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The People Who Cover Up Genocide

UCLA panel looks at people and governments who deny or explain away the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the killing of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, and the ongoing massacres in the Darfur provinces of Sudan.

The People Who Cover Up Genocide

Refugee child in Darfur

By Leslie Evans

What lessons can be drawn from the successive genocides of the last hundred years? Four panelists examined the failures to act and the outright denial that anything happened in some of the most famous cases of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: the massacre of the Armenians in Turkey in 1915-23, the Holocaust of the Jews in Hitler's Germany, the mass killing of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, and the ongoing slaughter in the Darfur provinces of western Sudan today. Their conclusion: it happens again because no one was punished the last time. And the professional deniers, whatever their motive, encourage the next genocide.

Some 80 students crowded into the Kerckhoff Hall Grand Salon on the UCLA campus the evening of February 28, where they heard Levon Marashlian of the History Department of Glendale Community College document the Turkish and U.S. governments' present-day denial of the Armenian genocide that took place in the last years of the Ottoman Empire; Richard Eaton of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles deliver a scathing critique of the pseudo scholars and neo-Nazis who comprise the Holocaust denial movement; Alexandre Kimenyi, a survivor of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda and professor of Linguistics and Ethnic Studies at California State University Sacramento, recount the failure of the American government to acknowledge or act to halt the killings in Rwanda in 1994; and UCLA Professor Edmond Keller denounce the U.S. and world failure to intervene in Darfur today.

The event was part of a "Week of Awareness, A Call to Action" about Darfur on the UCLA campus. The week of events is being organized by the UCLA student Darfur Action Committee and is cosponsored by many organizations including the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations and the James S. Coleman Center for African Studies. Organizers of the panel on genocide denial also included the UCLA Armenian Students' Association, Hillel Jewish Students Association, and the Progressive Jewish Students Association.

Levon Marashlian: The White House Campaign of Silence on the Armenian Genocide

Beginning with the arrest and execution of hundreds of prominent Armenians in Constantinople in April 1915, the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire was systematically reduced by killing, starvation, and deportation from 2,000,000 before the outbreak of World War I to some 200,000 by 1923. Levon Marashlian took up not the massacre itself but the numerous failed bipartisan efforts to pass bills condemning the massacre in the United States Congress, in 1975, 1987, 1988, 1990, and 2000. "The State Department consistently tries to suppress these resolutions," Marashlian said, "even though they are not binding." He showed news clips of several House and Senate debates over the years.

The resolutions condemning the genocide received genuinely bipartisan support, ranging from Democratic senator from California Barbara Boxer to one-time Republican presidential aspirant and then-senator from Kansas Bob Dole. They were opposed by members of Congress from both parties who had as constituents companies that do business with Turkey. U.S. presidents of both parties as well as the State Department consistently urged Congress to defeat the resolutions condemning the genocide on the grounds of not wishing to alienate an important U.S. ally.

Bob Dole in one of the news clips declared, "America should do what is right, not what is expedient." Opponents of the resolutions most often cited fears, which many did not themselves take very seriously, that Turkey might quit NATO if the Ottoman government of 1915 were condemned for its crimes. "One of the cornerstones of the advocates of denial," Marashlian said, "is that whatever happened was under the Ottoman Empire, not the modern Republic of Turkey, which was established in 1923, so whatever happened was not under this government anyway. If that's the case, why is there this sense of responsibility for something that happened under a previous regime?"

The Turkish government does try extremely hard to steer other countries away from acknowledging the Ottoman crimes against the Armenians. Bob Dole in the footage from 1987 complains that the many of the original cosigners of his bill on the genocide had withdrawn their names. Dole declared: "Why? Nothing has changed, has it? The history of 1915-1923 hasn't changed since last fall. The facts certainly haven't changed since last fall. What has changed is the launching of a massive lobbying effort against the resolution by the administration, by the government of Turkey, and by American businesses who operate in Turkey." Dole added that the Turkish ambassador had met with every U.S. senator to lobby against the resolution. "But Armenia has no ambassador. They have no embassy. They don't have any contracts with any businesses in the United States. They can't put pressure on senators."

