Scholars urge Ankara to allow free debate on Armenian Genocide (The AHA has protested limits on free speech)

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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.

EDITOR'S NOTE In the latest issue of Perspectives, the president of the American Historical Association, James Sheehan, explains why he wrote a letter to the prime minister of Turkey complaining about the cancellation of the Armenian conference. Click here to read Sheehan's article and his letter.

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