The 2005 film Sometimes in April is a powerful reminder of the Rwandan Genocide that began in April 1994. There’s something about April, I suppose: the Armenian Genocide too began in April; and the Siege of Sarajevo, which many consider to be the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide, began in April as well. Three of the six most well-known genocides began in the same month…
But May isn’t much better…
May 17, 1984, Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque… 278 dead. And in 1987, from March, through the entire month of May, and to June, riots occurred between Muslim and Hindu Indians in Meerut and resulted in the death of more than 350 people.
Yes, the Bhiwandi riots began when Hindus placed a saffron flag on top of a mosque? First of all, who cares, right? It’s just a flag? And, on the other hand, who would tarnish a religious building with the religious symbols of another religion? Disgusting insensitivity and hatred. It reminds me of swastikas on synagogues and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon flying an Israeli flag from the home he bought in the Muslim Old City of Jerusalem.
And, specifically, on this day, May 22, 1987, forty-two men were massacred by the Indian military in the Hashimpura neighborhood of Meerut, the state of UP. The victims were shot, and their bodies were dumped in water canals; a few days later dead bodies were found floating in the canals. The trials were delayed for decades and, on March 21, 2015, the verdict was returned, and the Tis Hazari Court in Delhi acquitted the 16 soldiers accused in the Hashimpura Massacre, due to “insufficient evidence.”
Fortunately, some semblance of justice and responsibility, in May 2015, the UP government announced a compensation equivalent to $US 500,000 to the family of each victim.
But the violence in the India haven’t stopped. Years later, but also in May, the 2006 Vadodara Dargah riots occurred in the state of Gujarat in India. The 2006 Riots were caused by the municipal council’s decision to remove a 300-year-old Sufi dargah (shrine). An independent people’s commission has stated that the police had targeted Muslims during the incident…. eight people were killed and forty-two injured, 16 of these were from police shooting.
Who votes to close a religious site in a city known for its religious strife? Yes, Gujarat is the same state that was home to the 1969 and 2002 Gujarat riots as well.
But the crimes against humanity and genocide in the Indian subcontinent is not all religiously-based war crimes, in the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide, Muslims killed Muslims over, at least at face-value, over language. May 5, 1971, the Gopalpur Massacre occurred when Muslim Pakistani forces murdered 195 Bengali Muslim workers at a sugar factor. And on May 20, 1971, many thousands of Bengali Hindu refugees were murdered in the Chuknagar massacre by Pakistani forces. Why? Religion? Language? Bloodlust? Probably all three….
Some much violence. So much hate and ignorance. Demographic tribalism and identity politics at its worst.
May is not a good month for the continent of Asia. Also in this month of May, specifically May 21, 1864, Russia declared an end to the Russo-Circassian War after the scorched earth campaign initiated in 1862 under General Yevdokimov. When the Circassian people refused to convert to Christianity from Islam, almost the entire population was forced into exile from their North Caucasus homeland. More than 1.5 million Circassians were expelled — 90% of the total population at the time. Most of them perished en route, victims of disease, hunger, and exhaustion. And, among the Circassians that stayed behind? Chechnyans. And you wonder why so many Chechnyans hate the Russians so much. As a war against civilians, forced transfer of populations, within the context of both ethnic and religious differences… another genocide. May 21st is designated as the Circassian Day of Mourning and recognizes the Circassian Genocide. And just a few years ago, the 2014 Sochi Olympics were held on former Circassian land which caused an outcry from Circassian people as well as humans rights activists worldwide.
From the Caucasus Mountains of western Asia, across the Indian subcontinent, to southeast Asia. In Cambodia, May 20, is The Day of Remembrance. Formerly called the National Day of Hatred, it commemorates the Cambodian genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country between 1975 and 1979; specifically, the date was selected since it marked the beginning of mass killings by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge…
While the German Genocide, or Holocaust, started on that November night of Broken Glass and the Darfur Genocide began on a dusty February day in 2003… three well-known genocides all began Sometime in April… but unfortunately, genocide is more ordinary than extraordinary. May marks the beginning of the Palestinian Diaspora in 1948, the lesser known Greek Genocide, the Circassian Genocide, the more well-known Cambodian Genocide, as well as continuous violence in India and several massacres of the 1971 Bangladesh Genocide.
Genocide is not a competition, and if we could see how pathetically ordinary it is in our human history, perhaps we could turn the corner and recognize one another as sister and brother, no matter race, ethnicity, nationality, or creed. Remember the sins of the past, remember that today is tomorrow’s yesterday. The choices we make today will be looked back upon tomorrow.
