"A perfect storm of silly allegations," is how Institute of Turkish Studies Executive Director David Cuthell describes the barrage of media coverage ITS received early this summer regarding concerns that ITS, a nonprofit organization funded by the government of Turkey, is promoting denial of the Armenian genocide.
It began June 3 with the release of the Summer 2008 issue of the Intelligence Report, which exposed a network of U.S. scholars and lobbyists who deny the Armenian genocide and also happen to receive money from the Turkish government, either in the form of research grants, travel reimbursements or speaker's fees. The money was often channeled through ITS; in the case of the lobbyists, it came in direct payments from Turkey.
That same day, the Huffington Post publicized an open letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the president of the Middle East Studies Association. The letter protested the alleged forced resignation of former ITS board of governors chairman Donald Quataert, who said he resigned in late 2006 under pressure from Turkish Ambassador Nabi Sensoy after refusing to retract his affirmation in a scholarly book review that "what happened to the Armenians readily satisfies the U.N. definition of genocide."
Sensoy denied pressuring Quataert to resign or threatening to withhold ITS funding if Quataert didn't retract his affirmation of the Armenian genocide, as the former board chair alleged. Nevertheless, the media storm intensified further in early July when The Washington Post reported that four ITS board members had resigned in protest after learning of Quataert's situation.
Quataert told the Post that a few years ago, he and other board members were surprised to learn upon looking into the source of the institute's funding that what they had been led to believe was an irrevocable blind trust was in fact "a gift that could be revoked by the Turkish government."
Defending the integrity of the ITS, Cuthell told the Intelligence Report that while the ITS funding is currently held in the form of a sovereign bond by the government of Turkey, "one of my goals is to move it [the funding] back into the U.S. so that no one is under any false impressions as to the nature of our funding."
"I can categorically state that the Turkish government has never interfered with any of our funding decisions," Cuthell said. "We've been slimed."