Levon Marashlian said that lobbying the U.S. Congress against any criticism of the killing of the Armenians continues today by General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas, Hilton hotels, and other U.S. corporations that have interests in Turkey.

In addition to highly paid lobbyists working for Turkey, U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush personally intervened to prevent passage of congressional resolutions condemning the murder of hundreds of thousands of Armenians. In 2000 there appeared to be enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass a resolution when President Clinton intervened with a new argument: that American lives in Turkey might be in danger from angry Turks if the resolution was passed. It was quashed at the last minute by the Speaker of the House and never brought to a vote. Clips of the Turkish ambassador declaring that U.S. members of Congress who supported the pro-Armenian resolution didn't know what they were talking about drew hisses from the UCLA audience.

The most recent intervention by a U.S. president to stymie an official U.S. statement of fact about the Armenian genocide was by George W. Bush, opposing an April 2003 House resolution. Bush used the argument that Turkish support was needed to permit U.S. troops to enter Iraq from Turkey in the imminent U.S. invasion. The Turks in the end did not permit the U.S. to use its territory as a launching pad.

Richard Eaton: Who Are the Holocaust Deniers and How Do They Operate?

"The people who deny the Holocaust understand something," Richard Eaton said. "There are a lot of historians who understand the Holocaust, but most people do not understand the disgusting details of the Holocaust, they are not scholars, [the deniers] rely on this, they capitalize on it, because they know how they can go about denying the Holocaust."

Eaton began by undercutting a central claim of by the Holocaust denial organizations that the German concentrations camps were an invention of postwar Jewish propaganda. "It is important to understand that in Nazi Germany, Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals were not the first victims of the Nazis. The first victims of the Nazis were Germans themselves. They were the mental patients, they were political prisoners, and others. The first camps were set up in Germany in 1933, only seven weeks after Hitler came to power."

Before looking at the motives of the Holocaust denial movement, Richard Eaton discussed their methods. While there are some outright lies, he said, they more commonly take isolated facts out of context and present them to mean something very different. This is usually done in a context that attempts to sound scholarly and avoids overt anti-Semitic declarations. "They pick very specific items out of the vast subject of the Holocaust and say this didn't happen that way and so forth."

The deniers' strategy has been to pressure legitimate historians to debate them in public, as though their antifactual positions have equal validity with the body of established historical facts and accredited university scholars. A few years ago "they started a campaign taking out full-page ads in campus newspapers." Almost half the schools that received these ads printed them, Eaton said. "Many of them believed they were doing this on a free speech basis, even though they were selling advertising. They had every right to not print the ad." The goal, he said, was to gain legitimacy in the academic community.

Here he turned to the substance of the denial claims. Eaton commented that everybody knows the figure that six million died, but most do not know how the figure was arrived at. It comes, he said, by comparing the Jewish population of cities and villages throughout Nazi-occupied Europe before and after World War II. That is, not all the killing took place in particular camps. The Holocaust deniers have focused on trying to refute the numbers, particularly at specific concentration camps.

"They brought in a man who was supposed to be a gas-chamber expert, and actually went over to Poland and he went to the gas chambers and he took samples and scrapings off the walls, and looked at the plans. And he came up and said the gas chambers couldn't actually do what they were said to have done. They could not have killed these hundreds of thousands of people in the short time with the amount of gas that they had.

"Well, the one thing that they actually proved in doing so is that their expert didn't understand how the gas chambers worked in the first place. The truth is that the gas chambers worked on displacement. If you take a room like this one and you put about a thousand people into it you are going to literally jam them up to the ceiling. As such, all you have to take is a couple of small cans of Zyklon-B, the gas that was used, and poison what little air is left in the room and most of the victims there die of suffocation from the other people that they are jammed in with. So these people proved they didn't know how the gas chambers worked, yet they produced this scientific engineering study by this so-called engineer that went to the camps and checked them out. In truth they found out that he wasn't actually an engineer and he was later tried in the state of Massachusetts for impersonating one."

