THE BANALITY OF INEPTITUDE
I defy the Liberal Senator Alan Ferguson to look Chris Mingos in the eye and tell him that his mother did not see the women of her village, one by one, through themselves into a well in a futile and tragic attempt to evade their slaughter by Turkish irregulars. I would like Ferguson to tell Chris Mingos that crimes so unspeakable that she could only cry when she would think of them, were not visited upon his mother. I would like him to look me in the face and tell me that my grandfather did not witness the slaughter of children at Akbuköy in Aydin. I dare him to look my father-in-law in the face and tell him that his father did not flee the Hakkari mountains as a result of the continuous slaughter of its native Assyrian population. I challenge him to tell me that my grandfather, Chris Mingos’ mother and the rest of the survivors of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is to use his own words an attempt to: “try to re-write history,” or that they form part of a larger corpus: “with the Armenians, with the Pontian Greeks and with a range of other people who currently are trying to put today's moral judgment on events that took place 100 years ago.” Note how the genocide-denying Senator refers to the Assyrian victims as “other peoples.” It is apparent that he is extremely well informed.
The denial of genocide, or attempts to minimise, make light of or in any way trivialise incidences of racial tension and/or conflict are not elements that one would expect to see in mature western democracies. In many European countries, denial of crimes of genocide is seen as a punishable offence because to doubt the slaughter of innocent people, murdered solely because of their ethnic, religious or political affiliations is seen as tantamount to condoning the crime as well.
Senator Ferguson did not have to commit genocide-denial in Federal Parliament on 18 March 2009. He was merely “moved to speak,” on “the 40th anniversary of the formal Agreement between the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Government of the Republic of Turkey concerning the Residence and Employment of Turkish Citizens in Australia.” His stated aim was: “to celebrate and commend the achievements of the Turkish community here in the Commonwealth of Australia that has been created as a result of this agreement in the 40 years since its implementation.”
However, he did not. Instead, he admitted that the Turkish ambassador visited him complaining about “a speech that was made by the Hon. Michael Atkinson, the Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Minister for Multicultural Affairs in the Labor government in South Australia. I had not thought that I would be surprised by anything that the South Australian Attorney-General said in relation to the Turkish community, particularly as most state parliaments do not have a role in foreign affairs in the same way that the federal parliament does.” This is where Ferguson makes a mistake and betrays his primary motivation. The Hon. Michael Atkinson’s speech had nothing to do with the Turkish community. In it, he made reference to: “The nationalist Turks led by Mustafa Kemal's forces and their frenzied followers began to persecute [Pontian Greeks] through beatings, murder, forced marches and labour, theft of their properties and livelihood, rape, torture and deportations.” One can understand why the Turkish ambassador, a person who Ferguson admits to being his “personal friend,” may be enraged. Despite Ferguson’s commendation of: “the Republic of Turkey's commitment to democracy, to the rule of law, and-particularly in the region in which it lives-to secularism, which is something that is quite unique in that part of the world,” the Turkish ambassador represents a country that until recently denied the existence of and persecuted its Kurdish minority, unlawfully expropriates land from Christian ecclesiastical foundations, bullies its smaller neighbours with spurious land and sea claims and threats of military intervention, invades and occupies other countries, and imprisons and threatens people who share different views about the its official version of its past and society. In 2005, in ‘secular, democratic, rule of law Turkey’, a new penal code was introduced, including an Article 301, which states: "A person who, being a Turk, explicitly insults the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months to three years." Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel Prize winning author, was retroactively charged with violating this law in the interview he had given four months earlier. In October, after the prosecution had begun, Pamuk reiterated his views in a speech given during an award ceremony in Germany: "I repeat, I said loud and clear that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey." Altuğ Taner Akçam, a leading Turkish academic who uses Ottoman documents to prove that the Armenian genocide took place, fears for his life and is often in hiding. Furthermore, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, Armenia and Georgia are all states in Turkey’s immediate periphery that are even more secular and certainly more democratic. But it is far beyond us to provide Ferguson with lessons in geography.
