Panel Provides Context for Genocide

Rikard Kohler, Entertainment Editor

With the goal to contextualize genocides that have taken place in recent history and enlighten the audience gathered in Kreider Hall on the subject, Glendale College hosted a panel lecture that consisted of faculty and a community member on April 7.

The Spring 2015 lecture series on cultural diversity called “The Road to Social Change,” in cooperation with GCC Armenian Genocide Centennial Commemoration Committee, hosted a three piece panel of college and community representatives to share historical context and insights on how to prevent future genocides.

“The lecture was very important because it brought other genocides into the topic, too, so people can connect and see that genocides are going on today too,” President of the GCC Armenian Student Association Liza Hakobyan said. “It is important to bring awareness to it so that everybody knows [about genocides] and if we all stick together, we can put a stop to it around the world.”

Since the Armenian Genocide, history professor Robyn Fishman, who moderated the event, said that 24 more genocides have been recognized. However, the first panelist, history and ethnic studies professor Roger Bowerman explained that systematic killings of different peoples have occurred many more times throughout history,
even though they are not considered genocides.

Bowerman explained that with the colonization of California by Franciscan missionaries, which began in 1769, the indigenous population suffered a 95 percent population decrease during the next 150 years. This happened through diseases introduced by the Europeans, as well as government-induced eradication programs.

“They [the Californian government] put bounties on heads [of the natives],” Bowerman said.

Although dehumanization occurred, which is one of the criteria for defining genocide, this is not recognized as genocide. This is because the Franciscan Missionaries had no intent – another defining criteria – to kill the natives, but  to “civilize” and save them from their “savage” lives.

The panel’s second speaker, Ethnic Studies instructor Elizabeth Kronbeck, proceeded to explain eugenics, which is the pseudo science behind creating a “master race” through social darwinism. She then described how this mindset led to many instances of dehumanization, such as forced sterilization and the most infamous genocide of all time: the Holocaust.

Social Darwinism is the idea that only those with favorable genetic traits should prevail and be allowed to carry on future generations.

“[According to Social Darwinism] if I were to take a male A student and a female A student and make them have a baby, it would be an A
baby,” Kronbeck said.

Although most prevalent in Germany during WWII with more than 350,000 documented cases, forced sterilization laws existed in America until 1983. Oregon was the last state to repeal the practice. However, no forced sterilizations were documented in the state after 1963.

Up until 1964, eugenics was the reason for 20,108 forced sterilizations in California.

The genocide that came to be known as the Holocaust started when Nazi Germany, faced with possible defeat, decided to speed up the eugenics process and began the systematic killing of Jews.

After the war, when the Nazi’s crimes against humanity came to light, the U.S. officially backed off from eugenics practices.

“After seeing what the Nazis had done in trying to create a ‘master race,’ many Americans realized that this was not such a great thing, but as the numbers show, forced sterilizations of women clearly continued,” Kronbeck later said in an email.

“This is what surprises most people, because again, the assumption is that it stopped after WWII,” she said.

Last to speak was Vazken Movsesian, a priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church whose presentation was about the Rwandan Genocide that occurred a mere 21 years ago.

As a second generation Armenian Genocide survivor, Movsesian explained the many similarities between the firsthand accounts he witnessed when he visited Rwanda ten years after the genocide and the tales passed down to him from his grandparents.

“Going to Rwanda was like being in Armenia in 1925,” Movsesian said. “Except for the color of their skin, they [the Rwandans] were exactly the same.”

The genocide in Rwanda reaped more than one million lives, and even though this genocide occurred with timeliness proximity, a similar genocide is still happening today in Darfur, which the US government fails to recognize due to the lack of economic interest and the color of the victims’ skin, Movsesian explained.

Movsesian finished the lecture by stressing the importance of ending genocides, and in order to do so, people should not approach the subject with hate-filled hearts, but armed with knowledge and forgiveness.

“We’ve got to stop fighting fire with fire, and start using some of that water we have been given,” he said.