Turkish universities postpone Armenian conference under pressure

Detroit Free Press, MI
May 25 2005

Turkish universities postpone Armenian conference under pressure
May 25, 2005, 8:06 AM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Three Turkish universities announced that they
were postponing a conference to discuss last century’s mass killings
of Armenians by Ottoman Turks after a government minister accused
organizers of “treachery,” officials said Wednesday.

In the three-day conference, which would have opened Wednesday at
Istanbul’s Bosporus University, academics were to question Turkey’s
official position on the deaths that occurred as the Ottoman Empire
forced Armenians from eastern Turkey between 1915 and 1923.

The postponement — a sign that Turkey may not be ready to tolerate
dissenting voices on sensitive subjects — could be a blow to
Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union, which is pressuring the
country to adopt greater freedoms. The country is scheduled to start
membership talks on Oct. 3.

In a speech in parliament Tuesday, Justice Minister Cemil Cicek
severely criticized the conference, saying it went against government
efforts to counter an Armenian campaign to have the killings
recognized as genocide.

Some “say there is no freedom, well there is the freedom of stabbing
the people in the back and of telling lies … We have to put an end
to this period of propaganda against the (nation), of treachery,”
Cicek said.

Armenians say some 1.5 million of their people were killed in a
deliberate campaign of genocide. Turkey says the death count is
inflated and insists that Armenians were killed or displaced in civil
unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The issue, a dark chapter in Turkish history, is rarely discussed or
taught in schools, and it would have been the first time a conference
questioned the official line was held.

Organizers issued a statement hours after Cicek’s speech saying the
conference was postponed. Hundreds of people were scheduled to take
part in the conference, organized by Bosporus, Bilgi and Sabanci
universities.

Muge Gocek, a professor of sociology at University of Michigan who
traveled to Istanbul for the conference, said she was disillusioned.

“I am very sad and disappointed,” Gocek said Wednesday. “It would
have been a forum that showed that democracy worked in Turkey and
that different voices can be heard.”

“How can anyone judge me without hearing what I have to say?” she
asked.

Turkey is eager to counter Armenian diaspora groups that are pushing
European governments and the United States to declare the killings
genocide. The issue has gained new urgency as Turkey seeks EU
membership. French President Jacques Chirac has said Turkey must
acknowledge the killings before it can join.

Several countries, including Argentina, Canada, France and Russia,
have declared the killings a genocide.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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