Eminent Human Rights Lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, now living in London with his wife, Australian-born author Kathy Lette, was recently back in his home town Sydney to promote his latest book, An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Remembers the Armenians?
Educated at Epping Boys’ High School at Eastwood, Robertson went on to win a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. During his career, he represented many high-profile clients including author Salman Rushdie (during the controversial Satanic Verses case and Fatwa), former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Julian Assange. He has been an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church and ex-Pope Benedict XVI, accusing the former pontiff of protecting paedophile priests. He has also served as the first President of the UN Crimes Court in Sierra Leone and is well-qualified to voice his opinion about the Armenian Genocide in his latest book.
The fact that the mass murder of around a million Armenians occurred is not in dispute, the controversy is about whether it should be called a genocide or not. Robertson delivers compelling arguments and evidence in his book that show that the crime meets all the criteria to be described as such.
The Armenian Genocide is remembered on April 24th, the day before the Gallipoli Landings, commemorated on Anzac Day on the 25th. Both centenaries are coming up in 2015. Robertson considers this impending milestone an ideal opportunity for the Turkish Government (whose official view is that their predecessors, The Ottoman Empire, which carried out the killings, had to do so as a necessity of war and was therefore not guilty of Genocide) to bring closure for the Armenian population by admitting the Genocide. To him, all parties “remain complicit in those crimes by denying them and not accepting responsibility.”
He is unequivocal about why denial is wrong but also extremely dangerous. In his opinion, the extent of modern day atrocities makes it even more imperative.
There is a sense of history repeating itself continuously with mass slaughter of ethnic or religious groups and Robertson thinks it is important to break this unhealthy cycle by encouraging acknowledgement, admission and atonement. “The importance of acknowledging guilt of a crime against humanity, even as long as a century later, is that denialism emboldens others to think that they can get away with mass murder of civilians whenever it is expedient in wartime. International Law sets a bottom line, whether Sunni or Shia, Hindu or Christian, whether Chechen or Tamil or Bengali or an indigenous people striving for independence, the deliberate destruction of any part of that race or religion by those in control of a state cannot be countenanced.”
In his book, he sets a hypothetical question, that if the guilty had been brought to trial after the Armenian Genocide during the First World War, would Hitler had then said in 1939, “Who now remembers the Armenians?” and in answer to that, Geoffrey Robertson does. He says, “Truth is important and it is important to tell it if people are still suffering from a lie. Armenians are still suffering from the world’s failure to do something about the Genocide that occurred in 1915.”
Robertson muses that he occasionally dreams of “ending up in a little fishing village in NSW, casting a line into the surf”. However, for now, the world, Human Rights and the Armenians in particular, need him too much for that to be anything other than a faraway possibility.
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