Ankara (VOA) -- An Istanbul court on Thursday ordered the cancellation of a conference at which Turkish academics were widely expected to challenge the official version of events surrounding the mass slaughter of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire. The ruling was condemned by the country's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking to reporters shortly after the decision was announced, Mr. Erdogan said the decision did not conform to what he called freedom and modernity in Turkey. He said the right to free speech was an essential part of democracy.
Some Western diplomats said forces within the state that are opposed to Turkey's membership in the European Union had probably influenced the ruling. Turkey is scheduled to start negotiations over the accession treaty with the European bloc on October 3.
Last month, another Istanbul court opened a case against Orhan Pamuk the internationally acclaimed Turkish author. He is due to appear in court on December 16 on charges of insulting Turkey's national dignity by telling a Swiss newspaper that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds had been killed in Turkey and that nobody dared to say so. EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn warned Turkey earlier this month that if Mr. Pamuk were convicted, this could constitute grounds for suspending negotiations with Turkey.
Turkey has always denied that more than one million members of the Ottoman Empire's once thriving Armenian community were the victims of genocide during and after World War I.
The conference titled "Ottoman Armenians of an Empire in Decline" was to have opened Friday at the Bosporus University in Istanbul. It was originally scheduled to take place in May but was postponed after Turkish Justice Minister said its purpose was to stab Turkey in the back.
That is because some of the participating academics were expected to challenge the official line that several hundred thousand Armenians had died as a result of disease and exposure and not because of any state conspiracy to kill them.
The case to halt the conference was brought by the Turkish Lawyers Union and other lawyers. The details of their complaint were not made immediately clear.
The hosts of the conference said they will appeal the decision and are determined to proceed with their work in the coming days.
By Amberin Zaman