Activists Turn Their Backs to Genocide Denier at UChicago

Protest Justin McCarthy’s Denial Lecture by Staging Mass Walk-out

CHICAGO, Ill. (A.W.)—A group of activists held a protest on April 25 during a lecture in Chicago entitled, “Turks and Armenians: Nationalism and Conflict in the Ottoman Empire,” which featured genocide denier Justin McCarthy. Jointly sponsored by the Global Voices Lecture Series, the Consulate General of the Republic of Turkey in Chicago, and the Turkish American Cultural Alliance, the lecture was held at the International House (I-House) at the University of Chicago (UChicago) one day after the international Armenian Genocide commemoration day.

Activists hold protest at denialist lecture at the University of Chicago (Photo: Zoe Kaiser/The Chicago Maroon)
Activists protest a denialist lecture at the University of Chicago (Photo: Zoe Kaiser/The Chicago Maroon)

Prior to the start of the lecture, members of the UChicago Armenian Students Association (ASA), together with Students for Justice in Palestine, the UChicago Hellenic Students Association, and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), handed out flyers to attendees condemning the event.

At the beginning of McCarthy’s talk, protesters placed red tape over their mouths, held up banners, and conducted a silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturer. They then staged a mass walk-out in protest of McCarthy’s denial of the Armenian Genocide.

The lecture was held at the International House (I-House) at the University of Chicago (Photo: Robert Kozloff)
The lecture was held at the International House (I-House) at the University of Chicago (Photo: Robert Kozloff)

“The University of Chicago has a long history of protecting the right to free speech. But in the case of the Armenian Genocide, the historical facts are clear and genocide denial should not be tolerated by any degree,” Daron Bedian, a member of the UChicago ASA, told the Armenian Weekly.

Bedian, who is also the chair of the AYF Chicago “Ararat” Chapter, said that such lectures only give genocide deniers like McCarthy unwarranted credibility. “We feel that the denial of genocide is not the same as providing an alternate perspective, and not the same as debating, let’s say, neo-liberal ideals with socialist ideals. Denial of genocide perpetually leads to other genocides,” said Bedian, who added that by having McCarthy speak, the university’s reputation was put on the line.

According to Bedian, while several groups—including the Armenian National Committee of Illinois (ANC-IL)—sent e-mails to the university urging that the event be canceled, McCarthy’s talk was allowed to take place.

A poster for the lecture
A poster for the lecture

“We [the ASA] will be distributing a petition urging the university to explain itself. We want to know why this event was held, and will expect an apology to the ASA and the university in general,” Bedian said. “In addition to that, we would expect that the university does not allow such talks sponsored by the Turkish Consulate and Turkish organizations who wish to deny the truth,” he added.

The Turkish Consulate of Chicago has a long history of working with the University of Chicago in the past, according to Bedian. “By bringing Justin McCarthy—who engages in selective scholarship and genocide denial—the consulate betrays the trust of the university. The university must prove that it isn’t going to serve as a political mouthpiece of the Turkish government,” he said.

Bedian said that the university surely would not allow a neo-Nazi to spread Holocaust denial on campus, and that “the university must then explain allowing an Armenian Genocide denier to speak.”

Activists hold protest at denialist lecture at the University of Chicago (Photo: Zoe Kaiser/The Chicago Maroon)
Activists protest a denialist lecture at the University of Chicago (Photo: Zoe Kaiser/The Chicago Maroon)

According to the UChicago I-House website, McCarthy’s talk focused on his new book, which examined Ottoman-Armenian relations. “McCarthy challenges existing assumptions and contributes to the most central problem of late Ottoman historiography with a new interpretation explaining the conflict between the Ottoman Empire and its Armenian minority. This study is highly recommended for a broad audience as well as for those seeking a new analysis of the circumstances leading to the tragic events of 1915,” read the advertisement for the lecture on the university’s website.

McCarthy, who was turned away from the University of Melbourne and Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2013 and was protested against at the University of Toronto in February 2015, has long been regarded as a mouthpiece of the Turkish state in spreading denial of the Armenian Genocide. He has been accused of being a genocide denier and discredited by many historians and genocide scholars such as Yair Auron and Richard G. Hovannisian, and several groups and organizations, including the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and the ANCA, who has called McCarthy “a known genocide denier” and an “academic mercenary.”

