BY SHANT MEGUERDITCHIAN
University of California, Irvine – Class of 2012
2011 ANCA Leo Sarkissian Intern
Growing up as an Armenian in the U.S., genocide has always been a part of me.
I come from ancestry who suffered and survived genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Even though I never had the chance to meet my great-grandparents, I was able to hear the stories from the great-grandparents of others. Stories that I still have a hard time imagining in my mind — from seeing their parents beheaded in front of them, to walking the desert with no food or water and no end in sight. And yet, I live in a century with a Turkish Government that denies the Genocide that their ancestors had committed against the Armenian people. I live in a country where the President uses verbal gymnastics to avoid properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide in his April 24th statements. I live in a world that still has genocidal acts being committed against innocents – even as I write this. The Armenian American community can attest to the dire consequences of letting genocidal leaders off the hook – of remaining complicit in their denial. We know too well the way history has played out and still plays out today.
Through the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship program this summer, I got the opportunity to experience the beginning of a movement to help stop the mass-murder – what will likely be termed as genocide if things continue as they are – in the Nuba Mountains, located in the South Kurdufan region of Sudan. On July 6, 2011, I had a one-of-a-kind opportunity to attend a meeting at George Mason University that had a focus on ending the horrific violence and annihilation of the Nuba people, instigated by the president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahman Al-Bashir. It included the participation of genocide scholars, refugees from the Nuba Mountains, and anti-genocide organizations, including, of course, the ANCA. The goal of the meeting was simple – secure international support to stop the killing by reaching out to Obama Administration officials, Congress, and the media and urging them to take immediate action. Strategies were discussed, responsibilities split amongst participants.
The mission seemed simple enough and difficult to dispute.
And the first opportunity to call attention to this tragedy came fairly quickly – a hearing scheduled on the overall situation in Sudan just a week later before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – with testimony by Ambassador Princeton Lyman, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. Emails were prepared, phone calls were made – Committee members and the Obama Administration were alerted about the ongoing attacks against the Nuba people.
The hearing was packed – so we watched the proceedings online. Amb. Lyman acknowledged openly that mass murders are in fact taking place, although it is difficult, he said, to know the true extent. We could learn more – but the United Nations was being pushed out of the region by an angry al-Bashir. He explained that the U.S. has called on al-Bashir to stay out of South Kurdufan and arranged a “72 hours human rights pause” – a request clearly ignored by the genocidal leader. Amb. Lyman and Committee members then discussed long-term efforts to help South Sudan, from literacy training to democracy building measures. The plans were far-reaching, the mission challenging.
Here is what wasn’t mentioned – the concrete action being taken by the U.S. or the international community to stop the killing in the Nuba Mountains. Things to be done not a week from now, or a month from now – or even over several years’ time – but RIGHT NOW.
Where was the urgency of message? Where was the decisive response? Sanctions against al-Bashir, perhaps? Or a host of other measures available to the Obama Administration?
Later that day, the White House held a conference call, again featuring remarks by Amb. Lyman. The good Ambassador spoke eloquently once again about future plans to assist South Sudan, but, again, no concrete plan for stopping the killings in the Nuba Mountains.
And that’s when it dawned on me… why the efforts of folks like those gathered at George Mason University are so important. The Obama Administration and its emissaries can appear before Senate Committees, speak eloquently about a challenging but bright future for South Sudan on White House conference calls. But, people are dying now. And it is up to the Genocide scholars, human rights activists, groups like Save Darfur, ANCA and people of good conscience like you and me, to ring the alarm bells, knock on Congressional doors, reach out to the Administration, educate the media – not once, not twice, but until the requisite action is in fact taken.
And so, the battle continues.