A court order to halt a controversial conference in Istanbul on
massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire came under fire Friday
both by the Turkish government and the European Union, which the
country is seeking to join.
The conference, already postponed once in May, was to have
opened Friday to question Ankara’s official version of the 1915-1917
massacres, but a court suspended the event late Thursday following a
complaint by a group of nationalist lawyers, who called the organizers
The academics and intellectuals who were to attend the
conference dispute the official version of the killings, whose
discussion remains largely a taboo and which, to Ankara’s ire, have
been recognized as a genocide by several countries.
“The court has cast a shadow on the process of
democratization and freedoms in my country,” Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan said late Thursday, questioning also the court’s
jurisdiction in the case.
Economy Minister Ali Babacan, Turkey’s chief negotiator in
the EU accession talks, scheduled to start on October 3, said the
ruling “does not conform with democratic thinking and with the
standards of human rights and freedoms that Turkey is trying to catch
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul charged that the ruling was the
outcome of efforts by opponents of the country’s EU bid.
“As October 3 is approaching, those at home and abroad who
want to obstruct us are making their last efforts… There are few
nations that can inflict such damage on themselves,” Gul said in New
York, Anatolia news agency reported.
The EU also condemned the court’s decision, calling it a
“We strongly deplore this new attempt to prevent the Turkish
society from discussing its history,” the European Commission’s
spokeswoman on enlargement, Krisztina Nagy, said.
She also warned that if the conference did not go ahead the
developments would figure in the annual commission report on Turkey.
The two universities organizing the conference, Bogazici and
Sabanci, were expected to appeal the ruling later Friday.
Turkey categorically denies that the Ottomans committed
genocide against the Armenians and has reacted angrily against
countries which have recognized the killings as such.
The government, however, has encouraged researchers to
discuss the issue, arguing that it is a matter for historians and not
Armenians claim up to 1.5 million of their kin were
slaughtered in orchestrated killings.
Turkey 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, the predecessor of modern
Organizers first postponed the conference in May after
Justice Minister Cemil Cicek branded the initiative as “treason” and a
“stab in the back of the Turkish nation.”
Erdogan, however, called the outburst “a personal statement”
and encouraged researchers to carry out their work.
The halting of the conference drew also the ire of the media
and non-governmental organizations.
“Court blow to freedom of expression,” trumpeted the Milliyet
daily, while Radikal said: “Justice padlocks science.”
The History Foundation said the significance of the event had
now exceeded its original objective.
“What is being debated is in fact whether Turkey will be
governed by taboos or democratic rules … whether we will look at
history for peace and understanding or for rejection and hostility,”
the statement said.
Several nationalist groups lent support to the court ruling
and activists pasted pictures of Turks killed by Armenians outside the
Bogazici University, Anatolia reported.