‘Some Perspectives on Genocide’

 By Desmond Fernandes.[i]

 

Presented at the ‘Holocaust Commemoration and Genocide Awareness’ meeting, the House of Commons, Committee Room 16, Westminster, 4th February 2014. Organised by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) and hosted by Mr Virendra Sharma, MP.

Desmond Fernandes, in his presentation, highlighted some of the key perspectives of Raphael Lemkin (who coined the neologism genocide), Khatchatur Pilikian, Gregory Stanton and John Docker on genocide. Pilikian, on the occasion of Hrant Dink Day on 19th January 2010, had observed that:

Our turbulent times … will soon teach us new lessons, granted we are willing to learn and act upon it. As the Preamble of the Verdict of the prestigious Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal of April 16th 1984 concludes: ‘Indeed, acknowledging genocide itself is a fundamental means of struggling against genocide. The acknowledgement is itself an affirmation of the right of a people under international law to a safeguarded existence’.

As President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and President of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton had noted that: “In 1997, The International Association of Genocide Scholars declared unanimously that the Turkish massacres of over one million Armenians was a crime of genocide … Denial … is actually a continuation of the genocide, because it is a continuing attempt to destroy the victim group psychologically and culturally, to deny its members even the memory of the murders of their relatives That is what the Turkish government today is doing to Armenians around the world … [In terms of evidence, there are] thousands of pages of eye-witness reports from Armenian survivors, American consular officers, missionaries, and most tellingly, in the archives of the Ottoman Empire’s allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, as well as by the records of the Ottoman Courts-Martial of 1918-1920”. Other sources, Fernandes noted, abound.

Raphael Lemkin had also explained part of his reasoning behind creating the term and concept of genocide: “I understood that the function of memory” – in reflecting upon these substantive issues – “is not only to register past events, but to stimulate human conscience” to act to confront and address these terrible actions, and to be mindful of the repercussions they have on individuals and collectives of people, on women, children, relatives of the disappeared, widows, so, so many people. For Lemkin, genocide did:

not necessarily involve mass killing; [genocidal actions] can be incremental, involving aspects that are cultural, political, social, legal, intellectual, spiritual, economic, biological, physiological, religious and moral. Such actions involve issues of health, food and nourishment, of family life and care of children and of birth as well as death. Such actions involve considerations of the honour and dignity of peoples [as opposed to their debasement] and the future of humanity as a world community …

He points to recurring features in historical genocides: mass mutilations; deportations under harsh conditions often involving forced marches; attacks on family life, with separation of men and women and the taking away of the opportunity for procreation; removal and transfer of children; destruction of political leadership; death from illness, hunger and disease through overcrowding on reserves and in concentration camps (Docker, 2010).

Lemkin also wished to clarify that political and cultural genocide were terms he considered all too relevant. Unfortunately, Cold War posturing by both the USSR and the US effectively gutted the Genocide Convention of key aspects pertaining to these phenomena. More recently, Fernandes reported that there had been a number of initiatives to more fully integrate culturally genocidal actions into the framework of the Convention, as well as political genocide.

He stressed the importance of holding genocidal perpetrators to account in a court of law, following due process, but noted, in the full text of his presentation,[ii] the questionable manner in which the International Criminal Court (ICC) functioned to secure ‘justice’ (whether relating to genocidal or other crimes). In the full text of his presentation, he made reference to Edward Herman’s 2013 findings regarding “features of the ICC that reveal its structured bias. For one thing, its charter does not make aggression a punishable crime, in this regard following the plan of the ICTY [the Yugoslavia tribunal]. This is convenient for the United States and its principal allies as they engage in aggression often, so it is excluded although it is the most basic and important criminal act and is a fundamental element of the UN Charter. Furthermore, the ICC’s reach is limited to states that sign on to it, or when the Security Council requests that it act. The United States signed the original Rome statute in December 2000, but it has never ratified that statute, so while denying ICC jurisdiction over its own acts, it feels free to bring cases for the ICC to enforce against others. Given its power in the Security Council, Darfur and selected other African states can be subjected to an ICC indictment, but not the United States, Israel, or Kagame’s Rwanda”.

