Showing posts with label Genocide. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Genocide. Show all posts

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Politics of (Recognizing) Genocide

Produced by the BBC, The Betrayed is a documentary that examines the matter of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey, and the efforts to have that genocide recognized in other countries.

The Armenian Genocide, beginning in 1915, was actually the first of what was expected to be a three-pronged program of ethnic cleansing in the declining Ottoman Empire. The plan was to first eliminate the Armenians, then eliminate Kurds, and eventually even eliminate Turkey's Greek population.

Perversely, the Ottomans used their next target, the Kurds, to massacre the Armenians, coercing entire battalions of Kurds to act as death squads.

Just as Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide, they also continue to deny the national plight of the Kurds. Despite the fact that Turkey currently occupies a large portion of historical Kurdistan (Iraq, Iran and Syria, occupy the rest), Turkey continues to insist that the land ever existed.

Turkey's Kurds have coped with their complicity in the Armenian genocide by casting it as a far-off event, occurring far beyond the boundaries of the formerly-Armenian villages populated largely by Kurds today.

Turkey has historically treated efforts to recognize the genocide as a diplomatic outrage. On some occasions, foreign countries have cowed to the pressure, agreeing to not recognize the genocide officially.

We may not like to admit it, but there very much are political considerations to whether or not a country will recognize that a genocide has occurred in a foreign country.

Over the last several years, scarecely-reported diplomatic progress with Syria was facilitated by Turkey, as Turkey helped Syria in its attempts to negotiate Trade Associate status with the European Union.

The original deal -- which would have helped to pull Syria out of Iran's orbit of influence -- was scuttled when the United States moved to isolate Syria as a terrorism-supporting state.

Efforts to formalize such a deal have resumed, but seem much less promising than before the 2004 intervention.

Recognition of Turkish atrocities could potentially jeopardize Turkey's invaluable role as intermediary between the Middle East and the Western World.

No one likes this -- nor should like it. But it seems that pragmatic politics can often trump historical truth in the lands of realpolitic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To Boldly Commit Genocide...

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the film Star Trek. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Dark historical overtones at heart of Star Trek film

Franchise re-boots are all the range recently, with film franchises like Batman scoring big hits at the box office in the wake of previous disappointing film releases.

It's in this particular vein that it should be less than surprising that Paramount films would re-boot Star Trek. What should be even less surprising -- to those intimately familiar with the franchise -- is that JJ Abrams, the man behind the Trek re-boot, would fashion a Star Trek that resembles human history a little more closely than Gene Roddenberry's original series.

Yet the film retains the general theme of Roddenberry's original -- the triumph of the human spirit.

The film daringly and decisively re-shapes the Star Trek universe when Nero (Eric Bana), a revenge-seeking Romulan, destroys the planet Vulcan -- one of the backbones of the United Federation of Planets -- in order to take revenge on Ambassador Spock for failing to save planet Romulus.

Spock -- who appears both in younger and older forms (played by Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy, respectively) -- speculates that as few as 10,000 Vulcans may have survived the destruction of the planet.

Genocide is a theme that Star Trek has previously addressed, but rarely in terms so horrifically similar to human history.

As those intimately familiar with Star Trek are doubtlessly aware, Vulcans and Romulans look very similar to one another for important reason -- they share a common heritage on the planet Vulcan. As revealed in the Next Generation episode "Unification" -- in which Spock is targeted by Romulan assassins for his efforts to reveal this common heritage to citizens of the Romulan Star Empire -- Romulans were Vulcans who left the planet to follow a different path, and forge a militaristic empire.

It's in this vein, considering that Vulcans and Romulans are actually the same species, that the destruction of Vulcan isn't merely a genocide -- it's actually a fratricide as well.

Naturally, this will beg comparisons to Adolph Hitler -- who is believed by many to have had a Jewish heritage -- and to the genocide in Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis were not only virtually indistinguishable to most visitors to that country, but had on many occasions inter-married, making it incredibly likely that many of those participating in the Rwandan genocide were actually killing their own family members.

As Bruce Wilshire theorizes, many genocides are motivated by a mortal terror -- the belief that the existence of an ethnic rival poses a threat to the survival of one's own ethnicity or race.

Nero seems to embody this particular motivation, as he intends to continue on to destroy every Federation planet -- including Earth -- believing that is the only way he can ensure the survival of Romulus.

