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Private Members’ Business – Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: 70th Anniversary
Firstly, I thank the member for Goldstein for moving this motion. I thank all of the speakers and also the Armenian National Committee for their work. This should not be an exceptional series of statements here today. As my colleague has just said, it is irrefutable that genocide occurred and was perpetrated on the Armenian people. It shouldn’t be exceptional that we talk about that and it shouldn’t be exceptional that we recognise that as a country. Indeed, on the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, it’s absolutely certain that Australia will soon recognise this genocide. I’m very proud that we’re one of the first to have become a signatory to this convention, but we’ve got to remind ourselves why we signed it. Why on earth did we sign up to that convention 70 years ago? It’s because we cannot, as a parliament and as Australians, be complicit to an act of genocide. By allowing the denial of genocide, sadly, you become complicit to some extent.
The genocide in some respects is still taking place. It takes the form of eradicating the last remnants of a people, their history and their memory. The Armenian Genocide Museum of America reports that, in 1915 across the Ottoman empire, the Armenian community maintained some 2,500 churches, 400 monasteries and 2,000 schools. As of 2015, only 34 churches and 18 schools remained in Turkey, nearly all of them in Istanbul. This effectively indicates the total eradication of the Armenian civilisation in its historic homelands. But it doesn’t end there. Turkey’s sister state, Azerbaijan, has taken up this very grim task of removing the last traces of the Armenian people from the region. From 1989 to 1994, the Armenian population of Azerbaijan’s capital fell from 180,000 to under 100 people—from 10 per cent to about 0.1 per cent. In the early 2000s, the Azerbaijan government destroyed several thousand Armenian cross stones considered by UNESCO to be intangible pieces of cultural heritage. So let’s not kid ourselves. This is continuing and it is still being perpetrated on the Armenian people.
Our failure to recognise and appropriately condemn these acts of genocide in a sense creates issues for us today. Many speakers have noted the genocide that occurred against Christian and Yazidi minorities in the Middle East. How on earth are we to have credibility in standing up and fighting against an evil ideology, as described by Daesh, if we’re unable to recognise the most horrific genocide that occurred against the Armenian people?
I’ve long thought that, as there are in many countries laws that don’t allow the denial of the Holocaust, similar laws should apply in those jurisdictions with respect to the Armenian genocide. It’s no different. Denying that genocide—which some speakers have described as the ‘grim’ genocide—should be a breach of law, because any decent person and any decent society should not allow it. The member for Melbourne Ports remarked—and he stole my thunder to some extent here—that the denial of the Armenian genocide was remarked upon by one of the most evil people in living history, Adolf Hitler, who asked, when trying to justify and argue for the Holocaust: ‘Who, after all, remembers the Armenians?’ when he was trying to convince people of his genocidal policies. That should be enough for every civilised society. That should be enough for us as a parliament. That should be enough for us as a country. No amount of economic consequences and no amount of diplomacy should ever stop us from doing the decent thing as Australians and calling out the genocide for what it is. If the consequences with governments and countries like Turkey or Azerbaijan mean that economic consequences flow, I say so be it—and I know the Australian people will back this parliament all the way when taking that approach.
Click here to access a PDF copy of the Hansard transcript of this speech.