Assyrian National Council - Australia
RECOGNITION OF ASSYRIAN MARTYRS AND GENOCIDE
RECOGNITION OF ASSYRIAN MARTYRS AND GENOCIDE BY LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION OF NEW SOUTH WALES
The first request for the recognition of the Assyrian genocide was made by the organisation formaly known as Assyrian Universal Alliance -Australia INC, on 10 July 2002, addressed to President of the Local Government Association of NSW as follow:
Mr Peter Woods, President
Local Government Association of NSW
115 Clearance St.
Dear Mr Woods,
As 7th of August approaches, Assyrian all over the world including our community in Australia gather every year to commemorate the Assyrian martyrs and genocide Remembrance Day.
Our community recalls with gratitude the participation of the Honourable Bob Carr - Premier of NSW, the Honourable Carl Scully - Minister of Transport, His Lordship Councillor Anwar Khoshaba - Mayor of Fairfield City, and many Members of Parliament at last year’s Martyrs and Genocide Remembrance Day. We were overwhelmed with the participation of over 650 Assyrians and non-Assyrians at this historical event, including many prominent Australian figures of political, academic and historical backgrounds. This Remembrance Day was organised by the Assyrian Universal Alliance in collaboration with many other Assyrian social, religious and political organisations including the Assyrian Australian National Federation and the Assyrian Australian Academic Society.
The 7th of August has been designated as a Memorial Day for the Assyrian Genocide and Assyrian Martyrs. Although this observance is of a comparatively recent date, it has gained widespread acceptance among the Assyrian people. Every nation needs to have a day set aside for the remembrance of those who gave their lives for the preservation of their cultural and ethnic identity. This is especially important for the Assyrian Nation; for no other people (as the following pages will show) have given so many martyrs in defence of their national and ethnic rights.
Throughout our long history, each time an Assyrian man, woman, or child stood up against their oppressors and refused to give up their religion, language, or national existence, our nation as a whole was pulled one step back from the abyss of extinction! Assyrian Martyrs bravely and selflessly defended our existence, so that we could continuously have before us examples of self-sacrifice which would serve to encourage us to preserve ourselves and our culture for future generations.
It is an undeniable fact that in the same period that the Armenian Genocide was taking place during world war I , the Assyrians were subject to the same atrocities wherein over 750,000 Christian Assyrians lost their lives in this genocide, and as a consequence of which hundreds of Churches were plundered, destroyed and burnt down. The depopulation of Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians was part and parcel of Turkey's policy of eliminating the Christian minorities. These facts are thoroughly documented in the archives of Europe (Austria, German, French, British, and others), as well as those of the United States, Australia and Russia. All these documents record the systematic and deliberate extermination of Assyrians, as well as Armenians and Greeks from the Pontos region in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.
Accordingly, we wish to call upon our local government and plead for its support for the unrestricted official and public recognition of the Assyrian genocide by the Ottoman Turkish Empire from 1915-23. Thereby we want to honour the memory of all victims of that genocide with efforts to attain the justice of a living memory for them and to prevent any further horrors of that sort by educating all mankind towards the guiding ideals of humanity and solidarity among all people.
We appeal to the Australian government and all peace lovers in the world, to ensure that this lament no longer applies to the victims and survivors of the Assyrian Genocide by acknowledging and honouring their memory and preserving the very ideals and values for which they died thus helping to guarantee that Turkey understands its contemporary obligations to protect both the human and collective community rights of its minority populations and to prevent any future genocides.
We await your response with positive anticipation.
Assyrian Universal Alliance-Australia Chapter
The AUA received an invitation to make a presentation about the Assyrian genocide during a meeting organised on 2 August 2002 ,by the Executive board of the Local Government Association of New South Wales attended by council representative from NSW , the AUA delegation included Mr Hermiz Shahen, AUA Secretary of Australia , Mrs Suzy David and Dr Racho Donef genocide scholar . An intensive report was presented by Ms Suzy David who conducted research and prepared this presentation in collaboration with Dr Racho Donef .