In his presentation, Fernandes also felt that John Docker’s (2010) reflections on the nature and concept of genocide were relevant:

The definition of genocide … always has a double character: both discursive and legal. In my view, we should not base the historical study of genocide [sorely] on a legal definition alone [important as that is]; indeed, we should not base the historical study of any phenomena on a legal definition alone.

Desmond Fernandes dedicated his presentation to all the people struggling against, and being subjected to, genocide worldwide and also dedicated it to the late Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink. Hrant was assassinated in Turkey just over 7 years ago, significantly for raising the issue of the Armenian genocide and its wider repercussions on society in Turkey. Fernandes drew attention to Hrant Dink’s wife’s recent pronouncement about the failure of the political and judicial system in Turkey to investigate his murder or to hold those responsible to account:

“As the Dink Family, we will no longer be a tool in the game of state structures that insults us  … Since the slaying of Hrant Dink on January 19, 2007, the system in Turkey – with its judiciary, security forces, military and civilian bureaucracy, and political institutions – has all but mocked us. While pretending to pursue justice, the criminal alliance called the state re-committed the murder day by day, hearing by hearing, over and over again. This alliance is the very crime syndicate that planned the murder and then covered it up … No effective investigation was conducted at any stage of this case. The biggest insult, however, came from the court when it ruled that no organisation was involved in the murder … In this case, political will was the only thing necessary to uncover the state’s murder mechanisms and the criminal alliance. [But] despite all its public statements and pledges, the government persistently [has] refrained from displaying political will.

The Friends of Hrant Dink organization, Fernandes emphasised, “claims that almost all of the civil servants who were involved in the death of the journalist were promoted by the government” (Hurriyet Daily News, 18th January 2014).

Apart from being actively engaged in genocide denialism (not only relating to the genocide of Armenians, but ‘Others’, including Assyrians, Arameans, Greeks and Kurds), Fernandes argued that the Turkish government, like so many governments across the world, from the US to the Sri Lankan, Indian, Pakistan and our own British government, continues to not only be complicit in, but also directly responsible for perpetrating the crime of genocide. Bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union, Fernandes added, are also responsible for facilitating genocide. The United States and her ‘allies’ have made a mockery of the UN ‘Responsibility to Protect’ initiative. As Chomsky has concluded over the US position in this hardly inconsequential matter: “If it weren’t so tragic, it would be farcical”.

The US government and its ‘allies’ (including the Turkish government) have continued to support extremist forces that are creating havoc – often even genocidal havoc – in the Near and Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Americas and elsewhere. In the full text of his presentation, he noted the manner in which the co-president of the Kurdistan Communities’ Union (KCK) Executive Council criticised the Turkish state’s ongoing support for al-Qaeda affiliated groups that were attacking Kurds as well as “Others” in Rojava [the autonomous region in Syria]: “We didn’t start the peace process [in Turkey] so that Turkey could move the war to Rojava by supporting the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, and al-Qaeda affiliated groups … It’s the cause of much instability and conflict. If you want stability and non-conflict, then you need to solve this problem”.

The US government’s record in directly perpetrating or being complicit in the crime of genocide in many regions of the world – even at the present time, as much as in the recent past –  was deeply unsettling, and needed to be recognised and confronted, Fernandes argued. In the full text of his presentation, he cited Rick Rozoff (2010):

The US has rightly been accused of practicing double standards in relation to genocide charges, condemning mass killings (alleged as well as real) in nations whose governments are not viewed favourably by Washington and its allies while ignoring, minimizing and justifying it when perpetrated by an approved government. But it is not, as defenders of American foreign policy often state, a question of not being able to respond to every crisis or of responding to the most egregious situation first …

