Scholars of the Armenian genocide have long accused Turkey of using its financial support to promote the idea that a genocide didn’t take place or that the jury is still out — views that have little credibility among historians of genocide.
The dispute started when he published a book review in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History in the fall of 2006. The review, which included both praise and criticism, was of Donald Bloxham’s The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (Oxford University Press). In the review, Quataert talks about how when he entered graduate studies in Ottoman history in the late 1960s, “there was an elephant in the room of Ottoman studies — the slaughter of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915.” He writes that “a heavy aura of self-censorship hung over Ottoman history writing,” excluding not only work on Armenians, but also on religious identity, the Kurds and labor issues. Only in recent years, he continues, has the “Ottomanist wall of silence” started to crumble.
Quataert said that he then called Ambassador Sensoy and had a “very cordial and polite” discussion, and that the ambassador “made it clear that if I did not separate myself as chairman of the board that funding for the institute would be withdrawn by the Turkish government and the institute would be destroyed.”
Others share those concerns.
Asked if the institute has ever supported any research that calls what happened to the Armenians genocide, Cuthell said he couldn’t be sure, but “I doubt it.” But he said that wasn’t because of censorship or pressure but because “the jury is out” on whether genocide took place. “There are a lot of people who are not qualified to do the work because they can’t read the archival material,” he said. “There is no archival material the Armenians can produce. There is no smoking gun,” he said. (In fact, many historians say that one of the notable developments of recent years has been the emergence of such smoking guns as some scholars have been able to use Ottoman archives to document the role of various leaders in orchestrating the mass killings of Armenians. Notable among these works is A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, by Taner Akcam of the University of Minnesota, and based largely on Ottoman documents.)