Concordia student groups cancel ‘A unique Perspective on Nagorno-Karabakh’ online event

Ethical concerns were raised about presenting one-sided approach to a complex conflict

Concordia’s International Relations Society and the Strategic and Diplomatic Society cancelled their event discussing the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict following backlash from students due to the unfair platform this would give the side of the aggressor. File Photo Esteban Cuevas

A virtual conference about the 44-day conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia which was supposed to be held Friday evening, got cancelled on the same day after student groups voiced concerns about the integrity of the event.

The event was organized by the International Relations Society and the Strategic and Diplomatic Society, which fall under the umbrella of the Political Science Students Association at Concordia. They planned to receive Kerim Uras, Turkish ambassador to Canada, as guest speaker to speak on the conflict, without also inviting the Armenian ambassador, Anahit Harutyunyan, or anyone else presenting the stance of the aggressed.

“We would be completely fine to have both ambassadors discuss professionally on academic grounds together during the event,” said Hrag Koubelian, president of the Concordia Armenian Students’ Union.

CASU expressed to the IRS and the SDS that the event would be unethical and racist because it would give an unopposed platform to Uras, who represents a country that, to this day, denies a genocide they’ve committed. It would've given an academic platform to propagate the Turkish narrative about a conflict in which they were allies of the aggressor. 

“During the entirety of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, systemic ethnic cleansing of Armenians was at the forefront of the Turkish and Azerbaijani governments’ objectives yet again,'' CASU wrote in a press release calling for the cancellation of the event. "The [Armenian Student Associations] acknowledge the efforts made by the aforementioned organizations to rectify the errors of inviting a Turkish official to spread misinformation and propaganda on the subject, in addition to the clear armenophobia that is codified in Turkish policy." 

Not long after the war began between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey expressed its support of Azerbaijan in the war. They endorsed the war and provided military support to aid Azerbaijan in carrying out another territorial expansion with the intent of pushing ethnic Armenians off the indigenous lands they have inhabited for centuries. This includes the destruction of heritage sites that trace back to the roots of Armenian culture. This cultural erasure was documented throughout the war and is still ongoing, despite the Russia-brokered ceasefire.

Circling back to the event, ASAs explained that a one-sided argument from the perspective of the perpetrator had no place at an institution like Concordia on such a complex matter that would require extensive and accurate context from both sides.    

“It’s wrong because, let's say if they would have brought the ambassador of Russia that would have made more sense, but in this case, Turkey is clearly an ally with Azerbaijan and providing false information to students at Concordia regarding a war that happened between Azerbaijan and Armenia, this was something [that is] wrong,” said Koubelian.

Aside from publicly supporting past and present political leaders with genocidal ideologies, Uras has attempted to reverse facts about the war to pin many of Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s wrongdoings and violations on Armenia. For example, when asked about hiring foreign mercenaries in an interview with the CBC at the time of the war in October, Uras denied those claims and stated the contrary were true—that mercenaries were fighting alongside the Armenian forces. Since the interview, testimonies and recordings from Turkey-backed Syrian mercenaries have surfaced, proving they were deployed to fight alongside Azeri forces which was confirmed by the UN, yet no proof of the contrary has been found.

In the same interview, he also labeled Armenia as the aggressor and stated Armenia launched the attack against Azerbaijan. However, many sources confirmed that the opposite was true—Azerbaijan launched the attack on September 27. Evidence surfaced proving the attack was premeditated as the mercenaries signed up at least one week before the first clashes. 

Those in favour of the event responded that cancelling the event infringed on their freedom of speech. Uras tweeted the same day, “A sad day for freedom of speech and Charter rights in Canada,” and praised Kemal Ataturk in the the same thread—the consummator of the Armenian genocide—echoing and perpetuating the Turkish governement's rhetoric. Turkey, however, ranks 154th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index and leads the world in the number of jailed journalists.

In a joint statement explaining the event’s cancelation, the IRS and SDS wrote, “the academic event-planning approach from our behalf was suboptimal for providing an admissible and appropriate comprehension of the conflict.”

Although the IRS and SDS clarified in the statement that the opinions of the speakers at their events are not necessarily representative of their own opinions, they still maintain a responsibility to adhere to the values and academic code of the university and to uphold academic integrity. Giving an unopposed platform voicing the perspective of a genocide perpetrator fails to align with those values. The IRS and SDS declined to comment further. 

“This was the right move,” said Koubelian of the student groups’ decision to cancel the event. “Moving forward, we’d like to see what Concordia would do with further events.”