What’s Genocide got to do with April?

Call it a chilling coincidence, but all genocides have something in common- the month of April.

Call it a chilling coincidence, but all genocides have something in common- the month of April.

On 24 April 1915, the Ottoman Empire in present day Turkey rounded up about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders and executed them en masse.

This was the beginning of a state-inspired Genocide of Armenians, though Turkish authorities today still refuse to recognise this "great calamity", as the Armenians call it.

The victims were put on a forced march of hundreds of kilometres without any food or water with the sole aim of killing them off by fatigue.

This was during World War 1 and the Ottomans had ganged up with Germany and Austria-Hungary in a war that pitted them against an alliance of France, UK and Russia.

Just as in the Rwandan context, an elaborate plot was hatched to mislead the population: The Armenians were in league with the enemy and were planning to kill the leadership of the empire.

It is estimated that between one and one and a half million Armenians died.

28 years later, an event was unfolding in the poor ghetto in the centre of Warsaw, Poland which gave birth to Holocaust Remembrance Day observed in Israel in honour of the six million Jews executed by the Nazi killing machine.

The authors of the "final solution" began rounding up Poland’s estimated 3 million Jews and concentrated them in several barricaded Ghettos in Warsaw. The Germans then began mass deportations of the Jews to the infamous Treblinka II extermination camp.

On April 19, 1943, the Jewish population were faced with two choices: sit back calmly and wait for their turn to the gas chambers, or do something about it, they chose the latter.

A small group of poorly armed Polish Jews began an insurgency and began attacking the phenomenal German war machine and Nazi collaborators.

The German response was brutal. They pulled out the stops and ‘smoked’ the insurgents out of their hiding places in the sewers of Warsaw. The houses were set on fire one-by-one and thousands were burnt alive or died of smoke inhalation.

We were beaten by the flames, not the Germans.[The sea of flames flooded houses and courtyards... There was no air, only black, choking smoke and heavy burning heat radiating form the red-hot walls, from the glowing stone stairs," the sole remaining leader of the uprising, Marek Edleman would recall 64 years later.

The German commander of the operation, Jurgen Stroop, was found guilty of war crimes and executed in Poland on 1952.

Israel decided to make April 19, the beginning of the uprising as the Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoa.

While the three genocides are similar in many ways, the Rwandan Genocide has its own unique character: Both the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts took place during World wars. Though the Rwanda Genocide happened in the midst of a civil war, the two warring parties had put aside their arms and negotiated a political settlement.

Unlike the two foreign Genocides, the Rwandan government of the time mobilised civilians to do their dirty job. When it was finally defeated, it managed to export the ideology to foreign lands, especially neighbouring countries.

The tentacles of this ideology have even infiltrated into the western hemisphere where pockets of specialised genocide deniers try to turn the tables and shift blame to the victims. That is unique.

I recently came across an article by Jennifer Rosenberg on the internet on the importance of remembrance.

"It has been over 60 years since the Holocaust. To survivors, the Holocaust remains real and ever-present, but for some others, sixty years makes the Holocaust seem part of ancient history. Year-round we try to teach and inform others about the horrors of the Holocaust. We confront the questions of what happened? How did it happen? How could it happen? Could it happen again? We attempt to fight against ignorance with education and against disbelief with proof," she wrote.

April should cease to be a month associated with Genocide, therefore it is important to guard against people seeking to wipe our memories instead of our tears. April should take its significant Kinyarwanda name, MATA when the rains are plenty, the grass is green and our cows are in full production. This is the time when milk (AMATA) is flowing.

Ends

 

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