Turks Cause Worldwide Outcry By Canceling Genocide Conference

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Turks Cause Worldwide Outcry By Canceling Genocide Conference

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

For several months now, I have been writing about the Turkish officials’ unintended efforts in publicizing the Armenian Genocide issue worldwide. Last week, Turkey’s Minister of Justice Cemil Cicek provided the best evidence for my contention.

Three of Turkey’s most prestigious universities had organized a conference that was to take place in Istanbul, May 25-27, on “Ottoman Armenians During the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy.” Invited to this conference from around the world were only those Turkish scholars who did not accept the Turkish government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.

Minister Cicek, speaking on the floor of the Turkish Parliament, called these Turkish scholars “traitors” and accused them of “stabbing the Turkish nation in the back.” He made this statement after several so-called historians, who are hired by the government to deny the Armenian Genocide, complained that they were not invited to this conference. A few members of the parliament also attacked the organizers of the conference for betraying Turkey’s interests.

Fearing that these scholars were about to disclose a version of history which was not in line with that approved by the Turkish government, the Governor of Istanbul called Ayse Soysal, the rector of Bogazici University, the day before the conference, and ordered her to cancel the meeting. She declined. She also refused requests later that day from the Chief Public Prosecutor to hand over the texts of the papers to be delivered at the conference. In such an atmosphere of insults, slander, intimidation and threats, the organizers were left with no choice but to cancel the conference.

The Turkish government made, once again, a very serious miscalculation. By trying to silence these scholars, the Turkish officials stirred up a hornet’ s nest. This time, the Turkish government was not attacking Armenians or foreigners for maligning the Turkish nation, but a large number of Turkish scholars who had refused to swallow the “official” Turkish version of the Armenian Genocide. In the past seven days, Turkish newspapers have published hundreds of articles and commentaries condemning the Justice Minister’s attempt to deprive these scholars of their right to free speech, especially at a time when the Turkish leaders are trying to convince the world that they have met all the requirements for the start of negotiations to join the European Union.

Making matters worse, scores of Turkish and foreign officials and associations have also deplored the heavy-handed approach of the Turkish government. Here are some of the reactions to the cancellation of the conference:

-- Several congressmen made remarks on the House floor questioning Turkey’s democratic credentials and its qualification for EU membership (Cong. Frank Pallone, Joe Knollenberg, Adam Schiff, George Radanovich, Thaddeus McCotter and Steve Rothman).

-- Statement issued by the Prof. Tosun Terzioglu, the President of Sabanci University, one of the organizers of the conference, expressing distress and displeasure at the cancellation of the conference.

-- Press conference held by Professors Selim Deringil and Edhem Eldem, professors of history at the Bosphorus University, the host of the conference. Prof. Eldem said: “The one that would lose the most as a consequence of these developments will, unfortunately, be Turkey.”

-- Declaration by Orhan Silier, the Director of the Turkish Historical Foundation.

-- Press releases issued by the Zoryan Institute, the ANCA and the Armenian Assembly.

-- A joint declaration by the conference organizers and participants.

-- Letter to Prime Minister Erdogan from Prof. Ali Banuazizi, the President of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, calling on Turkey, as a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to protect the rights of the Turkish scholars.

-- Dispatches released by international wire services (AP, Reuters, AFP) and articles published in hundreds of newspapers and magazines around the world, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, criticizing the cancellation of the genocide conference.

-- Statements of condemnation issued by various European political parties and EU officials. “The remarks of the Justice Minister are unacceptable. This is an authoritarian approach raising questions over Turkey’s reform process,” a diplomat from an EU country told AFP.

-- The International Association of Genocide Scholars issued a statement calling the cancellation of the conference “a major violation of basic standards of academic freedom in the free world.”

-- 154 scholars from 11 Turkish universities signed a joint letter protesting the violation of the academic independence of universities.

-- The Izmir Contemporary Attorneys’ Association and the Izmir Human Rights Association filed charges against the Justice Minister. They accused the Minister of violating several articles of the Turkish constitution, along with articles of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

-- Dogu Ergil, in a commentary in the Turkish Daily News, ridiculed Prime Minister Erdogan’s repeated calls to leave the issue of the Armenian Genocide to historians. “The last decision of the government was to ‘leave the matter to the historians.’ Well, it is the historians who are taking on the initiative now. No, oh, no! They are the ‘wrong’ historians and scholars because they do not accept and repeat the same political position adopted by the officialdom,” wrote Ergil.

Despite this worldwide outcry, neither Minister Cicek nor his boss, Prime Minister Erdogan, seem to have learned anything from the worldwide anti-Turkish publicity they helped generate. Cicek insists that he stands behind his words and does not regret calling the scholars traitors. He said he has the right to express his opinion. Apparently, only government officials enjoy the freedom to express themselves, but not the scholars, and not anyone else, for that matter.

Prime Minister Erdogan also does not get it. He said that the Turkish scholars should first study the archives before they can hold a conference on the Armenian Genocide - a convenient excuse to avoid this issue. The whole purpose of the conference was for the scholars to present what they had uncovered in their research.

Before the Prime Minister of Turkey can invite Armenian and Turkish historians to discuss the Armenian Genocide, he should allow independent Turkish scholars to discuss it first among themselves. These Turkish scholars may find the truth on their own without needing any help from their Armenian counterparts.

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