Haig Kayserian: A Travel through Time in Search for Australian Political Backbone

By Haig Kayserian - anc.org.au | Wednesday, 02 May 2018

SYDNEY: The following speech, titled "A Travel through Time in Search for Australian Political Backbone" was delivered by Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) Executive Director, Haig Kayserian as the Advocacy Address at the 2018 National Armenian Genocide Commemoration Evening in Sydney.

24 APRIL, 2018

Haig Kayserian: A Travel through Time in Search for Australian Political Backbone

I acknowledge the traditional owners on whose land we gather this evening, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

Let’s do some time travel.

The year is 1972. The song topping the charts is American Pie. The Godfather was released. Australia’s Prime Minister is Gough Whitlam. And… importantly, Nelson Mandela is in jail in South Africa, where the regime of Apartheid reigns – the policy of segregation of citizens based on the colour of their skin.

Prime Minister Whitlam displays what we are seeking on our journey through time; he displays political backbone. He bans racially selected sporting teams from touring Australia. With this single decision, the Springboks rugby union team and the South African cricket team are no longer able to compete in Australia.

We all now know that Whitlam’s Prime Ministership did not last very long. He was dismissed by the Queen’s representative in 1975, and the Governor-General proceeded to appoint Malcolm Fraser – a Conservative – as Whitlam’s replacement.

The year is now 1975, and Rhinestone Cowboy is beating on many people’s record players while Jaws has hit the theatres.

Despite the fact that he is following a dismissed Prime Minister into the job, and regardless of his ideological lineage to the British Conservatives who supported Apartheid until the very end, Prime Minister Fraser decides the values of his constituency, Australia’s values, Australia’s respect for human rights, are not up for compromise.

Fraser continues to apply pressure on Apartheid South Africa, openly declaring Australia would not support such a the regime.

Later in his Prime Ministership, when the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister, Fraser was openly at odds with the leadership of Mother Britain about their support for Apartheid South Africa.

Australia’s stance against Apartheid remained bipartisan and remained consistent. The government of Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and through the work of then-Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, applied important pressure on world banks to sanction South Africa and help global pressure on the regime until Apartheid was eventually defeated.

Although South Africa was over 10,000 kms away from Australia, although our superpower ally Great Britain had a differing opinion, Australia’s political leaders of varying persuasions stuck to their guns and stood up for human rights and fair dinkum Australian values.

Why is this trip down memory lane important on the 24th of April, 2018? Why is this important on the day that we Armenian-Australians – in the majority, descendants of survivors and victims of the Armenian Genocide – gather to remember those who were forced to their deaths in 1915?

Because we, as Australians, are here to tell our political leaders that we demand a return to the good old days. They may not write songs like American Pie and Rhinestone Cowboy anymore, but we believe they still make politicians like Whitlam, and like Fraser. And like all those politicians who stood up to a regime on the other side of the world, simply because it was unacceptable, unjust and not compliant with Australian values.

Ladies and gentlemen, political leaders of Australia, Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also unacceptable. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also unjust. Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also not compliant with Australian values.

Therefore, Australia’s failure to recognise the Armenian Genocide is a stain on our collective morality. It makes our country complicit in the denial of a crime, which often leads to the repeat of the same crime under the presumption of immunity.

What is Australia’s position?

We are kind of pleased to report, that through the work of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, under Senate Estimates questioning last month, the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade confirmed that our government has moved away from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s 2014 position on the Armenian Genocide.

Bishop wrote to an Ankara-funded Turkish advocacy group saying that “we do not recognise these events as ‘genocide’."

This explicit denial was a move away from the traditional position of Australia on the Armenian Genocide, which was recognising “tragic events”. Then, with all the might of a wet paper bag, calling on Armenia and Turkey to come together, reconcile and sing kumbaya.

So while it is no longer explicit denial, Australia’s position is weak. It is unacceptable. It is unjust.

We’ve heard the excuses, Australia. And today, we chuck them all out. We. Bin. Them. We demand the return of good old fashioned political backbone.

We bin that Turkey is an important ally to Australia.

Allies are important when they are genuine.

Genuine allies do not bully their mates with threats of closing Gallipoli for renovations every time members of the Australian government call for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Genuine allies are not dictatorships. Are we to believe that Australia has a genuine alliance with a country that – in the last 20 months – has jailed 77,000 of its citizens and detained 135,000, a country that has shut down 189 media outlets, arresting 319 journalists along the way to firing 6,000 academics and 4,500 judges or prosecutors?

We also bin that Australia thinks Turkey and Armenia should resolve their differences.

Please. Prominent Turks have spoken out about the Armenian Genocide. They have subsequently been charged under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code for “insulting Turkishness”.

Turkey has an economic and diplomatic blockade on Armenia. Turkey enables its brother Azerbaijan with resources, supplies and other support to continue its illegal murders of the freedom-loving Armenian citizens of the Republic of Artsakh.

How can Armenia talk to such a Turkey to resolve this issue?

Sorry, Australia we bin all of these excuses.

It is time. It is time to make a stand. It is time for political backbone as remembered during our travel through time.

It is time to recognise what our ANZACs witnessed and what those who came before us provided relief for and reported. It is time... for Australia to recognise the Armenian Genocide.

The political backbone, the moral fortitude that we seek has been displayed internationally regarding the Armenian Genocide. France’s Jacques Chirac, Germany’s Cem Ozdemir, Canada’s Stephen Harper, Pope Francis and all the champions of motions recognising the Armenian Genocide around the world… thank you to these folks with backbone.

The political backbone, the moral fortitude that we seek has been displayed in Australia. The NSW Parliament, the South Australian Parliament, Ryde Council and Willoughby Council. Thank you to all our state and local political leaders here with us this evening.

While Australia’s Federal Parliament has not yet recognised the Armenian Genocide, individual Members of the Parliament have continued in the footsteps of the likes of Joe Hockey, Chris Ellison, Joe Bullock and others calling for Armenian Genocide recognition.

We thank Trent Zimmerman, Joel Fitzgibbon, Kristina Keneally, Tim Wilson, John Alexander, Jason Falinski, Julian Leeser, Paul Fletcher, Michelle Rowland, Lee Rhiannon and a number of others who have begun to advocate for Australian recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

We thank the Australian Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team for their party positions on the Armenian Genocide.

Tonight we applaud all those standing on the side of truth. We call on those, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to put Australia first, let Australians write this line in Australia’s foreign policy, and stop kowtowing to a foreign dictatorship. Mr. Turnbull knows the Armenian Genocide to be fact. It is time he recognises it as such as Prime Minister.

Earlier, I said Australia’s failure to recognise the Armenian Genocide is a stain on our collective morality. It is time we wash this stain out.

Let’s remember 1972. Let’s remember 1975. Let’s act now, so in 20 years time, in 30 years time, they will remember 2018.

Let them say on their travel through time:

“The year is 2018. Something by Ed Sheeran is leading the charts. Netflix is the new cinema. And Australia recognises the Armenian Genocide.”