referring to the Turkish-Armenian editor gunned down in Istanbul in January 2007.

“I believe that the military is behind this uproar,” Nisanyan charged, adding that he has already appealed to the Turkish police for protection. “The police have been the more liberal party in recent years,” he said. “The biggest problem is the military. The police have been very friendly and helped me a lot.”
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