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'Her success is a testament to the progress of Australian multiculturism and women’s equality,' writes Vicken Babkenian (Image via Gladys Berejiklian / @GladysB)

Gladys Berejiklian’s grandparents were among those liberated when the Allies defeated the Ottoman forces in 1918, narrowly escaping the Armenian Genocide, writes historian Vicken Babkenian.

In her inauguration speech on 26 August 1925, Millicent Preston Stanley, the first female member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the NSW Parliament and representing the Nationalist Party – one of the predecessors of the Liberal Party stated:

"… it may be shown that [a] woman can take her place amongst the representatives of the people in the Parliament of the country and play her part in the political life of the nation."

A portrait of Stanley hangs on the wall of the NSW Parliament House as a reminder of women’s success in politics since NSW legislation allowed them to stand for parliament in 1918.

Fast forward almost a century to Monday 23 January 2017 and NSW has its first female premier from the conservative side of politics — Gladys Berejiklian.

But there’s another link which binds these two women together that harks back to the time of the Great War. Gladys is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, an event which shares the same timing and geographic setting of Australia’s Gallipoli experience. It’s a story historian Professor Peter Stanley and I tell for the first time in our book Armenia, Australia and the Great War.

Just hours before the first Australians leapt out of their boats onto the beach that became Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire embarked on a campaign to destroy the Empire’s native Christian Armenian population.

Australian troops serving on Gallipoli and in the Middle East became witnesses. On Gallipoli and in Palestine, Armenians worked with the Australians as interpreters. Australian prisoners of the Turks saw Armenians being abused and deported; one recorded in his diary that 1.25 million people had died, a figure close to the accepted number. In Palestine, as the Light Horse advanced northwards towards the Turkish border, they came upon evidence of the atrocities, even rescuing Armenian refugees, survivors of massacre. In the remote reaches of northern Persia, Australians serving in "Dunsterforce" rescued thousands of Armenians.

News of the genocide sparked a humanitarian relief movement in Australia in 1915, that culminated in the establishment of an Australian-run orphanage in Lebanon for about 1,700 Armenian orphans. Prime Minister Billy Hughes allowed free freight to the Middle East aboard the Commonwealth Line of Steamers for goods donated to the Armenian Relief Fund.

Leading Australian feminists were at the forefront of this humanitarian relief effort, which included Millicent Preston Stanley. She had been "deeply concerned" about the tragic plight of the Armenian people and she advocated on their behalf.

At the opening of a fundraising event for the Armenian Relief Fund at the Feminist Club, Sydney, in June 1925, Stanley appealed to Australians to help the Armenians, stating:

"Surely we will not be deaf to the cry of 120,000 [Armenian] orphans."

As part of a large international humanitarian relief effort, Australians helped save the lives of tens of thousands of Armenian refugees across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.

Gladys Berejiklian’s grandparents were among those liberated when the Allies defeated the Ottoman forces in 1918. Their offspring were part of the wave of Armenian migrants who came to Australia in the 1960s when our nation’s White Australia Policy began to fade and our doors were opened to Armenian migrants.

Their daughter, Gladys, born in Manly, has now taken the top job of the NSW State. Her success is a testament to the progress of Australian multiculturism and women’s equality that has helped provide the opportunity for Gladys to "play her part in the political life of the nation".

Vicken Babkenian is the co-author with Professor Peter Stanley of Armenia, Australia and the Great War (NewSouth Publishing, 2016). Shortlisted for the 2016 Queensland Literary Award for History and the NIB Australian Military History Prize.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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