Neos Kosmos, The Hellenic Perspective, Australia
Dec 5 2013

Thee campaign for Australian recognition of the Armenian, Assyrian
and Greek genocides has intensified and the issue has reached the
Australian mainstream like never before.

Dean Kalimniou

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.