Remembering Three Histories of Genocide: Armenia, Rwanda, Europe

Jackie Dowling, Maroon-News Staff

On Tuesday, April 14, the Arts and Humanities Department hosted an event titled “A Remembrance: The Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide on the Occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.” It took place in Persson Auditorium.

The event consisted of an introduction by Associate University Chaplain and Director of Jewish Life Rabbi Dena Bodian, student presentations of poetry, two reflections by Colgate Professors and a photo presentation accompanied by a musical selection, all of which allowed the audience to reflect on the past and strive for a less violent future.

“This event brings life to the memories that would’ve otherwise been obliterated,” Bodian said.

Director of the Chapel House, Director of the Fund for the Study of Great Religions and Chair of the Religion Department Professor Steven Kepnes reflected on the Holocaust and the tendency for memory of genocide to “plague succeeding generations.” He instructed the audience on ways in which we can productively react to genocide. These productive activities include remembering the past and remaining vigilant when we see signs of genocide, art and education.

“These processes allow us to humanize victims of genocide before we honor them,” Kepnes said.

Kepnes explained that perpetrators of genocide dehumanize their victims in order to justify their actions and kill on such a mass scale. Referring specifically to the Holocaust, he mentioned how this atrocity provided a blueprint for subsequent instances of extreme violence, such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Donald M. Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities, Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing Peter Balakian spoke about the Armenian Genocide in relationship to collective memory, impunity and denial. 

He explained that memory of these kinds of events defined by extreme violence is transmitted in the culture of the perpetrator as well as the victim. The current Turkish government campaign to cover up and deny the Armenian genocide is proof of this legacy.

“Our own pursuit of knowledge is driven by our own push forward into the future,” Balakian said.

The event concluded with a moment of silence, led by Bodian, to remember and reflect on our history of these three genocides and the lives that they claimed.