BY RAZMIG SARKISSIAN
LOS ANGELES–This past academic quarter, nationally renowned attorney Mark Geragos was invited to speak as a guest lecturer in the UCLA Department of Communication Studies for an upper division undergraduate course titled “Free Speech in Advertising.”
The course, taught by lecturer Raffi Kassabian, explores the First Amendment and commercial speech within the context of product and service advertising, including political speech.
Geragos was invited by Kassabian to speak about his current case representing Democratic Congressional Candidate David Krikorian.
Krikorian is currently in a legal battle against his Democratic contender in the Ohio election race, Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH), over comments he made in his 2008 campaign about Schmidt receiving “blood money” from the Turkish Government to deny the Armenian Genocide. Schmidt and her legal team contended these statements were false and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC), which held a full hearing this past summer.
“Nothing is more precious,” said Geragos to the class, “than the right to hold your public officials accountable by holding a public debate.” He argued, as he did to the OEC, that Krikorian’s allegations aren’t baseless and that his legal team discovered a paper trail leading from Schmidt’s campaign contributions from a Turkish Lobby-Sponsored fundraiser all the way back to the Turkish Government.
Touching upon core themes of the underlying free speech course, Geragos told a room full of undergraduate students that the OEC “didn’t understand core political speech,” because the whole case was based on trying to “criminalize thought.”
“Political speech is the very reason why the Founding Fathers of this great country drafted the First Amendment,” said Kassabian. “I am proud to have Mr. Geragos educate the UCLA student community about the fundamental importance of political speech and why it serves as a cornerstone of our democratic society.”
Geragos, who’s grandparents survived the genocide, explained that he is passionate about the Krikorian case because it deals with his cultural heritage and concerns political principles he strongly believes in.
The 80 or so undergraduate students, many of whom were not fully educated about the Armenian Genocide, became aware of why this is an important cause not only for Armenians but for all individuals who believed in the fundamental principles of human rights and free speech. Geragos discussed the historical details of the Armenian genocide and went on to explain how the Turkish Lobby is notorious for coercing politicians to deny the Armenian Genocide.
“It’s a rare thing when you can combine a passion for speech with a cause that’s near and dear to my heart – the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.” said Geragos as he concluded his lecture, “It’s the kind of case that really inspires and rewards you.”