Another example Eaton gave was a photograph widely circulated by the Holocaust deniers of General Eisenhower standing next to one of the gas chambers at Dachau. "And they hold this up and say, here is Eisenhower being shown a false gas chamber. And they are correct. At Dachau, which was a camp in Germany used mainly for political prisoners, they started to construct a gas chamber. They used inmates to construct the gas chamber. The inmates sabotaged the chamber and it was never actually used as a gas chamber."

Eaton said that the largest of the true death camps was the Birkenau section of the enormous Auschwitz complex. "The average lifespan of people who were placed on trains and sent there, when they arrived at Auschwitz, was about three hours." He pointed to the use by the deniers of Red Cross figures that recorded only some 300,000 deaths at Auschwitz, which the Red Cross listed as caused by disease. Auschwitz, Richard Eaton said, was actually a large series of camps the size of the San Fernando Valley. It included gas chambers but also munitions factories that employed slave labor. The Red Cross was admitted to Auschwitz One, where they saw bodies of people who had died of disease, but they were barred by the Nazis from the rest of the complex.

"There were five other camps that used gas chambers. They did not keep records and they did everything to conceal them. Treblinka killed somewhere between 800,000 and 1,000,000 people, mainly from Warsaw and the surrounding area." When Germany was losing the war, he said, "they bulldozed the property and put a Ukrainian farmer on there and told him to tell people he had been farming there for the whole war."

The Holocaust deniers, Eaton said, "are very good at what they do, and too many people that have no business doing so try to tangle with them." Just knowing that six million people were murdered is not enough to win an argument with people who have a litany of documents taken out of context and are well versed in it. "I guarantee that when ordinary people try to take them on they do not know the details about the Holocaust the way the people that deny it do. They are very practiced. They have all the answers."

Another example of their tactics was to send a man named David Cole to Auschwitz to interview the director of the Auschwitz Museum on video. In the full interview, the director explained the Nazis' decision to use gas chambers after earlier efforts -- to seal the Jews in ghettos and starve them to death and the widespread use of traveling gas-chamber vans -- proved to be too slow or too messy. The video was edited back in the United States and released by the Institute for Historical Review, one of the main Holocaust denier organizations, with the claim that the footage had the museum director admitting that the gas chambers were all fakes constructed after the war.

In a few-minute segment of the long interview the museum director said that a pilot gas chamber had been built by the Nazis at Auschwitz One as a test, in which they killed some Russian soldiers. When they were satisfied that the process worked, they converted the experimental gas-chamber building to other uses and constructed the main gas chambers at nearby Birkenau, where millions of people were murdered. At the end of the war, the museum director explained, as part of the Auschwitz memorial the experimental gas chamber was restored for visitors to see. "So David Cole cuts this video and makes it sound like the Allies built the whole camp after the war to show that the evil Nazis were gassing Jews at Auschwitz. And they touted this video for a long time."

The Institute for Historical Review and similar Holocaust denial groups write heavily footnoted essays with a scholarly tone. "All it takes to dispel this is to dig into their footnotes and see what the original sources actually say. But they know that the good majority of people are not going to do this."

Who are these people and why do they propound these counterfactual positions? Richard Eaton said his opinion is that they hope to lay the groundwork for disbelief in the Holocaust in some future generation when all the witnesses are dead. "In the meantime it gives them something to do, they may hope to get a job pretending to be scholars. But deep down you do find neo-Nazis involved with this movement. One of the premier movers and shakers of the Holocaust denial movement is a man named Willis Cardo," the head of the Institute for Historical Review. "Cardo has been a long-time racist in this country. Back in the 1940s he started an organization called the Joint Council for Repatriation. If you haven't figured that one out, what it was was an organization that lobbied Congress to pass a law to send African Americans back to Africa."

