A political battle has been sparked between two South Australian politicians over their views on the Pontian Genocide.
The South Australian Attorney General, Minister for Justice and Multicultural Affairs, Michael Atkinson and the South Australian Liberal, Senator Alan Ferguson, are at loggerheads because of comments made by Mr Atkinson .
The comments were made at the unveiling of a plaque in Adelaide’s Migration Museum that commemorates the Pontian Genocide carried out by Turkish forces between 1915 and 1922.
The event was organised in December 2008 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Pontian Brotherhood of South Australia.
Mr Atkinson’s speech attracted the attention of the Turkish Ambassador Murat Ersavci for saying that nationalist Turkish forces led by Kemal Mustafa’s forces were responsible for the Pontian, Armenian and Assyrian genocides.
The Turkish Ambassador contacted Senator Ferguson to protest Mr Atkinson’s speech.
According to Neos Kosmos English Edition (NKEE) sources the Turkish Embassy is fervently lobbying the South Australian government for the removal of the plaque.
Senator Ferguson responded by addressing the Senate on March 18, the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the formal agreement between Australia and Turkey.
The Senator said that the Turkish Ambassador had visited him and had “expressed his deep concern” about Mr Atkinson’s speech.
Senator Ferguson personal objection to the speech is that “It can only cause deep ill-feeling, not the least since Mustafa Kemal was the leader of a nation that was, at that time, fighting for its survival against an invasion from Greece-a point that the Attorney-General in South Australia seemed to overlook. “
Senator Ferguson then accuses Pontians and Armenians of trying to ‘rewrite history’ and of applying contemporary morals on ‘events that took place 100 years ago.’
He goes on to say that people should not pass judgement on historical events without knowing the facts.
NKEE contacted Mr Ferguson who defended his speech .
Ferguson said his speech in Federal Parliament was driven by his belief that government is obligated to represent all people of the community.
“I don’t think it’s right to promote what might be construed as controversial views which denigrate one section of the community,” Senator Ferguson said.
When pressed on his knowledge of the historical events of the time he conceded that he wasn’t very familiar with the history of that part of the world and of that era.
While not denying that atrocities were committed against Armenians and Greeks, Ferguson reiterated the view that atrocities were committed by all sides.
He refused to use the term genocide, arguing that there are historians who dispute that atrocities were only one sided.
Atkinson responded by accusing Senator Ferguson of running errands for the Turkish ambassador and by attacking Federal Liberal leader, Malcolm Turnbull, and South Australian State Liberal Leader Mr Smith for not disassociating their parties from Senator Ferguson’s comments.
Atkinson also disputes Mr Ferguson’s claim that his concern was for harmonious multicultural relations.
“I’ve been going to the important events for people of a non-English speaking background for 25 years. I don’t recall once seeing Senator Ferguson at those events and I think it is that disconnect… that has caused this fiasco,” said Mr Atkinson.
He also pointed out that his relations with the Turkish community are very good, highlighting the fact that he doesn’t hold this “community responsible for the events in Anatolia.
“In fact I have more to do with Turkish Australians than Senator Ferguson ever has,” he added.
Mr Atkinson revealed to NKEE that a resolution for the recognition of the Pontian Genocide will be introduced to the South Australian Parliament which has already passed a resolution for the Armenian Genocide. “I believe, Senator Ferguson’s remarkable denial necessitates that South Australian Parliament do it regarding the Pontian Greeks.”