The Armenian Students’ Association held a town hall Thursday to educate students about and receive feedback on a resolution it plans to bring to the undergraduate student government calling for the University of California Board of Regents to divest from the Republic of Turkey.
From 1915 until 1923, Turkish authorities massacred about 1.5 million Armenians in the then-crumbling Ottoman Empire, leading to the seizure of Armenian land and forcing a diaspora of the Armenian people.
“This resolution is economic with a political end,” said Sevana Manukian, a fourth-year human biology and society student and a member of the Armenian Students’ Association. “We want (the Republic of Turkey) to recognize a historical tragedy.”
Morris Sarafian, a third-year political science student and a member of the Armenian Students’ Association, said he feels the Armenian genocide provided a blueprint for persecutors of all subsequent genocides, including the Holocaust.
The Republic of Turkey, which took power in the area after the Ottoman Empire fell, still denies the genocide against Armenians. The Turkish government considers it a crime to bring up Turkey’s role in the Armenian genocide – the government considers it to be “insulting Turkishness,” according to The New York Times.
In 2014, the Human Rights Watch described Turkey as experiencing a “rollback” of human rights, such as its media censorship and police teargassing at the Gezi protests in Istanbul.
April 24, 2015, will mark the centennial of what is considered the start of the Armenian genocide, when hundreds of Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed by the Ottoman Empire, according to The New York Times.
The group decided to bring the resolution forward now because of the centennial anniversary of the genocide, said Natalie Kalbakian, a third-year political science student and external vice president of the Armenian Students’ Association.
In 2012, USAC passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide and condemning its denial. The Armenian Students’ Association’s resolution aims to take this motion a step further toward more assertive action against the Republic of Turkey.
The resolution, which is still being drafted by the association, has two main objectives the group hopes USAC will support.
The first calls for the UC’s divestment from the Republic of Turkey.
As of December 2012, the UC Retirement Plan and the General Endowment Pool both held investments in Turkish bonds, with a base market value totaling more than $65 million, according to the listings of investment holdings on the UC Office of the Chief Investment Officer’s website.
Per its investment policy, the UC does not divest from any holdings unless a foreign regime is recognized by the U.S. government as committing acts of genocide.
The second provision of the resolution calls for enforcement of an Armenian Students’ Association resolution passed by USAC in 2005 that called for a boycott of Turkish products in the Associated Students UCLA store.
Some who attended Thursday’s town hall expressed concern that Turkish students and others from minority groups may feel antagonized by the language of the resolution or left out of the discussion.
Jodutt Basrawi, president of the United Arab Society at UCLA and a third-year engineering geology student, said he thinks members of the Armenian Students’ Association should be careful to not criticize Turkish people as a whole in the language of their resolution.
“The Turkish government doesn’t represent all Turks,” he said. “In any Turkish city, you will find opponents of the Turkish government in regards to Armenian genocide.”
Members of the Armenian Students’ Association said they plan to focus the resolution against the government and that they have also reached out to individual students who are Greek, Kurdish and Assyrian for feedback on the resolution.
The association will present the resolution to the Undergraduate Students Association Council on Tuesday, and the council will vote on it on Jan. 6, said Mikael Matossian, president of the Armenian Students’ Association and a fourth-year environmental science student.