It’s Time to Call a Thing for What It Is

It’s Time to Call a Thing for What It Is

Senate_Resolution_LeadsTo end genocide, we must first stop the denial. The political act of denial, protecting perpetrators for the sake of alliances or economics, condones genocide. Without impunity and with proper sanctions and recognition, genocide would no longer be profitable. When we fail to call genocide by it’s name, we impede cultural healing and enable the cycle of violence to continue.

http://armenianweekly.com/2015/04/20/centennial-resolution/

Special Shout Out!

I’d like to give a special shout out and thank you to Ngor Mayol, former Lost Boy of Sudan and Mothering Across Continents project volunteer, and Alan Sherko, Kurdish survivor of Saddam Hussein’s Al Anfal campaign, for their outstanding efforts at yesterday’s FCHS speaking event in support of April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Education and memory are integral in combatting future genocides, and your stories touched many hearts.
Apr2015

Genocide and Politics

Genocide: It’s Political

by Sonya Cunningham
GenocidePrevention.001I admit that as I began preparing to teach Elie Wiesel’s Night for the first time fourteen years ago, I was ignorant to the many genocides that have occurred globally. In my history and philosophy courses, the Holocaust, with its systematic and industrialized killing, was studied as the event that changed 20th century thinking forever, yet there had been no mention of the Armenian, Ukrainian, Mayan, Burmese, Sudanese, Bosnian, and Rwandan genocides. Since I began teaching in 2001, other genocides have occurred and many are still ongoing, and it appalls me that these events still exist, that, as a global people, we still have not learned. In teaching my unit on genocidal literature, which now, in conjunction to the Holocaust literature, includes current events on genocide and other genocidal literature, my students have the same initial reaction that I once had. They were unaware.

In researching genocide, the cold, calculated political nature of the genocides both shocked and horrified me. I found it even more distressing to learn that the governments who enacted these crimes did not face repercussions; they got away with it due to the human constructs of “sovereignty” and “impunity.” Yet, as genocides are political and are carried out by the government, it makes no sense for the UN to recognize a country’s sovereignty when that country’s government is slaughtering its own people nor does it make sense for homicidal leaders to be granted impunity. To evoke Raphael Lemkin’s key question, “Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?”

When genocidal governments are not held accountable for their crimes, it sends the troubling message to the guilty governments as well as future governments that there are no repercussions for such heinous actions – and these events happen again … and again. Hitler himself declared, “‘Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” And while these governments continue to blatantly commit these crimes, onlooking countries remain more afraid of angering allies or upsetting a country they already have political tensions with than they are with the value of a people. What are the global implications when an entire culture is eliminated? To a people; to a nation; to a world; to history? Peter Balakian, in Black Dog of Fate, tackles these very questions and asserts, “When a civilization is erased, there is a new darkness on the earth” (263). And worse, when the crime is denied, the wound remains open. Balakian calls this denial, this unhealed wound, a second killing: “the first killing followed by a killing of the memory of the killing” (290).

Yet, behind the shield of politics, the governments that have the power to protect turn away; they do nothing and then justify their actions with the ever-shifting sword of semantics. I may be but an educator and human rights advocate, but it seems to me a no-brainer that an enforceable universal legislation needs to be created that will eliminate the wall of politics as the barrier to the prevention of genocide. How many peoples must be slaughtered – with the world acting as a bystander – before such actions occur?

While the politics in the prevention, punishment, and recognition of genocide outraged me, in advocating for the prevention of genocide and global education, I was more than disheartened to learn that teaching genocide and talking about genocide are equally political. At events, I have been approached by anger-blinded people who asked why I worked to help those in need in other countries when we have people who are poor and lack education in our own country. I have been accused of being un-American by individuals who declared that good soldiers were fighting against terrorists while I was pushing for education. When I attempted to schedule an event where students would present their research for their chosen genocidal literature, with a former Lost Boy of Sudan and Kurdish survivor of the Al Anfal campaign as guest speakers, I was accused by a colleague of enforcing my own “political agenda” on my students, that the event was of “little educational value,” and that “video clips” of survivors would be “as impactful as a presentation that would disrupt the school day.” And while I throw myself equally into every unit I teach, I have become known primarily for my unit on genocide, and, as a result, somewhat controversial.

I weighed statements and judgments such as these, and here are my responses. We are all connected in this global society, and it is time we stop viewing ourselves by our borders. Humanity extends beyond borders. Our soldiers fight for peace and freedom, so how is working to promote peace through education counter to these goals? And isn’t history itself political? Videos and literature may enable us to learn about genocide, but when we speak to survivors, we bear witness to the events, we connect, we remember.

