Sassounian: Australia Must Dismiss Foreign Minister for Denying Armenian Genocide

The Turkish Sabah newspaper last week published the following disturbing news: “Australian FM: Armenian Case not Genocide.” Sabah described the events that led to its nefarious headline. Gunay Evinch, board member and past president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), had recently visited Australia to brief local Turkish groups on the Movsesian lawsuit. He told them that “the United States Supreme Court let stand a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision invalidating a California law that had defined the Armenian case as genocide, because it was U.S. federal policy not to define the Armenian case as genocide.”

Sabah also reported that Evinch’s visit was “part of a broader Anglo-Turkish Diaspora Cooperation Program in which Turks in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Jersey share best practices based on a common jurisprudential and political heritage.”

Following Evinch’s advice, Ertunc Ozen, president of the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance, wrote to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on May 5, “expressing concern at motions passed by the parliament of New South Wales in May 2013 regarding Turkey and the fate of various communities of the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I.”

Bishop wrote to Ozen on June 4: “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.” Astonishingly, she added: “We do not, however, recognize these events as ‘genocide.’ Australian states and territories have no constitutional role in the formulation of Australian foreign policy. While respecting the rights of individuals and groups to have strong views on the matter, the long-standing and clear approach of the Australian Government has been not to become involved in this sensitive debate.”

The foreign minister is wrong on three counts:

1) She erred in stating that Australia does not recognize the Armenian Genocide. While the Australian government prefers not to use the term “genocide” in order not to antagonize Turkey, no other official has ever stated that the Armenian Genocide was not a genocide.

2) She incorrectly wrote that the Australian states that had recognized the Armenian Genocide were formulating foreign policy. These states simply acknowledged a historical fact.

3) She contradicted herself by first stating that the Australian government does not get involved “in this sensitive debate,” and then getting involved by stating that it was not genocide.

Vache Kahramanian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Australia, immediately dispatched a strongly worded letter to the Foreign Minister, calling her “misguided statement…deeply insulting and hurtful to the Armenian-Australian community.” He also characterized Bishop’s views as “intolerable,” “inexcusable,” “a grave offense,” and “a disservice to all Australians.” Kahramanian justifiably wondered, “How can Australia’s moral conscience become so corrupted?”

ANC-Australia’s executive director reminded the foreign minister that her statement was in stark contrast to “the views held by many senior ministers in the current government. As recently as April 2014, Australia’s treasurer, the Hon. Joe Hockey MP, issued an official statement on the 99th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide marking April 24 as the day ‘we gather to remember the 1.5 million people who perished in the genocide.’ Ministers Turnbull, Morrison, along with ranking members from Labor, the Greens, minor parties, and Independents have called on the Australian Parliament to officially recognize the events of 1915 as genocide. Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, during his years as opposition leader, issued an annual statement referring to the Armenian Genocide with no qualifiers or euphemisms.”

Kahramanian also told the foreign minister, “By denying the Armenian Genocide you are also denying Australia’s very own history. Located within Australia’s National Archives are countless numbers of testimonies by ANZAC prisoners of war who were held captive in the Ottoman Empire. … These testimonies vividly recall the suffering and annihilation of the Armenian people.”

ANC-Australia Chairman Greg Soghomonian urged the foreign minister to “immediately reverse this critical error of judgment,” and requested a meeting with her.

I suggest that Australian Armenians ask Prime Minister Tony Abbott whether the foreign minister had cleared her deeply offensive letter with him beforehand. If she had not, the ANC-Australia should demand her immediate dismissal. The ANC should ask all three Australian state parliaments that have recognized the Armenian Genocide to adopt a new resolution condemning Foreign Minister Bishop’s denialist stand and urging the prime minister to fire her!

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

15 Comments

  1. The headline is perplexing.

    Does not a foreign minister convey the policies of the government he or she represents? For all I know that’s what a foreign minister does.

    May be we should dismiss the Australian Government, unless its foreign minister is a maverick.

  2. enough waiting for others’ recognition. we Armenians have to raise our voices, and talk, or rather scream, about the Genocide every day; not merely one day a year.

  3. What a self important, nonsensical article. They MUST dismiss the FM? Why? Why do they HAVE to dismiss her? Who are you and why is your cause so important to Australia that people MUST get fired over it? Australia doesn’t HAVE to do anything for Armenians or anyone else. It would be good and the right thing to do if they officially recognized the Armenian genocide on the eve of its 100th year, but they don’t HAVE to do anything or fire anyone for merely stating the longstanding official government position.

