TORONTO—The Zoryan Institute’s twelfth annual Genocide and Human Rights University Program (GHRUP) commences at a fitting time as atrocities and human rights violations unfold in Syria, Egypt, and several countries in the Middle East and Africa.
This year, 22 students from ten countries arrived in Toronto to meet and study with ten distinguished genocide scholars. Many of the students come from backgrounds where gross violations of human rights and genocide are part of their national or personal experience, such as Kurds, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Armenians, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. There are several students who work to provide aid to affected communities, like those of Guatemala and Sudan. Perhaps even more remarkable is the number of students who do not have a direct connection, yet are deeply motivated to understand human rights violations and genocide and how to raise awareness to prevent them around the world.
The Course Director, Prof. Joyce Apsel of New York University, noted, “Several students who are teachers commented on how much they learned from watching the pedagogy of different instructors, as well as from the course content. Other students consulted me and other instructors about which directions and schools to pursue for graduate education. They proved to be an outstanding group of students, and it was a privilege to have two weeks in and out of the classroom to exchange ideas and interests.”
Indeed, the students brought many diverse experiences to the classroom. One student who is a journalist by trade, described to the class, based on a personal visit to North Korea, the importance of maintaining a critical perspective on decades-old yet still ongoing human rights abuses there. Another student presented the current and historical human rights abuses of disabled peoples affected by policies of eugenics in the USA, a group she works with in her field of Social Work and Disability Studies. Yet another brought the class to tears by discussing her own family’s history of having suffered chemical attacks in the Halabja massacre of March 16, 1988. The GHRUP provides students the opportunity to voice these stories, to analyze comparatively how genocides unfold, their immediate and trans-generational effects on people, and to explore how we can stop them.
“It was remarkable to see descendants of perpetrator and victim groups in the Armenian Genocide—students of Armenian, Kurdish and Turkish backgrounds—find common interests with each other, and within the academic environment of the program and, based on historical facts, explore issues of stereotypes, memory, denial and reconciliation together, seeing each other through the prism of humanity,” says a statement from the Zoryan Institute.
One student from Pakistan, currently a member of the UNAMID effort in Darfur, Sudan, brought to the course the perspective and the dedication of those who work to prevent genocide in the field.
The sentiments of all the students who attended the course are perhaps best captured in their own words. Explaining the programs strengths, one student commented, “I think the GHRUP does an amazing job of providing an incredibly comprehensive course in such a short period of time. The quality of the scholars and students, and the incredible range of experiences and backgrounds are unparalleled.”
Another student wrote that “This program is life- and career-changing. It focuses on the history of genocide, the patterns of genocide, the denial and prevention of genocide.”
The Zoryan Institute and its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, is the first non-profit, international center devoted to the research and documentation of contemporary issues with a focus on Genocide, Diaspora and Armenia.