21 November 2013
One of the great things about Australian society and indeed about this parliament is the freedom to express and publish our views. We also enjoy certain rights of redress within the boundaries of what constitutes matters such as hate, racial vilification and defamation—some aspects of which I know will be topical in this parliament as the government has indicated its intention to make some legislative changes.
Today, I rise to discuss the Armenian genocide and the recent events involving Professor Justin McCarthy, an Armenian genocide denier. This is an issue of great importance to many people whom I know and respect. I recognise the concern and disappointment in the Armenian community and the wider community in general because of Professor McCarthy’s scheduled presence in this Parliament House to address a private gathering.
This is not the first time Australia has hosted such people and I am sure it will not be the last time.
As I said, Australia is country of free speech and that is a great thing. And just as Professor McCarthy can say what he likes, I too can articulate my disagreement and displeasure with his views and I choose to do that today.
I also note that, the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in an open letter to the federal parliament, said: Australian jurist Geoffrey Robertson QC published his opinion on the matter in 2009. Based on British documents he examined, Robertson concluded the events— in question— constituted genocide. Of McCarthy, he stated: “I do not regard his analysis either as legally correct or as factually excluding a finding of genocide.”
I can also understand the heightened frustration that many Australian-Armenians feel on this matter because of the venue at which this event is scheduled to take place.
My views on this are well known. I have joined in the past with members of parliament and community leaders from all sides of the political spectrum including the members for Berowra and Bennelong, and the New South Wales Liberal Minister Gladys Berejiklian, to recognise the Armenian genocide, most recent at this year’s commemoration in Chatswood.
As I commented at that event, Hitler said before he marched across Europe, ‘No-one remembers the Armenians.’ As I have said, we should remember the Armenians.
The events between 1915 and 1923 which saw the systematic killing of Armenian, Hellenic and Assyrian people represent a scar on the face of humanity. The Armenian genocide remains one of the least known and misunderstood episodes of the 20th century.
The Armenian National Committee states: Australian POWs recorded the marches, the massacres and the complete destruction of Armenian churches, villages and city quarters. ANZAC servicemen also rescued survivors across the Middle East. Today I acknowledge the tragic events of 1915 and affirm my commitment to never forget what happened to the Armenian people who were effectively eliminated from the homeland they had occupied for nearly 3,000 years. Personally, the reason I choose to take a great interest in this matter is, indeed, a very personal one.
Two of my closest friends—Ara Margossian and Vanouhi Nazarian, who are of Australian-Armenian dissent—brought this matter to my attention many years ago and have contributed in many different ways to the Armenian community in Sydney. Ara and Van recently became parents for the first time. As I noted in my address to the commemoration in Chatswood earlier this year, I think it is very important for us to reflect on the fact that so many people who were pictured in the videos that we saw at that event, those victims, were probably the ancestors of many people who were watching that.
I found it very difficult to watch a lot of the footage that was provided on that occasion. Baby Lori, who was born only a few weeks ago—she was in her mother’s womb at the time in the audience watching me—is a very happy little baby. Against the odds for many of her ancestors, she has a safe home in Australia. She will grow up to be a wonderful Australian woman, I know, with fantastic parents and a fantastic community around her.
This week I noted a humanitarian plea to assist people in the Philippines who were the victims of natural disaster, and I want to end this speech by noting that Australia’s first major international humanitarian relief effort was in fact to help Armenian orphans from the genocide.