BY TALINE GHAZARIAN
LOS ANGELES–More than 800 people flocked to UCLA Sunday–where three prominent Turkish scholars challenged the official position of their country on the Armenian genocide at a historic conference titled "Three Turkish Voices on the Ottoman Armenia’s"–the first time such a forum was held outside Turkey. The event was sponsored by the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History and the GE Von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern studies.
Despite threats and angry reactions from some Turkish groups–the crowd filled the aisles and listened in through doorways–as the speakers agreed to a repeat presentation for those left waiting outside.
In his introductory remarks–conference organizer Professor Richard G. Hovannisian acknowledged the speakers for breaking down the walls of denial and encouraging the free exchange of ideas in Turkey. Hovannisian also said that the time had come to abandon old stereotypes.
Taner Akcam–a well known Genocide scholar–presented "A New Assessment of Ottoman Documents," in which he used the existing Ottoman documen’s to corroborate and reconstruct the events of the Armenian genocide. Akcam emphasized the need to use Ottoman and foreign archives side-by-side to prove the occurrence of Genocide in 1915.
In a more individualistic approach–Elif Shafak stressed the importance of creating a more personal connection to the past for modern-day Turkish youth. Compared to Armenia’s–she said–most Turks have a ruptured historical memory that does not extend past 1923. She attributed Turkish ignorance about the Genocide to this fact and also to the lack of interaction between Armenia’s and Turks.
The final Turkish presenter–Fatma Muge Gocek–addressed the recent Istanbul conference on Ottoman Armenia’s–which was originally scheduled to take place in May. The conference was canceled by the government and postponed to September after serious legal obstacles. Gocek also discussed other developmen’s in Turkey such as people of Armenian ancestry rediscovering their past and said: "We are in this together as human beings."
After their presentations–the speakers answered questions from the crowd–many of whom wondered what the next step was in gaining Turkish recognition of the Genocide. Akcam and Gocek stressed the importance of approaching the Armenian genocide as a human rights issue that still goes on today–citing the events in Darfur. Both gave 2015 as the ideal date by which Turkey will have recognized the Genocide.