Historian detained after his Wikipedia article is vandalized

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Turkish historian, sociologist, author and professor Taner Akçam was detained for nearly four hours at Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in February. The reported reason, according to Canadian authorities: a vandalized Wikipedia entry that claimed that Akçam was a terrorist.

Akçam's biography has been one of the loci of dispute in an ongoing dispute over the Armenian Genocide. The 1915 genocide, an attempt by the Turkish government to eliminate all Turkish Armenians, resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 300,000 to 1.5 million Armenians. Akçam is one of the few Turkish historians to publicly acknowledge and discuss the Genocide, a position which has made him a source of controversy within the Turkish and Turkish-American communities.

On 16 February, 2007, Akçam flew from Minneapolis to Montreal, for a lecture sponsored by McGill University and Concordia University. Upon landing in Montreal, he was detained by Canadian authorities, as detailed in an 21 April article in The Independent:

The Canadian immigration officer, Akcam says, was "courteous" - but promptly detained him at Montreal's Trudeau airport. Even odder, the Canadian immigration officer asked him why he needed to be detained. ... Akcam was given a one-week visa and the Canadian officer showed him - at Akcam's insistence - a piece of paper which was the obvious reason for his temporary detention. "I recognised the page at once," Akcam says. "The photo was a still from a 2005 documentary on the Armenian genocide... The still photo and the text beneath it comprised my biography in the English language edition of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia which anyone in the world can modify at any time. For the last year ... my Wikipedia biography has been persistently vandalised by anonymous 'contributors' intent on labelling me as a terrorist. The same allegations has been repeatedly scrawled, like gangland graffiti, as 'customer reviews' of my books at Amazon."[1]

Akçam, citing the unlikely possibility of the Canadian government finding a two-month-old, reverted copy of his Wikipedia biography, suggested that enemies may have forwarded a copy to the Canada Border Services Agency: "It was unlikely, to say the least, that a Canadian immigration officer found out that I was coming to Montreal, took the sole initiative to research my identity on the internet, discovered the archived version of my Wikipedia biography, printed it out on 16 February, and showed it to me - voilà! - as a result."[1] Upon again arriving at Trudeau International Airport on 18 February to return to the University of Minnesota, Akçam was again detained, this time by the United States Department of Homeland Security. He was allowed to leave after waiting an hour, but was cautioned not to travel until the situation was sorted out with customs.

The story was first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune on 21 February, but received little attention (the original article is not available online, but excerpts are available here). The story was publicized by professor Juan Cole in a 14 April blog entry. On 15 April, DragonflySixtyseven semi-protected the article; the protection was removed by Omegatron on 22 April, and re-added by Ral315 on 24 April.

It is believed that the original vandalism was introduced by Ahmetcoxall in a series of edits around 24 December, 2006; all of Ahmetcoxall's edits were reverted in 10 hours or less. The edits, since deleted, claimed that Akçam was "a member of an extreme leftist terrorist organization". Ahmetcoxall was blocked indefinitely by Eloquence on 23 April, nearly four months after his last edit.


  1. ^ a b Fisk, Robert. Robert Fisk: Caught in the deadly web of the internet, The Independent, 21 April 2007
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Kudos on the story

Very interesting story. I live in Minneapolis, occasionally bothering with the marginally worthwhile Star Tribune, and missed this story. What a bizarre situation, it says something about how serious this website is taken. --Bobak 20:50, 25 April 2007 (UTC)[reply]

Or not very seriously in this case. It sounds to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that the Immigration officers were doing something illegal. Using an open edited source that is basically probably "hearsay" in court to hassle an otherwise innocent historian. I think we're supposed to throw our hands up and wonder if Wikipedia is doing the right thing when ACTUALLY this is political derring do, IMO, using Wikipedia controversies as a distraction. Right ? DJ Barney 01:17, 29 April 2007 (UTC)[reply]


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