Today, Wednesday 1st May 2013, in a historically unprecedented move at the request of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, the Australian Hellenic Council and the Armenian National Committee, the Parliament of NSW Legislative Council passed unanimously a motion recognizing the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide.
Mr. Hermiz Shahen, the Deputy secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance said; “this constitutes an extraordinary moment in the history of the Assyrian nation. The Assyrian nation is struggling for years to gain the International recognition of the genocide perpetrated against them by the Ottoman government under the leadership of a chauvinistic party, the Young Turk between1914 – 1923. This recognition will act as a powerful counter to those, especially in present-day Turkey, who still ignore or deny outright the genocides of the Ottoman Christian minorities. Assyrians in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are continuously paying the price as a consequence of the denial of their genocide.”
“The bitter genocide committed against us by the Ottoman Turks during WWI has left deep marks in the heart and mind of every Assyrian. The cold-hearted murder of hundreds of thousands of defenceless Assyrian souls in South East Turkey reduced our mass, impacting our viability in the region dramatically”, Mr Shahen said.
On behalf of the Assyrian community in Australia and worldwide, Mr Shahen thanked Rev the Hon. Fred Nile MLC, President of the Australian Christian Party for moving the motion on 30 April 2013 and for his courageous stand and strong believe in the rectification of this historical injustice, and his demand that the State of Turkey recognises and apologises for the Genocide. He also thanked all the members who supported this motion.
The motion was as follow:
Whereas the NSW Parliament passed a motion in 1997 recognising and condemning the Genocide of the Armenians, this House recognises that Assyrians and Greeks were subjected to qualitatively similar genocides by the then Ottoman Government between 1914 – 1923: and
- joins the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks communities of New South Wales in honouring the memory of the innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the first modern genocides;
- condemns the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of intolerance;
- 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;
- condemns and prevents all attempts to use the passage of time to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and other acts of genocide;
- recalls the testimonies of ANZAC prisoners-of-war and other servicemen who were witness to the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks;
- recalls the testimonies of ANZAC servicemen who rescued Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks genocide survivors;
- acknowledges the significant humanitarian relief contribution made by the people of New South Wales to the victims and survivors of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks; and
- calls on the Commonwealth Government to condemn the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks.
Rev The Hon. Fred Nile, in his Adjournment Speech said:
Over the years, many members of the Parliament – both in this chamber and in the Legislative Council – have risen to address the issue of recognition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greeks Genocides. Indeed, it was the Parliament of New South Wales that led the way on this issue, adopting a motion of recognition on the Armenian Genocide in 1997. I rise today to urge we complete the efforts, adopting a motion of recognition on the Assyrian and Greeks Genocides. In remembering these events, we do not seek to apportion blame. This is a matter of history, and history must neither be erased nor forgotten. We must remember and speak the truth. NSW was recently visited by world-renowned scholar Prof Taner Akcam of Clark University in the United States. In his own words,
We must create a global awareness of genocides and their prevention … Genocide denial and the struggle against it are part of global democracy and human rights. … Recognition is an issue relevant to all of humanity.
ANZACs, men of New South Wales, were eyewitnesses to the Genocides. ANZACs rescued survivors of the massacres and deportations across the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. People of our great state donated generously to save the lives of those who had reached sanctuary in Greece, French Syria, British Iraq and British Palestine. The story of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides are a part of the Australian story and deserve their rightful place in that narrative.
The Genocides of the indigenous peoples of the Ottoman Empire that took place during World War I and its aftermath are a historical event. The victims of this criminal act were the indigenous peoples of the Ottoman Turkish Empire: Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. Many members of this Chamber have substantial numbers of Australian Assyrian, Australian Greeks and Australian Armenian people in their communities. Hundreds of thousands of them have made their homes in New South Wales over the past two centuries. All of these groups suffered at the hands of the government of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
As early as 1910 plans were formulated and published for the elimination of the indigenous Christians of the Ottoman Empire, part of the government’s efforts to homogenise its population. Those documents, and millions more like them, are available today, demonstrating the intention of the Ottoman Turkish government of the time. There was a determination on the part of Ottoman Turkish politicians to eliminate non-Turkish identities. With the outbreak of the war, their plans began to be implemented.
