The first genocide of the 21st century is taking place in the Darfurian region of Sudan, more than 60 years since the Jewish holocaust and about 90 years after the Armenian genocide. Arab militias use child soldiers, torture, rape, and execute the people of Darfur.
The Temple Sinai of Glendale held the Glendale Interfaith Forum on genocide on Sunday where Father Vazken Movsesian, priest of the Armenian church; Robert Geminder, a Jewish Holocaust survivor; Mohamed Suleiman, Darfurian refugee; and Naama Haviv, assistant director of the Jewish World Watch (JWW) team spoke as Rep. Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Glendale, moderated the event.
It’s been years and “There is so much to be done,” said Schiff during his opening speech, “Over the past three years, more than 450,000 have lost their lives, more than 2.3 million have been forced to flee their homes and have now live in displaced homes in Sudan or in Chad, another million still live in their villages under round the clock threat. 3.5 million men, women and children are dependent on international aid for their survival.”
Rabbi Rick Schechter of the temple introduced a prayer before the panelist spoke. He asked everyone to stand as a community “of men, women, and children of different religious faiths, united and gathered to hear testimony of injustice, human cruelty, and genocide.open our ears, open our eyes, open our hearts, and our minds as we come together in search of guidance and wisdom for a broken world.”
Movsesian, Geminder, and Suleiman spoke of genocide stories they’ve experienced and heard.
In 2006, Movsesian took a trip to Rwanda to meet the survivors of the genocide and heard the same stories that his grandmother had told him of how women were raped, men were beaten and killed, and stories of children who witnessed the violence.
“In the Holocaust, 6 million Jews were killed along with 5 million non-Jews, a holocaust of 11 million people. When I was 4-years-old, my family was kicked out of the house. Germans took 18,000 Jews to a cemetery and 12,000 people were shot into mass graves that day,” said Germinder, explaining that the only reason he survived was “pure luck.” Since his family was on the first truck they remained in the back of the cemetery and as it got dark and began to snow 6,000 Jewish people were told to go home.
“In the ghetto, it was bad. I would walk out to the street and would see people hanging from telephone poles, I would see babies being thrown against the wall, my brother and I kept a low profile,” said Germinder.
Suleiman shared his experience of the Darfur genocide by saying that the victims go through the same process of being killed in shallow graves. “I had gotten a call a few days ago letting me know that there had been people getting shot in a market from vehicles passing through trying to get the tribes out of the Darfurian land.”
After the experiences of the survivors and stories of those who have felt a sense of closeness to the topic, Haviv mentioned what can be done.
“The rooms dedicated to the genocides in the Rwandan genocide museum that Father Movsesian mentioned are not enough. Since the Holocaust, there has been 38 genocides; Darfur is number 38 and I think it’s time to mean the phrase ‘never again’,” said Haviv.
“There are organizations on the ground on Darfur helping and if you’re looking to write a check, you write from your heart, if you’re interested in children, women, food, there are programs to support. Food is needed, medicine is needed, everything is needed,” said Haviv as she urged people to think beyond basic needs and reminded people that the Darfurian people need grief counseling, education, and ways to build for the future.
Haviv mentioned the importance of making a phone call before writing a check “to the president, to your member of Congress, to the UN, whoever you think needs to have that voice, whoever needs the pressure right now. Our government moves because we ask it to, that’s our job.”
“What the Darfurian people need is for the genocide to end and that’s what’s going to do it,” said Haviv.
Ruth Shure, member of the temple’s social action committee member, who helped put the event together said that the Jewish and Armenian communities have a connection to genocide and should “start engaging in dialogue.I think people become more motivated to be agents of change when it resonates deeply within them.”
“China is Sudan’s closest economic military and political partner. They buy 70 percent of Sudan’s oil and that money goes to funding the genocide. They sell Sudan small weapons; they also sell Sudan heavy arms, leg irons, and major moving equipment for the military. Chinese weapons have been found in Darfur. The Chinese government says that they can’t be blamed for selling weapons to Sudan, who move them to Darfur, but in fact they can,” said Haviv.
A woman in the audience asked why we should get involved when a message is sometimes sent that people should not meddle in what other countries are doing.
Haviv responded by saying “Genocide is different; we are not talking about the exportation of democracy, cultural relativism, we are talking about the annihilation of a people, genocide is different and responding to genocide is different when it comes to debating to what your response should be the question goes like this: Can I do something? Yes, then you do it, as much as you can do as often as you can do it, because it’s different,”.