Despite Late Challenge, Scholars Finally Hold Meeting in Turkey on Armenian Genocide

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An academic conference on Turkey's controversial
"Armenian question" took place over the weekend in Istanbul, despite legal maneuvering by Turkish nationalists that had threatened to prevent it. The conference was originally to have taken place in May, but was postponed at the last minute under pressure from government officials.

The conference, titled "Ottoman Armenians During the Demise of the Empire: Issues of Democracy and Scientific Responsibility," was postponed in May after its organizers decided they could not guarantee participants' safety (The Chronicle, May 10).

Last week, participants had arrived in Istanbul and the rescheduled meeting looked set to begin on time when the fresh legal challenge against it came to light. A three-judge panel of an administrative court had ruled, 2 to 1, that a legal investigation of the conference's validity should take place, even though its organizers were notified of the decision only the day before the conference was to begin. With that inquiry pending, Bogaziçi could no longer play host to the conference without being held in contempt of the court's ruling. Organizers hastily shifted the venue to Bilgi so the conference could proceed.

The official response to the threat to the rescheduled conference differed starkly from the government's approach in May, when the justice minister took to the floor of Parliament to brand the meeting "treason" and a "dagger in the back of the Turkish people." This time, in comments broadcast on television, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was saddened by the new threat to the conference. He characterized the legal challenge as an "anti-democratic development" to which he was opposed.

Aybar Ertepinar, vice president of the Council of Higher Education, a government-financed organization that oversees all Turkish universities, said on Sunday that although his group had not been invited to take part, the conference should have been allowed to proceed at Bogaziçi. "Our Constitution grants academic and scientific freedom to universities," he said. Taking up the opponents' challenge "was an unfortunate decision of the court that went beyond the borders of its responsibility," he said.

With the more than 350 participants once again assembled in Istanbul, the conference's organizers decided that "we can either do this now or we cannot do it all again," said Fatma Müge Gocek, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor who was on the meeting's advisory committee.

Organizers had selected Bogaziçi as the venue for the meeting precisely because it is a public institution, but they decided they had no choice but to relocate to Bilgi. The rectors of all three sponsoring universities welcomed the participants, who met in marathon sessions to condense into two days a program that was to have been spread over three.

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