Genocide: why remembering is important

The Genocide week in Rwanda is characterized by a complexity of issues like elsewhere in the world. It sets an experience that provokes a debate whether people need to remember the genocide or not.
Rwandans commemorate Genocide last year. Sunday Times/Village Urugwiro.
Rwandans commemorate Genocide last year. Sunday Times/Village Urugwiro.

The Genocide week in Rwanda is characterized by a complexity of issues like elsewhere in the world. It sets an experience that provokes a debate whether people need to remember the genocide or not.

Genocide is remembered in all villages where it happened for obvious reasons. If you bury your father and forget him, you will never have to tell his grandchildren, and this will ridicule you. We are told stories by typical events and whether we want or not we shall keep on experiencing the ills left by the genocide both the survivors and perpetrators. 

Therefore, there are inevitable commemorations all over communities where Genocide occurred. The Genocide commemorations are not unique to Rwanda, but the whole world where it occurred.

For example, every year on April 24, people of Armenian descent organise blood drives and picket Turkish embassies to celebrate special church services to commemorate the anniversary of the 1915 arrest of several hundred prominent Armenians in Constantinople. The arrests were the beginning of the Genocide in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by Ottoman Turks between 1915 and 1923.

However, they find themselves in similar circumstances that Rwanda faces – of some people who do not want to remember. Reasons for fear to remember remain the same in both cases. This is one utterance reacting to the yearly commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

The Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Day of 27 January is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, seen as a powerful symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust. Holocaust Memorial Day is about commemorating all of the communities that suffered as a result of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, and demonstrating that the Holocaust is relevant.

The day provides a focus through the national and local events and activities for people to think about the continuing repercussions of the Holocaust and more recent Genocides on our society. Remembering is as important as that.

However, critics claim that the Holocaust is too old to be remembered now as other crimes have overtaken it. 

If someone wants to honour the victims of holocaust, war etc, then they should do so in their own private way. ‘National memorial’ days just drag up the past and do not necessarily look to the future, holocaust critics claim.

Similar negative criticism does not spare the Genocide against the Tutsi either.

And what do Rwandan critics on the commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi say?

Rwandans have mixed reactions with some against, others for and those who do not care about the Genocide at all.

Whatever the line one takes, the fact is that we cannot afford to live with hate. People have to be reminded about this. Genocide Memorial Days should influence behaviour changes today. We need to put it in context of all suffering. Everyone should remember in their own way.

Lectures given in the days of commemoration must be able to contextualize the issue of hatred and Genocide in Rwanda.

The Holocaust Memorial Days for example aim to remember all victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution and reflect upon those affected by more recent atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo and to educate about the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism and all forms of discrimination.

Ultimately, the day aims to restate the continuing need for vigilance and to motivate people, individually and collectively, to ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimization committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world.

While teaching about the Genocide in Rwanda, similar enlightenments must be brought to surface in all discussions.

Comparative studies and explanations are essential and ignorance about other world genocides does not provide a clear cut explanation of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

For example, the massacre of the Armenians in Turkey in 1915-23, the Holocaust of the Jews in Hitler’s Germany, the mass killing of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, etc, must give us reflective examples as we forge a new world without Genocide.

The unfortunate part of it is that very few people have the concern, the will and ability to take the comparisons down to earth and use them in the context of Rwanda. Those few, therefore, should come in to help.

Is there any unique Genocide?

The answer is YES! Any Genocide has its own uniqueness and it is wrong to portray any Genocide as the same as others. This kind of understanding will allow you to refute that the Holocaust should be regarded as the only unique genocide to have happened on planet earth. 

If you want you would also regard the Genocide in Rwanda as unique, because the uniqueness in the Tutsi Genocide was evident. For example, the speed with which it was carried out and the relationship between the victims and the killers make it an extremely unique Genocide. But the problem should not be in the degree of uniqueness but the context.

Remembering is very important in as far as the concept of evil deterrence is concerned.

It gives us the benchmark of our morality as a society and the ability to say no to evil. It is one of the steps in the long chain of procedures to de-poison the Rwandan psyche and psychologically rehabilitate the dehumanized psyche of the survivors.