Extract from the HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Hansard of 30 APRIL 2009
GENOCIDE OF THE ARMENIANS, PONTIAN GREEKS, SYRIAN ORTHODOX, ASSYRIAN ORTHODOX AND OTHER CHRISTIAN MINORITIES
The Hon. M.J. ATKINSON (Croydon—Attorney-General, Minister for Justice, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (11:39): I move:
That, whereas the genocide by the Ottoman state between 1915-1923 of Armenians, Hellenes, Syrian and other minorities in Asia Minor is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, the people of South Australia and this House –
(a) join the members of the Armenian-Australian, Pontian Greek-Australian and Syrian-Australian communities in honouring the memory of the innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the first modern genocide;
(b) condemns the genocide of the Armenians, Pontian Greeks, Syrian Orthodox and other Christian minorities, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of racial, religious and cultural intolerance;
(c) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;
(d) condemns and prevents all attempts to use the passage of time to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocide of the Armenians and other acts of genocide committed during this century;
(e) acknowledges the significant humanitarian contribution made by the people of South Australia to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the Pontian Genocide; and
(f) calls on the commonwealth parliament officially to condemn the genocide.
I move this motion today to recognise an important historical event that continues to speak to us today. I know that what I say will draw anger from the Turkish establishment. I will refer to some specific criticisms of my remarks on this topic later.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I draw the attention of the person who is holding something that is illuminated there to the fact that all filming in the chamber is out of order and does require removal.
The Hon. M.J. ATKINSON: Suffice to say, I make my contribution to the debate not as a newcomer but as a graduate in history and someone who has been close to nearly all South Australia's ethnic minorities. I respect and enjoy the company of local Turkish and Turkic Australian communities. Senator Alan Ferguson (Liberal, South Australia) was wrong when he said that my remarks on this topic were an attack on the Turkish community in Australia.
Turkish Australians bear no responsibility for the atrocities of the past 120 years against Anatolian Armenians, Greeks, Syrian Orthodox, Syrians and Nestorians, and it is wrong for Senator Ferguson to use the camouflage of emotion commemorating the anniversary of a bilateral agreement about Turkish settlement in Australia to promote the denial of Turkish ultranationalists such as the MHP about the genocide.
Some Turkish Australians came to Australia to escape the Republic of Turkey, its pockets of poverty, its tyrannical secularism, its melancholy (what Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk calls Istanbul's Huzun) and laws such as Article 301 of the Turkish penal code which is used to prosecute hundreds of writers, including Orhan Pamuk for insulting Turkishness. The Turkish consul from Melbourne came to see me about this topic and, after a lively and fruitful conversation about this matter, gave me a copy of Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City—a lovely gift that I am enjoying reading. I visited Istanbul and the old city of Constantinople last year staying near Taksim Square in Pera.
The slaughter at the end of hundreds of years of Ottoman rule on the Anatolian peninsula started on 23-24 April 1915, the eve of the landing of ANZAC troops at Gallipoli. In May 1915, a law known as the law for Tehcir law for 'regulation for the settlement of Armenians re located to other places because of war conditions and emergency political requirements' sought to legitimise the action.
There is much scholarship that demonstrates that these exterminations were centrally planned and administered by the Ottoman regime and local Ottoman officials against the entire Christian minority of Anatolia. It took place principally between the years 1915 and 1918 and then from 1920-1923. It is estimated that 1.5 million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923. A further 300,000 Pontian Greeks and other Greeks and about half a million Syrian Christians were killed. Most Armenian political, religious and cultural leaders were arrested and murdered, beginning in Istanbul on 23 April 1915. More than one and a half million Pontian Hellenes fled to Greece. Three thousand years of Hellenic civilisation and history in Asia Minor, once a crucible of Hellenism, were extinguished in the catastrophe.
Many people were killed in their towns and villages or on death marches across Anatolia towards camps in the Syrian desert. Those Armenian, Greek and Assyrian males not executed were conscripted into the Ottoman army, disarmed and put in special labour battalions. Most were either worked to death or killed when they had outlived their usefulness. The remaining populations of the elderly, women and children were rounded up and either forcibly converted to Islam or raped and killed.
Of the survivors, most were deported from their ancestral lands and exiled around the world. The very existence of the former Armenian population in Turkey was denied. Maps and histories were rewritten. Churches, schools and cultural monuments—and, yes, even cemeteries—were desecrated and, in the case of churches, converted to mosques. It was still going on in the 1980s as recorded by the author William Dalrymple in his book From the Holy Mountain.
Small children, who had been taken from their Christian parents, were renamed and fostered out to be raised as Turks. Thea Halo, in her account of her mother's life fleeing from the destruction, tells of the day and her infant aunt perished during the death marches, as follows:
'Mama,' I said calmly as I could, hoping my calmness would make everything all right, 'Maria looks funny.
'Mother looked up and burst into tears. Maria's face had turned ashen. Her eyes stared out at nothing like little doll eyes that were broken in an open position and her head rolled back and forth with each step.
'What's wrong?' Cristodula demanded in panic, 'What is it?'
We stopped in the road like a pile of stones in the river; the weary exiles ruptured out around us and continued their march. Mother took Maria from Cristodula's back and cradled her in her arms as her tears washed Maria's lifeless face.
'Move!' a soldier shouted as he trotted up to where we stood.
'My baby,' Mother said.
She held out Maria for the soldier to see, as if her shock and grief could also be his.
'Throw it away if it's dead!' he shouted 'Move!'
'Let me bury her,' Mother pleaded, sobbing.
'Throw it away!' He shouted again, raising his whip. 'Throw it away!'