    • I’m assuming that you also advocate any official of a government in the world or academic institutions or anywhere else who denies the Holocaust must also not be fired, criticized and let go, correct?

    • RVDV,

      You seem to be deeply offended by Mr. Sassounian’s latest article. As a matter of fact, besides this particular article, there have also been quite a few other articles by Mr. Sassounian which you were offended by in the past. But yet, you happen to be an avid reader of his articles which therefore means that they are of great interest to you as opposed to being nonsense.

      When you say that Australia doesn’t have to do anything for Armenians, this has absolutely nothing to do with doing something for Armenians. This has to do with recognizing a huge, horrible crime that took place against the Armenian people. And by not recognizing it, the world therefore cannot possibly progress in the department of human rights and social justice.

    • Hagop: Did you read the article? Where exactly did you get the impression that the Australian FM herself denied the genocide?

      “We do not, however, recognize these events as ‘genocide.’ Australian states and territories have no constitutional role in the formulation of Australian foreign policy”

      We being the Australian government. We. Not me, myself. She merely stated the official position of the government of Australia. Nothing more. Ask the Secretary of State the same question and you’ll get the same answer. The Australian FM is not the leader of her country, she alone does not have the power or authority to make foreign policy decisions. She is, as Garabed says above, essentially a mouthpiece. So why go after her? Why MUST she be fired? Why is SHE the problem and not the Australian parliament or Prime Minister?

      To your question: if the person denying the Holocaust is a government official, who upon being asked about the Holocaust, simply repeats the government’s denialist position on the issue, no, they should not be fired. Because they aren’t the problem. If a person is in an academic institution or any other institution that would change things. I don’t know of any credible institutions that deny the Holocaust. So if person who is a member of one of those institutions denies the Holocaust it’s most likely because of their personal opinion on the matter. That’s valid grounds for firing someone. If Australia had formally recognized the Armenian genocide and the FM said what she said, then she should also be fired. But that’s not the case and that changes, entirely her role in this. I do not believe for a second that the Australian FM or the US secretary of state Kerry actually don’t think the events of 1915 don’t constitute a genocide.. But when politics, lobbying, and national interests get in the way, the truth and justice become optional.

      Yerevanian: “And by not recognizing it, the world therefore cannot possibly progress in the department of human rights and social justice.”

      The Armenian genocide is not primarily about social justice and human rights anymore. It has become a political game and tool. Politics tend to complicate matters. Do you actually think Australia is a denialist state? I sure don’t.

    • Yerevanian: think you meant a 180. Anyways no I didn’t. My first statement was about Australia. My second statement was about the US. Different countries, different circumstances. No contradiction

    • RVDV,

      On the contrary, you are contradicting yourself and in the process you’re trying to twist everything around. Take a look at your comment from August 2, 2014, at 2:34 p.m. In the first paragraph, you label the U.S. Secretary of State Kerry as being a denier of the Armenian Genocide for not giving a “yes.” Well, the state of Australia also has not given a “yes” to what took place against the Armenians as constituting a genocide. How can you possibly say that the circumstances between the two are different? Furthermore, in the second paragraph of that comment to Mr. Sassounian, you go on to say “As for Australia, you say their policy isn’t to deny the Armenian Genocide. So, their policy is to just not recognize at the highest level and not call it a genocide. How exactly is that different from genocide denial?” Even right there, you try to classify Australia as being a denier of the Armenian Genocide. However, in your earlier comment, you sure didn’t think that Australia was a denialist state.

  4. I hate to respond to “RVDV” who does not have the courage to reveal his or her real name and hides behind an acronym. However, for the sake of the Weekly readers, let me set the record straight.
    Contrary to RVDV’s contention, no Secretary of State or US President has nor will ever say, we do not recognize the Armenian Genocide or “we do not recognize these events as genocide.” On the contrary, they describe the facts of the genocide accurately and use terminology that leads to the conclusion that it was genocide, but refrain from the use of that specific term, following Ankara’s gag rule.
    So, you are wrong in saying that the Australian FM is simply following her government’s policy. That policy is not to deny the Armenian Genocide. Just read the Statement that the Australian Prime Minister issued on April 24, 2014. He described the genocide accurately, except for using that term. In no way, does he deny the genocide. This is where she goes beyond her authority and authorization. She should be dismissed for blatantly insulting the victims of the Armenian Genocide, contrary to the policy of her government!

