Turkish government threats halt conference on Armenian genocide

A conference questioning Turkey’s official position on the World War I-era Armenian genocide has been cancelled following pressure from the government. The conference, entitled “Ottoman Armenians at the Decline of the Empire: Academic Responsibility and Issues of Democracy,” was to start on May 26. But Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said that the conference was “treason” and a “stab in the back of the Turkish people.” He told the national media: “We must end this treason, the spreading of propaganda against Turkey by the people who belong to it.” As a result, the Bosphorus University announced it has “decided it would be more appropriate to postpone the conference because of the results that could occur if the conference were held under these circumstances.”

Turkey refuses to recognize the massacres as genocide, and rejects estimates that 1.5 million people were killed. Some countries, particularly France, which has a large Armenian population, have pushed for a tough line on Turkey regarding the question. But the EU has limited its demands to calling on Ankara to improve its relations with Armenia before starting its membership negotiations.

In its statement on the cancelled conference, the EU equivocated and refrained from using the word “genocide.” Said a spokesperson: “We are aware of the tragedy in 1915. We hope that now, thanks to the EU prospect it will be possible to create a climate of confidence with the Armenians.” She added that “we expect that such a seminar will be held in the future, as the academic point of view is highly valuable when discussing these historical issues.”

Several EU countries, such as France, Poland and Germany have formally recognised the Armenian genocide. (EU Observer, May 26)

See our last post on the ongoing controversy over the Armenian genocide.