Australian barrister, writer and former international judge Geoffrey Robertson, who lives in London and wrote a devastating critique of the British government's recent attitude towards the issue of the Armenian genocide (2009), has recently authored An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians. He was interviewed by "Lateline," the ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) program on October 20, about his efforts to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece, his views on the Armenian genocide, and the Islamic State atrocities and killings in Iraq and Syria. Below is the excerpt of the interview that deals with the Armenian genocide.
EMMA ALBERICI: Let's change gears now. I want to talk about your latest book, The Inconvenient Genocide. It's about the massacre of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Is it still illegal in Turkey to recognise this as a genocide?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Pretty much. It's the crime of insulting Turkishness under rule 301 of the Criminal Code and you can go to prison for it and some people do and there've been - it's quite ludicrous. You go to prison if you affirm the genocide in Turkey and you can go to prison if you deny it in places like France or Switzerland. So it's a hot topic and it's going to get hotter as we move up to the centenary, which has a particular resonance for Australians.
EMMA ALBERICI: Indeed. You mention [Australian Foreign Minister] Julie Bishop in the book, and in fact, you call her foolish.
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Yeah, she was - well, the drafting of her letter on the subject was foolish because she said, "The Australian Government doesn't recognise the genocide." Now that's a very provocative thing to say. She went on to say that the Australian Government doesn't get involved in this sensitive debate, which is an acceptable thing to say and a contradictory thing to say, but of course it was relished by the Turkish press, which had screaming headlines, "Australia denies genocide," which was not, I suspect, the impression that she wanted to give at all. The Parliament of New South Wales has recognised the genocide and been threatened with exclusion from Gallipoli on the centenary next year. So it is an interesting and controversial question and a damaging question, I think, for reasons I'll explain. But we should be aware that the trigger for the killing of over half the Armenian race was in fact the landing at Gallipoli. The genocide began on 24th April, 1915 when the boats were seen, the ANZACs huddled in the landing craft and that is when they went out and rounded up all the intellectuals, the Armenian community leaders, school teachers, MP, journalists, took them away and killed them. And that was the beginning of a set of of massacres, deportations, death matches of women and their children and old men through the deserts and at least a million Armenians were killed in the course of the next few months.
EMMA ALBERICI: Am I right to say that in the book you seem to point out a contradiction between what was written in the letter by Julie Bishop in June of this year and what had previously been said by the Prime Minister?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: Oh, yes, [Australian Prime Minister] Tony Abbott when in opposition every year and the Armenians commemorate the killing of their people on 24th April, the day before we commemorate ANZAC Day, and Tony Abbott every year would condemn the Armenian genocide. But of course, like President Obama, who when he was on the campaign trail said it was a genocide, "And when I'm President, I'm going to recognise it." Of course, when he became President, the importance of Turkey as a NATO ally with its bases that we're currently using in the battle against ISIS became too important. The Turks were neuralgic about it. They threatened to close down the American use of the bases. So, President Obama refers to it each year as "Medz Yeghern", which is Armenian for "the great crime", but doesn't mean pronouncing G-word. He says, "If you want to know my views, they haven't changed. You'll have to Google them." And if you Google them back to 2008, you find that he declared it was a genocide.
And in this book, I - the first thing I want to do is to clear up any confusion and to explain and I've been an international judge, that applying the law, the genocide convention, which our own Dr Evert introduced to the United Nations in 1948, that what happened - the massacres, the death marches in 1915 were certainly genocide. And the problem with the Turkish denial is that they say, "Well, this wasn't genocide, it wasn't a crime at all. It was relocation." Well it wasn't relocation. It was death marching. And it's important to establish that you can't claim military necessity as some sort of defence to genocide, otherwise you find Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka justifying the killing of 40,000 civilians get at the Tamil Tigers. You find the Pakistanis justifying the killing of three million Bengalis in the war in 1971. These are genocides pure and simple and there is no defence of military necessity of anything else to the destruction of a race or part of it.
EMMA ALBERICI: I want to talk about the mass killings that are currently going on in Iraq and Syria, which many people think amount to genocide. How easy do you think it's going to be to prosecute Islamic State fighters, because of course, the world was a different place when Nazi war criminals were brought to justice?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: But the crimes are the same - the crime against humanity, genocide. I think what we've seen of Islamic State is that they are a terrorist group that is committed - it certainly has genocidal intentions. In the Nazis we base our claim of genocide on the conference of Wannsee and the - Eichmann's minutes of it where they talk in these extraordinary euphemisms about "evacuating" Jews, by which they mean - to the east, by which they mean killing them in Auschwitz, just as the Ottoman Empire talked about "relocating" the Armenians, by which they meant having them die on death marches through the desert. And so, we can - through inference from the facts, we can draw a conclusion of genocidal intent and I think we can do that in relation to ISIS because of the way in which they've singled out religious communities who won't convert to their particularly extreme fundamentalist view to be killed.