One of the damning pieces of evidence examined in the Report is a letter denying the Armenian genocide that was signed in 1985 by 69 American scholars and published in full-page advertisements in major newspapers paid for by the Turkish government. All 69 of the signers, including Donald Quataert, then an associate professor of history at the University of Houston, had received funding that year from the government of Turkey, mostly from the Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS), a nonprofit organization housed at Georgetown University that was founded in 1982 with a $3 million grant from Turkey to promote a pro-Turkey agenda, including denial of the Armenian genocide.
Quataert later served as chairman of the ITS board of governors from 2001 until Dec. 13, 2006. Although the circumstances of his leaving that post were unclear at the time, last week it was revealed that he was forced to resign by Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy after he refused to retract a scholarly book review in which Quataert said “what happened to the Armenians readily satisfies the U.N. definition of genocide.”
In his review of Donald Bloxham’s book, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians, which was published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Quataert further wrote that “[a]lthough it may provoke anger among some of my Ottomanist colleagues,” avoiding the term genocide “runs the risk of suggesting denial of the massive and systematic atrocities that the Ottoman state and some of its military and general populace committed against the Armenians.”
As Harut Sassounian described it June 3 on The Huffington Post, “Prof. Quataert boldly criticized Turkish scholars’ work on the Armenian Genocide by stating that ‘they were not writing critical history but polemics. … Many of their works were directly sponsored and published by the Turkish government.’”
Quataert’s forced resignation finally came to light last week in a scathing open letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from Mervat Hatem, president of the Middle East Studies Association, the preeminent organization promoting scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa.
“We are enormously concerned that unnamed high officials in Ankara felt it was inappropriate for Professor Quataert to continue as chairman of the board of governors and threatened to revoke the funding for the ITS if he did not publicly retract statements made in his review or separate himself from the Chairmanship of the ITS,” Hatem wrote in the letter dated May 27.
Hatem further pointed out to Prime Minister Erdogan that the circumstances of Quataert’s forced resignation “sharply contrasts with your government’s recent call to leave the debate regarding the events of 1915 to the independent judgment and study of scholars.”