As the Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Assyria, I was honoured to organise a special reception to mark the recognition of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Genocide by both houses of the NSW Parliament on Thursday, 30 May 2013.
The function was held at the Strangers dining room in NSW Parliament House.
Leaders from the Assyrian, Armenian, Greek, Mandean and Jewish communities were invited, community representatives such as Mr Dinkha Warda and Mr Yoauw Kanna from the Assyrian Australian Association, Mr Soro Soro and Mr Joe Joseph from the Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party, Mr Ashur Jako and the Board of Directors of the Assyrian Sports and Cultural Club, Mr Immanuel Sada, Mr Zaya Zaya and Mr George Adam from the Assyrian Democratic Movement (ZOWAA), Mr Yacop Barhay and Mr Hanna Biseh from the NSW Babylon Cultural Association, Mr Hermiz Shaheen, Mr David David, Mr Ninos Haroon and Mrs Suzy David from the Assyrian Universal Alliance among other prominent members of the Assyrian Community.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Armenian National Committee, Australian Hellenic Council (NSW) and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
The function was covered by various representatives of the media in attendance such as Mr Wilson Younan from SBS (Assyrian Program), Mr Ghazi Hermiz Mikheal from Ishtar Television, Mr Hummarabi Barhy from Hummarabi Photography, Mr Remoon Zomaya from Nineveh Radio, Mr David George from Nohadra Radio and Mr Simon Israel from M1 Media.
We were fortunate to have so many Members of Parliament from both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council in attendance, including the Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP, Minister for Transport, the Hon. David Clarke MLC and Mr Guy Zangari, both Deputy Chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Assyria, the Hon. Marie Ficarra MLC, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, Mr Jai Rowell MP, Member for Wollondilly, Rev the Hon, Fred Nile MLC, Leader of the Australian Christian Democrats, Mr John Flowers MP, Member for Rockdale, Dr Geoff Lee MP, Member for Parramatta, Mr Lee Evans MP, Member for Heathcote, Mr Tony Issa MP, Member for Granville, Mr Matt Kean MP, Member for Hornsby as well as Councillors Zaya Toma, Dai Le and Charbel Saliba from Fairfield City Council and Mr Ray King, the Liberal Party candidate for the Federal Seat of McMahon.
The reception began with speeches from the various Members of Parliament, as well as representatives from the community. A video of the speech given by the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP, moving the motion on 8 May 2013, was played to the gathering and finally the function concluded with a presentation of a commemorative print of the text of the Motion to representatives from Bet-Nahrain Democratic Party, Assyrian Sports and Cultural Club, Assyrian Democratic Movement (ZOWAA), NSW Babylon Cultural Association, Assyrian Universal Alliance among other prominent members of the Assyrian Community.
My promise during the last State Election to have the Assyrian Genocide recognised by the NSW Parliament has now been fulfilled by the Premier of New South Wales, The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP, who recognised me in his speech.
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 the first genocide of the twentieth century.
I thank the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP for moving this motion. I thank him on behalf of my constituents;
I thank him on behalf of every victim of the Assyrian, Armenian and Greek Genocide and their decedents; and
I thank him on behalf of every activist for Genocide recognition around the world that has demanded history record the truth and that justice be done.
In my inaugural address to the NSW Parliament, I recalled that:
My journey into this place started in the summer of 1918 when my father was just a teenager and my mother a young child.
They and their families were among 90,000 Assyrian Christian refugees fleeing their ancestral homeland to escape persecution.
My parents and the other refugees were fleeing from the Ottoman Empire to escape what would later be known as the “Armenian, Assyrian and Pontic Greek Genocide”.
By the grace of God my parents survived, for the reason they were protected, and protected by none other than an Australian soldier.
Lieutenant General Sir Stanley George Savige, KBE, CB, DSO, MC, ED, at that time a 28-year-old captain, was selected to join “Dunsterforce”, an elite task force assigned to resupplying the Assyrians fighting in Persia.
Unable to complete the task due to the fall of Urmia, he persuaded his British commander that he should stay back with the remaining refugees.
For six weeks, Captain Savige used all the means at his disposal to protect the refugees against the perpetual onslaught of the Ottoman forces. Reasoning that the Turkish commander would concentrate on killing him before harming the refugees, he strategically placed his command at the rear of the refugee procession and deliberately drew enemy fire.
By offering his command as a target, even though he was outnumbered one hundred to one, Captain Savige managed to slow the enemy advance long enough for most of the refugees to flee.
This act of courage and self-sacrifice was far beyond what was expected of a junior officer in the field.
Captain Savige was subsequently decorated with the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts.
Australian journalist, historian and official war correspondent, Charles Bean, wrote:
The stand made by Savige and his eight companions that evening and during half of the next day against hundreds of the enemy thirsting like wolves to get at the defenceless throng was as fine as any episode known to the present writer in the history of this war.
My parents survived the Genocide because of the heroic actions of Sir Stanley George Savige and as the Member for Smithfield; I pay tribute to him again today in this House.
Once again, I thank the Premier of New South Wales, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP for moving this motion and I thank every other activist from our community that has assisted with this historic achievement.
Finally, I encourage you to watch Liberal Premier, The Hon. Barry O’Farrell MP, moving the motion within the Parliament of NSW Legislative Assembly to recognise the Assyrian, Armenian, and Greek Genocide by the Ottoman Empire, by following this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4v-FSKiuOA.
Thank you all for your support,
Andrew Rohan MP
State Member for Smithfield
Parliamentary friends of Assyria