Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, Rev. Fred Nile delivered a solemn tribute to Australian ANZAC soldiers who witnessed and provided relief efforts during the genocides of the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian population of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian National Committee of America reports.
Nile’s message comes in light of recent accusations by Turkey’s Ambassador to Australia that these recorded accounts by ANZAC soldiers were somehow false, and it also comes at a time when Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has threatened to ban those Australian politicians, who supported recent motions to recognise these genocides, from attending Gallipoli commemorations of ANZAC Day in 2015.
Nile said: “As we head into the centenary year of the landings at Anzac Cove, it is not an act of friendship to declare that Australian parliamentarians who support motions recognising aspects of Australian history are not welcome at the commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.”
Shortly after the Gallipoli campaign, Australian soldiers came into contact with the genocides of the Armenian, Greeks and Assyrians. Over 300 ANZACs were held as prisoners of war (POWs) by the Ottoman forces. These ANZACs recorded their experiences in detailed diaries and memoirs with vivid accounts of the genocide. Many of these accounts are now stored in the archives of the Australian War Memorial.
In his speech on the floor of the Legislative Council, Nile called upon Turkey to have respect for Australian history and to recognise the crime of genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.
Nile said: “Modern Turkey and modern Australia must have a friendship that is based on mutual respect and understanding of historical differences. Turkey and Australia have overcome the legacy of the battles on Gallipoli, so we must overcome whatever difference of opinion we have about recent motions recognising the Assyrian and Hellenic genocides and reaffirming the Armenian genocide.”
ANC Australia Executive Director, Vache Kahramanian welcomed Nile’s statement paying tribute to the ANZACs and confirming the authenticity of their records.
Kahramanian said: “The history of the Armenian genocide is intertwined in the fabric of Australian history. Many brave Australian soldiers risked their lives to provide aid and assistance to survivors of the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Genocides.”
“This history is clearly recorded in the archives of the Australian War Memorial and is a proud testament to Australia’s humanitarian assistance abroad. Denying the historical reality of the Armenian genocide also denies our proud Australian history, which should never occur,” Kahramanian added.
The NSW Parliament passed two unanimous motions in May of this year recognising the Assyrian and Greek genocides while reaffirming its 1997 motion recognising the Armenian genocide. The motion paid tribute to Australian ANZACs as well as Australia’s proud humanitarian assistance to victims and survivors of this genocide.
In response, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement stating that those who were responsible for this motion will “doubtlessly be deprived of the hospitality and friendship” normally extended to Australians.
More specifically, the official statement says: “These persons who try to damage the spirit of Çanakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Çanakkale ceremonies where we commemorate together our sons lying side by side in our soil.”
The full text of Rev. Nile’s speech can be read below:
“I speak about the Hellenic Pontian Genocide Commemoration, which was commemorated tonight in New South Wales Parliament House, and relate that commemoration to other aspects of the Anzac service. I was pleased to be a guest at this annual event tonight, along with other members of the New South Wales Parliament. I was particularly pleased to receive a plaque and historical portrait for my efforts in moving the motion in this House some weeks ago. Plaques and a portrait were also presented to the Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, for his action in moving a similar motion in the other place. Those items were handed to the Hon. David Clarke, who was representing the Premier. The event held tonight was organised in collaboration with all the different Pontian organisations—the United Pontian Association of NSW, the Pontian Association of Wollongong “Diogenes”, with representatives from Victoria, and from Melbourne in particular.
Along with colleagues from all parties and both Chambers of this Parliament, we commemorated the tragic loss of almost three million Hellenes, people of Greek background, Armenians and Assyrians at the hands of the Ottoman government, across the Middle East. The connection of the Anzacs to the genocides of the indigenous Armenian, Assyrian and Hellenic populations of Anatolia has recently returned to the mainstream of Australian history.
This has been triggered by the pending anniversaries of the outbreak of World War I, the commencement of the genocides of the Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes, and the landings on the Gallipoli peninsula. These three anniversaries fall within a few months of each other and mark events that left an indelible imprint on the Anzacs and on Australian society as a whole.
The Anzacs were formed at the eruption of the war. A few months later they were serving on the front lines, where they came into contact with the genocides of the Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes. Approximately 300 Anzacs were captured by the Turkish armies on the various fronts of Gallipoli, Sinai, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Almost one-third of them died in captivity. Many Anzac prisoners of war recorded their experiences in secret diaries or post-war reports. The original documents are now housed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Gallipoli prisoner Private Daniel Bartholomew Creedon of the 9th Battalion recorded in his diary on 2 February 1916 that the people in Ankara, where he was being held, said that the Turks killed 1¼ million Armenians. HMAS AE2 crew member John Harrison Wheat wrote in his diary on 18 August 1915:
All the Armenians are driven from [Afyonkarahissar]. The principal cause of this is the Armenians are Christians and all the business of the town is carried on by them. There is a very strong feeling against the Christians in this Country. At this time, thousands of Armenians were turned out of these big towns to starve and thousands were massacred.
The circumstances of the war also made Anzacs the rescuers of genocide survivors. Imperial Camel Corps Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Mills wrote in his diary how in 1917 his men collected Armenian survivors in their drive up the Jordan River Valley. Mills carried a one-year-old girl asleep in his arms on his camel. The largest operation occurred in the northern summer of 1918. Nine Australian and New Zealand servicemen, led by Captain Stanley Savige, decided to protect a ragged column of 80,000 Assyrian genocide survivors. These Anzacs were all that stood between the survivors and annihilation during their 1,000 kilometre trek from Iran’s Urmia region to the plains near Baghdad, Iraq. However, only 40,000 reached safety in spite of the protection by that small band of nine Anzac soldiers. They carried with them a collection of diaries, photographs and films recorded by the Dunsterforce men.
Anzacs who experienced the genocides later joined the international rescue mission led by the Near East Relief Organisation. Men such as AFC Captain Thomas Walter White donated time and money to rescue those who had lost everything. When the fighting was over, they served Cleo, the muse of history, by documenting their experiences. In the midst of such inhumanity, the Anzacs did not forget their duty as human beings and are now regaining their rightful place in Anzac history. As we head into the centenary year of the landings at Anzac Cove, it is not an act of friendship to declare that Australian parliamentarians who support motions recognising aspects of Australian history are not welcome at the commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.
Modern Turkey and modern Australia must have a friendship that is based on mutual respect and understanding of historical differences. Turkey and Australia have overcome the legacy of the battles on Gallipoli, so we must overcome whatever difference of opinion we have about recent motions recognising the Assyrian and Hellenic genocides and reaffirming the Armenian genocide. We all need to learn from genocides and other episodes of persecution in order to prevent from them happening again. In Syria, Iraq, Egypt and many other lands, Christians continue to suffer. Lest we forget.