The panel discussions had been planned to accompany screenings at the German Film Festival in Sydney and Melbourne of the film The Cut, from acclaimed German-Turkish director Fatih Akin.
The Cut opens in 1915, just before the events that led to the death of more than a million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The film focuses on the story of an Armenian blacksmith searching for his two daughters, years after he was separated from them.
The atrocities depicted have come to be known as the Armenian genocide, but that is a term rejected by many Turks.
According to Dr Arpad Solter, director of both the film festival and the Goethe-Institut, “the minister was concerned about appearing on a platform with genocide deniers”.
A spokesman for the Treasurer refused to confirm that was the case. “It’s fine for the organisers to say that, but we’re not actually commenting on it at all,” the spokesman said.
Dr Solter said that once the minister pulled out, other Armenian representatives did too. “If there’s no dialogue possible, and that’s what we were aiming for, then the decision had to be made to cancel.”
He said the panel was “meant to offer Armenians and Turks in Australia a forum to share and discuss their most painful history and to open new, fresh avenues for exchange, open debate and mutual understanding”.
The need to cancel, Dr Solter said, indicated that the subject is, after 100 years, “still a minefield”.
“It’s too sensitive, and too painful, most of all. I believe at the end of the day, reason and research and enlightenment will prevail, but it will take time.”
The CEO of the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance, Ertunc Ozen, who was to be one of the Sydney panellists, said he was disappointed at the cancellation, and the missed opportunity for “open and respectful dialogue with people of a different point of view”.
He said no one was disputing the fact that “hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives and were uprooted and moved throughout this period. There’s never been any denial of that.” However, he added that he “absolutely” disputed the term “genocide”.
Author and historian Robert Manne, one of the Melbourne panellists, said he regretted the cancellation.
“Given that the Armenians have been trying for 100 years to have the astonishing crimes committed against them acknowledged, the fact that a panel discussion about a straightforward film on the genocide is cancelled, that’s a matter of great dismay.”