The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda. 1994. 100 days. This was all it took for a band of Hutu extremists to commit the Rwandan Genocide, killing just under a million civilians. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda has prompted yearly remarks around the world. The United Nations sponsors these, discussing the horrific implications of the event. Survivors have come forth to tell their stories as they work to make impacts to prevent genocides in the future.

What Was The Rwandan Genocide?

Two neighboring castes lead Rwanda; the Tutsis and the Hutus. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi was a power struggle between these dividing castes. Although the Hutus largely outnumbered the Tutsis, with “about 85% of Rwandans,” the Tutsi had been in power for a long time. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and civilians fled to neighboring countries. Rwanda remained under the Hutu dictatorship for many years following.

Long thereafter, a group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They stormed Rwanda in 1990 and fought until 1993 when both parties agreed upon a peace deal.

However, the peace agreement broke on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a known Hutu, was shot down. Hutu extremists blamed the RPF for the killing. Soon thereafter started the mass genocide that resulted in the killing of over 800,000 people. Government troops backed up the Hutus, many of whom forced civilians and youths to fight and to exercise the slaughters. The RPF stormed the capital, Kigali, on July 4, 1994, to gain back power.

Help from The World Food Programme

The Rwandan genocide forced many civilians into starvation, often unable to provide for themselves or their families. The World Food Programme provided emergency food assistance to those in need, targeting the “fundamental role food plays for vulnerable communities fleeing from conflict.” One Rwandan that the WFP helped is Liberee Kayumba. A survivor of the genocide, she was only 12 when she lost both of her parents and brother, experiencing starvation following the conflict. Now working as a monitoring officer for the Mahama Refugee Camp organization, she helps others suffering from food insecurity.

On the WFP’s Website, Liberee tells her story. She says that the memories from the genocide helped motivate her to want to help people in need. Liberee remembers how food availability was the main problem after the genocide for her and other survivors. Therefore, she has exact memories of the meals the WFP distributed, which she thinks saved her life.

The United Nations Conducts The International Day of Reflection

The U.N. has mandated an information and educational outreach programme to help survivors and others cope with the ramifications of the Rwandan Genocide and their resulting losses. This program emerged in 2005 with the main themes of preventing genocide and supporting survivors. Around the world, events such as “roundtable discussions, film screenings, exhibits and debates” occur yearly.

The slogan of 2020’s event was International Day of Reflection. It marked the 26th anniversary of the genocide, with a virtual observance for all to join in on. Multiple officials and survivors made sure to show up, including Jacqueline Murekatete. She is a lawyer, human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Genocide Survivors Foundation. Murekatete lost her entire family in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide when she was only 9 years old.

The U.N.’s yearly observance reminds us to reflect on past events and recount what we can do to promote resilience and growth among countries facing hardships. Those this horrific event impacted have the chance to mourn and reflect, looking toward the greater good as individuals strive to create a better future for all.

– Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Rwanda
In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide that resulted in the death of approximately 1 million people and the displacement of millions more. Many are still feeling the results of this genocide to this day, just 27 years later. Studies have shown that 94% of the population witnessed at least one traumatic event during the genocide, including the death of a loved one, the destruction of their home or a threat to their lives. As a result, approximately 25% of the population meets the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every April, during the annual commemoration of the events, there is a spike in people experiencing symptoms of PTSD and anxiety. The burden of mental health in Rwanda is a pressing concern for the country and it has made great strides to tackle this challenge.

The State of Mental Health Care Globally

Mental health services are often the last health service that undergoes establishment or receives funding. Globally, mental health professionals account for just 1% of the workforce worldwide. Meanwhile, 45% of the world’s population has access to just one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, even though over 10% of the global population has a mental health disorder. These numbers are even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average rate of mental illness is about 12%. There are only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Rwanda.

What the Rwandan Government is Doing

Despite these grim statistics, the Rwandan government recognized the need for large-scale mental health services in the wake of the genocide. In 1995, it established a national mental health service with the goal of providing services within the context of the community.

Since then, mental healthcare has featured in many of Rwanda’s health goals, including Rwanda’s Fourth Sector Strategic Plan, which the country passed in 2018. This plan set goals and strategies for the nation’s health care for six years since its implementation (until 2024). It sets up several strategies for the future of care for mental health in Rwanda. These include having mental health intervention in all health centers and community units, defining the mental health package for each level, scaling up the surveillance and reporting system for following up with patients and expanding services for the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

Another strategy is the construction of a National Mental Health Care Center. The plan considers mental health alongside physical health issues such as malaria. It even includes a section ensuring people with disabilities, who are often cannot access mental health plans, have access to care.