In a historically unprecedented move the New South Wales Local Government Association voted in recognition of the Assyrian Genocide. This was the first instance of a governmental authority in the world recognizing the Assyrian Genocide. The NSW Local Government Association has further passed a motion asking the Australian Local Government Association to also recognize the Assyrian Genocide. The President of the Executive of the NSW Local Government Association, Councilor Peter Wood also proposed that the Association send letters to the Premier of NSW, Hon. Robert Carr and the Prime Minister of Australia, Hon. John Howard, to urge them to recognize the Assyrian Genocide.
Refer below to a statement of NSW Local Government web-site
16 August 2002, the meeting of the Local Government Association Executive resolved to support recognition of the genocide perpetrated against the Assyrian people in the period 1914/18.
The delegation of representatives of the Assyrian Universal Alliance was introduced by Fairfield City Council. Background to the request for recognition was given to the Executive. It was then resolved that information about the matter be placed on the Lgov NSW web site, that the matter be raised at the National General Assembly of Local Government, and that the Premier of NSW and the Prime Minister be asked to support recognition of an Assyrian Martyrs and Genocide Remembrance Day.
A full range of information was available on the Lgov NSW web site, http://www.lgov.org.au/, under Online Resources\Recent Additions.
The AUA received a letter from the President of the NSW Local Government Association as follow:
RECOGNITION OF ASSYRIAN MARTYRS AND GENOCIDE BY STATE GOVERNMENT OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
On 30 April 2009, the South Australian lower house did a remarkable thing; it recognised the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia during the Ottoman Empire. The full text of the motion that was passed is as follows:
“That, whereas the genocide by the Ottoman state between 1915-1923 of Armenians, Hellenes, Syrian and other minorities in Asia Minor is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, the people of South Australia and this House –
(a) join the members of the Armenian-Australian, Pontian Greek-Australian and Syrian-Australian communities in honouring the memory of the innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the first modern genocide;
(b) condemns the genocide of the Armenians, Pontian Greeks, Syrian Orthodox and other Christian minorities, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of racial, religious and cultural intolerance;
(c) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;
(d) condemns and prevents all attempts to use the passage of time to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocide of the Armenians and other acts of genocide committed during this century;
(e) acknowledges the significant humanitarian contribution made by the people of South Australia to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the Pontian Genocide; and
(f) calls on the commonwealth parliament officially to condemn the genocide."
Noting in passing that the Assyrian community has been mis described as ‘Syrian,’ a grave error that will hopefully be rectified, this recognition of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia forms a historic landmark in the history of the Armenian-Australian, Assyria-Australian and Greek-Australian people. This is not a political or ethnic victory, for we are thankfully not enmeshed within the warp and the weft of the greater geo-strategic and political games played by the representatives of our mother countries. This is not a victory of diplomats, who for the most part shy away from agitating publicly on what we term to be “national issues.” Most importantly, this act of recognition is balsam applied to the unhealed wound in the souls of genocide victims and their descendants. The Australian historical narrative often tends to ignore the socio-political events that its migrant populations have experienced. Yet these events, often traumatic, inform these Australian’s world-view. The opinions and emotions forged during such times have been transplanted to this country and often, passed down the generations. Horrific international experiences such as the Holocaust or the Genocide are thus pertinent to this country because they have affected, directly or indirectly, a portion of the Australian community.
RECOGNITION OF ASSYRIAN MARTYRS AND GENOCIDE BY STATE GOVERNMENT OF NEW SOUTH WALES:
Parliament of NSW Legislative Council recognized the Assyrian and Greek genocide :
On Wednesday 1st May 2013, in a historically unprecedented move at the request of the Formal Committee of the Assyrian Universal Alliance -Australia , the Australian Hellenic Council and the Armenian National Committee, the Parliament of NSW Legislative Council passed unanimously a motion recognizing the Assyrian, Greek and Armenian genocide. Mr. Hermiz Shahen, the Deputy Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance said; “this constitutes an extraordinary moment in the history of the Assyrian nation. The Assyrian nation is struggling for years to gain the International recognition of the genocide perpetrated against them by the Ottoman government under the leadership of a chauvinistic party, the Young Turk between1914 – 1923. This recognition will act as a powerful counter to those, especially in present-day Turkey, who still ignore or deny outright the genocides of the Ottoman Christian minorities. Assyrians in Iraq, Syria and Turkey are continuously paying the price as a consequence of the denial of their genocide.”
