The undergraduate student government voted 12-0-0 Tuesday to pass a resolution that calls for the University of California to divest from investments made in the Republic of Turkey.
The resolution, proposed by the Armenian Students’ Association, calls for the divestment of more than $65 million the UC has invested in the Republic of Turkey through bonds.
The Armenian Genocide lasted from 1915 until 1923, during which Turkish authorities massacred about 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, leading to the seizure of Armenian land and forcing a diaspora of the Armenian people. Because the Turkish government does not officially recognize its occurrence, some students said the UC’s investments perpetuate the human rights violations committed during the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century.
About 60 students attended the Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting Tuesday night, crowding the room and spilling into the hallway. Public comment lasted an hour and a half, allotting two minutes to each speaker.
All but one public commenter spoke in favor of the resolution at the meeting. Some students said they felt personally affected by the genocide and genocide denial, and that they do not want to be part of a University that is invested in the Turkish government.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much this event has defined the existence of Armenians,” said Mikael Matossian, a fourth-year environmental science student and president of the Armenian Students’ Association. “This is the reason why there’s so many of us around the world and in L.A. Denying it is denying our human experience.”
Some members of the Armenian Students’ Association, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association also came to the meeting to support the resolution and to urge the council to vote in a way that was morally consistent with their stances on a previous divestment resolution involving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“My overpriced tuition bill is going to a regime that is trying to erase my people. Genocide goes beyond murder,” said Areni Der-Grigorian, a third-year anthropology student. “The fact that Armenian is no longer my dominant language is a result of genocide. I am complicit in the erasure of my own history.”
Mohamed Elhindi, a third-year physiological sciences student, said he is against the resolution because he thinks it makes no distinction between the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. He added that he thinks the resolution makes false claims that Turkey was involved in ethnic cleansing.
“(The Armenian Genocide) cannot be denied by any person with moral standing,” he said. “But … unlike others, I do not blame modern Turkey for the atrocities committed.”
Last week, the Turkish Cultural Club appealed to USAC to vote against the resolution, saying that it thinks the language of the resolution creates a divide between the Armenian and Turkish communities. Members also said they think the existence of the Armenian Genocide is not a fact because some scholars continue to debate its existence.
The majority of council members spoke in support of the resolution and the Armenian students who commented, saying they fully recognize the genocide and think divestment can be a useful tactic. Campus Events Commissioner Greg Kalfayan said he is a descendent of Armenian Genocide survivors and that he thinks there is a lack of academic freedom in Turkey, specifically regarding the Armenian Genocide.
The UC has said it will not divest from any holdings unless the U.S. government recognizes a foreign regime as committing acts of genocide.