Time to take Turkey to task over Genocide

Across Australia, Australian descendants of Armenians, Assyrians and Greek survivors of the 1914‑1923 genocide inflicted by the Turkish led Ottoman Empire continue to hold commemoration ceremonies to remember the victims of one of the most horrific episodes in 20th century history.

In echoes of the modern day actions of the Islamic State, millions of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Christians were mass slaughtered, forced to convert to Islam, systematically raped or sold into sex slavery, had their property stolen or had their Christian cultural, historical and religious monuments destroyed.

Unlike the Germans, who have publicly recognised and shown remorse for the horrors of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, the Turkish Government not only refuses to not only acknowledge the genocide, but seeks to punish foreign governments who do.

Of the 21 countries which have recognised the genocide, which includes France, Russia, Canada, Italy, Poland, Greece and Germany, the Turkish Government, in response, has regularly launched sharp diplomatic criticisms, withdrawn their ambassadors and even placed travel restrictions on foreign nationals who wish to visit Turkey.

Despite attempts to have the genocide officially recognised by the Federal Parliament, successive Australian Governments have kowtowed to pressure from Ankara, fearing that official recognition may result in Australians being blocked from visiting the shores of Gallipoli during Anzac ceremonies among other bilateral repercussions.

Such cowardice is out of step with Australian values and historical parliamentary practice.

Australia’s respected international reputation as a good international citizen is derived from being a peace loving nation that is also willing to stand up against injustice and atrocities that have occurred across the world.

Whether it be the Holocaust, Kosovo, Tiananmen Square, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Tibet, East Timor or more recently Syria, Australia has not hesitated to denigrate acts of genocide or systematic human right abuses wherever they have occurred.

Our long standing position has been that failure to acknowledge systematic human rights abuses risks providing the licence for other would be rogue governments that such action is accepted within international practice.

The Australian Parliament should also seek to officially recognise the direct contribution of Australia’s military forces who served in WW1 that helped prevent further mass slaughter of Assyrians during the genocide, including the heroic actions of Australian Army Lieutenant General Stanley Savige.

Savige, who was part of the British secret operation named Dunsterforce, volunteered with the British High Command to lead a force of only eight men under his command which successfully rescued and transported 60,000 Assyrian refugees to safety against Turkish military resistance.

The Turnbull Government should not fear a deterioration in Australia-Turkey relations.

Recent actions by the Turkish Government demonstrate that Turkey is neither a friend to Australia nor a nation that shares common interests or our values.

Turkey has played an instrumental role in facilitating the growth of the Islamic State, despite this being against Australia’s national security interests. It has done this through the purchase of stolen oil seized in both Syria and Iraq by ISIS which the Turkish Government has either actively participated in or turned a blind eye to.

Moreover, the recent mass arrests of academics, journalists and members of the judiciary critical of the Erdogan regime, coupled with the suspension of civil rights, the closure of over 130 media organisations and social media platforms as well as the intermingling of radical theology with public policy demonstrate that Turkey has abandoned its long standing embrace of secularism, western institutions, protections of minorities and democratic practices.

As a result, Christian Turks, among other minorities, have become subject to increasing physical violence, attacks on their churches and even murder.

Without Australia standing with the international community to condemn previous Turkish atrocities and the actions of the current Turkish Government, our inaction risks passively facilitating a repeat of history.

A century ago Australia’s finest gallantly took on the Turks. It is time we now do it again.

John Adams is a former Coalition Advisor

This article was published in today’s Daily Telegraph

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