Pressure mounts on NZ govt to formally recognise Armenian genocide

Saturday marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day and pressure is mounting on the New Zealand Government to formally acknowledge the mass killings which began in 1915.

No New Zealand Government has ever officially recognised the genocide, over fears Turkey, which committed the atrocities, will ban Kiwis from visiting the Gallipoli battlefields.

The Joe Biden administration has promised to formally ratify US recognition of the genocide -   renewing calls for Jacinda Ardern's Government to do the same.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta told Newshub Nation on Saturday there are "complex issues" to consider before New Zealand could do so. 

"It's easy for others to make comments about what others should be doing, not looking at themselves first as to what they have done. What I know is in order to get genuine reconciliation it's important to ensure that identifying the atrocities or the extent of the wrongs caused, that there is also a pathway around building a better future. They go hand-in-hand - it's not one or the other and it's not that binary," she said.

One of the only memorials to a foreign leader that stands in New Zealand is of former President of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was built in 1990 to please Turkey, despite protests from local iwi Ngati Tara, as a Māori archaeological site was nearby.

It was also opposed by people within the Wellington Cypriot and Greek communities because of their view of Atatürk as a mass murderer.

Auckland University lecturer Maria Armoudian says Atatürk was the architect of the second wave of mass-killings against Armenian, Greek and other indigenous peoples following World War One, which eventually killed up to 1.5 million people.

"Certainly New Zealand doesn't have anything erected to Mussolini or Hitler of the Houti regime in Rwanda, or Malusovic and Karadich from the Yugolsalv wars," she told Newshub Nation. 

"We're talking about children, and women, and elderly people, being bludgeoned to death with everyday weapons, axes, hammers, knives, bricks, as well as traditional weapons. Thrown into the sea, pushed into buildings and burned alive, drowned, their arms and legs broken so that they couldn't save themselves. This was one of the most brutal chapters in human history."

This genocide was front page news in New Zealand newspapers a century ago and was even used as an excuse to keep the war going. London-based Kiwi historian James Robbins has written an award winning book "When We Dead Awaken", which examines the many Anzac links to the mass-killings.

"Just beyond the front lines at Gallipoli there was a genocide taking place, and Anzac soldiers witnessed this and wrote about it and took those stories home with them," he told Newshub Nation. 

Robbins says Atatürk's actions were well known in New Zealand after the war - but have since disappeared from our history.

"If you look at New Zealand newspapers from the early 1920s when Kemal was coming to power, New Zealand referred to him as a dictator, and there were no qualms whatsoever about describing him for what he was." 

Atatürk's monument also contains the famous "Anzac mothers" quote, which attributes these words to him:  "You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well." 

These words are used as part of many Anzac Day commemorations in New Zealand and Australia, and especially at Gallipoli, where the words are emblazoned on a memorial at Anzac Cove. The problem is, research has found these iconic words don't belong to Atatürk at all.

"Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did not say those words, he did not write them down, he did not think them at any point," said Robbins.

"So from a purely factual basis the memorials in New Zealand and Australia that bear that inscription, and bear underneath a depiction of his face, are factually incorrect. There's simply no way around that. The question is whether you want the sentiment that it describes, which is a very admirable sentiment, described by somebody who was in essence a mass murderer."

New Zealand and Australia are among many nations who've yet to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide but among the 30 countries which do acknowledge it, are Russia, France, Canada and Germany. A working group from the United Nations also acknowledged the Genocide in three years ago which was refuted by Turkey.

The United States senate voted in favour of recognising the genocide in 2019, but the Trump administration rejected moves to formally acknowledge it. President Joe Biden has indicated he will soon reverse this.

And if New Zealand was to officially recognise the Armenian Genocide - what might be Turkey's response?

 "Since the 1980s, the Republic of Turkey has engaged in bullying, blackmail and extortion in trying to prevent other nations in trying to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide," Robbins said.  

"It's no different for Australia and New Zealand. In 2015 the foreign minister of Turkey stated very explicitly that any Australian or New Zealand representative who acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, or who used that word genocide, would not be welcomed at Gallipoli."

The Prime Minister refused to speak to Newshub Nation about the Armenian Genocide this week, but Kiwi-Armenians like Yvette Kelly remain hopeful her Government will eventually recognise it.

"It's very easy for us to be compartmentalised to the Armenian community. But I'm a New Zealander too and I would be proud as a New Zealander if we did this. New Zealanders are people who stick up for human rights, we're one of the little guys, we stick up for other little guys and to recognise this is what part of makes us Kiwi."

So while we acknowledge the Holocaust of the Jews, the killing fields of the Cambodian Genocide and the Rwandan Genocide New Zealand is yet to acknowledge the very Genocide which is tied undeniably to our own history.

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