“The clearance of race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act could be…There is no reason to doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions.” Winston Churchill
ABC political analyst Michael Brissenden recently tweeted: “Is Parliament House the right place for genocide deniers. We wouldn’t give a committee room to David Irving.” He was of course referring to the lecture, booked by Labor MP Laurie Ferguson, to be given by one of the world’s most strident genocide deniers. Professor Justin McCarthy, an American history academic, is well known for his denial of the Armenian, and by implication, Assyrian and Greek genocide in Anatolia. According to Michael Brissenden, he is considered by Armenians to be what David Irving is to the Jewish Holocaust.
Interestingly enough, the same gentleman was scheduled to speak at the University of Melbourne and the Art Gallery of NSW. However, after certain interested members of the public drew the university and the gallery’s attention to both the content of the lecture and Justin McCarthy’s active campaigning against genocide recognition, it was announced that the lecture was not to take place.
Of late, the campaign for Australian recognition of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides has intensified and the issue has reached the Australian mainstream like never before. Further, the Australian media are beginning to realise both the enormity of the crime and the fact that it involved not just the Armenians, but also other Christian peoples of Anatolia. Thus, in his recent report on Lateline, Michael Brissenden took pains to point out that: “Although it’s known as the Armenian genocide, thousands of Assyrians and Pontian Greeks were also killed.” Hundreds of thousands would have been a more accurate description, but the fact that this connection is being made at all is encouraging for all those activists who campaign for recognition of what is a crime that has largely gone unrecognised. Furthermore, as we have seen this year, more and more Australians have become indignant at the manner in which the Turkish government seeks to quash a groundswell of Australian public support for the recognition of the genocide, by seeking to hold the Gallipoli celebrations to ransom. As the Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Mr Cemil Cicek has stated: “One of only two things … could disrupt good relations between Turkey and Australia.” One is for Australia “to support any claims about genocide without hearing the Turkish side … this could cause huge rifts between the nations and even jeopardise commemorations around Gallipoli.” In handling this matter so clumsily, all they have managed to do is to show the Australian public that they have something to hide. As NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell comments: “It’s deplorable anyone associated with the Turkish government would try and use next year’s centenary of the Gallipoli landing for political purposes.”
Such attempts at bullying are not new. Australian scholars who study the genocide have been known to receive abusive emails and threats from genocide deniers and this is especially so if they belong to an ethnic community that was a victim of the genocide. Leading genocide recognition campaigner Dr Panayiotis Diamadis has, over the years, been the recipient of a barrage of quite disturbing and threatening emails which have only intensified as the campaign gains momentum and more and more Australians become sensitive to the issue. Even the Diatribe is not immune, with one incensed reader writing in to state in May of this year: “Panayiotis Diamadis and yourself are prime examples of the hypocritical human (although Diamadis’s credentials are highly doubtful) who comes across as good and noble, because you are against genocide, and who is going to argue with that?
But in reality, both of you are exploiting human suffering for political and professional gain. You are determining who the villains and victims are, and your determinants have little to do with legitimate history. In addition, by avoiding the crimes perpetrated by those you have designated as the victims, you are telling us that one people are more worthy than another.
Some may call that ‘human rights’ ‘search for justice’ etc., but by choosing the better human group (one side is completely bad, the other completely good), what both of you are advocating might be better termed as ‘racism’.
We have taken note of your racist attitude.”
My response was to point out that in previous articles I have not shied away from discussing Greek brutalities committed upon innocent Turkish civilians during the 1821 War of Independence and challenged the writers to meet me in the middle by condemning the brutalities committed by their own people. I received no response and of course it seems far beyond the bullies to realise that if we are to prevent genocide, we must condemn it in all its forms. This has nothing to do with asserting the relative merits of one race over another. History has shown that we are all capable of the heinous as well as the sublime. The manner in which we acknowledge faults, and take steps not to repeat them, forms a measure of our humanity. The apology to the Stolen Generation of indigenous Australians is a prime example. The inverse is true when we try to cover up crimes.
Given these gross attempts to sweep under the carpet a genocide for which there is ample contemporary eyewitness and documentary evidence, evidence that even Turkish scholars such as Taner Akcam openly acknowledge as condemnatory, the fact that a Labor MP would use the chief symbol of Australian democracy as a forum for a genocide denier to promote his views is mystifying and thoroughly hurtful. At first glance, it reeks of Orientalism. According to this view, Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks rank lower in the hierarchy of races, so that any event of concern to them is of lesser importance to the mainstream than it would have been if the same event had been visited upon other ‘high ranking races’. This may provide an extra dimension to Joe Hockey’s 2011 comment: “The Armenian genocide is one of the least known, least understood and least respected human tragedies of the modern era.” Accordingly, politicians and others can use such events to play politics or curry favour with interest groups, knowing that the public outcry will not be significant or politically damaging. Further, as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry points out in a recent letter, there is a fine line between freedom of speech and racial vilification. The council supports the contention that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were slaughtered with ‘genocidal intent’, and argues that parliament is being ‘misused’ by acting as a forum for the genocide deniers in question.
Michael Brissenden’s insightful Lateline report, as well as his inspired ‘tweet’, highlight the dangers of such a trivial approach to important historical events. This also marks a watershed in the campaign for genocide recognition as the Australian public begins to question the appropriateness of using important and respected Australian institutions for the purposes of subverting traumatic events. Laurie Ferguson, who declined to comment to Lateline, would do well to spend some time with the survivors of genocide and their descendants. He should hear accounts of Armenian orphans forced into Turkish orphanages in Syria and beaten when they spoke their mother tongue, during their process of Turkification. He should read the chilling accounts of Hasan Fehmi, who wrote: “Why did we impute the title of murderer to our race? Why did we enter into such decisive and difficult struggle? That was done just for securing the future of our country that we know as more precious and sacred than our lives.” He should also have regard to Halil Pasha who wrote: “The Armenian nation, which I had tried to annihilate to the last member of it… if you … try to betray Turks and the Turkish homeland, I will order my forces which surround all your country and I won’t leave even a single breathing Armenian all over the earth. Get your mind.” Then he should be asked what qualifications or special insights he possesses that permit him to encourage the denial of the massacre of millions and whether he believes that insulting the memories of over a million innocent victims of a massacre and their descendants is appropriate for a member of the Australian parliament. The party that he represents should also be asked the same question. In the meantime, the clock is ticking, and with every passing moment, more and more Australians are looking to their elected representatives to do the right thing – to honour the victims of imperialism, racism and brutality. After all, their ancestors fought for them and it is upon this foundation that our nation is based.
* Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.