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Europe Responds To Postponed Conference In Turkey

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  • Europe Responds To Postponed Conference In Turkey

    The university administration of Bosphorus University in Turkey postponed "Ottoman Armenians at decline of the Empire. Scientific Responsibility and Issues of Democracy" workshop after the threatening speech of Turkish justice minister Cemil Ciceq on May 24.

    The fact of the conference's postponement was largely echoed in both Turkey and Europe. The decision of the university administration hit the headlines of many influential papers of the world.

    If the Turkish press aims at minister Ciceq, the government and political parties then Europe's target is Turkey as a whole.

    As a significant counterattack came the statements of the Union of Human Rights of Turkey and Turkish History Foundation on May 25. If the Union "condemns all politicians in the persons of justice minister and oppositional party speaker who do not tolerate freedom of thought in the country and threaten Bosphorus University to wreck the workshop", then the Foundation underscores that "the campaign against the workshop that launched in Mejlis is the next manifestation of Turkish chauvinism peculiar to ruling elite. It once again blocks the roads leading to democracy and mutual understanding".

    Meanwhile, the organizers of the workshop turned to the American Historical Association, Middle East International Establishment and International Union of Lawyers. And Bosphorus University published a statement with 109 signatures of the University staff.

    The statement expresses worry that the scientific thought is being encroached upon, condemns every political interference, indicates that it contradicts Turkey's official stance of "impartial discussion of the Armenian issue" and reveals University's resolution to hold the workshop the soonest possible.

    On May 26, Bilgi University of Istanbul released an identical statement signed by 130 staff members condemning officials' encroachment on independent activities of the university. The 43 scientists including Taner Akcam, Murad Belge and Halil Berktay that were supposed to report at the workshop also came out with a statement.

    Turkish Milliyet newspaper writes about international response to the postponement in its May 26 issue. The paper writes that European diplomats commissioned in Ankara strongly opposed to the fact of rescheduling. They said that the justice minister's words disappointed them and emphasized that the statement disagrees with Prime Minister Erdogan's and Turkish parliament's position that was also widely received in the US and Europe.

    Response came from the EU as well, which noted that the postponement will not assist Turkey's accession. According to Milliyet, a EU official expressed hope that Turkey will mature to openly discuss the Armenian cause. He called the suspension of the workshop "display of intolerance".

    A representative of EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Oli Ren, confirmed latter's words saying, "EU wants and contributes to creation of atmosphere of mutual trust between Armenia and Turkey. We hope that this atmosphere will have positive impact on Turkey's EU membership". Joost Lagendijk, co-chair of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliament Committee, responded from Brussels. In a written statement he said that the fact of putting the conference off will open doors for comments over absence of free scientific thought and existence of taboos in Turkey. Answering to Milliyet's question Lagendijk said, "The words of justice minister Ciceq show that in Turkey it is still the state that decides should an issue be discussed at a university or not". Those are serious responses, and Turkey is expected to hand out official reply.

    Turkish Foreign Ministry accepted that the postponement of the workshop contradicts the spirit of both "Erdogan's letter to RA President Kocharian" and "reforms unfolded in the country on its way to the EU".

    Opposition to the suspension of the workshop having gone far beyond Turkey's borders cannot go without consequences for Turkey. A May 26 article in Milliyet considers postponement "a big mistake", saying that it will pose Turkey to international pressure, moreover, will show Turkey as a country that does not tolerate free discussion over historic issues, thus adding momentum to Armenians efforts for getting the Genocide recognized.