Members of Congress Speak out Against Turkish Government Crackdown on Armenian Genocide Conference

"The sad reality–Mr. Speaker–is that when it comes to facing the judgment of history about the Armenian genocide–Turkey–rather than acknowledging the truth–has instead chosen to trample on the rights of its citizens and still maintain lies."

–Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

WASHINGTON–DC (ANCA)–Members of Congress this week expressed outrage and disappointment at the Turkish Government’s recent decision to block a planned academic conference on the Armenian Genocide.

The event–organized by scholars from Turkey’s Bilgi–Bogazici and Sabanci Universities–was scheduled to take place May 25-27th at Bosphorus University.

In remarks of the House floor–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) commented that the government’s forced cancellation of the conference "further affirms the speculation that the image that the Turkish Government has attempted to create for itself is nothing more than a desperate attempt to create a facade. Contrary to what Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and other Turkish officials would have us believe–the Government of Turkey is not democratic–is not committed to creating a democracy–is not making an effort to create better relations with Armenia and is definitely not ready to join the European Union."

Rep. Pallone went on to explain that the US "cannot sit by and allow any nation that we consider an ally and a nation that is desperately seeking admission into the European Union to behave in such a manner. To bring this development into perspective–consider that according to current law in Turkey–dozens of US Senators and hundreds of Congressmen would be punished simply for having voted for Armenian Genocide resolutions–spoken about the lessons of this crime against humanity or commemorated the victims of the atrocity. So–too–would the American academic establishment–human rights groups–the mainstream media and just about everyone else aside from the Turkish Embassy and its paid lobbyists here in Washington–DC"

Fellow Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Joe Knollenberg questioned the Turkish Government’s commitment to democracy and free speech. "An important test of whether a country is a healthy democracy is whether someone can go out into a town square and speak their opinions freely. When the Turkish government cancels an academic conference like this and calls the participants traitors–it becomes very clear that they have not made a sufficient commitment to protecting free speech. These actions seriously undermine Turkey’s credibility," stated Rep. Knollenberg. California Democrat Adam Schiff–author of the 2004 "Schiff Amendment" on the Armenian Genocide–concurred. "The decision to hold a conference at Bogazici University to discuss the Armenian Genocide held out promise that Turkey would begin confronting all aspects of its Ottoman past. Cancellation of the conference–and the Justice Minister’s inflammatory accusation of ‘treason,’ shows that Turkey’s intellectual freedom and academic independence has taken one step forward and two giant steps back. How much longer will it take modern Turkey to recognize the facts of a genocide now 90 years old," asked Rep. Schiff.

Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA)–who spearheaded a successful effort in 1996 to cut foreign aid to Turkey due to its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide–stated: "Turkish government pressure on historians from Bilgi–Bogazici and Sabanci Universities to cancel the Armenian Genocide conference is yet another indication of the Turkish government’s repression of freedom of speech and lack of respect for academic freedom. The action exposes as a hollow gesture Prime Minister Erdogan’s call for a dialogue between Turkish and Armenian historians. The Turkish government’s labeling of Turkish academics as ‘traitors’ simply for discussing the Genocide amongst themselves underscores the need for those of us here–in the United States–to call on Ankara to end its campaign of genocide denial."

Urging Turkey to end its ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide–Michigan Republican Thaddeus McCotter argued–"Only honesty can begin to ease the ache of this evil perpetrated upon the Armenian people–and to further guard against a recrudescence of genocide anywhere in our world. Thus–any delay in acknowledging and apologizing for their nation’s abhorrent historical crime only serves to embolden other proponents of genocide–and to implicate this generation of Turks in the sins of the past."

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) took direct aim at statemen’s by Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek–who dubbed conference organizers as "traitors."I condemn the recent action taken by the Turkish government to censor academic debate about the Armenian Genocide. Democracy and truth were thrown out the window when Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek accused historians at three prestigious Turkish universities of treason when they attempted to debate the issue of the Armenian Genocide. Turkey does not deserve to be granted membership in the European Union if they continue to shut down educated discussion about this issue."

The Conference–titled "Ottoman Armenia’s 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.

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.

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