The EU’s tug of war with Turkey over human rights continues. This weekend attention has been focused on an academic conference held at Istanbul Bilgi University to discuss issues arising from and surrounding the massacre of Armenians which took place following the collapse of the Ottoman empire.
The most surprising thing in fact may have been that the conference was held at all. As the Chronicle of Higher Education Reports:
An academic conference on Turkey’s controversial “Armenian question” took place over the weekend in Istanbul, despite legal maneuvering by Turkish nationalists that had threatened to prevent it. The conference was originally to have taken place in May, but was postponed at the last minute under pressure from government officials.
The meeting was rescheduled for this past weekend at Bogaziçi, University, also known in English as Bosphorus University, but was once again postponed on the eve of its opening, this time because of a legal challenge that questioned its scientific validity and the qualifications of its participants. The challengers also said it was inappropriate for Bogaziçi, a public university, to be the venue for such a gathering, which they said contravened its mission.
The decision to ban the conference in the first place was taken by Turkish judges and was – according to EUPolitix – attacked as a “deplorable provocation” by the European Commission. Another surprising detail: this condemnation by the EU Commission was simply an echo of earlier statements by the Turkish government, which has also condemned the decision. Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul is reported as saying that the ruling was a move by internal opponents to domestic reforms required by the EU.
“Those inside and outside the country who want to obstruct us as we go towards October 3 are making their last efforts. There is no one better than us when it comes to harming ourselves”
As the Financial Times notes:
The two incidents suggest how criminal justice and judicial systems steeped in decades of nationalist ideology, reinforced by an authoritarian constitution, can betray a reforming government’s best intentions. They did little to enhance Turkey’s democratic credentials a few days before it begins the formal EU accession process. The attempt to silence the conference will have been noted in France, which opposes Turkey’s EU membership and is home to Europe’s largest Armenian diaspora community.
Joost Lagendijk, chairman of the Turkey delegation at the European parliament, says the ban on the conference demonstrated the inadequacy of the new penal code. Some legal experts claim the court in which the judge sat had no authority to hear such a case. Turgut Tarhanli, director of the Human Rights Law Research Center at Istanbul Bilgi University, says the judge who ordered the ban did not allow the organisers – two Istanbul universities – to mount a defence, a clearly unconstitutional act.