Mother clutched Maria's body to her breast as we stood staring up at him. Her face was gripped with a torment I had never seen before. Father reached for Maria, to put her down I suppose, but Mother clutched her even more tightly. Then she walked over to the high stone wall that separated the road from the town and lifted Maria up to lay her on the wall's top as if on an altar before the Almighty.
That night mother cried herself to sleep. And each time I closed my own eyes, I saw her holding Maria up to the heavens like an offering. The image of her lifeless body lying on the wall, like some gift in a pagan ritual, followed me even into my dreams and all through the next days. Each time I thought of my little sister left lying there alone in the burning sun, with the buzzards flying about waiting for us to pass, the sobs would come without my ability to control them.
Although a senator has disputed the relevance today of events that happened in the 1920s, I contend that, while the atrocities that occurred about the time my parents were born, are denied it demeans the descendants of those people and does not create the climate for closure and the ability for communities to move on.
Alas, there have been many other acts of mass killings in the world since the Armenian, Syrian, Nestorian and Pontian mass killings and, to our shame, it is still happening in some countries. German Führer Adolf Hitler told his commanders on the eve of Germany's invasion of Poland, 'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' That was in 1939.
Besides recognising the obvious, even if Senator Ferguson says it occurred 100 years ago, we should support the motion to recognise the Armenian, Pontian Greek, Syrian Orthodox, Nestorian and Assyrian communities who flourish in Australia today. The Republic of Turkey, having dispersed these people to the point of the globe farthest from Anatolia, can hardly complain that, in the freedom of the Antipodes, they perpetuate the memory of their ancestors and their culture.
These Australians—and I remind Senator Ferguson that they are Australians with the full right of citizenship to talk about topics that Senator Ferguson considers too ancient and too controversial—came to Australia from countries, including Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where they had settled after the genocide.
Senator Ferguson, in a post-prandial speech to the Senate on 18 March, criticised me for a speech I had made at the unveiling of a plaque at the Migration Museum in Adelaide commemorating the Pontian Greeks who were killed and exiled from Asia Minor. The Liberal senator said that the Turkish ambassador had called on him earlier in the week (his speech was given on a Wednesday) to complain about what I had said to Greek-Australians of Pontian origin. The Turkish ambassador is campaigning to have the plaque removed and has also made strong criticism of me.
Many of us have known people here in Australia who experienced the Turkish removal of the Greeks of Pontus and other Greeks of Asia Minor, especially from the Aegean coast near Smyrna. We have their testimony and the shocking accounts of diplomats and consuls serving in Turkey at the time. We have the admissions of officials of the Ottoman Empire For some of the very old, this is within living memory.
This senator cannot write off the suffering of Pontian Greeks and Armenians by saying that it occurred early in the 20th century, or that Pontians and Armenians were partly the authors of their own misfortune, or that murder, rape, pillage and exile had a different moral quality early in the 20th century. Let me try to look at the question from the standpoint of today's Turks.
The Ottoman Turks fought their way through Anatolia and into Europe as far as the gates of Vienna. They established an empire yet, with the exception of the Albanians and the Bosniak Slavs, they did not succeed in converting their subject peoples to Islam. They ruled an overwhelmingly Christian population in Europe and ruled an Asia Minor population that was one-third Christian.
Bit by bit, their Christian subjects in Europe rose up against them and threw them back into Ottoman Thrace, Istanbul and Anatolia. No doubt, the victors treated the Turkish people of those newly independent states atrociously and, moving forward 100 years, we all know that Bosnian Serb forces murdered about 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrnica and Potocari. I visited the places they were murdered and prayed at their graves. The young Turks (their official name, the Committee of Union and Progress) decided that if the Turkish state were to fall back on Istanbul and Anatolia it could not afford to be rendered vulnerable by what it regarded as disloyal Christian subjects. So, from 1895, Starting in earnest with Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Christian minorities were characterised as disloyal, potential subversives, and killed in advance of subversion.
Mr Ramazan Altintas, the President of the Turkish sub-branch of the Victorian RSL, wrote to me on 2 February to say:
Yet, great nations don't cry, they bury the pain into history, do not even teach them to their children.
I think Mr Altintas captures the essence of the Turkish rejection of this motion. It is true that most of these atrocities occurred in the context of a war. Some of the atrocities occurred as the army of the Hellenic Republic sought to thrust Eastwood from its mandated territory around Smyrna. No doubt this army itself committed atrocities against some of the Turkish people it came up against, but nothing on the scale of what had been happening since 1895. And, in any case, the Pontian Greeks were enclaved hundreds of miles away from the fighting when they were massacred.
Even the diplomatic officials of Turkey's allies—Germany, Austria and Hungary—were shocked by the pre-emptive strikes off its ally against its own Christian civilians. Their reports to Berlin and Vienna comprised much of the evidence that backs this motion. Indeed, in the dying days of the Sultanate in 1920, the Turkish authorities brought criminal charges against leading Turkish officials for ordering the massacres.
I commend the motion to the house. Rest eternal, grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Honourable members: Hear, hear!
There being a disturbance in the gallery:
The SPEAKER: Order, there will not be clapping from the gallery! The Leader of the Opposition.
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH (Waite—Leader of the Opposition) (11:55): I rise as leader of the state Liberals on behalf of all members on this side of the house to fully support the motion. Their plan was to deport the Greek population to the interior and expose them to severe weather conditions, hunger and illness. After executing many prominent Greeks in the Western Pontus, the Turkish regime proceeded to deport a large number of the Greek population to the interior, Kurdistan, and as far as Syria.
