Monday, 21 November 2011
As my good friend the member for North Sydney said a little while ago, we have today in the public gallery the Armenian National Committee World Council Chairman, Mr Der Khatchadourian, we have representatives of the Armenian National Committee of Australia and we have representatives of the Australian Hellenic Council and the Assyrian Universal Alliance.
They are assembled here, as we are, to lament what was one of the great crimes against humanity, not simply a crime against the Greeks, the Assyrians and the Armenians but a crime against humanity—the elimination, the execution, the murder of hundreds of thousands of millions of people for no reason other than that they were different. In this case it was that they were not Turks, just as the Jews were eliminated by the Nazis because they were not Germans. This type of crime, this sort of genocidal crime, is something that sadly is not unique in our experience. As my friend the member for North Sydney said, we must own up to it and we must recognise it for what it is.
Our friends—they are also our friends—in Turkey take offence sometimes when this matter is debated but they should not, because the Ottoman Empire's record as a multicultural society was outstanding for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Jews and many other minorities had a much better and safer experience under the Ottoman Empire than they did in the Christian West. The Ottoman Empire tolerated—encouraged—a degree of what today we would call multiculturalism. The crimes against the Christians of the Middle East, the Armenians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Pontic Greeks and so many others were and can be seen as, in effect, an aberration, a denial, of that multicultural genius of that very diverse empire which, for many centuries, saw the Ottoman khalif, the sultan, ruling more Christians than he did Muslims.
This should not be seen as a debate that is critical of Turks or indeed critical of Islam. The tragedy that we see today in the Middle East is in fact a denial of the best experience of Islam. For hundreds of years the Islamic world was far more tolerant of diversity than the Christian West and yet today we see now, over the last century, the extraordinary destruction of Christianity in the Middle East.
In the sixth century, the Greek monk John Moschos and his friend Sophronius travelled through the Middle East during what would seem now, with the benefit of hindsight, almost like a phony war, before the rise of Islam in the late sixth century. They wrote a book called TheSpiritual Meadow and it describes their travels through the whole of the Christian culture of the Middle East. Great monasteries, cities, countries that we now think as being Muslim countries, Islamic countries, were wholly Christian with an enormous diversity of Christian, cultural experience. There were very large Jewish communities right through that region as well. While Islam grew and grew after the Islamic invasions and the Islamic conquests, those Christian communities survived for hundreds of years under the Ottomans. But then, ironically, paradoxically, at a time when you would think that modernity had made us more tolerant and more sophisticated, we in fact became less tolerant.
The truth is that multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance are great strengths. It is one of our great strengths as a nation. Who would deny that Istanbul is a less dynamic city now because it is less cosmopolitan, that Smyrna is less dynamic now because it is less cosmopolitan, that Alexandria in Egypt is less dynamic and powerful and rich and persuasive now because it has become a monoculture? We lament today great crimes but also the loss of diversity and the loss of tolerance.
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