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Editorial: UCLA community should stand against Armenian genocide denial

By Editorial Board

Jan. 15, 2015 12:00 am

Members of the Turkish Cultural Club tried to deny on Tuesday that the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians near the start of the 20th century was a genocide.

Denying the existence of a genocide is a heinous act that degrades the experience of an entire people and is threatening to the prevention of future racism and genocides.

To an audience of Armenian students and the undergraduate student government, members of the Turkish Cultural Club defended the Turkish government, which has failed to recognize the genocide for the last century. The presentation and public comments were part of the group’s efforts to sway councilmembers to vote against a resolution next week that calls for the University of California to divest from the Republic of Turkey.

More than 40 U.S. states and 22 countries, and the United Nations SubCommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide.

But citing “documents” and “scholars,” the students at the meeting said it was not a fact. Mark Bhaskar, a second-year political science and Middle Eastern studies student who presented, read a quote calling the genocide a “secondary matter.” Gülnaz Kiper, president of the Turkish Cultural Club and third-year psychology student, said there is “an open debate going on in Turkey” about the existence of the genocide.

These statements are a flagrant denial of historical facts. Genocide denial should not happen anywhere, and especially not at a university that is supposed to be one of the best in the world. The students who called facts into question Tuesday night demonstrated a lack of moral conscience.

At the meeting, Bhaskar said he thinks the resolution is “a racist attempt to drive a wedge between the Turkish and Armenian communities here at UCLA.”

The true wedge is the Turkish students’ attempts to minimize a genocide and stand on the side of a government that denies its existence.

The real divide comes from not listening to people who have lived through the truth and from standing in front of a group of peers and downplaying the murder of their people.

Though Kiper said she doesn’t think it matters if she calls it a genocide or not, it does. Words matter, whether they come from students or from official institutions that should know better.

Of course, students from the Turkish Cultural Club are allowed to speak whether they are refusing to acknowledge historical truths or not. But rational UCLA students, professors and administrators need to speak louder.

If this unworthy debate continues, UCLA officials and the UCLA community should make it known that they wholeheartedly support facts and condemn genocide denial. If the UCLA community does not speak up and criticize these acts when they continue, they are allowing for the profound disrespect of a people and their history.

This is not just a battle for Armenian students to fight.

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