Activists Turn Their Backs to Denialist Speakers at University of Toronto

TORONTO, Canada—On Feb. 27, Armenian youth held a silent protest at a lecture, entitled “WWI 100th Anniversary: Human Suffering in Eastern Anatolia,” that featured genocide deniers Justin McCarthy and Bruce Fein. Organized by the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations, the lecture was held at the University of Toronto (UofT), St. George Campus.

Over 70 human rights activists from the university community, who made up the majority of those in attendance, held the silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturers.
More than 70 human rights activists from the university community, making up the majority of those in attendance, held the silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturers. (Photo: Ishkhan Ghazarian)

The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada, in collaboration with the Armenian Students Association (ASA) of UofT St. George and Scarborough campuses and the Armen Karo Student Association spearheaded this protest action.

An activist holds a poster that reads, "Denial Fuels the Cycle of Genocide!"
An activist holds a poster that reads, ‘Denial Fuels the Cycle of Genocide!’ (Photo: Ishkhan Ghazarian)

More than 70 human rights activists from the university community, who made up the majority of those in attendance, held the silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturers.

Protesters allowed the speakers to deliver their opening remarks. However, when it became apparent that the speakers would deny and misconstrue the facts of the Armenian Genocide, the group stood up and turned their backs to the podium as a silent protest against genocide denial.

Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence.

The lecture organizers briefly stopped the talk, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue.

The protesters continued to stand with their backs to the podium as Fein spoke, then marched out in an organized walk-out, leaving the remaining 20 or so attendees to listen to the lecture.

The demonstrators then marched to UofT’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office to voice their concern regarding the event, and to deliver a petition of over 2,000 signatures denouncing the talk and demanding that the university distance itself from the organizers and speakers. The group had previously sent to the university a letter signed by academics, human rights groups, and student associations, including the Hillel of Greater Toronto, the Greek Students Association of UofT-Scarborough, and the Hellenic Students Association of Ryerson University, demanding that the event be canceled.

McCarthy, who was turned away from the University of Melbourne and Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2013, has long been regarded as a mouthpiece of the Turkish state in spreading denial of the Armenian Genocide. Fein is employed by the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) as a resident scholar, to similarly support and propagate the Turkish denial policy of the Armenian Genocide, and has penned several articles attacking the veracity of the genocide.

AYF-Canada Chairperson Daron Keskinian said it was ”extremely troubling” that such an event took place at UofT.

“The University of Toronto should distance itself from this event immediately,” he said. “The lecture organizers have used the location to bring legitimacy to their event, and have been given free rein to present their denial propaganda at the expense of the university’s reputation.”

Lecture organizers briefly stopped the event, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue.
Lecture organizers briefly stopped the talk, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue. (Photo: Ishkhan Ghazarian)

The ASA of UofT released a statement stressing that the event should be disconcerting to the university community at large.

“In the interest of maintaining its integrity and making amends for this event taking place on campus, the University of Toronto’s President’s Office should release a statement indicating that they distance themselves from this event. The Armenian Genocide is taught at this institution and the University of Toronto should not provide podiums to those who are looking to legitimize their denial of the first genocide of the 20th century,” read the statement.

2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and is being commemorated globally by countless organizations and governments. In 2004, the Canadian Parliament passed a resolution acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and condemning it as a “crime against humanity.”

Founded in 1934, the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada is the largest and most influential Armenian-Canadian youth organization, working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness among Armenian-Canadian youth.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.


  1. Way to go Armenian youth! With your non-violent protest, you’ve shown the world how it’s done, maintained your dignity and respect and sent a powerful example world-wide. Abrik!
    Gank! Bidi linenk!

  2. I am ashamed at the denial by The USA of the genocide by the extreme Islamic Muslim Turks and Kurds that took place in Armenia 100 years ago.Now they’re known as Isis or Isil, I have a collection of art by Arshile Gorky from the 1920’s thru the 1940’s he was a survivor until he hung himself (PTSD) in 1948. I say this to the USA and World Media, open your eyes and tune up the volume of your deaf ears. It happened in Armenia 100 years ago and continues today.

  3. Bravo, never let genocide deniers have any respect., Bruce Fein is a horrible attorney, he has been in their pockets for years. A real pest, his unethical behavior can be heard online with the Krikorian vs. Jean Schmidt deposition that Mark Geragos did of Sibel Edmonds. Fein kept objecting after every question and finally they just ignored him after awhile like a pesky nat flying by your year. The deposition was very good despite Fein’s efforts to block information which eventually lead to Jean Schmidt being investigated for campaign fund mismanagement and ordered to pay back money to the TCA.
    Shad Abrex, don’t every let these paid deniers insult the memory of our grandparents.
    ON another note: Canada is one of the 24 countries that recognizes the Armenian Genocide. Yesterday marked the 43rd state in America -South Dakota that officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide.
    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, even bought and paid for deniers. But I exercise my right to show up and show them the back of my head as well.

