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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More