BY LISA PEVTZOW
Princeton Packet Staff Writer
Heath Lowry–the embattled chairman of Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies–will step down as chairman next month following two years of intense criticism over his denial of the Turkish-sponsored Armenian genocide of 1915.
Since Dr. Lowry was appointed in 1993 to the Ataturk Professor of Ottoman and Near Eastern Studies–a chair funded with a $750,000 grant from the Turkish government–repeated calls for his ouster have come from scholars–artists and writers–as well as from the Armenian community.
University spokesman Justin Harmon said there was nothing "surprising or newsworthy" in Dr. Lowry’s resignation–terming it a normal rotation among senior faculty. Department chairmanships are normally occupied for three years–said Mr. Harmon. Dr. Lowry–who is tenured–will remain on the faculty.
Andras Hamori–who will replace Dr. Lowry as chairman–has accepted a four-year term–according to a university news release.
In April–Dr. Lowry’s views were the centerpiece of a conference sponsored by Drew University on academic responsibility and the Armenian genocide.
"Pressure is mounting on Dr. Lowry," said Grace Kehetian–executive director of the Armenian National Committee of the Eastern United States. "He has conspired with the Turkish government to conceal the genocide. His conduct is unethical and he was rewarded for his service to the Turkish government."
Dr. Lowry–who worked for the Turkish government-sponsored Institute for Turkish Studies in Washington–DC–for 12 years before coming to Princeton–has attempted to discredit the memoirs of US Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morganthau–who was an eyewitness to the tragedy. In 1990–Dr. Lowry drafted a letter for the Turkish ambassador–referring to the "so-called genocide."
Since shortly after World War I–the Turkish government began denying the massacre of more than 1 million Armenia’s–who many scholars believe were forced on death marches to the Syrian desert. Significant pressure has been put on governmen’s and the United Nations by the Turkish government to adhere to its position that a few hundred thousand people died during the forcible relocation of the entire Armenian population.
Dr. Lowry refused repeated requests by The Packet for an interview. In a statement issued in 1995–however–he maintained that the Armenian loss of life–however tragic–should not be termed a "pre-planned–state-perpetuated genocide" until the Ottoman records have been more fully studied.
In a 1996 article in The New York Times–Dr. Lowry said he has never denied the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s during World War I.
"But I object to the use of the word ?genocide’ until the relevant records are located–studied and have proved that genocide is in fact the most accurate term to describe this tragedy," he stated.
Mr. Harmon said the controversy over Dr. Lowry’s appointment has been "mischaracterized" by people with a political agenda.
"He’s trying to make the point of a scholar–not to deny that a holocaust happened or prove that a holocaust occurred," said Mr. Harmon. "He’s saying that it’s an open question whether the tragic deaths were orchestrated by the Turkish government."
Dr. Lowry also was the subject of a 1995 petition condemning him for working hand-in-hand with the Turkish government–which was signed by 66 artists–writers and Armenian and Holocaust scholars–including John Updike–Kurt Vonnegut–Norman Mailer–Henry Louis Gates Jr.–Arthur Miller–Seamus Heaney and Joyce Carol Oates.
In a telephone interview with The Packet last week–author William Styron–who also signed the petition–urged Princeton University to remove Dr. Lowry from his tenured professorship and position as director of the program in Near Eastern Studies.
"Lowry is a hired hand (of the Turkish government) disseminating lies," said Mr. Styron. "The evidence is quite strong that Lowry is being enlisted in a rather immoral scheme. The man has been demonstrated to me as a man who is in the pay of the Turkish government and is committing a totally immoral act."
"When you deny one genocide–you’re denying the genocidal impulse in general and you deny all genocides," said Mr. Styron. "Lowry is guilty of this."
Peter Balakian–an Armenian poet and English professor at Colgate University who spearheaded the petition drive–said last week that Dr. Lowry has made a career of helping the Turkish government stamp out information about the genocide.
In 1985–as director of the Turkish-funded Institute for Turkish Studies–Dr. Lowry was one of 69 specialists on Turkey who signed a petition urging the US House of Representatives to take the Armenian massacre out of a resolution condemning the crime of genocide.
Five years later–he lobbied Congress to vote against an effort to commemorate April 24–the day on which the genocide is believed to have commenced–said Dr. Balakian.
He also persuaded officials at the Ellis Island museum to take down a photograph depicting the slaughter–according to Dr. Balakian.
"He was a man dedicated to stopping the Armenian genocide as a bureaucrat," said Dr. Balakian. "This is the kind of unethical work that he was doing."
Dr. Balakian also questioned Dr. Lowry’s appointment at Princeton in the first place–calling what he considered to be Turkish influence on the department as "infrastructural corruption."
Dr. Balakian said Dr. Lowry is unqualified for the position–had less than one year of full-time university teaching experience when he was hired and has not written any important books in the field.
According to Mr. Harmon–Dr. Lowry–who was granted tenure by Princeton University when he was hired in 1993–was subjected to the standard hiring process. He was nominated by his department–which sent a recommendation to the dean of the faculty. An advisory committee of university officials and professors then made a recommendation to the president. Tenure was granted by the university board of trustees.
"We don’t sell chairs," Mr. Harmon said Friday. "We don’t sell influence over the academic life of the institution or the academic freedom of the faculty. The damage we would do would far outweigh the benefit of a chair."
Mr. Harmon added that to do so would be "stupid" and under no circumstances would the university ever accept a gift with strings attached.
In 1995–in a terse statement–then-Dean of Faculty Amy Gutmann said that Dr. Lowry was hired on the recommendation of a university-wide committee of faculty members and that donors of chairs do not influence the appointment process. A 1995 letter in support of Dr. Lowry was signed by 11 members of his department.
In an odd 1990 incident–a memo written by Dr. Lowry to the Turkish ambassador fell out of a letter from the diplomat to scholar Robert Jay Lifton–who has written about the Holocaust and the survivors of Hiroshima.
The memo advised the ambassador how to refute several mentions of the Armenian genocide in a book by Dr. Lifton entitled "The Nazi Doctors" published four years before.
"It seemed so bizarre and extreme," said Dr. Lifton in an interview with The Packet.
"Heath Lowry was an American consultant to the Turkish government in the denial … that murderers were not really murderers–that victims were not really killed." Please send your commen’s and questions to Asbarez-on-line at the above E-mail address. We also encourage suggestions on improving our on-line services.