These groups have pamphlets and web pages where you don't see racism and anti-Semitism, Eaton concluded, "but when you scratch a Holocaust denier deep enough you can usually find something else beneath."

Alexandre Kimenyi: The Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda

"This was the only genocide that was broadcast live in your home," Professor Kimenyi began. In part this happened because scores of international journalists were attending the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa when the killing in Rwanda began on April 6, 1994. Many went to Rwanda and provided written and filmed reports of the carnage.

On 6 April 1994, the president of Rwanda, a Hutu, was killed in a missile attack on his aircraft. This led to the murder of the prime minister, who was a Tutsi. Then an organized massacre of the minority Tutsi community and moderate Hutus started. The campaign burst out with an elemental ferocity in which members of the Hutu majority hunted down and massacred at least half a million of the Tutsi minority over the next thirteen weeks in a slaughter of as much as three-quarters of the Tutsi population of that country. Many thousands of the dominant Hutus were killed as well for opposing the killing.

Another reason why the facts became well known around the world, Kimenyi said, was "because the genocidal regime was defeated" when rebel Tutsi troops invaded from neighboring countries in July 1994 and overthrew the Hutu government, which prevented the killers from suppressing information on what they had done.

"Actually this was not the first time that genocide took place in Rwanda," Alexandre Kimenyi said. "It started in 1959. At that time Rwanda was still a colony of Belgium. Nationalists were fighting against the Belgians." The Belgians has used the Tutsi minority to rule over the Hutu majority during the colonial period. The Parmahutu, a Hutu party formed in 1957, revolted against the Belgians and their Tutsi allies in 1959. "A thousand Tutsis were killed. Many Tutsis went into exile. In 1963 they killed Tutsis again. In 1964 they killed. In 1967 and in 1973, and 1990" when Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded the country from Uganda. "At that time there was censorship and nothing was said, so apparently that act was not really genocide which was taking place but a revolution."

Here Kimenyi held up two books in French that proposed the view that the killing of the Tutsis in the 1950s and 1960s was just an inevitable byproduct of revolution. One of these was Rwanda de la féodalité à la démocratie 1955-1962 (Rwanda from feudalism to democracy, 1955 to 1962) by Jean-Paul Harroy, the last Belgian colonial resident in Rwanda. "So if the killing is done in the name of a revolution it is okay," Kimenyi said ironicaly, "because this happened in the French Revolution, it happened in the Bolshevik Revolution, so as far as killing unarmed civilians, this is okay."

Alexandre Kimenyi caustically noted that there were representatives of many important countries in Rwanda when these various anti-Tutsi purges took place, "and they didn't say anything, nothing at all was written in the papers condemning the killing of civilians." It was only after the still greater massacre of 1994 that even African historians began to reconsider dismissing the earlier massacres as the natural acts of a social revolution. "As a matter of fact, I remember in 1994 before the genocide a Belgian paper ran an article on Rwanda under the headline 'The Unfinished Revolution' because there had not yet been a final solution to the problem of Tutsi influence."

The speaker pointed out that the international community and the United Nations also found excuses not to act in 1994 "by using names that do not denote genocide." For example, the United States government "said that what was happening in Rwanda was not genocide but 'acts of genocide.'" Some international comentators attempted to justify or explain away what happened, and it was common "to try to minimize the number of people who were killed."

Kimenyi was critical of the widely used phrase "Rwandan genocide." This made it difficult for people out side the country to fix in their minds who was being killed. The term "Rwandan genocide," Kimenyi said, is used by some writers not to signify the murder of the Tutsis "but to suggest apparently that the two groups were killing each other."

Another term used to deny genocide in Rwanda is "civil war." Because "if there are acts of war, two groups kill each other." Not a civil war but a massacre took place in the spring of 1994. The number killed, Alexandre Kimenyi said, "is more than a million, although the UN and other governments refuse to accept that number."

