It is a great honour for me to bring to the attention of the House a unique event that occurred only a few days ago in Sydney, and more specifically in the city of Fairfield: the unveiling of a public memorial—the very first of its type in the world I am reliably informed—which is dedicated to the part played by the Assyrian people, who, in World War I and World War II, fought side by side with Australia, Britain and other allied nations in the defence of freedom, liberty and democracy. More specifically, the memorial records the genocide perpetrated against the Assyrian people in the Ottoman Empire by Turkish forces during World War I and the heroic efforts of Assyrian forces that fought with Australia and her allies during both world wars.
It records particularly the efforts of Assyrian military personnel, known as the Assyrian Levies, who fought with great distinction in various theatres of war during World War II. The memorial pays special tribute to the late Lieutenant-General Sir Stanley George Savige of the Australian Imperial Forces and the late Captain Kenneth Nicol, a New Zealander, who, together with Australian military forces, were responsible for the rescue of some 50,000 Assyrian civilians who otherwise would have faced certain death at the hands of enemy forces.
On previous occasions I have spoken in this House on the illustrious history of the Assyrian people—a history and heritage that reaches back almost 7,000 years—a people who created one of the greatest empires of the ancient world, a nation whose deeds and achievement are forever recorded in the Old Testament; a people who have brought benefits to mankind in astronomy, science and medicine. I have previously spoken in this House of the uniqueness of the Assyrians in being the very first people in all of history to convert in their entirety to Christianity and who, for 2000 years, have remained steadfast in that faith despite, over the centuries, suffering persecution and genocide because of it.
I recall also having spoken in this House on the common heritage that Australians and Assyrians share in having fought together as allies in both world wars and how military history records the heroism and deeds of the Assyrian Levies, those special Assyrian military formations founded in the 1920s, who saw active service in World War II in Italy, Albania, Greece, Cyprus and throughout the Middle East. I remember also having had the opportunity on a previous occasion to acknowledge the wonderful and continuing contribution of the Assyrian-Australian community to our nation.
Tonight I am honoured to be able to inform the House of the bond forged between Australians and Assyrians in time of war and common danger, the contribution to the cause of freedom provided by the Assyrian Levies, and the part played by Australian military forces in helping to save the Assyrian people from annihilation and destruction. I am happy to inform the House that these things are now immortalised in a monument in the grounds of Fairfield Park right in the heart of the city of Fairfield. The unveiling occurred only a few days ago and is a lasting testament to the valour and heroism of Australians and Assyrians serving together.
When the history of the Assyrian-Australian community is written, it will be recorded that this vision was inspired from the heart of Mr Gaby Kiwarkis, President of the Assyrian Levies Association, a man of integrity and decency; a man of perseverance; a man who inspires those around him through his goodness and leadership. The historic record will also show that the vision of Gaby Kiwakis was made a reality through the work of Mr Zaya Toma, himself of Assyrian heritage and a councillor on Fairfield City Council. He moved the motion that resulted in Fairfield City Council proceeding with the project. Councillor Andrew Rohan, also of Assyrian background, seconded the motion and, with his experience gained through years of community service, assisted in the project moving closer to reality. Fairfield City Council and each and every councillor joined to give this project unanimous backing. His beatitude Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia, AM, who leads the Assyrian Church of the East and who provides leadership to the entire community, provided moral and spiritual backing.
The unveiling ceremony was a memorable occasion and it was an honour to be there, together with my parliamentary colleagues the Hon. Marie Ficarra and the Hon. Charlie Lynn, who spoke on the occasion not only in his capacity as a parliamentarian but also as an ex-servicemen. Hundreds of members of the Assyrian community were there, some of whom were ex-servicemen who saw service in the Assyrian Levies more than 60 years ago. The entire Assyrian community, including the Assyrian Levies Association, the Assyrian-Australian Association, the Assyrian Barwar Association, the Australian Assyrian Sports and Cultural Club and local returned service organisations provided support. Also present were members of the Assyrian scouting community, representatives of the Australian armed services and Mr John Grigg, descendant of General Savige, and Dr Lindsay Grigg, a descendant of Captain Nicol. The opening of the memorial on Saturday 31 October 2009 was a landmark event in the history of the Assyrian-Australian community and the Assyrian community worldwide.