The Rwanda Ministry of Health also teamed up with Johnson & Johnson in 2018 to establish a five-year three-pronged approach to understand the burden of mental disorders, decentralize care and increase access to affordable, quality medicine. These two plans, if implemented successfully, will provide access to mental health services for much of the country and ensure a healthier, happier population.

The Future of Mental Health Care

These plans are especially vital right now, as, due to the inherent trauma of living through a global pandemic, the burden of mental health in Rwanda and throughout the world is sure to rise. Governments need to be willing and able to commit to ensuring the continued mental health of their people. Rwanda has become an example in sub-Saharan Africa and much of the world for how to integrate mental healthcare into a national health plan. Hopefully, these plans will continue to improve the state of mental health care in the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Pixabay

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda is a small but population-dense nation in Africa neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu ethnic majority slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority in the Rwandan Genocide. Today, many people regard it as one of the most brutal genocides in history.

When the revolution ended the killing, communities had to pick up the pieces amidst trauma and broken trust. Though much healing still has to occur, Rwandans have been working tirelessly to repair the emotional scars the genocide left 25 years ago using restorative justice practices. Neighbors who so recently slaughtered each other’s families set an example for the world by making amends and living side by side in the new peace they found.

How the Rwandan Genocide Happened

Until 1959, Rwanda was a colony of Belgium, and Belgian leaders favored the Tutsi racial minority. After the Hutu revolution that established Rwanda as an independent nation in 1962, many Tutsis fled the country and took refuge in Uganda and formed the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990. The Hutu leaders increased racial profiling and accused many citizen Tutsis of being part of the RPF.

In 1994, when the Rwandan president died by assassination, Hutu militias took charge and began slaughtering Tutsis and anti-violence Hutus. Extremists blasting messages encouraging Hutus to murder their Tutsi neighbors took over government radio stations. When the RPF took power later that year, the Tutsi population had undergone decimation, and refugee camps in neighboring countries experienced overcrowding.

The RPF did not seek revenge. It established a coalition government including a constitution with no ethnic mentions which underwent ratification in 2003. The killing had stopped, but the emotional scars ran deep through Hutus and Tutsis alike. Significant measures would be necessary to repair the psychological harm that participating in and witnessing such brutal violence caused.

Addressing Trauma Through Restorative Justice

Violence occurs neither spontaneously nor in a vacuum. Experiencing trauma without opportunities to process it is a big predictor of violent behavior. Elaine Barge, director of Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University, uses the term “cycles of violence” to describe the perpetuation of violence in a community whereby victims become likely offenders due to experiencing trauma. Racial tensions beginning in colonization leading up to the Rwandan Genocide were likely sources of trauma for all ethnic groups.

Restorative Justice is an evidence-based model with a design to break these cycles. The main element in Restorative Justice is victim-offender mediation. In this process, both the victim and offender start by meeting with a mediator separately in order to prepare for the mediation. Then, if both parties are willing, they can meet in a formal conference, oftentimes including other community members. This simple act of seeing and acknowledging the other causes an empathic response for both victim and offender that can alleviate negative feelings about the traumatic event.

Everyone present shares their experiences during and after the transgression. The offender has an opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness. If the discussion is going well, all parties work together to agree on what the offender can do for retribution.

Though some risk of deepening emotional wounds exists during such a discussion, in most cases the offender is grateful for the opportunity to apologize and offer retribution, and the victim has an easier time moving past the traumatic experience. The empathic response in the brain of the offender is a crucial component reducing the chance they will re-offend.

Reconciliation

Though an International Criminal Tribunal tried high-level planners of the Rwandan Genocide, many low-level offenders participated in Gacaca courts, primarily with sponsorship from the NGO Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and oftentimes after serving many years in prison. Tutsis who watched their families die met with those murders voluntarily to restore peace in the nation. After these meetings, many Hutus and Tutsis built new homes together with communal structures such as wells. These new villages all around the country can be home to hundreds of Rwandans sharing food and caring for each other.

Mass violence like that of the Rwandan Genocide can be devastating to the well-being of communities as well as mental health on an individual level. The success of Gacaca courts lends support to the effectiveness of restorative justice for addressing trauma and rebuilding the relationships necessary to keep communities running smoothly.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

 Mental Health in Rwanda Rwanda is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda has struggled to become a stable country economically and politically since it became independent in 1962. As a developing country, Rwanda is still trying to develop its healthcare system. With years of conflict and instability, people especially struggle with mental health in Rwanda.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Rwanda

  1. The Rwandan Genocide plays a significant role. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with PTSD and one in six people suffer from depression. The reason why so many Rwandans have mental health conditions can be explained by one key event in Rwandan history. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The mass genocide caused severe trauma to survivors who still suffer from mental health issues 26 years after the event.
  2. Rwanda has very few resources. According to the World Health Organization, Rwanda has only two mental health hospitals, zero child psychiatrists, and only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a large amount of the population plagued by mental health issues, Rwanda needs more resources to help the mentally ill.
  3. Suicide rates have greatly decreased in Rwanda. In 2016, the suicide rate in Rwanda was 11 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a great improvement compared to the 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2000. An increase in mental health resources contributes to the lowering of the suicide rate in Rwanda.
  4. Increased mental health funding is essential. The average mental health expenditure per person in Rwanda is 84.08 Rwandan francs. Most citizens of Rwanda do not have the financial resources to afford mental healthcare. The government currently uses 10% of its healthcare budget on mental health services. Considering how large the mental health crisis is, the government should increase its expenditure to address the crisis. Since citizens cannot afford to pay for mental health resources, the government will need to help provide more free or affordable resources.
  5. The Rwandan Government is updating policies to address mental health. In 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set new targets for expanding mental health care services. Its purpose is to help increase access to mental health resources by decentralizing mental health and integrating it into primary care. Also, this plan calls for a decrease in the cost of mental healthcare and an increase in the quality of care. The plan hopes to accomplish strategic goals by 2024. If successful, this plan may be used as a method to help other countries establish a quality mental health plan.

The Road Ahead for Rwanda

Considering Rwanda’s violent history, it is no surprise that the population struggles with mental health. Over the years, progress has been made with regard to mental health in Rwanda. However, many more resources are needed to help address the mental health crisis in Rwanda. With Rwanda’s updated strategic plan to address the issue and an increase in expenditure, the well-being of Rwandan’s will be positively impacted.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

 

Life Expectancy in RwandaAs life expectancy in Rwanda has doubled in the past 20 years, the efforts that helped to achieve this goal are closely tied with efforts to combat poverty. If people are sick but cannot access healthcare, they cannot contribute to the economy. Conversely, if people are living in poverty, they often cannot afford to access healthcare. Ending poverty and providing medical care are closely tied, and Rwanda has made excellent progress on both fronts.

Life Expectancy in Rwanda

In the early 1990s, Rwanda was the site of a 100-day genocide, during which a million Tutsis and Hutus were killed. The genocide decimated the country, destroyed infrastructure and cast millions into poverty. Life expectancy in Rwanda reached a low of 26.2 years in 1993 at the height of the genocide, but by 2018, it had risen to 68.7 years. Furthermore, life expectancy is projected to increase to 71.4 years by 2032.

Many factors have contributed to the dramatic increase in life expectancy and overall social welfare. The Rwandan constitution secured citizens’ right to health in 2003. Accordingly, the government has invested in healthcare systems including primary healthcare systems, HIV/AIDS healthcare systems, oncology services, community-based health insurance and medical education. A dramatic increase in vaccination rates has been crucial in improving Rwandans’ health. After the genocide, fewer than 25% of children had been vaccinated against measles and polio, but today, 97% of Rwandan infants have received vaccinations against 10 diseases.

There have also been declines in deaths from tuberculosis and malaria. There has been a similar decline in maternal and child mortality: after the genocide, Rwanda had the world’s highest rate of child mortality, but today, Rwanda has caught up with the global average. Furthermore, the HIV/AIDS case and death rates have decreased. In 1996, antiretroviral therapy became available, and in the last 10 years, Rwanda’s death rate from AIDS fell faster than it did in the U.S. and Western Europe.

External investment and an increase in foreign aid have also improved Rwandans’ health. In 1995, Rwanda received only $0.50 per person for health, less than any other country in Africa. NGOs like Partners In Health (PIH) have helped increase the population’s access to healthcare and have supported efforts to rebuild public and community health systems.

Poverty in Rwanda

The percentage of people living in poverty declined by 5.8%, from 44.9% to 39.1%, between 2011 and 2014 alone. Factors contributing to the decrease in poverty include:

  • The improved health of the people of Rwanda. Strong healthcare systems can work to combat poverty, because when people are in good health and can access medical care, they are able to work and be more economically productive.
  • The government’s Vision 2020 anti-poverty objective, which fosters privatization and liberalization with the goal of promoting economic growth.
  • A thriving banking system.
  • The expansion of the service sector.
  • Entry into the East African Community, an economic bloc whose other members are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.

Poverty and Life Expectancy in Rwanda

There is a substantial intersection between Rwanda’s efforts to increase its citizens’ life expectancy and its efforts to pull them out of poverty. The efforts to ameliorate both problems of poverty and life expectancy in Rwanda are linked through public health, and each is improving because the other is. In the words of one public health expert, Rwanda demonstrates that “a nation’s most precious resource is its people.”

Isabelle Breier
Photo: Wikimedia


For decades, Myanmar’s Rohingya minority has suffered from discrimination; in 2017, an ethnic cleansing began. Three years later, with more than a million Rohingya refugees forced from their homes, the International Court of Justice declared a way forward for Myanmar — Will there be justice for this Rohingya crisis?

The Persecution of the Rohingya

Forced from their homes, thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh. In 2017, Myanmar’s security forces attacked the ethnic minority in the western state of Rakhine, triggering the Rohingya crisis. Myanmar’s armed forces, otherwise known as the Tatmadaw, participated in abuses against the Rohingya, inciting massacres, gang rape, burning and looting. More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Bangladesh, while other Rohingya were internally displaced in Myanmar. Most fled without any belongings, so the refugees rely on Bangladesh’s refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to provide life-saving assistance: food, water, healthcare, shelter and proper sanitation.

The U.N. considers this conflict to be an ethnic cleansing with “genocidal intent.” Yet the Rohingya had endured ethnic persecution for decades. In 1982, while Myanmar was governed by a military junta, the government passed a Citizenship Law stating that citizens in Myanmar could only be from certain ethnic groups — the Rohingya did not make this list. With their citizenship rights taken away, institutionalized discrimination began as the Rohingya were labeled as foreigners, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Because of this, the Rohingya were often denied access to healthcare and education; permission was also needed before marrying or traveling to a different village. Now, for the thousands of refugees, returning to their country seems impossible. For the half-million Rohingya that remain in Myanmar, targets of laws and practices that overlook their abuse, the threat of genocide persists.

Will Myanmar be Held Accountable?

While Myanmar’s civilian government and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, adamantly deny any ethnic persecution or cleansing, in January 2020 the International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must protect the Rohingya from persecution and prevent the destruction of any evidence related to the genocide allegations. The case was brought to the ICJ by The Gambia on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to advocate for the Rohingya Muslims, as Myanmar ignored previous international calls to investigate human rights violations.

With this ruling, Myanmar’s government is required to do everything possible to prevent the persecution, killing and any other bodily or mental harm of the Rohingya by the military or any other civilian group. For further accountability, Myanmar must submit a report to update the ICJ on its proceedings, and then send in additional reports every six months until the court is satisfied that the Rohingya crisis has ended. It will take several more years before the ICJ can determine whether Myanmar committed genocide.

However, the ICJ does not have enforcement power, which means that Myanmar faces a choice: to comply with the ICJ rulings or ignore them and continue the current treatment of the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi believes that the case presented before the court showed “an incomplete and misleading factual picture” of the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine. She assured the ICJ that military leaders would be put on trial if found guilty; however, the court’s ruling suggests that the case was not misrepresented and that Suu Kyi’s assurances may not be fulfilled. Therefore, the future remains uncertain for the Rohingya.

Looking Forward

While it is up to Myanmar alone to comply with the ICJ, the international community can still pressure Myanmar to follow the court’s ruling. In 2019, Senator Benjamin Cardin introduced the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act (S.1186) which aims to address the Rohignya’s humanitarian crisis. If passed, it will provide needed aid and help with resettlement. This aid will only be given once Myanmar and its military can prove they have made progress in keeping to international human rights standards. Showing support for this bill is key to get it through Congress, so contacting local representatives by calling or emailing is imperative.

The Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, stated “it is not too late for the country to change course and reorient itself to transform into a democracy that embraces human rights for all.” They believe that by addressing issues of discrimination, implementing victim-centered justice mechanisms, rewriting laws and holding those who have violated human rights accountable, Myanmar can build a new future where the Rohingya are welcome, and the refugees, like Aziza, can return home without fear of persecution.

Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About the Armenian Genocide
On Oct. 29, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to acknowledge the Armenian genocide that occurred at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during the First World War. Armenian-Americans have long-awaited this action, which was taken at a time of worsening U.S. and Turkey relations. The Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, lauded the motion on Twitter and called it “a bold step towards serving truth and historical justice.” Here are 10 facts about the Armenian genocide to further contextualize this important decision.

