To increase public awareness of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the Occidental Armenian Students Association (ASA) held a silent protest Thursday in the Johnson Student Center quad.
Student participants wore duct tape over their mouths with words such as “denial,” “justice” or the names of their murdered ancestors. They also held signs that either called for a divestment from Turkey or demanded that certain world governments no longer ignore the genocide.
Students across the country held similar demonstrations Thursday to increase awareness of the genocide committed by the Republic of Turkey in what was formerly Armenian land during World War I, which also pushed people off their lands. In particular, the grassroots movement hopes to pressure the Turkish government to admit to the genocide, which it has repeatedly denied.
“It’s important for us to try and unify and get the same message out there,” Lisa Najarian (senior), co-president of ASA, said. “A lot of ethnic minorities, you don’t hear about them with genocides. So right now, the more people know, the more we can do.”
The U.S. government also does not formally recognize the Armenian genocide.
“It’s a sort of humanity over politics thing because the United States is allies with Turkey,” Ripsime Biyazyan (senior), co-president of ASA, said.
ASA aims to inform the public that denying the Armenian genocide is a major human rights concern.
“I believe that this next generation is going to have a completely different mindset about human rights,” Najarian said. “Socially, a lot of things are different with our generation.”
Najarian went on to express a sense of hope about what the future holds for the Armenian community as a whole.
“We feel more empowered to make change and we don’t feel like we’re a part of the establishment,” Najarian said. “We feel more powerful and more united than we have before so that is going to be what will push us to achieve what we want to achieve.”
The nationwide protest also sought to highlight that genocide is a legal term with legal consequences, according to Armenian Youth Federation member Razmig Sarkissian, who helped organize the Occidental protest. If Turkey’s actions are formally recognized as genocide, family and descendants of the victims could be eligible for reparations. According to Sarkissian, reparations would make up for the Turkish government’s original confiscation of property.
Many families of Armenian descent still have the deeds or the keys to their original homes on land within current Turkish borders, Sarkissian said. Turkey has lobbied and campaigned for anti-awareness in order to deny the genocide for fear of the legal consequences that would follow if it were officially acknowledged.
In 2015, the Armenian Youth Foundation and Armenian students throughout California launched a massive divestment campaign that initially began at Universities of California. Inspired by other human rights initiatives in recent years, organizers and students’ research found that the UC system has $72 million invested in Turkey.
The ASA co-presidents and Sarkissian are currently researching Occidental’s investment figures to see if the college has investments in Turkey.