In September 2017, Turkish authorities effectively barred scholars residing in Turkey from attending a conference titled “Past in the Present: European Approaches to the Armenian Genocide,” scheduled to begin the following day at the European Academy in Berlin, Germany.
The conference was organized under the auspices of the Workshop on Armenian Turkish Scholarship, which was founded at the University of Michigan in 2000, and was designed as a platform “where Turkish, Armenian and other historians could conduct an informed debate” regarding the relocation of Ottoman Armenians during World War I. Turkish officials and news agencies reportedly learned of the conference and organized a campaign against it, bringing the list of invited participants from Turkey to the attention of the Ministry of Higher Education (YÖK), which then withdrew permission for Turkey-based scholars to travel to Germany to attend the conference.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about restrictions on scholars’ travel, in an apparent effort to limit or restrict the nonviolent exercise of academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a party. State authorities have a responsibility to protect academic freedom and not to interfere with academic activity, so long as it is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, travel restrictions have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.