Protest of Genocide Denial Interrupts Talk on Turkey, Armenia

Members of the University’s Armenian Students Association and supporters staged a protest at an International House (I-House) lecture.

By Alex Ward

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On Monday night, members of the University of Chicago’s Armenian Students Organization and supporters staged a protest at an International House (I-House) lecture by a scholar they say denies the Armenian Genocide.

University of Louisville professor Justin McCarthy spoke at the I-House Assembly Hall about his most recent book, Turks and Armenians: Nationalism and Conflict in the Ottoman Empire. McCarthy has been accused of Armenian Genocide denialism by organizations including the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS). McCarthy argues that the events others call genocide were part of a civil war between the Ottoman Empire and Armenian rebels during World War I.

Before the event, members of the Armenian Students Association standing outside I-House passed out flyers condemning the event. One part of the flyer noted that the event, which was sponsored by the Turkish American Cultural Alliance (TACA) and the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago, was scheduled for the day after Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day (April 24).

During the first minutes of McCarthy’s speech, protesters filling the second and third rows, including members of the Armenian Students Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Hellenic Students Association, placed red tape over their mouths before standing and turning to face the audience, prompting some applause. McCarthy and various members of the audience began asking the protesters to sit down on the grounds that they were blocking the audience’s view of the stage, though other audience members shouted out that they could still see and hear the presentation.

The protesters refused to sit, and, after a few moments, walked out of the Assembly Hall, joined by other attendees, to further applause.

McCarthy went on to discuss the history of tensions between Ottomans and Armenians, describing how hostilities between the two groups led to violent rebellion by Armenian nationalist organizations, leading the Ottomans to deem them a threat to their war effort and Muslim population. According to McCarthy, there were insufficient numbers of Armenians in all provinces of the Ottoman Empire to justify the creation of an independent Armenian state.

“The only way that you could create an ‘Armenia’ in this territory was to create an apartheid state, like something that was in South Africa,” McCarthy said.

Responding later to a question about the protest, McCarthy said, “If I’m wrong, prove I’m wrong. If I’m wrong, have a discussion, if they’re wrong, have a discussion. What’s been saddest about this whole business is that we’ve had nothing but protest. What we need is dialogue.”

In an e-mail, second-year Daron Bedian, a member of Armenian Students Association, said that the historicity of the Armenian Genocide should not be up for debate, because evidence in favor of the genocide’s occurrence is overwhelming and easily accessible with basic research. Bedian also mentioned that the Armenian Students Organization Armenian Students Assocation will be distributing a petition calling on the University to explain its reasoning behind hosting the event.

“By allowing McCarthy and those like him to speak at the University, we are granting his name and his stance of denial credibility that it does not deserve…. To tacitly approve of such denial is despicable, and there is no place for that at this, or any, university.”

Clarification: This article was changed to make clear that, though an I-House staff member approached protesters just before they walked out of the event, the protesters’s exit was planned ahead of time, and was not prompted by staff intervention.