Mia Farrow Shares Darfur Experience at Holy Trinity

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By Thomas C. Nash
Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Mia Farrow, when at a loss for words in describing the ongoing genocidal atrocities in Sudan, relied on the photos she had taken to show an audience at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church on Thursday, April 20, that the two genocides, nearly 100 years apart, bear a startling, and urgent, similarity.
The Hollywood actress turned humanitarian activist said that she
first heard of the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan when the world was marking the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. During the course of three months, she noted, the world was transfixed by the OJ Simpson trial while one million Rwandans were hacked to death by soldiers wielding machetes.

When she learned in 2004 that similar violence was occurring, she decided to take action, saying, “My own family motto is with knowledge comes responsibility.” That year, she made her first trip to Sudan, which became her first of 13. Speaking at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church as a part of the Dr. Michael and Joyce Kolligian Distinguished Speaker Series, she began telling her the story of how she became involved by alluding to the Armenian Genocide as the first of “an unbroken chain” of massacres that followed.

“I am sorry for your loss, deeply sorry,” Farrow said. “Tragically, we have learned nothing since that first genocide of the 20th century. We, the international community, have been by-standers again and again and again.”

The statistics she rattled off to illustrate the severity of the ongoing crisis in Sudan painted a grim picture. Eighty to 90 percent of the villages of Darfur, according to one estimate, have been completely destroyed. Farrow also said a relief worker is confident 100 percent of females over the age of 8 in one camp have been raped.

The focus of Farrow’s presentation, however, was on her personal experiences in refugee camps. She related stories of those she met — many of whom she fears have since been killed.

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Using a projector, Farrow showed drawings made by children who had escaped ransacked villages, often separated from their families. “Very often, they draw the day that changed their lives,” she said as she clicked through half a dozen crayon portrayals of attack helicopters and Janjaweed militiamen shooting villagers.

At other points, Farrow showed portraits of desperate children clutching signs asking, in English, for help. She also revealed before and after photos of villages, showing the destruction that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s Janjaweed militiamen had wrought.

The three million refugees still in camps face danger every day, with Farrow noting even collecting firewood is “the Sophie’s Choice of today,” because men faced near certain execution and women risked rape and abduction by
venturing outside the camp.

Farrow had harsh criticism for the United Nations, especially noting its definition of genocide has never been used to stop violence. Al-Bashir was officially accused of crimes against humanity in 2009, and responded by expelling many of the aid workers in Sudan. He still travels freely, and just last week won reelection.

Farrow accused the UN of deferring to the power of individual leaders for fear of appearing as if it is engaging in nation-building, adding that, “Post-Westphalian notions of sovereignty have outlived their usefulness.”

She singled out China for criticism as well. Seventy percent of Sudan’s earning from Chinese oil trading has been spent on waging violence on its citizens, she said, while 90 percent of the weapons are imported from the
country. This issue had been ignored by the media, she said, until Darfur activists began raising it themselves.

Turning back to the Armenian Genocide, Farrow concluded by saying Armenians especially should feel compelled to act.

“We have a responsibility to remember,” she said, “and no one remembers that better than those of you here.”

Farrow plans to return to the refugee camps, where in addition to attempting to bring in humanitarian aid she is documenting Darfuri
cultural traditions on film.

“I will listen,” she said. “I will write down every word. I will hold broken women in my arms. I will leave that hell and return to a largely indifferent world.”

More information about Farrow’s efforts, including a list of suggestions about what can be done to help victims, is available at http://www.miafarrow.org.

Farrow was introduced by Holy Trinity pastor Vasken A. Kouzouian, who noted that Armenians especially should be taking action.

“We can relate all too well … with what continues to occur in Sudan,” Kouzouian said. “No one is born a good Samaritan or a murderer. No
one can turn us into by-standers without our consent.”