WASHINGTON, DC – The Turkish Government compelled scholars from three universities in Turkey today to indefinitely postpone a conference which would have focused on the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The move is another in a series of government actions in Turkey to quash freedom of speech and prevent open discussion regarding this crime against humanity.
“The Turkish government’s actions reflect a long-standing, profoundly troubling, and increasingly aggressive policy of seeking to silence any discussion of the Armenian Genocide – domestically, through coercion and threats of prosecution, and abroad through blackmail and intimidation,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “In taking these steps, Turkey’s leadership has made a mockery of its claims to seek a dialogue with Armenians, compounded international skepticism about its willingness to meet even minimal standards for freedom of expression, and underscored the need for our government and the international community to press Turkey – once and for all – to end its campaign to deny justice for this crime against humanity.”
The Conference, titled “Ottoman Armenians During the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy,” was jointly organized by the Comparative Literature Department of Bilgi University, the History Department of Bogazici University and the History Program at Sabanci University. Originally set to take place May 25th-27th at Bosphorus University, the schedule was to include over 30 papers by Turkish scholars from Turkey and abroad.
In the days leading up to the conference, Turkish Government officials spoke stridently against the conference and its organizers. Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, in a speech before the Turkish Parliament on Tuesday, went so far as to accuse the academics of “treason.” The Minister described the conference as a “a stab in the back to the Turkish nation.” Cicek expressed regret that, as Justice Minister, he could not personally prosecute the organizers and participants.
Opposition parliament members concurred with the government’s views. According to the Agence France Presse, senior Republican People’s Party Parliament member and former Turkish Ambassador to the U.S., Sukru Elekdag, referred to the conference as a “treacherous project.”
The government crackdown on the conference is the most recent chapter in the Turkish government’s 90-year campaign of genocide denial. This effort has intensified in recent years. In 2003, Education Minister Hikmet Cetin issued a decree making student participation in a nation-wide essay contest denying the Armenian Genocide compulsory. The most recent revisions to the Turkish Penal Code criminalize references to the Armenian Genocide and the removal of troops from Turkish occupied northern Cyprus. World-renowned Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, is the latest to be charged with violation of the Turkish penal code for references to the Armenian Genocide. According to news reports, Pamuk stated, “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Almost no one dares to speak out this but me, and the nationalists hate me for that.”