Apr 28th, 2010

L to R: Nishanian, Theriault, moderator Eugene Shouglin, Mouradian,
and Demirer.

ANKARA, Turkey (A.W.)-On April 24, as genocide commemoration events
were being held one after another in different locations in Istanbul,
a groundbreaking two-day conference on the Armenian Genocide began
at the Princess Hotel in Ankara.

The conference, organized by the Ankara Freedom of Thought Initiative,
was held under tight security measures. The hall where the conference
was held was thoroughly searched in the mornings by policemen and
security dogs, metal detectors were installed at the entrance of
the hotel, and all members of the audience had to be cleared by
the organizers before entering. Unlike the commemoration events
in Istanbul, however, no counter-demonstrations were allowed to

The conference attracted around 200 attendees, mostly activists and
intellectuals who support genocide recognition. Among the prominent
names from Turkey at the conference were Ismail Besikci, Baskin Oran,
Sevan Nishanian, Ragip Zarakolu, Temel Demirer and Sait Cetinoglu.

Besikci is the first in Turkey to write books about the Kurds "at
a time when others did not even dare to use the 'K' word," as one
Turkish scholar put it. Besikci has spend years in Turkish prison
for his writings. Oran is a professor of political science. He
was one of the initiators of the apology campaign launched by
Turkish intellectuals. Nishanian is a Turkish Armenian scholar who
has authored several books and also writes for Agos. Zarakolu is a
publisher who has been at the forefront of the struggle for Armenian
Genocide recognition in Turkey with the books he has published over
the years. Demirer is an author who has been prosecuted for his daring
writings and speeches. Cetinoglu is a scholar and activist and one
of the key organizers of the conference.

The foreign scholars and activists who were scheduled to speak were
David Gaunt (genocide scholar, author of Massacres, Resistance,
Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During
World War I), Henry Theriault (professor of philosophy, Worcester
State University), Khatchig Mouradian (doctoral student in Holocaust
and genocide studies, Clark University; editor, the Armenian Weekly),
Harry Parsekian (President of Friends of Hrant Dink in Boston), and
Eilian Williams (writer and activist from Wales). They all (except
for Gaunt) spoke on the panel dealing with "The Armenian Issue:
What is to be done and how?" That panel, which proved to be the most
controversial, also featured Nishanian, Zarakolu, and Demirer.

Reparations: Unjust or Indispensable?

The panel on what is to be done turned out into a debate on reparations
for the Armenian Genocide with panelists Mouradian, Theriault,
Nishanian, Demirer and Williams, as well as Oran and others from the
audience pitching in.

Mouradian spoke about the importance of reframing the discourse in
Turkey and dealing with the Armenian Genocide issue not only from
the perspective of democracy and freedom of speech, but also that of
justice. He dealt with the concepts of apology and restitution.

Theriault, in turn, said, "Turkey must return or compensate for
all expropriated property. It should return land and other wealth,
including Armenian Church properties, when that wealth has been
preserved." He noted that Turkey should also compensate for (1) all
destroyed property and wealth that is otherwise no longer accessible,
(2) the interest that can be calculated on the original material
losses, (3) slave labor, (4) the pain and suffering of those who died
and all who survived, (5) the loss of 1.5 million people in general
and as specific family and community members, and (6) the loss of
cultural, religious, and educational institutions and opportunities.

Nishanian categorically dismissed Theriault's demands for reparations,
considering them a dead-end, and noting that such an approach is
unjust, unacceptable, and would open the door for further conflict.

Demirer, in a brilliant intervention, provided a scathing response
to Nishanian, arguing powerfully for reparations. Williams too spoke
in support of reparations.

Armenian Property and historical context

The panel on Armenian "abandoned" properties also generated a lot of
interest. It featured scholars and writers Asli Comu, Nevzat Onaran,
Mehmet Palatel (whose MA dissertation is on the confiscation of
Armenian property), and Cemil Ertem.

The panel on "Official ideological denial and extirpation from the
Committee of Union and Progress to Kemalism" featured scholars Osman
Ozarslan, Tuma Celik, as well as Cetinoglu and Besikci.

The panel on the Armenian genocide from a historical perspective
featured Adil Okay, Nahir Sayin, and Oran. Gaunt was scheduled to
speak on this panel but could not attend.

The representatives of the organizations supporting the conference
spoke at the last session.

Significance of the Conference

It was the first time that a conference on the Armenian Genocide that
did not host any genocide deniers was held in Ankara. Moreover, the
conference did not simply deal with the historical aspect of 1915. For
the first time in Turkey, a substantial part of the proceedings of
a conference was dedicated to topics such as confiscated Armenian
property, reparations, and the challenges of moving forward and
confronting the past in Turkey.