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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.”