Professor Türkkaya Ataöv speaks to full houses in Toronto and Montreal


Turkish historian and political scientist Professor Türkkaya Ataöv's much anticipated seminars in Toronto and Montreal attracted a lot of attention from Turkish and Armenian communities. Prof. Ataöv came to Canada as part of a North American conference series that are ongoing until March 28, 2009, in over 20 cities including Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. Many Turkish organizations across United States and Canada collaborated in organizing the seminars titled "How to Come to Terms with One's Past: A Probe into History Including Armenian-Turkish Relations."

Türkkaya Ataöv, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Ankara University, spoke in Toronto, at the Ryerson University on February 18, 2009, and in Montreal, at the McGill University on February 20, 2009. Toronto event was organized by the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations and the Montreal event was organized by Bizim Anadolu and the Turkish Students Society of McGill University.

Both universities were under tremendous pressure from the Armenian community to cancel the seminars. However, at the end, academic independence and freedom of speech prevailed. Ryerson and McGill university officials stood up to the pressure and refused to cancel the lectures. Dr. Mustafa Koç, who teaches as an associate professor at the Department of Sociology at the Ryerson University, said that Ryerson always tried to provide a space for open discussion. Dr. Koç who moderated the seminar in Toronto, said that, unlike many jurisdictions where different viewpoints were ignored, not provided, censored or banned, universities such as Ryerson aimed to create an open environment of teaching and learning. "We make room for debate and offer a platform for expression of differing viewpoints." he said. In his opening remarks, Dr. Koç emphasized the desire for dialogue and peaceful debate: "I am hopeful that Turkish and Armenian communities will find ways of dealing with the past tragedies in open and honest ways by listening to each other, not by trying to silence the other. This is true for all other disputes where there are competing historical narratives. I cannot imagine peace without dialogue."

Under the threat of cancellation of the seminar they helped organize, Turkish Students Society of McGill University (TSSMU) issued a statement which reiterated their belief in "healthy dialog, reconciliation, mutual respect and peace." TSSMU statement also referred to Turkey's proposal of a Joint History Commission, consisting of Armenian, Turkish and independent scholars, to examine all the historic evidence to come up with a final conclusion which both parties would abide with. This proposal supported by the Government of Canada has been refused by Armenia.

Professor Türkkaya Ataöv, recipient of numerous international awards, medals and honorary doctorates, has been elected to central executive positions of UN-related international organizations that deal with racial discrimination, human rights, terrorism, nuclear war and exchange of war prisoners. Professor Ataöv has published over 80 books on the Armenian issue and was invited, by the French court, to the 1984 and 1985 Paris trials of Armenian terrorists, as a witness of authority.

In Toronto, at the end of Professor Ataöv's speech, moderator Dr. Koç opened the floor up for questions, indicating that there was only half an hour of time left until the room had to be vacated. Dr. Koç asked the guests to limit the time of their questions to two minutes so that as many people as possible could get a chance to ask. First request came from the Armenian National Committee of Canada's (ANCC) Executive Director Aris Babikian. Mr Babikian was offered the podium and the microphone so that he could be heard better by the audience. Babikian first said that he wished to speak for half an hour, in other words, the entire time that was left for the reserved room. This drew reactions from the crowd and the moderator reminded that he was giving two minutes for each question. Regardless of the warnings, Babikian spoke for over 20 minutes, while Prof. Ataöv sat at the side of the stage and listened patiently. Finally, after increasing pressure from the audience and the moderator, Babikian managed to form a few questions. Once presented by the questions, Prof. Ataöv held the hand of Mr. Babikian and said "Don't go anywhere, stay here by my side while I answer all your questions." As Prof. Ataöv answered Mr. Babikian's questions, they remained hand-in-hand for minutes on end, occasionally sharing a laugh together.

Montreal portion of Prof. Ataöv's visit was organized by Bizim Anadolu and the Turkish Students Society of McGill. The moderator Dr. Aydin Yurtcu, 1964 graduate of McGill, welcomed the Turkish and Armenian students that filled the room, by saying "It is good to be back home." Dr. Yurtcu, before leaving the podium to the guest speaker, promised the Armenian students that they would be allowed to read a statement after the lecture.

Soon after Prof. Ataöv started his speech, it became evident that the Armenian students were not there to listen but to create a distraction. Addressing the students who were disturbing the seminar, Prof. Ataöv said "I only ask you to listen. You may not agree, but you should listen." Prof. Ataöv added that he had listened to many opposing views including Mr. Babikian in Toronto. Prof. Ataöv also urged the students to sometimes read the Turkish sources just as he himself reads the Armenian sources.

When Prof. Ataöv's speech ended, Dr. Yurtcu, before opening the floor for Q&A, invited an Armenian student who had asked for Dr. Yurtcu's permission to read a long statement. This statement which was written beforehand to prevent Prof. Ataöv from speaking at McGill, did not contain any references to any of the topics Prof. Ataöv had discussed during his speech. After the statement ended, other students, both Turkish and Armenian were able to ask questions. Prof. Ataöv made extra efforts to speak one-on-one with all the Armenian students who had questions.

Türkkaya Ataöv has two M.A. degrees and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University in New York. His books have been translated into 20 languages and have appeared in 35 countries across 5 continents. Professor Ataöv has lectured in several American, British, Russian, German, Dutch, Indian, Chinese, Middle eastern, African and Australian universities in four decades.

Mr. Ferid Shafiyev from Azerbaijani Embassy.

After the Ryerson and McGill seminars, Prof. Ataöv kindly accepted to speak in Turkish in yet another event supported by Bizim Anadolu, Turkish-Canadian Action Committee, Azerbaijani Community of Ottawa, Quebec Azerbaijanis Association and Council of Turkish Canadians. At this last gathering in Canada, Prof. Ataöv told the story of how he, as a young man studying in United States, one day came across a book written by William Saroyan, an Armenian author, and he liked it so much that he decided to translate this book into Turkish ("Aram Derler Adima") and promote it in Turkey. Türkkaya Ataöv who charmed all who came to listen to him, ended his Canadian tour on the note that he was, as all Turks were, only after truth, peace and reconciliation.


Pictures by Celal Uçar, Elif Özgecan Çelik
March 2009