With the commencement of World War I in 1914, Turkey called for a general mobilisation. Since Christian men were not allowed to bear arms, they were sent to labour battalions in the interior of Turkey, which were essentially battalions of death. Forced labour in the treacherous mountains and ravines, hunger and exposure to severe weather conditions killed most of those who served in these labour battalions.
Some of the survivors were able to escape to join those Greeks in the mountains who took up arms to protect themselves and their families. Hundreds of thousands of Greek men, women and children died as a result of these deportations and other atrocities.
In 1923, out of an approximately 700,000 Pontian Greek population, who lived in Turkey at the beginning of World War I, as many as 350,000 were killed and almost all the rest had been uprooted during the subsequent forced population exchange between Greece and Turkey. This was the end of one of the ancient Greek civilisations in Asia Minor.
As a consequence of the deliberate and systematic policy of ethnic cleansing at that time, the Ottoman Empire, it is estimated, killed more than two million Armenians, Syrians and Greeks, who were slaughtered outright or were victims of the white death of disease and starvation, a result of the routine process of deportations, slave labour and death marches.
After the genocide, there was an exchange of populations. Pontian Greeks primarily settled in Greece, with a significant community also settling in the former republics of the Soviet Union. In the 1950s and 60s, many emigrated to Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States, seeking a better life and more economic opportunities for themselves and their families.
Wherever they settled, the Pontian Greeks made it a point to preserve their religion, language, culture, and traditions. Several social clubs and federations were formed in the new homelands, with the purpose of establishing a hearth to keep alive their cherished customs and a sense of community.
As a man married to a Greek, with a son who is half Greek, who is Orthodox, this has very much touched me and my family. Let there be no doubt in the mind of any South Australian about my view and the view of the state Liberals of these terrible and tragic events.
I now turn my attention to the criticisms the Minister for Multicultural Affairs has just made of Senator Alan Ferguson in the Australian Senate. Senator Ferguson, in my view, made some very ill informed, very wrong, and offensive remarks in the Senate. I have spoken to Senator Ferguson about these remarks. I have expressed my view to him.
Since I spoke to Senator Ferguson, he has publicly, on radio and in other ways, apologised and recognised that his words and language were inappropriate. A few weeks ago, I stood up in the parliament and expressed my view on Senator Ferguson's remarks. They are the views of him and him alone; and, on reflection, he now realises that they were ill-informed and should not have been made. It is the events that follow that disappointment me. They disappointment me as a member of parliament—
The Hon. M.J. Atkinson interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH: —they disappointment me as a person and they disappointment me as the leader of the Liberal Party. What happened was that copies of Senator Ferguson's address were sent out—I understand this, and he can correct this at the end of the motion if he chooses—by the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, or his auspices. They were sent out—and I have one in my hand; I am reading it, Mr Speaker—with a forged banner of the Liberal Party on top of it and with no recognition contained in the letter that it was from the Labor Party and from the minister, not from Senator Ferguson.
The Hon. M.J. Atkinson interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH: The object was to incite anger and hatred. Another two letters I have sighted, one from Mick Atkinson MP (the member for Croydon) and one from Vini Ciccarello (the member for Norwood), have been sent out to Greek communities in their electorates, and they disparage Senator Ferguson's remarks, criticise him and then try to spread those remarks and imply that they are the views of me and the state Liberals. I am making it very clear today that they are not our views. The letters sent out by the minister, Ms Ciccarello and others, I understand, state, 'Please remember this speech when Martin Hamilton-Smith tries to tell you something different.' They refer to the state election in March 2010.
The Hon. M.J. Atkinson: Good prediction.
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH: I am saddened when people use tragic, heartfelt events to make cheap political points—I am very saddened. I draw the attention of the house to an article in Neos Kosmos, described by some as Australia's leading Greek newspaper and the largest ABC audited ethnic publication. A featured article in the opinion section focused on this issue, I think on 30 March 2009. The editorial states:
Playing ethnic politics is a dirty game that threatens to shatter social harmony quite a good deal more easily than referring to or interpreting historical events. The fact of the matter is that Australia's communities of diverse backgrounds have proven that they can co-exist peacefully in fruitful collaboration and ties of friendship because of our joint commitment to multicultural Australia. No cynical, irresponsible or misguided attempt to score points or votes off the backs of any arbitrarily chosen ethnic group should ever be permitted to bear the bitter fruit of discord.
The Hon. M.J. Atkinson: Keep reading it; it is about Senator Ferguson.
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH: Those remarks could apply equally to Senator Ferguson—
The Hon. M.J. Atkinson interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Order!
Mr HAMILTON-SMITH: —or to the Minister for Multicultural Affairs. Now, can I condemn, in the most definite way, the Ottoman regime and recognise the tragedies inflicted upon the Pontian Greeks. Can I also say this as someone who is very much part of a Greek family. In an observation, Steve Papadopoulos recounted a poignant story of one of the voyages as the Pontians fled. He said:
Many children and elderly died during the voyage to Greece. When the crew realised they were dead they were thrown overboard. Soon the mothers of the dead children started pretending they were still alive. After witnessing what was done to the deceased they would hold onto them and comfort them, and if they were still alive they did this to give them a proper burial in Greece.
I commend the motion and I hope that we can all go on living together in harmony in the years ahead without making cheap political points out of what are very, very sensitive issues.
There being a disturbance in the gallery:
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for West Torrens.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens—Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Gambling, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers, Minister Assisting the Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (12:04): The United Nations on 9 December 1948 officially defined genocide as follows:
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
There is no doubt by any definition that what happened in Pontos and what happened in Anatolia was genocide, because 350,000 Greek Pontians were murdered, 1.5 million Armenians were murdered and hundreds of thousands of Syrians were murdered.