“The bitter genocide committed against us by the Ottoman Turks during WWI has left deep marks in the heart and mind of every Assyrian. The cold-hearted murder of hundreds of thousands of defenceless Assyrian souls in South East Turkey reduced our mass, impacting our viability in the region dramatically”, Mr Shahen said.
On behalf of the Assyrian community in Australia and worldwide, Mr Shahen thanked Rev the Hon. Fred Nile MLC, President of the Australian Christian Party for moving the motion on 30 April 2013 and for his courageous stand and strong believe in the rectification of this historical injustice, and his demand that the State of Turkey recognises and apologises for the Genocide. He also thanked all the members of NSW Legislative Council who supported this motion.
The motion was as follow:
Whereas the NSW Parliament passed a motion in 1997 recognising and condemning the Genocide of the Armenians, this House recognises that Assyrians and Greeks were subjected to qualitatively similar genocides by the then Ottoman Government between 1914 – 1923: and
(a) joins the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks communities of New South Wales in honouring the memory of the innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the first modern genocides;
(b) condemns the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of intolerance;
(c) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;
(d) condemns and prevents all attempts to use the passage of time to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and other acts of genocide;
(e) recalls the testimonies of ANZAC prisoners-of-war and other servicemen who were witness to the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks;
(f) recalls the testimonies of ANZAC servicemen who rescued Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks genocide survivors;
(g) acknowledges the significant humanitarian relief contribution made by the people of New South Wales to the victims and survivors of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks; and
(h) calls on the Commonwealth Government to condemn the genocides of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks.
Rev The Hon. Fred Nile, in his Adjournment Speech said:
Over the years, many members of the Parliament – both in this chamber and in the Legislative Council – have risen to address the issue of recognition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greeks Genocides. Indeed, it was the Parliament of New South Wales that led the way on this issue, adopting a motion of recognition on the Armenian Genocide in 1997. I rise today to urge we complete the efforts, adopting a motion of recognition on the Assyrian and Greeks Genocides. In remembering these events, we do not seek to apportion blame. This is a matter of history, and history must neither be erased nor forgotten. We must remember and speak the truth.
NSW was recently visited by world-renowned scholar Prof Taner Akcam of Clark University in the United States. In his own words,
We must create a global awareness of genocides and their prevention … Genocide denial and the struggle against it are part of global democracy and human rights. … Recognition is an issue relevant to all of humanity.
ANZACs, men of New South Wales, were eyewitnesses to the Genocides. ANZACs rescued survivors of the massacres and deportations across the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918. People of our great state donated generously to save the lives of those who had reached sanctuary in Greece, French Syria, British Iraq and British Palestine. The story of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides are a part of the Australian story and deserve their rightful place in that narrative.
The Genocides of the indigenous peoples of the Ottoman Empire that took place during World War I and its aftermath are a historical event. The victims of this criminal act were the indigenous peoples of the Ottoman Turkish Empire: Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. Many members of this Chamber have substantial numbers of Australian Assyrian, Australian Greeks and Australian Armenian people in their communities. Hundreds of thousands of them have made their homes in New South Wales over the past two centuries. All of these groups suffered at the hands of the government of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
As early as 1910 plans were formulated and published for the elimination of the indigenous Christians of the Ottoman Empire, part of the government’s efforts to homogenise its population. Those documents, and millions more like them, are available today, demonstrating the intention of the Ottoman Turkish government of the time. There was a determination on the part of Ottoman Turkish politicians to eliminate non-Turkish identities. With the outbreak of the war, their plans began to be implemented. When the Anzacs landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, there were Greek people living there, tilling the soil and fishing the waters. There were also Turkish tax collectors, police and soldiers. The non-Turks are the people who were deported; these are the people who were massacred during World War I and after.
International reaction was immediate to what British Secretary of the Admiralty Winston Churchill labelled an ‘administrative holocaust’. Relief committees sprang up all over the world. A Joint Allied Declaration, issued 24 May 1915, stated:
In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied governments announce publicly … that they will hold personally responsible … all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres.
