(AFP) - Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek Tuesday accused of "treason" a group of academics organizing a conference to question Turkey's official position on the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The three-day conference, which opens Wednesday at Istanbul's prestigious Bogazici University, will be attended by Turkish academics and intellectuals who dispute Ankara's version of the 1915-1917 massacres, recognized as genocide by several countries.
Cicek condemned the initiative as a blow to government efforts to counter a mounting Armenian campaign to have the killings recognized internationally as genocide, which many fear may cloud Turkey's bid to join the European Union. "This is a stab in the back to the Turkish nation... this is irresponsibility," Anatolia quoted Cicek as saying at a parliamentary debate.
"We must put an end to this cycle of treason and insult, of spreading propaganda against the (Turkish) nation by people who belong to it," he said.
The opposition joined the criticism. Sukru Elekdag, a senior MP for the main opposition Republican People's Party and a retired ambassador, called the conference "a treacherous project" aimed at disseminating pro-Armenian propaganda "under the guise of research."
Conference organizers said in a press statement that "it is high time Turkey's own academics and intellectuals collectively raise voices that differ from the official stance" on the Armenian killings. "The expression of critical and alternative opinions will be to Turkey's benefit, because it will show how rich in pluralist thinking Turkish society actually is," the statement said.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their kinsmen were killed by the Ottomans in what was a genocide between 1915 and 1917. Ankara argues that 300,000 Armenians and at least as many Turks died in civil strife during World War I, when the Armenians took up
arms for independence in eastern Anatolia and sided with Russian troops invading the crumbling Ottoman Empire.
Ankara fears that the genocide allegations could fuel anti-Turkish sentiment in international public opinion and cloud its image at a time when it is vying for EU membership.