Modern nations, such as Germany and Japan, have apologised for past atrocities. Australia has apologised to its Stolen Generation. These genocides are the most well-recorded and photographed mass killing events of the 20th century. This government and other governments have not allowed visas or entry into this country of deniers of the holocaust of the Second World War. There are very few people now who deny the holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis in Europe, yet some people think that it is okay to deny this holocaust. I find that grossly offensive and completely reprehensible.
Ms Chapman: So do we.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I am not saying that you do not. I am very disappointed with Senator Ferguson's remarks. I do not think there is a person in this building today who can look that senator in the face, because I consider him to be on the same level as people who deny the Holocaust. Of course, there are offences in place in many European countries for denying the Holocaust, but Senator Ferguson sits nicely in red leather in the Senate. I find that offensive.
Today, oppressions are still being carried out by the Turkish regime. They say that these offences are in the past and are behind the modern Turkey. Let me remind the house of modern Turkey's record. There are 40,000 Turkish troops illegally occupying a European nation as we speak. Religious freedoms in Turkey are being held back. The spiritual leader of the world's 300 million orthodox are being oppressed. The School of Haki, the theological college, has been closed. The Turkish government is attempting to say that our patriarch is simply a local church leader rather than the spiritual leader of the orthodox world.
Turkey claims to be a secular nation yet discriminates against ethnic minorities in favour of Islam, and it still oppresses its Kurdish minorities. There are continued border incursions on Greek islands in the Aegean. This is a country that talks as though it is a western nation wishing to enter Europe, but they behave like barbarians. Until the modern country of Turkey understands that it must apologise unequivocally for its actions in the past and in the present it can never become a modern European nation. I now wish to quote from a book called Not Even My Name by Thea Halo, who wrote:
There is no doubt that the genocide of the Greek, Armenian and Assyrian populations of Turkey was systematic and deliberate. According to American diplomatic reports, Kemal [Kemal Ataturk] himself was directly involved in the slaughter of thousands of innocent Greek and Armenian civilians and was present in Smyrna as his troops torched the city. It was reported that Kemal held congresses in Erzurum and Sivas in eastern Anatolia, in the summer of 1919, where a decision was made to attack 'all people from Rumeli and all the Hellenes'. During the time Kemal set up his provisional government in Ankara in 1919-1920, and prior to his successful ousting of the sultan, Cemal Musket, legal adviser of the sultan, collected various documents from the sultan's archive and wrote a report. It was found in the archives of the Foreign Ministry of Greece as reported by Professor Kostas Fotiadis, Professor of History at the Aristotelian University in Greece.
The document states:
The government of Ankara decided that the Greeks of the regions of Atabazar and Kaltras, first, and later the Greeks of the Pontos, would be slaughtered and eliminated. He assigned Yavur Ali to burn down a Greek village which is near Geive and to kill all of its inhabitants. The tragedy lasted two days. The village, with its 12 factories and its nice buildings became a dump site. Ninety per cent of the population were slaughtered and burnt. The few who were able to escape in order to save their lives went to the mountains. In order to preserve his Chets, Mustafa Kemal had to find an area which he could attack.
For this purpose he went to the area of Pontos. The slaughter, looting, general elimination in this area lasted from February to August. The displacements and killings were conducted with the semi-official participation of the military and civic personnel. The Turkish authorities and the Turkish government of 1919 and 1920, including at the peace conference in Paris, attempted not to deny their actions but they attempted to put all the responsibility to the young Turks, in other words, to the government.
A United States consul, Leslie Davis, described the Armenian deportees passing through Harpoot Plain on the way to Dejour. The United States official records on the Armenian genocide 1915‑1917 state:
All of them were in rags and many…almost naked…emaciated, sick, diseased, filthy, covered with dirt and vermin…driven along for many weeks like herds of cattle, with little to eat…There were few men among them, most of the men having been killed by the Kurd before their arrival at Harpoot. Many of the women and children also had been killed and very many others had died on the way…Of those who had started, only a small portion were still alive and they were rapidly dying…Many Turkish officers and other Turks visited the camps to select the prettiest girls and had their doctors present to examine them…Several hundred of the dead and dying were scattered about the camp…the body of a middle aged man who had apparently just died or been killed. A number of dead bodies of women and children lay here and there…Old men sat there mumbling incoherently. Women with matted hair and sunken eyes sat staring like maniacs. One, whose face has haunted my memory ever since, was so emaciated and the skin was drawn so tightly over her features that her head appeared to be only a lifeless skull. Others were in the spasms of death. Children with bloated bellies were on the ground wallowing in filth. Some were in convulsions. All in the camp were beyond help.
Senator Ferguson needs to apologise to all these groups. If he had said those words that he said in the Senate about the Jewish Holocaust in Germany he would be in prison. However, for some reason, he is a Liberal Party senator who is held in high regard. I find that offensive. It is offensive to the Greek and Armenian populations of Australia and to all people who have suffered from genocide. I commend the Leader of the Opposition, the Attorney-General and the communities that will never let this issue die and will always remember those who have fallen and commemorate what they sacrificed.
There are people here today who have lost loved ones; family and relatives. To them it is not silly or merely a casualty of war. It was an active attempt to wipe them off the face of the earth simply because they were Christian and were not Turkish. This is the worst form of genocide. It is a disgrace. Modern Turkey has a lot to learn, and it will never reform itself until it accepts the tragedies of the past.
There being a disturbance in the gallery:
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! I think people in the gallery have been advised by the Speaker that applause is out of order. Please desist, no matter what your feelings are. The member for Mitchell.
