In March 2018, the Center for the Prevention of Genocide published a report that “Every day, Syrian men, women, and children are falling victim to the constant bombardment of their neighborhoods, schools, markets, and hospitals.” We read about it. We hear snippets of it in the news in between reports centered on the increasing abuse of power of our politicians toward the American people. We call these attacks genocide. (March 2016 Secretary of State John Kerry called these attacks genocide against Yazidis, Christians and other minorities in the region.) Syrians are being subjected to starvation, exposure, diseases, and lack of medical care; to enforced disappearances; to chemical weapons attacks—which are banned under international law—and to torture, rape, and killings. Half the country’s pre-war population (11 Million) have been killed or forced to leave their homes. The number of Syrian refugees is rapidly rising at over 5.5 million, and another 6.1 million are internally displaced.
Calling these attacks genocide is meaningless because this great nation, the United States of America, has failed to heed the lessons of the tragic history of the first genocide of the 20th century. I repeat what the Armenians have been saying for over one hundred years when the first genocide of the century occurred at the hands of Ottoman Turkey and which, to this day, has not been recognized as mass murder in genocide but which continues to be ignored and evaded—GENOCIDE AND ETHNIC CLEANSING CONTINUE IF THE RESPONSIBLE PERPETRATOR IS NOT HELD FULLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ATROCITIES OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY COMMITTED IN THE FIRST GENOCIDE OF THE 20TH CENTURY—THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE. A century after the Armenian Genocide, 7 decades after the Holocaust, and promises of Never Again, the living hell continues…Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Burma, South Sudan and so many more…and Syria, a regime targeting its own people while the international community stands by.
From the beginning, Bashar Al Assad’s regime, like his father Hafez before him, directly targets civilians to punish and seek revenge on real or perceived opponents of the government and to secure military assets and regain territory lost to opposition fighters. Their response is with bloody assault. In 1982, unarmed protesters were mowed down by bullets and tank shells. An entire city was killed with reports of chemical attack putting the number at 20,000 while the Syrian Human Rights Watch put the number at 40,000. Still more were detained and tortured. Reports by Syrian Human Rights Committee claimed “over 25,000” or “between 30,000 and 40,000 people were killed.” This month’s exodus of civilians from Syria is a reminder of how the conflict that sparked today’s worst humanitarian catastrophe continues to hit new lows as it enters its eighth year.
Somewhere we have lost ourselves as humans. We, meaning the western “we,” who assume that we are totally separate from other countries and peoples. Somewhere, we have lost our compassion, choosing politics and material over people. It is definitely not what makes our country– a nation of immigrant mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers—great. At a glance we see hundreds of faces of children, of families. The faces have no names to a nation of materialism, mass conveniences and decisions of exclusion. But look at their faces. Their dark stained cheeks where tears have run, the barren stares, the hollow eyes. All are famished, desperate, displaced, devastated, lonely, and frightened. It is an image we’ve seen thousands of times in our history. Their clothing differentiate the dogma but they don’t separate the grief. The loss is universal. Each a picture of death asking for prayer, kindness and compassion. In the name of humanity.
Whether we want to accept it or not, we are part of this system, each one of us. We are all entitled to human rights by the very consequence of being human. If we shrug our shoulders and usurp our own power to make a change, to create even a tiny revolution of our own doing, we follow suit with the international community that has failed to uphold the commitment of “Never Again” made at the end of World War II. (Had it been made and upheld by recognition of the Armenian Genocide, perhaps the course of history would have been brighter.) Should we not rise against such atrocities? Should we not stand up and fight for ourselves and others? When will humanity become so concerned that we band together to put a stop to such injustice?
On April 24, Armenians across the globe will once again band together to march for justice. They will be taking on their shoulders the responsibility of creating a tiny revolution, with a river of humanity for a better world that professes “Never Again.” For the sake of humanity. It starts with me. It starts with you. Because we are humanity. If we choose to be.