Harry’s strategic path to successful action

Harry Tavlaridis played a leading role in advocating for the recognition of the Pontian Genocide by the South Australian Parliament. DINA GEROLYMOU profiles the political cleanskin whose efforts yielded a major success for the Pontian cause.

The recognition of the Pontian genocide by the South Australian parliament might have left many in awe as to how it was achieved.

I wish that this (the recognition of the genocide) can be an example of what we can achieve in the future. I hope it inspires others to join us in our efforts. We need to get the genocide recognised federally and internationally. Please write that we have a duty to do this.

There are a myriad of ways of explaining how the recognition was achieved.

Some will attribute it to the converging factors of this specific point in time.

Others will suggest it is due to the number of South Australian politicians who are Philhellenes.

Some will attribute it to the tradition of progressive politics in South Australia.

Others will point to the active Pontian community in Adelaide and a more inclusive and outward looking Greek community.

Whatever the explanation, it took a handful of people in Adelaide who worked diligently to achieve an extraordinary result.

Among them was Harry Tavlaridis, president of the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia.

It takes only a few seconds with Tavlaridis to know that he is a no nonsense man.Tavlaridis is interested in getting the job done. Maybe his military training had something to do with it.

“You can take the man out of the army but you can’t take the army out of the man,” he said half-jokingly when I remarked on his strategic plan to have the SA parliament recognise the genocide of his forebearers.

Tavlaridis, a training manager, was born in Greece and grew up in Cooper Peedy where his father worked in the opal mines.

The eldest of three children, he joined the defence force at 17 for the opportunity to get the education his family couldn’t provide. Following his basic training he moved to Melbourne where he studied Aerospace Engineering at RMIT and returned to the air force to work on flight simulators.

Tavlaridis spent thirteen years in the Royal Australian Air Force before he accepted a position in a defence engineering firm and he quickly rose to management where now holds a leadership position.

He is married to Anastasia and has three children.

The Air Force provided Tavlaridis with valuable skills and experience in running an organisation; skills and experience which were indispensable in running a Greek community organisation.

These leadership qualities that put him in good standing when it came to identifying opportunities, developing a strategy and working methodically to achieve his goals.

Tavlaridis had a strong sense of identity but had never been involved in a Greek organisation.

His first experience of being involved in a community organisation came with his rise to the presidency of the Pontian Brotherhood of South Australia in February 2007.

Tavlaridis was invited to help out in the Brotherhood when the organisation was facing financial difficulties.

Within months of becoming a member he was elected to head the Pontian Brotherhood in South Australian.

When it was South Australia’s turn to assume the rotating presidency of the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia, Tavlaridis found himself in a national leadership role.
The presidency of the federation rotates every two years.

His term as National President ends in September and Tavlaridis is lobbying for Pontians in the ACT to be given the Presidency of the Federation.

Tavlaridis believes that the recognition of the genocide by Federal Parliament will be best served by having the leadership located in the national capital, where they enjoy easy access to the Federal Parliament and federal parliamentarians.

What the Federation has achieved while South Australia has held the presidency is a great source of pride for Tavlaridis. It was the result of a collective, well-coordinated effort, he stressed.

The delight is obvious as he recounts: how the Brotherhood’s fiftieth anniversary was commemorated in SA Migration Museum with a plaque stating that Pontians were “the genocidal victims of the Ottoman Empire;” how the plaque was unveiled by the Justice Minister Michael Atkinson, who latter appeared in the Brotherhood’s annual dance dressed in the traditional Pontian costume and how the plaque took eight months to be approved but the motion in parliament took only three.

The whole experience was a humbling one for Tavlaridis and he doesn’t begrudge the countless hours he spent in the methodical planning and coordination required to reach his goal and mobilise his fellow Pontians, Greeks and philhellenes.

After all this is what he learned in the defence sector: plan, mobilise, execute.

He laughs when I ask whether his age was a contributing factor.

“I am not young!” he says in protest. “I am forty three! My age might have something to do with it in terms of being part of the system, being technology savvy and having a different mentality to the baby boomers.

“Having said that I must also add that there are youth in their twenties and thirties that are far more talented and capable than I am.”

Although he is passionate about the Pontian cause, his thinking is all about logic not sentimentality.

“If we hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity that was presented to us, we and only we would have been at fault and we would have lost a unique moment,” he said.

Tavlaridis believes that a good leader is focused on the outcome not the rewards that go with it.

He notices my surprise to hear him say that and he quickly adds: “If there’s anything that can come out of your article let it be that young people can be inspired by what we achieved. “I wish that this (the recognition of the genocide) can be an example of what we can achieve in the future.

“I hope it inspires others to join us in our efforts. We need to get the genocide recognised federally and internationally.

“Please write that we have a duty to do this.”

His passion for the Pontian cause is evident in the letter of protest he sent to senator Allan Ferguson.

Tavlaridis responded to comments made by senator Allan Ferguson (SA) conveying the objections of the Turkish ambassador to the plaque in the SA Migration Museum, by saying: “Like many Pontians in the safety of countries like Australia I don’t need to research what happened during those events.

“My grandparents told me the facts. I heard and felt their pain first hand.

“Matter of fact I cried writing this letter to you, their stories came flooding back.”

Harry Tavlaridis has demonstrated how a dream can become reality if it is anchored in a sense of duty.

The achievement of the Pontian Federation has highlighted what the Greeks in Australia are lacking: leadership and vision.

Leadership is not derived from titles and positions. It is demonstrated by the legacy you leave.

Tavlaridis has left a legacy that every Greek-Australian can be proud of and indeed every human being, for justice is too noble to be confined in the meaning of nationality.