    • “They refrain from the use of that specific term”.

      Exactly. Ask the Secretary of State the simple question of whether the events of 1915 constituted a genocide and he’ll give you a long answer, but he won’t say ‘yes’. If you can’t answer that question with a simple ‘yes’ you are a genocide denier in my book, plain and simple. Now you can look into that and say that they don’t deny the Armenian genocide if that makes you feel better, but even the most sophisticated form of genocide denial is denial nonetheless.

      As for Australia, you say their policy isn’t to deny the Armenian genocide. So… Their policy is to just not recognize at the highest level and not call it a genocide. How exactly is that distinct from genocide denial?

    • Harut is right. There is a logical distinction between avoiding the use of a term and affirmatively saying that such a term is inappropriate. The Australian government policy is the former, while the FM mischaracterized it as the latter.

    • RVDV,

      Do you realize how enormously you’ve been contradicting yourself here? In your earlier comment, you were asking me “Do you actually think Australia is a denialist state”? And then you responded to your own question by saying “I sure don’t”. Now, you’ve completely changed your position on Australia. In your last comment, you stated “Ask the Secretary of State the simple question of whether the events of 1915 constituted a genocide and he’ll give you a long answer, but he won’t say yes”. And then you go on to say “If you can’t answer that question with a simple yes, you are a genocide denier in my book, plain and simple”. You made a 360 degree turn there.

      Going back to your earlier question, the answer is that I certainly don’t think that Australia is a denialist state. As a matter of fact, with the only exception of Turkey and Azerbaijan, Australia and all the other countries of the world have actually never tried to deny the historical facts of the Armenian Genocide. On the contrary, countries such as Australia and the United States, describe what happened to the Armenian people in details that lead to the conclusion that it constituted a genocide. However, by avoiding the term “Armenian Genocide”, and then proceeding to not say exactly who it was that exterminated those 1.5 million Armenians, they are therefore failing to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.

  5. RVDV,
    I understand what you’re trying to say, but with your statements, if “all else was equal” you would have made a point. But that is not the case in real life, thus I have several issues with this Australian FM.

    First and foremost, if “Australia does not have a policy to recognize the Armenian Genocide”, the best and most appropriate thing she could have done is: keep her big mouth shut. You stated “Do you actually think Australia is a denialist state? I sure don’t.” – well, guess what, she took it upon herself to turn Australia into one. Does she have that right? Who is she? There is a difference between saying “Australia does not have a policy regarding these events” and “We do not, however, recognize these events as ‘genocide.’” That is about as Genocide a denier as you can get. She next claims: “the long-standing and clear approach of the Australian government has been not to become involved in this sensitive debate”. How does this make sense, making one statement then contradicting it?

    This is obviously a BIG LIE because by specifically stating and not recognizing one of the biggest crimes of history which also was the reason the crimes of genocide recognition started by the world community, Australia DOES have a clear policy now: that being a Genocide Denial State, on par with Turkey itself, that is, if this clown of a “Foreign Minister” has any say in it.

    More dirt: “we encourage all parties to resolve this issue through dialogue”… more BOZO logic, putting the victim at the mercy of the criminal, how amusing. Same old tired neocon rhetoric of the US. Why should we have a “dialogue” with a lunatic, extremist, full-of-itself crude terror establishment who knows no shame and has no limit to its immorality and lies?

    Also: “and in particular encourage Turkey and Armenia to ratify the protocols”… does this charlatan know when to stop her offensive insults of Armenians?

    In my book, a nation cannot deny the Armenian Genocide, yet recognize the Holocaust, it is that simple. You can’t have it both ways. That’s why all these remaining phony western nations are caught with their pants down and don’t know what to do, except in this case an amateur Australian politician couldn’t come up with the correct wording. If I am being told to “establish dialogue” with the Genocide perpetrator, then the Holocaust deniers and revisionists need to be given a chance to make their case in the mainstream public too, and everyone approach it with an “open mind” like they want to do with the Armenian Genocide. In addition, there should not be consequences, ridicule, firing and the like for anyone who wants to question the Holocaust. If the Armenian Genocide didn’t happen, then no genocide happened in history and committing genocide is an acceptable act. Yes, in my book it is THAT simple.

  6. Not only the headline was perplexing to me, also correcting the Austalia’s foreign minister as to what her government really stands for, made for a weird argument.

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