U.S. Congressional Members Send Letter to the President of Turkey
Honorable Ahmet Necdet Sezer
The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Dear President Ahmet Necdet Sezer:
We write to request your active involvement in a matter concerning freedom of conscience in Turkey. On October 6, Father Yusuf Akbulut, an Assyrian priest in Turkey, was arrested by Turkish authorities for speaking his mind on the issue of atrocities committed against the Ottoman Empire's Christian minorities during the First World War. We ask that you convey to the Turkish Government that the United States expects its allies to respect the right of freedom of expression for all human beings.
Father Yusuf is a priest from St. Mary's Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir, Turkey. In early October, he was approached by reporters from Hurriyet, a major Turkish newspaper. When asked his views on the subject of the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th Century, Father Yusuf replied that he believed not only that Armenians were killed, but also Assyrians. On October 4, Hurriyet published an article with a photo of Father Yusuf, labeling him "A Traitor Among Us." Two days later, he was arrested by Turkish military security agents. He has been held since that time by the Turkish authorities, and is now under house arrest. Father Yusuf has been charged under Article 312, which carries a prison sentence of one to three years.
We understand that the subject of atrocities committed by the Ottomans during World War One remains a delicate one in Turkey. Nonetheless, we feel that disputes about the historical record should not be used as an excuse for denying any person their right to freedom of speech and conscience. We ask you to convey our concerns to the Turkish Government, and ask them to demonstrate respect for Father Yusuf's rights.
Rod R. Blagojevich
John Edward Porter
Frank R. Wolf
Anna G. Eshoo
Michael E. Capuano