552) Armenian conference invites academics of all convictions to floor

A three-day conference at an Istanbul state university last week offered the floor to dozens of academics of all convictions even though it was largely dominated by historians and officials who defend Turkey's ... official position on an alleged Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in the last century.

Seventy-five academics participated in the conference, titled “New Approaches to Turkish-Armenian Relations,” which came six months after an earlier gathering convened under harsh criticism, including that of a Cabinet minister.

“This conference will bring to light many points that have remained obscure. From now on, nobody will be able to simply say what they want [on the Armenian issue],” Istanbul University Rector Mesut Parlak said prior to the opening of the conference. In apparent reference to the earlier controversial conference on the alleged genocide, Parlak had described last week's conference as the “most comprehensive of all meetings to date” since it provided the opportunity for the expression of all kinds of opinions from among its participants.

In September of last year Istanbul's private Bilgi University hosted a landmark conference organized by intellectuals disputing Ankara's official line on mass killings between 1915 and 1917 despite a court verdict to block it. The court order came after Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek condemned the event as “stabbing Turkey in the back.”

Organizers of this second Armenian conference said they had also invited academics who defend that there was a genocide but most of them cited various reasons for not being able to attend.

Turkey has recently begun to openly discuss the subject of Armenian allegations, which a number of countries have recognized as “genocide.”

“If we fail to explain this problem to our own people, we cannot explain it to others. In order to explain it, we should discuss it in all its aspects. It is possible to do so by giving the floor to opposite views in an academic platform within the framework of objective criteria,” Professor �afak Ural, one of the organizers, said before the conference opened on Wednesday.

In a message he sent for the conference, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül also highlighted the significance of academic freedom, which he said was a requirement to be engaged in academic studies.

Gül said the government was doing its best for the elimination of all obstacles to academic freedom and for the full disclosure of facts.

“Ottoman and republican archives are open to all researchers in that regard,” he reiterated.

Turkey categorically denies that Armenian subjects under its predecessor the Ottoman Empire were victims of a genocide. Facing a mounting Armenian campaign to get international recognition for the alleged genocide, Turkey called for a joint committee of Turkish and Armenian experts last year to study the allegations. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo�an sent a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian proposing the establishment of such a committee.

Erdo�an's proposal was turned down by Kocharian, who instead offered an intergovernmental commission to study ways to resolve problems between the two neighboring countries.

On Friday Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ali Tuygan said Ankara's proposal to Armenia was still open.

In a positive step on the second day of the international conference, the leading Turkish historian who contests the definition of the controversial killing of the Armenians during World War I as genocide offered to conduct joint research with an Armenian researcher on the issue.

“Let's carry out a project together, dig up common graves if there are some, to put an end to numerous demagogical arguments,” said Yusuf Halaço�lu, president of the Turkish History Society, to Ara Sarafian, a British historian of Armenian origin who describes the killing of the Armenians as “genocide.”

Sarafian, a researcher at the Gomidas Institute in London, said he had accepted the offer.

In a speech during the conference Sarafian defended the “Blue Book,” which was written by the British during World War I, when Britain was fighting the Ottomans.

The Turkish side argues that Armenian allegations in the book, formally titled “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-1916,” are not factually supported and the book as a whole was wartime propaganda by the British.

�ükrü Elekda�, a retired ambassador and a deputy from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said the Blue Book was a product of propaganda and emphasized that it was U.S. Professor Justin McCarthy who “pulled the mask off of the Blue Book.” McCarthy had said that the source known as the “Blue Book” chosen by Armenians to prove their claims of genocide is one of the products of the British war propaganda bureau's efforts at misinformation during World War I.

In the first session of the conference Yair Auron, an Israeli researcher of Jewish archives from Ottoman times, openly used the term “genocide” and appealed to Turks to question their past.

Another speaker at the conference, renowned historian Professor McCarthy, said: “There are people who assert claims without doing any research. One professor alleges that such [alleged inhumane] treatment is in the character of the Turks. How stupid of a comment is that.”

He went on to say, “No matter whether you agree or not with the participants here, their speeches are based on documents.”


The three-day conference was generally quiet except for a moment of tension sparked during a book exhibition held by Sarafian, publisher of the Blue Book, on the second day of the conference.

Academic Ali Emin Özsoy reacted angrily to Sarafian, who displayed a book whose cover depicted the Turkish flag in the form of a dagger. The tension calmed down when the Sarafian removed the cover and placed it in his bag.

ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
© 2005 Dogan Daily News Inc. www.turkishdailynews.com.tr

Sunday, March 19, 2006


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