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of Torontohye Monthly. He is the former editor of The Armenian Weekly and the former director of public relations of the Tufenkian Foundation. Born and raised in Toronto, he is currently based in Yerevan.
Rupen Janbazian

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  1. Just to be clear: This event, though billed as a book discussion, was not a discussion. Mr. McCarthy accepted questions from attendees written on index cards from which he self-selected the one’s he wished to answer. There was no scholarly discussion or give-and-take permitted regarding the biased ‘facts’ he presented. UChicago would never have given a Holocaust denier such freedom to distort history in the interest of ‘freedom of speech.’ Why the hypocrisy? A lowpoint for UChicago.

  2. I want to commend various U of C organizations for standing up for what I believe is the truth about the Armenian Genocide. Not letting these things be forgotten is important to our future.

    However, in regards to comments made by the AYF-YOARF and UChicago ASA members suggesting that the U of C should not have allowed Justin McCarthy to talk at the University. I find that sentiment to be highly flawed. The U of C against the head winds of the culture has stuck strong to providing an open environment of Free Speech and encouraging dialogue between groups that may strongly disagree with each other or even find the opinions of the other repugnant. To encourage debate and allow the challenge of common the current “facts” is what a true University is all about.

    More to the point. The Armenian academia were rounded up and silenced in the years leading up to the genocide, the grievances of the Armenian people were ignored and said to be exaggerated or out right lies by the Ottoman Empire. Armenians were denied a seat at the congress of great powers when their fates were the subject matter. Their opinions were silenced and suppressed in the worst of ways. Personally I believe when people use the memory of the victims of genocide to silence debate or discussion those very victims are being dishonored. We should behave better strive for higher principles of Freedom then those that came before us and not enforce the habits and tools of the oppressors of the past.

    • Matthew, your very subtle remarks has a flaw in that this man was selective in his answers to question – if that is what you call “free speech” then there is an element of TRUTH missing from the agenda. This man is a “denier” and if that is what he believes than so be it. It is his mangled mind and the possible influence and support by the turkish hierarchy that has interrupted the difference between the TRUTH and FREE SPEECH and what it represents. I pity the UofC for NOT making it clear to this person that there will not be questions swept under the carpet and conveniently distancing himself from something that he might have overlooked (once again conveniently) – if this is what you call Free Speech then I guess answers to question relevant to the subject matter does not come into it. Sorry Matthew are you serious. “Truth and Free Speech” go together as long as it is not suppressed by selected under performers and the turkish sponsors. Can you imagine this chap saying something that will offend the sponsors? come on Matthew you have to be realistic and fair. It cannot be one way traffic just because the sponsors are turks.

    • Matthew, your careful and politcally correct answer is disgusting. What would you think if U of C had allowed David Irving or Ernst Zundel to talk at the University?

    • If a free exchange of ideas had taken place between those with differing opinions, then I would agree with Matthew. I would applaud such a discussion. However, that is not what happened. Mr. McCarthy’s self-selection of questions carefully precluded that from happening. Yes, the students staged their protest and left the building, choosing a public display of disapproval over the opportunity to ask ‘hard questions.’ But in truth, the Armenians and Greeks who remained with the intent to hear out the speaker and discuss the controversy were largely stymied. This event was a slap in the face of good scholarship and academic debate, and also in the face of truth.

    • Sorry this man is mercenary “historian”. He gets paid purposely to lie about the planned mass murder of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians for the State of Turkey.. There is no room for that in ANY UNIVERSITY..


  4. Can anyone who attended the event describe what happened? What was McCarthy’s reaction? And were there any confrontations between the protesters and the event organizers outside the venue?

  5. I wish that the forthright students also had in their midst a group of Assyrians students. The Assyrians suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks in 1915. They witnessed what happened to their Armenian neighbors especially in the Diyarbakir region. The head of the Assyrian church was so alarmed that he shipped archival material to Mosul Iraq. Sure enough his fears came to pass when the Assyrian communities were decimated also. Thank goodness when the situation got dire in recent years in Mosul, the Assyrians shipped their historical records to Sweden where there is a large Assyrian community. The only way Armenians will press ahead is for us to band together with our brothers and sisters in the Greek and Assyrian communities. I understand that we are already making progress with our Greek brethren in Cyprus. All to the good.
    Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut

  6. McCarthy is pathetic.
    30 years ago in Boston (Waltham: Brandeis Univ.) I listened to him (introduced by denialist Prof. Avigdor Levy), and he was just as pathetic then.

