Armenian students saw having only the Turkish ambassador speak at event as harmful and offensive
A panel on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was cancelled due to pressure from the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union (CASU) and other Armenian groups. The groups spoke out because Kerim Uras, the Turkish ambassador to Canada, was a speaker, and no other perspectives of the conflict were planned to be presented at the panel.
The panel was supposed to be held on March 19, and was organized by the International Relations Society, and the Strategic and Diplomatic Society at Concordia, which are funded by the Political Science Student Association (PSSA). The PSSA is under the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA), which is independent of the Concordia administration.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is a disputed territory between the country Azerbaijan and its ethnic Armenian majority. Turkey and Azerbaijan have economic and military ties, while Turkey and Armenia have a history of hostility.
In September 2020, war broke out between the two groups, with Turkey siding with the Azerbaijan government, supporting the government with military resources. A ceasefire agreement was signed in November 2020.
According to an Aljazeera article, Armenia calls the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the late Ottoman period a genocide, while Turkey disagrees.
“As an Armenian, we’ve been persecuted with the intent of erasure, so to resist that, social cohesion among us is very important,” said Arad Banis-Khatchadourian, a graduate-level student in Chartered Professional Accountancy (CPA) at Concordia, and active member in the Montreal Armenian community.
Banis-Khatchadourian explained that he has always kept a connection with the CASU, and that when the organization found out about the Nagorno-Karabakh panel, they reached out to Armenian Concordia students, and Banis-Khatchadourian wanted to help.
“I wanted to voice how completely messed up this event was, and how the PSSA shouldn’t allow it to happen, at least in its present one-sided format that showcases the victor’s propaganda and enables the rewriting of history,” said Banis-Khatchadourian.
He reached out to a PSSA executive, who expressed sympathy but stated they would rather have the CASU and the organizers of the panel come to a solution. Banis-Khatchadourian stated he saw this as a lazy response to the issue.
According to Banis-Khatchadourian, the CASU wanted to make a joint event with both the Armenian and Turkish ambassadors, but the organizers of the panel insisted the Armenian ambassador speak on a different day, and have the Turkish ambassador continue with the original date.
“You will still get a bunch of students, smart as they may be, attending the Turkish event and internalizing some of their propaganda,” said Banis-Khatchadourian, who explained that while the CASU disagreed, they went ahead and confirmed the Armenian ambassador for a separate panel.
“Despite not getting the fair debate we wanted, Armenians were willing to get at least this much, the bare minimum,” he said.
Banis-Khatchadourian stated that the Turkish ambassador refused to speak at any event that involved the Armenian ambassador, forcing the panel organizers to choose between the two ambassadors.
According to Banis-Khatchadourian, this is when Concordia University started getting involved, and while he is unsure of the direct reason, soon afterwards, the event was cancelled.
The CASU and other Armenian organizations made a press release stating, “By choosing to provide a free platform to a representative of a State with an official policy of #ArmenianGenocide denial, and inviting them to speak about the Artsakh conflict, the IRS and SDS [organizers of the panel] failed to evaluate the harmful and offensive consequences of the “perspective” of the Turkish official.”
The Turkish ambassador, Kerim Uras, tweeted that it was an “Unfortunate decision for academic integrity and basic freedoms at Concordia University. A sad day for freedom of speech and Charter rights in Canada.”
In the tweet thread, Uras referred to the Armenian student groups as “radical Armenian groups.”
Logos courtesy of the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union (CASU)