Michael Owen May 13, 2009
Article from: The Australian
A STATE Labor minister has inflamed tensions between Turkey and Canberra about a "genocide" by accepting an invitation to address a 20,000-strong rally in Greece on the sensitive issue.South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson sparked outrage from the Turkish Government this year after he described the "genocide" of Pontian Greeks by Turkish nationalists between 1916 and 1923. Mr Atkinson, who also is the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, inflamed the row by declaring that anyone who disputed this version of history was practising a form of "Holocaust denial". As reported by The Australian last month, the Turkish ambassador to Australia, Murat Ersavci, protested to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith about the "defamation" of his country, and warned that thousands of Turkish Australians feared discrimination because of the situation in South Australia. But last night, a defiant Mr Atkinson said he was "honoured" to have accepted an invitation to speak at an annual assembly in Greece, commemorating the Pontian Greeks, and would leave on Friday as a guest of the Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece. Mr Ersavci said Mr Atkinson's decision to address next Tuesday's rally was "deeply regrettable". Mr Atkinson and the state parliament, which passed a motion of support on April 30, "could very easily bring the friendship between Turkey and Australia to a halt", Mr Ersavci warned. "Australian citizens of Turkish origin naturally fear that a deliberate climate of hostility is being created towards them and that there is a strong racist undercurrent to it," he said. Australia's ambassador to Turkey, Peter Doyle, said South Australia's position "does not reflect the approach of the Australian Government". Mr Atkinson said he had been "overwhelmed" by the response from the Greek, Armenian and Cypriot communities to his stance. "There are many Greek-Australians who have been deeply affected by the genocide," he said. Mr Ersavci accused Mr Atkinson of rewriting history to lever votes for the ALP, a charge Mr Atkinson denied. But Mr Atkinson has written to thousands of voters from Greek, Assyrian, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian backgrounds in eight state seats in Adelaide on the matter.