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Turkey Ponders Legal Action Over Assyrian Genocide Memorial
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THE Turkish government is considering legal action over a western Sydney council's decision to erect a statue commemorating the killing of Assyrians early last century.

Turkish ambassador Oguz Ozge yesterday warned that the decision, passed unanimously by Fairfield Council last week, jeopardised Australia's relationship with his country and threatened to divide the community.

Assyrians, a Christian ethnic group whose homeland lies between northern Iraq, Syria, western Iran and southeastern Turkey, say hundreds of thousands of their people were killed by Turks during and after World War I.

The Sydney memorial was approved for installation in Edensor Park despite a request by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith that the proposal be rejected.

Mr Ozge yesterday denied the Assyrians' claims of genocide and described the council's stance as "very offensive".

"It hurts the Turkish Australians living in this country and it is an attempt at destroying the harmony of the two communities living in Australia side by side," he said. "We are looking into whether we can do anything, legally or otherwise."

The Local Government Association says it recognises that genocide took place.

However, the state and federal governments do not recognise that claim.

Riot police were deployed to keep the peace between Turkish and Assyrian groups outside the council chambers as the decision was being made last Tuesday.

Hermiz Shahen, secretary of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, yesterday admitted his group had not consulted the Turkish community over its plans, but insisted it had not been their intention to clash with them over the statue.

"There is no mention of the Turks on the plaque; that is part of our respect for the community here," Mr Shahen said.

He said the statue was dedicated to the "souls of Assyrian martyrs".

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