Armenian protesters at Cal State Northridge shut down scholar’s speech

Armenian protesters at Cal State Northridge shut down scholar’s speech November 17, 2016

I know a little something about being banned from speaking on a college campus because I might damage the sensibilities of the delicate snowflakes who attend. In my case, the point of my lecture (forensics) wasn’t going to touch the political, but the University of New Haven’s President Steven H. Kaplan felt I was too polarizing even to appear. So, it’s no surprise to read about yet another speaker who’s mere presence set off protests. It seems free speech suppression is all the rage these days.

California State University Northridge (CSUN) faculty invited historical scholar and Baylor University chair of military history George Gawrych to deliver a lecture based on his book, The Young Ataturk: From Ottoman Soldier to Statesman of Turkey, the winner of the Society for Military History’s 2014 Distinguished Book Awards. He was no more than five sentences into his presentation before 20 Armenian protesters stood up in the auditorium and shouted the man down with chants of “Turkey guilty of genocide” and “genocide denialist.” Gawrych tried to reason with the protesters but was eventually escorted from the building, and the event was canceled.

The Armenian Youth Federation at CSUN opposed the speaker because they believe the subject of Gawrych’s book, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, continued “Turkey’s genocidal policies” against Armenians when he was president of the country in the 1920s. Mind you; the speaker was invited because CSUN dedicates an entire week of study to Ataturk as a part of the institutions Middle Easter Studies program. This triggered the Armenian students who wrote:

Our presence at these events will send a clear message to the Turkish community that college and university campuses are not incubators for denialists. Treating college campuses as breeding grounds for Turkish nationalist ideology is offensive for the number of Armenian students who attend these colleges.

As noted by Eugene Volokh in The Washington Post, it wasn’t clear that Gawrych’s lecture was going to touch on the things upsetting the Armenian students, but how could they know when they didn’t even let the man speak? They weren’t interested in listening, just shutting down free speech. As Volokh said, this is “the new suppression ideology in a nutshell.”

In the minds of the Armenian protesters, their “deep offense” and “embarrassment” trumped the free exchange of ideas, and the only satisfiable conclusion was requesting CSUN to cancel these events. And so far, apart from a general statement from the university defending its policy of inviting a “wide range of scholars,” no disciplinary actions have been taken to the students who rudely interrupted an invited guest, not even a reminder to stop acting like petulant children.


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