Special Report on the Sydney Genocide Conference
The Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies held its inaugural biennial conference, "Portraits of Christian Asia Minor", at Macquarie University, on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th September, 1999. This unprecedented conference had Assyrian, Armenian, Greek and even Turkish speakers attend from all parts of the world.
Applying diplomatic pressure on the organisers, the Turkish consulate had managed to convince them to allow one of their speakers to also present his paper at the conference. The conference organisers had agreed to allow the Turkish speaker to present his paper provided he remained purely educational. This still didn't stop an anonymous bomb threat days before last year's conference, warning of a bomb that would be exploded at the University. When the conference began last year it was obvious that the Turkish speaker had fully prepared himself for the day, having members of the 'Grey Wolves', a Turkish Kemmalist group, as supporters in the crowd. The intimidating tactics that they along with Dr. Sonyel applied, however, were no match for a cool headed Dr. Abdul Maasih Saadi who calmly referred to the historical evidence as a frustrated Dr. Sonyel shouted emotional outbursts at Dr. Saadi. At this point a Jewish member of the audience then arose and then told the Turkish sponsored Dr. Sonyel how frustrating it was that the Turkish government had still not made peace with its past. She gave the example of the German government who had acknowledged its past atrocities committed against the Jews, and grown stronger for it.
Thus ended last year's genocide conference setting the stage for this year's conference which would be dedicated solely to the Assyrian people. Titled 'Assyrians After Assyria', the conference would be held by the Macquarie University Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies, in conjunction with Sydney University's Department of Semitic Studies on Sunday 2nd July at Sydney University.
Sydney's Turkish Embassy consular authorities began early and applied diplomatic pressure on Professor Abeid to stop the conference, as well as applying pressure to close down Macquarie University's genocide section altogether. According to the consular officials the conference was "not educationally motivated, but politically motivated".
Failing in their attempts to stop the conference the consular authorities then requested permission to have one of their speakers present a paper on the day, and were promptly refused, by the main sponsors and organisers of the conference. According to one organiser, who wished to remain anonymous, "We along with our sponsors, had paid a large amount of money to organise this event. The last thing we wanted was for a Turkish speaker to stand on the podium and deny what the Turkish government had done to our people during World War 1".
Meanwhile in Melbourne, the Greek groups were busy trying to ease some of the diplomatic pressure. The 6th Annual Australian Hellenic Council Conference was held in Melbourne on the 26th June, 2000. Amongst the many guests that attended the function were Australia's Federal ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs, Kemp and Downer. Many points were raised by the Council, but one of the main points raised by the Council, with both ministers, was the repeated harassment and pressure that was being applied by the Turkish consular authorities, stationed within Australia, on Australia's Universities.
According to Panayiotis Diamadis, a member of the Hellenic Council of New South Wales, "We requested that the foreign ministry inform the diplomatic guests that interference in Australia's Universities was unacceptable". Both ministers left the conference vowing to send the Turkish authorities in Australia and Ankara strong letters of protest requesting that they stop their political interference in Australian Universities.
News of the Melbourne conference eased some of the tension faced by the organisers but two days before the scheduled day of the 'Assyrians After Assyria' genocide conference Macquarie University received yet another anonymous bomb threat warning of a bomb that would be exploded at the University.
With this type of build-up, it was quite understandable that the opening of the conference was quite tense. It was held on Sunday 2nd July, and the 250 strong, mainly Assyrian audience, were on the edge of their seats, on the cold winter morning. The tension was not helped when half-way through the reading of the first speaker's paper (Gabriele Yonan's lecture) the automated lighting system shut-down plunging the entire lecture theatre into darkness, and causing people in the audience to turn around and curiously ask their neighbours "Mudeeyli Braya?". It was promptly reset by a University technician, as Gabriele Yonan, continued her talk unphased.
After all was said and done, the threats, intimidation and pressure had actually served to pack the lecture theatre with many more attendees than would have otherwise been present. With a peaceful and calm setting the conference was conducted quite professionally reinforcing the fact that it was purely "educational", contrary to Turkish claims. The 250 strong audience left the event with a sense of having gained something unique from the speakers who had presented their papers, on the day. Unlike last year, the denialists, such as the Grey Wolves along with their Turkish speaker, did not make an appearance, interfering in the proceedings. Perhaps they had had a premonition of Professor Colin Tatz's introductory speech to the conference in which he stated "As much as we hate denialists; denialists in a perverted sense keep it alive".
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