On Thursday, Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bell Tower, the Armenian Student Association (ASA) protested Turkey and the United States’ refusal to recognize the Armenian Genocide. ASA students covered their mouths with duct tape while sitting down and holding signs that “spread awareness on Turkey’s and the United States’ denial of the Armenian Genocide,” said ASA Vice President Angela Burmayan.
The demonstration is held on UC and Cal State campuses every year to remind students of the importance of the issue, with the duct tape meant to symbolize the US’ failure to acknowledge the Genocide. Among the around 20 participants were students from the UCR ASA chapter as well as the Middle Eastern Student Center.
The Armenian Genocide, which began in April of 1915, occured after actors in the Ottoman Empire and later Republic of Turkey systematically arrested, deported and executed the Armenian population in Turkey. The Genocide, which claimed the lives of 1.5 million people, ended in 1922. According to the activist organization United to End Genocide, only 387,000 Armenians were left in Turkey in 1922, down from a population of over 2 million in 1914.
The Turkish government has refused to recognize the atrocities as there are accusations that the death toll was inflated and that many of the deaths were the result of starvation and World War One casualties. 28 countries have since recognized the ethnic cleansing as genocide. In 2014, on the 99th anniversary of the Genocide, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed condolences to the Armenian people, stating that the atrocities during World War One were a “shared pain” and encouraged Turks and Armenians to respect each other.
The US government has not officially recognized the Armenian genocide for fears of aggravating a fraught relationship with Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member and a key ally in the Middle East.
Burmayan, a fourth-year biology major, in an interview with The Highlander, explained that the reactions from passersby were “typically very positive.” She continued, “A lot of the time we will get people who have not heard about the issue and want to learn more about it.”
Another Armenian student and treasurer for UCR ASA, Maher Zaher, said that it is important for people “not to remain silent … by remembering it, you are using your voice to minimize the chances of any other future atrocities.” Zaher, a fourth-year environmental engineering major, thanked students for their support and willingness to learn.
Another event, entitled “Flowers of the Fallen” will be held the week of April 24 to commemorate the 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.