When Australians went to war for the first time in 1915, they laid over in Egypt for training while waiting to be deployed to Gallipoli, and later the Western Front. Some of them came into contact with the #Armenian colony in Cairo, but a number of #Armenian prisoners at Gallipoli were put to work as interpreters as they were more in sympathy with the Allied cause.
The July 1916 edition of The Times History and Encyclopedia of the War showed #Australians and #Armenians on its cover. Already the mass killings of #Armenian men and evictions of their families from their homes was public knowledge. ‘#Armenian Atrocities’ is a sub-heading on the same cover, but the tides of history wash clean these memories, and an event that almost had equal billing as a commemoration in 1916 in #Australia has all but vanished from view.
By 1916 and 1917, #Australians in the #MiddleEast came into contact with #Armenian refugees. #Anzac prisoners saw the long, doleful columns shuffling away from their villages, whipped and clubbed by brutal guards. #Australian prisoners were housed in homes vacated in #Anatolia by #Armenian evictees.
By the end of the war, in the #MiddleEast, #Anzacs waiting to be repatriated encountered starving #Armenian survivors, keeping some alive by feeding them army rations. When soldiers returned home, the anecdotal evidence was magnified. It led to Australia’s first ever substantial overseas #humanitarian effort, with large sums of donations raised to buy food, clothing and blankets for survivors and the #AustralasianOrphanage established near #Beirut to house, feed and educate Armenian orphans.
The original Anzacs were mostly brave volunteers who obeyed the order to storm impossible cliffs to invade a nation at the behest of British commanders with inordinately ambitious goals. Now Anzac Day is intrinsic to Australian culture and Gallipoli is sacrosanct, while not many people know #Armenia exists, let alone the unacknowledged #Genocide that tortures its national soul.
#Australia has forgotten the #ArmenianGenocide. How? #Armenia is small and unimportant and there is no political or material gain in it for our leaders. There are two recent books that help fill the educational void. Vicken Babkenian’s book Australia, Armenia and the Great War and James Robins’s work When We Dead Awaken are recent historical narratives that educate the reader on this forgotten part of our Anzac history.