Fears ‘genocide’ memorial could cause split AMY CORDEROY AND ELLIE HARVEY

image0014.jpgTension … young Assyrian protesters gather outside the Fairfield Council building while the decision on the memorial was being debated. At least 40 police stood by. Photo: Wolter Peeters

MORE than 200 members of Sydney’s Turkish and Assyrian communities were separated by police outside the Fairfield Council offices last night after the council approved plans for a monument commemorating what was called the Assyrian genocide.

At least 40 police stood between the two groups as the council considered plans for the first ever Australian memorial to Assyrians killed by Turkish forces during World War I and subsequent conflicts.

A local group, calling itself the Assyrian Universal Alliance, had proposed to build a 4.5-metre-high memorial to victims of the Assyrian genocides in a reserve under construction opposite Bonnyrigg Park. However, the move is bitterly opposed by the local Turkish community, which disagrees with the Assyrians’ interpretation of the past.

At least 100 Turkish Australians bearing signs critical of the proposal gathered at the front of the council building while at least as many Assyrians draped in Assyrian and Armenian flags stood on the other side.

At 7.30pm the council voted to approve the monument, producing a spontaneous outburst by the Assyrians. ”Winner, winner, winner – thank you Australia,” one jubilant Assyrian said.

A Turkish protester Gokhan Tugcu, 25, said the monument was divisive and should never have been allowed. ”Australia, being a multicultural society shouldn’t have things like this that divide the different cultures that live here. [It’s] a statue now, it could be in the school curriculum later on,” Mr Tugcu said.

As the crowd left the council emotions grew. One man standing with the Turkish group called out ”Ottomans” and slid his fingers across his throat.

Hermiz Shahen, the deputy secretary of the Assyrian Alliance, said that the monument was never intended as an insult.

”If you respect the ANZACS, you are not insulting the Turkish people,” he said. ”We just want to erect a monument to respect the victims of genocide”.

But a local resident, Adem Cetinay, who has a Turkish background, believes that the memorial is already causing a split.

”We’re dividing the community and that has never happened before,” he said.

Within two days of hearing about the proposed memorial, Mr Cetinay obtained more than 800 signatures for a petition opposing it.

”If it goes ahead, our kids are going to grow up here with this monument in their faces,” he said. The Local Government Association of NSW has formally recognised that genocide was perpetrated against the Assyrians since World War I.

But neither the NSW Government nor the Federal Government have come to the same conclusion.

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Subject: Fairfield Council approves genocide memorial – Local News – News – General – Fairfield Champion