An American professor who campaigns around the world against the recognition of the Armenian genocide gave an address at Parliament House on Thursday, to the consternation of community leaders, politicians and academic scholars across Australia.
The address given by Professor Justin McCarthy – who many view with as much disdain as Jewish people view Holocaust denier David Irving – sought to persuade parliamentarians that accusations of genocide carried out by the Turkish state between 1915 and 1923 are incorrect.
Genocide scholars agree that during that period more than one million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Known as the Armenian genocide, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Pontian Greeks were also killed – mostly civilians including women and children.
Professor McCarthy, whilst agreeing that the massacres occurred, contests they do not constitute genocide.
The lecture, which took place in Committee Room 1R3 in Parliament House, was booked by Labor backbencher Laurie Ferguson, who had been approached by the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance, a Turkish diaspora group, in whose name invitations were sent out.
Victorian Labor Senator Mehmet Tillem was also involved in the coordination of the invitation-only lecture which was entitled ‘What happened during 1915-1923?’.
Professor McCarthy is understood to have given similar presentations in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this month, after Melbourne University and the Arts Centre of New South Wales cancelled their hosting of the lecture after hearing of its content.
Neos Kosmos understands that twelve parliamentarians accepted the invitation to the Parliament House event – with less than six actually attending.
Those MPs who were there, were heavily outnumbered by around ten other guests – made up of Turkish consular officials, representatives of Turkish diaspora organisations and the Turkish Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Mr Reha Keskintepe.
Turkey has made strenuous efforts for decades to refute the charge of genocide – recently pledging to ban the entire New South Wales Parliament from attending ANZAC Centenary commemorations in Gallipoli in 2015, after the state parliament unanimously passed a motion recognising the genocide.
Professor McCarthy’s lecture, like many of his pronouncements available on the internet, is believed to have included the assertion that the over one million deaths at the hands of the Ottoman Caliphate, was not a systematic destruction of Christian communities, but rather an act of war, and that the United Nations’ rules for what constitutes genocide are flawed.
Professor McCarthy’s views – which are easily found on YouTube – says those who claim genocide have “no evidence, no proof that the Turks wanted to act in this way”.
A total of 22 nation states, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Russia and the Vatican, along with dozens of state and provincial legislatures around the world, including New South Wales and South Australia, have formally recognised the genocide.
International bodies such as the World Council of Churches and the European Parliament have also recognised the mass killings as genocide.
Despite concerted efforts by Turkey to dissuade the Australian Parliament from recognising the genocide there has been increasing pressure for action at a federal level.
Treasurer Joe Hockey – who is of Armenian descent – has on a number of occasions urged the parliament to act on the matter.
Mr Hockey told parliament in the past: “This is not an issue of definition. Any systematic eradication of a race is genocide, regardless of the political or social unease it may bring.”
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also called for the genocide’s recognition.
Mr Turnbull told the House of Representatives in 2011 that the Armenian Genocide was one of the great crimes against humanity that had resulted in “the elimination, the execution, the murder of hundreds of thousands – of millions of people – for no reason other than that they were different”.
When asked for their reaction to Professor McCarthy’s appearance in Canberra, both ministers reportedly said they did not wish to add to what they have already said, though stood by views already expressed.
As Professor McCarthy gave his lecture, Liberal Member for Bennelong Mr John Alexander and Labor Member for Greenway Ms Michelle Rowland, both rose in the House of Representatives to speak against what was occurring in the nearby committee room.
Mr Alexander said Professor McCarthy had used parliamentary facilities “to promote his well-documented views questioning the systematic slaughter of Armenians, Assyrians and Pontian Greeks from 1915 to 1923.”

Mr Alexander reminded parliament that the International Association of Genocide Scholars has discredited McCarthy’s work “as selective and grossly distorting history.”
Genocide scholar Panayiotis Diamadis told Neos Kosmos that Professor McCarthy’s “playing with words” over the definition of genocide, and the platform provided for him in federal parliament was reprehensible.
“Armenian, Assyrian and Pontian Greek communities are outraged. What this guy is pedaling is essentially vilification,” said Mr Diamadis.
“It’s part of a charm offensive to basically undo the statements about banning NSW MPs from Gallipoli – to correct the record as it were.”
Mr Diamadis added that there was widespread anger that an official forum such as the Australian Parliament was given to “a man who denies the memory of the victims.”
MP Rev Fred Nile, who proposed the Armenian Genocide recognition motion in the NSW Parliament told Neos Kosmos that he was disappointed that parliament had been used for such an event:
“This is a counter attack by the Turkish government to change history, and undermine the resolution made in the NSW Parliament.
“They’ve tried to do it through threats saying that those who supported the motion would not be able to attend ANZAC Centenary events in Gallipoli, but this looks like a more academic attack.”
In a statement provided to media, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry decried the professor’s theories – calling them inherently implausible, and that the ECAJ accepted “the overwhelming view of history scholars that the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians in these communities was done with genocidal intent.”
Executive Director of the ECAJ Peter Wertheim said: “Whilst freedom of expression and academic freedom require that Professor McCarthy must be at liberty to put forward his theories, the manner in which he does so must not lapse into racial vilification.
“In our view, no part of Parliament House should be misused in this way.”
Former federal MP Steve Georganas – who raised the matter of recognising the Armenian Genocide repeatedly during his nine years as Member for Hindmarsh – told Neos Kosmos that the use of Parliament House as a platform for such a lecture was abhorrent.
“Professor McCarthy’s skewed view of history is offensive to all the descendants of those Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian communities,” said Mr Georganas.
“This is very divisive and strategic. There’s a huge lobby group, which he’s a part of.”
Mr Georganas added that given the professor’s position as a board member of a Turkish university, the US academic had a vested interest in promoting the Turkish government’s line.
The event underlined the need for the Australian Government to be resolute in its recognition of the genocide said Mr Georganas.
“The Australian Government shouldn’t be bullied around about obscuring history. It’s about time the Federal Parliament acted. You can’t shy away from the truth.”