Princeton University recently launched a massive fundraising campaign in its palatial Prospect House for maximum media exposure. But its public relations people are unhappy with reporters snooping around the Near Eastern studies division — a lumbering dinosaur of a department housed in nearby ivy-covered Jones Hall. The unwelcome attention involves a new member of the faculty, Heath Lowry, whose Ataturk chair in Turkish studies is paid for by the Turkish state. Lowry has a history of being beholden to Turkish governments and, as City University of New York psychologist Robert Jay Lifton charges, of doing their bidding.

Lowry’s appointment to the Ataturk chair in 1994 was itself a surprise. Although the pashas of Princeton Near East studies do think the intellectual universe revolves around them, many are nonetheless highly renowned and productive scholars. By contrast, Lowry’s scholarship is an embarrassment; he has written three “thin” volumes, one little more than a pamphlet printed in Istanbul and another published in Cranbury, New Jersey by the Princeton department’s own long-time vanity press. His meager academic output may itself hold a clue to how Lowry won out in a field crowded with better, if less well-connected scholars.

For 12 years prior to winning the Princeton lottery, Lowry ran the Washington-based Institute of Turkish Studies, which the Turkish state founded in 1982 to improve “knowledge and understanding of a key NATO ally of the United States…among [US] citizens.” Lowry and the Institute pushed the project to fund professorships at Princeton and other select spots (Georgetown, Harvard, Chicago) that, by mere coincidence, now pays his salary plus perks. But his record of service to the Turkish state is far more extensive.

It was Lowry’s role in the ongoing campaign to rationalize the Armenian genocide that led Lifton, following a remarkable paper trail, to him. In 1986, Lifton published The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. In 1990, Turkish Ambassador to the US Nüzhet Kandemir took umbrage at Lifton’s brief discussion of “the so-called ‘Armenian Genocide,’” as Lowry clumsily phrased it in a memo to the ambassador. According to Lowry, the real problem was Ankara’s “failure to respond in a prompt fashion” to burgeoning historical literature on the “Armenian Genocide” (Lowry quickly dropped the “so-called” prefix) on which Lifton relies. Kandemir called on Lowry — his historian-cum-lap dog — to ghost-write a letter denouncing Lifton’s mistaken beliefs and shoddy scholarship. Lowry complied, and the letter, signed by the ambassador, was sent to Lifton.

The ambassador’s delayed response to Lifton’s book was not the only sign that he and his staff are overworked: Lowry’s draft letter and his private memo to the ambassador were inadvertently included in the final copy mailed to Lifton! As a result, the psychologist was handed some unique sources for his continued studies into the phenomenon of genocide denial as well as damning evidence of Lowry’s toadying to Turkish power. Lifton and two colleagues reproduce the documents and discuss the case at length in “Professional Ethics and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 9/1 (Spring 1995), which has led to a petition campaign denouncing the Turkish government’s involvement in US universities and American scholars’ involvement with the Turkish state’s propaganda efforts.

The story was picked up by the otherwise staid Chronicle of Higher Education (October 27, 1995). Lowry, evincing his deep commitment to the free flow of ideas, refused to speak with the Chronicle reporter leaving Avram Udovitch, Lowry’s predecessor as chair of the department, to mount his defense. Udovitch was obliged to claim that Lowry’s appointment was simply a matter of rewarding academic excellence. Thus, he would have us believe that Lowry’s 12 years of service to the Turkish state “wasn’t part of his dossier.” Privately, Udovitch is also critical of Lowry, mainly for his ineptness in handling the publicity. Lifton offers a far more significant critique of scholars such as Lowry who act out of complex motivations: “self-serving ideology, bigotry, intellectual confusion, careerism, identification with power and a particular conception of knowledge.”

Strike A Pose

Cairo newsstands — at least in places frequented by transnational consumers — are carrying a new, sassy English-language fashion magazine called Pose, aimed at the local upscale market. The January issue features a photo essay with mini-skirted AUCians pointing pistols at gallabiyya-clad hostages. Among the regular columns is a “trend” list titled “What’s Hot, What’s Not.” A few issues back, it was the Michigan Militia that was hot, while al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya was not. Now, after beating up an overzealous fan, the bodyguards of belly dance sensation Fifi Abdou are hot and Yitzhak Rabin’s are not.

How to cite this article:

Al Miskin "Column: Turkey’s Little Tiger," Middle East Report 198 (Spring 1996).
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