GLENDALE, Calif.— Armenian students who peacefully protested a genocide denier’s lecture celebrating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s career at Chapman University on Nov. 10, were attacked as the audience punched, shoved, spit, and yelled fascist hate speech at them.
The protest at Chapman University was one of several organized by the Armenian Youth Federation-Western United States (AYF-WUS), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Shant Student Association (ARF-SSA), and the All-Armenian Student Association (All-ASA) against “Ataturk Week,” a series of events around Southern California about Ataturk, who is considered to be the father of the modern Turkish Republic and the leader who ingrained the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal policies into the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.
Viral videos posted to Facebook on Nov. 10-11 showed Armenian youth peacefully protesting these events at Chapman University and California State University Northridge (CSUN) on Nov. 10.
“The violence and racist behavior displayed by the audience is a fraction of what Armenian, Kurdish, and other minorities face every day in Turkey. We had people screaming ‘terrorist’ in our faces, and one man yelled that Armenians ‘do not have a civilization,’” said Razmig Sarkissian of the AYF-WUS Central Executive.
The lectures, intentionally scheduled on the day of Ataturk’s death, were planned by the Turkish Cultural Foundation, Association of Turkish Americans of Southern California, and the Ataturk Monument in Los Angeles (ATAMLA). The events were to feature a lecture by Professor George Gawrych titled, “The Young Ataturk: From Ottoman Soldier to Statesman of Turkey.” Gawrych is a known denier of the Armenian Genocide, and when describing what he calls a “complicated” case, he prefers the word “massacres” over “genocide.” Protesters stood and turned their backs to the speaker, who eventually chose to leave rather than engage.
The protests were rooted in objections to the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s glorification. Ataturk instituted a social engineering campaign that instilled a fervent ultranationalist and secular ideology in the modern Republic of Turkey. The Turkish Nationalist Movement sought to integrate and assimilate all non-Turkish entities in the republic, essentially eradicating the remnants of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. Ataturk offered amnesty to the members of the political party responsible for the Armenian Genocide (the Committee of Union and Progress) who switched allegiance to his government, including perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide who were directly responsible for the deportations and slaughter of over a million people. Ataturk’s revisionist policies and disregard for minorities set the foundation for the denialist policies that are still in force today.
On Nov. 13, the AYF was on-air live with KPFK 90.7FM’s “Middle East in Focus” educating listeners across California about the crisis of democracy in Turkey today and the disruption of Ataturk events across Southern California.
Today, Turkey is in crisis as their counterparts here organize propaganda events such as these to paint a rosy picture of Turkey. Armenian, Kurdish, Yezidi, and human rights organizations released a joint statement and petition expressing outrage at the arbitrary arrests of Turkey’s opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, and its 10 Members of Parliament on Nov. 4, and thousands of others in a dictatorial coup by President Erdogan. The petition has since received over 600 signatures.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.