When the Anzacs landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, there were Greek people living there, tilling the soil and fishing the waters. There were also Turkish tax collectors, police and soldiers. The non-Turks are the people who were deported; these are the people who were massacred during World War I and after.
International reaction was immediate to what British Secretary of the Admiralty Winston Churchill labelled an ‘administrative holocaust’. Relief committees sprang up all over the world. A Joint Allied Declaration, issued 24 May 1915, stated:
In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly … that they will hold personally responsible … all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.
When the Anzacs left the Gallipoli Peninsula, they left behind hundreds of prisoners of war—men such as Sydney-born Private Frederick Ashton (11th Battalion AIF) and Bourke-born Petty Officer Cecil Arthur Bray (HMAS A.E.2, RAN). The Anzac prisoners of war went through a series of prisoner of war camps, typically being marched from one to another on bread and water rations, in bitter cold or blistering heat. While Ashton, Bray and many of their comrades were eventually released, more than 60 other Anzac prisoners perished from a combination of exposure, disease, malnutrition and exhaustion.
A small number of Anzacs became rescuers, saving the lives of those who had survived the massacres and deportations. Most famous of these are the men of the Dunsterforce. Australian officers in this unit, including Captains R.H. Hooper, Andre Judge and Stanley Savige, have left a legacy of written and photographic records of their rescue of some 40,000 Assyrians and Armenians in the mountains of north-west Iran and eastern Iraq in the summer of 1918.
In response to the needs of destitute survivors scattered across the Near East, committees of the Armenian Relief Fund and Save the Children Fund emerged in Sydney and Melbourne between 1915 and 1919. Amongst the leading lights of this movement were Sydney Lord Mayor J. Joynton Smith, Haberfield’s Edith Glanville (founder of the Australian Soroptomist and Quota Clubs), Sir Samuel Sidney Cohen, Lady David (wife of the co-founder of David Jones Stores), Professors Meredith Atkinson and Alexander Leeper, both of the University of Melbourne, Victorians Jessie Webb and George Devine Treloar, Queenslander Joice NanKivell Loch, Adelaide’s Rev. James E. Cresswell. It was a truly national effort, with New South Wales at its heart.
I am indebted to the research of Dr Panayiotis Diamadis and Mr Vicken Babkenian, Directors of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Their pioneering research into the Australia’s relationship to the Armenian, Greeks and Assyrian Genocides has returned to the light of day this issue for the people of New South Wales, particularly because our own servicemen witnessed the suffering of the indigenous peoples of Anatolia: Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks. Australian soldiers, sailors and pilots saw columns of Assyrian, Armenian and Greek women and children being forced along the countryside in death marches. They saw their pitiful, bedraggled state. The homes, churches, monasteries and schools of these people became the prison camps of the captured Anzacs and their allies.
The truth of the genocide - the truth of what happened to the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek peoples - is in the records of our own Australian servicemen. We should remember and learn from such dark chapters in human history. What was the essence of the motivation behind these massacres and deportations? It was hatred - hatred in the form of racism. We need to remember the depths to which humanity can sink if we allow racism and extreme nationalism to take grip. These events occurred 95 years ago. I repeat, in remembering these events, we do not seek to apportion blame. This is a matter of history, and history must neither be erased nor forgotten. We must remember and speak the truth.
I close again quoting from prof Akcam: ‘Gradually, the connection between democracy-building and human rights, on the one hand, and remembering and confronting history, on the other, became clearer and more acceptable across a broader swath of Turkish society.’
In the same spirit, we can secure recognition of a genocide which is still very real and very heartfelt by the Assyrian community, by the Australian Greek community, and by the Australian Armenian community in Australia today. Lest we forget.