Under Growing International Pressure, Turkey Releases Assyrian Priest
For Immediate Release
UNDER GROWING INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE TURKEY RELEASES ASSYRIAN PRIEST
WASHINGTON, DC - In the face of growing scrutiny by human rights groups and under mounting pressure from an international campaign organized by Assyrians, Armenians, Kurds, and Hellenes from around the world, a Turkish state security court today acquitted Assyrian priest Father Yusuf Akbulut on charges that he had voiced support for an Armenian Genocide Resolution before the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Father Yusuf's release represents a triumph of grassroots activism in support of human rights," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "Both here in the United States and in Europe, we are witnessing a growing impatience with Turkey's irresponsible conduct and, hopefully, an end to the cycle of impunity which has allowed - and at times encouraged - Turkey to violate human rights and international standards secure in the knowledge that there would not be any meaningful response from the international community."
The indictment against Father Yusuf (age 36) stemmed from a private conversation he had held with a Turkish journalist in early October of last year, at the time the Armenian Genocide issue was being considered in the U.S. Congress. Based on this discussion, which was secretly taped by the journalist, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet published an article, "A Traitor Among Us," in its October 5th issue. Turkish prosecutors, citing this news story, then indicted Father Yusuf on charges that he had incited "racial hatred."
Despite intense pressure and the prospect of a prison term, Father Yusuf never denied that he expressed support for the Armenian Genocide Resolution or affirmed the historical reality of Ottoman Turkey's genocide of its Armenian, Assyrian and other Christian populations. Had he been convicted, he would have faced between one and three years imprisonment.
Among the witnesses at the trial were German and Swedish parliamentarians and diplomatic staff representing Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. In a statement following the acquittal, German parliamentarian Monika Brudlewski said: "All of us feel relieved and we are content with the decision of the court, but we regret that it took so much time. Turkey obviously only reacted this way due to the international pressure."
Thousands of Armenian American activists, responding to an ANCA grassroots campaign launched in December of last year, wrote, emailed, called, and faxed the State Department to call for Father Yusuf's release. For a full listing of ANCA Action Alerts, please visit: http://www.anca.org/anca/actionalerts.asp.
The ANCA is also working to secure the release of a second Turkish citizen, human rights activist Akin Birdal, who is under prosecution for statements in support of Armenian Genocide recognition.
Commenting on the growing advocacy role of the Assyrian American
community, Hamparian noted that, "the campaign for the release of
Father Yusuf was a new high water mark for Assyrian American
activists, who have emerged as forceful and effective advocates for
issues of concern to their community as well as on those held in
common with Armenian, Hellenic, and Kurdish Americans. We look
forward to continuing our partnership into the future."
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