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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora