Assistant Professor of International and Middle Eastern Studies
Tugrul Keskin: Do you think this was a suggestion or was it a direct instruction to resign?
Donald Quataert It was neither—rather it was the ambassador informing me of sentiments in Ankara. When I asked if there was a real chance that the funds would be withdrawn should I not resign as chair, the Ambassador said there was such a real possibility.
Tugrul Keskin: What I have heard is that someone in the US sent your article, "The Massacres of Ottoman Armenians," to a former Turkish ambassador, Sukru Elekdag. From what I understand, your resignation process began at this point. Can you please clarify?
Donald Quataert: I heard the same report from a colleague. I do not choose to name the scholar in the US, who is of Turkish origins, who informed the officials in Ankara. Ambassador Elekdag’s name was given to me as one of the officials who was deeply upset at my review.
Tugrul Keskin: Do you think the way that this took place conflicts with academic freedom?
Donald Quataert: Of course it conflicts with academic freedom. I do not expect agreement with my views, but I do expect to have the right to express those views. I believe that academic freedom demands that I have the right to express my views and at the same time to be the officer, even the chair, of an organization. When expressing my views, as long I as do not identify myself as the chair or officer; I have the right to my views. When I wrote the review, I signed my name as Professor of History, Binghamton University. According to the dictates of academic freedom, the Institute was not involved.
Tugrul Keskin: Some people claim that in your short article, "The Massacres of Ottoman Armenians" published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History in 2006, you claim that the Armenians were massacred in Ottoman Turkey. Is this true?
Donald Quataert: I suggest that people read the review—and yes, I do write that Armenians were massacred during the late Ottoman Empire.
Tugrul Keskin: On the one side, in the US, the Armenian lobby has been using so-called 'genocide politics' in order to maintain power and ethnic solidarity for Armenians; on the other side, some Turkish scholars and organizations in the US are using the Armenian issue to receive more financial support from Turkey, and this issue becomes their occupation. I believe this is ethically wrong. What is your perspective?
Donald Quataert: If what you say is true, then I would agree that it is ethically wrong. I do not pretend to be a specialist on émigré politics in the US. My task is to study Ottoman history. For my views on Ottoman history, see the seven books I have authored or the fourteen books I have edited or co-edited.
Tugrul Keskin: What are the mistakes of both sides: Turks and Armenians in the US?
Donald Quataert: No comment.
Tugrul Keskin: How can the conflict between Armenians and Turks be solved peacefully? Can Turks and Armenians become two friendly nations again?
Donald Quataert: Yes. The question is—is the fate of the Ottoman Armenians an issue blocking peaceful relations? If so, why is this so? If so, how can these issues be addressed? A beginning step, but not an easy one, to allow free and open discourse within each community.
Tugrul Keskin: I am not a historian on Armenian and Turkish relations; I am a sociologist, however, as far as I know there was no real conflict between Armenians and Turks until the late 19th century, actually, until arrival of British or European imperialism into the region. Imperialism, in the sense that it makes ethnic groups enemies to each other in the region for purposes of exploitation Do you think the conflict between Armenians and Turks is a product of imperialism?
Donald Quataert: Muslims and Christians during the Ottoman era were aware of differences between them and there was occasional violence before the 19th century. But when the twin forces of imperialism and nationalism entered the Ottoman world, Muslim-Christian relations deteriorated badly, giving rise to ever-higher levels of violence. And yet, the massive violence of 1915 against the Ottoman Armenians was not inevitable but rather the product of very specific historical conditions, including the fact that World War I was raging at the time. Historians need to examine these specific conditions and not allow themselves to see the violence as inevitable or a necessary outcome of the relations between Muslims and Christians, or “Turks” and “Armenians” in the late Ottoman era.
Tugrul Keskin: How do we develop Turkish Studies in the United State? What is your view on this subject?
Donald Quataert: For more than twenty years I have worked hard to promote an accurate view of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire and its peoples in the United States and among Americans. Turkey is well served if the truth and nothing but the truth is told. We should demand that of ourselves. Turkey is a wonderful country and is not served by those who want to present just one side of a story.
Tugrul Keskin: Dr. Quataert, thank you for the interview.
Donald Quataert: Thank you.