A group of about 25 Armenian protesters disrupted an event where the Turkish Consul General Raife Gülru Gezer and George Gawrych, a professor from Baylor University, were speaking in Argyros Forum Thursday night, said Public Safety Captain John Kabala.
Public Safety officers received a call at about 7 p.m. that a group of people who claimed to be Chapman students entered the event chanting in Armenian.
“They were yelling in each other’s faces,” Kabala said. “It had the potential to become physical. It took 15 to 20 minutes to calm it all down and get them to agree with my negotiations.”
Kabala said that people were agitated on both sides, and Public Safety responded by clearing about 60 attendees who were there in support of Turkey and moving them down the hallway while he spoke to the protesters.
Kabala also said that he advised Gezer to leave the event for her own safety.
The event took place on the 78th anniversary of the death of former Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Ergun Kirlikovali, the former president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations who attended the event, said that he felt his First Amendment rights were violated by the protesters.
“They have trampled upon my freedom of speech,” Kirlikovali said. “This is not what higher education is about. We can talk about facts, figures, backgrounds, even feelings and emotions. But we don’t try to silence each other. That’s what they tried to do tonight.”
Kabala said that a similar protest happened at a California State University, Northridge event earlier that day, where Gawrych also spoke.
Seven Public Safety officers arrived at Argyros Forum and then called seven Orange police officers. Kabala said that in these types of events, Public Safety will prepare in advance. In this case, that meant accompanying Gezer with a team of four or five private security officers hired by the Turkish consulate. Kabala said that if the protesters hadn’t cooperated, they would have been charged with trespassing by the police department and arrested.
Kabala said that the students left the event without protest, but insisted on singing the Armenian national anthem before departing.
“They left a couple fliers on the chairs for whatever they were supporting and that was the end of it,” Kabala said. “They all shook my hand when they left, and there were no hard feelings from either end.”