Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

Processing Remembrance: National Genocide Memorial Day in Rwanda


By Robin Lane

For this blog in honor of National Genocide Memorial Day in Rwanda, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide on April 7th, 1994, I didn't know quite where to begin. It's a struggle I often face in my work at the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission - how to articulate unimaginable horrors, how to explain the indescribable violence. I dove back into a few books I've read during my time as Education Specialist, and researched National Genocide Memorial Day in Rwanda furiously, hoping that these resources would spark a central theme or a unique message. 

(Kigali Memorial Centre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I thought about describing the months and years of conflict that escalated on April 6th, when President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down, and April 7th, when the Interahamwe began their organized attacks on the Tutsi population for 100 days. I researched the Hutu revolution of 1959, Rwandan independence in 1962, and the Hutu-Tutsi civil war that broke out in 1990. I reread my notes about the various Belgian and Rwandan political leaders who either fostered reconciliation or revenge, and the personal memoir of our Commissioner Gilber Tuhabonye, a survivor of the genocide. Then, I got stuck. The historical and political details seemed too complex to delve into for a brief blog, and I felt like it had all been said before. What more could I bring to this complicated historiography?

Returning to the THGC's mission to educate and encourage individuals to uphold human value, especially in the face of genocidal travesty, I wondered if I could perhaps pinpoint a cause, or list of causes, behind the genocide in Rwanda. The question of what causes genocide to happen isn't merely about historical accuracy, but about prevention. For some, knowing why genocide happens is a key piece in understanding how we can prevent it from ever happening again. Once more, conflict and confusion halted my research. Was it a perfect storm of colonialism's after effects and economic desperation? Was it a cut-and-dry case of racism and hatred? Was it the political powers-that-be pushing an agenda on an easily manipulated public, or were they responding to outrage, fear, and a desire for revenge that already existed? I found sources arguing "yes" to each of these questions - and found myself no closer to the answer. 

I turned instead to concentrating on the actual day of memorialization, hoping it would help me focus. I learned that, in Rwanda, April 7th marks the beginning of 100 days of national mourning, representing the brutal 100 days in 1994 when 800,000 people were killed, and is followed by another day of recognition on April 13th specifically to commemorate Rwandan politicians who stood against the killing of the Tutsis, and, because of their defiance, were themselves murdered. In observation of this day, Rwandans are encouraged to spend time remembering what happened during the genocide, providing support to genocide survivors, and honoring their loved ones who were killed. At noon, there is a national moment of silence. It is hoped that commemorating April 7th as National Genocide Memorial Day will cause Rwandans to reflect not only on the genocide that occurred in their country, but on genocide around the globe, and to turn their focus towards prevention.

(Kigali Memorial Centre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, I had hit upon something. I thought I could share with our readers how I planned on observing National Genocide Memorial Day. Then I realized - my process of preparing to write this blog, my search for a unique message, ended up being exactly how National Genocide Memorial Day is meant to be commemorated. I had spent time in remembrance and reflection: about the events of the Rwandan genocide, the country's history, and the various historical explanations for why it occurred. Through this exploration, I renewed my deep commitment to the cause of genocide education and prevention. 

So, what is my "unique message"? Honoring National Genocide Memorial Day doesn't require an angle, a theme, or a thesis. You don't need the answers to the difficult questions that come up in conversations about genocide, the ever-present "whys." All you need is a willingness to examine this difficult history, and an open enough mind and heart to continue exploring long after this day ends. I hope you spend today in the same way that I have spent the weeks leading up to this blog - remembering the stories of the Rwandan genocide and reflecting on the part you can play in our Commission's efforts to ensure these stories are never forgotten. 

(photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Tags: rwanda rwandan genocide memorial national genocide memorial day genocide thgc texas holocaust and genocide commission genocide education


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