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Genocide survivors discuss experiences

Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 03:03


Charmaine Poh / The Tufts Daily

Four genocide survivors and the descendant of a survivor recounted their experiences Monday night at the second annual Survivors Speak event.

Four genocide survivors and the descendant of a survivor gathered at the second annual Survivors Speak panel discussion on Monday night to recount their experiences to the Tufts University community.

The Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education hosted the event.

The panelists included survivors of the Holocaust and of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. The panel also included Dennis Papazian, a descendant of an Armenian genocide survivor, who works as an oral historian to record and document Armenian survivors' stories since 1970.

Papazian retold the story of a survivor.

"They asked all the men and boys to separate from the women," Papazian said. "There were some teen boys who were dressed like girls, disguised. They remained behind, but my father had to go. They killed them with bayonets at the end of their rifles. They did this killing right in front of us. I saw my father being killed."

For some of the panelists, sharing their experiences with genocide is part of the healing process and helps them move forward.

Chantal Kayitesi, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, explained that she felt reinvigorated after she joined a weekly group in which she discussed her experiences. The weekly group then became an advocacy organization.

Kayitesi recalled being so motivated by the work that she decided to return to it after completing college.

"I was able to gain strength by talking to other survivors … every week we would meet and talk about our experiences," Kayitesi said.

Max Michelson, a survivor of the Holocaust from Riga, Latvia, recalled that he was unable to speak about his experience for several decades.

"It took me 35 years before I started to speak about the Holocaust," Michelson said. "I felt that that by being productive and building a decent life … I was honoring my parents. That seemed to me the only way I could rebuild life and go on."

He said that he cannot connect God with the Holocaust.

"I cannot believe in a God who had anything to do with killing 1.5 million Jewish children," he said. "That was a matter of evil men, not of God."

Tooch Van, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide of 1975−79, said he had no choice but to keep moving forward after the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

"In my case, I had no choice. I had to [keep moving forward]," he said. "I still have nightmares when I talk about how I lost my family. I feel lonely, but I have a responsibility to share this."

Papazian suggested that the United Nations could play a role in preventing future genocides and added that there needed to be appropriate punishments administered to perpetrators in order to prevent similar crimes.

"If we can somehow harness the good idea and remove the weaknesses, it's the road to international peace and harmony," Papazian said. "There has to be punishment for the leaders otherwise new perpetrators will say ‘they got away with it, we can get away with it.'"

Jasmina Cesic, a survivor of the Bosnian civil war of the 1990s, urged her listeners to consider the best interests of humanity as opposed to what is in the interests of a particular state.

She believes that today, there are still good Serbs and bad Serbs.

"People who really believe in religion are good−hearted people, and they share love. I think that's how I sustain my love," she said. "After everything that has happened to me, I am still able to love, and I still believe there are good Serbs and bad Serbs."

Papazian added that there is no real concept of internationalism and argued that the concept of state sovereignty must be deconstructed.

Steve Cohen, who served as the moderator of the panel and is also a lecturer in the department of education, encouraged the audience to eliminate violence, racial hatred and indifference.

Michelson exhorted the audience to guard against atrocities like genocide in the future through discussion.

"To the extent that you can, try to prevent other holocausts by telling our story," Michelson said.

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