A few years back, my bishop, Abp. Vatche Hovsepian visited Der Zor. He returned to give us a testimonyI could never remove from my mind. He remembered grabbing a handful of sand off the desert floor and feeling pieces of bones, then some 80 years after the Armenian Genocide. His emotions – his loss for words were a powerful descriptive. “Nothing which is hid shall not be revealed…” You can never hide this type of evil.
It's only been 12 years since the Genocide in Rwanda and all over you see references to it. Signs, memorials – they are there. But the expressions in the faces – is it fear? Suspicion? Some happiness and joy peppered amidst it all. But there is something strange going on here too. There is no denial! The Genocide is recognized – two ways – first by the perpetrators, which is the major recognition. They are having trials, against the criminals. It’s a slow process, but still, its there. Secondly, it is recognized by the people themselves. The murderers are living with the victims – many times on the same streets, in the same neighborhoods.
Rwandans are called to this ultimate challenge – to live in harmony with the enemy. It becomes obvious very quickly that there’s something unusual going on here. It's not only that they’ve survived genocide, it's that they’re somehow dealing with the bizarre state of life. Like the Armenian Genocide, Rwandans were killed in their own homes and homeland. Unlike the Armenians, Rwandans are back on their historic homeland after the Genocide. And along with them are the same people who perpetrated the Genocide. In reference to the Genocide they refer to the perpetrators as “the people.” We know about Tutsi andHuto, but you won’t hear it from them. And with good reason, the killers are living right in the same town with the victims/survivors.
We’re hearing stories of people seeing the killers of their parents on the streets. We’re hearing stories of victims dealing with the assailants. One man told us how he has to see the man who killed his father almost daily because he is living right across the street. Not to mention that the distinction is part of the reconciliation effort, but most everyone knows who is Hutu and who is a Tutsi. According to the history, the class distinction between the two groups was a creation during the colonial era, circa 1890s, and the Catholic Church. Later it became used by people to separate and put enmity between brothers and sisters.
So what about the perpetrators? They’re living in the mix. Some of the highest-level criminals are involved in the Gachacha (sp?) trials and even trials in Tanzania. Here is the frightening part of the equation – they, the perpetrators, are here and they have a story. Is this a story that needs to be heard? It’s an uncomfortable path to go down for the obvious reasons. Is anyone interested in hearing the story of the perpetrator? Would you listen to Talaat or Hitler’s side of the story? Perhaps, if you can use it to see how these types of events develop.
These people were brothers and sisters, living in the same region, the same street. What makes one man rise up and butcher his neighbor? Is there some directive, or some persuasive sales pitch that makes the irrational seem rational? You could possibly understand one or two deviants in a population, but how could a whole group of people take a path of barbarism? This is the same guy who just a few years ago stopped his car for the kids playing in the street and in the next moment takes a machete and chops up the child. This is the same woman who folded clothes with her neighbor and in the next moment is the loyal wife of a husband who rapes and beheads her closest friend.
And as you hear the stories of the survivors, the brutality with which the killings took place jump out at you like a spear through your heart. The stories I had heard as a kid – of pregnant women whose bellies were sliced, of babies being tossed across bayonets –makes the killing of a person with a bullet through the body seem humane. What kind of monster does this kind of act? And next… after the dust settles, that monster is going to live across or down the street from you???? And you’re expected to coexist?
Here we are in Africa, not knowing where this small detour in our lives is leading us, but knowing that there are some answers here for everyone – the Rwandans and us. For me, there’s a connection and an answer.
© Fr. Vazken Movsesian 2006