Armenians Should be on Forefront of Efforts to Stop Genocide in Darfur
by Harut Sassounian May, 2007
On Sunday, May 20, I attended a Darfur Observance Day rally held at the renowned First AME Church in Los Angeles. The event was co-sponsored by the City of Los Angeles, First AME Church, Jewish World Watch and the American Jewish Committee. More than one thousand guests from all faiths, colors and creedswere in attendance.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke eloquently calling for the immediate end of the mass killings of the innocent people of Darfur. The Mayor referred twice to the Armenian Genocide as the first genocide of the 20th Century.
Janice Kamenir-Reznik, President of the Jewish World Watch (JWW), described the various efforts of her organization in support of the victims of the genocide in Darfur. She said that Hitler, emboldened by the world-s lack of reaction to the Armenian Genocide, carried out the Holocaust against Jews 20 years later. Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Founder of JWW, called for action, not just words or prayers, to stop the mass killings in Darfur. Supportive remarks were also made by Sherry Weinman and Seth Brysk, the President and Executive Director respectively of the American Jewish Committee, Los Angeles Chapter, and Rev. Dr.
John J. Hunter, Pastor of the First AME Church.
As the grandson of genocide survivors, I was able to readily identify with the tragic plight of the people of Darfur. Incredibly, they are going through what Armenians experienced almost a century ago. The names and faces may be different, but the brutality and suffering are the same.
The most heart-wrenching testimony was delivered by Mohamed Yahya, Executive Director of Damanga: Coalition for Freedom and Democracy. He spoke about losing 21 members of his family in the brutal attack by the Sudanese government-sponsored Janjaweed militias on his village.
It was heart-warming to see a fellow Armenian, Rev. Berdj Djambazian, on the altar of the First AME Church, along with other religious and civilian leaders. He had brought with him a busload of his Armenian parishioners. Armenian organizations should have co-sponsored this important observance and taken part in the program. Some Armenian groups, particularly the ANCA, have joined in other actions supporting the people of Darfur. The time has come for large numbers of Armenians, not just community leaders, to join the expanding grassroots movement in the United States to stop the genocide in Darfur.
While fighting against the denial of a past genocide, it is imperative that Armenians do their utmost to stop a genocide that is happening in our own day.
Already up to 400,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million others have been driven from their homes. No one understands the plight of these victims better than the descendants of a past genocide.
Unless people around the globe band together to come to the rescue of those being attacked today, they themselves may become the next victims of genocide.
As the German Pastor Martin Niemoller astutely observed:
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak out for me."
With each passing day, the oft-repeated slogan, "Never Again," is becoming more and more devoid of meaning, as genocide keeps re-occurring without any preemptive or punitive measures undertaken by the international community.
Sympathetic words and lip service cannot stop genocide. Determination and tough action are necessary to prevent further bloodshed. The killing spree can only be halted by a credible international force on the ground. There must be a worldwide groundswell of public support for such action before callous government leaders would pay attention and stop the killings.
In the meantime, here are some specific actions that everyone can take to help stop the genocide in Darfur:
- Write to your elected officials urging the U.S. and U.N. to allocate more humanitarian aid to the refugees and send an international peacekeeping force to Sudan.
- Urge city, county, state and federal officials to divest from any shares in companies doing business in Sudan;
- Participate in protest rallies calling for an end to the genocide in Darfur; and
- Contribute to the Save Darfur fund (www.savedarfur.org) in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the refugees who have survived the killings.