10 Facts About the Armenian Genocide

  1. The Armenian genocide refers to the systematic, premeditated massacre and forced deportation of more than one million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. While the number of victims of the genocide is disputed, some estimates, such as one from the U.S. Congress, puts the number of Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire at 1.5 million Armenians between 1915-1923. The genocide was an attempt by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire to eradicate the Armenian people.
  2. Prior to the twentieth century, the Armenian people had resided in the Caucasus region for approximately 3,000 years. The Armenians are predominantly Christian and in the fourth century A.D., the kingdom of Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion. In the 1400s, that empire was that of the Ottomans. Led by Muslim Turks, the Ottoman Empire was suspicious of the Armenians who they feared would be more loyal to Christian governments. Nevertheless, the Armenians thrived under the empire until its decline, beginning in the late 1800s. Ottoman discrimination towards the Armenians reached a new high as the empire grew weaker. By the 1890s, the regime was already committing mass atrocities, including the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians.
  3. In 1908, the Young Turks, a nationalistic reformist group, overthrew the Sultan and formed a constitutional government. The Young Turks wanted to “Turkify” the empire and viewed the Christian non-Turks of Armenia as a threat to their regime. Indeed, when the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Turks declared war on all Christians with the exception of their allies in the war. World War I was the immediate backdrop of the Armenian genocide. The Turks used it as justification for their persecution of the Armenians, whom the Turks called traitors. As the war dragged on and some Armenians sought to aid the Russian army against the Ottomans, the Turkish regime set out to remove Armenians from their Eastern front.
  4. Historians consider the beginning of the genocide to be April 24, 1915. On this day, the Turks arrested and killed between 50 and more than 100 of Armenian intellectuals. After that, the Turkish government sent thousands of people on death marches and deprived them of basic needs, such as food and water. Often, Armenians were forced to walk naked until they died. The government had other gruesome ways to kill Armenians, including burning people alive.
  5. Most of the killings occurred between 1915-1916, during which period the Ottoman Empire systematically slaughtered and terrorized Armenians by raping, starving, shooting, drowning and maiming them. Many Armenians died from disease or were subjected to mass deportations as well. Even after World War I, the Turkish nationalist government continued its persecution of Armenians and other ethnic minorities in Cilicia, Smyrna (Izmir) and the Armenian highlands. The nationalist regime confiscated property from Armenians in order “to finance the ‘Turkification’ of Anatolia” and to incentivize ordinary Ottoman citizens to take part in the ethnic cleansing campaign.
  6. Ottoman forces sought to rid of the region of Armenian landmarks such as churches, homes and other cultural sites by destroying or confiscating the properties. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “tens of thousands of Armenian children were forcibly removed from their families and converted to Islam” because the Ottoman government wanted them to assimilate into Turkish society. In some cases, children could convert to Islam in exchange for staying alive. In addition to the Armenians, the Ottoman government targeted non-Turkic minorities, namely Yezidis, Assyrians and Greeks.
  7. Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Armenian genocide, though the Turkish government acknowledges that some atrocities happened. However, the government argues that the killings of the Armenians were not systematic or premeditated and were an unavoidable consequence of the war. Recognition of the Armenian genocide is illegal in Turkey, as it is considered to be “insulting Turkishness.”
  8. Recognition of the genocide by the U.S. is controversial because of the United States’ alliance with Turkey. For the first time in decades, the entire U.S. House of Representatives considered and decided to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. At the time of the ethnic cleansing and since then, the U.S. has condemned the Turks’ genocidal activities on various occasions. U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1913-1916), Henry Morgenthau, declared the Ottoman’s actions as a “campaign of race extermination” and organized protests by officials against the Ottomans. The U.S. government officially recognized the genocide in May 1951, April 1981, 1975 and in 1984.
  9. The Armenian genocide still has consequences to this day. There are 7-10 million people in the Armenian diaspora, and 3 million people in Armenia, who are descendants of the genocide. The genocide is, for some, core to Armenia’s identity. Yet others would like for Armenia to move and focus on problems in their own country. Turkey’s refusal to recognize the genocide affects its politics today and its relations to Armenia. However, there are groups (including liberal intellectuals and Kurdish groups) in Turkey that have acknowledged and apologized for the genocide.
  10. Denial of the genocide has far-reaching implications. Turkey’s denial of the genocide has hindered peace between Turkey and Armenia. This denial undermines the commitment to preventing future genocides and atrocities. The institutionalized denial shields the perpetrators of the genocide from blame. The U.S. has refused to acknowledge the genocide as such, under the argument that doing so would threaten regional security and U.S. interests in the Middle East. Turkey’s genocide denial has perpetuated the distrust and resentment Armenians have towards the Turks, as well as anxiety Armenians have that they are still under threat.

