The Hon. WALT SECORD
[7.09 p.m.]: I advocate that the Government reaffirm its bipartisan support for the Armenian people and commemoration of the Armenian genocide. Further, I urge my colleagues to show their commitment by accepting an invitation to undertake a multiparty delegation to Armenia. My initial interest in Armenia arose from my study of genocide. It was from a study of the Armenian genocide that the term itself was coined in the early 1940s by Raphael Lemkin. Regrettably, there is not enough general awareness of the Armenian genocide. This matters because those who commit atrocities today rely on the fact that people will forget them tomorrow. Adolf Hitler cited this very fact in August 1939, asking: "Who, after all speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" This only highlights the importance of publishing these dark chapters of history and preventing attempts to use the passage of time to deny the truth.
It is time for Turkey to accept the past and to unequivocally recognise the Armenian genocide. I emphasise to members that in saying this I am not proposing something radical. In 1997 the New South Wales Parliament passed a bipartisan resolution recognising and condemning the genocide of the Armenians. It also designated 24 April as a day of remembrance in New South Wales. That was the day when in 1915 Ottoman authorities arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. That was the start of the Armenian genocide. Over the next four years, 1.5 million out of a total 2.5 million Armenians were systematically killed.
Under a similar genocidal policy, the Greek and Assyrian populations of the Ottoman Empire were also eliminated. Churches, entire neighbourhoods and even cemeteries were destroyed. Members could not help but note that this date, 24 April, was also the eve of Gallipoli. That very night young Australian diggers waited, preparing to meet an enemy. At that very moment, soldiers of the Ottoman Empire were commencing the very atrocities and assaults on freedom that Australians would always stand against. In fact, young Australian diggers were witness to these atrocities while sheltering in abandoned Armenian churches. We still stand against them today.
It is time for this Parliament to reaffirm that 1997 resolution. I note that the final article of that resolution called on the Commonwealth Parliament to recognise the Armenian genocide as a crime against humanity. Mercifully, the Armenians survived and flourished as a people and a nation. But present-day Armenia faces many challenges. Landlocked as a result of the Armenian genocide, it is surrounded by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. It is blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey and must balance delicate relationships with Georgia, Iran, Russia and the United States.
In late December, I had the honour of visiting Armenia and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, also known to the Armenian people as Artsakh. I met with locals, business people, government officials and parliamentarians. I saw also important political, cultural and historical sites. I had the honour of laying a wreath at the national genocide museum and memorial in Yerevan. Further, I travelled by four-wheel drive for seven hours each way and across a tiny road corridor to Artsakh. The Armenian population in Artsakh can trace their presence there back to the sixth century BC. Currently, Artsakh is not internationally recognised as a State. Seized under Stalin, it has been subjected to decades of persecution.
Armenia has also been at war with Azerbaijan. However, the Armenians have survived and Artsakh Armenians have fought for their autonomy. Memories of the war are everywhere in Armenia and Artsakh. In Yerevan, there are hills that were stripped of trees for fuel when Armenia was the subject of embargos during the war. In Artsakh, I stood on the plateau which is the site for Shushi, the town from which during the war the Azeri army fired missiles at their capital city, Stepanakert. In a night assault on 8 May 1992, the Artsakh Armenians captured and conquered Shushi. This plateau has a special place in modern Armenian history and the events there are seen as a turning point in the war. There are parts of the Artsakh capital city that still bear bullet holes from that episode in history.
I visited and had a personal tour of the Artsakh Museum of Fallen Soldiers, which honours those who died in the 1990-94 war and the Museum of Missing Soldiers, which is a testament to the disappeared. Incidentally, during my visit, there was a meeting of parents who were still trying to get information about their children who went missing during the war. I note that the Azerbaijan diplomatic representatives have been active and have protested to the Department of Foreign Affairs about my visit to Artsakh. I make no apologies for visiting this region.
Further, I will not apologise for supporting the Armenian diaspora, for expanding my knowledge of the Armenian genocide or for visiting Artsakh. I believe that Artsakh Armenians should have the right to determine their own political and economic future. I object to the suggestion that there is anything provocative about a member of this Parliament in a State with a significant Armenian diaspora wishing to understand and support the contemporary Armenian cause. I urge this House to recommit to its support for the Armenian people. Finally, I commend the Armenian National Committee of Australia for putting this issue at the forefront of our minds.