  4. I thought this was a brilliant action. And I’m sharing a comment by my friend Corey R. who posted this on FB: “This, by a group of Armenian activists at the University of Toronto, really is the best kind of protest against loathsome speech (in this case, against two denialists of the Armenian Genocide, one of whom is a prominent American conservative). The student activists didn’t try to stop or ban the speeches. They just allowed the speakers to say a tiny bit, then turned their backs on them, prompting furious but futile attempts to get the activists kicked out, and then walked out en masse, leaving the speakers with a pitiful audience of 20 supporters. This is the way to shut down (without shouting down) denialists, racists, and the like…”

    • A brilliant action only in the narrow world of Armenian activists. Thanks to them the event seems to have been turned from one where two pseudo-historians fulfil their contractual obligations with their Turkish paymasters into one where extremist Armenians disrupt presentations by legitimate historians in an attempt to silence the truth. It just means that McCarthy can continue to be unopposed in the only forum that matters to him – that of his academic peers (they actually think he is a pretty fine fellow and an historian of stature in the field of Ottoman history) – and can continue to whine in Turkish media about Armenian thugs and their death threats. Perhaps a more brilliant action would have been to attend, listen, and then confront these notorious denialists verbally and expose their lies. But back-turning is easier.

    • Steven,

      This was actually brilliant, and you missed a few things. This was not an Armenian-only action:
      “Over 70 human rights activists from the university community, who made up the majority of those in attendance …”

      The protest had wide support.

      You’re worried about how the Turkish media will say thugs of these guys and death threats?
      “Lecture organizers briefly stopped the event, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue.”

      Let them say what they want. It was a peaceful protest and the police did not intervene. If the Turkish media calls them thugs, they’ll be lying.

    • Sorry to continue to upset your cosy self-satisfactions, but it is a basic fact that one of those “fake and uneducated” speakers (as another poster called them), Justin McCarthy, is actually very highly regarded in the field of Ottoman studies. 70-odd back turners will not change that. McCarthy will dismiss it as just Armenian fanatics attempting to silencing the truth, and will gain a notch or two more in prestige as a result.

    • Steven,

      Contrary to your self-satisfaction of elevating the status of Justin McCarthy who has long been regarded as a mouthpiece of the Turkish state in spreading denial of the Armenian Genocide, how can he possibly be “very highly regarded in the field of Ottoman studies,” when he happens to be such an extreme denialist of the Armenian Genocide? Since you did not already know by now, the Armenian Genocide happens to be a big part of Ottoman Turkish history. Therefore, with the exception of you and his fellow denialist supporters, there’s nobody else who has high regard for Justin McCarthy. As a matter of fact, when that group of seventy people departed from the room during his lecture, there were only twenty people remaining to listen to the rest of his silly, absurd lecture. That’s certainly not the definition of being highly regarded.

    • “Sorry to continue to upset your cosy self-satisfactions,”

      No need to apologize, you’re not upsetting me. I just don’t see a point. The arguments have been made in favor of the Armenian Genocide through research, which is still growing. There just is no reason to argue with McCarthy. He may be highly regarded, but is he taken seriously when it comes to the Armenian Genocide?

      “and will gain a notch or two more in prestige as a result.”

      Again, in whose eyes is he gaining prestige and why do you care?

  5. Really brilliant move, congrats to the brave AYF.

    The last picture can serve as an idea, which perhaps should be considered next time if such a protest is done again for Genocide deniers. One guy had an anti-Genocide shirt, “United Against Genocide Denial” – so the next time, how about all wear the same shirts, or with several different similar printed remarks? That should give these anti-Armenian pseudo-historians like Justin McCarthy and Genocide deniers like Bruce Fein a good in-your-face message.

  6. Excellent action by the Armenian youth and student groups and supporters. This silent action registers dissent and empties the room, an evacuation symbolic of the erasure genocide deniers perform in their rewriting of history.

  7. 2008 statement by then presidential candidate Barack Obama:
    “My firmly held conviction is that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence”
    Tucson, AZ

    • What facts, Murat? That up until 1915 there were estimated 2-2.5 million Armenian natives living for millennia on their ancestral lands and now only about 60,000 remain in Turkey? What happened to the rest, might you know??

