We are all Uyghurs

We are all Uyghur too

(Photo credit: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr565)

Je Suis Charlie? United We Stand, #BostonStrong, even, BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. We Americans are a sympathetic, but sometimes selectively sympathetic people. To me, the most common limitations to our sympathy are limitations to our identity formation, limited education, and the reality of power dynamics domestically and internationally.

Limitations to Identify Construction

          It’s my opinion that if we look at what I call the Big 5 in Identity Construction -Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, and Gender- the more closely we identify with the dominant demographic group, the less likely we are to understand or sympathize with the non-dominant groups. Or, to put it another way: Uyghurs (also spelled Uighur, Uigur, and Uygur) are a stateless, Central Asian ethnic group who practice Islam. Since most Americans are not Central Asian, nor Muslim, and have never met a Uighar then it is harder to notice or sympathize with their plight; it is far easier to ignore.

Limited Education

It is harder to notice because, after all, who’s going to tell us? Our education system favors American history -which is understandable up to a point, but I personally studied US History in 5th, 7th, 8th, 11th, and 12th grades. And that doesn’t include state history in 4th grade that certainly overlapped with US History. And when our social studies classes do study other nations and nation-states, it does so with a Western European bias. After all, not only are most Americans of Western European descent, but Western Europe has been the dominant part of the world for centuries prior to American hegemony and has influenced American culture far more than, well, Central Asia for example.

So, if not our education system, what about the news? We have print news, radio news, TV news… surely, we’d hear about a looming genocide in our news, right? No, of course not. The 24-hour news culture is obsessed with the Swamp Soap Opera in Washington, DC, business news and imagined wealth from Wall Street, NY and LA pop culture… more seriously, there are stories of #MeToo, #LivesMatter, #NFLKneelers, crime, school shootings, and stories of local interest that eat up our attention span and clog our access to news outside of America, let alone news about a small stateless group of people in the middle of Central Asian.

Power Dynamics

          Really, its an issue of Power Dynamics. Textbooks, for example, are an expression of political and economic power. How else would you explain pages after pages about the Texas Republic, when Texas was not part of the US, in a US History textbook? Do we have pages after pages on the Hawaiian Kingdom? Pages after pages on the Shay and Whiskey Rebellions in the populous states of MA and PA, but rarely even a mention of Dorr’s Rebellion in the littlest state in the Union, Rhode Island? While most Americans are of Western European descent, Americans are certainly aware of India and China, as there are 1 billion people in each country and the US does considerable business with both countries. Heck, both countries have the nuke too, right? The Uyghurs have no worldly significant population (15 million), no nuke and, heck, don’t even have a nation-state…

You’re Forgiven

          So, if you’re still in school, you can be forgiven; if you’re an average guy like Joe the Plummer or Rosie Riveter, you can be forgiven for not knowing about the Uyghurs detention and incarceration. After all, the corporate media chooses what news to cover, right? But if you’re a teacher, perhaps you can help change the paradigm of neotribalistic news coverage, if you’re involved in your religious community or a church leader, perhaps you can speak up and speak out. If you’re a politician in Washington, perhaps, just perhaps, you could live up to the ideals of this country. This country which proudly remembers ending the Second World War and stopping German Nazism… and has done little to stop every genocide since. On February 19, 2005, I wrote this in the Providence Journal:

“During its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps, those present chanted, “Never again.” Yet since 1945 the world has ignored, or been extremely slow to deal with, the genocides of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, Rwanda-Burundi, and, today, Darfur.
 
How can someone say, “Never again,” and then fail to stop the slaughter of innocent people being killed simply because of their ethnicity and/or religion?”

And not much has changed since. The Darfur Genocide, the Yazidi Genocide, the Second Assyrian Genocide, the Rohingya Genocide, and now the beginnings of a Uighar Genocide. If you’re a member of Congress who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations or House Foreign Affairs Committee, how dare you deposit your paycheck, how dare you run for re-election?

Because Uyghurs look differently than you, pray differently than you, it’s not an issue to bring to the attention of American people?

