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Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Michael Brissenden
The Turkish government uses the centenary celebrations at Gallipoli to try to shut down criticism of the Armenian genocide.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The Turkish Government is threatening to ban a group of Australian politicians from the centenary celebrations at Gallipoli in 2015 in what some see as a bald attempt to rewrite its own World War I history.
It goes back to May this year when the New South Wales Parliament passed a motion recognising the Armenian genocide, carried out by the Ottoman Turk regime, in which an estimated million and a half people died.
The move infuriated Turkish authorities, who are now threatening retaliation.
National security correspondent Michael Brissenden has this exclusive report.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, REPORTER: Every April, Australians in their thousands make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli to commemorate the national mythology forged on the beaches of Anzac Cove. What few Australians realise is that the day coincides with another anniversary of an even more tragic episode in history.
PETER STANLEY, MILITARY HISTORIAN: So as well as the myths that we seem to find ourselves unable to escape from, we also want to embrace the truth of Gallipoli, and the fact is is that the Armenian genocide happened almost within days of the invasion of Gallipoli.
COLIN TATZ, VISITING FELLOW, ANU: In my view, it's both. It's the 100th anniversary of the genocidal events and the 100th anniversary of the famous Gallipoli landings.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: On the eve of what Australians call Anzac Day, Armenians around the world hold their own day of remembrance to mark the wholesale annihilation of Armenian Christians in the dying days of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.
FRED NILE, NSW LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: And they just eliminated people systematically, community by community, village by village. And in fact it's interesting when Adolf Hitler planned to have the genocide of the Jews, there were some questions asked, and he said himself, "Don't worry, who remembers the Armenian genocide?"
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Fred Nile has just returned from a tour of Armenia with a cross-party delegation.
FRED NILE: Well I think we have to deal with the truth and I hope Australia is mature enough to do that.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the response from the Turks to the motions passed by both houses of the NSW Parliament recognising and condemning the Armenian genocide has been blistering.
GULSEREN CELIK, TURKISH CONSUL-GENERAL, NSW: These people want to hijack this very special bond, the Turkish ANZAC spirit, this is their target.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Turkish Consul-General has written a lengthy and angry response to the NSW Parliament, condemning what she describes as the baseless allegations of genocide.
GULSEREN CELIK: There certainly is no scholarly consensus on the events of 1915. There are quite a few number of non-Turkish historians who do not accept the genocide thesis.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The genocide debate has long inflamed passions on both sides. The description "genocide" has consistently been dismissed by the Turks as a one-sided representation of history.
Despite reports at the time of mass evacuations of Armenian villages far from conflict zones, evidence of forced marches, eyewitness testimony and countless academic investigations.
COLIN TATZ: There is categorical evidence from scholarship around the world that what happened between 1915 and 1922 was a genocide of the Armenians, the Pontian Greeks and the Assyrian community to the extent of roughly one half of their total population.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Colin Tatz is one of the world's most prominent genocide scholars. He's vilified by Turkish nationalists and his research has been challenged by the Turkish Government.
COLIN TATZ: Never in history has a nation state been so dedicated to the eradication of what they call a lie.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And the Turkish state has hit back with a threat to the one event that has for decades now underpinned our close diplomatic relations. A Foreign Ministry statement says the proponents of this motion will no longer be welcome at the Gallipoli commemorations.
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT (male voiceover): "These persons who try to damage the spirit of Canakkale/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Canakkale ceremonies where we commemorate our sons lying side by side in our soil."
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The local council at Gallipoli has also made it clear that critics will not be welcome at the centenary celebrations in 2015.
GALLIPOLI LOCAL COUNCIL (male voiceover): "We announce to the public that we will not forgive those who are behind these decisions and that we do not want to see them in Canakkale anymore."
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So the Premier and members of the Parliament will not be welcome at the 2015 celebrations?
GULSEREN CELIK: Well, I think one should read the press statement of our ministry carefully.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well the press statement says they won't be welcome, so one would assume that they won't be given the visas to go.
GULSEREN CELIK: Yes.
FRED NILE: I'm not gonna have a heart attack if I can't go there, but I think it's unfair to have some blanket ban on all members of the NSW Parliament.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But the motion passed by the NSW Parliament is a moment the Australian, Armenian, Greek and Syrian communities have been waiting for for some time.
Panayiotis Diamadis has been collating evidence and eyewitness accounts of the genocide written by Australian POWs captured by the Turks. Most were held in empty Armenian churches in emptied out Armenian villages.
PANAYIOTIS DIAMADIS, UTS: "Turkish soldiers armed with whips were driving the women and children into the sheep trucks. It was evidently intended to transport them to some distant concentration camp."
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That's one of many accounts written by POWs who returned. Another one of them was Colonel Thomas White, who later became a politician and a minister in the Lyons Government. His eyewitness account describes passing columns of Armenians being marched to certain death in the desert. Dead bodies littered the side of the road.
The Turkish Consul-General describes the claims that Australian POWs witnessed genocide as a fabrication.
GULSEREN CELIK: They were imprisoned in western part of Anatolia, so they could not witness the so-called genocides.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And even here at the Australian War Memorial, there's almost no mention of the Armenian genocide.
The link between the ANZACs, Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide is a sensitive area for all, wrapped as it is in the legend of two nations who cling to the significance that this one military campaign has had on their national identities. Turkish officials are frequent visitors here and Armenian Australians have long been critical of the influence they believe the Turks have had on how the memorial has depicted Australia's First World War experience.
PETER STANLEY: I think the Turks are expecting that the friendship that we forged through Gallipoli, which is genuine, is enough to paper over our knowledge of the Armenian genocide. But the fact is it isn't, because Australians want to know the truth about the First World War, and the truth about the Great War is is that 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
LEIGH SALES: Michael Brissenden reporting.