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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12887

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:15): 'Who remembers the Armenians?' This is the phrase that presaged genocide. They were Hitler's words to Oberkommando der Wehrmacht in the Obersalzberg on the eve of the Second World War in 1939, recorded by Admiral Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, German military intelligence. Raphael Lemkin, the great Polish historian, began his research into the jurisdiction and the law of genocide because he saw what happened to the Armenian minority in Turkey as one of the great injustices of history that unfortunately the world at that time did not address.

On Monday I met Professor Taner Akcam, a great Turkish patriot and professor of history at Clark University. He fights the revisionist history which is the social norm in Turkey and seeks to dismiss and denigrate an evil: the apocalyptic event of genocide of the Armenians. The professor lamented the fact that Turkey has not progressed in recognising the atrocities that the Young Turks movement committed against the 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered in the years 1915 to 1923. In an article in the New York Times on 19 July 2012, Akcam argued:

Confronting the past is closely linked to security, stability and democracy in the Middle East. Persistent denial of historical injustices not only impedes democratization but also hampers stable relations between different ethnic and religious groups.

This is particularly true in former Ottoman lands, where people view one another in the cloaks of their ancestors.

The reverberations of the Armenian genocide continue to reverberate throughout Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

What is not widely known is that, in Turkey, 200 military trials were conducted immediately following the massacre of the Armenians in the early 1920s. They were denounced by people including Ataturk himself. However, the failure of the west to take up these issues meant that the Young Turks movement asserted itself and has asserted this terrible historical injustice ever since.

With the new political order that has emerged in Turkey under the AKP, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has recently taken a stand against authoritarian regimes. He has continued to denounce, for instance, the massacre of more than 30,000 civilians in Syria as an attempted genocide. Taking a stand against such regimes and genocide by Mr Erdogan is praiseworthy, but it might be seen somewhat cynically by some, as Turkey continues to deny the crimes against non-Turks in the early 1900s, during the final years of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey calls for freedom, justice and humanitarian values—values we can all admire—along with its desire to promote human rights in the region. These are positive steps in the right direction. But they ring false and untrue with the international community when Turkey does not practise what it preaches. Professor Akcam's moving argument is that Turkey should abandon its century-old policy of denial of the Armenian genocide. If it does not, it will remain the heavy reality of an unresolved problem for that country. Turkey can try to suppress and deny the truth domestically, but internationally there will be continual reminders of the issue, which Turkey must confront and resolve in order to move forward into the world today.

Professor Akcam saw many people in this parliament. He made a big impact on many of the serious programs on which he was interviewed around the country. He is a great Turk; a Turk who is unafraid to take on a vested interest in his own country; a Turk who pointed out to me that in Istanbul now there is a demonstration every year on the occasion of the Armenian genocide of 5,000 Turkish people. He says that he holds great hope that Turkey will one day resolve its own historical injustices by confronting this problem.

It has a contemporary reality that is very important. He said in The New York Times:

In the Middle East, the past is the present. And truth and reconciliation are integral to establishing a new, stable regional order founded on respect for human rights and dignity. Turkey should lead by example.

Congratulations to Professor Akcam, a great Turkish patriot.