Armenia Marks Centenary Of GenocideUpdated

Monday 7 Dec 2015 10:52 p.m.

Most music fans associate Serj Tankian with his Grammy-award winning rock band, System of a Down. But he has many passions – including raising awareness of the Armenian genocide.

This year marked the centenary of the mass-killings, and New Zealand soldiers not only witnessed the genocide, but now film footage has emerged of them doing so.

Now there are renewed calls for our Government to formally recognise what happened 100 years ago.

It was the first great crime against humanity in the 20th century. Up to 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks were systematically killed within the old Ottoman Empire because of their Christian beliefs.

In 1918, Anzac soldiers not only witnessed some of the killings in what is now modern day Syria, but a film crew was with them, and captured precious footage of refugees fleeing the slaughter.

No New Zealand government has ever formally recognised the Armenian genocide. New South Wales tried to in 2013, but Turkey threatened to ban its members of parliament from visiting the Gallipoli battlefields.

The Green Party is the only political party in New Zealand to recognise the genocide.

"We should join at least 20 other countries who formally recognise this, it's the right thing to do and it'll help the Armenian people heal. We should step up and be a leader here and not be scared of upholding human rights," says Green MP Marama Davidson.

Plenty of Kiwis aren't scared – there is even an online petition trying to change the Government's stance.

NZ-based musician Serj Tankian's grandparents survived the genocide, and his LA band System of a Down, whose members all have Armenian ancestry, played their first gig in Armenia 100 years to the day after the mass killings began.

"It was kind of like the apex of our performance career as a band, System of a Down has been around for over twenty years. It was as if the band was created for one reason, to accomplish that," says Mr Tankian.

The killings began on April 24, 1915, one day before the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli, and Mr Tankian says the genocide and the Anzac story are forever linked.

"The young Turk government, on finding out about the landings, then perpetuated their plans to do away with the Armenians. The death marches that we know of started as an excuse to move people away from battle zones, so Gallipoli… and Anzac Day has a lot to do with the Armenian genocide… You can't un-link them, it's impossible," says Mr Tankian.

The official Turkish view on the genocide is simply that it never occurred, but Adolf Hitler was certainly aware of it before his Nazis did the same to six million Jews during World War II.

"One genocidal maniac has learned from another. In Hitler's speech as he was about to invade Poland, he instructed his generals to act with impunity because, he said, 'Who remembers the Armenians?'  This is in the history books that you can look up, I even did a painting of it," says Mr Tankian.

The killings mirror those happening in the same places today, at the hands of Islamic State.

New Zealand willingly joined the fight against Islamic State yet won't admit the atrocities that occured on the same ground, 100 years ago.

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