Mr HANNA (Mitchell) (12:15): First, I make a couple of preliminary remarks. Sometimes we have debates in this place about particular cultural groups or events overseas. Sometimes there are objections to this on the ground that it has little to do with the South Australian parliament. For example, when I raised the plight of the Palestinians, some members said, 'What has that got to do with us?' There is a very clear and simple answer to that. Our own citizens, our own Australians, bear witness to some of the horrible events which have occurred overseas, and although these people are Australians, they also bring with them their culture and their history, and that history should not be denied. It should certainly not be denied in the federal parliament of Australia.
Secondly, I make the point that it is unfortunate that politics has entered into the debate. Even today in dealing with this delicate and tragic issue, we have seen the Attorney-General aggressively interject when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking. Those sort of interjections are unnecessary and, unfortunately, they even cast a doubt on the sincerity of those who bring politics into the issue. We need to stick to what happened historically, to recognise it and encourage all Australians to accept it, but we do not need to do that in a partisan political way.
I turn then to the substance of the issue. We are dealing with the genocide that took place toward the end of World War I and after World War I of the culturally Greek people in what is now Turkey and the Armenians and the Assyrians. The debate understandably today has focused on the Greek speaking people, the Pontians and others, because we have a very substantial Pontian population in Adelaide and in Australia. The Armenians, we do not forget, because there is a present day Armenia: they have survived and now have their own nation. The Assyrians have fallen back into history. They originally came from an area which we would now call Iraq.
All of them suffered at the hands of Turkish nationalists some 90-odd years ago. It was as early as 1911 that plans were published for the elimination of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Those plans were published and translated into English. They were available for those who could find them. Those documents are still there today proving the intention of the Ottoman government of the time.
There was an intense sense of nationalism after the events of 100 years ago in the Ottoman Empire. There was a determination on the part of Turkish politicians at the time to unify their country and to eliminate other than Turkish people. They proceeded, first, through the tehcir law (to which the Attorney-General has referred) by taking away property. Then they came and rounded up the leaders of those communities—and in Constantinople it was just over 104 years ago to the day that 300 leaders (political and intellectual leaders) were rounded up and put to death. They then proceeded to go right through the villages of what is now northern and western Turkey. The area bordering the southern edge of the Black Sea is Pontius and it has been a Greek civilisation for thousands of years, subject to the massacres which went on 90 years ago.
Many people do not understand in Australia that that part of the world was a Greek empire. Some of us learn in the history books about the Byzantine Empire. That was a Greek empire. It is sometimes called the Eastern Roman Empire, but it was a Greek empire based in Constantinople. And so, it is not unusual then that we find, for thousands of years, there have been Greek people living in Asia Minor and in Pontus. And so, even as late as 100 years ago, there was a huge Greek population in Constantinople. When the ANZACS landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, there were Greek people living there. There were Turkish tax collectors, Turkish police and army, but there were Greek villagers tilling the soil and living their lives. These are the people who were deported; these are the people who were massacred during World War I and after.
Other members of parliament have spoken about some of the horrible things which occurred. Entire villages were surrounded and burned. The male populations of many villages were simply taken out and shot. When Smyrna was entered, as a result of a military struggle in 1922, all the Christians were put to death, apart from very few who escaped. The remaining women and children, in hundreds of thousands of cases, were sent on death marches across the country. Some were sent on death marches as long as 800 miles—that is from here to Sydney—and on the way were prey to rape and starvation.
I am indebted to the research of Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, a scholar who researches these matters. It was due to the information I heard from him that I realised that this is an issue for South Australians, particularly because our own South Australian soldiers witnessed a lot of these deprivations. The soldiers who were taken prisoner at Gallipoli and in Syria, among other allied forces in Mesopotamia as well, were sent on death marches, too. They were sent to prison camps where they were forced to hard labour, as well. There are many memoirs of solders written about these times. They saw the hordes of Armenian and Greek women and children being forced along the countryside in death marches. They saw their pitiful, bedraggled state. They joined with them in some cases in the prison camps. The truth of the massacre and what happened to those Armenian-Greek people is undeniable. It is there in the records and even in the records of our own Australian soldiers.
I believe that one of the aspects of the motion moved by the Attorney-General is most commendable. He says that we should remember and learn from such dark chapters in human history. What then was the essence of the motivation behind these massacres? It was hatred—hatred in the form of racism. We have to ask in Australia today: have we overcome that hatred? Have we overcome racism in Australia? In Australia today how do we deal with people who are different in culture and religion? Of course, we do not massacre them and we do not put them in prison camps—although one has to look at Woomera and Port Hedland when we talk about that.
We do have those issues of living together in Australia today. On the whole we are able to do it fairly peacefully. At the same time we need to remember the depths to which humanity can sink if we allow racism and nationalism to take grip.
I finish on a conciliatory note. I must say that these events occurred around 90 years ago. I do not blame the current Turkish government or the current Turkish community. In Senator Alan Ferguson's motion there is much to be commended. Australia and Turkey can be friends; there is no reason why not. There is much to commend about what goes on in Turkey today, but history must not be erased or forgotten.
It seems to me that it is essential to move on from injustice, and it is only possible to move on from injustice if the truth is spoken. Sometimes in the face of injustice, especially in terms of what happened long ago, all we can do is remember and speak the truth. I believe that the political squabble which led to this debate has actually resulted in something very valuable—a recognition of a horrible slaughter which is still very real and very heartfelt by Pontians and other Hellenic people and by Armenians in Australia today. Lest we forget.
