By: Gary Mekikian, @LA2DC
On April 4, 2010, PBS aired a documentary entitled, “Genocide: Worse Than War,” in which author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, a renowned genocide scholar, pointed out that, “All told, in our time, there have been more than 100 million innocent victims of genocide. More than all the combat deaths in all the wars fought during that time everywhere in the world.” Only those who are doing the difficult work of genocide research, prevention, and relief generally know this startling fact. Ordinary citizens are well schooled about all the wars of the last 100 years, but know little about organized killing campaigns that aimed to wipe out entire ethnic and religious groups. This must change. And when it does change, perhaps it will help save 100 million lives in the next 100 years.
Genocide discussions in our country and around the world peak on two occasions; on April 24, when Armenians around the world commemorate the killing and deportation of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (almost 75% of Ottoman Armenians), and when there are genocides in progress. Both instances, for the most part, follow a predicable script. In the first case, most governments who value the truth more than their strategic relationship with the Turkish government adopt or reaffirm a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide as a genocide, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. On the second occasion, for a brief minute, the world’s eyes are affixed at the horrors unfolding in real time – a sort of genocide reality TV – as hundreds of thousands of helpless men, women, and children are slaughtered. Then the news cycle is overtaken by a political scandal, or a natural disaster, or some other story because atrocity TV is not good for ratings. This too must change.
In the fall of 2014, several months before the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, ordinary citizens and first time activists gathered in a non-descript office-building basement to discuss ways to increase awareness of genocides, and how the Armenian Genocide became the template for all the genocides that followed, including the Holocaust, the genocides in Cambodia, Korea, Africa, and those being perpetrated against Christian minorities today in the Middle East. The group – LA2DC – decided that a grueling athletic event involving marathons and cycling centurions, spanning the entire American continent, and carrying a message to Congress could start a different sort of conversation. One that would start a social media movement, and over time, would engage the next generation in this discussion, and in the process, educate them and inspire them to join the ranks of genocide prevention and relief workers.
Starting on April 24, 2015, LA2DC athletes of all backgrounds have been on a non-stop running and bicycling journey from Los Angeles to Washington DC, carrying a message in a relay baton to Congress, and stopping in small towns across the country to engage people in the discussion of genocide. Almost 300,000 people have been exposed to the cause and the trek on social media, encouraging the athletes to endure the pain as they spread the message that what happened to the Ottoman Armenians should not happen to any other group.
And what of the message that we are carrying in the baton? Another little known fact among Americans is that our sense of outrage against international injustice and crimes against humanity were awakened and shaped during the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Americans organized the first massive international relief effort, raising the modern equivalent of $2.7 billion, to help the survivors of the genocide. Since then, America has been on the forefront of atrocity prevention and relief work, and the message we are carrying to Washington DC is a simple one. It’s a message of gratitude to all those organizations and Americans who put their treasure and lives at risk to raise awareness of genocides, the Holocaust, and other mass atrocities, and help the survivors. Our message opens by thanking the American people.
On May 7, 2015, LA2DC cyclers and marathoners will complete the last leg of the journey from Maryland to Washington DC, to deliver the baton containing our message of gratitude to Congress. During the week of May 11, Congressman Schiff, one of the leading voices of genocide recognition and prevention in Congress, will read the message on the House floor, and enter it into the Congressional Record for posterity. You can see the full text of the message here:
click to read