Turkey threatens to ban MPs
Australians pause and reflect during the Gallipoli dawn service. The pilgrimage to Gallipoli has become almost a rite of passage for young Australians.
The pilgrimage to Gallipoli has become almost a rite of passage for young Australians. It is, for many, about connecting with a national identity.
But as they stand bleary eyed at the dawn service wrapped in the flag, few would know that in 1915 as Australian soldiers were forging their own national mythology on the beaches of Anzac Cove – elsewhere in Turkey the Ottoman regime was conducting the wholesale removal and destruction of another national identity.
That process of deportations, forced marches and executions began in the area known as Anatolia just days before the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli.
But many historians fear that as we approach the centenary of both events, the Anzac legend and the Gallipoli industry that has sprung up around it may obscure the other important commemoration.
People were 'systematically eliminated'
The Christian campaigner and NSW Upper House MP Fred Nile was the force behind the unanimous motions passed by both houses of the NSW Parliament.
He says the Armenians have no time for arguments about definitions or the sensitivities of the modern Turkish state.
Mr Nile has just returned from a tour of Armenia with a cross-party delegation.
"(The Ottoman Turks) just eliminated people systematically – community by community, village by village", he says.
"In fact it's interesting that when Adolf Hitler planned the genocide of the Jews there were some questions asked and he said himself 'Don't worry, who remembers the Armenian genocide?' Who remembers it?"
And genocide scholars also have no doubts.
Colin Tatz is a world renowned genocide expert who has spent his entire career investigating racial extermination from Nazi Germany through to the Australian frontier wars.
"There is categorical evidence that what happened between 1915 and 1922 was genocide of the Armenians, the Pontian Greeks and the Assyrian communities to the extent of roughly half of their population".
Scholars like professor Tatz put the final death toll at about one-and-a-half million people and he says many Armenians have welcomed the NSW Parliamentary motions.
Around the world Turkish efforts to prevent any official recognition of genocide have been remarkably successful.
Only 21 countries have passed a resolution to that effect. The British government and the United States government have not, although 43 US states have, and neither has the Australian Government.
The Turkish Consul General Gulseren Celik says she is confident the Federal Parliament has no intention of following what she describes as the "outrageous" NSW motions.
"We expect Australians to show the same kind of respect that we have shown to their history and their ancestry," she said.
"Those individuals who show no respect to our history will not be welcome in Turkey."
Evidence of Anzac PoWs dismissed as a 'fabrication'
The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has hit back in a press release.
"These persons who try to damage the spirit of Canakkle/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Canakkale ceremonies where we commemorate our sons lying side by side in our soil," he said.
The local council at Gallipoli has also made it clear the critics will not be welcome at the centenary celebrations in 2015.
"We announce to the public that we will not forgive those who are behind these decisions and that we don't want to see them in Canakkale anymore," it said.
When asked by the ABC if this meant that NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, and indeed the entire NSW Parliament would not be given visas to attend the centenary commemorations, Gulseren Celik replied, "yes".
In her letter to the NSW Parliament Ms Celik dismissed the evidence of Anzac PoWs as a fabrication.
"As we near the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign the proponents of the so-called genocide will continue their quest to try to hijack the very special bond that exists between our two countries by fabricating that Anzac soldiers who were PoW were witnesses to these so-called allegations," she said.
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 both cling to the significance that this one military campaign has had on their national identities.
Turkish officials are frequent visitors to the Australian war memorial, for instance, and Armenian Australians have long been critical of the influence they believe the Turks have had on the way the memorial has depicted the Australian World War I experience.
World War I galleries make little mention of genocide
World War I galleries are currently being renovated but in the past public exhibitions glossed over the Armenian experience with no mention of genocide.
Although some information has been posted on the War Memorial’s website, it has shied away from the events, saying that at this stage they will not be including this story in the new galleries as the World War I gallery space is limited and only so many stories can be told.
But World War I historians, such as Peter Stanley who worked for many years at the War Memorial, say 2015 should be an occasion that allows both countries to be bigger than their national self interest.
"I would expect that it would be covered in proportion by an Australian institution that is explaining to us the First World War as a whole," he said.
"I think the Turks are expecting that the friendship we forged through Gallipoli, which is genuine, is enough to paper over our knowledge of the Armenian genocide but the fact of the matter is it isn't.
"Australians want to know the truth about the First World War and the truth about the Great War is that a million-and-half Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire."
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.
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