On this day, May 7, 2016, UN Special Representative Ján Kubiš said more than 50 mass graves have so far been found in parts of Iraq that were previously controlled by so-called Islamic State (IS). Ján Kubiš is a Slovak diplomat and was formerly Secretary-General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the continued killings, kidnapping, rape and torture of Iraqis by ISIL (IS), which may constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide.”
Mass graves and ethnic cleansing is not new in Iraq. After the deposing of Saddam Hussein, International Experts found an estimated 300,000 victims in mass graves of Shia Muslims and ethnic Kurds killed for opposing the regime between 1983 and 1991.
In April 2007, a bus in Mosul was hijacked, Muslims and Christians were told to get off, the remaining 23 Yazidi passengers were driven to an eastern Mosul location and murdered.
Then ISIS/ISIL/IS came to town… Hawija, Kirkuk, Mosul… you name it….
…2014, the peak of the Yazidi Genocide. Civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar… hundred of Yazidi women were taken as slaves and over hundreds more men, women, and children were killed, some beheaded or buried alive in the foothills, as part of an effort to instill fear and to supposedly desecrate the mountain the Yazidis consider sacred.
The mass flight and expulsion of ethnic Assyrians from Iraq… beginning before ISIS, back during the Iraq War in 2003, but continues to this day. Leaders of Iraq’s Assyrian community estimate that over two-thirds of the Iraqi Assyrian population has fled or been internally displaced. Reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Assyrians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Basra; and that Sunni insurgent groups and militias have threatened Assyrian Christians over the years. Following the campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq in August 2014, one-quarter of the remaining Iraqi Assyrians fled, finding refuge to Iraqi Kurdistan, and, ironically in Turkey…
On February 3, 2016, the European Union recognized the persecution of Christians by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as genocide. The vote was unanimous. The United States followed suit on March 15, 2016, declaring these atrocities as genocide. The vote was unanimous. On April 20, 2016, British Parliament voted unanimously to denounce the actions as genocide. And where are those voices today as the Rohingya are murdered, assaulted, and exiled in Burma?
The ability of the predominantly Christian countries and the mostly Christian members of the US Congress’ to recognize a Christian genocide but not Muslim genocide is almost as self-serving as those perpetrating religious and ethnic violence against civilians around the world. It is a manifestation of the selective indignation, selective application of legal principals, and the inability to see all men and women as sisters and brothers.
If you’ve never read it, read Jeff Stein’s piece from October 17, 2006, in the New York Times. Still, to this day, one of the best and most disturbing journalistic articles. Willie Hulon, chief of the FBI’s national security branch, Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, Chair of the House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, Congressman Terry Everett, Vice Chair of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence. The very people who voted to invade Iraq. Don’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’as. Do we think they know the difference between an Assyrian-Iraqi, a Kurdish-Iraqi, a Yezidi-Iraqi, and an Arab Iraqi?
It’s easy to blame the crimes against humanity on the sectarian violence in Iraq, but those same pointing fingers seem to avoid asking the question of who destabilized the region and who armed Saddam Hussein with all those weapons in the 1980s. Perhaps it’s time to think more about American national responsibility, than labeling other acts of violence as genocide. After all, those Americans who identified the Assyrian Genocide so correctly are woefully silent on asking what happened to the pre-Columbian Native Americans population of the United States or even, if you want to stick to a more recent century, what happened to the Armenians in 1915. The same Administration that labeled the Assyrian, Yazidi crimes against humanity as a genocide, has not called the 1915 massacres by our Turkish allies a genocide… I mean, sure, they call it a genocide on the campaign trail while pandering for votes, but Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton all seem to have genocidal amnesia once entering the Oval Office.
Yes, on this day, May 7, 2016, UN envoy Ján Kubiš condemned the continued killings, kidnapping, rape, and torture of Iraqis which he said might constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide. Would that he was wrong. Would that the ethnic and religious genocides in Iraq and around the world were limited to time and space. Sadly, humanity’s propensity to kill itself, is matched only by our ability to be blind to the blood on our own hands and deny genocide when it’s insignificant. After all, its not 2016 anymore. Its 2018, and genocide has now reared it’s evil in Burma, where are the same clamoring voices speaking out against the Rohingya Genocide now?
That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
Thank you for listening!
Welcome to This Day in Today, a collection of thoughts from my series of books, This Day in… There are currently five books in the series, This Day in Genocide, This Day in Peace, This Day in Trump, This Day in Black and Blue, and This Day in Rhode Island history.
My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!