H. Res. 296: Affirming the United States Record on the Armenian Genocide

The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution acknowledging the genocide. This action is significant, as the previous U.S. attempts to recognize the genocide have resulted in renewed bilateral talks between Turkey and Armenia. Another positive effect of the United States’ recognition of the genocide is that it is front-page news across Turkey. Thus, recognition of the Armenian genocide brings greater awareness to it, especially to Turks who never knew it occurred since the history of the mass killings was omitted from school books.

On April 8, 2019, Representative Adam Schiff [D-CA-28] introduced H.Res. 296 which had 141 cosponsors, including 120 Democrats and 21 Republicans. The House passed the resolution on Oct. 29, 2019, by a margin of 405 to 11. In the weeks leading up to the vote, Turkey outraged members of Congress by its ground offensive against the Syrian Kurds and U.S./Turkey relations have continued to sour since then.

On Dec. 12, 2019, the Senate unanimously voted to affirm the Armenian genocide, despite the Trump administration’s objections.

The Armenian genocide was a horrific tragedy that led to the deaths of one and a half million people, yet many people still deny the reality of the genocide for political reasons. As these 10 facts about the Armenian genocide prove, the mass ethnic cleansing did happen, and its effects are felt to this day.

– Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

5 Mental Health Effects of the Yazidi Genocide
In the past few years, the Yazidi populations of northern Iraq and northern Syria have faced forced migration, war, the enslavement of women and girls and genocide. These traumatic events have resulted in several, severe psychological problems among Yazidis. A lack of adequate treatment and a prolonged sense of threat compounds the five mental health effects of the Yazidi genocide.

The Yazidis, a Kurdish religious minority, practice a non-Abrahamic, monotheistic religion called Yazidism. When the so-called Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it specifically targeted the Yazidis as non-Arab, non-Sunni Muslims. ISIS has committed atrocities against the Yazidis to the level of genocide, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC); these crimes included the enslavement of women and girls, torture and mass killings. This violence caused many Yazidis to suffer from severe mental health disorders.

5 Mental Health Effects of the Yazidi Genocide

  1. Disturbed Sleep: According to a study by Neuropsychiatrie, 71.1 percent of Yazidi refugee children and adolescents have reported difficulty sleeping due to the trauma they have experienced. These sleeping problems include trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and nightmares. Children are afraid that if they fall asleep they will not wake up again. Importantly, disturbed sleep will worsen other problems, such as anxiety.
  2. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: PTSD is one common mental illness that the Yazidi genocide caused. According to the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 42.9 percent of those studied met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Women and men experienced traumatic stress differently. Women with PTSD were more likely to show symptoms such as “flashbacks, hypervigilance, and intense psychological distress.” Men with PTSD more frequently expressed “feelings of detachment or estrangement from others.” Additionally, more women than men reported having PTSD. According to a study that BMC Medicine conducted, 80 percent of Yazidi women and girls who ISIS forced into sex slavery had PTSD.
  3. (Perceived) Social Rejection: Perpetrators of genocide have often employed systematic sexual violence against women to traumatize the persecuted population. In addition to the devastating injuries women experience, they also suffer from several psychological disorders, including PTSD, anxiety, depression and social rejection. Families and communities frequently reject survivors; Yazidi women who suffered enslavement perceive social rejection and exclusion from their communities at high rates. For instance, 40 percent of Yazidi women that BMC interviewed avoid social situations for fear of stigmatization, and 44.6 percent of women feel “extremely excluded” by their community. Social support is a crucial way to alleviate some of the pain from sexual violence and enslavement since rejection from their community magnifies the likelihood that girls will experience depression. Thus, social support, such as community activities organized by schools, can help by decreasing the factors that worsen psychological disorders like depression and by increasing the rate at which girls report instances of sexual violence.
  4. Depression: The Neuropsychiatrie researchers also found that one-third of the children they studied had a depressive disorder. In another study by Tekin et al., researchers found that 40 percent of Yazidi refugees in Turkey suffered from severe depression. Similarly, a 2018 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF/Doctors without Borders) study in Sinuni found that every family surveyed had at least one member who suffered from a mental illness. The most common problem was depression. As a response to the growing mental health problems among Yazidis, MSF has been providing emergency and maternity services to people at the Sinuni General Hospital since December 2018. MSF has set up mobile mental health clinics for those displaced on Sinjar mountain and provides services such as group sessions for patients. In 2019, MSF health care officials conducted 9,770 emergency room consultations, declared 6,390 people in need of further treatment in the inpatient wards and have helped 475 pregnant women give birth safely. While MSF has increased its health care activities in the region, there are still people on the waiting list to receive treatment.
  5. Suicide: Since the ISIS takeover of the Sinjar region of Northern Iraq, the Yazidis’ historical homeland, the incidents of suicide and suicide attempts among Yazidis have increased substantially according to Médecins Sans Frontières. The methods of suicide or attempted suicide include drinking poison, hanging oneself and drug overdose. Many Yazidis, particularly women, have set themselves on fire. To alleviate this uptick in suicide and other negative mental health effects, MSF increased its presence in the area and offered psychiatric and psychological health care. Since the start of this initiative in late 2018, MSF has treated 286 people, 200 of whom still receive treatment today.

