Earlier this year, for some bizarre (or telling?) reason, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) allowed Ergun Kirlikovali to become its president. You remember Ergun–the whackjob Coto de Caza resident who's perhaps this country's most notorious denier of the Armenian genocide, a historical fact accepted by any sane human but rejected as propaganda by Turkish nationalists like Kirlikovali.
Anyhoo, Kirlikovali and his gang of outraged Ottomans are messing with a UC Davis professor because the profe stated the truth: that people like Kirlikovali and groups like ATAA are useful idiots in Turkey's campaign to discredit the Armenian genocide.
The controversy started with an article that Keith David Watenpaugh, director of the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative, penned for the university's magazine in February about how the Armenian genocide was a linchpin for the modern humanitarian movement. The article drew a response in the fall issue from one Gunay Evinch, a past president of ATAA who just happens to do legal work for the Turkish embassy in the United States. He repeated the same tired line that the Turkish government instills in its citizens–that there was no Armenian genocide, that Turks suffered as much as Armenians during the post-World War I period, and that any suffering that Armenians had to bear was their fault.
Watenpaugh responded to Evinch in the same issue, destroying his arguments and adding this barbed paragraph:
“What is most important to understand is that the Assembly of Turkish American Associations has been at the forefront of a Turkish government-sponsored effort in the United States to deny that what happened to the Armenians was genocide. The attack on my work in Mr. Evinch's letter is part of that project and should be understood in this light. At UC Davis, we teach our students that history is more than just a collection of facts, but rather is the starting point for an ethical relationship with the past.”
BURN! But that's when Kirlikovali and his ilk butted in, crying foul. In October, he wrote a letter to the magazine claiming Watenpaugh had defamed ATAA by insinuating that they take money from the Turkish government for spreading their vile Armenian-genocide denying–no, see, they do it for FREE! The implication that ATAA was ready to get sue-y with Watenpaugh, in turn, drew a November response from the Middle Eastern Studies Association to back off.
“We do not believe that legal action is the proper way to resolve disputes about historical interpretation, and we fear that legal action of this kind, or the threat thereof, may undermine the ability of scholars and academic institutions to carry out their work freely and to have their work assessed on its merits, in conformity with standards and procedures long established in the world of scholarship,” they wrote.
Kirlikovali, for his part, isn't backing down, telling Inside Higher Ed, “freedom of speech does not include defamation. Defamation is an important exception to freedom of speech.” But his move has now drawn the attention of the Armenian-American press, who started reporting on the controversy this month, which means this issue will be far from over.
All we know is that in our dealings with Kirlikovali–to paraphrase the famous Western aphorism–he's all fez and no carpet. And earlier this year, another organization with which Kirlikovali has associated and which has OC ties, the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), sued the University of Minnesota because the school's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies deemed TCA's website as “unreliable” due to their Armenian genocide-denying. A federal judge tossed out that lawsuit. Stand strong, UC Davis…