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Opinion – A Mockery in an Academic Forum

By Michael Harutinian
and Chad Kirkorian

An International Genocide Conference was sponsored by the Ethnic Studies Department at California State University, Sacramento, the weekend of October 22-24, 1998.  Many scholars and non-scholars attended to give lectures regarding numerous genocides, providing a variety of perspectives.  Some of the scholars that were in attendance and gave presentations were: Richard Hovannisian (UCLA) The Four Faces ofGenocideDenial:Negation, Rationalization,  Relativization, and Trivialization; Dickran Kouymjian (CSU, Fresno) Confiscation of Armenian Property and the Destruction of Armenian Historical Monuments as a Genocidal Process;  and Isabel Kaprielian (CSU Fresno) Aftermath of Genocide: Armenian Refugee Children and the Orphange Experience.

Also in attendance was Karahan Mete, a business consultant for the World Council of Turkish Cultural Associations, who irresponsibly presented a fraudulent topic which misrepresented the truth regarding the Genocide through deceptive propaganda.  The issue of Mete speaking at the conference was discussed at length by the conference organizing committee.  The committee reviewed Mete’s abstract, titled “Let there be Peace: Turks and Armenians Can Live Together,” and decided he had the right to speak.  Another factor in the committeeís decision, which allowed an unqualified speaker into an academic forum, was the fear of a negative reaction by the Turkish Students Association on campus.  There was strong apprehension that there would be a disruption at the conference by the organization if the Turks were not represented.

Although Meteís abstract was supposed to be on reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, he deviated from his specified topic by opening with the following inflammatory statement, ìI would like to inform you about the Turkish Genocide which occurred from 1900 to 1917.  Two and a half million Moslems, mostly Turks, were massacred in Eastern Anatolia by Armenians.î  This statement elicited spontaneous laughter from the audience because of its absurdity. This revisionist propaganda is counterproductive to any type of meaningful relations between Turkey and Armenia.  It is an established historical fact that the Armenians were the ones massacred from 1915-1918.  Evidence regarding the Armenian Genocide is documented in German diplomatic archives, as well as U.S. diplomatic reports from the period.  A vast body of work exists which documents the Armenian Genocide.

Further outbursts by the gathering led to an announcement by the session moderator, Lionel Rawlins, “Folks, we should respect the academics and speakers and let them speak.  Let’s hear what the gentlemen has to say…If people don’t want to listen they should leave.”  Thanks to Mr. Rawlins, Mete continued his attempt to manipulate the academic platform and confuse the individuals in attendance.

Another preposterous Turkish fallacy presented by Mete is the idea that on May 8, 1915, Armenian terrorists began their assault in Van.  Mete dishonestly states that, “In those days  more then 30,000 Turks were slaughtered in their villages as their homes were set on fire.” This notion of a “Turkish genocide” is a travesty to the historical validity of the Armenian Genocide.  In reality the events at Van were the result of the native Armenian population defending themselves against the Ottoman Army.  It was the Armenians who were massacred by the Turks not vice versa.  This massacre of Armenians was documented by foreign counsels and diplomats in the region who all agreed that the Armenians were not in rebellion.

In response to the concerned conference participants an apology was written by Alexandre Kimenyi, (CSU Sacramento) head conference organizer, which stated the real reason behind allowing Mete to continue his presentation. “…There was a sad incident, however, which ruined this great event. One of the conference presenters from the “Turkish Cultural Associationî talked about the genocide of Turks by Armenians which cost the lives of “two million and a half Turks”! This is clearly outrageous and conference organizers (me) have to assume responsibility to allow this type of person at an international academic conference. I want to tell you, however, that we were misled by the abstract and that the speaker deviated from it. The title of his presentation was “Let there be Peace: Turks and Armenians can live together”.

In the abstract,the author was proposing how Turks and Armenians can reconcile, the first step being the admission by the Turkish government of the Armenian genocide during the Ottoman Empire. It was a good abstract and it is the reason why he was included in the list of conference presenters. We were of course fooled as anybody who was at his talk can attest.

As conference organizers, there is nothing we could have done to stop him when he started talking, however. Number one, because this could have created violence and number two, we could have been sued because of “violating his freedom of speech.” I shall warn other  conference organizers that this type of incident can always happen because there is no guarantee that a conference participant will stick to the abstract he or she submitted. Again my deep and sincere apologies to Armenians and other victims of genocide and the holocaust.” Our question to Kimenyi is, should we as a society live in fear of violence and lawsuits, and permit anyone to falsify an abstract and credentials to present unsubstantiated information into the arena of academia, attempting to destroy the foundation which academics was built upon?

We believe the field of academics is based on the search for truth in all circumstances and should be presented in a scholarly manner, which is much stronger then Kimenyi could ever realize.  Therefore, we disagree with his approval for the participation of an individual which destroyed the moral fabric of academics. Although Kimenyi, in his apology, assumed the responsibility for permiting an unqualified speaker into an international academic conference, in doing so he has allowed the destruction of the integrity of academia.  Kimenyi also acknowledges that the misleading abstract fooled the organizers, and admits that there is no possibility of preventing a presenter from deviating from their abstract.  We believe a thorough investigation of Mete’s credentials and background check could have prevented such a travesty.

We belive every academic conference should assume the responsibility of carefully scrutinizing abstracts and credentials. We therefore recommend that conference organizers not allow speakers to continue their presentations when they flagrantly deviate from their committed topic. To allow them to do so is to corrupt the academic forum and to encourage distortion of the truth.