As [Edward Herman and David Peterson] explain: “When we ourselves commit mass-atrocity crimes, the atrocities are Constructive, our victims are unworthy of our attention and indignation, and never suffer ‘genocide’ at our hands – like the Iraqi Untermenschen who have died in such grotesque numbers over the past two decades. But when the perpetrator of mass-atrocity crimes is our enemy or a state targeted by us for destabilization and attack, the converse is true. Then the atrocities are Nefarious and their victims worthy of our focus, sympathy, public displays of solidarity, and calls for inquiry and punishment …

To reiterate their point: When the killing, maiming, poisoning and displacement of millions of civilians are perpetrated by the US directly and in collusion with a client regime it assists, arms and advises – Indochina in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, Central America in the 1980’s, the deaths of as many as a million Iraqis resulting from sanctions and the deliberate and systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure in the 1990’s – that form of indisputable genocide is never referred to as such and, instead, presented by the government-media-obedient academia triad as not abhorrent and criminal, but as legitimate actions in pursuit of praiseworthy policies …

Similar systematic and large-scale atrocities carried out by US clients armed by Washington – Indonesia against its own people from 1965-1966 and in East Timor from 1975-1999, Israel in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank from 1967 to the present day, Rwanda and Uganda in Congo (where over five and a half million people have perished over the last twelve years), Croatia and its Operation Storm onslaught in 1995 which caused the worst permanent ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II and its immediate aftermath – are not condemned and not even deemed regrettable, but in fact are viewed by the US political establishment as Benign.

Fernandes, in the full text of his presentation, further noted that Abdullah Ocalan, reflecting upon the manner in which Kurds had suffered over the years, had arrived at the conclusion, from his prison cell at Imrali, that: “For 60 years the USA’s politics have been dependent on the cultural genocide policy against Kurds. To gain the support of Turkey and Israel in the region, the Middle East and Caucasus, the USA has supported the policy of cultural genocide that has been implemented against the Kurds”. Edward Herman and David Peterson, in analysing “the differential approach of the US in the contexts of both space and time”, had equally significantly documented the manner in which “the suppression of the Kurdish movement has been treated in relation to Iraq as opposed to Turkey, and in Iraq from one decade to the next, depending on whether the same head of state (Saddam Hussein) was a US ally or adversary at the time. Not a matter of what is right or wrong, not even of who does what to whom, but solely one of what advances America’s narrow and cynical geopolitical agenda” (Rozoff, 2010).

Huge, sophisticated genocide denialism industries and structures, Fernandes emphasised, are in place. ‘Developmental’ genocides are also taking place across the world (he cited India and Balochistan as examples at the meeting). Corporations work with governments and/or ‘private military companies’ (PMC’s) and terror groups to exploit resources, irrespective of the human and environmental costs involved. In the full text of his prepared speech, he also made reference to the eastern Congo and to John Pilger’s (2013) observation that the eastern Congo possesses “a treasure trove of strategic minerals, controlled by an atrocious rebel group known as the M23, which in turn is run by Uganda and Rwanda, the proxies of Washington”.

Genocide here, Fernandes noted, is not being halted by the the US and its ‘allies’, nor is the International Criminal Court (ICC) acting as it should to hold those responsible to account. Why? As Edward Herman (2013) reveals:  The ICC has a “record as an annex of white imperial power … In Africa itself, the work of the ICC is extremely selective, with its choices frequently traceable to great power interests and influence. The most massive killings there have taken place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but as the major outside invaders and killers in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, are clients of the United States and its allies, the leaders of those states have been entirely exempt from any threat of ICC prosecution”.

In his presentation, Fernandes drew attention to the ongoing genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the recent 22nd January 2014 judgement by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka (Bremen Session): “The Tribunal finds that genocide against the Eelam Tamil group is a continuing process … The Tribunal believes that the UK, the USA and India are guilty of complicity in genocide. Further, the Tribunal judges that the UK and the USA are clearly accomplices in the genocidal process … The United Nations … had a decisive role in the failure to prevent as well as in the enactment of the genocidal process against the Eelam Tamils … The European Union [also] … contributed to the implementation of the genocidal process”.

