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Genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 11 May 2023

Tags: Violence, Condolence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I rise on behalf of the Tasmanian Greens to support this motion to recognise the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides of 1915 to 1923, and to acknowledge that they were perpetrated on innocent people by the Ottoman Empire.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide in Article 2 in 1948 as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. That is what the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek people of the former Ottoman Empire endured and suffered. I acknowledge that the suffering has been with your communities for generations and I grieve with you.

When we remember history, it is important that we hear the firsthand stories of survivors. The Genocide Education Project has numerous devastating stories, firsthand accounts of people who survived the attempted genocide. This is Bedros Bahadourian:

When the massacres began, I was 12 years old. I remember they first took all the men of our village and kill them. The rest of us were deported. I don't know how many hundreds we were. Everyone according to his ability rented a donkey or a horse and we left.

We went from Albistan to Zeitun to Marash to Aintab. We camped on a farm behind Aintab College, near some newly dug foundations for houses. They were simply large holes in the ground. You understand? An epidemic had broken out in our caravan and people were dying all around us. They started filling those foundations with dead bodies. Two, three, four, five bodies on top of each other.

From Aintab orders came that everyone over the age of the age of 12 was to be sent to Deir-El-Zor. A friend of mine and I escaped, but we were caught later and this time they sent us to Bizib and towards Biredjig. Biredjig is on the shores of the Euphrates River. You understand? It is on the other side of the river. We stayed in an inn on this side. Caravans would come through there and be sent off towards the desert, hundreds and hundreds of Armenians. We used to see dead, bloated bodies floating in the river.

From Arpiar Massikian, Kessab:

In 1909, during the Adana massacres, Turkish soldiers attacked Kessab. I was merely a boy then. They were 20 000 strong with Mausers and other artillery. The men of our town fought back, my father among them, with ancient hunting rifles. We lost 50 to 60 men before we fled. We returned five to six days later to find all our houses burnt to the ground. It took us months to rebuild.

They took us to Meskeneh on the Euphrates River. Meskeneh was a huge outdoor camp where tens of thousands of Armenians had been deported. Bit by bit they were sent to Der-Zor, to their death. We were there for a while. We lived under tents along with a lot of others from Kessab. Most of the time we had nothing to eat. Sometimes my father would buy bread from the soldiers but they had mixed sand with the flour, so we ate this hard bread and sand crunched under our teeth.

Meskeneh was a horrible, horrible place; 60 000 Armenians had been buried under the sand there. When a sandstorm hit, it would blow away a lot of the sand and uncover those remains. Bones, bones, bones were everywhere then. Wherever you looked, wherever you walked.

And a story of a young girl from Edward Bedikian, Sepasdia:

There was a girl, a girl who I had befriended on the road earlier. Her name was Satenig. I remember her very well. She was not too strong. I saw her again in the basement, in the basement of the school where they had thrown us. She was there. She had a little bit of money and she gave it to me. 'Don’t let them take me,' she said. 'Don’t let them take me.' They would come around every day and take whoever was dead or very weak. She was not in good shape, she was very weak. I stood her up and leaned on her. I held her up so. They came. I was holding her up, leaning her up against the wall. But they saw her and took her. They took her.

Devastating account after devastating account from survivors of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides of 1915 to 1923.

The Greens have a proud history of supporting the historical truth of the Armenian genocide, and have long advocated for parliaments across Australia, including our federal parliament, and the Turkish Government to recognise one of the first genocides of the twentieth century being the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. Our legacy in support of the recognition of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides is long. On the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian genocide, former Greens spokesperson for foreign affairs Scott Ludlam said:

When the term 'genocide' was first coined to describe atrocities on such scale, the deaths of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire were cited as a defining example. Yet to this day the Armenian genocide is not recognised by parliaments around the world. This is an injustice and a wrong that we must correct.

I note that New South Wales and South Australia are two states in Australia that have already recognised the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. I am hopeful, I am sure, that today this motion will pass and Tasmania will become the next state to do so.

In the United States of America, almost 50 states have recognised the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides which led to the proclamation of US president Joe Biden to characterise the massacres as genocide. I am hopeful that the work of this parliament will also set a strong precedent for our federal parliament to follow suit.

I also strongly want to support this motion because it highlights the great and generous deeds of Australians at the time, particularly the proud people of our home state of Tasmania, who contributed significantly to the relief efforts for Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. The Tasmanian people, once they heard what was happening, rallied behind the persecuted Christians, donating money, food and relief to help fund relief efforts for the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. This is a history we should be proud of, particularly because we have a strong, inclusive and vibrant Greek Tasmanian community, some of whom are direct ascendants of this genocide. Fellow Tasmanians, we are so pleased you call this island home.

Recognition of genocides is also essential to ensure that the crimes of the past are never repeated. As we know, they have been repeated. Recently, the Rwandan community of Tasmania, at an event the Attorney General and I were at, commemorated the Rwandan genocide - their word to remember is kwibuka - and that was the murder of between 800 000 and 1 million people in Rwanda while the world turned its cheek.

Today, we are witnessing unspeakable atrocities across the globe against so many innocent people. We continue to witness attempted genocide of the Tibetans, the Uighurs, the Palestinians and the Rohingya people of Burma. We should also count the women and girls of Iran, transgender people who are increasingly being targeted by the forces of the hard right, just to name a few, which all stem from our failure as human beings and as a society to stamp out hate crimes against humanity.

Even today, 108 years after the Armenian genocide, the Armenian people continue to face an existential crisis. The same ideological forces that tried to eradicate them have resurfaced. The International Association of Genocide Scholars has alerted that the Armenian people are at risk once again. I refer to the Armenians of Nagorno Karabahk, also known as Artsakh, and an attempt by Azerbaijan to remove them from their indigenous and ancestral homelands. Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey, has subjected these people to immense hardship. In 2020, Azerbaijan launched an unprecedented and unprovoked military attack against the indigenous Armenians of Artsakh, resulting in the death of 5000 innocent Armenians and the occupation of more than three quarters of their self determined homeland. Today as I speak, that aggression continues. Right now, Azerbaijan has placed the entire 120 000 people under siege.

This genocide motion before our parliament today is not simply recognising the crimes of the past but is a way to support all people worldwide currently suffering from terrible injustice and persecution, including the people of Artsakh.

I join Australian Greens spokesperson for foreign affairs, Senator Jordon Steele John, and Senator Janet Rice, who rose in the federal parliament and demanded that Azerbaijan open the Lachin corridor. We must always stand up against the persecution of innocent people. We stand up against the persecution of Armenian people 108 years ago and to this day.

I thank my colleague, the member for Bass, Lara Alexander, for working with the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities to bring us together here today. These debates we have are the most profound. There is no argument here in this place at this moment. We are all here together as human beings who are determined to see justice, kindness and fairness in the world. I welcome and thank the people who have come here from other parts of the island and from interstate to share with us and be with us at this historic moment.

In closing, I reaffirm the Greens' strong support for this motion. If we do not learn from history, we are, of course, doomed to repeat it and great suffering ensues. I look forward to the day when the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian members of our community can be welcomed to Parliament House in Canberra for the federal parliament's formal acknowledgement of the profound tragedy of the Armenian genocide and for it to resolve collectively to do all that is humanly possible to ensure that the crimes of the past are not repeated.