Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, Walt Secord, who is also the Deputy Co-Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Armenian Group, delivered a powerful speech in Parliament recounting his recent visit to Western Armenia, teh Armenian National committee of Australia reports.
Secord made history in 2011 by becoming the first Australian politician to visit the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. And in December 2012, Secord returned to Armenia to take part in an expedition to Western Armenia and visit towns and cities, which were completely emptied during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
The tour, which commenced in Yerevan, took Secord north through Gyumri, into the heavily Armenian populated region of Javakhk in Georgia, and then onto the cities of Kars, Van, Ani, Idgir and Akhtamar.
Upon his return to Australia, Secord remarked: “My visit to western Armenia was the most interesting study tour I have undertaken in my life.”
The seven-day visit, which was organised and partially funded by the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC Australia), allowed Secord to continue his “exploration of the Armenian genocide”, and allowed him to “see modern Turkey within the context of the interaction between Islam and the West”.
The trip put into perspective the extensive destruction of the Armenian populated regions during the Armenian genocide.
In his speech in Parliament, Secord said: “Of course, official denial is a vital component of oppression and genocide. This is why I will never apologise for my inquiry into the Armenian story or my support for the Armenian community. As I have said in Yerevan, in the Parliament of New South Wales and on many other occasions, it is repugnant for Turkey to deny the deaths of the 1.5 million Armenians.”
Executive Director of ANC Australia, Vache Kahramanian thanked Secord for his continued support to ensure the recognition of the Armenian genocide and for his continued support of the Armenian-Australian community.
“We are grateful for Mr. Secord’s continued efforts in ensuring the just recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” Kahramanian said.
“This trip allowed for the Honourable Member to experience first hand the destruction that fell upon the Armenian people nearly a century ago. Mr. Secord is a dear friend of the Armenian-Australian community and a true champion of human rights.”
Walt Secord will again visit Armenia as part of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Armenian Group delegation in July this year.
The full text of his speech can be read below:
“As the deputy co-chair of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Armenia I will speak on my recent study mission to western Armenia. On 23 April I had the honour and privilege to attend the ninety-eighth anniversary of the Armenian genocide commemorative service in Chatswood.
Last year I attended the commemoration in three capacities: first, as the deputy co-chair of the New South Wales Parliamentary Friends of Armenia; secondly, as a proud Australian who was born of Mohawk-Ojibway Native American ancestry, a race that has known genocide in North America; and, thirdly, as the first Australian parliamentarian to publicly visit Nagorno-Karabakh. But this year I added a fourth dimension to my exploration of the Armenian story. In late December 2012 I had the privilege and honour of visiting Armenia for a second time. On this trip I visited the northern Armenian city of Gyumri, the Armenian region of Javakhk and its administrative centre of Akhaltsikhe in Georgia, which is struggling for autonomy, and Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.
I also spent a week in Istanbul and Gallipoli. Significantly for the Armenian community, I spent a week exploring the ancient ruins and sites of Kars, Van and Ani in western Armenia. As I have said on many occasions, I have come to appreciate that detached observation can only get you so far. Some things need to be seen to be understood. Sometimes you just have to be there. That is why visiting Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and western Armenia is the best education for any political leader interested in trying to understand Australia’s Armenian community. Primarily my trip to western Armenia was to continue my exploration of the Armenian genocide, but I also wanted to see modern Turkey within the context of the interaction between Islam and the West.
I have to admit that I have complex and contradictory views on Turkey. While Turkey has to face and acknowledge the Armenian genocide, we in the West have an interest and responsibility in supporting democratic Islamic countries such as Turkey and Indonesia. Incidentally, I was in Istanbul on the week of the sixth anniversary of the assassination of Hrant Dink, the Armenian editor murdered by a Turkish nationalist because of his outspoken views on the Armenian genocide and Turkey’s failure to recognise its past. I have to say that my visit to western Armenia was the most interesting study tour I have undertaken in my life. I saw and travelled up to Masis and Poker Masis—Mount Ararat and Little Mount Ararat. I got to walk amongst the ancient ruins, streets and churches of Ani, which has been described as the Armenian Pompeii. I explored Kars and Van. I travelled by boat on Lake Van to Akhtamar and saw the Church of the Holy Cross, a masterpiece of Armenian sculpture and architecture from the ninth and tenth centuries. In Kars, Armenian architecture and Armenian history were everywhere, but there are no Armenians. I
discovered a city of Armenian ghosts. I also visited the spot where the Soviets handed western Armenia to Turkey, signing away Armenian rights. I climbed Van Fortress where the ancient Armenian city of Aygestan once stood below—that is, until the genocide. Today it is an empty field of holes and tiny rolling hills where Armenian homes and their foundations once stood. In Igdir I also visited the Turkish national denial museum, a truly offensive institution run by Turkish authorities. Even its name is offensive. They have called it the “Monument and Museum Dedicated to Fallen Turks”. It denies the Armenian genocide, erroneously claims Armenian terrorism, and attacks Dashnaktsutyun for so-called atrocities. I know that all sensible people and historians would be disgusted by it, but I felt it was important to see it firsthand. My tiny Armenian translator was physically shaking as we walked through the so-called museum. Incidentally, during my visit, on five separate occasions local Kurds asked our travelling party if we were Armenians from the diaspora looking for our grandparents’ family jewels hastily hidden during the genocide. This shows the massive gap between official denials of history versus the real history that is whispered behind closed doors in rural Turkey. Of course, official denial is a vital component of oppression and genocide. This is why I will never apologise for my inquiry into the Armenian story or my support for the Armenian community. As I have said in Yerevan, in the Parliament of New South Wales and on many other occasions, it is repugnant for Turkey to deny the deaths of the 1.5 million Armenians.
One day in the future I sincerely hope that Turkey accepts responsibility for the Armenian Genocide.
In the almost 23 months since I became a member of Parliament, my relationship with the Armenian community has grown and continues to grow. I look forward to returning to Armenia in July on a formal parliamentary delegation with my parliamentary colleagues for my third visit to Armenia. In conclusion, I take this opportunity to thank the Armenian National Committee of Australia for assisting with my visit to western Armenia, particularly the executive director of the Armenian National Committee, Vache Kahramanian, and the chairperson, Greg Soghomonian. I thank Mr Varant Meguerditchian and Mr Sassoon Grigorian for their advice and suggestions. Further, I thank Mr Zorro Keverian for allowing me to give a private briefing in his home recently to senior members of the Armenian community.
For the record, I paid for all of the flights, but the Armenian National Committee provided local transport and accommodation in Georgia and western Armenia. I thank the House for its consideration.”