  8. Bravo to my Armenian brothers and sisters! Shut down these liars-from a Greek- American who’s Yiayia experienced these atrocities too

  9. In the Armenian church service on certain feast days, the congregation turns its back to the altar to renounce Satan. Therefore the action of the students is doubly symbolic

  10. Hey “Murat”, what facts?
    You ultra nationalist turks wouldn’t recognize facts if you life depended on it.
    The ones that go on a smear campaign for the victims of the genocide, pay and bribe politicians, threaten countries and governments to avoid even discussing the genocide are the ones who are afraid of the facts. But then again, arguing with people like you is just a waste of time and effort. Facts already went over your head.

  11. Congratulations to the Armenian youth organizations that carried out this protest. How could anybody deny historic facts? The Armenian genocide is a well documented historic fact. The barbaric Turks are still carrying out genocide by supporting ISIS. historians and scholars of respectable nations have enough documentation that a genocide took place, WAKE UP WORLD,

  12. The Armenians were systematically slaughtered by the Turkish bullies just like the Ukrainians were starved in the Holodomor by the Russian bullies.

  13. A great strategy. A big bravo to our peaceful protestors. Would U of T allow a Holocaust denier to have podium? Why allow Armenian Genocide deniers? Double standard? Integrity, principles and morality should be criteria of having a lecture hall or having a podium. Criminals cannot hide behind freedom of speech. The facilitators of such presentations are as guilty as the deniers, who do not deserve to be called scholars, historians, researchers or intellectuals. They only know one principle, which is called BRIBERY.

  14. Murat,
    Recognition of Armenian Genocide by Canadian Parliament paved the way, for those denialists and Turkish paid fake scholars to go somewhere else, where they can preach and socialize with local brainwashed Turkic tribes. Those denialists who set up fake lectures around the world with the help of petrodollars, actually helping and spreading the hidden truth of Armenian genocide by Turkish government….F.Y.I. Armenian genocide is and will be part of educational system of Canada for those who are interested about genocides around the world! You must be very naive, when a bill approved and passed by Canadian Government is reversible by next government!

  15. by blindly standing up and turning around isnt helping is being productive and isnt making a diff !!just wasting time.

    are so many deluded-in think actions like this by the armkenian youth will be relevent .

    turks are here to stay ,armenians are here to stay they are also neighbors also!! will ignoring buy standing up and turning achieve anything !!

    armenians need to one on one debate with the turks there advocates there supporters where ever possible , and in front of the international community !!we all want the truth and standing up turning backs wont achieve this !

    or have i got it wrong

  16. Too little, too late. This is a failure of the Diasporan anti-genocide denial apparatus. These guests should not have even made it to U of T to give their lecture. Armenians are putting their money in the wrong places; Hay Tad and the like are cash-strapped and the Armenian ”Church” is monopolizing all the funds to continue their outdated, antiquated and unchristian, divisive, selfish goals. I know ”amot e” but we need to say what is obvious in order to really honor our nation and 1.5 million dead.

  17. Am amazed that the University even allowed these “fake” uneducated speakers on their campus to give such a vile lecture, which is based on lies, lies and more lies. Are these people delusional? What right do they have to spread their warped ideology that this crime didn’t take place? Well done to all of Toronto’s Uni students.


  19. For those of you on here saying that this accomplishes nothing, and too little too late, I shake my head. So often the generations before us thought that only getting heated up, being agressive and shouting down the Turkish lobby would help get our message across. Seeing the video of this gave me absolute chills. To see so many young people make such a statement by saying nothing at all was indeed very powerful. Well done to all and you have our support. Getse Toronto-i Hay Kaghoutuh! Well done all!

    • I agree: well said.

      Naysayers always complain.
      If people don’t do anything, they complain.
      If people do something, they complain: it’s not enough, or it’s too much, or it’s too late, or now is not the right time…..

      {“Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence.”}

      It takes a lot of self control for young guys to maintain their composure in that situation.
      A lot easier (….and highly satisfying) to respond to verbal abuse than not to.

      Well done of our young people indeed.

  20. Was there any followup in the UofT student newspaper to publicize this?

    Interesting that quite a few of the non-activists were applauding. So in the end, how many in the room were were pro-denial? It was very interesting that the protesters were able to get so many of the seats.

  21. from an armenian from australia, id like to say GOOD ON YOU !!!bravo, you stood ground, preserve our honour and you did not let these denialists and bigots get away with their subtle propaganda war !

  22. These AYF and ASA students are to be commended. The Turkish Gov’t has much to worry about. Our youth are highly educated, have studied successful social movements and are technologically adept. They are passionate about the genocide and are not afraid to act to right this hundred year injustice by the Turks. Great job kids, I’m proud of you! Can’t wait to see what you have planned next.

