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AFP: EU slams Turkish court decision to ban massacre conference

The European Commission blasted on Friday a Turkish court ban on a
conference on the massacre of Armenians almost a century ago, only days
before the planned start of Ankara’s EU entry talks.

  In a strongly-worded response to the court ruling the
European Union’s executive arm warned that, if not overturned, the
judgment would impact on an annual EU assessment of Turkey’s readiness
to join the bloc.

  “We strongly deplore this new attempt to prevent the Turkish
society from discussing its history,” said the EU executive’s
spokeswoman on enlargement.

  “We consider also that the timing of this decision, that
comes just the day before the scheduled timing of the conference, looks
like yet another provocation,” she said.

  The university conference on “Ottoman Armenians of an Empire
in Decline” was to have opened on Friday until the court order,
following a complaint by a non-governmental organisation opposed to the
three-day event.

  It is the second time the conference has been held up. It was
first aborted after Justice Minister Cemil Cicek in May branded such
discussion as “treason” and a “stab in the back of the Turkish nation.”

  Armenians claim that up to 1.5 million people were
slaughtered in mass killings under the Ottoman Empire, forerunner to
the modern Turkish republic.

  Ankara argues there was no genocide and 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.

  The court ruling comes as Turkey prepares to begin membership
talks with the EU scheduled for October 3, and as public concern rises
in the bloc over what impact integrating the relatively poor mainly
Muslim state might have.

  It also raises questions about Turkey’s commitment to reform.

  Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced disapproval at
the ruling.

  The commission spokeswoman, Krisztina Nagy, warned that if
the conference did not go ahead, it would be noted in the executive’s
annual report on Turkey.

  “In the case that this conference cannot take place indeed as
scheduled this development will be reflected in the regular report that
the commission will issue on the 9th of November,” she told reporters
in Brussels.

  “That the decision took place in this way is provocation, the
timing and the circumstances,” she reiterated.

  Nagy acknowledged the Turkish government was unhappy with the
court ruling.

  “We take note of the fact that both Prime Minister Erdogan
and Foreign Minister (Abdullah) Gul have condemned this decision and we
belive this illustrates the difficulties of Turkey and in particular of
the judiciary to ensure the effective and uniform implementation of the
reforms,” she said.

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