'Genocide' row over Princeton job

May 31, 1996

Princeton University has become ensnared in the bitter enmity over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during the first world war.

The prestigious private university, which celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, has chosen Heath Lowry to fill its Ataturk chair of Turkish studies, an appointment it characterises as "totally above board". But for nearly a year Princeton has struggled in vain to silence angry accusations that the Turkish government, which donated $750,000 to establish the chair, took a role in deciding who filled it.

Mr Lowry is one of a relatively small group of United States scholars who insist that the massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians during the first world war cannot accurately be described as "genocide" carried out by the Ottoman Turks.

Some estimate that as many as a million Armenians died in 1915 and 1916. The question of whether they were the victims of state-sponsored genocide during a Turkish "relocation" operation to northern Syria, or whether wartime deprivation, disease, and anarchy were to blame, is a political and academic minefield.

Mr Lowry also acted as an informal adviser to Turkey's US ambassador in his years as head of the Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington DC, a non-profit group set up with a substantial endowment from Turkey. He also heads the university's Near Eastern studies department.

Even before he was chosen from a list of 20 names for the chair, Mr Lowry had aroused the ire of scholars and writers, who maintain that denying genocide in Turkey ranks with denying the holocaust in Germany.

Alleging that Princeton has given a public and academic platform to an apologist for Turkey, nearly 200 Armenian Americans staged a protest outside the Princeton Club in New York.

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