Mr RAU (Enfield) (12:25): I want to say a few words about this motion, and, hopefully, what I have to say is not too repetitious of the remarks that have already been made. I would like to pick up on the theme which the member for Mitchell took up towards the end of his contribution; that is, this needs to be seen in an historical context and it needs to be understood that these events must be remembered, but remembered in a way that enables us all to learn from the mistakes of the past and, hopefully, to avoid those mistakes in the future.
It is not productive, as the member for Mitchell said, to make derogatory remarks about the present government of Turkey. However, that is an entirely separate matter. As he said, these events did occur and are undeniable. Unfortunately, around the place these events are frequently denied. In some countries around the world, denial of events such as this is a criminal offence; and I am speaking here particularly of Germany.
The context in which these terrible events occurred was the context of the collapse of the sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, the collapse of the caliphate and the arrival of the young Turks (as they were described) on the scene. It has been mentioned already that these people were using nationalism as a way of dealing with the instability that was caused by the collapse of the centuries old government of the Ottoman Empire which, after all, had been described for many years before that as the sick man of Europe.
It is important for people to remember that at this time the Armenian and Greek communities in what was then the Ottoman Empire had been there virtually forever. In fact, they had been there before the Ottomans were there. The Ottomans, in effect, had come in and progressively overwhelmed the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire, eventually capturing the capital; and later on they moved further to the west and eventually got as far as Budapest and Vienna.
So there was quite a movement of these people, but they were coming in from somewhere else. They were not the original occupiers of that territory. Of course, this has happened throughout history—one group of people has come in and taken over from another group of people. Often we hear in Australia about the consequences of that for the people who lived here before our ancestors arrived here.
The Greek and Armenian culture in what was then the Ottoman Empire was a deeply entrenched, rich, vibrant contribution to that society. It is well recognised that much of the culture, certainly much of the commerce, of what was then the Ottoman Empire was greatly enriched by the presence of those individuals and their contribution to that country, which for a great deal of time—it may not have been a country which said, 'We think it is terrific because we have this Christian group living within our borders'—did not persecute them in the way we are talking about in this motion.
The First World War was a tremendous tragedy for people all over the world, but very much so for the people in the Middle East and parts of the Ottoman Empire, as it had previously been. It is a sad fact of international politics and history that when great powers fight smaller communities, smaller powers are crushed; and that is exactly what happened in the First World War.
The Ottoman Empire became a plaything, basically, for the British and French who carved it up as early as 1916; Mr Sykes and Mr Picot sat down with a map, pulled out their pencils and started working out who would get what. Meanwhile, Lawrence of Arabia was promising the same bits to other people, and so on and so on. At the end of that terrible war the dismembered Ottoman Empire ultimately came to be under the control of Kemal Ataturk.
The period that is of most concern, obviously, is the period that commences much earlier with the particular treatment of the Armenian people, but then later right up until the twenties with the treatment of Greeks who lived particularly in Asia Minor. As a person who has had the privilege of being able to travel in that part of the world, it is so obvious, as you drive up the Aegean coast of Turkey, that so much of what is there has been contributed to by Hellenic culture.
The buildings which are there, the ruins in places like Myletus, even Ephesus—which I realise was a Roman city—I think had a Greek precursor. There are other places like Priene and various other places I could name, Didyma—all of these places where it is obvious that the culture is Greek. The buildings are clearly Greek even though they are in a fairly sad state. So, the contribution goes back a long way.
The other point I would make is that unfortunately this sort of thing has not only occurred to the Armenian and Greek people of what is now Turkey, or was the Ottoman Empire, but many other genocides have occurred in the 20th century, aside from the ones that I am talking about now.
Everyone has heard a great deal about what happened to European Jewry during the period 1939 to 1945, but what about the issue of the Ukrainians at the hands of their own government, where 10 million or so of them were starved to death because of government policy?
What about the Cambodians, who on a proportionate basis suffered a devastating destruction at the hands of an idiotic government—their own government? What about the more recent examples of Rwanda and what was Yugoslavia, the terrible carnage that occurred in the Balkans for nearly 20 years with people who had been neighbours for centuries shooting each other? Absolutely appalling.
So, that is a present day example that people, I think, of my age and our age in this chamber, can understand because we lived through it on the television, we saw it everyday and we read about it in the newspaper. That is something like what it must have been like for the people who lived within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire and wound up being persecuted for their beliefs or for their cultural position.
I would like to finish on this point, and I come back to what the member for Mitchell said. I would like to think that we can learn from all of this and that it will not happen again, but, unfortunately, events as recent as those in the former Yugoslavia do not give me a great deal of confidence that these things are impossible, in fact, we have to be constantly vigilant about these things.
The fact that this motion is before the parliament, the fact that we are debating this matter and we are talking about this matter is at least some modest way that we as legislators in what is, after all, only a provincial parliament—I should not really say that here, should I, but that is what we are—can make some contribution to raising public awareness, both of the terrible circumstances of this particular conflict, but also of the fact that these conflicts can and do and will occur again unless people are aware of these issues and take intelligent, statesmanlike solutions to these problems to hand.
The Hon. R.B. SUCH (Fisher) (12:34): I commend the Attorney-General for bringing this motion before the house, because it is important that we never forget what happened in the past and, as far as we possibly can, make sure that these sorts of heinous crimes are not committed again. What is important about this motion, apart from paying respect and acknowledging the tragedy of the past, is that it brings before us something that I have to admit I was totally unaware of. And that is after spending 16 years in tertiary study, at the university—eight years full-time and eight years part-time.
