This week, dozens of Weber State University students remembered mass killings committed by several dictators of the 20th century during Genocide Remembrance Week.
Stephanie Wolfe of the WSU Political Science Department was Wednesday’s keynote speaker of the event series. She elaborated on three major historical genocides and discussed reasons why students should care about them today.
A genocide is a mass killing conducted by a country’s government with the intent to eliminate a certain nationality, race, ethnic group or religious group. Wolfe presented examples from the 20th century, including the genocide against the Armenians in 1914, the Holocaust during World War II and the genocide against the Tutsi of Rwanda in 1994.
According to Wolfe, there are still two governments on genocide watch by her organization, the International Board of Genocide Scholars. Currently, the government of Burma, a country in southern Asia, and the terrorist group ISIS are both committing genocide.
According to Wolfe, apathetic behavior helps dictators consider genocide as a measure to gain or extend their power.
“There is a good chance that the international community will not intervene,” she said.
While Wolfe said much could have been done in the past, she also assumed that genocide could be largely avoided if the United Nations took action at the first stages of a genocide.
“No recent genocide has happened in a vacuum and the international community is usually aware of what is going on,” Wolfe said. Usually, it takes years to prepare for mass killings.
There is the name-calling stage, where members of a group are given titles such as “cockroaches” or “rats” to dehumanize them, followed by a stage in which human rights and the ability to participate in the public life of the society are systematically withdrawn from the group.
All of this often occurs years before the first killings, leaving ample time for international intervention if desired.
Wolfe was not alone with her call for justice.
“It would be good to see these governments (that commit genocide) get in trouble for it, because it still happens today,” said WSU vocal performance major Shaundra Johnstun before the event.
According to Wolfe, several factors make the genocide investigation difficult. In Turkey, for example, it is a crime to talk of the Armenian genocide and openly criticizing Turkey’s actions can lead to lengthy imprisonment.
“The biggest problem is denial,” Wolfe said. “I have friends who cannot go back to Turkey because they would be sent to prison.”
However, the 1914 death marches conducted by the government of the Ottoman Empire, now known as Turkey, are an indisputable historical reality. It is assumed that around two million Christians, mostly from Armenia, lost their lives in this genocide.
“It’s sad that even after more than 100 years, things like that are still happening today,” said Jamie Lobato, a public relations student. “I would love to help, but what can you even do?”