Armenian Genocide Warning by Far-Right Turkish Lawmaker Prompts Criminal Complaint

A criminal complaint has been filed against a far-right Turkish politician for tweets about the mass killings of Armenians, amid a heated debate over the topic in the days since President Joe Biden recognized the deaths as genocide.

The Human Rights Association in Turkey filed the complaint against the independent lawmaker Ümit Özdağ, who engaged in a Twitter spat with Garo Paylan, a Turkish politician of Armenian descent.

On April 24, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Biden said: "Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide."

The government in Yerevan celebrated the president's comments, but they sparked a rebuke from Ankara. On the same day, Paylan wrote on Twitter about his unhappiness that streets and schools in Turkey were still named after Talaat Pasha.

Pasha was an Ottoman politician and one of the leaders who ordered the exile of Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Armenia says around 1.5 million people died in a planned operation that constituted genocide.

Armenian genocide protester
Protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. on April 24. President Joe Biden has recognized the mass killings of Armenians as a "genocide." Samuel Corum/Getty Images

"After 106 years, we walk on streets named after Talaat Pasha, the architect of the Genocide," Paylan tweeted, according to a translation from Turkish. Germany, he pointed out, did not have streets or schools named after Adolf Hitler.

Özdağ replied, telling Paylan to "go to hell." He tweeted: "Talaat Pasha didn't expel patriotic Armenians but those who stabbed us in the back like you. When the time comes, you'll also have a Talaat Pasha experience and you should have it."

The pair then exchanged a flurry of tweets, with Paylan calling Özdağ a "fascist" and adding: "Those left behind never give up the struggle for justice."

Paylan, a member of parliament from the Peoples' Democratic Party—the only Turkish political party to recognize the killings as genocide—told the magazine Duvar: "Our country is in an atmosphere of hate and the political scene ignores these hate speeches."

The Human Rights Association's complaint requests that a lawsuit be filed against Özdağ under Articles 106 and 216 of the Turkish Penal Code, which cover threats and provoking public hatred.

The organisation is also seeking a discrimination charge under the European Convention on Human Rights, press agency Bianet reported.

Özdağ, who is described by Turkish news outlets as a far-right politician, now sits as an independent member of parliament. He was previously removed from senior posts in the Nationalist Movement Party and the IYI Party.

Newsweek has contacted Özdağ for comment.

In a statement, the Human Rights Association told Newsweek the complaint was now in the records of the office of the public prosecutor.

"If the prosecutor sees fit, they will invite Mr. Özdağ for a deposition and continue with the investigation. Yet, in practice, prosecutors deliver non-prosecution decisions most of the time in such cases, which means there will be no trial," the group added.

Yerevan celebrated Biden's decision to go further than his predecessors in describing the massacre of Armenians in 1915 and 1916 as genocide.

Ankara acknowledges that deaths occurred, but rejects the idea that there was any systemic or organised effort—and the use of the term genocide. Biden's statement has strained U.S. ties with its NATO partner. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Turkey's foreign minister, said: "We will not be given lessons on our history from anyone."

This story has been updated to include a statement to Newsweek by the Human Rights Association in Turkey.