to Combat Genocide as a Historical Disease
La Presse, Montréal
While Berlin grapples with the issue of whether or not to erect a memorial
to the Shoah, the City of Montréal has innovated by raising a monument
the victims of all the genocides of the 20th century.
"There are many monuments dedicated to various particular human tragedies
the world. In 1998 however, the City of Montréal was innovative in
field by erecting a monument called La Réparation - Monument á la mémoire
des victimes de génocides, created by artist Francine Larivée. This
was dedicated to all victims of genocides in the 20th century", says
Ukrainian Canadian Congress.
Many other cultural communities share this assessment.
The Armenian National Committees of Canada and Montréal, which led the
campaign for this memorial unveiled on the 83rd anniversary of the
genocide in Turkey, speaks of a "political victory" and of "the spiritual
satisfaction that those who died rest in peace".
The Council for Peace in the African Great Lakes Region has welcomed
City’s initiative, which names Tutsis and Hutus alongside
Ukrainians, Jews, Crimean Tatars, Gypsies, Timorese, Bosnians, Cambodians
and Kurds as victims of 20th century genocides, before adding : "and
The debate about whether to commemorate the Shoah exclusively engulfed
Canadian War Museum in its expansion and renovation phase last year.
swirls around the Canadian Museum of Civilization which has announced
for a Holocaust Museum.
While they readily admit the need to entrench recognition of the Shoah,
growing number of organizations representing Canadians of diverse origins
are asking that this recognition be made truly and genuinely universal.
>From its base in Toronto, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress coordinates
campaign of a multi-ethnic coalition aimed at persuading the Canadian
of Civilization to replace its Holocaust Project by a "Canadian Museum
The UCC "is convinced that Canadians would support
a museum along the same
lines (as the Montréal Monument) in that, as an educational tool, it
have no equal", writes its President, Eugene Czolij. It "would also
original and uniquely Canadian endeavour", he adds.
"A Canadian Museum of Genocide would be inclusive of all immigrant
communities who have the experience of genocide in their past" says
Canadian Islamic Congress.
Based in Waterloo, Ontario, the CIC involved itself in the debate last
October after learning the Ontario Legislature was studying a Bill
establish a Holocaust Memorial Day in Ontario - Yom Ha Shoah. "Bill
already passed 1st and 2nd readings without any public debate and when
got involved it was too late. It was adopted a few weeks later", says
President Mohammad Elmasry.
"Bill 66 is a good idea but it must be made inclusive of victims of
genocides, regardless of race, religion and ethnic origin", Elmasry
the Ontario MLA behind the project.
Since then, the CIC has met wth the Canadian Jewish Congress "and they
they were ready to cooperate with us so that Bill 66 can be complemented
another legislative measure", he says.
"Canada is peopled by survivors of many tragedies. If each community
that its victims be honoured separately, it will not contribute to
unity, and it will be very costly", Elmasry adds, saying "this should
Reporting on a symposium held at ICAO headquarters in Montréal for the
anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights last December,
Roman Serbyn, History professor at UQAM, says members of the Jewish
community showed openness to the idea of commemorating all genocides
The horror stirred by Nazi crimes has held the world traumatized for
years. But new thinking at the dawn of the 21st century, and the phenomenon
of globalization, are leading more and more people, beginning with
historians and political scientists, to consider genocide as a disease
is as ancient as Humanity itself.
For the survivors, this human propensity to collective crime and massacre
must be combatted globally and inclusively, in the framework of the
for a new culture of peace which is truly human and universal.
In that sense, the enumeration on the Montréal monument limits the universal
reach of the commemoration, because it identifies some and therefore
out others. The reference to the 20th century only is a further limitation.
And since Montreal stands where the Amerindian settlement of Hochelaga
stood, a mention of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, the First Nations
decimated by colonialism, would have been most relevant.
The word "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule
Occupied Europe published in 1944 and examining the extermination of
European Jewry, notes Serbyn.
In 1946, the UN declared that "genocide is a denial of the right of
existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the
individual human beings". The resolution added that in the past "many
instances of such crimes of genocide have occurred when racial, religious,
political and other groups have been destroyed, entirely or in part".
