In November 1986, the affluent Melbourne suburb of Toorak became an unlikely terrorist target, when the Turkish consulate building was bombed.
The consulate occupied the first floor of a five storey building on Caroline Street, near Fawkner Park. Around 2.15am, November 24, 1986, a huge explosion erupted out of the underground parking garage.
The blast burned out the lower floors, and shattered the building’s windows. A commercial block next door was completely gutted, and nineteen adjacent properties, shops and residences, significantly damaged. The gas main in the street was ruptured, and spot fires broke out.
Police and fire services arrived on the scene shortly afterward, and cordoned off a large area, stretching from Domain Road, south to Commercial Road.
An employee of a private technical college, one of the tenants of the building’s upper floors, was found in shock and with minor injuries. The building had otherwise been unoccupied.
But as police investigated the scene, they realised there was one casualty.
In the parking garage were human remains, scattered over a wide area. This grisly find soon connected to another piece of physical evidence; traces of a four kilogram explosive device, found in the wrecked remains of a vehicle.
The explosion appeared to have been deliberately triggered.
And, the police suspected, accidently set off early by whoever had placed the bomb, costing them their lives and inadvertently preventing further casualties. If the bomb had gone off during business hours, as was probably intended, the building would have been full of people.
But who would want to bomb the Turkish embassy?
Six years beforehand, there had been a precursor.
On December 17, 1980, the Sydney suburb of Dover Heights, in the up-market Eastern suburbs, was rocked by a political assassination.
The Turkish Consul General, Sarik Ariyak, and his bodyguard, Engin Sever, were leaving the former’s home in Portland Street, when they were suddenly attacked. Two masked men rode up on a motorbike, the passenger jumping off to spray Ariyak and Sever’s cars with machine gun fire.
Witnessed by Ariyak’s wife, who watched horrified from her front doorstep, the attackers then fled. Riyak and Sever had been killed on the spot.
A few hours later a caller to the ‘Sydney Sun’, then a tabloid newspaper, claimed responsibility for the shooting:
‘I am speaking on behalf of the Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide.
The attacks are in retaliation for the injustice done to the Armenians by Turkey in 1915.
We are the authors of this abomination act.”
– Anonymous caller, quoted in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’
The Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, JCAG, were a known terrorist group, who had claimed responsibility for acts of violence against Turkish officials around the world.
Sydney detectives began their investigation, and interviewed a number of Armenian ex-pats, living in the city. Federal police were also called in, working on the suspicion that the killers may have been brought into Australia, specifically to conduct the attack.
While both investigations generated leads, the killers were not caught. The crimes remain unsolved.
Armenia’s connection to Turkey, is long and fraught.
The country is small but its location, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, Europe and Asia, makes it strategically important. Larger states, looking to dominate eastern Europe, have often occupied Armenia as part of controlling the region.
In ancient times, it was one of the many states subsumed within the Persian Empire. In the 13th century, the Mongol hordes assumed control. And in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire, precursor of modern Turkey, took over.
The Ottomans would occupy Armenia for 350 years, and rule with an iron fist.
The native population is primarily Christian, and so were at odds with Islam, the state religion. Armenians were persecuted, and the area was deliberately kept impoverished and under-developed.
In the final years of the Ottoman era, as the empire neared collapse, military violence was used to maintain order. Several large scale massacres took place; between 1894 and 1896, and again in 1908, killing tens of thousands.
These actions reached a peak in 1915. Facing a worsening position in the First World War, where the Ottomans had aligned themselves with the Central Powers, and suspecting the local population of aiding their enemies, violence turned into genocide.
Across the years 1915 – 16, a deliberate program of mass execution and displacement took place.
Able bodied men were rounded up, and either summarily executed, or forced into labour camps. Women, children, and the infirm were sent on poorly provisioned ‘death marches’ into the Syrian desert.
Historians estimate that close to a million Armenians died, during these programs. While these events were initially obscured by the War, a mass of supporting evidence has slowly been gathered since, and international recognition of the event is now widely accepted.
April 24 is marked in many countries each year, as Armenian Martyrs Day.
It should be noted that the Turkish government has always denied the charge of genocide. Whatever civilian casualties occurred have been explained as a by product of war, and the chaos of a retreating army.
Turkey has been repeatedly called upon to recognise these events and apologise. It has refused to do so.
The Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide were one of many extremist groups founded, seeking retribution against Turkey.
Resistance had begun even while the Ottomans still ruled the country, with the founding of the Armenian Revolutionary Foundation, in 1890. After the war, this armed militia had splintered into countless sub groups, many using violence and terror tactics to further their objectives.
JCAG first became known in 1975, when the group claimed responsibility for the assassination of the Turkish ambassador to Vienna, shot to death in his office. More killings followed over the next decade, including the Turkish ambassadors to France, Italy and the Netherlands.
In 1977, JCAG bombed a railway station in Istanbul, killing 5 people. And in 1980 they planted a car bomb inside the United Nations Plaza in New York; the sizeable explosion shattered windows in the surrounding streets, but appeared to have detonated early, and no one was injured.
The day after the attack in Melbourne, as the local press reported the story, a group claiming responsibility came forward.
In a phone call to the Sydney office of the Agence France-Press, a man identifying himself as belonging to the Greek-Bulgarian-Armenian Front, said the attack had been to avenge the crimes of the Turkish government.
‘Mr David Davies, who took the call, said the man listed a series of grievances against the Turkish Government, including the Armenian genocide, and the creation of a Turkish republic in Cyprus, and warned that there would be further attacks.’
– The Age, November 24, 1986.
The Greek-Bulgarian-Armenian Front was not known to local authorities, but was assumed to be a pseudonym for JCAG.
The Federal Police increased security for Turkish diplomats in Australia, and assembled a task force of 20 detectives to investigate the explosion. The Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, and his foreign Minister, Bill Hayden, denounced the attack and warned Turkish consular staff to be on their guard.
But a spokesman for the Turkish embassy in Canberra, thought this alarmist. He denied that the bombing was in any way linked to the Turkish government:
‘It could have been aimed at any of the tenants of the building,’ he said.
The other people involved in the bombing, were never caught.
After the First World War, Armenia declared themselves an independent republic, in 1918. In 1920, Soviet Russia invaded, and installed a puppet regime. Armenia did not achieve proper independence, until 1991.