Turks Threaten Turkish Professors For Speaking at UCLA Conference

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Turks Threaten Turkish Professors For Speaking at UCLA Conference

By Harut Sassounian

Publisher, The California Courier

Nov. 3, 2005

For the first time, a conference related to the Armenian Genocide and held outside Turkey will feature three Turkish scholars who challenge the Turkish government's denialist position on this issue.

The forum titled, “Three Turkish Voices on the Ottoman Armenians,” will be held at UCLA on Nov. 6, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. It is organized by Prof. Richard Hovannisian, Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA, with the cooperation of the G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies.

Professors Taner Akcam, Elif Shafak, and Fatma Muge Gocek will examine “the causes, responsibility, and consequences of what happened to the Armenian population during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire and the first years of the Republic of Turkey,” according to an announcement by Prof. Hovannisian. “They figure among the growing number of Turkish intellectuals who seek to crack the wall of official Turkish denial. They are prepared to challenge the state-sponsored narrative of events and thereby advance the quest for truth and the evolving process of Armenian-Turkish dialogue,” Hovannisian said.

Dr. Akcam of the Dept. of History at the Univ. of Minnesota will speak on “a new assessment of the Ottoman documents.” Dr. Shafak of the Dept. of Near Eastern Studies at the Univ. of Arizona will discuss “memory and literature.” Dr. Gocek of the Dept. of Sociology and Program in Women's Studies at the Univ. of Univ. of Michigan will report on “the recent Istanbul conference on the Ottoman Armenians.”

It is not surprising that Turkish officials and those toeing the government’ s denialist position would be highly displeased with the participation of these three Turkish professors in such a forum. The denialists make a handsome living from churning out unsubstantiated arguments on the Armenian issue. Therefore, being left out of such conferences immeasurably diminishes their value to their paymasters in Ankara.

Professors Akcam, Shafak and Gocek were among the Turkish scholars who participated in a similar conference held in Istanbul last month, challenging the official denialist position of the Turkish government on the Armenian Genocide. That conference was originally scheduled to take place in May. However, reactionary forces within Turkey, backed by the equally fanatical Interior Minister, forced its cancellation. Last month, an Istanbul judge tried to block the rescheduled conference, but the determined participants found a way of circumventing the court's directive and held the first such scholarly gathering in Turkey, despite being pelted with tomatoes and rotten eggs by a gang of thugs.

Amazingly, the denialists and their supporters are trying to accomplish in an American university what they couldn’t do in Turkey! As soon as the forum was announced, the UCLA Turkish Students’ Association contacted Prof. Hovannisian, offering to bring to the forum a speaker from Turkey who would reflect the denialist views of the Turkish government. The organizers and the panelists of the UCLA conference turned down the offer.

Things turned nasty quickly when one of the participants, Prof. Shafak, reported getting threatening e-mails from Turks, accusing her of treason. Following these threats, stricter security measures were taken to ensure the safety of the speakers and the guests at the conference.

In a commentary titled, “The language of hate,” Prof. Shafak wrote in the Oct. 30, 2005 issue of the Turkish Daily News that she had received “a multitude of e-mails," some of which were “full of insults.” She was accused of selling out Turkey, being ungrateful to her native land, and having Armenian blood!

A heretofore unknown web site, with the infamous name of jonturk.com (Young Turks), posted a commentary accusing the three Turkish scholars of supporting the efforts of “the Armenian lobby” for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and denigrating Turkey at UCLA.

In commenting on these threats, Prof. Gocek said she and her two colleagues are now “even more determined” to participate in this forum for one very significant reason: “the exercise of our fundamental right of freedom of expression and thought.”

These three righteous professors are not afraid of confronting Turkish denialists. The problem is that the denialists are mostly retired government officials and propagandists, but not scholars. Agreeing to debate these pseudo-scholars in a university setting would dignify them and accord them an appearance of respectability. They have no qualification for scholarly research and no training for academic debate. Besides, Prof. Hovannisian has always maintained that he has no interest in debating with deniers the reality of the Armenian Genocide. He would not therefore organize a forum where the fact of the genocide would be debated.

Given the amply documented facts of the Armenian Genocide, true scholars have very little to debate. The real debate should be held among political leaders on the economic, political and territorial consequences of the Armenian Genocide.

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