“No matter how dark a place is, no matter how far, As long as we believe and we look up at the stars, there will always be hope.” ~ by Cristobal Valdovinos Avalos

“No matter how dark a place is, no matter how far, As long as we believe and we look up at the stars, there will always be hope.” ~ by Cristobal Valdovinos Avalos

I have had to learn to refocus my energies on those who have been instrumental supporters rather than on the louder voices of the few, which, as they most often strike at the most incremental times, can be discouraging. I have been blessed to have many dedicated people work to support the educational goals of Ambassadors for Change, a supportive administration, many, many supportive colleagues, and awesome and caring students. And these glimmers of light bring me hope.

When working towards anything that makes us face the darkness humankind is capable of, it is a natural response to turn away. However, we must change this reaction. I believe that the majority of people balk at the concept of genocide, not because they are heartless, but because it is a crime beyond human comprehension. It is most certainly beyond mine. Yet teaching genocide is not about darkness; it is about a love for humanity.

Yes, the UN needs to develop and implement legislation that eliminates politics from the protection of humanity against the crime of genocide, but as individuals, we are not exempt from responsibility. Memory and education enables us to view ourselves as part of a global rather than national world. We must learn to see ourselves in the other. We, as individuals, have the responsibility to contact state, national, and international leaders. Only we can raise our voices to say, “Enough.”

A Dialogue of Change

A Dialogue of Change

by Sonya Cunningham

L to R Back Row: Alan Sherko (Yezidi Kurd), John Nercessian (Armenian), Majok Marier (Former Lost Boy of Sudan), Casey Cagle (Lt. Governor); L-R Front Row: Senator Nan Orrock (co-sponsor), Dov Wilker (Executive Director, American Jewish Committee-Atlanta), Senator Elena Parent (lead sponsor), Melanie Nelkin (Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide)

L to R Back Row: Alan Sherko (Yezidi Kurd), John Nercessian (Armenian), Majok Marier (Former Lost Boy of Sudan), Casey Cagle (Lt. Governor); L-R Front Row: Senator Nan Orrock (co-sponsor), Dov Wilker (Executive Director, American Jewish Committee-Atlanta), Senator Elena Parent (lead sponsor), Melanie Nelkin (Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide)

 

This April 2015 marks the fourth ratification of April as Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, a resolution spearheaded by Melanie Nelkin of Georgia Coalition to Prevent Genocide. As AFC director and as an educator, it was an honor to have been invited to witness this resolution and an even greater honor to have been able to bring my students to witness the legislative process in action, to have them learn that every individual possesses the power to incite positive change.

Ms. Nelkin’s energy and drive to raise awareness and end the brutality that is genocide has served to inspire many of my students over the past three years. After the passing of this year’s resolution, Ms. Nelkin arranged a round table discussion that included genocide survivors, descendants of genocide survivors, and my students. My students departed this discussion inspired, so I left them with this question: “Okay. You have studied the legislative process. You have heard the stories firsthand from the survivors. What are you going to do now?”

The students’ responses impressed me. Given choices, they chose to create a Museum of Literature and planned to host an event to honor the survivors they spoke with at the March 4th Invite Resolution and to raise awareness about ongoing genocides. As literature is a powerful tool in conveying memory, students selected texts from a list of genocidal literature and created a visual and virtual museum exhibit for their book and the genocide their

roundtable discussion

roundtable discussion

chosen text depicted. They displayed their visual exhibits in the media center and presented the technology portion of their projects to the entire 10th grade student body. To further extend the power of these presentations, two of the amazing survivors the students met at the March 4th Invite Resolution, former Lost Boy Ngor Mayol and Kurdish survivor of Saddam Hussein’s Al Anfal campaign Alan Sherko, also spoke during the student presentations and enabled the entire 10th grade body to bear witness.

During the planning of this research, Ms. Nelkin, who has ardently supported my students’ efforts in genocidal literature and education, connected me with KTJ Scott, of i-Act and sponsor of Moving Beyond Witness, a national campaign for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Through this new connection, our school was honored to host a screening of the documentary Watchers of the Sky, a film, inspired by Samantha Powell’s Pulitzer Prize winning book A Problem From Hell, that highlights the efforts of Raphael Lemkin to name the “crime without a name” and the endeavors of those individuals who have taken on the thankless task of continuing his efforts in order to one day achieve a world without genocide.

In collaborating with Ms. Scott about the film, Ambassadors for Change, and student undertakings, Ms. Scott had the brilliant idea of creating a blog that highlighted some of these endeavors, so, in the hopes of furthering education and awareness and facilitating new ideas and discussion, I will be chronicling these efforts, so please join me in this dialogue as, in the words of Benjamin Ferencz, we take on the task of “sky watching.”