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Repression of Genocide, which
just turned 50, defines genocide as any one of the following acts committed
with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial
religious group : the murder of members of the group; grievous assault
against the physical or mental integrity of members of the group; subjecting
the group intentionally to conditions of existence leading to its physical
destruction; measures aimed at preventing births within the group;
forced transfer of infants from one group to another group.
The Armenians say 1.5 million of their people were massacred by the
1915. France recently angered Turkey by recognizing this genocide,
called the 1st of the 20th century.
South African Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers, say the first
"concentration camps" were built by the British during the Boer War,
thousands of their women, children and elderly died in sordid conditions.
As victims of Apartheid ask reparations from them, so the Boers demand
recognition from Britain for its crimes in the Boer War. Which only
that the victim of ancient times could be the persecutor of yesterday,
the victim of yesterday the perpetrator of today. In the long history
genocides, peoples have often changed roles from victim to executioner,
Ukrainians remember the death of 7 million of their folk as a result
famine provoked in 1932-33 by the former Soviet Union to punish them
resisting the collectivization of agriculture and Greater Russian
"We call this genocide the Holodomor, extermination by famine", says
Both Houses of the US Congress commemorated this genocide last year,
65th anniversary of the tragedy.
Canadians originating from the African Great Lakes region talk of the
genocide of 500.000 Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, but they also
more recurrent genocides of Hutus by Tutsis, as in 1972 when 200.000
including school-children, were exterminated in Burundi, and again
after Tutsi army officers "executed" the first Hutu elected President
Burundi, and also in 1996-97 when close to 200.000 Hutu refugees from
were massacred by Tutsi RPF troops in the east of the Democratic Republic
Congo (former Zaire).
The Canadian Islamic Congress remembers the victims of various genocides
Muslims in History : 2 million during the Christian reconquest of Spain,
million during the European crusades, 2 million at the hands of the
and 2 million during the transatlantic slave trade, not forgetting
massacres of Palestinians (after the Naqbah or Catastrophe that was
partition of Palestine) and Lebanese, nor Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir
The CIC observes a special Day of mourning in memory of these victims,
called Yom Zekrah, on the first Friday of November.
The First Pan-African Conference on Reparations for the Maafa or colonial
slave trade and slavery, held in Nigeria in 1993, adopted a Proclamation
calling on "the international community to recognize the unique and
unprecedented moral debt to Africans as the most humiliated and exploited
peple of the last four centuries of modern History".
To the vocabulary of "genocide" and "ethnocide", the American political
scientist Rudolph J. Rummel has added the concept of "democide", from
Greek word demos (people). This has allowed him to classify massive
war crimes against civilians as "democide" instead of "genocide" -
forget about the Aboriginal peoples and First Nations of America, a
debt that Washington has yet to recognize and justly compensate for.
Rummel’s theory is that "democracies rarely fight one another"
that it is "dictatorships which massacre people massively". China,
Vietnam, the Khmer rouge are singled out for special condemnation.
also says that "power kills", adding that governments have killed up
million people in the 20th century alone (his survey stops in 1987,
in a good part of the Iran-Iraq, Afghan and Sri Lanka wars). Victims
partition of India and Pakistan, as well as those of the Bangladesh
independence are also taken into account.
Thus the millions of civilians massacred by indiscriminate US gunning
bombing in the Philippines (1899), in Germany (Dresden particularly),
Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the only use of nuclear bombs in History),
Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were cases of "democide". As were the million
victims of the anti-communist coup in Indonesia, the hundreds of thousands
killed in counter-insurgency wars in Central America, and the millions
killed in Iraq as a result of war, bombings and UN sanctions.
But China has its own charges of genocide against the Japanese, as for
example after the massacre of 20.000 civilians in Nanking in December
an issue which has poisoned bilateral relations since Tokyo refuses
recognize this in its History text-books.
Holocaust Museum or a Museum of Genocide? The Canadian Museum of
Civilization is on the horns of a real dilemma.
In answer to a question, a spokesman replied last week : "The Board
Directors of the Museum has undertaken to plan, produce and present
temporary, travelling exhibition on the Nazi Holocaust and its victims.
exhibition will start at the Museum in Hull. The research on its content
for the time being at an embryonic stage".
(This is an article, slightly lengthened, and translated by the author
himself, which appeared in the Sunday January 31st issue of LA PRESSE,
Montréal French-language daily)