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Holocaust Memorial Day – for whom?

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Holocaust Memorial Day 2017

On 27 January 1945 advancing troops of the Russian army came across the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau where over 1 million deportees were murdered or allowed to die from neglect.  The anniversary of that date falls next Friday, designated National Holocaust Memorial Day by the British government since 2001, and since 2005 as International Holocaust Memorial Day by the United Nations General Assembly. Many pious words will be uttered by the great and the good.

Right from its inception in the UK, HMD was criticised by other groups who considered that atrocities committed against their minorities had been overlooked. Indeed the Muslim Council of Great Britain effectively boycotted the event until 2007 on the basis that the event ignored persecutions in Palestine, Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Previously the UK government and its tame quango, the Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group, had reluctantly bowed to intense political and media pressure to extend the coverage of HMD to recognise the genocide of between 1 and 2 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman and Turkish governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was suspected, probably with some justification, that the British government did not wish to strain relations with its NATO ally, Turkey.  More of this later.

Mankind is one of the very few species on this planet known to routinely carry out massacres of its own kind. The list of mass murders and fatal exploitation of inconvenient populations is depressing in its length – under Pol Pot in Cambodia, in the Belgian Congo, and going further back the extermination of local people in North and South America. Closer to home we have only to look at the serial violence over many centuries between different Christian faiths in England and Western Europe to realise that no communities can assume the moral high ground when it comes to indifference to human suffering.

Perhaps this is the most worrying aspect of recent political events in the West.  Donald Trump was elected president on a wave of xenophobic hatred directed against Mexicans, Muslims and more generally against other convenient non-American targets that crossed his sights. Back home in the UK the Brexit vote was above all a denial of immigrant rights.  Similar movements in France (Marine le Pen of the Front National), Holland (Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party) and Germany ( Frauke Petry of the Alternative for Germany Party) are gathering momentum.

Does this matter? I think it does.

Genocide never just happens. There is always a set of circumstances which occur or which are created to build the climate in which genocide can take place. Gregory H Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, developed the 8 Stages of genocide which explain the different stages which lead to genocide. At each of the earlier stages there is an opportunity for members of the local or international Communities to halt genocide before it happens…

Path to genocide

At the moment we seem to be drifting somewhere between stages 3, 4, and 5.
Of course, this couldn’t be true, heading as we are towards 1920. But exactly the same thing was being said back in the 1930’s, and 1910’s and so on. Powerful people say strange things when they want to promote their own political and personal agendas.
Back to the Armenians, I found this passage in Robert Fisk’s account of their fate:

When a Holocaust conference was to be held in Tel Aviv in 1982, the Turkish government objected to the inclusion of material on the Armenian slaughter.

“Peres…said ‘we reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.’
“What survivors of the Jewish Holocaust were supposed to make of this piece of ‘denialism’ was beyond comprehension.”
So let us rejoice in the freedoms of speech we now enjoy, and pay our respects to the millions of women who demonstrated across the world last week in defence of the assaults on their dignity by Donald J Trump.
And let’s spare a thought on Friday for the Syrians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and the Yazidis, bombed, raped and driven from their homes not because of who they are, but because of hatred whipped up against the communities of which they are part. And the Burmese Karen communities, and in Tibet, and the Central African Republic, and the Yemen where over two and a half million people have been displaced. And maybe spare a thought for the fate of the million refugees driven into Western Europe by civil war and aerial bombardment. What is to become of them?

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