Over 1,000 attendees at Armenian Genocide commemoration in Sydney


SYDNEY: April 24, 1915 marks the darkest day in Armenian history. In broad daylight, before the eyes of The Lord and of humanity, one and half million Armenian people were slaughtered at the hands and the will of the Turkish Ottoman government. These desolate Armenians were dragged from their homes, forced to heave themselves on foot, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Thousands died of starvation and dehydration along the way just for being Armenian and believing in the Christian faith.

During the 99 years since the genocide, Australia has become a country for the Armenian diaspora to establish a cultural haven, building churches, cultural centres, schools and halls, enriching both the Armenian and Australian communities. The will of the Armenian emigrants allowed their heritage to be brought out of the darkness, preserving their language and culture and allowing for the continuous awareness of the genocide that their ancestors suffered, holding commemorative vigils and memorials every on the 24th of April every year.

This year, on Thursday April 24 2014, the Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee put together a solemn ceremony, marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The tribute took place at The Concourse in Chatswood, seating more than a thousand people who had come to pay their respects to the one and a half million martyrs, honouring their immortal memory.

Many noteworthy invitees attended the commemoration, including politicians, religious elders, Armenian community leaders, and representatives from the various Armenian schools in Sydney. The keynote speaker of the event was Harut Sassounian, a United States-based Armenian writer and public activist.

To officially open the ceremony, Christopher Nazarian, a talented youth of the Armenian-Australian community, sang the Armenian and English national anthems, following a minute solitude requested by Galstaun College student and MC Patil Sevagian and fellow youth Armenian-Australian and co-MC, Annie Janoian. Patil and Annie then presented the opening addresses in Armenian and English respectively, emphasising the importance of global genocide recognition before the centenary of the genocide next year.

Shahane Bekarian premiered his film, titled “The Red River Never Runs Dry”, a fifteen-minute short documentary that dealt with the Armenian Genocide in a unique and innovative way. This film portrayed historical revelations, and also showcased footage from the recent #savekessab protest, which took place on the 3rd of April 2014, and was organised by the Armenian Youth Federation Australia (AYF) outside of the Turkish consulate in Sydney. The message was to enforce the dogma that the recent attacks by the Syrian rebels (who were permitted by Turkish soldiers) on the prominently Armenian populated town of Kessab, Syria, is a continuation of the unpunished genocide that was committed almost a century ago.

The official statement of the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC Australia) was delivered by the organisation’s Executive Director, Vache Kahramanian. Kahramanian captivated the audience by eloquently highlighting the results that the global and Australian-Armenian community needed to achieve to attain universal recognition before the 100th anniversary next year. He also declared the importance of recognition by Australian Federal Government, highlighting that a just resolution must be made against “this greatest crime against humanity”.

The Hon. Joe Hockey, MP, was unable to attend the event, although had sent through a message, which was read to the audience. He stated sincere condolences for the one and a half million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide and bestowed his support for the Armenian-Australian community. Hockey’s correct characterisation of the Armenian Genocide as a “genocide” ensured he, as Treasurer, became Australia’s most senior Federal politician to recognise the events.

Marie Ficarra MLC read out the message of the Premier of NSW, Mike Baird. She repeatedly stressed that the time had come for the Federal government of Australia to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide like Ficarra and her colleagues had done in the NSW Parlaiment on more than one occasion. Ficarra delivered the speech powerfully and with passion and enthusiasm.

Further addresses regarding the sanctity of justice were made by various politicians including Guy Zangari MP, representing the Premier of NSW Opposition, John Robertson MP and Rev. Fred Nile MLC, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party.

Talented Armenian-Australian vocalist Isabel Marcarian, in conjunction with pianist Alex Sahagian, captivated the audience with their traditional Armenian musical number, Dle Yaman.

Renowned Armenian writer, and public activist Harut Sassounian was the keynote speaker of the event, travelling from the USA to be present at this commemoration.

His speech, titled “Demanding Justice or recognising the genocide?” addressed the notion that too much time has passed, and Armenians no longer need to convince the world that what happened was in fact genocide, and instead must demand justice. Mere recognition will not heal the deep wounds of the Armenians, but rather reparations must be sought. The Turkish government must pay for the land and blood that has been lost.

At the conclusion of his speech, Sassounian discussed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan’s recent statement, which was made only a few hours earlier and deceived many people globally, including some Armenians, into believing that he was sending condolences to the Armenian people who were killed in 1915. Sassounian stressed that it was nothing but “repackaged denial”, with Erdogan still denying the truth and avoiding the responsibility of his ancestors.

The final speaker of the commemoration was His Grace Bishop Haigazoun Najarian, who stressed that Turkey is guilty, not only in front of the Armenian people but also before of the world. By demolishing the religious monuments and churches of the Armenian people, they will not eradicate the faith of Armenians. He added that Turkey cannot ignore history that was written with the blood of their ancestors. The Armenians of today are no longer victims, but self-confident people and demand the recognition of the genocide upon all countries across the world.

This year’s commemoration, which marked 99 years since the Armenian Genocide, shed light on the accomplishments that need to be achieved by the Armenian-Australian community to attain universal recognition before the event’s centenary. Ancestors of all attending lost their homes and their lives to protect their heritage against the Ottoman Turks, and it is the moral responsibility of all Armenians to ensure justice is served.

Over 1000 people attended the commemoration on the 24th of April, resonating the determination and will of the current generations to seek this justice, as they have not and will never forget the strife and torture endured by their ancestors, and through sheer will and force will achieve official recognition and bring the Turkish government to justice.

Photo: Keynote speaker, Harut Sassounian