It is a somber yet awakening event on April 24 every year when Armenians around the world gather to commemorate the loss of 1.5 million natives exterminated under the young Turk regime. The saddening events occurring between 1913-1928 aimed at eradicating the Armenian race and deporting natives from their motherland still play a very active part of many modern Armenians and their cultural identity.
Armenians have long been working towards the recognition of the Genocide with many countries (29 to be exact) officially recognising the events of the time. As a young Australian I felt a sense of duty to research and share some of my thoughts on Australia’s stance when it comes to Genocide both on a state and federal level
Liberal Party – State Governments
Currently in Australia the Liberal Party holds power in the following states:
- Western Australia: Lead by Premier Colin Barnett (7 Year term)
- Tasmania: Lead by Premier Will Hodgman (2 Year Term)
- New South Wales: Lead by Premier Mark Baird (2 Year Term)
As you can see out of the 6 states of Australia 3 of them are lead by the Australian Liberal Party whilst federal politics are important state politics also play a major role in influencing key positions of power.
To this date Premier Barnett has not publicly made statement on the Genocide and the Western Australian government has not passed any bill recognising events as Genocide
To this date Premier Hodgman has not publicly made statement on the Genocide and the Tasmanian government has not passed any bill recognising events as Genocide
New South Wales
By far the most interesting out of the states. The NSW government (with a lot of ground work lobbying) has not only passed the bill to recognise the genocide but subsequently re-affirmed its position. The first motion was passed under the Premiership of Bob Carr (we will get to that later) in 1997 and re-affirmed again in 1998, 2009 and 2013. The last time the bill was re-introduced was under Premier Barry O’Farrell.
Whilst the bill has not been re-affirmed under the current liberal government Australian-Armenian MP Gladys Berejiklian was present at the last commemorations held representing the baird government in Sydney.
Bob Carr- now here is a story. Bob Carr essentially introduced the bill recognizing genocide to the floor whilst Premier of New South Wales. His rallying speeches are well documented and at the time the bill was unanimously passed. In more recent times, Carr was elected foreign minister under the Rudd/Gillard government. At a recent press event when questioned on his stance on the Genocide the response was bewildering.
“As a Government we don’t take a stand on this historic dispute.”
Of course the reaction in the wider spread community was almost instant. In fact, DFAT released an official statement on the matter which is even more infuriating also drawing to the fact that there may have been documents redacted which conclude that there was a lot more foreign diplomacy in play then there was fact. We will discuss this more when we talk around Federal Government.
Labor Party -State Government
Currently in Australia the Labor Party holds power in the following states:
- South Australia: Lead by Premier Jay Weatherill (4 Year Term)
- Victoria: Lead by Premier Daniel Andrews (1 Year Term)
- Queensland: Lead by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (1 Year Term)
In March 2009 the South Australian government passed a motion to recognising the Armenian Genocide. Interestingly enough the bill was brought to the floor my the Hon. Michael Atkinson (ALP) and seconded by opposition leader at the time Mr. Martin Hamilton-Smith MP (LIB). The bill was passed unanimously after 8 members of parliament spoke on the bill.
Since then the South Australian Government has not made any formal media releases on the issue nor has it been brought back to the floor to be re-affirmed
To this date Premier Andrews has not publicly made statement on the Genocide and the Victorian government has not passed any bill recognising events as Genocide.
To this date Premier Palaszczuk has not publicly made statement on the Genocide and the Queensland government has not passed any bill recognising events as Genocide.
Liberal Party – Federal Government
The current party leading Australia (Liberal Party) lead by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has had a tumultuous history with Genocide recognition. Whilst it would be a fairly long and arduous process to vet each minister in the Liberal Party and there own personal views on the topic it would be best to summarise it with a few key points by outlining higher ranking members of the party and there stance communicated to the wider public whilst serving as the government.
Malcolm Turnbull – Current Prime Minister of Australia
Malcolm Turnbull has been a long supporter of the Armenian community however in most recent times much like his politics he has bent to the party direction. Whilst I can’t comment on Prime Minister Turnbulls personal opinions on the matter there is a clear history of change in the way he has addressed the issue on a federal stage.
On November 23rd 2013 whilst in his capacity as shadow minister for communications and broadband, then Minister Turnbull stated.
They [ANC Australia Advocacy Week delegation] are assembled here, as we are, to lament what was one of the great crimes against humanity, not simply a crime against the Greeks, the Assyrians and the Armenians but a crime against humanity—the elimination, the execution, the murder of hundreds of thousands of millions of people for no reason other than that they were different. This type of crime, this sort of genocidal crime, is something that sadly is not unique in our experience,” Turnbull said.
He added: “We must own up to it. We must recognise it for what it is.”
You can watch his full speech below:
Since then Prime Minister Turnbull has not brought the issue to the floor. However having his personal opinions made clear gives some hope to Australian Armenians.
In 2014 foreign minister Julie Bishop corresponded with the ATAA (Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance) responding to a letter regarding the state of New South Wales recognising the Armenian Genocide. Within the letter Minister Bishop went on to state.
The Australian Government acknowledges the devastating effects which the tragic events at the end of the Ottoman Empire have had on later generations and on their identity, heritage and culture. We do not, however, recognise these events as ‘genocide’.
Whilst the foreign ministers personal stance on the matter is not clear, based on the letter speaking on behalf of the Liberal government the statement made is almost black and white.
Diplomatic cables between Canberra and Ankara obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed that last year the matter arose in a letter from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to her then-Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.
In April, Ms Bishop wrote that “recognising the important interests at stake for both countries, I assure you that there has been no decision to change the long-standing position of successive Australian governments on this issue”.
Full letter below:
In his maiden speech to parliament Tim Wilson drew from his Armenian heritage. Minister Wilson (minister for trade and finance) has held many esteemed positions such as chairing the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and many social justice think tanks.
My maternal Grandpa left behind the genocide of his people. I never met him. He died before I was born. But I still see him everyday when I look into the mirror and into his dark and recessed Armenian eyes.”
Whilst Joe Hockey is of Armenian decent, he has been a strong advocate for fighting for the Armenian cause. I will let the video below speak for itself, one of the strongest advocates for Armenians in Australian politics to date.
Australian Labor Party – Federal
Currently serving as opposition leader, Mr. Shorten’s views on the Armenian Genocide have not been made clear however the ALP’s views (whist in power have)
Ah yes, back to Mr. Carr. You might recall under a state government as Premier for NSW Bob Carr introduced the bill which ultimately lead to NSW recognising the Genocide. Unfortunately when Mr. Carr became foreign affairs minister in 2013 he proved that U-Turns are everywhere in ones political career. Once again he stated the position of the Government however it was fairly devastating to see such a change in a man who had advocated so much for Armenians.
When questioned on the Armenian Genocide by ANC Director Vache Kahramanian at a public event, Mr. Carr’s response was.
“As a Government we don’t take a stand on this historic dispute.”
See full video below:
Whilst this may not represent Mr. Carr’s personal views it once again sheds light on party politics and the importance influence plays at multiple levels.
Chris Bowen (Shadow Treasurer) has been a long time friend to the Australian Armenian community many times offering for a voice to be heard at a federal level. From hosting events to ensuring messages resonated he has made it clear publicly that genocide recognition is a must for Armenians to move forward.
I wanted to focus on the Major parties within this post. In a separate post i will go into independents of note however it is important to advocate such information in the wider community. As you can see on a granular level individuals in power do have there views on the Genocide however time and time again party politics and advocacy of denial plays a major stake in the “party position”.
I urge our community to write to their State Premiers and local MP’s regularly on the issue and to work with organisations like the ANC (http://www.anc.org.au/) to help advocate for what is right.
Note: Please excuse if i have left anyone out, I wanted to keep it high level and of relevance to Party and State views on the Genocide. If you feel there are any more individuals of note then please don’t hesitate to comment.