It is arguable that Ferguson knows nothing of this. I doubt that his Turkish mate would have told him, when he appears to have incited him to use the anniversary to take a cheap swipe on behalf of Turkey at genocide victim’s expense. Instead, on the 18th, he launched into a mellifluous, histrionic and irrelevant attempt to use Gallipoli, a Greek town that was ethnically cleansed by the Ottomans in order for it to be fortified to resist an Allied attack on Constantinople, “as a guest of the Turkish government,” in order to justify his genocide denial. Ferguson in particular, expresses much emotion at the fact that the commander of the forces that mowed down the ANZAC troops, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, asked the mothers of the fallen Anzac soldiers to wipe away their tears as he would look after their son’s corpses for them. Ferguson is obviously oblivious to modern scholarship which posits that the genocide of the Christians of Anatolia was probably linked to the Gallipoli landings. Professor Robert Manne states: “The two events not only coincided in territory and in time, but there is quite a lot of evidence that the genocide was pushed on because of the Dardanelle campaign of the Anglo-French forces in which the Australians were involved. So despite the fact that the things happened at the same time and in the same place more or less, and they were even kind of connected with a causal link…when the Dardanelles were first bombed by the Anglo-French in March 1915, that was the final moment of reckoning, and that the Turkish regime, which was run by two or three Young Turks were the dominant figures, they set upon and decided on asystematic extermination of the Armenians, saying that at this moment of crisis, where Constantinople might fall, we can't afford to have a subversive minority within our country."
The causal link between the two events is further cemented when one considers that just twenty days after the Gallipoli landing, on 14 May 1914, Talaat Pasha, a member of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate ordered the forcible evacuation of all Greek settlements on the Dardenelles as far as Kyssos and the re-settlement of the region with Muslim refugees from the Balkans: “For political reasons it is urgently necessary that the Greek inhabitants of the coast of Asia Minor are forced to abandon their villages… If they refuse to move… please give oral instructions to Muslim brothers how to force the Greeks to remove themselves ‘voluntarily’ by any means possible. In that case, don’t forget to obtain confirmations from them that they are abandoning their homes of their own free will.” And what about the thousands of Greek troops and support staff who assisted and nursed Australian soldiers on the island of Lemnos and elsewhere? Apparently their contribution is too humanitarian in nature to satisfy Ferguson’s idolatry of “noble” enemies.
Ferguson in his ineptitude makes another historical blunder. He states that at the time of the genocide, Turkey was “fighting for its survival against an invasion from Greece.” Rubbish. There is enough evidence to show that the genocide was directed against ALL the native Christian peoples of Anatolia and that it commenced long before Greece was requested to police the sanjak of Smyrna by the Allies in 1919. Further the Greek army never set foot in Pontos. The defenceless Pontians were slaughtered just for interfering with the Young Turk’s and their successor’s conception of a uni-racial state.
Ferguson must be a very brave man to so blatantly and artlessly exhibit his ignorance of the period in question. He is also brave for his frank revelation of the manner in which he views the place of historical events pertaining to Australian ethnic minorities. Of Michael Atkinson’s spirited speech he states: “It was obviously made in the context of being at a Greek function where it was suitable for him to make these remarks.” The inference here appears to be obvious, is it legitimate and suitable for an Australian politician to curry favour with target ethnic minorities by pandering to their own view of history in order to gain their vote? Is this how Ferguson sees multiculturalism? And in his ridiculous, offensive and thoroughly sickening to victims and descendants of the victims, denial of the Christian genocide, is he merely adhering to what appears to be his own jaded view of the use of ethnic groups in his electorate? Further more, does his distorted and inept view of this event reflect Liberal Party policy?
Playing ethnic politics is a dirty game that threatens to shatter social harmony quite a good deal more easily than referring to or interperting historical events. The fact of the matter is that in Australia, communities of diverse backgrounds have proven that they can co-exist peacefully in fruitful collaboration and ties of friendship because of our joint commitment to multicultural Australia. No cynical, irresponsible or misguided attempt to score points or votes off the backs of any arbitrarily chosen ethnic group should ever be permitted to bear the bitter fruit of discord.
It is meet that Greek consular officials greet this clumsy attempt by the Turkish diplomatic corps and their misguided friends to taunt and humiliate genocide victims and their families with the silence of contempt that they deserve. We however, should not be so silent. We do not hate Turkey. Many thousands of members of the Greek community derive their descent from the geographical area covered by its borders. We cannot hate our place of origin though we may despise and deplore crimes about humanity and coarse, brutal, thoroughly stupid attempts to cover these up and denigration of their victims. Ferguson should, assuming that he wants to, be advised of the folly of exposing his schematic view of history and appearing to be the pawn of a culpable state.
Perhaps Ferguson, whose name and nefarious deed in Parliament on the 18th of March should never be forgotten by all those who seek justice, tolerance, social cohesion and re-conciliation, condemns himself with his own words, when he says: “…those of us today find it very difficult to pass judgment--we should not be passing judgment when we do not know the full facts.” To him then, these words of Gideon Hausner: “No one can demand that you be neutral toward the crime of genocide. If there is a judge in the whole world who can be neutral toward this crime, that judge is not fit to sit in judgment.” Shame….