Talking About the Wrong Genocide

“We’ve gathered here to mark the opening of this Holocaust Museum. We do so to help ensure that the Holocaust will remain ever a sharp thorn in every national memory, but especially in the memory of the United States, which has such unique responsibilities at this moment in history. We do so to redeem in some small measure the deaths of millions whom our nations did not, or would not, or could not save.”

~ President Bill Clinton, Remarks at the Dedication of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 21, 1993

“All of the people in this room and people in this country have a vital role to play. Everyone ought to raise their voice. We ought to continue to demand that the genocide in Sudan be stopped.”

~President George W. Bush, Remarks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, April 18, 2007

Of late, a conversation has been taking place in our Congress, contemplating whether or not they should pass a resolution recognizing the Hayoc’ c’ejaspanut’iwn, the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917.  President Bush and many other leaders oppose this resolution, as does the government of Turkey.  Much of the opposition is due to concerns about Turkey, whose government authorized the use of troops against Kurdish rebels in Iraq, and the attack by those Kurds which killed twelve Turkish soldiers

The Armenian Genocide is very important.  I wrote before here about the problem of Armenian Genocide denial.  Armenians are still a threatened minority inside Turkey.  Protecting them is important enough for us to put some risk on our relationship with the Turkish government.  But I have a big problem with our Congress talking about this issue now.

Because there is another genocide, one which isn’t getting nearly the attention it needs in Congress or in America.  That genocide is taking place right now, as I talk to you, in the nation of Sudan in the Darfur region.

Most of us have lost focus on this current genocide.  A sense of futility has set in, as the experience in Iraq leads us to fear of being caught in the middle of another civil war which we are powerless to stop.  We also have gotten what many of us believe is the most we can hope for, a U.N. peacekeeping force of 26,000 which is being deployed currently to Sudan.  Our hope is, however, dimmed by the fact that the resolution authorizing peacekeepers was “toned down after objections from Sudan’s government” in the words of the New York Times.  Further, other developments since have made the situation worse, although that has been largely ignored.

The celebrated peace accord between northern and southern Sudan, whose long-running civil war resulted in 2.2 million deaths, is collapsing.  The government of southern Sudan has withdrawn from the national unity government.  Chris Johnson, head of the United Nations mission in Abyei, says that “Our job has been hindered massively.”  Earlier this month, a massive attack on an African Union peacekeeping force killed at least ten AU peacekeepers.  The State Department, in reaction to a Senate panel authorizing state and local governments to use investments to pressure the Sudanese government, has asked that Congress to defer taking action on Darfur.  Amnesty International warns that Sudanese Army forces are massing in six Darfur towns, as Doctors without Borders orders out one of its teams there.

We have an obligation, when all the signs point to a rapid worsening of the situation in Sudan, to take action.  Our obligation is not only moral.  The United States is legally obligated, as a signatory to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The convention reads:

Article 1:
The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.

This treaty was ratified by Congress and became the law of the United States on November 25, 1988.  The President of the United States has declared the situation in Sudan genocide; there is no serious question that Congress is legally obligated to take action.

I was in attendance at the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I heard President Clinton’s address.  I can still see the words “Never Again” carved into its stone.  And I remember how less than a year later, another genocide took place, in Rwanda, and we did nothing. 

What, if they knew of it, would those who will be killed this month in Sudan think of our debate over the Armenian genocide?  Do you suppose it comforts them to know that ninety years from now, the Congress of the United States will consider officially recognizing their slaughter?

As important as the Armenian genocide is, we are talking about the wrong genocide.  As I child, I was raised to believe that any genocide anywhere is a crime against Jews everywhere.  I think that is true, but not merely of Jews.  A genocide anywhere is a crime against people everywhere.  It is a crime against me and you.  We are being damaged by it, and we will never be rid of the hurt from it as long as we live.  To fight it is the moral thing to do.  It is the legal thing to do.  It is the selfish thing for us to do.  If all the other reasons to do act to stop genocide in Sudan are not enough, we should do it for ourselves.  Every moment for the rest of our lives will be better if we make “Never Again” not only words carved in stones, but carved in our hearts.

What are we waiting for?


  1. …this will appear at Daily Kos tomorrow.

    • Temmoku on October 22, 2007 at 16:17

    but the point is that when we remember the past, we do so in order that the past mistakes are NOT repeated. Darfur is more important because it is now and we can/must do something to save those who still live. A generation or so later, people will still grieve, but will they remember that the world stood by and did nothing?

    Thanks for this.

  2. is depressing to say the least.

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