In the aftermath of ISIS’ genocide against the Yazidis of northern Iraq and northern Syria, many survivors have experienced mental health problems stemming from the trauma. These genocidal atrocities will have long-term psychological effects on the Yazidis, but such issues can be mitigated by psychological care. The five mental health effects of the Yazidi genocide outlined above prove the necessity of such health care for populations that have endured genocide and extreme violence.

– Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

 

Destruction of the Thracian BulgariansThough somewhat obscure today, the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians refers to the systematic expulsion of the native Christians (Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians) in Eastern Thrace. These atrocities occurred during and after the Second Balkan War of 1913. Additionally, it involves some of the figures later complicit in the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Historians increasingly view the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians as a prototype for subsequent Ottoman campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

Today, the descendants of Thracian Bulgarian refugees remain attached to their Thracian heritage. Amazingly, this is despite gradual assimilation into the dominant culture of Bulgaria. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians remains a point of contention between the governments of Turkey and Bulgaria.

9 Facts About the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians

  1. Although the Ottoman census of 1906-1907 indicated a Muslim majority in five of Eastern Thrace’s counties, non-Muslims possessed numerical and cultural significance. Moreover, both Muslims and non-Muslims occupied positions across the empire’s social strata from peasant farmers to imperial administrators. Therefore, despite Ottoman claims to the contrary, Eastern Thrace’s character transcended a single religion and ethnicity.
  2. The Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians consists of mass deportations and atrocities against Thracian Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians. This arose from the late Ottoman Empire’s suspicion of non-Muslim minorities. The transformation of Eastern Thrace from a core to a peripheral territory occurred following the Balkan wars of independence. Ottoman officials saw ethnic minorities as a liability to the cohesion and security of the state. In place of deported or massacred Thracian Christians, the Ottoman state settled Muslim refugees from the western Balkans.
  3. With the expulsion of Bulgarian forces and the Ottoman reoccupation of Eastern Thrace during the Second Balkan War, non-Muslims faced accusations of disloyalty and subversion. Locals and officers alike singled out Thracian Armenians in particular as untrustworthy. These assumptions played on ethnic prejudices that precipitated the 1906 Adana massacre. They would reach a fever pitch during the Armenian Genocide of World War One. Thus, in Malgara, occupying Ottoman forces accused the local Armenians of appropriating property from Muslims, which incited a mob to murder 12 Armenians and raze 87 houses.
  4. On July 14, 1913, the recapture of Rodosto (present-day Tekirdag) from Bulgaria by Ottoman volunteer forces occurred. Local Christians and Jews were told they must surrender “government” property. In framing local non-Muslims as unjust appropriators of property, this stirred volunteers arriving by an Ottoman battleship. Further, they despoiled the town’s unarmed non-Muslim inhabitants, killing 19 people in the process and displaced others. This constitutes one of the most serious massacres of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  5. Mass expulsions of Thracian Bulgarians and Greeks, punctuated by intermittent killings, characterized Ottoman policy in Eastern Thrace. This occurred even after the September 29, 1913 peace treaty between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. Where voluntary deportation proved unfeasible, the Interior Ministry resorted to tax and labor levies to coerce emigration. The government signed three population exchange agreements between 1913 and 1914. These agreements were biased in favor of Muslim refugees from Balkan countries and against Christian refugees from Ottoman Thrace. This granted de facto legitimacy to a long-established reality arising from the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians.
  6. Enver Pasha played a role in fomenting violence against the Bulgarians and Greeks of Western Thrace across the Ottoman-Bulgarian border. Later, Enver Pasha became one of the architects of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides. Led by Enver Pasha, a coterie of fighters forded the Maritza river and razed 22 Bulgarian villages to the west of the Maritza river. Reportedly, these forces killed thousands of Bulgarians. However, the Ottomans did not regain Western Thrace.
  7. The process of resettling refugees in the wake of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians placed a strain on the Bulgarian state and people. The experience of property expropriation without compensation left the refugees initially reliant on the assistance of the Bulgarian government and people. Substantial aid only arrived in the 1920s when the League of Nations provided loans to permanently house the refugees (incidentally, the first methodical policy of its kind).
  8. Attempts to preserve the cultural uniqueness of the Thracian Bulgarians spurred the formation of the Thracian organization. This organization protested the 1925 Agreement of Friendship between Bulgaria and Turkey. The agreement essentially validated the uncompensated appropriation of Thracian Bulgarian territory by the newly-established Turkish Republic. Though the post-World War Two communist regime suppressed Thracian associations, the fall of communism promoted their resurgence. Today, the associations seek to maintain the Thracian culture within Bulgaria and Turkey without advocating for an explicit right of return.
  9. In 2011, the Bulgarian Parliament voted for a proposal urging Bulgaria and Turkey to negotiate compensation for property expropriated during the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan displayed a willingness to negotiate over the matter in October 2010. The issue of compensation remains unresolved.