He also drew attention to what is happening in Balochistan. A 3000 km Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) long march from Quetta to the UN offices in Islamabad is taking place, involving relatives of the disappeared. This march, unreported largely in the British mainstream press, is seeking justice and accountability for the genocide being perpetrated there. He quoted Qadeer Baloch:

“We are marching against human rights violations in Balochistan which include on-going military operations, enforced-disappearances, torture and the kill and dump policy of the Pakistani state in Balochistan. We do not expect justice from Pakistan because it continues its brutalities in Balochistan. People are still being abducted and killed. We are pinning our hopes to the international community, international media and human rights organisations to raise their voice against state atrocities against Baloch people”.

In the full text of his presentation, he had also documented the fact that, just 2 days earlier, in Quetta, the Baloch Gohar (Sisters) Movement and the World Baloch Women’s Forum had organised a protest demonstration over the latest discovery of mass graves in Balochistan (On 25th January 2014, a shepherd discovered 3 mass graves and locals were able to find 103 missing bodies there). They held placards outside the Press Club, with messages such as “UN stop the Baloch genocide, Play your role for the safe release of our loved ones” and “Baloch Mass Graves is equal to Genocide”.

Even as the Pakistan government continued with its genocidal ‘Kill and Dump’ policy in Balochistan, what was equally clear, Fernandes noted, was that the genocide of the Hazaras, Ahmadis and “Others” also continues in Pakistan. The Chinese government, he also recognised in the full text of his prepared speech, was also complicit in the genocide of the Baloch. In a 2013 study of the situation in Balochistan, Faiz Baluch had concluded that: “Selig Harrison describes what goes on in Balochistan as a ‘slow motion genocide’ of Baloch people but, presently, the genocide is in full swing by Pakistan and Iran”.

Hrybyair Marri, he noted in the full text of his presentation, had clearly exposed the manner in which, “in Balochistan, the Pakistani security forces are using the jihadist groups as proxy death squads to kidnap and kill Baloch political activists. These death squads have the full backing of federal and provincial governments”. Meanwhile, asylum seekers fleeing genocides such as these, Fernandes reported, continue to face innumerable obstacles from British and other governmental authorities when they seek sanctuary.

The US government and its ‘allies’ (including the Turkish government), despite formal claims to the contrary, Fernandes argued, have covertly aided, abetted and facilitated many of the crimes and massacres by proxy forces in Syria. In the full text of his presentation, Fernandes made reference to Ajamu Baraka’s (2014) conclusion that “US strategists care little about the fact that, in their quest to oust the Syrian President, they have created an unholy alliance between the US and its Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda as their ‘boots on the ground’”. To Taner Akcam, “Syrian Christians listening to Mr. Erdogan [the Prime Minister of Turkey] and his denialist rhetoric are reminded of 1915, and that makes Turkey look very much like a security threat to them”.

Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava (Syria), in September 2013, asserted that what the Turkish “government is doing is no secret. They are still sending Syrian gangs against us. Look, east of Serekaniye, they removed barbed wires and cleared paths through minefields for these gangs to move easily … Roads are opened for the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, Jabat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda to fight us … Turkey is using these gangs to fight us. They give them artillery and ammunition. We have documented all this. They do it in broad daylight. Turkey is helping these gangs who chop off the heads of people, eat the hearts of their opposition and rape our women. The world is watching silently … Their objective is obvious. To weaken and eliminate the Kurds … They are giving guns to gangs … When we visited Turkey, we provided them with a file on the dirty war these gangs were staging through Turkey. We exposed those who were helping these gangs in Turkey under the guise of humanitarian agencies or civil society organizations”.

In Turkey, meanwhile, Fernandes reported that the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Vice Co-President – alongside other political and cultural, human rights analysts, politicians and organisations (including the Kurdistan National Congress/KNK, the Alliance for Kurdish Rights, the Kurdish Women’s Office for Peace/CENÎ and the Democratic Society Congress/DTK Co-Chair Ahmet Türk) – has referred to “political genocide operations” being undertaken against the party and Kurdish communities. Thousands of civilians (including academics, lawyers, publishers, journalists, teachers, students, members and key politicians of the BDP) have been unjustly targeted and imprisoned in so called ‘anti-KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) operations’. This is even as ‘Other’ perceived leftist groups (such as the DHKP-C) and civil organisations have been subjected to state-linked terror operations. Political prisoners continue to be subjected to isolation, torture, ill-treatment, trumped-up charges and show trials. Lawyers defending political prisoners have found themselves being detained and subjected to criminalisation.

