Activists turn their backs to denialist speakers at University of Toronto

On Feb. 27, Armenian youth held a silent protest at a lecture, entitled “WWI 100th Anniversary: Human Suffering in Eastern Anatolia,” that featured genocide deniers Justin McCarthy and Bruce Fein. Organized by the Federation of Canadian Turkish Associations, the lecture was held at the University of Toronto (UofT), St. George Campus, the Armenian Weekly reports.

The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada, in collaboration with the Armenian Students Association (ASA) of UofT St. George and Scarborough campuses and the Armen Karo Student Association spearheaded this protest action.

More than 70 human rights activists from the university community, who made up the majority of those in attendance, held the silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturers.

Protesters allowed the speakers to deliver their opening remarks. However, when it became apparent that the speakers would deny and misconstrue the facts of the Armenian Genocide, the group stood up and turned their backs to the podium as a silent protest against genocide denial.

Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence.

The lecture organizers briefly stopped the talk, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue.

The protesters continued to stand with their backs to the podium as Fein spoke, then marched out in an organized walk-out, leaving the remaining 20 or so attendees to listen to the lecture.

The demonstrators then marched to UofT’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office to voice their concern regarding the event, and to deliver a petition of over 2,000 signatures denouncing the talk and demanding that the university distance itself from the organizers and speakers. The group had previously sent to the university a letter signed by academics, human rights groups, and student associations, including the Hillel of Greater Toronto, the Greek Students Association of UofT-Scarborough, and the Hellenic Students Association of Ryerson University, demanding that the event be canceled.

McCarthy, who was turned away from the University of Melbourne and Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2013, has long been regarded as a mouthpiece of the Turkish state in spreading denial of the Armenian Genocide. Fein is employed by the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) as a resident scholar, to similarly support and propagate the Turkish denial policy of the Armenian Genocide, and has penned several articles attacking the veracity of the genocide.

AYF-Canada Chairperson Daron Keskinian said it was ”extremely troubling” that such an event took place at UofT.

“The University of Toronto should distance itself from this event immediately,” he said. “The lecture organizers have used the location to bring legitimacy to their event, and have been given free rein to present their denial propaganda at the expense of the university’s reputation.”

The ASA of UofT released a statement stressing that the event should be disconcerting to the university community at large.

“In the interest of maintaining its integrity and making amends for this event taking place on campus, the University of Toronto’s President’s Office should release a statement indicating that they distance themselves from this event. The Armenian Genocide is taught at this institution and the University of Toronto should not provide podiums to those who are looking to legitimize their denial of the first genocide of the 20th century,” read the statement.

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