In addition to the volume of survivor, eyewitness, and diplomatic evidence on the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Genocides, there are eyewitness accounts by Australian and other Allied servicemen from World War One (WWI). These prisoners-of-war, infantrymen and cavalrymen describe their own experiences of witnessing these events throughout historical western Armenia (modern day eastern Turkey) and the Middle East.
A large number of Anzacs were held in the churches and homes the Armenians and Greeks were forced to abandon. Perhaps the most well-known Anzac POW in Ottoman Turkey was Captain Thomas Walter White, a pilot of the Australian Flying Corps. On 13 November 1915, White was captured by Ottoman soldiers while on a mission to cut telegraph wires near Baghdad.
White was taken to the Sourp Asdvadzadzin Armenian church at Afion Karahissar, a town in western Turkey. Before the war, the Armenians had made up about one-third of the town's inhabitants. By November 1915, most of them had been massacred or deported to the Syrian and Mesopotamian deserts. Arriving at the church, White observed a number of women and children sitting outside on bundles of clothing: 'They looked sad and miserable, and little wonder, for their menfolk had been killed, their houses and furniture confiscated and now they were being turned into the street from their last possible sanctuary'.
The circumstances of the war also made Anzacs rescuers of the survivors of the Armenian genocide. During the northern summer of 1918, the Dunsterforce (an allied military unit composed of Australian, New Zealand, British and Canadian soldiers) rescued some 40,000 Assyrians and Armenians in western Armenia (present day Eastern Turkey) by bringing them to the relative safety of British Mesopotamia (present day Iraq).
In a touching display of humanity amid the horrors of war, Anzac Colonel Arthur Mills carried a 4-year-old Armenian girl, sleeping in his arms, on his camel to safety.
Many of the Anzacs that returned to Australia after the war joined the Armenian relief movement which had mobilised a broad spectrum of Australian religious, political and civic leaders.
A neglected part of Australia’s military history, the Anzac eyewitnesses to the Genocides and the Anzac rescuers of survivors is one of the brightest legacies of Australian military service beyond our shores.
The Armenian Genocide traditionally is called Medz Yeghern (Armenian: Մեծ Եղեռն, "Great Crime" by Armenians), it was the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland, which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople.
Raphael Lemkin was explicitly moved by the Armenian annihilation to coin the word genocide in 1943 and define systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters. Turkey, the legal successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies Armenian Genocide, blames the victims, falsifies history and distorts Armenian heritage.
The Gallipoli landing took place one day after the mass arrest of Armenian leaders in Istanbul on 24 April, which is known as the beginning of the genocide.
"Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?" were Adolf Hitler's famous words before he embarked on his heinous crime of the Holocaust.
One group who remember the Armenians are a handful of Australians who were at the forefront of the relief effort, yet their stories have been largely hidden. Not one Australian historian has devoted any attention to these remarkable Australians, who have been forgotten along with the "forgotten genocide".
Australian Reverend James E. Cresswell, Hilda J. King and Miss Gordon with orphaned Armenian Genocide survivors at the Australasian Orphanage, Antelias, Lebanon, 1923. Source: 'The Armenian Monthly', Armenian Relief Fund of South Australia, May, 1923.
Witnessing the plight of Armenian refugees in Syria in 1923, Cresswell said: "Over 6000 are here. The sights within these caves are beyond words. No words seem adequate to describe the misery that must be the portion of these poor people."
The first major shipment of relief supplies collected in Australia for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Harrington C. Lees, together with other clergy are seen blessing the flour at Port Melbourne, 5 September 1922.
In 1920, a movie called the Auction of Souls was shown throughout Australia which was based on the story of Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian girl who had survived the Armenian genocide. According to film historian, Leshu Torchin, it was the first movie ever made explicitly as a work of advocacy for humanitarian relief.
Aurora Mardiganian recalled sixteen young Armenian girls being "crucified" by their Ottoman tormentors. The film Auction of Souls (1919), showed the victims nailed to crosses. However, almost 70 years later Mardiganian revealed to film historian Anthony Slide that the scene was inaccurate and went on to describe what was actually an impalement. She stated that "The Turks didn't make their crosses like that. The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood, through the vagina. That's the way they killed - the Turks. Americans have made it a more civilized way. They can't show such terrible things."
These are just some of the hundreds of Australian stories of generosity, hope and moral decency that have been unearthed. In the words of Robert Manne: "In world history there is an intimate connection between the Dardanelles campaign and the Armenian genocide."
So, as we reflect on the sacrifices of brave Australians who landed on those distant shores, let's also remember those Australians who lost loved ones and, through the kindness of their hearts, were able to save others.
Iwi leader calls for Maori Boycott of ANZAC Day.
The Ngapuhi leader and academic David Rankin has called for Maori to boycott this year’s centennial ANZAC commemorations because the Turkish Government is using the event to deflect attention from the Armenian Genocide, in which over a million indigenous Armenians were killed by the Turks.
“The Armenian holocaust began on 24 April 1915, so what better way for Turkey to hide it than to put all attention on ANZAC Day,” says Mr Rankin. “The indigenous Armenian population was slaughtered by the colonising Turks and our involvement in the ANZAC centennial at Gallipoli is supporting the genocide of the coloniser. Indigenous peoples need to stand up and fight the oppressor.”
Mr Rankin is calling on Maori and other indigenous groups to boycott this year’s ANZAC Day events and as a sign of their solidarity with the indigenous Armenians, to stop wearing poppies this year.