ANKARA — Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) lodged a complaint at an Istanbul prosecutor’s office, accusing Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus of breaching the universal human rights declaration to which Ankara is a party, as well as the Turkish penal code, AFP reports.

The use by a senior Turkish official of a pejorative word meaning “infidel,” widely used in Ottoman times to describe non-Muslims, has sparked accusations of hate speech and fears of discrimination against minorities.

In a speech earlier this month, Kurtulmus used the word “gavur” (“infidel”), prompting an outcry from Turkey’s Armenian minority.

Kurtulmus on December 3 boasted of “new Turkey” being shaped under the wings of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which he said stood against imperialism or exploitation.

“We need to take the issue of independence seriously. To us, independence is to stand tall and call an infidel ‘an infidel’,” he told a meeting in the northern Turkish city of Kastamonu.

Ahmet Hakan, a columnist in the Hurriyet newspaper, wrote that Kurtulmus’s comments constituted “hate crime.”

“Even the Ottoman (empire) that you like so much banned the use of expressions like ‘infidel’ in order to put an end to discrimination against non-Muslim citizens,” he said, referring to the government.

In the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire banned the use by officials or private persons of inflammatory epithets based on religion, language or race, as part of a series of reforms heavily influenced by European ideas.

Garo Paylan, Istanbul MP of Armenian origin from the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said Kurtulmus’ comments were hate speech that required an apology.

“He should have apologised,” he told AFP. “I am an MP who was chased and stoned in his childhood and was labelled an infidel.”

Kurtulmus later clarified his comments, saying they were “not meant to offend our non Muslim citizens” but to take a firm stand against imperialism, in a statement to the official news agency Anadolu.

He also made a personal call to Hakan, saying: “There’s an epithet in my wife’s hometown that says “infidel haji’. Even a man who went to hajj (Muslim pilgrimage) is called infidel. Why? Because he is a tyrant.”

Paylan said the term “infidel” was a “contaminated word” and added: “When you ask people on the street who an infidel is, at least 50 percent would say he’s an Armenian.”

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