The Turkish Government has threatened to ban all members of the NSW Parliament from attending the centenary commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015.
The move comes in response to motions passed unanimously by the parliament in May officially recognising the Armenian genocide.
The notion of a genocide has long been a contentious point of debate for Turks many of whom argue that it is a misrepresentation of history.
But many scholars and other eyewitness accounts, some from Anzac Prisoners of War who were interned in empty Armenian churches, witnessed the deportation and emptying out of Armenian villages and support the genocide claims.
The pilgrimage to Gallipoli has become almost a rite of passage for young Australians. It is, for many, about connecting with a national identity.
But as they stand bleary eyed at the dawn service wrapped in the flag, few would know that in 1915 as Australian soldiers were forging their own national mythology on the beaches of Anzac Cove – elsewhere in Turkey the Ottoman regime was conducting the wholesale removal and destruction of another national identity.
That process of deportations, forced marches and executions began in the area known as Anatolia just days before the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli.
But many historians fear that as we approach the centenary of both events, the Anzac legend and the Gallipoli industry that has sprung up around it may obscure the other important commemoration.
People were ‘systematically eliminated’
The Christian campaigner and NSW Upper House MP Fred Nile was the force behind the unanimous motions passed by both houses of the NSW Parliament.
He says the Armenians have no time for arguments about definitions or the sensitivities of the modern Turkish state.
Mr Nile has just returned from a tour of Armenia with a cross-party delegation.
“(The Ottoman Turks) just eliminated people systematically – community by community, village by village”, he says.
“In fact it’s interesting that when Adolf Hitler planned the genocide of the Jews there were some questions asked and he said himself ‘Don’t worry, who remembers the Armenian genocide?’ Who remembers it?”
And genocide scholars also have no doubts.
Colin Tatz is a world renowned genocide expert who has spent his entire career investigating racial extermination from Nazi Germany through to the Australian frontier wars.
“There is categorical evidence that what happened between 1915 and 1922 was genocide of the Armenians, the Pontian Greeks and the Assyrian communities to the extent of roughly half of their population”.
Those individuals who show no respect to our history will not be welcome in Turkey
Turkish Consul General Gulseren Celik
Scholars like professor Tatz put the final death toll at about one-and-a-half million people and he says many Armenians have welcomed the NSW Parliamentary motions.
Around the world Turkish efforts to prevent any official recognition of genocide have been remarkably successful.
Only 21 countries have passed a resolution to that effect. The British government and the United States government have not, although 43 US states have, and neither has the Australian Government.
The Turkish Consul General Gulseren Celik says she is confident the Federal Parliament has no intention of following what she describes as the “outrageous” NSW motions.
“We expect Australians to show the same kind of respect that we have shown to their history and their ancestry,” she said.
“Those individuals who show no respect to our history will not be welcome in Turkey.”
Evidence of Anzac PoWs dismissed as a ‘fabrication’
The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has hit back in a press release.
“These persons who try to damage the spirit of Canakkle/Gallipoli will also not have their place in the Canakkale ceremonies where we commemorate our sons lying side by side in our soil,” he said.
The local council at Gallipoli has also made it clear the critics will not be welcome at the centenary celebrations in 2015.
“We announce to the public that we will not forgive those who are behind these decisions and that we don’t want to see them in Canakkale anymore,” it said.
When asked by the ABC if this meant that NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, and indeed the entire NSW Parliament would not be given visas to attend the centenary commemorations, Gulseren Celik replied, “yes”.
In her letter to the NSW Parliament Ms Celik dismissed the evidence of Anzac PoWs as a fabrication.
“As we near the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign the proponents of the so-called genocide will continue their quest to try to hijack the very special bond that exists between our two countries by fabricating that Anzac soldiers who were PoW were witnesses to these so-called allegations,” she said.
The link between the Anzacs, Gallipoli and the Armenian genocide is a sensitive area for all, wrapped as it is in the legend of two nations who both cling to the significance that this one military campaign has had on their national identities.
Turkish officials are frequent visitors to the Australian war memorial, for instance, and Armenian Australians have long been critical of the influence they believe the Turks have had on the way the memorial has depicted the Australian World War I experience.
World War I galleries make little mention of genocide
World War I galleries are currently being renovated but in the past public exhibitions glossed over the Armenian experience with no mention of genocide.
Although some information has been posted on the War Memorial’s website, it has shied away from the events, saying that at this stage they will not be including this story in the new galleries as the World War I gallery space is limited and only so many stories can be told.
But World War I historians, such as Peter Stanley who worked for many years at the War Memorial, say 2015 should be an occasion that allows both countries to be bigger than their national self-interest.
“I would expect that it would be covered in proportion by an Australian institution that is explaining to us the First World War as a whole,” he said.
“I think the Turks are expecting that the friendship we forged through Gallipoli, which is genuine, is enough to paper over our knowledge of the Armenian genocide but the fact of the matter is it isn’t.
“Australians want to know the truth about the First World War and the truth about the Great War is that a million-and-half Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.”