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Turks Urged To Mark Armenia's 'Great Catastrophe' In Istanbul

Historian Taner Akcam

Historian Taner Akcam

YEREVAN -- Turkish intellectuals have urged their countrymen to join them on April 24 for a silent protest in Istanbul on the 95th anniversary of the start of mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"We call upon all peoples of Turkey who share this heartfelt pain to commemorate and pay tribute to the victims of 1915," the group wrote in an online petition.

The gathering, if allowed by Turkish authorities, will take place in Istanbul's central Taksim Square and mark the first-ever public commemoration for the Armenians who died at the hands of Ottoman Turks from 1915-1918.

The unprecedented protest was initiated by intellectuals challenging the official Turkish version of those events, which holds that the Armenian death toll is inflated and denies there was a planned government effort to exterminate Armenians.

Signatories to the petition include journalist Ali Bayramoglu, historians Halil Berktay and Taner Akcam, and other scholars such as Cengiz Aktar and Baskin Oran.

The petition stops short of calling the massacres a genocide, using instead the Armenian phrase "great catastrophe."

Thousands of Turks signed a similar online petition initiated by many of the same public figures in December 2008. It offered Armenians a personal apology and called for the Turkish government to acknowledge the killings.

Turkish prosecutors threatened to bring criminal charges against the authors of that appeal under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which criminalizes "insulting the Turkish people."