Disgust, frustration abound following event with Turkish ambassador

We asked the community for their thoughts. 183 people responded.

(Jordan Renville / Daily Trojan. Modified.)
“Town Square” is a monthly installment where we collect responses and anecdotes from the USC community. Responses are subject to the Daily Trojan’s Content Use and Management Policy, which can be read here.

It has now been just over two months since about 50 students and community members surrounded Annenberg Hall Sept. 29, protesting USC’s insistence on hosting Hasan Murat Mercan, Turkey’s ambassador to the United States, as a keynote speaker, alongside the Azerbaijani special counsel.

Armenian students had been calling the event in question for days, with the Armenian Students’ Association, in a joint statement on Instagram with the Armenian Youth Federation’s Western U.S. division Sept. 26, questioning the University’s decision to host “known directly upholding Turkey’s policy of Armenian Genocide denial.” The offense was especially grievous considering the majority-Armenian state of Nagorno-Karabakh was forced to dissolve that same week following a renewed offensive by Azerbaijan, which the Armenian government has decried as ethnic cleansing.


Armenian students and supporters protest Annenberg event featuring Turkish ambassador


The protest on the morning of Sept. 29 saw a series of violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement — mostly USC’s own Department of Public Safety, based on the Daily Trojan’s review of footage from the scene. The first protester to speak out from the audience, who didn’t appear to be a student and whose identity could not be confirmed, was thrown out of Annenberg Hall. Another protester was forcibly shoved into a table. Footage from inside the room showed officers restraining students seeking to disrupt the event from the audience.

The response from the community was immediate. When we announced that afternoon that we were soliciting responses for this article, we received 112 responses before midnight. We received a total of 183 responses; a majority (79) were alumni.

At least a dozen people said they were ashamed to be a USC student or alum. “This event was everything my USC does NOT stand for,” Iveta Ovsepyan, a 2008 graduate, wrote. “Today, I am ashamed to be an alumni for the first time ever.”

Given the sheer volume of responses, it was difficult for us to narrow down responses to include for this article. In choosing our responses — which have been edited for length, style and clarity — we made the following considerations: Per our policy, we are only including responses from individuals whom we could verify as students, faculty, staff and alumni. We’ve also decided not to include analogies to Nazis or the Holocaust (of which there were many), regardless of our personal opinions about the comparison.’

I am Armenian and have been teaching at USC for 15 years. I am appalled that USC did not have the sensibility of postponing this event, in spite of us imploring to protect our students, faculty and staff whose families and friends were forced to abandon their ancestral lands, starved, some barefoot, horrified by the atrocities Azeri troops, backed by the Turkish government, had been committing. History repeats itself, and USC failed to protect its people. I am heartbroken and disappointed. To USC Armenians: Don’t give up. Stay strong.

Liana Stepanyan

Teaching professor of Spanish

It is hard enough to deal with the news of Armenia giving up its land to Azerbaijan on my own time, but for it to be brought to my school is disturbing. Armenia is undergoing an ethnic cleansing and, instead of bringing awareness to that, USC is promoting the country that supplied these horrific acts. This event should have never taken place to begin with, but now that our protest was violated and shut down, we are even more silenced. 

Andrew Akhverdyan

Junior majoring in business administration

Without even getting into the recent events in Karabakh, I find it ironic that USC’s own journalism school decided to give a platform to the ambassador of a country where a third of the world’s jailed journalists are detained, per Amnesty International. [Editor’s note: This figure was as of 2017. It is unclear how the number has changed since then; Turkey introduced a new law in October criminalizing misinformation on social media, which critics have warned could be used to persecute independent journalists.]

Azerbaijan’s track record might be even worse — its government has arrested people for voicing disapproval of the military strike against the Armenians of Karabakh. I believe the university must uphold a stricter policy regarding who we platform and thus legitimize. We should not do business with dictators, genocide deniers or representatives of any such government.

Sareen Palassian

2016 graduate

Although there is a large Armenian population in Los Angeles, I understand that it is generally a small group whose struggles are not well publicized or understood. However, the absolute takeover of a large chunk of Armenia has made global headlines for the last several days, with the forceful, violent, and genocidal intentions of Azerbaijan being made very clear. At the very least, hosting the Turkish ambassador and discussing Turkish foreign policy which has strongly backed these attacks is in very poor taste. At worst, it is a public display of support for the ethnic cleansing that Turkey has been very open about pursuing for over a century. I believe students simply want respect and awareness for this topic on campus.

Alexia Ouzounian

2022 graduate

I’m a Persian American. And honestly, I’m ashamed at what USC did today and how Annenberg handled things. If Annenberg did anything like this while the protests for women were going on in Iran, there would have been extreme backlash. So why do they think it’s okay to target a small minority? USC stands up for Latine, Asian Americans, African Americans, Persians — almost every minority group. Why can’t they stand with Armenians and just have done what they asked and moved the meeting? They didn’t want it canceled, just moved. Instead, Annenberg tried to cover it up. That’s shameful.

Sharon Victory

Graduate student studying public relations and advertising

It’s disheartening and disappointing to see our incredible university consider the benefits of an event to unequivocally outweigh the offense, pain and tragic loss felt by the same community we think these events serve. It shows that we are not thorough in our research, that we are not as globally minded as we tell students we are when we invite them into our Trojan Family. It shows that human life and the human experience are second to the profitable nature of our international partnerships, and that we believe only in the self-serving outcomes of university programming instead of serving students — our only mission as educators.

Vic Bekarian

Adjunct professor of data science and operations

We have a large and vibrant Armenian community at USC. Instead of showing their support for Armenians, the administration managed to do the exact opposite by giving a platform to representatives of governments that have no morals or decency. Turkey still shamelessly denies the Ottoman-perpetrated Armenian Genocide of 1915 and supports the current genocide being perpetrated by Azerbaijan. 

This week, Harvard University invited former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who is sounding the alarm that Armenians are experiencing a new genocide. [Editor’s note: Ocampo was previously a visiting professor at Harvard; he is currently a senior fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, within Harvard’s Kennedy School.] The juxtaposition of USC hosting Turkish and Azerbaijani diplomats is simply unconscionable.

Alexander Zaratsian

Sophomore majoring in political science

Today is a sad day for our community, when human rights are violated and USC administrators stand with the ones denying our existence, our community’s pain and suffering. I am disappointed at President Folt for not only dismissing our students, staff and faculty but also for not attempting to familiarize herself with the community that she is serving. USC can and should do better; as an individual who sees herself in education, I know that this institution has a greater responsibility to ensure that every student is seen, heard, protected and respected.

Teni Bazikyan

Faculty support coordinator

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