MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—On Nov. 30, the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), together with first-year university student Sinan Cingilli, originally from Turkey, sued the university for posting a list of “unreliable websites” on its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) website. The list of websites deemed unreliable to the study of genocide—because they promoted genocide denial—included that of the TCA.
On Dec. 17, the university asked the Minnesota District Court to dismiss the case brought forth by the TCA against the university.
The TCA has until Jan. 10 to respond to the University of Minnesota, as ruled by U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank. Once they receive the TCA’s response, the university has until Jan. 24 to reply. The hearing is scheduled to take place on Feb. 4.
According to the Minnesota Daily, the lawsuit has seven charges, including ones relating to freedom of speech, due process, and defamation.
The lawsuit also targets University President Robert Bruininks and Prof. Bruno Chaouat, the director of CHGS.
The university removed the list before the suit was brought forth, but insisted the decision was made prior to the court case.
In an open letter posted on the CHGS website, Chaouat wrote that his motive to remove the list of “unreliable websites” was to refrain from giving those sites any publicity. “My rationale was quite simple: never promote, even negatively, sources of illegitimate information,” he wrote.
Chaouat went on to note that the center, “in accordance with the vast majority of serious and rigorous historians…considers the massacre of the Armenians during World War I as a case of genocide.”
“The decision to remove the links to ‘unreliable websites’ was made before the Turkish Coalition of America began its efforts to intimidate CHGS into removing the links,” wrote Chaouat. This latter statement brought forth another defamation charge.
“Intimidation by filing a lawsuit might be believable if we were a great big corporation and he was a little guy somewhere, but the fact is that [Chaouat represents] a major state university. As a matter of law, you can’t be charged with intimidation for filing a lawsuit; that’s everybody’s legal right,” the local counsel for the plaintiff, Larry Frost, was quoted as saying.
Reportedly, TCA is claiming it has no idea why it was placed on the “unreliable websites” list. Cingilli has claimed that “The point of the case is to remove obstacles to free, critical thinking.”
Bruce Fein from the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund has reportedly claimed that the CHGS was influenced by its donors, which include Armenian organizations.
Although the list has been removed, there is still a “warning to researchers” box on the center’s “curriculum models” page that states: “Students and researchers should be aware that there is a proliferation of websites operated by Holocaust and genocide deniers that CHGS and others in the academic community consider unreliable…”
“As a legal matter we didn’t find anything defamatory or inconsistent with academic freedom in that little box. There was no restriction on free speech,” Mark Rotenberg, the university general counsel, was quoted as saying. “This organization is trying to convert an academic, political, and historical debate into a lawsuit, and that’s not right.”