DIYARBAKIR (Reuters)–A Turkish court on December 21 began the trial of a Syriac priest accused of“provoking hatred” by telling newspapers that his Christian minority community had been victims of genocide by Turks.
Witnesses at the State Security Court in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir said Father Yusuf Akbulut had contested the charge leveled against him–for which he could receive between one and three years in jail.
He was quoted earlier in the year as saying that Turks had systematically killed Syriac Christians in the southeast at the turn of the 20th Century. He made the commen’s after a U.S. congressional panel approved a resolution characterizing the killings of Armenia’s in the latter days of the Ottoman empire as genocide.
“I was chatting (with journalists) off the record. I was not giving my personal views but what was said to me by my elders at church.. I do not support the Armenian genocide bill–and I do not accept the accusations in the charge sheet,” Akbulut told the court.
The hearing–observed by a number of western diplomats–was adjourned until February 22.
A few thousand Syriac Christians–one of the world’s oldest denominations–live in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast–formerly the site of fierce conflict between Turkish forces and separatist Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party.