Representatives of the most diverse countries gathered in London to narrate – in first person – the horrors of a series of exterminations, where the truth often surpassed fiction. The testimonies are touching.
Marcos Ortiz F.
Musician, Gabor Boros uses the stage as a domain through which to speak on behalf of the gypsy community who died at the hands of the Nazis. The gypsy holocaust, he says, does not occupy the same space in our collective memory as the genocide of the Jews.
The reason is that while the latter has had dozens of books written about it, the memories of the community represented by Boros have only been shared orally. “There is apathy on the subject,” he says. “But apathy is created, it does not just simply happen”.
A few meters away from Hyde Park, at the London headquarters of the Universal Peace Federation UK, UPF, Boros is one of the many speakers at the conference on Genocide organized by the Federation. There were testimonies, analyses and projections for the future.
Following Boros, Ruth Barnett, 82, takes the floor. She is Jewish woman who was born in Berlin and arrived in the United Kingdom at the age of 4, accompanied only by her 7-year-old brother. This was thanks to Kindertransport, an operation that saved more than 10,000 children of the Nazi regime. Author of a book for children and adolescents which tells of her experience, Barnett recommends visiting the National Holocaust Centre.
“I was a rescued child, otherwise I would not be here today,” she says. “I try to create awareness because a genocide does not just happen, we allow it to happen.” Conscious of how shocking most of the testimonies are, Barnett chooses to quote T.S. Elliott: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”.
Emotions increased when UPF director, Margaret Keverian-Ali, recalled the day when a young Turkish man apologised, on behalf of all the citizens of his country, for the Armenian genocide. That day, he says, all the scars left by the horrors, narrated by his ancestors, began to heal.
Raffi Sarkissian, director of the Campaign for Recognition of the Armenian Genocide (CRAG), explains that this was the first genocide of the 20th century. Between one and two million people lost their lives in the massacres of the Ottomans, which are classified as a genocide by 28 countries.
Sarkissian criticises the United Kingdom and the United States for continuing to support Turkey and emphasises that victims of genocide must work together to apply pressure to achieve due recognition.
Khalid Asinger, representative of the Kurdish genocide, which occurred at the hands of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein in the 80’s, put equal emphasis on the importance of working together. Asinger’s story is probably the harshest of all: at the age of 11, the city in which he lived was bombed and his whole family lost their lives.
For seven months, he remained in a hospital, poisoned from the use of chemical weapons, with long lasting effects on his body.
Tatiana Giraud from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second poorest country in the world, describes the sexual violence and rape that millions of women in this country experience. Congo is considered the “rape capital of the world“, with more than 400 thousand cases a year, which is, 45 every hour. Founder of the TG Foundation, Giraud describes the millions of deaths that have occurred in this African country since 1996.
The 8 stages of a genocide
The polish jurist, Raphael Lemkin, who was from a Jewish family, only coined the term in 1944. The word genocide refers to “any acts perpetrated with the intention of totally or partially destroying a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such”.
Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, has identified the 8 stages of a genocide, a classification accepted worldwide and described by practically all the speakers of the event in London.
According to Stanton, these 8 stages are predictable but not inexorable, and at each of them, there may be preventive measures in order to stop it. The eight stages are classification, symbolization, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, extermination, and denial.
During the categorisation stage, people are categorised into either “them” or “us” by their ethnic origin, race, religion or nationality. Symbolisation consists in giving names or symbols to these classifications. These first two stages don’t necessarily lead to a genocide.
The third stage, dehumanisation, consists, as its name suggests, in the denial of the humanities of the other group, who are compared to animals or illnesses, using hate propaganda.
For there to be a genocide there must be an organisation. It can be an informal organisation (militias) or formal, led by the state.
Subsequently, polarisation causes the separation of the groups and diffuses propaganda tending to exclude them.
Preparation is the process in which the victims are identified and separated according to their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are prepared and the victims see themselves obligated to use symbols to identify themselves.
Extermination consists of mass murder, legally known as genocide. Traditionally this comes accompanied by denial, which becomes an indicator of new massacres. Bodies are buried in mass graves, bodies are burned, evidence is covered up, and witnesses are intimidated.
Photos: Universal Peace Federation UK – (Translated by Shanika Whight)