• Calls for Australia to follow Germany's lead on 'Armenian Genocide'
SBS World News Radio: The Australian parliament is being urged to follow Germany's lead and recognise the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces during World War One as genocide.
By
Kristina Kukolja

3 Jun 2016 - 3:00 PM  UPDATED 4 Jun 2016 - 10:13 AM

The Australian parliament is being urged to follow Germany's lead and recognise the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces during World War One as genocide.

The call comes from an Armenian-Australian community group, after the German parliament passed a resolution designating the deaths as the most serious of international crimes.

A Turkish community organisation, meanwhile, says Australia has no business taking a position on the issue.

The Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in support of recognising the Ottoman Turk massacre of Armenians starting in 1915 as genocide.

A symbolic resolution introduced to the parliament also acknowledged the German Empire, then an ally of the Ottomans, failed to act to prevent the deaths.

A group known as the Armenian National Committee of Australia says the vote sends a strong message to Turkey to come to terms with its history.

Executive Director Vache Kahramanian regards it as an important moment.

"The motion that was adopted in the German Bundestag is a very welcome development in the global efforts for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Germany, including the support of the German government, adopted a motion recognising the events of 1915 as a genocide. And this is the first time that Germany has formally put on record its condemnation of the events that occurred, and also took responsibility for its role in not preventing the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by its ally, the Ottoman Empire, during that time."

That number is disputed by Turkey, which says hundreds of thousands of people, and not only Armenians, were killed and subjected to what it calls 'relocations'.

It also rejects the terminology "Armenian Genocide", and has warned of possible further repercussions, after it recalled its ambassador from Germany to protest the resolution.

In Australia, one Turkish community group says the German parliament's actions have undermined the possibility of reconcilliation and betterment of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

Baris Atayman from the Australian-Turkish Advocacy Alliance says Germany has no place in asserting its views on the matter.

"We question the wisdom behind the decision to pass a motion calling the events of 1915 as genocide. Why? Because genocide is a precisely defined legal term and this is according to the European Court of Human Rights. The Bundestag has decided to call the events of 1915 as genocide without any court decision. Therefore, the wording of the motion is both illegal and wrong."

The United Nations classifies genocide as a crime under international law and defines it as a number of actions taken specifically with the intent to destroy - in whole or part - a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

Australia isn't among the more than 20 countries to officially adopt the term "Armenian Genocide" at a national level, as the parliaments of New South Wales and South Australia have done.

But the Armenian National Committee of Australia's Vache Kahramanian believes there's enough support on both sides of parliament for national recognition.

"Hopefully what Australia will now do is to now have the moral high ground and tell its ally and friend, the current republic of Turkey, that it needs to come to terms with its own history, and Australia should join the international community by recognising the events of 1915 as a genocide through a formal motion in the Australian parliament."

Baris Atayman, from the Australian-Turkish Advocacy Alliance, says Australia should stay away from the issue.

"Why should Australia, the Australian federal parliament, or the government be involved in a foreign, historic, contentious debate? It is not up to Australia to pass judgment on the historical debates of lands far away from here. And we are a nation made up of people from 192 different nations. If the federal government decides to take a side on one side's narrative over the other we believe this would open Pandora's box. It would undermine multicultural harmony and it would serve absolutely no purpose in order to bring two countries - Armenia and Turkey - together."

In 2015, on the centenary of ANZAC World War One landings on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula - which coincided with commemoration of the "Armenian Genocide" - Australia would not commit an official representative to attend formal events in the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Declassified documents revealed by SBS showed that in the lead up, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was assuring the Turkish government there would be no change in Australia's position.

That's after the publication of comments in Australia and Turkey attributed to then Treasurer Joe Hockey, who is partially of Armenian descent, in which he allegedly upheld the need to acknowledge the "Armenian Genocide".