When the Anzacs left the Gallipoli Peninsula, they left behind hundreds of prisoners of war—men such as Sydney-born Private Frederick Ashton (11th Battalion AIF) and Bourke-born Petty Officer Cecil Arthur Bray (HMAS A.E.2, RAN). The Anzac prisoners of war went through a series of prisoner of war camps, typically being marched from one to another on bread and water rations, in bitter cold or blistering heat. While Ashton, Bray and many of their comrades were eventually released, more than 60 other Anzac prisoners perished from a combination of exposure, disease, malnutrition and exhaustion.
A small number of Anzacs became rescuers, saving the lives of those who had survived the massacres and deportations. Most famous of these are the men of the Dunsterforce. Australian officers in this unit, including Captains R.H. Hooper, Andre Judge and Stanley Savige, have left a legacy of written and photographic records of their rescue of some 40,000 Assyrians and Armenians in the mountains of north-west Iran and eastern Iraq in the summer of 1918.
In response to the needs of destitute survivors scattered across the Near East, committees of the Armenian Relief Fund and Save the Children Fund emerged in Sydney and Melbourne between 1915 and 1919. Amongst the leading lights of this movement were Sydney Lord Mayor J. Joynton Smith, Haberfield’s Edith Glanville (founder of the Australian Soroptomist and Quota Clubs), Sir Samuel Sidney Cohen, Lady David (wife of the co-founder of David Jones Stores), Professors Meredith Atkinson and Alexander Leeper, both of the University of Melbourne, Victorians Jessie Webb and George Devine Treloar, Queenslander Joice NanKivell Loch, Adelaide’s Rev. James E. Cresswell. It was a truly national effort, with New South Wales at its heart.
I am indebted to the research of Dr Panayiotis Diamadis and Mr Vicken Babkenian, Directors of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Their pioneering research into the Australia’s relationship to the Armenian, Greeks and Assyrian Genocides has returned to the light of day this issue for the people of New South Wales, particularly because our own servicemen witnessed the suffering of the indigenous peoples of Anatolia: Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks. Australian soldiers, sailors and pilots saw columns of Assyrian, Armenian and Greek women and children being forced along the countryside in death marches. They saw their pitiful, bedraggled state. The homes, churches, monasteries and schools of these people became the prison camps of the captured Anzacs and their allies.
The truth of the genocide - the truth of what happened to the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek peoples - is in the records of our own Australian servicemen. We should remember and learn from such dark chapters in human history. What was the essence of the motivation behind these massacres and deportations? It was hatred - hatred in the form of racism. We need to remember the depths to which humanity can sink if we allow racism and extreme nationalism to take grip. These events occurred 95 years ago. I repeat, in remembering these events, we do not seek to apportion blame. This is a matter of history, and history must neither be erased nor forgotten. We must remember and speak the truth.
I close again quoting from prof Akcam: ‘Gradually, the connection between democracy-building and human rights, on the one hand, and remembering and confronting history, on the other, became clearer and more acceptable across a broader swath of Turkish society.’
In the same spirit, we can secure recognition of a genocide which is still very real and very heartfelt by the Assyrian community, by the Australian Greek community, and by the Australian Armenian community in Australia today. Lest we forget.
Parliament of NSW Legislative Assembly recognized the Assyrian and Greek genocide
Mr BARRY O'FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai—Premier, and Minister for Western Sydney) [12.35 p.m.], by leave: I move:
That this House:
(1) notes that on 17 April 1997, this House recognised and condemned the Genocide of the Armenians by the then Ottoman Government between 1915 and 1922, and designated 24 April of every year thereafter as a day of remembrance of the 1.5 million Armenians who fell victim to the first genocide of the twentieth century;
(2) recognises that Assyrians and Greeks were subjected to qualitatively similar genocides by the then Ottoman Government between 1915 and 1922;
(3) reaffirms its condemnation of the genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of intolerance;
(4) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;
(5) acknowledges and pays tribute to the contribution of the Anzac servicemen who aided the survivors of the genocide; and
(6) acknowledges the significant humanitarian relief contribution made by the people of New South Wales to the victims and survivors of the genocide.
The horrors of genocide live deep within the hearts of many people within our community. When migrants choose to make a new life in Australia they often leave behind the marginalisation they experienced in their homelands. For many the decision to migrate can be a very painful one and being forced to leave one's motherland due to oppression or persecution is devastating. Genocide has been something from which too many settlers on these shores have escaped. I have moved this motion in recognition of the genocide of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians that occurred after 1915. The motion reflects the community's determination to ensure that genocide is never forgotten and that it is recognised around the world.
