Thompson, Janna: Assault on the life of a people

Thompson, Janna

An assault on the life of a people‘, Inside Story, 23 February 2015

Almost one hundred years ago, in the midst of the first world war, Ottoman officials forced Armenian people living in Anatolia to leave their homes and the area they had lived in for hundreds of years. Able-bodied men were killed, or forced into labour camps where most of them died. Women, children and old men were marched into the Syrian desert, where over half succumbed to marauders, disease or starvation.

What happened to the Armenians led to the coining of the term ‘genocide’. The centenary of this event is marked on 24 April 2015. The article discusses the concept of genocide at length. It has this to say about white settler treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Above all, genocide is an attempt to put an end to the group as a people who interpret and determine their own history. Those who commit genocide aim to rewrite history on their own terms, to make the culture of the group they are victimising into a relic of the past and to do away with the challenge it poses to their identity or national project. This was one of the reasons why the new rulers of the Ottoman Empire sought to eliminate the Armenians as a people. The existence of this group interfered with their vision of what the new Turkey ought to be.

This is what connects obvious cases of genocide with what was done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Taking children away from their families disrupts intergenerational relationships. It violates the rights of parents and communities to transmit a heritage to their descendants. And the children are wronged, not merely because of the abuse they suffer, but also because they are deprived of their opportunity to receive and appreciate their heritage. This wrong would exist even if they were not abused, discriminated against and mistreated.

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