News / USA

20th Century Mass Killings Remembered

Crucifixes hang among the personal possessions of Rwandan victims at a genocide memorial inside the church at Ntarama just outside the capital Kigali, Rwanda, August 6, 2010
Crucifixes hang among the personal possessions of Rwandan victims at a genocide memorial inside the church at Ntarama just outside the capital Kigali, Rwanda, August 6, 2010

Two of the worst atrocities of the 20th century started in the month of April: the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Empire Turkey in 1915 and 1916, and the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994. Scholars and survivors say the process of healing is not easy.

Donald Miller, who directs the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, interviewed Armenian survivors in the 1970s and '80s. He also has collected the stories of those orphaned and widowed by the Rwanda massacre.

He said several themes emerge from the interviews, most recently in Rwanda. “One thing is that forgiveness is extremely difficult. And in our experience of doing 100 interviews, that is the exceptional case. In fact, what we found is that some individuals are so traumatized that they may say that they have forgiven the perpetrators of this genocide, but they say so almost with a spirit of resignation in their voice, as if, 'we have no other choice,'” said Miller.

He said that in Rwanda there is an effort is to bring about reconciliation through community courts, where perpetrators ask for forgiveness and the victims generally give it. He said it is often not clear, however, that the forgiveness is heartfelt.

The killings in Armenia took place in connection with forced deportations of the Armenian Christian minority in the largely Muslim Ottoman Empire. Historian Richard Hovannisian of the University of California, Los Angeles, recalls that it started in the imperial capital.

“In April, 1915, the Armenian intellectual, political, religious leaders in Constantinople were arrested, deported and most of them killed. And then followed in the following months, the mass deportation and massacres of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire through forced marches, outright killing of the male population, forced marches of the woman and children," said Hovannisian. "And the place of so-called relocation, for those who made it - not many did, but those who did - were the deserts.”

In the documentary The River Ran Red from the Armenian Film Foundation, a survivor tells about his experience. The interview was recorded in 1985, and the man recalled what he witnessed as a child.

“In the morning, I walked and walked. I saw a boy. Together, we found a girl and we hid in the forest. We saw the Turks looking for Armenians in forest. At night, they would massacre the men. During the day, the women and the boys. We were lying down in the blood.  We woke up among the dead.”

The events occurred after the Ottomans entered World War I, and Turkey still insists there were civilian deaths on all sides in the confusion of war. It says Armenians were deported from the Eastern war zone because of fear of unrest and concerns that the Armenian minority could aid the enemy, Russia. Turkey also disputes the numbers, saying no more than 600,000 Armenians died, and not by intent.

Hovannisian said the question remains politically sensitive because of the strategic importance of Turkey as a bridge to the Muslim world.

“Some would prefer to avoid it. For example, President Obama, who as candidate Obama insisted one of the first things he would do would be to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, has skirted the issue by using an Armenian term, which is the equivalent of genocide, but does not say genocide. It is the Armenian word [Meds] Yeghern, which means the Great Crime, the Great Event, the Great Tragedy, rather than the word itself. So it does not make the Turkish government happy, but on the other hand, it is not the G-word.”

The historian notes that President Woodrow Wilson condemned the massacre at the time it happened, and Wilson's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, would call it the murder of a nation.

The Rwanda genocide began April 6, 1994, when ethnic tensions flared after the assassination of Rwanda president Juvenal Habyarimana, who was an ethnic Hutu. The Hutu power movement then targeted Tutsis for elimination.

Yvette Rugasaguhunga, a Tutsi, survived the Rwanda massacre. Now a financial analyst in New York, she has been living in the United States for seven years.

She recalls that on the third day of the genocide, her father was killed. “My father was lucky enough to be shot. He was taken inside of a home. They shot him in front of my grandmother, who begged them to kill her as well, and they shot her,” said Rugasaguhunga.

The same day, her 22-year old brother was caught and killed by clubbing. She would lose another brother and two sisters in the killings.

Ironically, Yvette and her sisters were shielded by a neighboring Hutu family, and were later sheltered by a Hutu militiaman who was unaware of their ethnic background. She said the man was loving and warm in his dealings with the girls, but returned home each day from the killings covered in blood.

“And to me, that is something that I can never completely comprehend," she said. "What it taught me is, any human being can be evil, and any human being can be an angel.”

Religion scholar Donald Miller said these were Christians killing Christians, and some churchmen were involved.

“In fact, one survivor that I interviewed said that his own Catholic priest refused to serve him communion, or the Eucharist, because he said, 'I do not give the body and blood of Christ to cockroaches.' And so when you identify someone as a cockroach or in the case of the Armenian genocide as an infidel, they become less than human, and there is then a campaign to exterminate these individuals who do not have the same social and civil rights as the rest of the population.”

Miller said that modern technology, including the use of mass media to motivate the killers, made the 20th century a century of genocides, from Armenia and the Nazi Holocaust to Rwanda. Mass killings in Cambodia, Darfur and Southern Sudan have added other atrocities to the tragic list.

Rugasaguhunga said reconciliation in Rwanda must begin with justice. She noted that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has completed barely 50 trials, and she hopes for the prosecution of more of the ringleaders.  

Hovannisian said that acknowledging the crime is a crucial first step to reconciliation, and he said that in Turkey's case, that has not happened.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs