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      Turks Threaten Turkish Professors

Turks Threaten Turkish Professors   3/11/2005

Turks Threaten Turkish Professors For Speaking at UCLA Conference

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

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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