Former U Student Calls Out U Professor For Denial of Armenian Genocide


Cass Palor

Carolyn and Kern Gardner Building at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Photo by Cassandra Palor | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kayleigh Silverstein, Special Projects Managing Editor, News Writer


On April 24, 1915, the Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians would be killed by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, began.

This event is not simply a moment in history — it is relevant today. According to Diana Pogosyan, an Armenian-American graduate from the University of Utah, the Turkish president has made claims to continue what his ancestors started.

“I have cousins who have been drafted to war, and they have no choice but to protect their homeland because they know that this is a potential genocide on the rise in the 21st century, and the world is silent about it,” Pogosyan said.

When Pogosyan posts on her social media about the modern-day hate crimes happening in the United States against Armenians, she sometimes receives death threats. 

“I have actually been very outspoken on my social media platform about everything that’s been going on and I have received multiple death threats by people saying that ‘we are going to finish the Armenian genocide,’” Pogosyan said. 

On Oct. 22, Pogosyan heard from a friend that in one of their political science classes on Middle East Relations, their professor, Dr. Hakan Yavuz, denied the Armenian genocide. She then posted two things on Instagram, one was a screenshot of an email she sent to Yavuz, and the other was a letter she sent to the U’s educational board members.

Pogosyan’s friend explained to her how Yavuz disseminated one of his articles from 2014, entitled “Orientalism, the ‘Terrible Turk’ and Genocide” to his class, where his use of language, according to Pogosyan, is a form of genocide denial.

“Today, the Armenian genocide discourse is used to perpetuate the image of the ‘Terrible Turk,’ undermine the legitimacy of the Turkish Republic, and to keep Turkey out of the European Union. The genocide narrative is put to use by many who share little else except their dislike of Turks,” Yavuz stated in his article.

However, Pogosyan said the label of genocide is not intended to harm modern Turks.

“The mere point of naming it the genocide isn’t intended to shame modern Turkey, that is not it at all. It is to bring peace and reconciliation by acknowledging historical truths,” Pogosyan said. 

Pogosyan is personally connected to this historical event because her ancestors were victims.

“Among those 1.5 million Armenians were my ancestors, my great grandparents who were raped, tortured and massacred, who were marching through deserts for hundreds and hundreds of miles without water or food,” Pogosyan said. 

After hearing of Yavuz’s actions, Pogosyan said she does not feel safe or valued at the U. 

“It doesn’t make me feel heard, because I’m really suffering. The fact that my great grandparents were persecuted and we had to flee and all of that to be denied by an institution that I attend is very heartbreaking,” Pogosyan said. 

Pogosyan also expressed frustration at what she considers the biased nature of a professor trained in history and political science — while the professor does not have to be Armenian to teach about the Armenian Genocide, Pogosyan believes they have to be neutral. 

“What makes this even more scary is that there is a Turkish professor at the University of Utah who is obviously biased,” Pogosyan said. “Spreading things like saying that the Armenian Genocide is just a label used to perpetuate hate against Turks and Muslims is very dangerous because this is not at all the case.”

If the point of learning history is to prevent tragedies from reoccurring, Pogosyan worries that students will not be able to achieve this if they are not taught the truth in class. 

“How are we supposed to learn history when a professor, someone that you should trust…teaches you against the denial of the suffering of people?” Pogosyan said. 

Pogosyan believes not only is Yavuz denying the Armenian Genocide but that he is also participating in historical revisionism. 

“Turkey, to this day, denies that there was an Armenian Genocide, and the issue with that is that there are countless photos that were taken by Germans and French people during World War One that are direct proof that the Armenian Genocide happened,” Pogosyan said.

On Oct. 27, the College of Social and Behavioral Science issued a “statement regarding student complaint,” which began with an acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide from U communications.

“The United States, the state of Utah and the University of Utah (as a state entity) recognize the historical events of 1915 as the Armenian genocide. The genocide involved extensive suffering and the brutal deaths of more than 1.5 million Armenians, and the pain of those events is still felt in the Armenian community today,” the statement read.

The U communications portion of the statement continued on to address the policy that protects Yavuz. 

“The University of Utah stands by a faculty member’s right to academic freedom and the right to examine and communicate ideas by any lawful means even should such activities generate hostility or pressures against the faculty member or the university (Policy 6-316),” the statement read.

The rest of the statement was written by the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, Cindy Berg, and the department chair of political science, Brent Steele. 

“We spoke with Yavuz, who recognizes and teaches the reality of the Armenian massacres of 1915 and understands them to be a catastrophe,” the statement read.

The statement proceeded to note that Yavuz’s work as a political scientist is partly aimed at creating a shared dialogue between Turks and Armenians. “He welcomes dialogue on the massacres from the students in his courses and regrets that his work was understood differently than he intended,” the statement read.

Pogosyan was disappointed to see the various terms used to label the Armenian Genocide — after the portion of the statement written by U communications, the term “genocide” is not used. 

“Again he’s denying the genocide by calling it ‘the events of 1915.’ When we talk about the Holocaust, we don’t say the events of the 1940s till 1945. No, we talk about the Holocaust,” Pogosyan said. 

Although there have been calls for Yavuz to be fired, the statement addressed Yavuz’s employment by saying he will continue to have these conversations in his classroom — with more accessibility and sensitivity. 

However, Pogosyan still wants the U to reconsider Yavuz’s employment. 

“He is very biased and he is promoting political propaganda. I think that for a professor to do something like this is absolutely unacceptable,” Pogosyan said. “I think that this ruins his credibility completely because he has been teaching this since 2014, so who knows how many students have went through his class, not even realizing how dangerous his genocide denial is.”

She would also like the U to terminate any support for the Turkish Coalition of America, an independent organization funded by Turkish Americans who are proud of their heritage. 

“The University being a part of an organization like the Turkish Coalition of America is again very dangerous because it’s not historical facts, it’s just individuals who are scared of their government,” Pogosyan said. 

Pogosyan asks that the U issue a formal apology addressing the harm that has been caused. 

“As an Armenian-American student that attends the U, I would really appreciate a public apology and a statement of what they’re going to do to make sure that this type of historical misinformation does not get spread,” Pogosyan said. 

April 24 is also Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, and Pogosyan would like the U to acknowledge that. 

Yavuz was contacted on Oct. 26 for a comment, but the Chronicle did not receive a response. 

“My heart is really suffering right now,” Pogosyan said. 


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