Australian Assyrians defend controversial monument

Australia’s Assyrian community Friday defended
a large monument commemorating mass killings under Ottoman rule which
threatens to spark a diplomatic row with Turkey.

The imposing statue, erected in Sydney by the Australian branch of the
Assyrian Universal Alliance, has angered Turkey and could jeopardise a major
survey of the Gallipoli battlefields involving Australia and New Zealand.

Turkey’s ambassador to New Zealand, Oguz Ozge, has said the monument, which
describes the deaths of some 750,000 Assyrian people during World War I as
“genocide”, was “quite unacceptable” and urged Australia to act.

“This is quite concerning to the Turkish government, and as long as remedial
action is not taken we intend to do something on the part of the Turkish
government,” Ozge, who is also ambassador to Australia, said earlier this

But the Alliance’s Australia-New Zealand secretary-general Hermiz Shahen
said the monument had received all the appropriate government clearances and
should be allowed to remain in its western Sydney position.

“We’ve got nothing against the Turkish community here,” Shahen told AFP.

“But that doesn’t mean we have to forget about the 750,000 people that were

The row now threatens plans for Australia, Turkey and New Zealand to jointly
survey the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey, the scene of a bloody World War I
offensive regarded as a key moment in Australian and New Zealand history.

The exercise is designed to provide a detailed archaeological map of the
battlefields, where 11,500 Australian and New Zealand troops died in an
offensive aimed at wresting the Dardanelles Straits from the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey’s foreign minister has already condemned the Sydney monument, blaming
people who “want to poison the perfect relations between Australia and
Turkey and intend to rewrite history for political gain”.

Shahen said he was “very upset” with Turkey’s stance over the statue, which
cost some 80,000 dollars (68,000 US) and was paid for by Australia’s
40,000-strong Assyrian community.

The statue has already been vandalised since its August 7 unveiling, with
the words, “Assyrian dogs”, and the Turkish flag spray-painted on it.


Follow on Twitter