We have a subcommittee that is literally called the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Terrorism led by Republican Jim Risch of Idaho and Democrat Tim Kaine of VA. Where are our Senators on the Uyghurs internment camps? The House Foreign Affairs Committee is led by Republican Ed Royce (CA-39) and Elliot Engle (NY—16). The Committee has a subcommittee named Asia and the Pacific led by Republican Ted Yoho (FL-3) and Brad Sherman (CA-30)… And where are they on this crisis; where are our Representatives on the Uyghurs internment camps?

Even more specifically: If you’re Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who introduced the Save Christians from Genocide Act, or Congressmen Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) who introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief Accountability Act for the Christian Genocide… then you are hypocrites and grandstanders, not leaders. And what Americans need are leaders in Congress, leaders in the State Department, leaders in the White House who stand up for the stateless people of the world, stand up for human rights, and stand up for the Uyghurs people.

Uighars, Uyghurs or Uygurs

The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group in Central Asia. Ironically, most Uyghurs live in a section of China called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. Like many populations of Central Eurasia, they are genetically related to both Caucasoid and East Asian populations. There are about 15 million Uyghurs in China, 80% of whom live in the Tarim Basin of Xinjiang. In fact, the Uyghurs city of Ürümqi is the largest city in western China as well as all of Central Asia, 3.5 million people.

Outside of China, according to the World Uyghur Congress, the Uyghur population is believed to number 1.0–1.6 million; which may be part of the reason that the world is ignoring the Uighars. The main diasporic community of Uyghurs are in Kazakhstan (200,000), with much, much smaller communities in Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, and in Turkey. The largest Uyghurs population in the West is believed to be in Australia and number about 10,000. Canada has about 2000 Uighars. Uyghurs are a small stateless ethnic group, with few allies on the World Stage. Uyghurs are also predominantly Muslim, eliciting little sympathy from the Western Christian world. Look at the Darfur Muslims and Rohingya Muslims. In fact, the only Muslim genocide that the West (albeit belatedly) stopped was the Bosnia Genocide, perhaps because they were European Caucasians? Apparently “Never Again” meant, never again if you’re Jewish or European?

According to a 2018 report by The Economist, Uyghurs in Xinjiang suffer under a “fully-fledged police state” with extensive controls and restrictions upon their religious, cultural and social life. Chinese officials refer to Uyghurs as terrorists, justify their repression as anti-terrorism surveillance. And, to be fair, there have been Uighar successionist movements, and acts of violence against the Chinese government apparatus in Xinjiang. Laying aside the “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” argument; do the actions of some members of a population justify the repression of an entire people? Are all Italians in the Mafia, all Germans are Nazis, all Irishmen are in the IRA, and -of course- all Mexicans are “drug-dealers, murderers, and rapists.” When, oh when, are we as Americans and as human beings going to break out of this tribal mentality? When are we going to protect the rights of those who don’t look like us, as much as we defend and demand rights for those who do look like us?

Because, what? The Uyghurs terrorists? Uyghurs extremism? Well, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Uyghur Province of the People’s Republic of China, “Religious extremism” is defined as owning books about Uyghurs or quitting smoking or drinking. Government cameras have been installed in the homes of private citizens. Between 120,000 and one million Uyghurs are detained in mass detention camps, termed “re-education camps,” aimed at changing the political thinking of detainees, their identities, and their religious beliefs. Some of these facilities keep prisoners detained around the clock, while others release their inmates at night to return home. The New York Times has reported inmates are required to “sing hymns praising the Chinese Communist Party and write ‘self-criticism’ essays,” and that prisoners are also subjected to physical and verbal abuse by prison guards. The families of inmates are monitored, and women have been detained due to actions by their sons or husbands…

A student of mine asked me this week, I just finished listening to your podcast about the [first] Uyghurs, but I still don’t think I know who they are… I’ll tell you, they are just like you and me. They are parents and children, they are husbands and wives, they are farmers and businessmen, they pray and they go to school.

First, the PROC came for Chang Ki-Shek and the Nationalists,
And the US did nothing because it was busy in Europe and Korea;

Then the PROC came for the Tibetans,
And the US did nothing because there are few Buddhists and fewer Tibetan-Americans;

Then the PROC came for the Uyghurs,
And the US does nothing because there are few Muslims and fewer Uyghurs-Americans;

And then the PROC may drive your company out of business through corporate technology theft, low labor costs, and currency manipulation….

And you think we should care about you and your job?

