In protest of the Turkish and U.S. federal government’s formal lack of recognition of the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Student Association (ASA) at UCR organized a silent protest called “State of Denial” on Thursday, Feb. 4. This demonstration was part of a statewide protest organized by the All-Armenian Student Association (All-ASA) and co-sponsored by the Western and Eastern Regions of the Armenian Youth Federation, Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Shant” Student Association and the Alpha Gamma Alpha sorority and Alpha Epsilon Omega fraternity.
Approximately 10 to 15 people were in attendance throughout the demonstration between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. in which students from ASA covered their mouths with red tape to symbolize the silencing of Armenians by the Turkish government regarding the genocide. They also held signs with social media hashtags which stated #StainOfDenial and #DivestTurkey.
According to ASA President Meline Zaghikian, this is the first of two demonstrations that the organization holds each year to commemorate the Armenian genocide. The second will take place on April 24, the date the Young Turks, which was the government in charge of the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey), began the mass deportations and murder of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul.
“We can’t take back the past but awareness helps us heal our wounds,” Zavik Mkrdech, a fourth-year political science major and ASA treasurer explained. “Until we spread that awareness and stop the denial we will not be satisfied.”
Between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million Armenians and over a million other religious minorities were systematically murdered by the Ottoman Empire under the Young Turk government. After the regime collapsed in 1923, the Republic of Turkey has since refused to admit that these killings were part of a genocide, despite the fact that it is recognized as such by 29 countries across the world and 43 of the 50 states in the U.S., including California.
In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to pass a bill officially recognizing these incidents as a genocide; however, the bill failed due to lobbying efforts by the Turkish government, which was assisting the U.S. during the Iraq War.
On May 8, 2015, ASUCR passed a bill in support of the UC’s divestment from Turkey due to the country’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, joining six other UCs who passed similar resolutions. According to ASA the UC currently invests approximately $70 million in funds in Turkish bonds.
“That (bill) needs to be passed on every UC campus and needs to go to the UC headboard,” Mkrdech elaborated. “Passing (the bill) here and … at other schools was really a big step in actually materializing the issues that we have with the Turkish government in taking away the money that we (students) put into.”