  23. “Professor’ McCarthy never met a cheeseburger, plate of spaghetti, tuna melt, ice cream sundae, mezze, kabob plate, fries, shake, or entire brisket of beef with which he did not immediately fall in love. I suggest next time he appear, we put a bucket of KFC extra crunchy in front of him.

  24. These two deniers and those who are scared of the facts, can you please talk to Fatheia Gettin? Or Tarek Ackchem? As the grand son of Jamal Pasha, visited the Armenian Memorial site (Yegherni), and apologized for the actions of his grand father, to the grand son of the hero who killed his gran father (Jamal Pasha), and stated that it is a shame in the hsitory of turkey, ask those about the facts of the first and worst Genocide in the hsitory of the world. It will be recognized as the Armenian Genocide, NOT atrocity, NOT disgrace and NOT unfortunate acts. It is A genocide and violation of the basic human rights, the right to live and survive as human being. God will make the Genocide recognized world wide, very soon, with the brave and organized acts like these. God bless you all.


  26. How dare they deny the genocide. My grandma lost her whole family that day. 14 year old girl all alone in the world. So proud of you standing together for our cause. Thank you.

  27. It is high time Turkey made more efforts to go into the dark parts of its past. There has certainly been progress in the last 2 years. People who hold the genocide thesis are no longer prosecuted and the government has issued statements to the effect that they share the pain of Armenians, even that the “relocation was unethical” (Davutoglu). So how to proceed further? Will continued focussing on the label ofthe events (“genocide”) further the Armenian cause, or will it more and more resemble the debate on “racism”, another debate which more and more acquirws the characteristics of a debate about a word rather than a debate about facts. I would rather publicise the questions that the Turkish authorities have not answered: 1) Who dont they open the “sevk defterleri” which shows the counting of Armenians at each stage of their death marches? Murat Bardakci asks for this every year. 2) Could the mutessariflik of Zor sustain half a million new people? Answer: No. What does this tell about the intentions of the leading party? 3) Beyoglu and Sarinay have published data on Turks and Kurds prosecuted for atrocities against Armenians, but never tried to connect this with information whether any of the assumed perpetrators at the major killing fields (Kemah, kanli dere and other places the road from Malatya to the Adiyaman side, etc) were ever indicted. Besides, the works of Beyoglu and Sarinay covers trials in 1916, and the place and time of the crime is not given. —–personally I welcome a statement from the Norwegian government on the line of the German position of 2007, which was confirmed early this year, but with more specific questions to the Turkish government, and with a demand for apology to the Armenians. But I do not advise more demands for recognition of the Genocide along with assertions that “research has conclusively shown”……

    • Our Turkophile denialist Norwegian guest Mr. Ragnar Naess is back.
      Where have you been Ragnar ? Missed you.
      Were you visiting your beloved Turkey ?
      Did you visit with Neo-Ottoman Sultan Erdogan in his new palace ?
      Did you happen to run into the other denialist, Maximus Denialicus Gauinoğlu ?
      Anyway, glad you are back.

      btw: re {“Will continued focussing on the label ofthe events (“genocide”) further the Armenian cause, or will it more and more resemble the debate on “racism”,…”}

      “resemble the debate” ?
      “debate”, what debate ?
      there is only ‘debate’ within your Armenian Genocide denialist circle.
      And you still haven’t apologized to the Armenian readers of Armenian Weekly for comparing the victims of the AG to detritus (“…disposed of…”).

  28. Contrast the behaviour of Canadian-Armenian youth in that video, progeny of a sedentary,peaceful,creative,cultured 5,000 year civilization vs. those of Turkish-American youth, descendants of nomadic Turkic invaders from Uyguristan.

    [Turkish-Americans celebrating the Armenian Genocide, Washington DC, 2010.]

    • You realize that by framing the issue as “sedentary vs. nomad,” you are opening the whole Armenia nation to ridicule, gyavuroghlu. You and your family are the ultimate nomads, living in my country, the good old United States, while pushing a foreign (i.e. Serzh’s) agenda. In fact, on New Year’s Day, the entire world heard Armenians being called nomads (not that I agree with it). And by the way, the text appears to have been supplied by Armenians themselves:

      “‘Often nomadic people,’ according to Quasarano, was imported from the text provided by Tournament of Roses website. … [The Armenian group’s] answers were often short, rude and evasive. For instance, … [one Armenian officer] called [the Armenian inquirer] ‘Mordern Nomad.'”

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