May it appears is the month of genocide recognition amongst the Australian parliaments, with Tasmania being the latest one to adopt a resolution of recognition of the Genocides of the Hellenes, Armenians and Assyrians on Thursday 11 May.
One factor that deserves special comment is why did Tasmania’s parliamentarians adopt this Resolution?
The Parliament of New South Wales adopted its Resolution in May 2013. The unanimous vote in the Parliament in Hobart was the latest achievement of the Joint Justice Initiative, the united effort of the Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic communities to secure political and broader social recognition of the Genocides of our peoples at the hands of the governments of the Ottoman Empire and its successor state.
Beyond the years of advocacy by the Armenian National Committee of Australia, the Assyrian National Council and Hellenic organisations in each state and territory of Australia, what is the key factor in convincing parliamentarians to devote resources to this issue?
Across the six paragraphs of the Tasmanian Resolution, Members of Parliament honoured the memory of the victims, condemned the Genocides, recognised the importance of education, opposed genocide denial and acknowledged that nation-states have adopted similar Resolutions. Of greatest interest to this genocide scholar is paragraph 3:
The House recognises and honours the extraordinary humanitarian efforts of the then newly formed Commonwealth of Australia, including Tasmania, for the orphans and other survivors of the genocide, which set a proud tradition of international humanitarian efforts by our State.
Tasmania’s parliamentarians adopted this Resolution as a recognition that the Genocides of the indigenous peoples of Anatolia (including western Armenia, Pontos and Asia Minor), Thrace and Mesopotamia constitute pages of the Australian story. This factor is seen in the NSW and South Australian resolutions as well as in every speech in Federal Parliament advocating for recognition by that body.
As documented in the best study to date on Australian responses to the Genocides, Armenia, Australia and the Great War by Peter Stanley and Vicken Babkenian, ANZAC prisoners-of-war documented events of the Genocides as they were occurring, between 1915 and 1918.
As this information reached Australia, committees began forming to gather monies and goods for humanitarian relief. Tasmania was no exception. Leaders of the relief effort were mayors, bankers, businessmen and leading lights of the social scene: names such as Launceston Mayor Albert William Monds, Sydney Lord Mayor James Joynton Smith, Reverend James Cresswell, Lady David Jones, Eleanor MacKinnon (Australian Red Cross founder) and Edith Glanville (Australian Quota Club founder).
The story of the Australian and New Zealander relief effort is made up of thousands of individual stories. In its report on the ‘Save the Children Fund and Armenian Relief Fund’ of Thursday 21 May 1925, the Argus newspaper of Melbourne carried the thanks of the ‘executive’ for ‘the following contributions’ in the early part of that year, totalling AU£479, five shillings and eleven pence, worth about AUD$40,000 in 2023.
‘Further donations are invited and should be sent to the hon treasurer, the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Town Hall, Melbourne. M. GIBSON, Assistant Secretary, Save the Children Fund and Armenian Relief’.
These monies were used in orphanages and refugee camps across Hellas and Syria, Armenia and Jerusalem. Amongst the donors were ‘The People of Somerset, Tasmania, £10’, a small town west of Burnie on Tasmania.
To provide some context, Tasmania is about half the size of the Hellenic Republic (Greece), with a population in 1922 of about 215,000 people. The £10 donation from ‘The People of Somerset, Tasmania’ was enough to buy about 700 kilograms of flour.
Considering the strains the war effort placed on Australian society, the level of support the survivors of the indigenous Hellenes, Armenians and Assyrians received is quite remarkable. Part of the mission of the Joint Justice Initiative is to restore these forgotten stories of humanity to Australian public memory.
To return to the question of why Australian state and federal parliamentarians devote resources to the issue of political recognition of the Genocides of the Hellenes, Armenians and Assyrians. The response is simple: recognition is an Australian issue.
The full Resolution may be found here.
*Dr Panayiotis Diamadis is a Director of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Adviser to the Federation of Pontian Associations of Australia.