SYDNEY: The Armenian National Committee of Australia’s (ANC-AU) Annual Gala Banquet raised over $145,000 for Armenian-Australian advocacy at an event which saw the community honour New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Federal Member of Parliament Tim Wilson and leading radio broadcaster Alan Jones.
The glitzy event at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel featured a stellar cast of guests, led by honourees Berejiklian and Wilson, who were joined by Federal parliamentarians Kristina Keneally, Trent Zimmerman and Joel Fitzgibbon – who was representing Australia’s Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese. Former Senator and Defence Minister of Australia, Graham Richardson was also in attendance, as well as state parliamentarians including Jonathan O’Dea, Walt Secord, Rev. Fred Nile and their former colleague Amanda Fazio, along with leaders of Armenian, Indigenous, Greek, Assyrian and Jewish organisations.
Legendary newsman John Mangos bossed proceedings as the Master of Ceremonies, while the inaugural winner of The Voice Armenia, Masha Mnjoyan delighted guests with a stirring set, where she was accompanied by Armenian-Australian classical guitarist Sako Dermenjian and percussions master Atif Badria. Uncle Allen Madden of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council opened proceedings with a traditional Welcome to Country, which followed a tribute to two titans of genocide studies lost to the world in 2019 in Professors Colin Tatz and Vahakn Dadrian.
Gladys Berejiklian, who was the event’s keynote speaker, praised the efforts of the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU) and the year in Armenian-Australian advocacy.
“My years in ANC helped me become the person that I am,” said Berejiklian.
“This year has been a year of enormous success for the Armenian National Committee. It is a very big deal for the ANC to have organised the first Federal parliamentary delegation to Armenia, and that cannot be under-stated.”
“Having been on the Board 25 years ago, we could have only imagined that that day would come. This is a turning point in Australian-Armenian relations and a turning point in the recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” Berejiklian added.
She called for more political leaders to join her and several of her parliamentary colleagues on Azerbaijan’s blacklist (persona non grata), by visiting the Republic of Artsakh, before declaring confidence that “Australia might be the 30th nation to recognise the Armenian Genocide”.
“John Alexander joins myself and Jonathon O’Dea, Reverend Fred Nile and Amanda Fazio – former member – as being enemies of the state of Azerbaijan that we wear as a badge of honour and we encourage more to do so,” she said.
The ANC-AU presented the 2019 ANC-AU Freedom Award, which is the organisation’s highest honour, to Berejiklian. The award is inscribed:
“In recognition of one of the most eminent and influential Armenian political leaders in modern history, and in recognition of her exemplary advocacy promoting justice for the Armenian Genocide, peace and freedom for the Republic of Artsakh, and issues of importance to Armenian-Australians.”
Her parents, who were in the audience, rose to the stage as part of the acceptance of the honour, delighting the gathered.
The ANC-AU presented Tim Wilson with the Armenian Community’s Friend of the Year Award, which the only sitting Member of Federal Parliament of Armenian heritage accepted with grace.
It recognised his leading efforts guiding Australia towards recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
In accepting the award, Wilson reflected on his trip as part of the first Federal-led Delegation to Armenia.
“There is a legacy there of darkness and the absence of light when you saw 1.5 million people who lost their lives but there is also the future and the opportunity for us to all contribute to the strength and building of a greater country together as we have in our great nation,” Wilson said.
“The only things you cannot hide is truth, you cannot hide justice and you can never hide the light,” added the Federal Member for Goldstein, who Chairs the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics.
Alan Jones, who is Australia’s highest-rating radio broadcaster with his breakfast program on 2GB, was honoured with the ANC-AU’s inaugural Ben Bagdikian Media Award – recognising those in media who have had the greatest impact raising awareness concerning matters important to Armenian-Australians.
This award is named after Armenian Genocide survivor Ben Bagdikian, who was featured in Steven Spielberg’s film The Post (2017), recounting his time as assistant managing editor of The Washington Post where excerpts of the Pentagon Papers were published, exposing classified material regarding US involvement in the military campaign in Vietnam – despite strong opposition from the Nixon administration.
Bagdikian famously stated: “… the (only) way to assert the right to publish is to publish.”