(Then again, considering that Romulus was destroyed when its sun went supernova, one can certainly find fault in the reasoning of this particular madman.)

Human history is full of all kinds of instances in which genocidal leaders went to shocking lengths in order to defend otherwise inconsequential ethnic differences. Wherever the Star Trek franchise may now go, one can imagine that it will very closely resemble human history.

Some may question if this remains true to Gene Roddenberry's original optimistic vision of human history, and its message that the human triumph can triumph over petty greed and racism.

By the same token, however, one would have to agree that a triumph without a challenge is hardly a triumph at all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Residential Schools: Canada's Holocaust?

Alleged mass graves raise uncomfortable questions for Canadians

There is little question that of the few blemishes to Canada's human rights record, the sad atrocity that was Residential Schooling is the most disfiguring.

The atrocities that took place there have long been recognized by Canadian law, although many surviving victims still wait for even the most basic recompense.

Recent events, however, have shed some additional light on those victims who didn't survive, some of whom were never accounted for.

In an announcement largely ignored by the mainstream media this past week, the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared, an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth regarding reportedly tens of thousands of Aboriginal children who disappeared from the schools. According to former United Church minister Kevin Annett, the number of unaccounted for ranges from 40,000-50,000.

The statement released by the organization alleges that many of those children can be accounted for in mass graves at 28 residential school sites.

While the allegations alone are unsettling enough, there seems to be some work yet undone on these claims that may have made an announcement more than a little premature.

To start off with, no physical evidence has been found to corroborate the claims.

However, it's well known that a significant number of children at the schools died tuburculosis -- at one particular school, up to 63% of the children are reported to have died (although none of the sources available seem to actually identify the school). All those dead children have to have gone somewhere, and their families have the right to know.

There are, however, some intracies in the story that stretch either the credulity of the claims, or the what remains of the credulity of, in particular, the Churches involved in Residential Schooling.

Consider, for example, Kevin Annett, a former Reverend ordained by the United Church of Canada, was defrocked by the United Church in 1996. He has become one of the leading figures demanding further investigation of Residential Schools. It's not hard to imagine that he could be conducting his crusade as a measure of seeking revenge against the Church.

However, he was defrocked to "inadequate pastoral skills", a charge vague enough to suggest that he may have been defrocked for asking too many questions about the Port Alberni Residential School.

The story would also seem to be contradicted by the stories told by individuals like Sylvester Greene, who, while working for a United Church-run residential school, was paid to dig a grave for a deceased five-year-old boy.

Greene, who worked at a St Albert-area residential school, was hired to dig only one grave, for only one child. According to Greene, a friend and cousin of his told him that they also buried one child apiece.

The St. Albert school -- now the Poundmaker's Lodge, an addiction treatment center -- is among the sites named by the oddly-named International Human Rights Tribunal into Genocide in Canada (oddly named because it doesn't seem to be an international panel at all, but rather an investigatory arm of the The Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared).

It would seem strange that the United Church would bother to dig individual graves if they were maintaining mass graves during the duration of the residential schooling.

One other issue undermining the credulity of the mass grave claims are some of the other claims made about Residential Schools in the past: namely, that Residential Schooling was a genocide. This particular claim confuses genocide, which -- whether they will admit this or not -- requires large-scale killing (although sterilization could actually do just as well), with ethnic cleansing, which only requires the destruction or removal of a particular ethnic culture.

(The rejection of Residential Schooling as an example ethnic cleansing in favour of the more spectacular claims of genocide and Holocaust actually makes little sense when one considers that ethnic cleansing is no less reprehensible than outright genocide.)

Likewise, it's not hard to believe that the Friends and Relatives of the Disappeared could be making mass grave claims where unmarked grave claims would be more appropriate. (And likewise, unmarked graves are bad enough on their own.)

It will certainly remain difficult for the media to take the claims of mass graves seriously until physical evidence of them can be produced.

But frankly, the allegations alone are disturbing enough, and warrant investigation. This is a matter that should, nonetheless, be taken seriously by both the Federal Government and the RCMP.

Even if the only role served by investigating these allegations ends up being dispelling them, it will have been well worth the time, effort and funds expended to dispel this shadow of doubt upon the Canadian psyche.

But by the same token, if the claims of mass graves do turn out to be true, it will only demand that Canadians ask more uncomfortable questions of themselves, and of their history. But such questions would be necessary, and the result of an investigation that is equally necessary.