Opinion: It's time for Jacinda Ardern's Government to stop denying genocide

OPINION: Today is an important day for the world in recognising human rights abuses.

US President Joe Biden has officially recognised the Armenian Genocide on its 106th anniversary, damaging his country's relationship with Turkey, but honouring his pledge to bring decency back to the White House.

While our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pays lip service to acknowledging human rights abuses, her Government has been silent on any potential recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

You would think recognising the mass-slaughter of 1.5 million indigenous people would at least prick her interest, and that of her Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

What I consider to be Ardern's genocide denial has also been poorly received in Armenia, where people held out hope that New Zealand would be a torch-bearer for recognising human rights abuses.

So why is our Government afraid to use the word "genocide"?

Successive New Zealand Governments have all sung from the same song sheet on the matter: "that's between Turkey and Armenia".

It's as if Turkey, since the 1980s, has been writing down what our politicians have been saying about the Armenian Genocide, which it calls the Armenian "Question".

The only thing stopping New Zealand from recognising the genocide is of course Turkey, and our "special relationship" with that country, which has flourished since tourists started to visit Gallipoli en masse since the 1980s.  And that's what is at the heart of all this denial: Gallipoli. 

Despite playing only a small part in New Zealand's war history (we suffered just 13 percent of our total World War I casualties at Gallipoli), the campaign has become the epoch of our war experience, dwarfing all others.

When it comes to myths of national awakening, awareness, and identity, Gallipoli is still king.

And it is this pervasive legend that prevents New Zealand from recognising the Armenian Genocide. Why? Because New Zealand politicians are loath to offend Turkey, fearing it would damage that "special relationship". After all, who wants to be the first New Zealand Prime Minister to have Kiwis banned from visiting the Gallipoli battlefields under their watch? That wouldn't be great PR for Ardern, and Turkey has threatened New Zealand politicians with a Gallipoli ban in the past over using the word "genocide".

But Joe Biden has shown the way. While Turkey is obviously furious with the United States, there's really not much more it can do apart from recalling the US ambassador and having a temper tantrum. Turkey needs the United States far more than the United States needs Turkey.

New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom can now follow in Biden's footsteps in recognising the Armenian Genocide, and they shouldn't be afraid of upsetting Turkey.

The other member of the Five-Eyes club, Canada, already recognises it, and its soldiers fought at Gallipoli as well. France too, had thousands of troops at Gallipoli, and it recognises it. 

So again, what are we afraid of? Didn't our soldiers fight for the freedom of future generations all those years ago?

While the mass killings were occurring, New Zealand newspapers covered them extensively, and they were even used as an excuse to keep the war going. Historical research has proved New Zealand and Australian soldiers captured at Gallipoli witnessed the Armenian Genocide with their own eyes. It's a pity Jacinda Ardern continues to keep hers closed.

Tony Wright is a producer and reporter for Newshub.