Native Americans who were here already and the descendants of enslaved West Africans know a lot about persecution. But so do those who chose to immigrate to the United States. We are a nation of castoffs, of people persecuted and looking for a better world. If we can say Never Again about the Holocaust, we can say no to Uyghur concentration camps too. If, in the face of Sovietization, our president said Eich bin ein Berliner, then today in the face of Hanification, our leaders can say “We are all Uighars too!”

Je Suis Urumqi!

Uighars and other Stateless Peoples

(Photo Credit: Public Domain file shared by QuartierLatin1968.)

Hunger Strikes and Self-Immolation (May 12th)

Image result for buddhist monk burning vietnam photographer

How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you kill for your beliefs? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest?

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Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved to death in the Maze Prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The Irish prisoners were objecting to the treatment they were receiving by the British prison authorities, and they were wanted political prisoner status to be granted to Provisional IRA prisoners. Following in the footsteps of India Independence leaders -most notably Gandhi, the Irish nationalists organized a Hunger Strike in 1980, and another strike in 1981. Bobby Sands (March 9, 1954 – 5 May 1981) was the leader of that 1981 hunger strike. Now, it should be noted, Gandhi was a pacifist and these IRA members were part of a violent terrorist organization. This narrative is not as an endorsement of the prisoners’ violence either in prison or before, but a recognition of a milestone in “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland’s history.

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But how can a person shut down hunger? Hardwired into our being is a sense of self-preservation…

In 1975, Article 6 of the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo stated that doctors are not allowed to force-feed hunger strikers. They are supposed to understand the prisoner’s independent wishes, and it is recommended to have a second opinion as to the capability of the prisoner to understand the implication of his decision and be capable of informed consent. Having said that, it is US Federal policy that when “a medical necessity for immediate treatment of a life or health threatening situation exists, the physician may order that treatment be administered without the consent of the inmate.”

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Apparently, some things are worth dying for, or at least risking one’s life for. And, respectfully, it seems to me that donning the uniform of our nation-state is relatively easy… After all, with the exception of the Vietnam era, there is a national admiration that goes out to those in uniform… and some perks too: Preferential boarding on Southwest Airlines, preferential hiring in some police departments, GI Bill, VA Housing Loans, etc., etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that soldiers don’t deserve it, nor am I saying that soldiering is not hard work. What I am saying, is that it’s not an incredibly difficult moral decision to wear one’s countries uniform. However, what if one doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state, then that’s a harder situation to put on the uniform, and perhaps it is an easier decision to raise weapons against the nation-state.

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For example, also on this day, May 12, 1885, the four-day Battle of Batoche ended with a decisive rebel defeat. The rebels were the Métis people who had organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government. The Métis are a people in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers, though only 1.7% of the Canadian population. They are now recognized as one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples under the Constitution Act of 1982, along with First Nations and Inuit peoples.

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On this day, May 12, 1998, the Trisakti shootings, or the Trisakti Tragedy took place at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia. A planned non-violent protest against the Suharto government started at the university on the 12th May 1998. By 10:00, over 6,000 students, lecturers, and staff had assembled in the university parking lot; the demonstrators began the protest by lowering the Indonesian flag to half-mast.

While the demonstration was primarily a protest over the declining economy, it is worth noting that the Indonesian government had a history of repression as well. The 1965 Tragedy in which 500,000 Communists were systematically murdered; later declared a genocide by an international tribunal, which also found the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia were all complicit in the crimes.

The Papua Conflict between the Indonesian government and the indigenous populations of Western New Guinea (Papua) since 1962, the East Timor Genocide (1975 to 1999)… Indonesia seems to have a propensity to use military force -with weapons supplied by the US and US allies- on ethnic, religious and ideological populations.

And May 12, 1998, was no different. During a demonstration against President Suharto, Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Four of the students (Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hertanto, Hafidin Royan, and Hendriawan Sie) were killed and dozens more were injured. The shootings caused riots to break out throughout Indonesia eventually, in fact, leading to Suharto’s resignation.

