ISTANBUL (Combined Sources)–Some 70 Turkish and foreign academics gathered in Istanbul on Wednesday for a three-day conference titled "A New Approach to Turkish-Armenian Relations."
In a rare move–the gathering–organized by Istanbul University–included presenters of all convictions–but it was largely dominated by historians and officials who defend Turkey’s official position on the Armenian genocide.
Turkey categorically denies that 1.5 million Armenia’s were victims of genocide under its predecessor–the Ottoman Empire.
Twenty-four historians from around the world attended the conference–which failed to fill up even half of the hall’s 2000 seats. Historians and experts from Armenia were also invited to the conference. However–they refused to participate.
Historian Ara Sarafian–who did participate in the conference–told reporters outside the conference hall that the Genocide is a historical fact–during which several of his family members lost their lives.
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.
"Every civil society has to deal with its past–including the black pages of this past," Auron said.
In a message sent to the conference–Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul stressed that Turkey is at peace with its past–saying–"We have no page in our history to be ashamed of."
Noting that many conferences and symposiums have been held in Turkey recently on the Armenian allegations–Gul said–"There has been an increase in the amount of scientific research–articles and books published about the last period of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian genocide claims."
In a rare move–books deviating from the official Turkish position were made available at the entrance to the conference hall.
One of the books displayed by Sarafian caused a stir among some of the Turkish participants who were offended by the way the Turkish flag was presented on the cover. Sarafian subsequently removed the book’s jacket cover–but one participant continued to verbally assault Sarafian until others intervened.
Turkey has only recently begun discussing the taboo subject of the Armenian genocide–which many countries have recognized.
In September of last year–a private Istanbul university hosted a landmark conference organized by Turkish intellectuals disputing Ankara’s official line on the issue–despite a court order to block it. ation.