"The aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the opening session of the conference.
"Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust."
A number of prominent Western historians have shown up for the two-day scholarly debate, including French professor Robert Faurisson and German-born Australian Fredrick Toeben.
Mottaki said the conference, "Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision," aims to find answers to the questioning of the Holocaust by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The simple question of the president of Iran: 'If the Holocaust is a historical event why can it not be researched?' set off a wave of accusations against Iran without trying to find a logical answer," he maintained.
The top diplomat said Tehran would endorse the Holocaust if scholars conclude it did take place.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Holocaust refers to "systematic state-sponsored killing of Jewish men, women, and children and others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II."
The commonly used figure for the number of Jewish victims is six million.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned the truth of the Holocaust, at one point describing it as a "myth" and casting doubt on the scale of the killings.
The victims figure has also been questioned by some historians and intellectuals, chiefly French author Roger Garaudy.
|Rabbis said the Holocaust can not be used as a justification for perpetrating unjust acts against the Palestinians.|
Academics and rabbis attending the conference defended the debate as part of the freedom of speech championed by the West.
"There must be freedom of speech, it is scandalous that the Holocaust cannot be discussed freely," said American academic David Duke, a former Louisiana Republican Representative.
"It makes people turn a blind eye to Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people," he insisted.
"I think that Ahmadinejad is a very courageous man to talk about some of these issues."
Holocaust denial is criminalized in a number of European countries including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Despite his retraction, British historian David Irving was sentenced for three years in prison for his denial of the Holocaust.
French writer Georges Thiel has also been convicted in France for the same reason.
"Jewish people have been persecuted, that is true, they have been deported, that is true, but there was no machinery of murder in any camp -- no gas chambers," he said, describing the Holocaust as "an enormous lie".
The Tehran conference is also attended by Jews from Europe and the United States, including five rabbis.
"We came here to put the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint regarding the attitude to the Holocaust," said British Rabbi Ahron Cohen.
"We certainly say there was a Holocaust, we lived through the Holocaust. But in no way can it be used as a justification for perpetrating unjust acts against the Palestinians."
Also attending was a delegation representing the Jewish Neturei Karta movement led by Rabbi Yisrael David Weiss.
The New York-based movement is an anti-Zionist organization within the Orthodox Jewish community which is dedicated to representing the hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews around the world.
They believe that only the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and removal of Israel would bring peaceto the Middle East.
Standing by his "testimony" in a new book on the Middle East conflict, former US President Jimmy Carter reiterated in an interview broadcast Monday, December 11, that the Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories was worse than South Africa's notorious past apartheid.
The Jewish participants showed up at the meeting clad in long black coats and black hats, some wearing badges depicting the Israeli flag crossed out.
One wore a badge saying: "A Jew, not a Zionist".
The Tehran conference has already provoked diatribe from several European countries, the US and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the conference was "sickening and shows the depths of the hatred."
He called on the world community to "disassociate itself from Iran and all the participants of the conference."
The Israeli Knesset speaker called on parliament speakers worldwide to pass legislation "making Holocaust denial a criminal felony."
The German government has summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires in Berlin to express its opposition to the conference.
France warned it would condemn the meeting with the utmost firmness if it propagated revisionist ideas as did UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The United States denounced the two-day event as "disgraceful".
"As I understand it, this meeting is really focused on highlighting those people who deny that there was, in fact, a Holocaust," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"It is just flabbergasting that they continue, that the leadership of that regime continues, to deny that six million plus people were killed in the Holocaust."Last Mod: 00 0000, 00:00