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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs