Politics

Young Armenian Australians Want ScoMo To Acknowledge The 1915 Genocide

Joe Biden became the first US President to declare the 1915 massacre of 1.5 million Armenians a genocide. Now, Aussie Armenians want our Prime Minister to do the same.

Armenian Genocide

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Joe Biden recently became the first US President to officially declare the 1915 Armenian massacre a genocide.

On April 24, President Biden released a historic statement acknowledging the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman forces during the first World War.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian Genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring.”

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the Genocide that began 106 years ago today,” the statement concluded.

President Biden had pledged to recognise the Armenian Genocide as one of his campaign promises last year.

His statement was praised online by Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cher.

For Armenian Australians, America’s recognition is a welcome development that is long overdue.

“Waking up to the news that a US President finally used the ‘G’ word when characterising the Armenian Genocide was an amazing feeling,” Michael Kolokossian, political affairs director from the Armenian National Committee of Australia told Junkee.

“As a descendant of Genocide survivors, it gives me hope that the world is ready to stand on the right side of history, with truth and justice,” the 23-year-old said.

It’s believed 50,000 ethnic Armenians call Australia home. The tight-knit diaspora strive to educate wider Australia on the genocide by hosting rallies, die-ins, and silent protests throughout the year.

Biden’s acknowledgement has amplified calls for Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally do the same.

“Of course I would like to see Mr. Morrison call the Armenian Genocide, as a Genocide,” 25-year-old Nanor Shokayan said to Junkee.

“Australia should be leading the way on issues concerning human rights, however by not acknowledging the first Genocide of the 20th century, he does not acknowledge my history as a descendant of a survivor and he also is not taking a stand against ensuring crimes like this are not repeated.”

In 2011, ScoMo gave a speech in the House of Representatives naming the atrocities a genocide, in his capacity as a backbencher at the time.

“I join others […] to place on record that I believe the Armenian Genocide was one of the greatest crimes against humanity.”

“We do not seek to lay blame, this is not an indictment of the modern, secular, Turkish state that we know as a friend,” he said.

Morrison hasn’t extended his past sentiments into official recognition since taking office in 2018, prompting backlash from the community in the years since.

“There is a deep pain of having to live in a country that claims multiculturalism, but fails to recognise the complete history of your people,” Tamara Kotoyan, an intern at ANC told Junkee.

“Over 40 federal MPs have signed up to our Armenian-Australian, Assyrian-Australian and Greek-Australian Joint Justice Initiative, supporting accurate recognition of 1915,” Kotoyan says.

“The truth is Australia has already spoken on the issue. We’re just waiting for our government to join us.”

On the same day as Biden’s statement, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian tweeted a message of support.

Berejiklian’s grandparents were orphaned in the massacre, and she has previously called on the federal government to declare it a genocide.

“I am forever hopeful Australia will join the many nations around the world who have recognised the Armenian Genocide of 1915,” she posted over the weekend.

The ramifications of the genocide are felt to this day for diaspora Armenians, Shokayan says.

“As an Armenian living in Australia, 14,000kms away from my home in Western Armenia, I still feel the effects of the Genocide every day. From the intergenerational trauma, to not being able to go to my home in Moush, and seeing my people be continually persecuted, for no other reason than being Armenian.”

“Recognition is the first step to healing,” Kotoyan agrees.

The historical event continues to be geopolitically contentious. While over 20 countries have formally recognised the Armenian Genocide, Australia avoids taking a stand given its strong diplomatic relationship and decades-long alliance with Turkey.

In 2013, the Turkish government threatened to ban NSW MPs from attending the centenary anniversary of Anzac Day at Gallipoli two years down the line, after a motion in state parliament to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide was unanimously passed.

That same year, former foreign minister Julie Bishop wrote to the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance to assure that the “tragic events at the end of the Ottoman Empire” were not recognised as genocide by the federal government.

Turkey rejects the term genocide because there has never been international judicial prosecution, according to SBS News.

While the country admits the massacres occurred, Turkey sees the loss of life as a casualty of war rather than a systemic or organised wipe out. Turkey also disputes the total number of deaths.

“We thank US President Joe Biden for his statement, but Armenians worldwide will continue to fight for not only the countries we now call home to recognise the Armenian Genocide but also for the Republic of Turkey to come to terms with its history,” Kolokossian said.

“We demand Justice, and we demand reparations. The President’s Statement was a good step in the right direction.”