Former South Australia Treasurer, Anastassios “Tom” Koutsantonis was praised for his speech in the South Australian parliament in which he highlighted the plight of the Kurdish people in the wake of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
The president of the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia, Peter Stefanidis, thanked Mr Koutsantonis for “using our position to bring this issue to the forefront” in a speech Mr Koutsantonis made before the South Australian House of Assembly on 16 October.
“Our Federation members and the Greek community have been working very closely with the Assyrian refugee community and the stories we heard have been horrifying. It is heartwarming that a Greek has stood for them and for our history.
“We were proud to be Greek Australians. Referencing the Genocide of our people as well as the invasion of Cyprus, you conveyed to the Australian people a pattern of behaviour that can no longer be ignored if Turkey does wish to still call Australia a friend,” said Mr Stefanidis in a statement.
Mr Koutsantonis, a member for Torrens, told the South Australian House of Assembly that the Turkish invasion of northern Syria had further destabilised the Middle East.
“What they are attempting to do is silence a minority. The Turkish military have a history of ethnic cleansing and genocide since the 1920s in Asia Minor, when they ruthlessly attacked Greeks, Greek Pontians, Armenians, Kurds and Assyrians, to the modern day when they invaded Cyprus in 1974 and began a project of ethnic cleansing in the north. Now we see it again in northern Syria.”
“…when the West was confronted with the ISIS caliphate, instead of sending our sons and daughters, they (the Kurds) sent theirs, and they defeated them. With the assistance of the United States and her allies, the caliphate no longer exists.”
Mr Koutsantonis said the Kurds had also helped the West to contain Iranian and Russian interests in the region but the withdrawal of the US was not only creating an opportunity for Iran and Russia but was also a betrayal of its Kurdish allies.
“The Assad regime is now moving back into northern Syria with their Iranian and Russian allies. Now that the West has withdrawn from there, we leave these people isolated.
“We have surrendered these people to violence and thuggery. I am a student of what occurred in Asia Minor in the 1920s, and the best accounts we have are from American journalists who were there, witnessing the long, drawn-out retreat of Syrians, Greek Pontians, Kurds and Armenians who were slaughtered as they were marched out of Asia Minor. This is occurring again. Indeed the term ‘ genocide’ was initially coined because of (then Turkish leader Kemal) Ataturk’s actions. It is happening again. We cannot stand for it. We must shine a light,” said Mr Koutsantonis.
Mr Stefanidis said his organisation had written to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for Australia to take a tougher stance on the issue.