Genocide today: From acknowledgement to prevention

Source: traumat psychologia 

History, Politics

Article by: Colette Hartwich

Editor’s Note

The Holodomor, Stalin’s genocide of Ukrainians by starvation in 1932-1933, killed millions and its effects stretched over generations. A descendant of Ukrainians from the north-central Poltava province, Colette Hartwich learned that the Holodomor survivors were not just afraid of mentioning the famine, but also felt shame about it. The “victim only” status is one of the long-term consequences in post-genocidal communities, she says in her article.

By examining the Armenian genocide and the genocide of the Rohingya people along with Holodomor, Collete Hartwich suggests how it is possible to get out of this “victim only” status. She discusses why the nations responsible for genocides must pay compensation for their deeds to prevent such crimes in the future and how to get it done in a judicial way.

What have I learned about Genocide and how

As the descendant of Ukrainian landed gentry, I have learned that even mentioning Genocide was dangerous and somehow shameful. Holodomor, the deliberate Genocide by starvation organized by Stalin, heavily hit the province of Poltava, where my ancestors were either landowners or relatively rich farmers.

Those family members who starved are never mentioned, only alluded to. Why the fear? “Because they (the Russian communists) could come back”. In addition, indeed, they are back: in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. Why the shame? It was a situation of helplessness then: grain and domestic animals, including cows (no milk) had been taken away by the army; access to the rest, of what was called the “prison of nations,” cordoned off by soldiers. One was condemned to being a victim in silence.

Read also: “Let me take the wife too, when I reach the cemetery she will be dead.” Stories of Holodomor survivors

In fact, cannibalism was the only way to survive. Soviet cruelty had destroyed human dignity. The lesson learned by the survivors here was “shut up and survive at any cost.” It is easy to see, how most of Eastern Europe still abides by these principles today.

Justice for the Armenians

My father descended from the Armenians already persecuted in the 18th century, who were happy to accept the offer of Louis XV of France to come and create their life anew in one of the most austere and cold provinces of France: Auvergne.

I am a founding member of a new French association for the defense of the memory of the Armenian Genocide. Now, that the main political institutions in the US have officially acknowledged the Armenian Genocide as a Genocide, it will be possible to set up the legal mechanisms for the descendants of the victims to ask for compensations. Already the yearlong legal fight for Incirlik, presently a strategic military airport in Turkey, situated on a family property of a descendant of an Armenian Genocide victim, is heating up.

From a socio-moral point of view, one has to start, at least, fighting the conclusion that “genocide pays”. The public has to realize that Turkey’s booming economy is largely built on Armenian deaths and the accumulated return on what was once Armenian property. This is a particularly difficult fight because at the time even very rich Armenians fled barely clothed. How could they have brought along the documents certifying property?

Legally, in such cases, the burden of the proof falls heavily on the accuser, not the allegedly guilty party. Thus, except for a little known case in California in the 70s, where a brilliant lawyer managed to put the burden of the proof on the insurance companies (accused), descendants cannot even recuperate the amount of the (important) insurance policies.

It is also important to help the victimized communities gradually to get out of the “victim only” status. In December 2017 at the VIII World Scientific Congress in UNO Geneva, I had given a talk about the transmission of trauma to future generations (“Trauma Trails: Intergenerational transmission of post-Genocide Traumas in descendants of the Armenian Genocide”). This particular field has been studied discreetly since the end of WWII around the artificial famine organized by the Nazis in one small province of the Netherlands. Since my speech, new bio-psychological science has developed: Epigenetics. It has confirmed that whatever the attitude to Genocide parents adopt the future generations will be affected. It is now believed, that these effects last at least fourteen generations and it is clear now that problems caused by Genocide are long-term. “Victim only” status is one of them. There may be some pity towards the victims and the descendants (and it is not always the case), but such pity is largely mixed with contempt, precisely because those involved are seen as passive.

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This is changing and the change reflects the socio-moral progress of our society. Two countries recently exemplified that socio-political evolution. It is of great significance that these countries are by no means rich or well-known countries.

First, Lithuania in a long legal dispute against an ex-Russian officer, who murdered many members of the Lithuanian Resistance to the Russian occupation, has successfully enlarged the 1951 UN definition of Genocide to include even a relatively small national group, if that group is/was important to the national identity. Indeed, destroying a national identity is one of the most dangerous effects of a Genocide and constitutes the main pillar of Genocide intent.

Read also: How the word “genocide” is abused in pro-Kremlin language

The other quite hopeful, recent and still evolving example of enlarging and specifying the nature and effects of Genocide. It is the Muslim African country, Gambia, suing a Buddhist country, Myanmar, at the International Court of Justice at The Hague for an ongoing Genocide of the Rohingyas, an unrecognized group of Myanmar citizens. Religion is an identity marker and it must not be forgotten that one of the first Genocides in History, the Roman Catholic Crusades, was led by the Roman Catholic Church against the Muslims, described then as “The Unfaithful”, according to Amin Maalouf in his book “The Crusades through Arab Eyes”.

The lawsuit Gambia v. Myanmar started in November 2019 at the Hague’s International Court of Justice, illustrates also the political importance of Genocide as an issue between nations because the accused legal party is led by Myanmar’s Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991 (for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights) Aung San Suu Kyi. It is vital because for the first time in history one of the accuser’s – Gambia’s – immediate goal is to obtain from the International Court of Justice at the Hague a cease-and-desist order, which would mean that those few Rohingyas still remaining in Myanmar could be protected. Long-term, it opens up the possibility of Genocide prevention, in a century that has seen so many Genocides.

It also encourages lawyers to seek to compensation and punishment because it describes and defines seven indicators of Genocide intent, where planned intent is a central element of the UN’s Genocide definition. Alexis de Tocqueville had long ago insisted on the central importance of the law in our global society. This becomes more and more obvious today. The other factor these legal fights point out is the importance of truth.

In another battle for international consciences, Ukraine, as an independent state, has asked the German Bundestag to acknowledge Holodomor, Stalin’s Genocide by starvation in Ukraine, as a Genocide. Given the Russian influence in business and politics in Germany, that will be a hard task. Both the World Ukrainian Congress and the Ukrainian Embassy in Germany launched an information campaign about Ukraine with a special focus on Holodomor.

If it does encourage the moral reflection in international law and authentic information and education efforts on behalf of foreign embassies and journalists, battles around Genocide will have helped the global social progress.

Colette Hartwich is a creator and founder of Hadassah Luxembourg, WEGA Aide Humanitaire a.s.b.l Luxembourg; Co-Founder of L’Ukraine and ALPHEE Paris. She has 40 years of experience in humanitarian and environmental assistance projects in 7 different countries all around the world: Philippines, Ukraine, Armenia among others. For more than 25 years she is educating and coaching in fields of microfinance, humanitarian and development assistance project drafting.

 


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