Nowhere in my student life did anyone ever raise this issue. It highlights the fact that in our schools and in our universities, we need to teach history. We need to make people aware of what has happened in the past. We have silly people going around denying, for example, the Holocaust, which was an evil series of acts against the Jewish people performed by that maniac Hitler, but it also took the lives of many gypsies and people with disabilities; we often forget that many of them died in their thousands as well.
As the member for Enfield said, there are plenty of other examples in history—some recent, many well in the past: in Africa; some of the things that were done for example by the Japanese in China and even against our own troops; I have mentioned Nazi Germany; Stalinist Russia; even South Africa where the British were involved in fighting the Boers. That is where the concentration camp was invented and developed by the British. When I say the British, I am not talking about some remote group; I am talking about members of my family who actually fought there on the British side. Harry Such was one of them. That is where the concentration camp was invented and developed.
I think the point that the member for Enfield was making is that we have to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of thinking that humans will never again be capable of evil acts like genocide. Whilst sometimes I am critical of some aspects of what is called multiculturalism in Australia because I think some people politicise it, I think its great overwhelming strength is that it promotes tolerance. If you do not have that tolerance, understanding and empathy of others then ultimately you can get into this trap of the sort of evil that is reflected in what happened to the Armenians and others in that area between 1915 and 1923.
It is very important that amongst our children we develop a sense of empathy, consideration and understanding of others. I recall that if we as kids ever, in ignorance, said anything about wogs, my late mother would always say, 'What about the Rosinis?' They lived in Upper Sturt when she was a child and were fantastic people. She would always counter our ignorance with a practical example to develop our empathy using the concept of putting yourself in someone else's shoes.
Likewise, I did not appreciate it at the time but Lois O'Donoghue, who now calls herself Lowitja, used to come to our house when she and Faith Coulthard were training at the Royal Adelaide. They were subject to quite a bit of racial intolerance in their training days. They used to come to our place when I was a little kid. I did not appreciate then that my parents were promoting this tolerance and understanding.
I say this because we all need to be not just on our guard but committed to promoting tolerance and understanding. If we sit back and say nothing then we are guilty of the crime that is committed by people through acts of genocide or other evil acts. That is what happened during and leading up to World War II and it happened, I suspect, in relation to the particular topic that we are debating today. People in parts of the world who knew what was going on did little or nothing; they sat back and allowed people to suffer. That, in my view, is a crime, not as great as those who commit it first-hand, but it is still a crime.
We cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. We need to ensure that we are ever vigilant and that we promote tolerance and empathy, particularly amongst our children, so that we rid the world and ourselves of the evil that can be reflected in the sort of genocide and intolerance that is highlighted in this motion today. I commend the motion to the house, and I acknowledge, as I said at the start, the Attorney-General for moving it. I also acknowledge the heartfelt speech of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Hon. K.A. MAYWALD (Chaffey—Minister for the River Murray, Minister for Water Security) (12:40): I join with members of the house in supporting this motion moved by the Attorney-General, and I do so on behalf of the many Riverland families of Armenian, Pontian Greek and Syrian descent. The Riverland truly is a multicultural society, with families descended from over 50 different nationalities living together in harmony. We do so without conflict as a result of developing empathy and understanding and by developing a great respect and an ability to celebrate the many cultural differences of the families living in our community.
I, too, recognise the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human society to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated. I will not repeat the comments made by many in this house about the dreadful atrocities that occurred during this period, but I would like to recognise the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters.
There are many refugees from conflicts around the world, and there are many conflicts still occurring around the world. It is through understanding the hurt of and having empathy with those communities that have lived through these atrocities that we can hope that, in the future, we can bring to an end these kinds of dreadful crimes against humanity.
Mr PISONI (Unley) (12:42): I, too, rise to support this motion. I would like to talk about the discovery I have been through when learning about the Asia Minor genocide, a term that encompasses all those victims of the Ottoman Empire at that time, and I will pick up on a point made by the member for Fisher. I did not go through the university system, but I went through high school, and this is certainly an event of which I was not made aware. I think it is fair to say that not many people of non Greek, Armenian or Pontian Greek heritage could say that they were familiar with what happened during this terrible time of world history.
At a lecture I attended on 22 April, which was sponsored by members of the Greek community, I learnt that it was very much part of Australia's history and part of the history of Gallipoli. The lecture was entitled, 'An SOS from beyond Gallipoli,' and it was given that title because of just how much involvement Australia had—the diggers who landed on Gallipoli, those who were left behind and worked in the labour camps, those victims in the work camps, building roads, bridges and digging tunnels for the Turks, and those who were marched off to all parts of the Arab Peninsula as servants and slaves. Australian diggers were amongst those people. The 94th anniversary of the Armenian massacre was the day before ANZAC Day.
After my attendance at the lecture I was very interested to learn more about what we had learnt in that time and what has been put on the public record in Australia about the Armenian genocide. I recommend all members here who are sharing this moment to visit the Australian War Memorial website and look at the information there.
I was very interested in a thesis that was published on that site by Vahe Georges Kateb in 2003. The thesis is about the Australian press coverage of the Armenian genocide. The study compares news reports published on the Armenian genocide with acts of the United Nations Genocide Convention and finds that, indeed, they had communicated to the Australian public that Armenians were subject to genocide.
In the absence of the word 'genocide', Australian journalists would use early 20th century descriptions for the meaning of the word, such as 'destroying a nation, 'race extermination, 'policy of extermination, 'wiping out the Armenian nation' and other similar expressions. I think that, when we look at the dominance of this genocide in Australian media at the time, it is difficult to understand why it has not become part of Australian history.
