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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 117


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:03): I rise to second this motion and thank my friend, colleague and neighbour the member for North Sydney for bringing forward this critical debate. Let me say from the outset, it is clear and unequivocal that the murder of Armenian nationals by the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923 constituted genocide. This motion brings pride to students of Australian history—the pride of knowing that our forebears saw a people suffering on the other side of the world, then joined hands that together stretched across 14,000 kilometres of sea and terrain that separated Australia and western Armenia to help those who miraculously survived the Armenian genocide.

As the member for Bennelong, I represent an electorate with more Australians of Armenian origin than any other member of parliament. They are almost all survivors of the Armenian genocide. All of them lost family members. All of them lost their homes. All of them want justice. All of them are proud that Australia, the place where they were forced to make their home but loved without exception, did its bit and more to help their suffering ancestors. I've long called for this parliament to recognise the Armenian genocide. I'm happy that today, by debating this motion, we are taking a significant step towards achieving that goal by recognising Australia's first major humanitarian relief effort—and what an effort it was!

By late 1922, survivors of the Armenian genocide, who'd fled from Ottoman persecution, were scattered across the Middle East and Europe and were heavily dependent on foreign aid. Reverend James Cresswell, a congressional minister from Adelaide, also assisted the Armenian relief fund and was unanimously appointed as the national secretary of the Australasian Armenian relief fund. Reverend Cresswell assisted with the establishment of the Australasian orphanage in Antelias, Lebanon, in November 1922, which housed the surviving orphans of the Armenian genocide. Over 17,000 orphans, who'd lost their mothers and fathers, were housed at the Australasian orphanage, some of whom later had the privilege and opportunity to call Australia home.

The director of the orphanage was Captain James Knudsen, an ANZAC war veteran. He was assisted by Hilda King, secretary of the Australian Student Christian Movement, and, later, Melbourne nurse, Miss R Gordon, who both greatly assisted relief efforts and devoted most of their energy to the advancement of the institution. The orphanage was part of a global network of over 200 orphanages, which fed and housed over 130,000 orphans.

I would like to also recognise the Republic of Turkey that grew from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. It is not the same nation that committed those atrocities, but a nation with which Western countries now enjoy strong diplomatic relations and healthy trade, commerce and tourism. In fact, my partner's daughter today is holidaying in Turkey.

We've seen repeatedly, through international history, that the first step down this long road is the acknowledgment of past wrongs. This step helps not only to honour the dead but also to ensure that the passage of time is not used to deny or distort historical truth. Joined by my colleagues today, and by Joe Hockey before us in this place, many political leaders around the world have rightly called the atrocities that took place between 1915 and 1923 against the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek peoples by its correct term—genocide. These include Pope Francis, President Ronald Reagan, Stephen Harper, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and many more. Today I join them in calling for Australia to recognise the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocide. I am patiently waiting for the day that Australia not only recognises our efforts to aid refugees and orphans of the Armenian genocide but also joins with 30 other countries calling for Turkey to recognise the events of 1915 as genocide.