Mention the word ‘genocide’ or make reference to the systematic murder of millions and most people in the Western world will immediately think of the Holocaust. But that dark period represents only one of three such events to occur in the last century.
During World War I, the forces of nationalism within the faltering Ottoman Empire lead to the 20th century’s first large scale genocide. Between 1915 and 1916, the Turks used the war as a pretense for “removing” all Armenians from Turkey. More than 1.5 million were murdered.
The world must have collectively learned very little from this bloody bit of history, because just two decades later the Germans were crafting their “Final Solution”. Add six million to the tally there.
German efficiency being what it is, you’d expect no one could kill people faster. Especially not on a continent where the weapons of choice are clubs and knives. But ten years ago today — April 7, 1994, the Hutu tribe in Rwanda began the mass murder of their Tutsi countrymen by the most primative means possible. Often with nothing more than their bare hands.
More than 937,000 people were killed in just three months. That’s 10,411 people per day. 434 corpses every minute. Seven deaths per second. Every single second. Around-the-clock. For three months.
A Reuters article today notes:
Scholars concluded that the killers — mostly civilians armed with machetes, garden hoes and spiked clubs and spurred on by hate propaganda — did their work five times faster than the gas chambers used by the Nazis in World War II.
I’m not sure which is worse: the genocide itself, or the fact that so few of the world’s five billion people know about it. If those ignorant of history truly are doomed to repeat it, I see no reason to believe the 21st century will not eclipse its predecessor in terms of the body count. Case in point: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan today said that Rwanda-style massacres are a real possiblity in Sudan.
This is the reason I was so disappointed to see a dearth of Western representatives at the memorial service commemorating the ten year anniversary of the Rwanda genocide. President Bush should have been present or at least have sent high level U.S. representative such as Vice-President Cheney or Secretary of State Colin Powell. Or even ask former President Clinton to attend; he was in office when the killing was taking place and has expressed regret that the U.S. didn’t lead the international community toward action.
The media has generally buried this story on the back page, just as it was buried ten years ago while the killing was taking place. I know everyone’s focused on Iraq at the moment, but this was a golden opportunity to use the power of the media to remind much of the world that genocide is not something relegated to black-and-white footage from World War II. It happened 90 years ago in Turkey, 60 years ago in Europe, 30 years ago in Cambodia, 10 years ago in Africa, and it could very well happen again today. The world needs to read the story, see the photos, and hear from the survivors of genocide if there is to be any hope of preventing this in the future.
Rwanda was the final chapter of a century-long cautionary tale on the dangers of nationalism, ignorance, and hate. I pray it’s a lesson we won’t have to be taught again