Is Turkey Muzzling U.S. Scholars?

Historians in the News

Scholars of the Armenian genocide have long accused Turkey of using its financial support to promote the idea that a genocide didn’t take place or that the jury is still out — views that have little credibility among historians of genocide.

An incident in 2006, only recently being talked about publicly, has some scholars concerned that Turkey and its supporters may be interfering in American scholarship. The chair of the board of the Institute of Turkish Studies, which is based at Georgetown University, resigned at the end of 2006, and he says he was given a choice by Turkish officials of either quitting or seeing the funding for the institute go away.

At least one scholarly group that has investigated the matter recently issued a report backing the ousted chair, and at least one other board member has resigned while another has called for more discussion of the accusations. The executive director of the institute, while flatly saying that the ousted chair is wrong, confirmed that he was asked by Turkish Embassy officials to have the scholar talk with the Turkish ambassador to the United States about an article where he used the word “genocide” in reference to what happened to the Armenians. It was after that talk that the chair — Donald Quataert — quit.

The fact that Quataert is at the center of the controversy is significant. A historian at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Quataert is an expert on the Ottoman Empire. In the 1980s, when the scholarly consensus about the Armenian genocide was not as broad as it is today, he signed a statement calling for more research on whether a genocide took place. Quataert says today he never thought the statement would be used as it was by Turkish supporters to question claims of a genocide, but he notes that as a result of his having signed at the time, he was viewed favorably by the Turkish government and with considerable skepticism by Armenians. And it is Quataert who used the word “genocide” in a journal and who says he was given a choice by the Turkish ambassador, Nabi Sensoy, of quitting as the institute’s chair or seeing its financing disappear.

Related Links

  • Leader in Georgetown-Based Agency Encouraged Scholars to Research Mass Killing of Armenians (WaPo)
  • Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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