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Turkish Intellectuals Press Ahead With Landmark Armenian Conference

(AFP) – A conference questioning the official line on massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, aborted after Turkey’s justice minister branded it an act of treason, will go ahead in September, organizers said on Wednesday.

The event baptized “Ottoman Armenians of an Empire in Decline” has been scheduled for September 23-25 at Istanbul’s Bogazici university.

Featuring academics and intellectuals who dispute Ankara’s version of the 1915-1917 killings, the conference was postponed in May after Justice Minister Cemil Cicek condemned the initiative as “treason” and a “stab in the back of the Turkish nation”. He also said the organisers deserved to be prosecuted.

The outburst raised eyebrows in European diplomatic circles about Ankara’s commitment to democratic reforms, a requirement for October 3 negotiations over its adhesion to the European Union. But diplomats said the incident could also prove to be a watershed if the Turkish government acted to correct Cicek’s remarks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has now agreed to take part in the conference’s opening session, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Wednesday. “There was no reason to adjourn the conference. We can easily discuss this question,” the newspaper quoted the minister as saying.

Ankara’s quest for European Union membership struck another hurdle last month when it continued to insist it would not recognize the Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus despite extending a customs agreement to the 10 new EU members. Several countries have recognized the Armenian massacres as genocide and Brussels has called on Turkey to confront its past and to allow greater freedom of speech.

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