by Dorian Jones Istanbul

The Times Higher Education Supplement
March 31, 2006

Academics have agreed to a unique co-operation over the issue of
Turkey's genocide against its Armenian population.

The proposal to bring together historians on both sides of the debate
was made at a three-day conference at Istanbul University.

Yusuf Halacoglu, president of the Turkish Historical Society and a
proponent of the view that no genocide occurred, initiated the plan.

"Let's carry out a project together, dig up common graves if there
are some, to put an end to numerous demagogical arguments," he said.

The offer was accepted by Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute,
a centre for Armenian study.

Safak Ural, conference organiser, welcomed the initiative: "If we
fail to explain this problem to our own people, we cannot explain it
to others. In order to explain it, we should discuss it."

Two years ago, a meeting planned between Armenian and Turkish academics
was cancelled, with each side blaming the other for its failure. Such
is the mutual hostility that opposing academics rarely meet.

Mesut Parlak, rector of Istanbul University, described the conference
as the "most comprehensive of all meetings to date". Boghos Levon
Zekiyan, professor of Armenian Studies at Ca' Foscari University
in Venice, said the greatest novelty was the fact the conference
had occurred.

"It was the first time a respectable state institution broke the
taboo of the Armenian genocide by giving all invited scholars who do
not share the official Turkish view an opportunity," he said.

Dozens of invitations were sent to academics who hold the view that
genocide against Armenians occurred in what is now Turkey between 1915
and 1923, although fewer than a dozen attended and only four spoke.

Even so, their presence is seen as a significant change in Turkey,
where until recently to claim genocide had occurred could have led
to prosecution and imprisonment.

Fears that the conference would be marred by nationalist demonstrations
proved unfounded.