‘Extremely racist’ event by Concordia student groups cancelled, guest condemns ‘sad day for freedom of speech’

MONTREAL —
Student groups at Concordia University found themselves in hot water this week after inviting the Turkish ambassador to give a talk on the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The talk — which was supposed to happen on Friday — was on the Nagorno-Karabakh region, an area which has been the site of warfare for generations. Geographically, the region is in Azerbaijan, but the majority population is ethnic-Armenian.

The latest outburst of hostilities began Sept. 27 and has left hundreds, perhaps thousands, dead, marking the worst escalation of fighting in almost three decades. Neither side has taken responsibility for instigating the conflict.

Turkey has been a strong ally to Azerbaijan, which led some student groups to criticize event planners that had invited the Turkish ambassador to give a talk on Friday.

In a Thursday press release, four Armenian students’ advocacy groups called the event “extremely racist in nature,” adding that “hosting Turkey’s representative unopposed and providing the government of Turkey an academic platform to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh war is unethical, at best.”

“If you want to have a dialogue about Nagorno Karabakh, the voices that should be heard should be the ambassador of Armenia and the ambassador of Azerbaijan,” said Leonardo Torosian, co-president of the Armen Karo Student Association, one of the undersigned groups.

Leonardo Torosian, co-president of the Armen Karo

(Leonardo Torosian, co-president of the Armen Karo Student Association

CTV News reached out to Concordia University for comment. A spokesperson responded to say the event had been planned by “independent student groups [who] decide their own activities.”

Under pressure from the student groups and commenters on social media, the organizing groups decided to cancel the event.

“Many have voiced their disapproval of this event,” read a statement posted Friday to social media by the student groups that organized the talk, which they said “was not meant as an endorsement of any state or political actor.”

Turkish Ambassador Kerim Uras took to social media to voice his disapproval of the cancellation on Friday, which he called “a sad day for freedom of speech and Charter rights in Canada.”

“Radical Armenian groups can’t even tolerate a free exchange of views with a group of students,” he wrote. “Their use of the word ‘racist’ shows their intellectual poverty.”

“This is a person that represents a dictatorial Turkish regime,” said Torosian, referring to the ambassador.

“[A country] which violates human rights, which closes universities; we do not understand how any Canadian university can host such an ambassador,” he said.

— With files from the Associated Press


'Extremely racist' event by Concordia student groups cancelled, guest condemns 'sad day for freedom of speech'