We can take pride in the fact that New South Wales offered a safe haven for people around the world who faced genocide—those that we are remembering in this motion or those that we have remembered in subsequent times. We can take pride from the fact that individuals in communities in New South Wales have rebuilt their lives, salvaged their identities and can now be identified as Australian here and in their homelands. The Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities continue to play a significant role in helping to shape the vibrant cosmopolitan culture that characterises New South Wales.
In the small business sector individuals and families from these communities are shining examples of the benefits to this State and nation of multiculturalism. Having left war-torn countries in the Middle East, many Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks established small businesses which continue to thrive decades later. I make special mention of the member for Smithfield, Andrew Rohan, whose parents were amongst the refugees who fled these atrocities and settled in this country. The member for Smithfield has previously recognised in this Parliament the national day of remembrance of the genocides.
In moving this motion I acknowledge a similar motion moved in the Legislative Council by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, MLC. Just as the motion passed with the support of both sides of politics in this place 16 years ago, this motion should continue to enjoy the support of this Parliament. To address such horrific crimes of the past maintains our vigilance to prevent such acts against humanity in the future.
Mr JOHN ROBERTSON (Blacktown—Leader of the Opposition) [12.39 p.m.]: I speak in support of this motion. Labor has long recognised the tragic events and suffering endured by the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek populations living within the borders of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and its aftermath. In 1997 former Premier Bob Carr led this place in supporting a motion recognising the Armenian genocide. At that time, all members of Parliament joined in acknowledging the genocide, placing it on record and pledging never to forget it. Since that time, Labor members also have stood in this Parliament to recognise the suffering endured by the Assyrian people during the First World War. Therefore, it is fitting that once again we acknowledge the Assyrian genocide, place those terrible events on the record and pledge never to forget. We must acknowledge also the suffering endured by Greek people living in Pontus and Anatolia during the First World War and its aftermath.
I again join the Premier in acknowledging the genocide suffered by the Greek people. Again we place those events on the record and pledge never to forget them. In supporting this motion, and in acknowledging the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides, I relay to the House the words spoken by former Premier Bob Carr following this Parliament's acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide in 1997:
Let us all resolve, first, to reject ethnic stereotyping … Second, let us reject religious intolerance and bigotry for what it is and give all people the right to pursue their faith and, third, while exploring our patriotism, let's reject nationalism which has done so much damage and so much harm.
I am sure all members will join me in again rejecting these three evils as we recognise the terrible events of the past. As I indicated earlier, Labor supports this motion. However, I place on record our dissatisfaction with the way the Premier brought this motion before the House. I was informed only three hours ago that the Premier would move this motion today. I question why it was brought on with such haste and minimal notice to members of this Parliament and the community. It is worth noting that Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile moved an identical motion in the other place just last week. While I do not doubt the Premier's sincerity in moving this motion, the haste with which it was introduced leads me to question his motivations.
In giving my support to this motion, I acknowledge also that, as is so common in our vibrant and multicultural community, this issue attracts a diversity of views. I am concerned that the time has not been taken to speak with all those communities that have strong and, understandably, passionate views on this issue. In the limited time made available to us, I have spoken with members on our side of the House who, like many members in this place, represent electorates that are home to diverse communities. I place on record the fact that the members representing the electorates of Auburn, Liverpool and Macquarie Fields have conveyed to me the Turkish community's disappointment at not having any opportunity to have their say on this issue. I am told that they also are disappointed that the Premier has not contacted the Turkish community leaders to explain his reasons for the haste to deal with this motion today.
I acknowledge the presence in the gallery today of the Turkish Consul-General, who is listening to this debate. I do not know whether the Premier has attempted to meet with the Consul-General. I advise the House that at 4.00 p.m. today I will be meeting with the Turkish Consul-General. I do so in order to explain to her my reasons for supporting this motion. I invite the Premier to come along and also meet with the Turkish Consul-General this afternoon at 4.00 p.m. in my office to explain the haste in moving this motion, not the reasons. I again commend the motion to the House and place on record the Labor Opposition's acknowledgement of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides, and pledge never to forget those terrible events.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.