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What about self-immolation: Remember Thích Quảng Đức, the famous Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963. [Photo Credit: (AP), Malcolm Wilde Browne]. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the American-supported South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm. John F. Kennedy said in reference to the Thích Quảng Đức picture, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” That photograph of the self-immolation is as powerful today, as it was then…

Even today, we see Tibetan monks and even civilians using self-immolation as a tactic to bring attention to the Hanification of Tibet and the repression of Tibetan culture, religion, and political self-determination…

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Even in the US, there have been a series of hunger strikes in the extrajudicial detention in the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba. Apparently as early as 2002, then 2005-2008, and as recently as 2013, there have been hunger strikes by the detainees. Records show more than 80 inmates weight dropped below 100 lbs during the peak of these strikes. The organizer of many of these strikes, Shaker Aamer, was later repatriated to Saudi Arabia when the US Government admitted there was insufficient evidence for trial.

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Self-immolation and hunger strikes. How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest? Buddhists monks have done it. Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved himself to death in the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland. Those Northern Irish Catholics also killed for their, albeit twisted means, but their belief in the right of the Irish to be independent of the UK, just like the Métis organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government although the rebellion was ultimately defeated on this day, May 12, 1885. And May 12, 1998, was no different. Four students were killed and dozens more were injured while demonstrating against the autocratic rule of President Suharto…

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What would you die for? I know many of us would die for our family and friends, but Americans are blessed to live in relative safety compared to the rest of the world. What ideas would you die for, what principals would you sacrifice yourself for. Many of us would also probably defend our own demographic tribes, such as our government, as well as justice for our ethnic, religious and racial communities… would that we stood up as easily for other ethnic, religious, national and racial communities. Today, the Rohingya of Burma are dying, today the civilians of Yemen are dying by American weapons being used by Saudi forces, today the Syrian Civil War continues into its year… civilians that don’t look like many of us, Muslims who don’t pray like many of us, people that don’t live in our neighborhoods… It’s easy to stand up for our community and our beliefs, too bad we can’t stand up for other communities and people with differing political or religious beliefs as readily…

And that’s what happened This Day in Today…
Remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
I am, Tom Keefe, the Babbling Professor!
Thank you for listening!

May 7th ~ Mass Graves in Iraq and the Rohingya

~May 7~

  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.”

Ján Kubiš

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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?

https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/opinion/17stein.html

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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.

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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?

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That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,

Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.

Thank you for listening!

April 24th ~ Ireland and Armenia

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,

Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.

Thank you for listening!

Genocide: A Result Justice or Policy?

