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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5257


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (19:28): Recently I attended a commemoration seminar at the New South Wales parliament organised by the Australian chapter of the Assyrian Universal Alliance. The seminar focused on events of 95 years ago in one of the bloodiest chapters in modern history, with the massacre and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks. This persecution left thousands homeless, dispossessed or fleeing to refugee camps. The systematic dismantling of human rights and the persecution of the Assyrians has been acknowledged by many members of the parliament across the political spectrum at both federal and state level.

We not only have taken a keen interest in this issue but have wanted to support the community in Australia in its efforts to raise awareness of the problems of persecution. We have sought to raise the issue in parliament and actively have continued our efforts to assist the current plight of those persecuted as they continue to face hardship and persecution. But as we commemorate and remember past atrocities we need to look to the future and continue the pressure on governments of all persuasions to do all in their power to highlight the plight of the Assyrians and to represent their concerns. But whilst they continue to integrate and make a contribution to Australian life, it is important that they continue with the support of others to work towards redressing past injustices. The community here in Australia are the children and grandchildren of an oppressed generation. We must not lose sight of past struggles which shaped the present status of the Assyrians as a stateless nation.

Tonight I would like to focus on the Australian connection with these tragic events, which took place 95 years ago, under the shadow of World War I. During a seminar that I attended at Parliament House in New South Wales recently, Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, Director of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, made a very informative presentation. He has kindly provided me with a copy, and I would like to share with the Senate some fascinating insights into Australians who rescued Assyrians, Armenians and Hellenes. In his presentation, he stated:

The survivors of the Assyrian, Armenian and Hellenic genocides rescued were not an amorphous mass of people; they were tens of thousands of individual stories. The Australian men and women who rescued those in need were also individuals with their own unique experiences.

Dr Diamadis also made reference to those many Australians who rescued people, who not only did what they could in very difficult circumstances but then subsequently continued their efforts in Australia, and I will come to those in a moment. He began his presentation with the Dunsterforce. He stated:

Formed to secure the Caspian Sea oilfields for the British Empire, this elite unit included many Australians, outnumbered and outgunned by the Turkish-Kurdish forces arrayed against them. The force retreated into north-west Iran and began marching south-west towards British Mesopotamia. This was mid-1918.

Dr Diamadis recounted some of those stories, for example, of Captain—later general—Sir Stanley Savage. He described:

One of the unfortunate women folk was so overcome at the sight of the first party of British that they wept aloud. Striking their breasts they would call down upon us the blessings of God and rush across and kiss our hands and boots in every joy at the sight of their first deliverance.

He also quoted another member of the Dunsterforce, Captain J M Sorrell MM, and quoted from an article that was published in the Perth Sunday Times, on 27 April 1919:

It was almost a hopeless task, as the road for 100 miles was black with refugees. The suffering was very great and, in spite of all that our people could do, thousands succumbed to starvation, disease and exhaustion.

He relates that, by the time the survivors reached the town of Baqubah, north-west of Baghdad in British Mesopotamia, only 40,000 were left. He stated:

The men of the Dunsterforce have left us with a stunning collection of eyewitness testimonies and photographs of the Assyrian exodus, now housed in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

And further:

These young Australian soldiers were assigned to secure certain territory for the Empire. Failing that, their duty was to return to base as safely as possible.

They were not under orders to risk their lives to save these local people. Savage, Sorrell and their comrades rescued some 40,000 Assyrian and Armenian men, women and children. They saved these lives because it was their duty as human beings to help the helpless.

He then went on to describe the efforts of, in particular, Mrs Edith Glanville, a remarkĀ­able woman who founded Quota and who did so many other things when she returned to Australia, including returning to the Middle East on various occasions and doing wonderful work at the Australian orphanages in Beirut and Syria in connection with Armenian refugees. During the 1920s and 1930s Edith Glanville was a vocal proponent of Assyrian settlement in Australia.

I also want to make reference to an article which appeared in the Australian on 25 April 2008. It is one of those articles that appeared at the time of Gallipoli commemorations. It talks about the efforts of Australians who also helped in Armenia and elsewhere in that area. The article refers to the handful of AustĀ­ralians who were at the forefront of the relief effort, yet their stories have been largely hidden. The article goes on to state:

Not one Australian historian has devoted any attention to these remarkable Australians, who have been forgotten along with the "forgotten genocide".

The article also refers to Mrs Edith Glanville. But it also talks about other people like Charles Lloyd Jones, the first chairman of the ABC, and Oscar Lines, the general manager of the Bank of New South Wales. They were concerned with the plight of the Armenians and worked together with others, such as former Menzies cabinet minister and British High Commissioner Thomas White, who was also a prisoner of war during World War I in Turkey and, as the article states:

As a witness to the Armenian genocide, he later returned home and joined the Armenian relief effort.

The article also refers to another prominent Australian, the Reverend JE Cresswell from Adelaide's Congregational Church, now the Uniting Church. He was the national secretary of the Armenian Relief Fund of Australasia in the 1920s. The article also refers to Sydney Declaration of Philadelphia, which set up the Armenian Relief Fund, which included prominent philanthropists, businesspeople such as the Griffith brothers, who at the time were large suppliers of tea and coffee in Australia, and the Elliot brothers, who were one of the nation's biggest pharmaceutical groups. The article describes how this fund, with the help of many Sydneysiders, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the Armenians when Australians were already sacrificing so much during World War I. The article concludes:

So as we reflect on the sacrifices of brave Australians who landed on those distant shores, let us also remember those Australians who lost loved ones and through the kindness of their hearts were able to save others.

I raise this issue tonight not just in commemoration of the thousands of Assyrians, Armenians and Hellenes who died but as a tribute to the contribution of so many individuals—people like Captain Savage and Captain Sorrell, Mrs Edith Glanville and so many more good, anonymous and generous Australians who saw a need and acted.