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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1638


Senator PETER BAUME(1.41) —I take the opportunity to join this debate. Senator Missen earlier drew attention to events which are occurring in Bulgaria. I am reminded by what he said that on 24 April this year the Armenian communities in Sydney and throughout the world commemorated-I cannot say 'celebrated'-the 70th anniversary of the genocide of the Armenian people which took place in 1915. On that occasion, the Turkish people were not the victims of genocide, as they were in Senator Missen's example; they were the perpetrators.

It is worthwhile setting down the events of that genocide in the Parliament so that the 70th commemoration shall not go unnoticed. The events are simple enough. With the outbreak of World War I and with the landing at the Dardanelles, a conscious policy decision was taken by the young Turk Government to rid itself of its Armenian minority. This was done because they were thought to have friends among those who had launched the Dardanelles invasion and because they were thought to have cousins and relatives fighting with the Russian army on the Eastern Front. Turkey, of course, was then at war. A decision was taken at government level and implemented to move the Armenians-about 1.75 million of them-living in their traditional lands in the north-east of Turkey in the Caucasus by foot into the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. Survival in those areas was, of course, almost negligible. There was almost no opportunity to survive the journey or the resettlement. The reception areas were ill-prepared and inhospitable. The decision to move them was, in fact-and I use the words carefully-a final solution and it was one which Adolf Hitler consciously emulated some 20 to 25 years later when he came to formulate his plans for the destruction of the Jewish people.

The Turkish Government put its plans into effect. Estimates vary but somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died, either en route from their homelands down to the areas of Syria and Mesopotamia, or before and afterwards as a result of various massacres. It was the first massacre, the first genocide, of the 20th century. It was one of the most horrible. Part of the tragedy was that the people had committed no sin whatsoever. Most of them were citizens of Turkey. Many of them had joined the Turkish Army. The Armenians within the Turkish Army were taken out and hanged. They gave pledges of loyalty; these were ignored. They were simply forced to leave their homes and march, being massacred en route by their guards, by tribesmen, and by citizens groups in the way that pogroms have gone on throughout history. The Armenians commemorate to this day the loss of a large part of their population. The genocide went on with large numbers of people in the world knowing that it was occurring. It went on with the German government of the day, then engaged in World War I, doing all it could to suppress action on or knowledge of that genocide. It went on with the courageous American Ambassador to Turkey, Mr Morgenthau, at that stage doing all he could to alert the world to what was happening and suffering all kinds of threats because he was attempting to bring to the attention of the world what was happening. As I say, the Armenian communities have never forgotten. The messages from genocides of this kind are that one should never forget. If we forget we become insensitive to the fact that genocide can recur.

The second message from genocides of this kind is 'never again'. Never again should they be allowed to happen. I am reminded of another genocide, the Jewish holocaust. One of the survivors of Auschwitz, Samuel Pisar, came to this country afterwards to complete his education. He attended the same law school that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) attended. Sir Zelman Cowen selected him and sent him to Harvard later. Samuel Pisar wrote a book called Of Blood and Hope. In that book he recalled how in 1975 he returned to Auschwitz with President Valery Giscard D'Estaing. In Auschwitz, returning to where he had been a prisoner, he said to the President: 'Mr President, in this cursed and sacred place today you face your greatest audience-in the presence of millions of innocent souls. Mr President, with the authority of the number tattooed on my arm, I say to you that if they could cry out they would say to you ''Never again''.' The message from any genocide has to be 'never again'. The sadness is that in our world today we are seeing genocide again and again. We saw the genocide in Kampuchea-in our time. We saw Idi Amin when he was rampant, inflicting genocide upon his people. We have seen recent events in Ethiopia. The Government there is guilty of genocide by obstruction. We have the events occurring in southern Lebanon where the Christian Maronite community is likely to be wiped out by acts of genocide occurring now.

If we are to commemorate what has gone on in the past it has surely to be to ensure that it does not happen again, and that if it is happening we make our voices known. I say to the Minister, who is presently the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, that we have a seat on the Security Council at present; we have a capacity to initiate discussion at an international level about some of these events. If episodes are occurring now which have the quality of genocide, I ask the Minister: Do we have a duty to bring those matters in a formal sense before the world assembly for proper discussion?

The only other point I raise is that a decade ago some members of the international Armenian community, grieving still for the loss of their grandparents, thinking still about the cousins that have never been born, the families that have never had fulfilled lives, undertook a program of terror and reprisal murder. I took the opportunity a week or so ago to speak to the Armenian community in Sydney-a hall with 2,000 people, the best citizens I know, loyal Australians. I said to them that we must never forget but we must not undertake murder in revenge. The Ten Commandments which forbid murder are as binding upon the victims of genocide as they are upon its perpetrators.

I put on the record my belief that the awful events of 70 years ago with the destruction of the Armenian people and the Armenian nation, as dreadful as they were, and all the genocides which follow, do not justify the revenge murder of anyone. If anyone, in the name of the Armenian genocide, commits murder or kills Turkish diplomats two things are wrong. First, these diplomats they are killing are not genocidists. They are, at the worst, the grandchildren of the people who were alive in 1915. The present Turkish Government is guilty of indifference, ignoring history and denying the events but it is not guilty of the murders and its representatives should be kept safe from reprisal killings. The second argument is that those who kill in reprisal are in quality no better than those who earlier had killed as an act of genocide. So I hope that members of the Senate will recall the sad events of 1915, that genocide remains one of the darker sides of history and that it is our duty, so far as possible, to remember these events and to pledge that they will happen never again.

Sitting suspended from 1.50 to 2 p.m.