Genocide Is on World Agenda Once Again


Once again, the human conscience is bleeding when actions to stop a genocide become hostage to political expediency. Genocide, particularly in modern times, has become a convenient method or tool to expel or exterminate indigenous people to usurp their land, properties and wealth and it is exercised when political conditions are ripe for that kind of crime.

We need to remember that the Armenian Genocide took place during World War I and the Jewish Holocaust during World War II. Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans and Darfur all had their particular hallmarks and political circumstances to make mass murder continue unhindered.

Today, mankind is facing another genocide, this time around in Myanmar, and again political expediency is in action to halt the crime in its tracks.

The hearts of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power were bleeding in view of the dictatorial treatment of the Libyan people by the regime of Muammar Gadhafi, and they worked to topple him, destroying the most egalitarian regime in the Middle East. Yet today the US State Department is hesitating to define the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people as a genocide, allowing the Myanmar military to continue its grisly campaign and bring it to completion.

On September 3, the United Nations released a report on its findings on the atrocities carried out by the Myanmar military against the country’s Rohingya minority. Those atrocities include the mass executions of villagers, the public rapes of women, the burning of entire villages to the ground and deporting the survivors to neighboring Bangladesh.

During recent months, 720,000 Rohingyas have been deported to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, to join 200,000 of their kin who had been deported there earlier.

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The atrocities described in the UN report read very much like a page from the Armenian Genocide. The report recommended that the senior military officials be prosecuted for acts of genocide and other war crimes. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, concurred with the report, adding that the State Department’s own fact-finding report was “consistent” with the UN findings. The ambassador stopped short of describing the atrocities as genocide, because she is cognizant that she would be stepping in another territory, that of the legal definition of the term. Later on, the State Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauret, cautioned against rushing into the use of the term genocide, saying: “To the average person, of course, these things are incredibly horrific, and it seems like we should just slap a label on something. Well, they are complex, legal designations that have legal meanings and weight in courts around the world.”

That is why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan succumbs to tantrums every time a head of state defines the Armenian experience as “genocide” and that is why German Chancellor Angela Merkel avoided the term in Armenia, despite the fact that her government had adopted a resolution about the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, the term is a charged one with consequences leading to restitution and punishment.

There is also a confluence in the UN report and the US State Department findings on the term “premeditation.” The UN Genocide Convention has assigned a special significance in prosecuting the genocide when the element of premeditation is present, similar to individual cases of a crime.

Therefore, any historian who questions the premeditation of the Armenian Genocide in the face of overwhelming documentation, is contributing to the denialists’ cause.

All genocide perpetrators seem to use the same textbook not only in the execution of the crimes, but in preparing the atmosphere and the excuses to justify committing those crimes.

The scene for today’s atrocities was set a long time ago. The discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims was legalized in 1982 when the military government in Myanmar (then Burma) enacted a law which identified eight different ethnic groups entitled to citizenship, but excluding the Rohingya, which until then had been treated as equals. Then, in 2012, persecution of the Rohingyas began in earnest following the rape of a Buddhist woman. At that time, violence forced 140,000 Rohingyas into internal displacement camps.

Once they were denied citizenship, it was easy to label them as Bengali refugees who had settled in Myanmar rather than people who had lived in the country for generations. And when persecution led to self-defense, demagoguery emerged and served as the excuse that the military was trying to quell an Islamic insurgency. The self-defense group created among the Rohingya was called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

The Ottoman government used a relocation policy against the Armenians to reduce their population proportions vis-à-vis the Turks or Muslims in general, since they had aligned the Kurds to support them as fellow Muslims. Then, when out of desperation, the Armenians had to resort to acts of self-defense which played into the hands of the authorities, who would say they have to fight terrorism.

Today, the Kurds constitute almost 25 percent of the population in Turkey and their ethnic identity is under constant attack. And as the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) fights for Kurdish human rights, they are labeled as terrorists and Europe and the US conveniently adopt the same policy against Kurdish rights.

The same scenario is unfolding in Myanmar. Besides one million deported refugees, about 392 villages are partially or totally razed in the northern Rakhine state. A total of 37,700 buildings are damaged. About 70 percent of the homes have been burned.

Despite the agreement worked out with Bangladesh, not a single Rohingya family has returned to Myanmar where the military government refuses to put in place security measures.

The UN report calls for six military officials to face trials for perpetrating genocide in Myanmar. It also condemns the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to stop the atrocities. For a long time, when she was under house arrest, she won the world’s sympathy as an icon of democracy, so much so that she received the Nobel Peace Prize. But today, she has remained silent about the elimination of a large chunk of the country’s population or even supported the actions of the military junta against the “terrorists.” Her case is very much like another ruler in Asia, Rachmawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of President Sukarno, who was deposed by General Suharto, perpetrator of the genocide of one million ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Once she became president, she joined the military to persecute the ethnic minorities in the Aceh region and East Timor.

The military junta denies committing genocide and stands in defiance. To carry further that arrogance, the government this week jailed two journalists working for Reuters, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, charging them with treason and betraying military secrets. In reality, they were documenting the systematic killings of Rohingyas by the military units.

This incident is exactly reminiscent of Erdogan jailing Turkish journalists who had documented Turkey’s secret arming of terrorist groups in Syria.

It was a courageous act by the UN to investigate the Rohingya case and come out with a clear message about holding the military leaders accountable. Yet, how to implement the recommendations remains challenging, first because it needs a vote at the UN Security Council, where veto-wielding China and Russia have been resisting any pressure on the Myanmar government. Even if a unanimous vote is taken, implementation remains questionable, as Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court.

Genocide in any country against any ethnic group resonates in the hearts and minds of all Armenians and many have raised their voices and tried to help the victims. Fortunately, this time around, a meaningful outlet has been found to voice the sentiments of the Armenians. Indeed, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative has announced that three international organizations — Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and MERCY Malaysia — will share the $1 million grant of Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity given to 2018 Aurora Prize Laureate Kyaw Hla Aung, to help 375,000 Rohingya refugees.

The co-founder of the Aurora Prize, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, commented on the occasion: “We remember the horrors and violence experienced by Armenians, especially women and children, during the Genocide and we strongly believe that these humanitarian projects recommended by our latest laureate Kyaw Hla Aung will have a long-lasting positive impact for the Rohingya people in Myanmar and beyond.”

It could not have been said any better.



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