By Emil Danielyan
More than 60 Turkish, Diaspora Armenian and Western academics have sent a joint letter to official Ankara expressing “deep concern” about what they see as a continuing persecution of Turkish intellectuals challenging its vehement denial of the Armenian genocide.
“We think Turkish state and society can only attain peace within Turkey and abroad by critically confronting its own history,” reads the letter obtained by RFE/RL on Wednesday. “A critical analysis, discussion and debate of the location of minorities in that history is essential for the replacement of violent solutions with peaceful ones.”
The statement was addressed to President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top ministers. Its signatories specifically urged the Turkish leaders to ensure that a landmark conference on the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, which is scheduled to start in Istanbul on Friday, proceeds “without harassment or interference.”
The three-day conference titled "Ottoman Armenians of an Empire in Decline" is organized by the private Bosphorus Univeristy of Istanbul. It will bring together Turkish scholars and intellectuals who question the official line on the Armenian massacres. The conference was originally scheduled for May, but was postponed after Turkey’s Justice Minister Cemil Cicek condemned the initiative as "treason" and a "stab in the back of the Turkish nation".
The comments were denounced by senior officials from the European Union who warned that they could complicate the upcoming start of Turkey’s membership talks with the EU. The Turkish government said subsequently that it does not object to the holding of the forum.
“Given the current hostility regarding the public discussion of minorities in Turkey, we cannot overstate how important it is for the rescheduled conference that is to take place during 23-25 September 2005 to proceed without harassment or interference,” says the letter.
The academics who signed it also condemned criminal proceedings launched against prominent Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink, the ethnic Armenian editor of an Istanbul newspaper. Pamuk was charged with “denigrating Turkish identity” in a February interview with a Swiss newspaper in which he stated that “one million Armenians were killed in these lands.” Dink is facing potential imprisonment on similar charges.
One of the letter’s signatories is Taner Akcam, a University of Minnesota professor and one of few Turkish historians who openly refer to the slaughter of more than a million Ottoman Armenians as genocide. Also signing it were two dozen Turkish scholars, most of them working at U.S. and European universities.
Among them is Yektan Turkyilmaz, a U.S.-based doctoral candidate from Turkey, who spent two months in an Armenian prison this summer ostensibly for attempting to take old books out of Armenia without a government permission. Turkyilmaz’s arrest and prosecution on unusually harsh smuggling charges were denounced by more than 250 foreign academics who demanded his release in an open letter to President Robert Kocharian.
Incidentally, some of those academics are among 14 ethnic Armenians from the United States, Canada and Britain who signed the appeal to Turkey’s leadership.