Assyrian Awareness: Organizations Responses

Report on Father Akbulut
by Gabriele Yonan
Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2001 04:11 PM CT


Berlin, Germany, 5 April 2001

Dear friends,

This morning at 10 a.m. I received the message of the acquittal of Father Yusuf Akbulut. I was informed by MP Monika Brudlewski who is for the third time attending the trial in the State Security Court of Diyarbakir .

Father Akbulut was accused for speaking up for the genocide on Armenians and Assyrians as a historical fact. He gave this statements in a privat conversation with some Turkish journalists in the beginning of October last year. After the publication of an article in the Turkish newspaper HURRIYET ("A Traitor among us") in 5 October , the priest was arrested and prosecuted on the basis of article 312 of the TPC in November last year.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND

Turkey is denying the genocide on the Christian population of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The article in Hurriyet was published in direct connection to the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the French parliament. It is likely that conservative political circles, not wanting Turkey becomming part of Europe, were trying to desturb the negotiations by a provocating a court case based on the genocide issue.

Father Yusuf Akbulut (36) is the only priest of a small Christian community of about 60 people in Diyarbakir, a city of more than a million inhabitants. (until 1914 statistics give 166 000 Christians living in the province of Diarbakir). The small Christian community was terrified when the priest was accused of "committing the crime of openly provoking and inciting people to hatred and enmity by referring to religious, racial, sectarian and regional differences". He and his lawyers were claiming that he only used his right of free speech and opinion which is guaranteed by Turkish law and constitution.

In consequence to the arresting and prosecution of Akbulut, the Assyrian organizations in Europe, Amerika and Australia were undertaking a campaign which draw international attention to the case. At the same time bringing the Assyrian genocide on the international agenda.

The case of father Akbulut became of international interest, parlamentarians, diplomats, media, human right groups engaged to raise their voices for the freedom of the priest, and for recognition of the Christian genocide.

Together with the strong protests of the Assyrian organizations, and to a certain degree also by some of the bishops of the Syrian Orthdox Church, it created a remarkable political pressure on Turkish authorities, which finally was responsible for the acquittal of father Akbulut. For Turkey it was a very untimely issue when it came up in the middle of important negotiations about the conditions for the wanted membership in the European Union. One of the main condition for Turkey is the democratization, freedom of speech and opi nion On this background European governments closely watched the trial and sent members of parliaments to be present at the court during the trial for three times.

The only evidence beside the article in Hurriyet was a video tape taken by the journalists during an alleged interview with the priest, while Yusuf Akbulut claimed that it was a privat conversation, though he did not deny any word of his statement about the genocide as a historical fact.

The court postponed the trial twice (Dec 21, Febr 22), before he came to the decision of acquittal today. So for a third time delegates of several European parliaments, Human right groups, Assyrian organizations and representatives of the church did the trip to Diyarbakir in Southeastern Turkey and and have been present when the judgement was proclaimed in the court after a short consultation : the international audience was receiving the acquittal of father Akbulut with strong applause and standing ovations. This was a rare incidents in the history of a Turkish court of State Security.

In her statement German parliamentarian Monika Brudlewski said: "All of us feel relieved and we are content with the decision of the court. But we feel sorry that it took so much time. Turkey obviously only reacted this way due to the international pressure. Now we hope that the next step will be to abolish the article 312 of TPC. Recently we in Germany got some positiv feedback for this abolishment when the Turkish minister of justice, Mr. Turk officially visited Berlin."

Finally the case of Yusuf Akbulut, is teaching us a lesson: that historical decisions sometimes are only possible when an idividual has the courage and steadfastness to defend the truth at any personal cost. As I said in my speech during the protest demonstration of the Assyrians in Stockholm in December, short before the first day of trial: it is very easy to speak up for Christian genocide in outside of Turkey, but it is dangerous to death to do the same in Turkey, where you can loose your freedom, your family, and even your life.

Yusuf Akbulut, a priest of 8 families, alltogether 60 persons, had this rare qualities of bravery. It was not his aim to become an Assyrian heroe. As the Turkish newspaper HURRIYET quoted him: "Assyrians will raise their voices and will obtain a hearing to the world about what terrible times their forefathers went through."

With kind regards,
Gabriele Yonan



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