  7. to ellen chesnut- yes, there is power in numbers. Charles de gaulle, the great French statesman said ” l’union fait la force “, which is exactly what that means…. banding together.

  8. now to this justin mc carthy guy, yes freedom of speech and all that, but when the speeches continuously go against the grain it becomes ‘boredom of speech’ and if nobody shows up to listen to him, well that’ how one disappears into the horizon.

  9. The U of C people that allowed this person to speak should be taken to task– to put it mildy–i.e., severely disciplined. How about fired! Don’t hide behind that “freedom of speech” bs!

  10. Chicago has a strong, active, and wealthy Armenian community that must demand for an audience with the university president for an apology. Community leaders must send a delegation to meet with U of Chicago representatives to express their dismay At allowing McCarthy a forum to spread his fiction about the Armenia Genocide. The argument of allowing for free speech rights does not apply to distorting history, especially within academic circles. Shame on the University of Chicago. This is a big and grave deal that must be pursued by Armenians and non-Armenians alike who seek to put an end to these shenanigans one and for all!

  11. McCarthy is a protege of Stanford Shaw who accommodated him a PHD at UCLA provided he became a hired gun for Turkey. Most of Shaw’s work was widely discredited by his colleagues at UCLA along with various other scholars. Shaw and McCarthy were two clowns at UCLA. Like Shaw, McCarthy will probably spend his retirement and expire in Turkey.

  12. A lot of low level people will say anything as long as the price is right. Look at U.S. Congress. Most of them get paid $$$$ to deny the Armenian Genocide.

  13. The right idea isnt to ignore these ‘mercenary sudo historians’ that gladly accept MONEY to pander lies but rather, go after them and discredit them at every turn. Also the UOC needs some heat for this as well. Any serious academia that caters to this filth needs to feel the heat.

  14. As if it’s not already shameful enough that various U.S. newspapers along with a large U.S. company (GEICO) have participated in the promotion of Turkish denialism against the historical facts of the Armenian Genocide, we now have the dishonorable University of Chicago joining this same Turkish denialist circus, by allowing a well-known denialist of the Armenian Genocide (Justin McCarthy) to come over to their campus (one day after Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day) and, as usual, deliver a lecture denying the Armenian Genocide. This particular action, certainly makes the University of Chicago look very shameful. Furthermore, it makes them look very hypocritical. Would they ever allow a denialist to deliver a lecture on their campus denying the Jewish Holocaust? Certainly not!

    In regard to the right to free speech, every person deserves this right; however, when a person attempts to deny the historical facts of any particular genocide, then he or she most certainly does not deserve this right. Once again, genocide denial perpetuates genocide.

  15. It appears that these modern so-called scholars, like McCarthy, merely express their opinion, their interpretation of history. Why can’t they just share the actual documents and eye-witness accounts that exist from the time of the Genocide, and turn from being deniers to try historians? Why don’t they stop trying to put their own spin on it, as diluted by the years that have passed since then?!! Armin Wegner’s photographs, Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s book and the accounts of many others, even the correspondences between the Pashas and those who implored the killings to stop — these are all outright proof of what happened — it was GENOCIDE!!!

  16. I think all one has to ask of the University is: In the name of “free speech,” would you allow an outright denier of the Holocaust to speak?

    I think not.

    Congratulations to those that protested. I hope the University is further confronted.

    And yes, we must remember the Greeks and Assyrians who met a similar fate as the Armenians.

    God Bless the memory of ALL the Souls who perished.

  17. University of Chicago just adores “freedom of speech”, huh?

    So, I’d like to ask Mr Zimmer and Mr Isaacs who are running the show at UChicago, when is David Duke gonna be invited to debate the Holocaust?

  18. It just goes to show that if you look under enough rocks you can always find some who will do or say the most vile things! Freedom of speech?? BS!

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