USC Cancels Forum For Genocide Deniers

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By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

March 30, 2006


Every year just before April 24, a number of high-ranking Turkish officials rush to the United States to lobby against a pending presidential declaration or congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.

This year is no exception. Five Turkish ministers and other senior officials are coming to Washington, D.C., this week to attend the annual conference of the American Turkish Council. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who had planned to attend, may not be there due to an ear infection. Gul had scheduled meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, and leaders of what the Turks call "the Jewish lobby" in Washington.

More importantly for the Armenian-American community is the U.S. tour of two infamous genocide deniers, retired Ambassadors Gunduz Aktan and Omer Lutem. The former was a member of the infamous Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC) which collapsed after he demanded a study by an independent third party which, to his dismay, found the "events of 1915" to be genocide.

Aktan and Lutem took their "dog and pony show" on the road last week, starting from Columbia University in New York. Their announced topic was: "Minorities in the Ottoman Empire." This was a misrepresentation of their denialist agenda for the sake of gaining undeserved academic credibility. Here is how the "Turkish Press" reported Lutem’s explanation in his talk for the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians: "Armenians were not deported. They were merely relocated in different parts of the empire. Some of them died during the transfer."

A couple of days later, their show reached the shores of the Potomac. Aktan and Lutem spoke at the Rayburn House Office Building on the topic of: "The Armenian Allegation of Genocide: Law, Psychology and Politics." The public announcement of their talks shamelessly alleged: "most experts believe that the Armenian case does not constitute genocide," not naming a single such expert. In reality, the overwhelming majority of genocide and holocaust scholars have repeatedly gone on record confirming the facts of the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish announcement also asked the following false and misleading question: "Why did the UN Subcommittee on Human Rights reject the 1985 Whitaker Report that defined the Armenian case as genocide?" The truth is the exact opposite. The UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities -- which is the correct name of the UN panel -- accepted a report in 1985 in which the Armenian Genocide was classified as genocide. This writer participated in the deliberations of that panel in Geneva, Switzerland.

The next day, the two showmen took their performance to their adoring fans at the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA). Aktan was quoted by the Turkish Daily News as saying: "If the U.S. Congress approves [a resolution] on the genocide allegations or if U.S. President George W. Bush uses the term ‘genocide,’ this would certainly have a political impact on Turkish-U.S. relations." Amazingly, Aktan was reported as making the following accurate observation: "it was impossible to convince Armenians that the killings between 1915 and 1917 were not genocide."

On March 24, the Defense Minister of Turkey Vecdi Gonul spoke at the Beverly Hills Hotel, while several thousand Armenians joined by Cong. Brad Sherman protested his appearance. When asked to acknowledge Turkey’s dark past, Gonul told his audience: "these are Armenian claims, and there is nothing to acknowledge." Meanwhile, the touring two-ring circus composed of Aktan and Lutem arrived in Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian community in the United States. The local Armenian population was prepared to “welcome” them during their planned lecture at the University of Southern California on March 26, the same way they greeted the Turkish Defense Minister two days earlier. However, there was no confrontation between local Armenians and the two Turkish deniers. Officials at USC Center on Public Diplomacy, the sponsor of the event, cancelled the program after being alerted by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), USC students and community leaders of the offensive nature of the planned Turkish talks.

"Genocide denial is a form of hatred and bigotry and it is outside the purview of accepted standards of civil discourse within the academic community. It is deliberate misrepresentation of fact and a scientific fraud which must not be tolerated by the University," wrote Steve Dadaian, the Chairman of ANCA – Western Region, in a letter to USC officials. Dadaian questioned whether USC would sponsor a lecture during which neo-Nazis would deny the Holocaust. . He pointed out that providing a forum for making false statements violated USC’s Code of Ethics.

USC cancelled the event for a very simple reason. According to a USC official, the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles had misrepresented to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy the nature of the proposed event which was supposed to be "on Turkish Civil Society and prospects for improving relations with the Armenian community," and not on “genocide allegations,” as it was subsequently publicized. Judging this latter topic to be "completely inappropriate," USC pulled the plug on the event.

It is not surprising that Turkish officials are now twisting the situation around and misrepresenting the cancellation as an infringement on freedom of _expression. Turkish diplomats should be the last ones to complain about the lack of freedom in the United States given the fact that their country violates the most basic rights of its citizens on a regular basis.

Now Engin Ansay, the Turkish Consul General in Los Angeles, has a serious personal problem. Instead of being able to impress his superiors in Ankara for having provided a platform at a prominent academic institution in the heart of "Little Armenia" for the denial of the Armenian Genocide, he had two senior diplomats in his office far away from home with no place to speak. Consul General Ansay can complain as much as he wants, accusing "the powerful Armenian lobby" for subverting his government’s denialist agenda, but in reality he has no one to blame but himself for this fiasco. It won’t be surprising if he were to be recalled for mishandling the visit of these retired diplomats.

Turkish officials should learn from this experience the following valuable lesson -- genocide deniers are not welcome anywhere, particularly at a distinguished academic institution like USC!


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