Alexandre Kimenyi said that he was particularly concerned because many Hutu spokespeople who deny the Tutsi genocide "are very well educated, they have very influential friends. They not only raise these arguments on the internet but they also have journals where they publish articles, well footnoted, where they claim the victims were the ones responsible for the killings that took place."

Why such pressure for denial? Kimenyi said that there is the issue of responsibility for the crimes. "A million and perhaps two million Hutus took part in the killings." This is a strong motive to deny what happened.

Yet another false trail, Kimenyi said, are claims that the antagonism between the two ethnic groups were old and deep for generations before the outbreak of violence. This argument, for him, is just another way to reduce the responsibility of the killers of 1994. It was true that the minority Tutsis were favored in the government by the Belgians, "but the two peoples had lived in harmony for centuries. There was only one language. There were no separate spaces, everybody lived next to each other. Intermarriage was common. They had the same religion. It is not true that there were deep roots of hatred."

Some writers have argued that the murderous frenzy was an understandable response to the plane crash in which the Hutu president was killed. "How many African presidents have been assassinated with no consequent mass killing?" Alexandre Kimenyi asked.

In Professor Kimenyi's opinion, the many well-educated Hutus who live abroad create a problem in disseminating the truth because of their efforts to convince foreign public opinion of their position of denial.

Edmond Keller: Genocide Now, in Darfur

Sudan, Professor Edmond Keller said, has been independent for forty-eight years, and has been immersed in civil war for all but ten years of that time. Keller is the director of the Globalization Research Center - Africa and a former director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center. He summarized the current status of these conflicts:

"Just a couple of weeks ago in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi, a peace accord was signed between the warring factions in the most intense civil war in Sudan. That was an accord between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the government of Sudan." Sudan is 52% Black African and 39% Arab. Religion cuts across these lines, however, as 70% of the country adheres to Islam. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement is based in the Black African south of the country and its supporters are mainly Christian and animist. A key issue in their rebellion has been opposition to attempts by the Arab north, which controls the government at Khartoum, to impose Sharia law.

The country is extremely diverse. "There are 120 different ethnic groups, of which about 19 are significant groups," Keller said. The country has a per capita GNP of $2,000. "That's very high for an African country, but most of the people live in poverty. Most of the wealth and prosperity is in the central part of the country."

The main civil war in Sudan, in the south, "has been about power and about religion," Edmond Keller said. The newer conflict, in the three western provinces, Northern Darfur, Western Darfur, and Southern Darfur, is being fought among people who all adhere to Islam. It "has morphed into a struggle over power and race."

The people of Darfur, in 2003, "under the leadership of a new rebel organization called the Sudan Liberation Front, surprised the central government forces with a dawn attack on a military installation located in Darfur. In a very short time the SLF was joined by another movement, called the Justice and Equality Movement. Over the past year and a half several other opposition movements have emerged in Darfur. The SLF advocates a secular-based state and the Justice and Equality Movement doesn't really have a position on whether the state should be secular or religious."

The Sudan government launched a sharp counteroffensive against the SLF. "It was assisted in this counteroffensive by some local militias that the government claims are patriots. But the people in Darfur who are being victimized by these militias call them Janjaweed. A janjaweed is a term used in the region to refer to armed men on horseback. In that part of the Sahel, warfare historically has been either on camels or horses and that continues among the pastoral peoples in the Darfur area."

The government tries to distinguish the militias from what it defines as Janjaweed, which it claims are only small bands of criminals, Keller said. "But it is widely known that there is a close relationship between the government forces and the Janjaweed. They actually engage in joint operations against people in the Darfur area."

The militias are Arabs while the rebels "are mostly non-Arab black Muslims. So this makes it a racial conflict, not a religious conflict." The Arabs are pastoralists in Darfur while the black Africans are mostly farmers. There have been clashes between these two groups for some decades. "The disputes have been over land, over economic assets."

To date, Edmond Keller said, "the alliance between the central government and the Janjaweed has resulted in more than 300,000 deaths. More than 1.6 million internally displaced people. And more than 250,000 refugees who have fled to neighboring Chad."

