Dispute Over Academic Freedom Roils Turkish-Studies Institute

July 06, 2008

Several members have resigned from the board of the Institute for Turkish Studies to protest what they characterize as an infringement of the board chairman’s academic freedom. The chairman, Donald Quataert, a professor of history at the State University of New York at Binghamton, resigned in late 2006, according to an article in The Washington Post, after writing a book review in which he used the word “genocide” to describe the mass killing of Armenians in 1915.

This past May, Mervat F. Hatem, a professor of political science at Howard University who is the president of the Middle East Studies Association, wrote to Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, requesting that Mr. Quataert be returned to his position and that funds for the institute be placed in a trust to avoid political interference. The institute is supported by a grant from the Turkish government. In her letter, Ms. Hatem wrote that Mr. Quataert had stepped down after refusing to accede to the Turkish ambassador’s demand that he retract his review, or face the loss of the institute’s funds.

But the Turkish ambassador, H.E. Nabi Sensoy, as well as the institute’s director, David C. Cuthell Jr., denied any infringement of Mr. Quataert’s scholarly freedom, according to the Post.

Critics have accused the Turkish government for years of trying to manipulate scholarly studies, conferences, encyclopedia articles, and even novels that discuss the mass killings. —Lila Guterman