On 21 August 2012, Mr. Andrew Rohan MP, State member for Smithfield of the Liberal Party of Australia, in private members’ statement commend the efforts of the Assyrian Universal Alliance-Australian Chapter and the Assyrian Australian National Federation, for their tireless work in raising the Assyrian issue within Australia and abroad. Following is an extract from his speech delivered in Parliament:
Mr ANDREW ROHAN (Smithfield) [1.02 p.m.]: The date 7 August is of special significance to Assyrians throughout the world as it marks the national day of remembrance for all the massacres that the Assyrian nation has endured throughout the millennia.
The Assyrians are one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. They are the original inhabitants of Mesopotamia, which translates to “the land between the two rivers” and is also known as the cradle of civilisation. Assyrians were amongst the first to accept Christianity in the first century. They spread the gospel from Mesopotamia eastwards, all the way to China and Japan through the Church of the East, which peaked during the seventh century AD.
However, this has cost them greatly, particularly over the past 1,400 years since the Islamic invasion of Mesopotamia, followed by the Mongols and the Ottomans. Since then, Assyrians have been the victims of many massacres. History shows that about 37 major massacres were committed in that period—which is an average of one every 45 years.
During the First World War more than 750,000 Assyrians together with 1.5 million Armenians and 500,000 Greeks were murdered by the Ottoman Empire forces in an attempt to cleanse the land of all the Christian minorities from Turkey. This was to be known later as the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocide, the first genocide of the twentieth century.
My parents were survivors of this genocide, as I mentioned in my inaugural speech in this Parliament on 1 June 2011. On 7 August 1933—only one year after Iraq joined the League of Nations—Iraq’s newly established army marched on and massacred nearly 6,000 innocent Assyrians at Simele, a
peaceful village in northern Iraq. That day became known as Assyrian Martyrs Day. In New South Wales two-thirds of the Assyrian population reside within the boundaries of Fairfield city and they are among the major community groups in the electorates of Smithfield and Fairfield.
On 8 March this year I was honoured to be elected chairman of the Assyrian Parliamentary Friendship Group, alongside deputy chairmen the Hon. David Clarke and Guy Zangari, the member for Fairfield. This year’s commemoration included a number of events. On the morning of 7 August 2012 a prayer was conducted at the location of the Assyrian genocide monument in Bonnyrigg. Later on the same day I had the honour of hosting a commemorative seminar, which was organised by the Assyrian Universal Alliance in association with the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Theatrette Room of this Parliament. A number of speeches were presented at the seminar. In particular, the presentations by distinguished researchers Dr Racho Donef and Stavros Stavridis shed some light on the plight of Assyrians in the early to mid twentieth century.
Dr Donef talked about the Assyrian genocide during his talk entitled “Denialism and One Century of Struggle for Recognition”, while Mr Stavridis covered the period 1914 to 1935 using documentation and press accounts from Australian archives. Finally, a powerful and moving documentary entitled Defying Deletion was presented by filmmaker Andre Anton. The documentary, which has been screened in the Federal and State Parliaments, aims at raising awareness of the plight of Assyrians in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq. The executive producer of the documentary, Dr Elmer Abbo, discussed a project called “The Fight for Nineveh Plains” and the need to establish a home for Assyrians in their ancestral homeland.
The seminar was also attended by Federal and State members of Parliament alongside a large presence from the Assyrian community in Sydney and representatives from the Armenian and Greek communities. All speakers at the seminar called upon the State and Federal governments to recognise the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek genocide. I commend the efforts of Mr Hermiz Shahen, Deputy Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, and Mr David David, President of the Assyrian Australian National Federation, for their tireless work in raising the Assyrian issue within Australia and abroad.