The Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia observed National Sorry Day – 26 May – remembering and acknowledging the mistreatment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people forcibly removed from their families and communities, ‘The Stolen Generations’.
Australia’s National Sorry Day brings to mind our own stolen children, the tens of thousands of children and teenagers stolen from their families under the Ottoman Empire and its successor states over a period of many centuries. Australia’s National Sorry Day is a day to acknowledge the strength of Stolen Generations survivors and reflect on how everyone may play a part in the healing process.
First marked on 26 May 1998, one year after the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament, Australia’s National Sorry Day underscores the importance of recognition of wrongdoing by national governments in any conciliation process.
In his study of genocide across time, jurist Dr Raphael Lemkin cited the devsirme – the Ottoman Empire’s policy of forced child removal of Christian Hellenic, Armenian and Assyrian children – as an example of genocide. The children were forcibly assimilated into the dominant group, producing for example the infamous Janissary Corps. The result of Lemkin’s research into forced child removal was Article II Paragraph e of the United Nation’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (9 December 1948): In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The Bringing Them Home report is a result of a Government Inquiry into the past policies which caused Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be removed from their families and communities in the 20th century.
The Australian Hellenic community – especially those whose families originate from the regions of Pontos, Asia Minor and Thrace – are the descendants of survivors who endured genocidal processes, whose families endured the loss of stolen children. On Australia’s National Sorry Day, we say to our country’s First Nations’ peoples, we understand your pain, we are sorry for your losses. Australia’s National Sorry Day is an example to follow: national recognition of national wrongdoing opening the path to conciliation.
Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia
President Panagiotis Stefanidis,
Secretary Nikolaos Makrisis