09/23/2005, 00.00
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A Turkish court blocks a conference on the Armenian genocide

This is the second time the meeting has been called off: among participants are several academics critical of the official government version about what happened in World War I.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – An Istanbul court yesterday ordered that a university conference about the Armenian massacre during the Ottoman era be cancelled. At the meeting, which should have been held today in Istanbul, scholars and academics discussing the delicate question were expected to criticize the official government version of events.

Between 1915 and 1923, more than one and a half million Armenians were killed. Turkey does not accept the definition of "genocide": the Ankara version is that 300,000 Armenians and thousands of Turks were killed in a "civil revolt" during the World War I, when the Armenians rebelled against Ottoman rule. Accusations of ethnic cleansing are defined by the Turkish government as "an invention to weaken the nation".

According to some western diplomats, forces within the state opposed to Turkey's membership in the European Union were probably behind the ruling. Negotiations over Turkey's entry in the EU are scheduled to start on 3 October. Yesterday's verdict was an embarrassment for the Turkish government. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned the court ruling and said the decision did not conform to what he called freedom and modernity in Turkey. He said the right to free speech was an essential part of democracy.

The conference entitled "Ottoman Armenians of an Empire in Decline" was to have opened today at the Bosporus University in Istanbul. It was originally scheduled to take place in May but it was postponed after the Turkish Justice Minister said its purpose was to stab Turkey in the back.

The case to halt the conference was brought by the Turkish Lawyers Union and other lawyers. However, the details of their complaint have not been made clear. The conference participants have declared they will launch an appeal and they are determined to go ahead with their work in the coming days.

The Armenian massacre has long been a taboo subject in Turkey: until recently, even talking about it was illegal. Recently, a small circle of Turk scholars started to cast doubt on the government version, an unwelcome move in the eyes of many.

The internationally acclaimed Turkish author, Orhan Pamuk, is due to appear in an Istanbul court on December 16 to defend himself against serious charges of "insulting Turkey's national dignity" by telling a Swiss newspaper that "one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds had been killed in Turkey". If found guilty, he faces three years in prison.

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn warned Turkey earlier this month that the legal persecution of Pamuk raised "serious preoccupations" about negotiations with Turkey.

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