As the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights (ELDH) Silivri Trial Observation Report of September 2013 confirmed (as noted in the full text of Fernandes’ speech): “Today, Turkey’s prisons hold around 10,000 political prisoners, who include politicians, mayors, academics, journalists, trade unionists, human rights activists. These detentions and these patently unfair political trials not only discredit the AKP government internationally and regionally, but also render questionable its real intentions regarding the current peace negotiations … Lawyers throughout Turkey, Turkish as well as Kurdish, now feel intimidated by these trials where there is no presumption of innocence, and where lawyers can be identified with the alleged crimes of their client”.

A recent UK lawyers trial observation delegation had reported at a ‘Hostages of the Peace Process’ meeting in London in October 2013 that: “Kurdish lawyers have been made to face a justice system which is ‘quite incapable of delivering justice according to international standards’, said human rights barrister Margaret Owen … In another trial, over 200 politicians and elected officials of the pro-Kurdish party, the BDP, are being tried together in a lengthy and arduous case that has been going on for over two years. Trade unionists, journalists, students, human rights defenders and members of Kurdish civil society have been arrested and tried in their hundreds. All of this has resulted in Turkey having a third of the world’s prisoners classified as ‘terrorist’”.

Displaying no meaningful commitment to a peace process, and in light of human rights violations documented on the ground, Fernandes reported that the Co-Presidency of the KCK Executive Council had, hardly surprisingly to many, concluded that “the colonialist mind-set for cultural genocide still continues” in Turkey. For the Kurdish political movements and communities in Rojava and Turkey that are actively confronting forces that target ‘Others’, the US governmental objective remains to cynically not recognise, and to derail/frustrate and criminalise wherever possible, any democratic autonomy initiatives and ‘realities’ that clash with its own geopolitical agendas. Consequently, as the investigative journalist Cengiz Candar has revealed (as noted in Fernandes’ prepared text), he was “rebuked by a very high-level State Department official when I asked why the United States withheld a visa from the Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who was to participate at a [November 2013] panel in Washington titled ‘The Kurdish Role in the New Middle East’ … Obviously the US”, Candar concluded, “was careful to appease Turkey. It wasn’t all that hard to detect this from my dialogue with the senior State Department official”.

In many, many other areas of the world, too, Fernandes noted that public mobilisation and opposition against repressive and often also genocidal policies is often termed ‘terrorist opposition’ by governments in power (particularly post-9/11). ‘Terrorism lists’ and proscription regimes have been questionably drawn up by national and supra-national bodies. Political movements, diasporic communities and individuals resisting repression and genocide have been criminalised through these ‘lists’ and regimes. In such criminalised contexts are many public struggles against genocide and oppression taking place. Desmond ended his presentation by emphasising the need to reflect upon these matters and act upon these concerns and engage in solidarity with targeted ‘Others’, wherever they may be.


[i]    Desmond Fernandes is a member of the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign and a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and ‘The Geography of Genocide’ at De Montfort University, UK. He is the author of The Kurdish and Armenian Genocides: from Censorship and Denial to Recognition? (Apec, 2007; Peri, 2013), co-author of The Targeting of ‘Minority Others’ in Pakistan (BPCA, 2013) and has written numerous articles on genocide and the targeting of the ‘Other’. His works have been translated into a number of languages including English, French, German, Dutch, Greek, Turkish and Kurdish.

[ii]   Not all of which could be presented before the audience due to a sudden but understandable decision by the organisers to cut short the meeting by 30 minutes, to allow attendees to travel back home before a London underground strike took effect. This meant that speakers had to shorten their oral presentations accordingly.

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