On this day, April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising, began in Dublin, Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers — led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic to be independent of the United Kingdom. More than 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested, although most were subsequently released. In a series of courts martial, 90 people were sentenced to death. Those fifteen included all seven signatories of the Proclamation of 1916 and were executed by firing squad (among them the seriously wounded James Connolly who was shot, while tied to a chair due to his shattered ankle). Irish nationalism, crushed by an Imperial Military, concurrently fighting in WWI…on the other side of Europe, Turkish forces in the Ottoman Empire crushed more than nascent nationalism.
April 24th is the 102th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It’s as simple as that. One word: genocide. Once again, the President of the United States will not refer to the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. At least President Trump never promised to call it a genocide. Obama was the third presidential candidate to campaign on the promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and then fail to live up to that promise once elected. Why have President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama switched opinions? The argument is well-known: pandering candidates with limited foreign policy experience promise big, then the complexity of the situation causes policy reversal. Turkey is a strategic NATO ally; the White House needs the positive public relations image that comes with having good relations with Turkey since it is a Muslim democracy; Turkey is an ally in the war against ISIS, etc., etc., etc.
That is one truth, but there are also other truths. The truth is, that while Turkey was a strategic ally for the Cold War, so the US could monitor the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, such monitoring is no longer necessary by sea. While relations between the US and Russia are not warm and fuzzy, Russia does not have the economic, political, or social resources to threaten the United States as it did during the Cold War. Additionally, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even Iran; all are Muslim countries trying to reconcile Islam and democracy. Though the others may not be perfect, Turkey is far from the only Muslim democracy. And let’s face it, Erdoğan is no true defender of democracy. Nor is Turkey the most supportive ally against ISIS. Turkey had to be cajoled and cajoled to even allow Kurdish forces through Turkey who have sought to engage ISIS forces in Syria. So, to recap: Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits is no longer a key US interest, Turkey is no longer a unique example of Muslim experiments in democracy, and Turkey has not actively supported joint operations against ISIS.
At the same time, the United States of America has the third largest Armenian population in the world (only Armenia and Russia have a higher Armenian population). The US Presidents have a responsibility to represent survivors and descendants of the Armenian Diaspora. Ironically, US Presidents had no problem referring to the Armenian genocide when Turkey’s government was a military dictatorship. The amnesia of the recent White House administrations is a new phenomenon and it must end. The fact is the genocide happened. Period. That’s it.
The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Even the Turkish government admits that Armenians were massacred and that wholesale emigration of the Armenian survivors occurred. Turkey resists the term genocide because it states the massacres were not systematic or premeditated. Even ignoring the evidence to the contrary, if one were to accept the Turkish statement of facts, it still meets the threshold of the UNCPPCG. There was an Armenian Genocide. Every Armenian family knows it. About 30 countries, including Germany and Austria, have recognized the genocide. While the Vatican has already recognized the Armenian Genocide, Pope Francis has raised the profile of the recognition by publicly and unequivocally referring to the massacre as genocide. The Jewish-American Anti-Defamation League and the Central Council of Jews in Germany have called the 1915 events a genocide. As the European Parliament unanimously passed another resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide recently, German delegate Elmar Brok said, “My own people committed genocides,” he said. “and we know hundreds of thousands of Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire’s henchmen.” It’s called catharsis; just say the word. The word is genocide.
The Catholic Church has recognized its own responsibility for the Inquisition and the Crusades, including the sacking of Turkey’s own city of Istanbul (then Constantinople) in 1204. Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Serbia have all recognized, to some extent, their role in the other 20th century genocides. In 1997, US President Bill Clinton apologized for the US role in the institutional enslavement of West Africans and African-Americans. Obama signed the apology to Native Americans in 2010. It is time for Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to follow this example and acknowledge his country’s past. Maybe President Trump can help Erdogan by using the word himself. The word is genocide, and, yes, it happened. Let’s not wait another hundred years to say so.
Now to share a little bit of good news:
While it was on this day, April 24, 1957, Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad that died in Rome, Italy, Hesselblad is now recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Hesselblad was a Swedish nurse who had converted to Catholicism and founded a new form of life of the Bridgettines known as the Bridgettine Sisters. During World War II – and after – she performed many charitable works on behalf of the poor and those that suffered due to racial laws and promoted peace between Christians and non-Christians. The war also saw her save the lives of Jewish people who would have otherwise have perished in the Holocaust had it not been for her direct intervention.
Pope John Paul II beatified her on April 9, 2000, and Pope Francis formally approved her canonization in late 2015.
That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
Thank you for listening!