Plot Thickens in Fate of Turkey?s Armenian Genocide Conference

ISTANBUL (Marmara/AFP)–Recent reports in the Turkish press point to Turkish government efforts to influence the recently rescheduled conference on the Armenian genocide–slated for September 23-25 at Istanbul’s Bogazici University.

Featuring academics and intellectuals who dispute Ankara’s version of the 1915-1917 genocide of Armenia’s–the conference was postponed in May after Justice Minister Cemil Cicek condemned the initiative as "treason" and a "stab in the back of the Turkish nation." He also said organizers deserved to be prosecuted.

The outburst raised eyebrows in European diplomatic circles about Ankara’s commitment to democratic reforms–a requirement for October 3 negotiations over its adhesion to the European Union (EU). But diplomats said the incident could also prove to be a watershed if the Turkish government acted to correct Cicek’s remarks.

Milliyet published an article on August 25 saying Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan requested that organizers reschedule the conference prior to October 3–noting negative effects of its prior cancellation on European public opinion.

In the meantime–there are conflicting reports on whether Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul would open the conference–titled "Ottoman Armenia’s during the Decline of the Empire: Issues of Scientific Responsibility and Democracy."

Although it was reported yesterday that Gul accepted the invitation from the rector of Bogazici University–Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Namik Tan announced later on Wednesday that Gul would be in New York during the conference opening–and would participate during its closing–if his schedule allowed.

Asked about recent change in plans–Gul explained that he agreed to participate in principle–but only if his schedule allowed–and elaborated on the importance of the academic gathering.

"We consider such meetings an opportunity to explain our opinion both in Turkey and abroad," Gul said. "We have no problems about the issue [Armenian genocide]–and it is useless to shun it as if the guilty party." Pointing to opinions that oppose his–he suggested that certain circles twist historical facts to oppose Turkey.

His commen’s seem to have implied that the nature of the original conference is now questionable. "I am happy to partake if I see that there is broad representation," he said–in an apparent reference to participation of academics who deny the genocide of Armenia’s ever took place.

"We must carry out–both internally and externally–a clear campaign to contradict this. We must be proactive both as a government and a [foreign] ministry. We will not allow hostile circles to affect new generations with unfounded allegations."


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