The history of genocide is a journey into the darkness of what we humans are capable of, but it remains a lingering question what exactly constitutes a genocide. Is genocide a 20th Century construction, or is genocide part of humanity’s original sin? The exact delineation between genocide as a goal or simply a result of wars is debatable. There are also other determining factors such as relative balance of power, the span of time, and intentionality as well as accepted definitions of genocide. The term was originally coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 by combining the Greek root genos (family, tribe, race) and the Latin root -cide (massacre). In 1948, the United Nations agree that genocide is against international law and define the crimes 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.”
Article 2, the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNPPCG). (Originally a person’s politics were included as a possible motivation for genocide, but the Soviets successfully blocked its inclusion.) My working definition: the systematic dehumanization and mass killing of a people because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or ideology.
Since Lemkin’s definition was coined in 1943, there has been some debate as to whether the term can be retroactively used to describe mass killings before 1943. For example, at the walls of Jericho, the Torah recalls the command: “But all the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron are holy to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD. So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.…” (Joshua 6:19-21).
How about the destructions of the Etruscans, or Carthage, by Rome? Or the destruction of the Picts by the Scots? Clearly, genocide occurred before the term genocide was created by Lemkin; after all, gravity certainly existed well before any wayward apples may, or may not, have fallen on the head of Isaac Newton. However, not all mass killing, even systematic killing is necessarily genocide. What is the difference between the destruction of the Canaanites and modern uses of the term genocide? The relative power of balance is an important distinction: are the belligerents relatively equal, or is there a clear imbalance of power? Secondly, is there a realistic possibility that the aggressive group is equally vulnerable to potential aggression by the group under attack. To be blunter: is it an ‘us or them’ situation or wanton killing? It is reasonable to believe that, if the Israelites did not kill the Canaanite, then the Canaanites would have eliminated the Israelites. Similarly, Carthage was as much a threat to Rome as Rome was a threat to Carthage. In the case of the Etruscans and the Picts, sometimes the disappearance of a distinct people is a gradual process of assimilation and not necessarily the systematic dehumanization and destruction of a people because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or ideology. Intentionality may be as important as the results.
There have been six major, and generally acknowledged, genocides in human history: Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Darfur. Of course, there are many other genocides that history has forgotten, failed to notice, or a cause of debate as to whether murderous events reach the standard of genocide. Some of these other genocides include, but are not limited to:
  • Aborigine peoples of Australia (1778-1967/1992/1996)
  • The Irish Diaspora and Genocide (1840)
  • The Circassian Genocide (1864?-1867)
  • The Greek Genocide (1913-1922)
  • The Assyrian Genocide (1914-1920)
  • The Ukrainian Holodomor (1932-1933)
  • Sovietization of the Baltic States (1940-1941; 1944-1991)
  • The Creation of India-Pakistan (1947)
  • Apartheid (1948-1991)
  • Palestine/West Bank/Gaza (1948-)
  • Tibet (1950-) and the Hanification of Tibet
  • Mayan Guatemalans (1960-1996, especially 1981-1983)
  • The Gujarat Riots (2002)
  • The Yazidis Genocide (2014)
  • The Rohingya Genocide (2017)
The well-known adage goes something like this: “History is written by the victors.” Whether it was Winston Churchill, Walter Benjamin, or some other thinker who uttered this first, the sentiment remains true regardless. Another proverb, “To the victors go the spoils,” relates as well, because, after all, recorded history is one of the greatest gifts that victory has to offer. Similarly, victory and history offer another priceless gift, that of clemency. Winners are not victorious in a vacuum. The problem is that war crime adjudication is a product of policy, and not of justice. Victorious powers rarely hold their own actors accountable. For example, four of the six generally acknowledged genocides (Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and fmr. Yugoslavia) are defeated powers. It is the international organizations or successor states that have recognized the atrocities and held perpetrators accountable. Conversely, it is not a coincidence that the other two genocides, Armenia and Darfur, are denied by the perpetrating nations-states whose governments are, essentially, still in power.
Again, genocides do not occur in a vacuum and recognition of genocide is a product of policy, and not of justice. Consider the role of the US government in the history of genocide. The United States was one of the victorious powers that held culpable Germans responsible at the Nuremberg Trials. Decades later, the American military operations in Indo-China greatly destabilized the region, creating a power vacuum that was filled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. In fact, during the administration of US President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), not only was Pol Pot still in power in Cambodia, but the peak of the Mayan Genocide occurred just 842 miles away. If the United States is an original signatory to the UN Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide, why did the US government not stop the Cambodian Genocide, not insist that the genocidal leadership was held accountable, or prevent the Mayan Genocide occurring within the American sphere of influence? Because other factors, particularly the Cold War, was a higher priority in US foreign policy.
On April 24, 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, US President Barak Obama once again broken his campaign promise and did not refer to the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. Obama is 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. Candidate Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama with limited foreign policy experience pandered and promised to say the word: genocide. Then, the complexity of the situation caused a policy reversal when the three candidates became presidents. Turkey is a strategic NATO ally and a partner in the war against ISIS. The White House also needs the positive public relations image that comes with having good relations with Turkey since it is (at least before Recep Erdoğan) a Muslim democracy. Ironically, US Presidents had no problem referring to the Armenian genocide when Turkey was a military dictatorship. The amnesia of the last three White House administrations is a new phenomenon because the recognition of genocide is a product of policy, and not of justice.
As mentioned, four of the six generally acknowledged genocides (Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia) are defeated powers and it was the international powers or successor states that have recognized the atrocities and held perpetrators accountable. Conversely, again, the perpetrating nations-states whose governments are, essentially, still in power deny other two genocides, Armenia and Darfur. It seems that recognition is a matter of policy, not justice. For example, four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have denied responsibility for genocides. Whether it be British responsibility for the Irish or the Aborigine Genocide, Chinese genocide in Tibet, Russian culpability for the Circassian and Baltic Diasporas, or US policy toward Native Americans, the Great Powers seem to avoid accountability. Genocide should not be a term used as a Scarlet Letter only against losing belligerents. It is time to name the Unnamed Crime wherever it occurs or has occurred.