Jones was awarded this honour following his strong condemnation of President Erdogan of Turkey after his inflammatory comments post the Christchurch massacre – by reminding listeners of the events of 1915 that befell the Armenian people, interviewing ANC-AU Executive Director Haig Kayserian. Further, this year on April 24, he remembered the victims of the Armenian Genocide by providing a detailed monologue to his many listeners, and expressing his critique of Prime Minister Scott Morrison for not acknowledging the Armenian Genocide.
Jones delivered a video acceptance speech of his honour, stating: “This is a kind of history that can’t be forgotten even though it is convenient for some people to forget, the Genocide in 1915 which is over 100 years ago is disgraceful and in many instances ignored or brushed aside and it wasn’t just the Armenians – it was the Greeks and the Assyrians also.”
“I think it is very important to not be uncomfortable about the nasty aspects of world history and I know there are regrettable comments made about this, this year which annoyed me.”
Jones added: “This was a singular, appalling and devastating chapter in the history of humanity that people could be treated this way and I am very happy that the Armenian community in particular have found the capacity to start their lives again here.”
Bagdikian’s son Eric and the Bagdikian Family granted the ANC-AU permission to grace this award with their father’s name.
Executive Director of the ANC-AU, Haig Kayserian used his speech to highlight how much the Armenian community has given the world, and pledged to continue to repay the faith that the community places in its peak public affairs body.
“Dismembered or displaced, recognised or self-determined, citizens or refugees… we Armenians still have so much to be proud of, because of how much we have given and continue to give to those who have accepted us,” Kayserian said.
“The Armenian National Committee of Australia continues to march to the beat you drum – after all, you are our supporters, the representatives of our grassroots community, our Partners, our Friends, descendants of genocide survivors, believers in a free and Armenian Artsakh, seekers of a democratically developed Armenia, and advocates of a sustainable Armenian-Australian community.”
Kayserian added: “We will continue to repay the faith you place in us. We will be guided by the bright, to bring the light of justice to our dark. We will not rest. Not. A. Chance. Because… We are brave. We are bruised. But we are also glorious. We are who we’re meant to be. This. Is. Us.”
Notorious fixer and political commentator Graham Richardson said he felt “victory was around the corner” in the fight for Australia to recognise the Armenian Genocide.
“The one thing that is so good about this (event) is the strength of your commitment, and in my experience, when you are this strong and you keep at it for as long as you have, you deserve the victory and I think victory is just around corner and I think that Australia must stand up and Australia must acknowledge what happened,” the Labor Party powerbroker said.
“I don’t care what is said about me in Turkish newspapers…what matters is the truth, there was a genocide, so many people were murdered and mutilated and we just sit back here and the Turks wanted to pretend it didn’t happen, well it did and you must continue to be proud in saying it happened and we aren’t going to forget, not now and not ever,” Richardson added.
Senator Kristina Keneally, who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, praised ANC-AU for their efforts.
“The ANC are professional, they are organised, they are purposeful, they are passionate and they are effective,” Keneally said.
“You see the political play, you understand how to get things done and they are in the halls of the Parliament constantly.”
The Federal Member for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman, who Chairs the Australian Parliament’s House Committee on Health, Ageing & Sport and the Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly Jonathan O’Dea added their voices in support of the Armenian Cause and praised the efforts of ANC-AU in leading the charge.
The participants of the 2019 ANC-AU Youth Advocates Program were handed certificates by the Kortian family, who sponsored the initiative with the ANC-AU Internship Program’s Hagop Kortian Scholarship – named in memory of their late father and husband. They were interviewed on stage by program coordinator Sarine Soghomonian about their experience of learning and practicing advocacy in the nation’s Parliament.
On the Youth Advocates, Keneally added: “This week, I had the privilege and the delight to meet with a number of the young and up and coming leaders of the ANC, and I think that’s a very big tribute to your work at the ANC – that you are not just focused on what is the present challenge, but how will you have the next generation to lead this community and this Cause.”
The event concluded with the announcement that Gala raised over $145,000 to boost the advocacy efforts of ANC-AU, after which a Vote of Thanks was delivered by the organisation’s Chairman, Khajaque Kortian.
Several videos were played during the event, with the undisputed highlight being the introductory film featuring 14-year-old intern Areg Grigorian leading viewers on a journey through the year that was in Armenian-Australian advocacy.
There was also a video highlighting the first Federal-led Australian Delegation to Armenia and Artsakh.
Also popular was the highlights package from the 2019 ANC-AU Youth Advocates Program.
* All videos in this article were filmed and edited by Minas Sajonian of Infinite Productions.