At its 70th board meeting in November 2001, MESA's board of directors established the MESA Academic Freedom Award, to be presented on appropriate occasions in recognition of sustained contributions to the promotion and defense of academic freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2005 the Committee proposed making two awards, and the Board has agreed with this recommendation.
The first of our 2005 Academic Freedom Awards goes tonight to Fatma Muge Gocek of the University of Michigan and Ron Suny of the University of Chicago, and all the scholars associated with the Workshop for Armenian-Turkish Scholarship, in recognition of their successful collective effort, using the tools of history and the social sciences and relying on the language of collegial discourse, to initiate and implement a project that overcame political divisions in society and in the academy and has provided a model that others addressing other conflicted histories can use in the years ahead.
In the year 2000, these scholars initiated a series of conferences between Armenian, Armenian-American, Turkish and Turkish-American historians and specialists that addressed issues raised by the 1915 destruction of the Ottoman Empire's Armenian population. In September 2005 they achieved a noteworthy milestone when Istanbul's Bilgi University hosted some members at a conference on these issues, also organized by Bogazici and Sabanci universities, despite considerable opposition from a number of political leaders and groups in Turkey.
MESA celebrates their efforts as an elegant example of how academic freedom works and why it must be protected and promoted. We trust that their efforts will serve as a model to be emulated elsewhere.
Please join me in saluting the strong collective work of the Workshop on Armenian-Turkish Scholarship, recipients of a MESA Academic Freedom Award for 2005.
MESA tonight also salutes the Iranian writer Akbar Ganji, a major figure in promoting intellectual and political debate in the Islamic Republic over much of the past ten years and a man who has paid an enormous price for his efforts by spending the last five of those years in some of the country's most notorious prisons and cell blocks. Although Akbar Ganji is not affiliated with an academic institution, his resistance to repression of intellectual freedom in Iran has been crucial to sustaining intellectual debate there.
Akbar Ganji is the author of Dungeon of Ghosts and A Republican Manifesto, among other works. He is currently serving a six-year prison sentence handed down in 2001 for "acting against national security" and "spreading propaganda," among other charges stemming from his writings critical of the government. The Iranian authorities have held him in solitary confinement almost continuously since September 3 in a special ward of Tehran's Evin prison. Even today, from prison, his letters and manifestos inspire people in Iran and around the world who struggle for a future free of arbitrary power. Please join the CAF tonight in recognizing Akbar Ganji, a public intellectual and writer of uncommon courage, and recipient of a 2005 MESA Academic Freedom Award.
Finally, I and the Committee want to use this occasion to cite and congratulate the University of California Press, and its director Lynne Withey, for seeing to completion the publication of Dr Norman Finkelstein's book, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Antio-Semitism and the Abuse of History, despite considerable and concerted efforts to prevent that from happening. For this MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom salutes the Press and all those who made this happen.