As an example of joint actions with the Janjaweed, Keller said, "the Sudan air force has been known to engage in targeting areas with SLF and JEM supporters and to bomb these locations in advance of the Janjaweed. And if you follow the newspapers, they have been doing this with impunity in recent dates. Now you tell me if it doesn't sound like genocide or ethnic cleansing is going on in that part of the world?"

The Janjaweed, he said, regularly sack, burn, and pillage non-Arab villages and rape black African women they capture. "They are holed up in several camps, often not very far from the camps where displaced people are located, only a few kilometers away. They sometimes share their locations with the government and the government provides them with supplies and logistical support. Now the government of Sudan will say, we're not involved in genocide. If genocide is going on it is by individuals and is not state-sponsored. I would beg to differ with that."

The International Community

Unlike U.S. policy toward the Rwandan killings, the U.S. Congress and the State Department have labeled what is going on in Darfur as genocide. "President Bush in September signed a nonbinding resolution into effect calling for sanctions against Sudan. It is interesting to note, however, no actions have yet resulted from this resolution. Secretary of State Powell last summer said genocide was taking place. That was corroborated by an independent study by the United States State Department. But Secretary Powell also said there was no reason for the United States to take any further action. To me that is really disturbing and not understandable."

At the same time, the United Nations has issued a report saying that what is going on in Darfur does not constitute state-sponsored genocide. "On its part, the U.S. is sticking by its guns, saying that there is genocide in Darfur, and while not acknowledging 'state-sponsored genocide' in Darfur, the UN has called the situation one of the worst man-made tragedies of our lifetime. It has passed two resolutions threatening sanctions against Sudan if it does not take serious measures to stop the killing in Darfur."

Edmond Keller then asked, "Who speaks for the UN?" He pointed to the Security Council, saying that council members Russia and China both have oil contracts and other business investments with the Sudan government and openly oppose criticism of the government in Khartoum, while France has generally resisted interventions by other international entities in the northern part of Africa where it previously wielded great influence. Then, Keller went on, "you have the Arab countries, the Muslim countries, who may not be permanent members but they do have influence, and they have been opposed" to condemning the Sudan government.

The African Union has pledged to send 4,000 troops to the region, but with the limited mandate of protecting cease-fire monitors, "not to protect the civilian population." And of these, only 900 have arrived. "Darfur is an area the size of Texas," Keller said, "so you can imagine how much good 4,000 peacekeepers would do. Not much."

Keller said that the Khartoum government has already committed violations of the peace accord with the south. It faces small insurgencies in the east as well as in Darfur. In his opinion the government is seeking to crush all of its opponents piecemeal rather than seek a peaceful resolution to its various conflicts.

What Needs to Be Done

Edmond Keller outlined his ideas for ending the killing in Darfur. "What is needed is an all-parties conference at which everybody can lay out their grievances and try to work out some kind of a resolution." The international community, he said, "has been dragging its feet. That is why we haven't gotten anywhere with this Darfur situation."

He called for "drastic measures" by the international community to control the Janjaweed. He defined that as a contingent of "at least 40,000" peacekeepers, justifying this by declaring that "governments that do not behave responsibly toward their citizens in this day and age forfeit their right to sovereignty."

He did not call for U.S. troops, but for the United States to offer large-scale logistical support to the African Union to ferry and supply its troops into Sudan to control the crisis, "including equipment, communications, housing, and transportation." If the AU forces do not succeed in their mission, then NATO and UN intervention should be considered, as well as strict sanctions on Sudan, Keller said. Sanctions could include an arms embargo, a ban on international travel by Sudan's leaders, and a freeze on assets of companies controlled by the ruling group in Sudan. He also called on the UN to prosecute the perpetrators of the genocide under the International Criminal Court of Justice in the Hague.

"You don't just admonish people like this, the Janjaweed and the Sudan government," Keller concluded. "You have to make them pay."