Turkey blocks genocide conference

September 23, 2005|By Amberin Zaman

ANKARA, TURKEY -- A court has ordered the cancellation of a conference where Turkish academics were expected to challenge the official version of events surrounding mass deaths among the nation's Armenians during and after World War I.

The gathering scheduled to be held today in Istanbul was seen as a first and important step in this nation's efforts to confront its troubled past as it seeks membership of the European Union.

The case to block the conference was brought by the Turkish Lawyers Union and other lawyers. Court officials declined to comment on why the conference was canceled yesterday. But several conference participants and Western diplomats in Ankara, the capital, said the decision was part of a broader campaign by ultranationalist elements in the state who oppose Turkey's joining the EU.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan swiftly condemned the ruling.

"The aim is clear: It is to derail the EU process," said Hrant Dink, managing editor of the Armenian language weekly Agos, who was to have addressed the gathering. "But they will fail."

Armenians say 1.5 million of their people perished in 1915-1923 in a genocide carried out by Ottoman Turks. Turkey has long maintained that several hundred thousand Armenians died of starvation and exposure during forced deportations after they collaborated with invading Russian forces in eastern Turkey.

Turkey is expected to open EU membership negotiations Oct. 3, a process that is likely to continue for at least a decade. The EU has long cited Turkey's checkered human rights record as an obstacle to membership, and there are growing calls within the European bloc for Turkey to set aside its prickly nationalism and apologize for the systematic annihilation of its once thriving Armenian community.

Amberin Zaman writes for the Los Angeles Times

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