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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 95


Mr TIM WILSON (Goldstein) (19:35): I rise to support the motion moved in the Federation Chamber earlier today, which begins:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

   (a) the first major international humanitarian effort of the Commonwealth of Australia following Federation was to mount relief efforts for orphans and other survivors of the Armenian Genocide;

   (b)Australia’s relief efforts were supported by Armenian relief committees—

That is, those committees that came to the aid of the people who were the victims of the genocide, including via the establishment of orphanages and financial support for orphanages as well as for the other victims of the genocide, including Christian minorities, the Greeks and the Assyrians. We recognise every Australian, every Victorian and every person of good spirit and character who was part of that relief effort to support people in dire need. As the only member of this place with Armenian heritage, I particularly welcome this motion moved by the member for North Sydney. I also welcome the contributions, in a bipartisan way, from the members for Bennelong and Hunter, who particularly acknowledged the full extent of the genocide that occurred.

There were other speakers to the motion, and I don't want to dispute their motivations or intent. We welcome their empathy, but we also must acknowledge that a word was missing from their remarks. They rightly spoke of a humanitarian tragedy befalling the Armenian people. They are right; there was a humanitarian tragedy. Another member spoke of the need for Armenians to be rescued, but didn't properly articulate from what. They spoke of events from 100 years ago befalling the Armenian people—the loss of life, the marches through the desert and the need for relief funds to support people in dire and desperate need—but did not dare to speak the tragedy's name: genocide. This motion acknowledges the Australian humanitarian effort to support the Armenian people who suffered from a genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. I respect everybody who has made a contribution to the motion earlier today. But for the victims, their families and their successors, the healing journey can only begin by acknowledging the depth of the wound.

Earlier this year in the Federation Chamber, I remarked on the genocide, its impact and the Australian humanitarian relief. The marching of Armenians to their death started a mobilisation of Australians. It has been outlined extensively in the book Armenia, Australia and the Great Warby Vicken Babkenian and Peter Stanley. They wrote:

In its drive to awaken public consciousness, the Armenian relief committee of Victoria prepared a number of pamphlets containing visual and literary images of Armenian suffering and innocence. One of them, titled An SOS from Beyond Gallipoli, included an excerpt from a telegram sent by Dr Mabel Elliott from Yerevan in late November 1921. She described how 'all day long you can hear the groans and wails of the little children outside our office building'. When the sun shone they were quieter, she said, but in the rain the wails began again. 'One day', she wrote, 'the rain turned to snow and it was awful to listen to them.' Elliott shared the terrible dilemma familiar to air workers who know that all they can give is still too little to solve the problem.

Another pamphlet, titled Stricken Armenians Appeal to Australia for Help, included a graphic photograph of emaciated Armenian refugees. The caption read, 'The frightened, half-clothed little creatures live upon grass and herbs, and hide like little rabbits in holes on the hillside.' The pamphlet asked, 'How you can help the Stricken Armenians?' and then suggested that '£10 feeds, clothes and educates a Child for a year'.

The story of the Armenians being marched into the Syrian desert, and of humanitarian and cultural genocide, slowly drifted back to Australians from our Anzacs. By 1917, The Age newspaper was reporting extensively on Armenians as 'the martyr nation of Christendom', saying, 'Think of the fact that 600,000 of these virile people were rounded up, as stock is rounded up, and done to death.' It was not just a genocide of lives; it was also a cultural genocide that was designed to remove the memory of Armenians and their cultural and religious traditions. That is why I support the motion in the Federation Chamber today. It is because we honour the memory of those Armenians and the Australians who rallied to support them.