By Dr Panayiotis Diamadis, Genocide scholar
As a people who have endured genocide, pogroms and other forms of persecution, Australian Hellenes cannot stand by and watch another people with similar experiences stand alone. We must follow the examples of Athens and Leukosia in supporting the right of the State of Israel to exist while offering humanitarian aid to people in need in Gaza and elsewhere.
We cannot stand by and watch the deliberate targeting of Australians and visitors to Australia in their neighbourhoods and hotels because of who they are. We are not ‘leftovers of the sword’ and will not be bystanders against hate because if we do, we will be next.
‘Leftovers of the sword’ is a commonly used insult that often refers to the survivors of the Genocides of the indigenous Armenians, Assyrians and Hellenes in the Ottoman Empire and its successor, the Republic of Turkey between 1914 and 1924. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has used the phrase in public speeches on a number of occasions recently.
On the 75th anniversary today of the adoption of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Australian Hellenes are called upon to stand up and protect Australian Jews from verbal and physical assaults.
“While we recognise that Israel has the right to defend itself, how it does so actually matters and it matters considerably,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has repeatedly stated in recent weeks.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides has offered the country as a base for a humanitarian sea corridor to Gaza which aims for a ‘sustained, secure high-volume flow of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in the immediate, medium and long term.’
This is leadership Australian Hellenism needs to follow. Policies which aim to relieve suffering, not promote it. Words and deeds which showcase philotimo and philanthropia.
Our community – the diverse collection known as Australian Hellenism – has a broad range of opinions and views on the ongoing war between Israel and various jihadist organisations, and the impacts of this war on Australian society. What we can all agree on is that the promotion of hatred cannot be permitted to go on unchecked. The invasion of the State of Israel of 7 October 2023 has triggered a wave of Jew-hatred (often called ‘antisemitism’) not seen since World War Two.
In the 1910s and 1920s, when Hellenism was under genocidal assault in its eastern ancestral lands, a Jewish man born in Sydney was serving as the Honorary Consul of Greece in Sydney. Samuel Sydney Cohen, later Sir Samuel, was a servant of Australian Hellenism for almost two decades, between 1905 and 1924.
Cohen gave liberally to the New South Wales Jewish War Memorial (today, the Sydney Jewish Museum), founded and was president of the Australian Fund for German Refugees, which by 1938 had helped 600 men and women to come to Australia and was also patron of the local Mizrachi Palestine Committee, a world-wide organisation for the return of Palestine as a Jewish homeland.
During World War Two, Hellenes suffered terribly under Nazi Occupation: famine, torture, executions, deportations as forced labour. Even in those conditions, Hellenes stood up and defended fellow human beings who happened to be Jewish.
Most eponymous amongst them was Archbishop Damaskinos of blessed memory, then Archbishop of Athens. On 23 March 1943, he wrote an open letter of protest to the quisling regime running the country. In part, the letter states:
According to the terms of the armistice, all Greek citizens, without distinction of race or religion, were to be treated equally by the Occupation Authorities… In our national consciousness, all the children of Mother Greece are an inseparable unity: they are equal members of the national body irrespective of religion or dogmatic differences.
Our Holy Religion does not recognize superior or inferior qualities based on race or religion, as it is stated: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek’ (Gal. 3:28) and thus condemns any attempt to discriminate or create racial or religious differences.
Our common fate, both in days of glory and in periods of national misfortune, forged inseparable bonds between all Greek citizens, without exemption, irrespective of race…
The letter was co-signed by many leaders of professional and commercial organisations, academics and others. That document was the only one of its kind during the entire history of the Shoah, the Genocide of the Jews of Europe and North Africa.
Eight decades later, Australian Hellenes are called upon to follow the examples of Archbishop Damaskinos and Sir Samuel Cohen. To stand up for human dignity.
Expressions of hatred such as the invasion of 7 October and its ripple effects across the globe cannot go unanswered. As a people who have endured genocide, pogroms and other forms of persecution, Australian Hellenes cannot stand by and watch another people with similar experiences stand alone.
We are not ‘leftovers of the sword.’ We cannot allow other people to be put to sword. Neither literally nor metaphorically. Genocide prevention begins with education, begins with standing up and saying ‘Never Again.’