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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6268

Mr ROBERT (Fadden) (12:13): Recently this House commemorated the charge of the light horse brigade at Beersheba, representing 100 years since the wells at Beersheba were taken, opening the way for the end of the third Gaza battle and for the light horse to assist General Allenby to take Jerusalem on 11 December 1917. It put to flight the 500-year rule of the Ottoman Empire in the Holy Land, the Holy Land I note that many Armenian monks had settled in from early in the fifth century, and now occupy the Armenian quarter of the ancient city—although, it's only about 14 per cent. Those are streets I have wandered dozens of time, and I have eaten far too much fine Armenian food in that magnificent city. The Australian light horse would fight through the Jordan Valley, finishing at the battle of Samakh on 25 September 1918. Damascus would fall on 1 October and, of course, the Ottoman Empire would fall on its sword on the ship HMS Agamemnon on 30 October 1918. The fight against the Ottomans would continue by the Turkish independence movement and by so many others until the last sultan left in November 1922.

Our history in the region has been vast. What so many don't realise is that, amongst the fight and all of that history, for so long a people bore the brunt of aggression from the Ottomans. Those people were the Armenians. On 25 April 1915 Australian soldiers valiantly went ashore at Gallipoli. Unbeknownst to us, the day before, 200 to 300 Armenians were rounded up—it was the beginning of what many have called the genocide of the Armenian people. It was not the only time; tragically, the first time was in 1896.

Around 50,000 Australians of Armenian descent from 43 different nations now live in Australia, which is pretty exciting. The first Armenians came here during the gold rush, as did so many other people seeking fortunes and new lives. Large numbers came after the 1896 tragic events, many others following 1915 and 1922. The majority came in the sixties and seventies from the Middle East after Nasser came to power in Egypt, and many more came after the occupation of Cyprus and the civil unrest in Lebanon, Syria and, of course, the horrific situation in Iran. The last wave came in the 1980s, following the devastating earthquake in Armenia in 1998, and in the early 1990s, following the collapse of the USSR.

Armenian Australians bring a fantastic social culture. They bring a contribution. They bring great success in law, banking, finance and sport. They bring great political representations such as a former New South Wales Treasurer and now New South Wales Premier, and Mr Wilson, the member for Goldstein, with whom I've spoken this morning. Mr Wilson is apparently one-quarter Armenian, as he said in his maiden speech. Our culture is enriched by those who have come.

The tragedy, though, is that so many Armenians have come because of the bloodshed enacted against them—not just in 1896 but through 1915 to 1922. We acknowledge in this Chamber on 25 April 1915 that a bunch of colonies became a country when 50 per cent of Australia's able-bodied men from 18 to 45 signed up to fight. And, whilst Australia formed its sense of modern identity on the battlefields starting with Gallipoli, Armenia formed its sense of great and secondary tragedy from the events that followed. These things should not be hidden. They should be discussed. They should be open. Reconciliation comes from an honest appraisal of events and an honest appraisal of history.

I thank the member for his motion this morning that seeks to bring an honest appraisal of events that happened 100 years ago. Time should never extinguish events, but it should give us time to reflect, to heal and to seek to move on. I am exceptionally proud of what our Armenian communities have done in Australia. It is hard moving from a land you love—a land replete with history and wonder, and a land that goes back not just centuries but millennia—to come to a new country: a young country with modern standards and an ancient country in terms of those who came first. As we seek to understand—not to hide from but to seek reconciliation from the past—I reach out and welcome our Armenian communities to a modern Australia, to know that this now, for those who live here, is your home. You are extraordinarily welcome, and we look forward to working together as we build stronger, safer and more inclusive communities.