Today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day—an annual, international observance of the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire between the years of 1915 and 1923. Despite the denialist rhetoric and political coercion of leaders in Turkey, nations around the world are beginning to tell the truth about the genocide perpetrated against Armenians, and witness the Armenian community’s immense resilience and humanity. After decades of political gridlock came to an end last December, the United States joined twenty-eight countries in formally recognizing the genocide. But there’s much more that must be done to honor this history of genocide and, this year, Armenians are leading the way through an unprecedented campaign.
During Genocide Awareness Month this April, we would like to draw educators' and parents' attention to Facing History’s rich array of teaching resources on genocide. But we also invite you to deepen your own learning with these 7 brand new titles written by scholars and memoirists grappling with the nature of genocide, its impacts on people around the world, and the acts of resistance and humanity that persist amid horrific circumstances. These books range in format from survivor testimony and multigenerational biography, to accounts of historical upstanders and scholarly analysis of how we represent and teach about genocide itself.
In the midst of global catastrophe, it might seem counterintuitive to pause and acknowledge Genocide Awareness Month this April. But we cannot approach painful histories as ones to remember only when times are good. Further, this month is actually an opportunity to consider some of the tragedies that have unfolded—and may yet unfold—when people play upon fear, panic, hatred, and even apocalyptic thinking to marshal support for mass violence against particular populations. As we move through the month of April, stay tuned for these 5 new pieces of content related to the history and contemporary reality of genocide:
Commemorated with rituals and traditions, Yom HaShoah—or Holocaust Remembrance Day—helps us pause to focus on the lessons of history—painful, brutal history. In most communities, observations will feature presentations from Holocaust survivors or their children, remembrances in the flesh and—through their stories—living reminders of the exclamation, “Never again!”
In a recent interview, I spoke with internationally recognized human rights activist and Rwandan genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatete. Murekatete is the founder of the Genocide Survivors Foundation which is dedicated to preventing genocide and supporting survivors in need.
KS: For readers who are unfamiliar with the Rwandan genocide, what are some high-level details that you think are important for them to know and understand?
JM: I think that it’s very important for people to recognize that, like any genocide, the genocide in Rwanda did not happen overnight.
After I read the news, I often feel powerless. What can any of us do to prevent genocide, to dismantle structural inequalities, or to stop the other horrors we hear about in the news? The massive scale of the problems in the world can feel overwhelming, but we shouldn’t let it be paralyzing. My own involvement in activism changed dramatically in high school, when a human rights activist inspired me to hope.
For the month of April, a large banner draped over the Bay Bridge draws the attention of 250,000 drivers to the Armenian Genocide each day. On my commute to work, I asked two passengers in my rideshare if they knew about the Armenian Genocide. Aside from stating that a genocide happened in 1915, neither could tell me what happened, who the Armenians were, or where Armenia is located.
"Thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers' eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson. These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."
-Judge Fouad Riad after confirming the Srebrenica indictment of Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic on 16 November 1995.
I have long wanted to develop and teach a unit on the Nanjing Atrocities for my students at Millennium Brooklyn High School. As a high school history teacher with an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies, I see it as an important history that we seldom teach in the United States.
Images are an important entry to stories of genocides and mass violence. They provide evidence and context but they can also shock us, jolting us into the immense amount of human suffering that occurred. This is why we must be careful when we prepare lessons for students that touch on such graphic and often difficult-to-absorb topics.