"TURKEY has officially complained to Canberra that a state Labor minister tried to lever one of the most sensitive episodes in that country's modern history into votes for the ALP. What began as a seemingly unremarkable speech by South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson to 40 people at a Greek community function has so angered Ankara that its ambassador to Australia, Murat Ersavci, protested to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith about the "defamation" of his country.
"I feel our relations are too important to be used in these self-serving, petty local politics," Mr Ersavci told The Weekend Australian. The Turks are seething over remarks Mr Atkinson made about the role of one of the country's towering figures, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in the tragedy that engulfed its Pontian or Black Sea Greek minority between 1915 and 1922.
After doing the honours at the launch of a plaque commemorating what he called the "genocide" of Pontian Greeks by Turkish nationalists led by Kemal's forces -- a contention flatly rejected by Ankara -- Mr Atkinson poured petrol on the flames by declaring that anyone who disputed this version of history was practising a form of "holocaust denial".
When his account was challenged in federal parliament last month by the [conservative] Deputy President of the Senate, Alan Ferguson, it was the expatriate Greek community's turn to be outraged.
Mr Atkinson, seizing on this, had Senator Ferguson's speech to parliament translated into Greek and mailed out to thousands of voters from Greek, Assyrian, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian backgrounds in eight state seats in Adelaide. Other state Labor MPs followed up with letters urging them to remember Senator Ferguson's speech "supporting the Turkish version of history" at next year's state election...
Mr Atkinson said he backed independent research findings, contested by Turkey, that 1.5million ethnic Armenians and 350,000 Pontian Greeks were massacred during and after World War I.
Turkey was locked in a losing war with Russia at the time and if one looks at the total context of the events, the word "genocide" is not strictly accurate. The actions of the Turks would seem to be more comparable with the Japanese atrocities of WWII than with the German deeds. The mass slaughter carried out by the Turks is nonetheless thoroughly reprehensible and deserves an apology from Turkey. Germany's condemnation of its past rulers has restored respect for Germany within the community of nations. But expecting any apology from a Muslim state really would be pissing into the wind.
I can however see the difficulty for Turkey. Their hero of WWI was Kemal Ataturk -- and his ideas and followers are still dominant in Turkey. And Kemal has much Armenian blood on his hands. So an apology for the Greek and Armenian deaths would be a repudiation of Kemal, which is essentially unthinkable for today's Turkish state.
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