“Anastero ta Palia: I remember the past“. The opening words of a traditional Pontian song of mourning summarises the annual Greek Genocide Commemoration at the Marana Hall in Hurstville, southern Sydney, led by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios of Australia and attended by about 400 representatives of the Hellenic, Armenian, Assyrian, Jewish and Australian communities.
The Commemoration was organised by the Hellenic Genocide Commemoration Committee, the united effort of NSW’s three Pontian associations – Pontoxeniteas (President Maria Anthony), Panayia Soumela Sydney (President Peter Papoulidis) and Diogenes Wollongong (President Nick Chrissostomidis), together with the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia. Other members are Helen Macris, Helene Flame, Nena Lambousis, Dimitrios Kouklidis, Chris Klazidis and Dr Panayiotis Diamadis.
The 2021 Hellenic Genocide Commemoration was held under the auspices of the National Committee for the celebration of the Bicentenary of Hellenic Independence of our Archdiocese.
The evening was marked by the strong youth participation, some dressed in traditional costumes and carrying candles in remembrance of the victims and survivors of the Genocide as they entered the Hall, leading the official party and setting a very reflective tone.
The bilingual Keynote Address, presented by His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, focused on the culture of Pontos prior to the 1914-1924 Genocide, the roles of the Church as “keeper of the faith” and a “provider of education” as well as its subsequent devastation.
“Everyone who is responsible should be ashamed”, stated the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia. “The younger generations need to bring out the truth because one of the phases of genocide is to forget our history. We will not forget our history. We will not forget who we are. We will not forget where we come from.”
The theme of actively remembering to fight genocide and the loss of memory was echoed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – whose message was read by the Hon Peter Poulos MLC, the Hon Rev. Fred Nile MLC (Christian Democratic Party) and Consul-General Christos Karras.
“I extend my support to members of the Greek community in New South Wales, commemorating the Genocide in which hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were killed and a civilisation devastated,” stated the Premier’s message.
Mr Karras stressed that the “struggle for recognition of the genocide continues”, emphasising that “[i]t is our duty to know and honour our history. Not in order to attach blame, but to ensure that such heinous crimes are never repeated.”
Also in attendance were the Hon Steve Kamper MP (Rockdale), Vic Alhadeff (former CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies) together with members of the youth organisation, Sarine Soghomonian and members of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, Hermiz Saheen and representatives of the Assyrian National Council of Australia, and hundreds of Australian Hellenes, many the descendants of survivors.
The next generation of leaders of the Pontian community were also showcased, as Chrysanthi Diasinos, Kyle Klazidis, Marios Anthony, Eleni Lambousis and Anastasia Papastefanou spoke eloquently about ‘Education and Truth’ as well as the significance of Australian parliamentary recognition of the Genocides of the indigenous peoples of Pontos, Anatolia and Thrace to them, as Australian descendants of Genocide survivors.
The Joint Justice Initiative, the united effort of the Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic communities for Australian parliamentary recognition of the Genocides, was the topic of a panel discussion featuring Sarine Soghomonian (Armenian National Committee), Hermiz Shaheen (Assyrian National Council), Evalena Chilas (Pontian Federation Youth) and Dr Panayiotis Diamadis.
The Australian Hellenic Choir led the gathering in singing the National Anthems, while Ilia Theodoridis on lyra accompanied Kosta Papoulidis in a rendition of Anastero ta Palia (I remember the past) added musical elements to the Commemoration.
Upon arrival, guests were able to view an exhibition of photographs on the churches and monasteries of Pontos, some still standing, some destroyed.
The Commemoration included special tributes to the efforts of three leading advocates of Genocide recognition:
the Hon Rev Fred Nile MLC for his role in the recognition movement for over a decade,
Vic Alhadeff for his efforts in the resolution of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies calling for Federal Parliament to recognise the Genocides, and
Kosta Antoniades (Past President of the Pontian Community of Melbourne and the Melbourne Genocide Commemorative Committee) for his efforts in promoting the work of Major George Devine Treloar amongst the genocide survivors in the 1920s.
The Commemorative Committee’s next event will be in September 2021, marking 99 years since the holocaust of Smyrne.