I refer again to the Australian media. The most recent time when this was spoken about in the Australian media was, in fact, on 25 April 2008. I would like to use this opportunity to read some parts of the story that was written for The Australian by Vicken Babkenian, who is a Director of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She starts her story by saying:
At the same time as Australian troops landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, another event of historical importance was taking place in Turkey: the Armenian genocide. The Gallipoli landing took place one day after the mass arrest of Armenian leaders in Istanbul, which is known as the beginning of the genocide.
I understand that, at that time, about 250 intellectuals and other community leaders were marched off by the Turks and massacred. She goes on to say:
'Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?' were Adolph Hitler's famous words when he embarked on his heinous crime of the Holocaust. One group who remember the Armenians are a handful of Australians who were at the forefront of the relief effort, yet their stories have been largely hidden. Not one Australian historian has devoted any attention to these remarkable Australians, who have been forgotten along with the 'forgotten genocide'.
I think we have discovered that Australian historians have taken this up, but, unfortunately, we do not get to hear that story from them. It is not a prominent enough part of our history. For example, Edith Glanville of Haberfield lost her son Leigh from the 1st Battalion who died in battle at Gallipoli, thus began her extraordinary journey with the Armenian people. Glanville was the first woman justice of the peace in New South Wales, and founded both Quota and the Soroptimist clubs in Australia. Most notably, she was honorary secretary of the Armenian Relief Fund of New South Wales from 1922, and became a driving force in raising more than $100,000 worth of supplies, which in today's terms is around about $19 million—a significant contribution from the people of New South Wales.
Other members of the relief fund included Sir Charles Lloyd Jones who was, in fact, the first chairman of the ABC, and Oscar Lines, the general manager of the Bank of New South Wales. Glanville was so concerned about the plight of the Armenians that she ended up adopting an Armenian orphan.
A former Menzies cabinet minister and British high commissioner, Thomas White, was a prisoner of war during World War I in Turkey and, being a witness to Armenian genocide, he later returned home and joined the Armenian relief effort.
Another prominent South Australian was the Reverend J.E. Cresswell (and we heard about the work of Reverend Cresswell on 22 April). Reverend Cresswell was from Adelaide's Congregational Church (which is now the Uniting Church) and was national secretary of the Armenian Relief Fund of Australasia. After witnessing the plight of Armenian refugees in Syria in 1923 Reverend Cresswell said:
Over 6,000 here. The sights within these caves are beyond words. No words seem adequate to describe the misery that must be the portion of these poor people.
The reverend oversaw relief programs from port to destination, including setting up an Australian funded orphanage for 1,700 children who survived the genocide, and that site is now one of the holiest for Armenians. In 1918, Sydney mayor James Joynton Smith set up the Armenian Relief Fund, which included prominent philanthropists and business people, such as the Griffith brothers, one of the largest suppliers of tea and coffee in Australia, and the Elliot brothers, one of the nation's biggest pharmaceutical groups.
The fund, with the help of many Sydneysiders, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Armenians, when Australians were already sacrificing so much in World War I. Even Prime Minister Billy Hughes promised that free freight would be provided by commonwealth steamers for any contribution to the fund. I know from a lecture I attended that South Australia played a big role in supplying grains to the Armenian victims of this genocide. The newspaper article continues:
These are just some of the hundreds of Australian stories of generosity, hope and moral decency that have been unearthed. In the words of Robert Mayne: 'In world history there is an intimate connection between the Dardanelles campaign and the Armenian genocide.
It is for that reason that I have discovered, in the journey that I have taken over the last few weeks, the importance of this occasion and the importance of this motion. I commend the motion.
Dr McFETRIDGE (Morphett) (12:51): I rise in support of this motion, and I am delighted that His Grace Bishop Nikandros of Dorileum can be with us today, with many supporters. I enjoy the blessing of the waters in my electorate every year, where thousands of members of the Greek community are led by His Grace.
This is a very important motion and, as the shadow minister for Aboriginal affairs and reconciliation, I am very much aware of how history is sometimes rewritten and filtered (in fact, the next motion on the Notice Paper is one of my motions about internet filtering). That motion is there because one should not be able to filter history and people's ability to examine information that is out there. Paragraph (c) of this motion states:
(c) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;
Unfortunately, I am no student of history. I learnt mainly British history at Salisbury High School, with many of my Greek friends. We learnt to eat a lot of Greek food before it was popular, and I think I am all the better for it.
We must not filter or rewrite history. When I attend citizenship ceremonies (as do other members in this place), one of the things I enjoy saying to people is, 'You can be part of the Australian population and culture and part of this nation. You can wear your heart on your sleeve as a proud Australian, but you don't have to give anything up. You promise to obey our laws and respect our rights, but you don't have to give anything up. Part of not giving things up is recognising and valuing your culture and passing it on not only to your descendants but also to other Australians, recognising your history. And this is part of it—a dark part. There are some darker parts of history and there are some parts that we are more than proud to ensure that everyone celebrates. But you don't have to give up who you are and where you are from.'
This motion recognises a particular episode in the past that should not be forgotten, should not be filtered and should be recognised. I support the motion.
Ms CICCARELLO (Norwood) (12:55): I would also like to support this motion. I have been very aware from the time I was a child of what had happened because, in the First World War, my grandfather fought against the Turks and this was often spoken about in my family. In fact, my grandfather received a medal for his bravery during that time.
With the Attorney-General, I had the opportunity of visiting Srebrenica, Auschwitz, Birkenau and a number of other places, and recognise the atrocities that have happened in this world. This motion is commendable. We must certainly recognise history and hope that the brutal acts of the past are not repeated. I associate myself with all those people who have had tragic losses within their families and communities.