May Madness

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

 

SLAM ~ May 16th

On this day, May 16, 1983, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (also known as the Sudan People’s Army Movement, or SLAM) began their rebellion against the Sudanese government. This Sudan People’s Army Movement began a civil war that culminated in both the Darfur Genocide as well as ultimately the independence of South Sudan.

Within Sudan are the northern Sudanese Arab Muslims, southern Sudanese African Christians, and western Sudanese African Muslims.

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has based his rule on war.  As noted earlier, the Second Sudanese Civil War had been a conflict between the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians.  The Darfur Conflict came as a result of many factors.  To an extent, Fighting a war can centralize authority, unify the population (to an extent), can eliminate political rivals and reduces the net population of military age men.  Just as when the Spanish conquest of the Iberian peninsula ended in 1492 and military age men looked for new lands to conquer (i.e., the Americas), after the Second Sudanese Civil War, al-Bashir needed a new enemy to deflect attention from his autocratic rule.

The Darfur genocide occurred in western Sudan and is/was a conflict was between the Abbala (camel-herding) and Baggara/Baqqarah (cattle-herding) Shuwa Arabs on the one side and the Masalit, Zaghawa, and Fur ethnic peoples on the other side.  The Fur people are the most numerous in the region; in fact “Dar-fur” means “Abode of the Fur.”  The crisis is a combination of racial, agricultural, and political conflict.  The Abbala and Baggara people are nomadic Arabs who follow herds of camels and cattle.  For their part, Masalit and Fur people are Sub-Saharan African (Black Africans) and are sedentary farmers.  The other Sub-Saharan tribe, the Zaghawa, is comprised mainly of sheep pastoralists.  Similar to the land wars in the nineteenth century American West, these farmers and herders are in conflict over access to water as well as the issue of fences.  As both sides of combatants are Muslim, the issue is more a conflict of “Arabization” than the Muslim-Christian tension that has served as a basis for the Second Sudan Civil War.

The government soon began to attack the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit people, particularly in the Marrah Mountains. Both sides employed light cavalry tactics (horse, camel or Toyota Land Cruisers) for quick strikes.  The tactics also included ‘scorched earth policy’ “with livestock seized, grain stores attacked and looted, wells and watering places poisoned … [as well as] … forced population movements engineered to perpetuate dependency and control.

Adding fuel to the fire of nearly all African conflicts is the ‘low congruence’ between ethnic boundaries and state borders.  The Masalit and Zaghawa people live in both eastern Chad and western Sudan.  In fact, the dictator of Chad, Idriss Déby Itno, is Zaghawa.  For their part, the Abbala and Baggara share a common Arab background with the political leaders of Sudan, particularly dictator Omar al-Bashir.  These Arab tribesmen have formed the Janjaweed militia and received support from al-Bashir’s government.

To counter the threat from the Sudanese government, On this day, May 16, 1983, the Fur, Masalit, and the Wagi clan of the Zaghawa peoples formed The Sudan Liberation Movement/Army or Haraka Tahrir Sudan (abbreviated as either SLM or SLA). Although the roots of the Darfur conflict go back decades to 1983, eventually the Conflict grew into what we now recognize as the (2002 or 2003) Darfur Genocide and eventually to the independence of South Sudan.