Although it transpired over a century ago, the legacy of the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians persists. Descendants of those directly affected especially recognize the importance of this history. The role as the prototype for the genocides of the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians during World War One is also key. Further, this confirms that the Destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians is anything but peripheral to an understanding of the twentieth century’s upheavals.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Five Facts about the Ethiopian Genocide
Genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people, and in a particular, an ethnic group. It is a barbaric tactic people sometimes use in an attempt to solve problems of unrest in a region. Unfortunately, human society has still committed this deplorable act in the 21st century. Here are five facts about the Ethiopian Genocide.

5 Facts About the 2003 Ethiopian Genocide

  1. The Persecuted: The Anuak people are a minority ethnic group that occupies south-west Ethiopia and parts of South Sudan. The majority of the Ethiopian Anuak live in the Gambella forest region where they have hunted and cultivated agriculture for centuries. Contemporary Anuaks are evangelical Christians that still practice some tribal traditions within their tight-knit villages.

  2. When the Genocide Happened: The Ethiopian Genocide happened on December 13, 2003. It is important to notice that this was not an isolated incident but a continuation of decades of racial discrimination. In 1979, the government seized Anuak land in order to have access to fertile grounds for farming in the name of economic expansion. The Ethiopian government then relocated peasants into the land over the next decade. Many Anuak fled the country throughout the 1990s in order to avoid further civil unrest. Over 2,000 of the Anuak settled in the United States and most settled in Minnesota through a refugee program. The 2003 Genocide was neither the beginning nor the end of their suffering. Raids that destroyed many villages drove 10,000 Anuak people out of their homes throughout the following year.

  3. What Happened During the Genocide: Ethiopian soldiers carried out the massacre in conjunction with members from other local tribes. Ethiopian government absolved the military of any blame for the genocide, but eyewitnesses say that it was a coordinated attack. Eyewitness accounts said that soldiers raided Anuak homes, dragged out their residents and shot them. Meanwhile, members of other tribes were attacking the Anuak with machetes. The soldiers then burned down the houses. A survivor reported that they had collected 403 bodies by the end of the genocide. Anuak refugees in the United States received phone calls from their relatives reporting such events. The Ethiopian Federal Minister of the Gambella region tried to suppress the accusations, calling them fabrications. However, the World Organization Against Torture and Genocide Watch (WOATGW) has corroborated the reports in order to keep others from pushing them into obscurity.

  4. The Reasons for the Genocide: There are no justifications for ethnic cleansing, but a vicious cycle of retribution killings can trigger catastrophic events. Tensions in the Gambella region were high. The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) displaced over 100,000 refugees onto Anuak land. Outbreaks of violence began to occur between the Anuak and these refugees, many of which were members of a rival tribe, the Nuer. The genocide commenced as a counter-attack against the Anuak people after Anuak gunmen allegedly ambushed a car containing eight government administrators.

  5. The Anuak People Now: Ethiopia is making progress in the right direction to ensure that large scale violence and genocide will not be in its future. Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, elected in April 2018, has since recognized that there have been abuses of power by Ethiopian security forces. In December 2018, the Anuaks of Ethiopia could publicly recognize the anniversary of the genocide for the first time.

Genocide is not an experience that many modern Americans can relate to. It appears as a relic of nearly a century ago. These five facts about the Ethiopian Genocide recognize and keep the memory of past violence alive in order to keep the violence from repeating again.

– Nicholas Pirhalla
Photo: Flickr