Network of Concerned Historians release 2011 Annual Report





The Network of Concerned Historians, an organization dedicated to the intersection between history and human rights, has just released its eighteenth Annual Report on worldwide censorship of history, persecution of historians, and human rights abuses in 2011.

Among the highlights of stories specifically concerning historians, museums, and education:

United States

  • In April 2011, the National Security Archive filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to force the Central Intelligence Agency to release its full five-volume Secret Official History of the Bay of Bigs Invasion, written by CIA Chief Historian Jack Pfieffer -- who himself filed an unsuccessful lawsuit in 1987 to release the fifth volume. On May 10, however, a District Court judge ruled against the request.
  • At the end of July, Judge Royce Lamberth granted the request of Stanley Kutler, professor emeritus of history and law at the University of Wisconsin, to release the transcript of Richard Nixon's testimony to a grand jury on the Watergate scandal in June 1975.
  • In September, Texas introduced its new history textbooks after nearly a year of controversy regarding its revised statewide history standards. The textbooks contained a number of omissions and distortions, reportedly including the omission of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams as founding fathers in the 11th-grade history texbook.
  • In October, associate professor of history at Kent State University, shouted "death to Israel" during a Q & A session with Ishmael Khalidi, a former deputy consul general at the Israeli consulate in San Francisco.
  • In January 2012, the Tuscon, AZ, Unified School District, voted to suspend their Mexican American studies program and banned a number of books on Mexican American activism and cultural identity. The Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction said the program and books "contained content promoting resentment towards a race or class of people." At the end of March, state officials reportedly began to consider extending the ban to state universities.
  • United Kingdom/Ireland

  • The British government admitted in January 2011 that large numbers of incriminating and embarrassing colonial files had been deliberately destroyed or removed from the colonies to London under official policy that dated back to 1961. Thousands of files on the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, as well as other colonial conflicts, were discovered and released in April.
  • On December 27, a U.S. district court judge ordered that Boston College turn over oral interviews of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army to British authorities seeking information on violent crimes committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Both interview subject Dolours Price (who accused Gerry Adams, a Sinn Fein leader and current member of the Irish parliament, the Dail Eireann, of running a covert kidnapping and assassination cell) and interviewer (and former IRA member) Anthony McIntyre,feared retaliation from the IRA for speaking about illegal IRA actions (McIntyre and former project director Ed Moloney received death threats after the publication of Moloney's book Voices from the Grave in 2010). On December 29, after an appeal from McIntyre's and Moloney's attorneys, the order was temporarily postponed.
  • Europe

  • The French National Assembly voted for a bill to criminalize denial of the Armenian genocide in late December (France has officially described the Armenian genocide as such since 2001). The bill was deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council in February 2012.
  • Four German historians discovered in November that the Federal German intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), destroyed personnel files of employees who had been members of the SS or the Gestapo during World War II (and who consisted of up to 10 percent of the BND during the early Cold War). The file purge occurred in 2007.
  • The executive director of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest, Lászlo Harsányi, was sacked after government officials complained that the museum unfairly linked Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy, who aligned the country with Nazi Germany in the 1930s but was overthrown by Hitler in 1944 after attempting to sign a separate peace with the Soviet Union, with the Holocaust. Historians claimed government censorship.
  • In Russia, Mikhail Suprun, head of the history department at Pomorsky State University in Archangelsk, was found guilty in closed trial of violating Article 137 of the Russian Criminal Code prohibiting the exposure of "personal or family secrets" in public works. Suprun had been researching the fate of German POWs in the Soviet Union after World War II. Colonel Aleksander Dudarev, head archivist at the Archangelsk Regional Ministry of Internal Affairs and who aided Suprun with his research, was given a suspended sentence. The case has had a "chilling effect" on other Stalinist-era researchers.
  • Turkey

  • On October 25, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of historian Taner Akçam in his case against Turkish laws denigrating "Turkishness," which are used to quash descriptions of the Armenian genocide as such.
  • Büşra Ersanlı, a legal scholar and historian at Marmara University in Istanbul, was arrested a day before she was to attend a conference on "Controversial Issues in the History of the Turkish Republic" on October 29. A former dissident during the military junta in the 1970s, her previous political activities have been raised by prosecutors, who have asked for a minimum of fifteen years in prisoner for Ersanlı.
  • In January 2012, a Turkish court convicted Yasin Hayal and sentenced him to life imprisonment for the assassination of journalist and Armenian genocide activst Hrant Dink. Nineteen others were acquitted.
  • Middle East, Central, and Southern Asia

  • Mohammad al-Omar, a history professor at Aleppo University in Syria, was killed in an ambush on October 2.
  • On December 17, the Egyptian Scientific Institute -- originally founded as the Instiut d'Égypte by Napoleon -- was "largely destroyed by fire during clashes between soldiers and police and street protesters."
  • Mohamed Talbi, a Tunisian historian and activist, was subject to death threats by Islamic extremists, who claimed he insulted the second wife of the Prophet Muhammad during a radio debate.
  • A new series of official high school textbooks in Afghanistan, created in part from American dollars, does not cover any Afghan history after 1973. This was a deliberate move to "promote a single national identity."
  • In 2008, student activists vandalized the office of S.Z.H Jafri, head of the history department at Delhi University, in protest against the inclusion in the history syllabus of a controversial essay by A.K. Ramanujan on the Ramayanas. In October 2011, the vice chancellor of the university and the Academic Council overruled the history department and deemed the essay "inappropriate" in a history curriculum. Students and teachers marched in protest of the Council's decision.
  • East Asia

  • In June, the Chinese government freed historian Xu Zerong, an Oxford-educated historian who has been in prison since 2000 for "leaking state secrets" (by sending research on the Korean War to a South Korean historian).
  • Chinese customs officials proposed to physically cut out "controversial" sections of Jonathan Spence's The Search for Modern China -- specifically sections on Tiananmen Square and the Cultural Revolution -- after a lecturer at the University of Nottingham Ningbo tried to import a copy.
  • Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a professor of history at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, was arrested under Thailand's lèse-majesté law prohibiting defamation of the monarchy.
  • South America

  • In June, charges were dismissed against Colombian historian Miguel Angel Beltran Villegas, who was accused of writing "ideological material and articles" for the Colombian guerilla organization FARC.
  • In July, Surinamese president (and former dictator from 1980 to 1987) Dési Bouterse forced out a member of the ministry of education after the ministry published a textbook containing a photograph from 1982 showing a demonstrator holding a sign calling Bouterse a murderer (fifteen prominent opponents of his regime were arrested, tortured, and shot in 1982).
  • Africa

  • Former president of Ivory Coast -- and former historian at the University of Abidjan -- Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity.

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