The ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill urging UC Berkeley, the UC Berkeley Foundation and the University of California to divest from the Republic of Turkey and an affiliate institution Wednesday night.
The bill cites the Republic of Turkey’s denial of what many countries recognize as a genocide of the Armenian people beginning in 1915, as well as what the bill calls a “campaign of Armenian cultural erasure,” as its impetus for divesting funds.
The bill calls for divestment from both the Republic of Turkey and the Export Credit Bank of Turkey, of which the Turkish treasury is the sole shareholder. The UCLA student government unanimously passed a similar measure last month.
The University of California’s investment holdings in the Republic of Turkey and the Export Credit Bank, as reported in 2012, totaled more than $74,000,000.
“I’m a descendant of the Armenian Genocide and, as a student who pays tuition to the UC, I felt that it wasn’t fair that my tuition money was going to a government that denies my history and the history of my people,” said Sareen Habeshian, a UC Berkeley sophomore and blogger at The Daily Californian, who co-authored the bill.
Independent Senator Marium Navid, primary sponsor of the bill, said she expects other UC campuses to follow the example set by UC Berkeley and UCLA.
“As students, if we keep pushing at this level for years to come and have a unified voice, it will send the message we need,” Navid said.
Yusuf Mercan, a UC Berkeley graduate student who voiced opposition to the bill at the meeting, said he objects to the “casual” use of the terms “genocide” and “denial” in the bill.
“This is a very specific and serious crime, and the senate should not pass judgement on such an issue and act as a tribunal,” he said in an email.
Mercan said he believes that since the bill directly references the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish Student Association should have been informed in advance. Habeshian, however, said the bill did not intend to target any particular students on campus, and that the authors didn’t think it was their responsibility to reach out to the Turkish Student Association.
“We have had Turkish students who support us and who recognize the genocide, but they are too afraid to speak up,” Habeshian said.
Omer Selamoglu, a UC Berkeley law student who also spoke in opposition to the bill at the meeting, said the senate’s proceedings were biased and did not present a neutral place to discuss the issue.
“The ASUC’s decision was made without adequate information in an intimidating atmosphere — how democratic can that be?” said Efe Atli, a junior and former Daily Californian staffer who was born in Turkey, in an email.
Before committee members voted on the bill, nearly every senator and several executive officers asked to be listed as co-sponsors.
Despite this, Navid was not confident that the regents would immediately respond to the bill. She said that based on past divestment campaigns, she believes “it takes many years for the message to be sent.”
The regents’ most recent statement about their divestment policy, released in 2010, says that the University of California will only divest if the federal government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.