Australia’s House of Representatives has debated, for the first time, a motion recognizing the Armenian Genocide through the prism of Australia’s first major international humanitarian relief effort. The Parliament has called for a vote to change the government’s foreign policy, according to the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU).
The debated motion recognizes, among other things, “the extraordinary humanitarian efforts of the then newly formed Commonwealth of Australia for the orphans and other survivors of the Armenian Genocide, as well as the other Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire including Greeks and Assyrians.”
It was moved on Monday, June 25, in the Australian Parliament’s Federation Chamber by Trent Zimmerman (Liberal MP for North Sydney) and seconded by Joel Fitzgibbon (Labor MP for Hunter) and John Alexander (Liberal MP for Bennelong). Chris Bowen (Labor MP for MacMahon), Stuart Robert (Liberal MP for Fadden) and Anne Aly (Labor MP for Cowan) also spoke favorably on Australia’s helping hand for the victims of Ottoman Turkey’s crime against humanity.
This comprehensive, bipartisan support indicates that the House of Representatives has taken a major step towards Australia recognizing that its first major international humanitarian relief effort was to aid survivors of the Genocide that decimated the Christian Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians of the Ottoman Empire.
Significantly, the motion accurately reflects and accepts as a historical fact the Armenian Genocide as a “genocide,” moving Australia closer to international norms of recognizing the systematic murder of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915.
“This motion recognizes that Australia’s first major international humanitarian relief effort was to help the survivors, especially the orphan survivors of the Armenian Genocide, and today’s bipartisan debate paves the way for an eventual vote to formalize this recognition by the nation’s Parliament,” ANC-AU Executive Director Haig Kayserian said.
Kayserian said that Armenian-Australians faced “some obstacles and a considerable road ahead” to achieve full recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Australia, however, “that journey is that little bit shorter after this debate broke many taboos.”
“All speeches recognized Australia’s relief efforts during the Armenian Genocide, as that was the focus of this motion, however, we must seek more to honor the memory of the survivors of the genocide of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians,” Kayserian said. “We need more of our political leaders, to follow the lead of some of the honorable members during today’s debate, and Australia to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
“When debates such as today’s and when these calls for recognition evolve into a binding vote on a motion, such as the one debated today by one of the Houses of Parliament, we would have ensured an important shift in Australian foreign policy from one that appeases a foreign dictatorship to one that sides with truth and justice on the issue,” Kayserian added.
Zimmerman, who is the Co-Chair of the Armenia-Australia Inter-Parliamentary Union (Friendship Group/Caucus), was unequivocal in his call for the importance of Armenian Genocide recognition during his speech.
“In remembering the victims of the Armenian Genocide and those Australians who came to their aid, we send a message that the events which started in 1915 are not just some footnote in history,” Zimmerman said. “For, if we hide from the truth, if we fail to recognize the evil that was perpetrated against the Armenians, we simply provide succor to those today and in the future who think that they can deny the most important of human rights, of life itself.”
Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fitzgibbon, who is also a Co-Chair of the Armenia-Australia Inter-Parliamentary Union (Friendship Group/Caucus), echoed these calls.
“Up to 30 countries around the world, and our own New South Wales Parliament, have now declared the actions of the Ottomans an act of genocide,” Fitzgibbon said. “I do not believe the ongoing failure of Australia to do the same helps rebuild trust and relationships — we invest so much time in our international relationships, and I believe one further act could further strengthen our place in the world.”
Alexander, who is Member of the largest Armenian-Australian electorate in Bennelong and a long-time supporter of Armenian Genocide recognition, used this debate to repeat his calls.
“I have long called for this Parliament to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” Alexander said. “I am happy that today, by debating this motion, we are taking a significant step towards achieving that goal by recognizing Australia’s first major international humanitarian relief effort, and what a relief effort it was.”
“I impatiently wait for the day that Australia recognizes not only our efforts to aid refugees and orphans of the Armenian Genocide, but also joins with the other 30 countries in calling for Turkey to recognize the events of 1915 as Genocide,” Alexander added.
“Today is a victory against foreign influence,” Kayserian said. “Despite pressures to gag this debate by a desperate Turkish dictatorship, five out of six speakers from the largest chamber in Australia’s Federal Parliament chose to side with a motion recognizing the Armenian Genocide for what it was, a genocide, while paying tribute to an important and proud chapter in Australia’s history which has been sought to be suppressed by foreign influence.”
Bowen, who is the Shadow Treasurer of Australia, Robert and Aly provided details of the events of the Armenian Genocide and Australia’s relief effort in their support for the motion.
“The Australian soldiers had a chance during WWI to interact with the Armenian people in particular,” Bowen said. “Many Australians who were taken prisoner were billeted in the former homes of Armenians who had been expelled from their homes. Their homes had been ransacked and pillaged and, in many senses, destroyed.”
“It is … particularly important to recognize the humanitarian efforts of Australians, and perhaps the beginning of those links of friendship and comradeship between the Australian people and Armenian people and Assyrian people,” Bowen said.
Robert discussed the events and aftermath of WWI as they related to Australians and Armenians.
“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,” Robert said. “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.”
Aly spoke to the importance of recognizing Australia’s role in aiding Armenians.
“The humanitarian efforts by Australians towards Armenians should be recognized as an important part of our history,” Aly said. “It serves to remind us all that even in war there is heroism, there is compassion, and there is shared humanity.”
The Armenian National Committee of Australia led a delegation of community representatives — including leaders of local Armenian, Greek and Assyrian organizations and clergy — to witness the historical 30-minute debate in the Federation Chamber of Parliament House.
“Our presence here is a gesture of thanks on behalf of our ancestors, all descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, who would be resting that little bit easier after seeing Australia take this significant step towards full recognition of the crimes against humanity that took their lives, their homes and their belongings,” Kayserian said.
“This is a motion that brings immense honor to Australia, and for us Australians of Armenian origin — the vast majority being descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide,” Kayserian added. “This is a day of immense pride, knowing that our nation helped our ancestors, 14,000 kilometers away, over 100 years ago at a critical time of need for their very survival.”
“The gag order on the use of Armenian Genocide by Australia’s federal government has received a sizeable blow,” Kayserian said. “But our work must not stop until Australian Parliament follows the Parliaments of New South Wales and South Australia in affirming the historical truth of the Armenian Genocide.”