Serj Tankian: Gallipoli pilgrimage should be suspended

OPINION: This week Alabama became the 49th US state (out of 50) to formally recognise the Armenian genocide committed by Ottoman Turkey in 1915. April 24 is marked as the date for its yearly commemoration, a day before Anzac, British, French and Indian forces landed at Gallipoli. The connection between Anzac Day and the genocide has been thoroughly discussed in articles and Newshub pieces by Tony Wright and NZ historian James Robins.

The government of Turkey, headed by its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has spent millions of dollars annually in Washington and other capitals around the world lobbying against the recognition of the genocide, marring the memory of 1.5 million victims of this horrible tragedy during WWI.

As an Armenian-American-Kiwi whose grandparents witnessed the atrocities first-hand, I've always seen Anzac tourist trips to Gallipoli simply as Turkish propaganda. I do respect families paying homage to their fallen heroes, but do not trust the intentions of modern-day Turkey's leaders.

This week, in NZ, we experienced one of the most horrid episodes of our modern history with the shooting of innocent worshippers at the two mosques in Christchurch by a lone gunman with Australian citizenship (I also refuse to use his name). In the aftermath of the shooting we became aware that Erdogan has been repeatedly playing an edited version of the shooter's video at local election rallies and blatantly threatening New Zealanders and Australians with statements like, "Your grandparents came, some of them returned in coffins. If you come as well like your grandfathers, be sure that you will be gone like your grandfathers."

Tayyip Erdogan.
Tayyip Erdogan. Photo credit: Getty

My question to decision makers around the world is this: What is it going to take for you to realise that the appeasement of a corrupt despot who imprisons journalists, opposition leaders and minorities (mostly Kurds), has allowed ISIS access to hospitals and cafes in Istanbul, has blatantly killed ethnic Kurds within Turkey and in Syria, has denigrated women, been investigated for embezzlement and corruption, fired more than 100,000 teachers, police, professors who he deemed colluders with Fethullah Gülen, and vehemently denies the genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks, and on and on, will only lead to further devastation within his country and destabilisation within the whole region and the world?

Seriously, what are you waiting for? Another genocide perhaps?

Successive US administrations along with the UK have allowed this maniac appeasement in return for supposed geopolitical advantage while Erdogan plays Putin, Trump and everyone else against each other. He's called European leaders Nazis for not allowing him and his cabinet members to give speeches to minority Turks in Europe while doing away with free speech in Turkey altogether.

Hitler was appeased until he invaded Poland, and by some even thereafter, as we all know from our not-so-ancient history.

When is it time to say enough? That we're not going to appease a tyrant for trade, perceived geopolitical advantage, sale of military Apache helicopters (in the case of the US), or whatever?

New Zealand is not the US. We do not have to follow the Five Eyes wherever they roam. We have a proud history of independence, rational policies and need to take the higher moral road.

So if the Erdogan government tries to appease our Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters, with Orwellian double-speak, or tries to bribe us by offering to buy more goods or services, etc, we should simply say no!

Serj Tankian.
Serj Tankian. Photo credit: Newshub.

We require a public apology in Turkish for his erratic statements made against our countries, and irrespective should suspend Gallipoli visits until the government of Turkey comes to grips with its own history and amends its ways to transform into a more egalitarian society for the benefit of its own citizens and the rest of the world.

I really don't want to hear detracting statements about "real-politik" and working with unpleasant characters in a time in history where fundamentalism seems to be growing in all realms.

Appeasing tyrants always leads to further aberration of human rights within a select country.

Serj Tankian is the lead singer of rock band System of a Down, artist and political activist.