Saturday, April 25, 2015

ANZAC 1915-2015 Armenia

Yesterday my school community commemorated ANZAC Day at a special assembly attended by our local Federal Member, Craig Laundy.

Australian schools mark ANZAC Day on their calendars as part of our civic education of our students.  It is an occasion to stop and remember people that, in inner-west Sydney, have little direct connection with many of our students, but who nonetheless have become part of the fabric of the narrative of Australian identity.  My school is made up of young people who reflect in their cultural diversity the tapestry of multi-cultural Australia.  Our Australian-Armenian students sit alongside our Australian-Turkish students in exactly the same way our Italo-Australians, Arabic-Australians, Australian-Greeks and Anglo-Celtic-Australians do.  Memories of ancient conflicts are precisely that, memories, that for the most part lie quietly and peacefully.  Many of our young people have a greater resilience than many to accept, absorb and understand issues of justice and peace than many others.  If our schools are places where they can learn about our collective histories in a safe environment, then may be as adults they will be willing to stand up and speak the truth.

I teach in a Good Samaritan - Benedictine school that is part of the network of Catholic schools across Sydney.  It is a faith-based school and our ANZAC Ceremony wove elements of the religious and civic dimensions of ANZAC Day into the ritual.

The ceremony began with Acknowledgement of Country,  the Procession of the Cross and then the flags of Australia, Indigenous Australia followed by Turkey, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  The Paschal Candle was lit symbolising the presence of the Risen Christ who triumphed over death.  "Advance Australia Fair" was sung and our senior history student lead the proceedings.  "Voices from Gallipoli" allowed students to name their relatives who fought in the 1914-1918 War as well as other conflicts.  From the Auditorium we moved to the front lawn of the school where each student and member of staff along with guests, planted a field of poppies.  Each hand-made poppy carried the name of an Australian who fought and died at Gallipoli.  We stood in silence as we remembered.  Another student played the Last Post, the flags were lowered, and we prayed for peace.

I was enormously proud of the students.

That evening I attended another commemoration at Sydney Town Hall.  I was honoured to be present for the centenary of the Armenian Genocide Commemoration.  Among the various speakers two constant themes played over and over - what happened between 1915-1923 was not a tragedy; it was a crime.  The second theme was the sense of disbelief and shame that the Australian Government is unwilling to recognise the Genocide using a smorgasbord of excuses and paltry rationalisations.  As an Australian I am embarrassed at the Commonwealth Government's position.  It has echoes of the Howard government's refusal to apologise to Indigenous Australians for the policy of forced removal of children that took place here over most of the twentieth century.

Geoffrey Robertson was the key note speaker who said in his elegant and eloquent way, that the Armenian Genocide is a crime that demands an answer; it will not go away.  No sane person, he said, denies the historical truth that a genocide occurred.  It was planned and executed by the agents of the Ottoman Empire - there is no question about it.

For the first time I felt the power of the Armenian cry: I Remember, I Demand.

I have copied Professor Colin Tatz's article "Out of Step" published for ANZAC Day.  Colin is a long-time advocate for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

The Conversation

24 April 2015

Out of Step

Colin Tatz

There's no escaping the media blitz on the centenary of Gallipoli. That's understandable. Less easy to grasp is the way we shut our eyes to the simultaneous events in the same country: the Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, between 750,000 and 900,000 Greeks, and between 275,000 and 400,000 Christian Assyrians.

            Last June, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reassured the Australian Turkish Advocacy Alliance that "we do not recognise these events as a 'genocide'". Australia, she wrote, has a long-standing approach "not to become involved in this sensitive debate". Minister Bishop is wrong on two counts: the genocide doesn't warrant quotation marks, and what happened is no more of a debate than the realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. She is right on two points. First, Australia has misconceived the Turkish reaction as merely "sensitive" when in fact their ferocious denial is a vital lie, one that goes to the very essence of the modern Turkish Republic. Second, we refuse to join in the moral reaction of other democracies which officially recognise the catastrophe. Many of our friends and allies— Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the Vatican — have adopted a moral stance rather than a foreign policy ploy in recognising those events as the Armenian Genocide.

            Tonight Geoffrey Robertson QC will address the centenary commemoration in the Sydney Town Hall on "An Inconvenient Genocide", the title of his recent book. The Turkish Military Tribunal of 1919–1920 initially tried 112 people, including the "Big Seven" leaders of the Ittihad ve Terakki Party, as well as members of wartime cabinets, provincial governors, and high-ranking military and political officers. The principal charges were "massacres and unlawful, personal profiteering" therefrom. (The word "genocide" was not coined until 1944.) While lamenting the destruction or disappearance of much of the trial transcript material, Robertson argues that the surviving records "do serve as a reminder of the time when Turks were prepared to confront their criminal past".

            By early 2015, 22 nation-states had officially recognised the Genocide, as had 43 of 50 American state governments, and two of Australia’s six state parliaments – New South Wales and South Australia. Recognition has also come from the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the World Council of Churches, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Some countries have criminalised denial of the event. Is it conceivable that these nations and reputable bodies have got it wrong, or been hoodwinked by a conspiracy by those who wish Turkey ill? The "debate" question is a manufactured debate. As with the tobacco industry, and more latterly, the global warming deniers, the tactic is to inject the assertion that not all scientists agree, and suddenly there is a "debate" — or the Bishop-like insistence that "we" simply do not "recognise these events" and do not stoop to explain why.

            For decades the Turkish government has lobbied the American Congress not to pass a resolution recognising the Genocide. It requires a two-thirds majority to pass and each year the required number comes closer. Individual Presidents — like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter — and senior figures like Hilary Clinton have used the "g" word, and it seems likely that Congressional recognition is not far away.

            True, the countries that have recognised the Genocide do not have our especial Australian–Turkish relationship. Our "mutual alliance" is borne out of Australia's somewhat bizarre notion that we were not a nation until the disaster of Gallipoli: somehow all that happened between 1788 and 1915 counted for very little, and nationhood began at Anzac Cove. This "brothers-in-war" theme in Australian life may have its place, but it cannot be sustained by Australian complicity in the juggernaut of often thuggish and aggressive Turkish denialism.

            In the 1980s, the state of Maine mandated school textbooks on the Holocaust. The title of one text was "Facing History and Ourselves", a powerful argument that relationships can only "move on" once the disputants have faced their histories. Australians have a strong proclivity not to remember, or to refuse to remember, the dark side of history, as with the eras of physical killings of Aborigines and, later, the forcible removal of their children.

            Gladys Berejeklian is now Treasurer of New South Wales. Joe Hockey is national Treasurer. Both are of Armenian descent and both have worked assiduously for a reasoned recognition of historical realities. Hockey has so far been rebuffed in his steadfast efforts. It is just possible that in his lifetime he will get a hearing in Federal Cabinet, that the incontrovertible evidence will penetrate our foreign policy strategists, that governments will see that they won't fall at elections because sections of the Turkish community — none of whom has had anything whatever to do with the events of 1915 to 1923 — is either upset or vengeful, or both.

Geoffrey Robertson

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