As Rwandans commemorate for the 28th time the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, Egide Gatari, President of the Association of Former Students Survivors of the Genocide, GAERG shared his survivor story with The New Times’ Jade Natacha Iriza. He calls on other survivors to share their stories in the fight against Genocide denial, revisionism, minimilization and ideologies. Briefly explain what is GAERG and its aim… It is an association of survivors of the genocide against Tutsi who graduated from different universities. It was founded in 2003. There is GAERG and AERG (Association des Etudiants et Éleves Rescapés Du Genocide), an association of survivors who are still studying, which was founded in 1996. But the core mandate and the mission are somehow the same. They both help members to deal with the consequences of the genocide against Tutsi. Since most of us lost our families, in the associations we have structures of families, where members are organised in small groups, headed by people who assume the role of a mother and father and the rest as siblings. This way we try to bridge the gap caused by the killed families. Then we help each other in all aspects, either socially, morally, and sometimes financially. We help each other as a normal family would do. Other activities are supporting each through commemoration, writing and sharing testimonies, healing groups and others, but the special goal is to have those families. Would you share a bit about your survivorship story? The genocide happened when I was eight years old. I was born in Southern Province, in Rusatira commune now in Huye. I had a family of five children, a mother and a father. My parents and siblings were killed in the genocide and I only survived with one sister. I took refuge in a camp then called ISAR – Songa, it used to be a research centre for agriculture and livestock. When the genocide started, we went there thinking that it wouldn’t take long before we go back to our home. I last saw my family on April 28, 1994. It had been like two weeks since we had stayed there then the Interahamwe militia and soldiers from the former regime came and killed a lot of people there. I survived but I was also stabbed with a machete in my head. I still live with the scar. From there it was a long journey, hiding from place to place for three months. But in brief, the RPA stopped the genocide and I survived. After the genocide, I continued with primary, secondary and university studies, now I’m a government servant working in Rwanda Agriculture Board. I have two children. How did GAERG impact you personally? GAERG was my family, sometimes I say that it may even be a clinic. As I said, the biggest loss we had is people. We didn’t have parents and siblings, so what AERG did when I was in school is to bridge that gap. We used to also share our testimonies. If you remain with your story, you may think that you are the one who had a lot of difficulties alone, but by sharing you heal. So personally they helped me heal and to understand my situation. At school, they would focus on discipline, and performance in studies but also check on each other as a normal family. With the lack we had, these associations would help us have some accountability. Another thing, at the time of marriage, I didn’t feel the gap. They supported emotionally, financially and also the physical presence. When we gave birth, they visited “guhemba” in Kinyarwanda. So I would say AERG and GAERG become my family. What is the most challenging part of your life as a survivor of the genocide? First of all being a survivor is a challenge itself. Also being a survivor, each time in success or failure, you think of your survivorship. For example, on your graduation, normally it is a success and an achievement. But once you invite people and then you don’t see your father, mother, brother or sister then you end up sad while it was supposed to be a happy time. The same thing for failure. For example, I may not have money to do something, so you think to yourself “if my father or mother was there, maybe they would have supported me somehow”. So every time you can’t disconnect your life and your survivorship. There are different theories about what happened during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, most of these minimize or deny the genocide. What would you say causes this? In Rwanda, there is one story; “the 1994 genocide against Tutsi”. The government of Habyarimana and other perpetrators planned the genocide, the major purpose was to kill Tutsi and to eliminate them completely. The other story is the one of RPF who stopped the killings and liberated Rwandans. Those are maybe the two stories; the story of killing people by Interahamwe and the liberation by RPF, which is a fact. So other stories are just invented by those affiliated to the perpetrators. From the beginning of the genocide, people started minimizing what was happening, even 28 years after the genocide the denial is still there and the revisionism. What’s the effect of genocide denial or minimization? The effect specifically to survivors, it increases the trauma. As survivors what can support us is to make sure the killing and the genocide ideology will never happen again. As I said, I now have two kids, so seeing someone say that some time they will kill my kids again, that is not simple for anyone. Also if the denial or genocide ideology continue, it will confuse the new generations. Now the majority of Rwandans are not direct survivors or they didn’t see the genocide, so it will create confusion for them. But also the international community may be confused when they hear different contradicting stories. How can young people know the true history of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi? First of all, if you want to know the real story of Rwanda, not just the genocide, visit the memorial sites. We have very well equipped memorial sites like Gisozi in Kigali, Murambi in South and other memorial sites. Thankfully, the government put in effort to make sure that they are well protected. Second, meet the right people to tell you the right story. We have three categories; survivors of the genocide, liberators and repent perpetrators. Discuss with them to know all the versions of what happened. Also read books about history of Rwanda, about genocide and so on. But do so with critical thinking, compare what you see in the memorial sites and historical museums, what you hear from survivors, liberators and perpetrators and also read the books. From those different sources, you may understand the real story. What do you think is the role of survivors in the fight against genocide denial or minimization? There is a lady who wrote a book saying “left to tell”. Even during the genocide there was a saying, “tubice hatazasigara nubara inkuru” which means, “let’s kill them all so there won’t even be one to tell the story.” So the mandate of survivors is to tell the story. If we survived, we have seen and experienced it then we have to tell it because if not someone else will tell lies or it will just be forgotten. What is your message to Rwandans in this commemoration period? My simple message is to comfort them. The genocide was against Tutsi, but it was a big loss to the entire community. We lost people, resources and many other things. So let’s learn from history but also take the decision to make Rwanda a peaceful and prosperous country. Any other comments… I call upon the media and other people to be on the frontline as we tell the real story of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi. Find the full version of this interview on the podcast published weekly by The New Times.