Genocide finally gets scholarly inquest

September 30, 2005

Despite death threats, two postponements and the presence of hundreds of protesters, an academic conference on the mass killings of Armenians living in Turkey in 1915 went ahead under heavy police protection at Istanbul's Bilgi University.

Participants hailed it as a success and pledged to hold more. Organiser Halil Berktay of Sabanci University said: "It is enormously important. This has been the most enduring taboo of Turkish nationalist mythology. Five years ago, hardly anyone was speaking out about this."

Although he has received many death threats for raising the issue, he promised: "We will go on to organise a series of books, translations, pamphlets and future conferences, and we will call for official spokesmen to join an open debate not just in Turkey but in front of world historians abroad."

The Armenian Government accuses Turkey's Ottoman rulers of killing 1.5 million Armenians. But the Turkish state argues that a civil war was to blame for the deaths. Until now, the official historical interpretation has not been challenged in Turkish academic circles.

The conference angered many in Turkey's academic community: 320 professors signed a petition condemning the meeting. One organiser said that the careers of young academics linked to the event could be blighted.

An injunction to stop the event was circumvented by changing the venue. The decision to proceed was apparently made after the deputy prime minster intervened.

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