Reflections

In 2015, I was in a taxi in Medellin on my way to the airport. Upon hearing the news about the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC, the taxi driver vehemently complained that the authorities were negotiating with people who perpetrated atrocities.

I jumped in and pointed out that Colombian paramilitaries also committed atrocities, yet the government negotiated their demobilization a decade earlier and rightly did it so. The taxi driver paused for a moment in silence and then replied: “You’re right. At the beginning, paramilitaries only eliminated drug addicts, prostitutes, gays, and communists. Then, they started to do drug-trafficking, and that is when they went bad.” 

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Editor’s note: April 24th marked the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. That Saturday, President Biden formally recognized the event as genocide, the culmination of efforts by the Armenian community, nearly all of which are the descendants of genocide survivors. We asked Lou Ann Matossian, a local community historian, to reflect on the Armenian community’s connection to Minnesota.

By the fall of 1915, when the Ottoman Turkish extermination campaign was making headlines across Minnesota, the Armenian  Genocide had been underway for six months. Closest to the story were two groups of Minnesotans—ethnic Armenians and Protestant missionaries. 

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Algeria’s Hirak movement has persisted since its launch in February 2019. From large urban cities to rural towns, the peaceful movement mobilized Algerian citizens throughout the country. Although some analysts feared that the popular social movement would result in a return to violence and create space within the country for violent extremists, the movement has exhibited a strong aversion to extremist groups. Thus, these fears have been largely unfounded, as protestors actively reject groups like the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which participated in the country’s decade-long civil war (1992-2002). 

The GIA was a Salafi-Jihadist organization that engaged in open warfare with the Algerian government and eventually Algerian society during the country’s civil war. The GIA’s defeat during the civil war and the contemporary Hirak movement’s aversion to extremist organizations can be linked to the GIA’s attacks on civilians and its campaign of kidnapping, sexual violence, and forced domestic servitude. 

Photo Courtesy of LePoint

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In April of 1994, genocide began in Rwanda. More than one million Tutsi were killed over the course of a mere 100 days; the lasting impact of this violence is immeasurable. Each year, beginning on April 7th, Rwandans across the world come together to reflect and commemorate during the annual Kwibuka remembrance period.

Names of genocide victims listed at Nyanza memorial in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of authors.

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It’s been over four months since the Ethiopian national military invaded the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. The fighting continues, and the situation has deteriorated into a major humanitarian crisis, marked by mass killings, food shortages, a collapsed health care system, and the flight of at least 60,000 Tigrayan refugees into Sudan. Estimates of how many people have been internally displaced range from hundreds of thousands to over two million.

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In Colombia, an official call to mourn the country’s growing number of COVID-19 victims came alongside the news of defense minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo’s death due to the virus. Within the same day, on January 26th, Colombian President Iván Duque issued an executive decree calling for the “honoring of the memory of COVID-19 victims and especially that of Dr. Carlos Holmes Trujillo García” via a three-day period of national mourning. Duque used rhetoric surrounding this symbolic act to describe COVID-19 as the “invisible enemy” that Trujillo faced while in the “line of duty,” relegating the disease to a collective threat similar to the lingering conflict violence that Duque’s administration has been ill-equipped to manage.

Colombian presidential decree from Jan. 26, signed and stamped

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On December 30, 2020, Argentina’s Senate voted to legalize abortion. This decision found resonance with thousands of activists present outside the national Congress building, waiting, witnessing, and testifying why aborto sea ley, why legal abortion, must be the law. After 12 years of debate – really, after decades of debate in the wider public forum, the news of the official tally in favor of legalization was met by tears of joy, drumming, and dancing in the streets of Buenos Aires. These celebrations were echoed and sustained in the streets and homes throughout Argentina, but also across the wider transnational feminist network, both in physical spaces and in the digital public sphere. 

(Campaña Nacional por el Derecho al Aborto Legal, Seguro, Y Gratuito – Regional CABA, Instagram, January 3, 2021)

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Writing about time and historical periodization in his 2012 book, Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust as Historical Understanding, Alon Confino contended that “Linking the events to what came before and after is crucial to the interpretation of what actually happened.” What Confino meant by this is that “foundational pasts,” or events that are “brief, radical, violent, and self-avowedly transformative,” must be understood within larger understandings of historical beginnings and ends. In other words, major historical ruptures, such as the French Revolution and the Holocaust (the foundational pasts on which Confino focuses), are shaped by the events that come before and after them.

A photo of a Holodomor monument in Kyiv taken by the author.

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In 1975, Edward Tronick and his colleagues conducted what would become one of the most replicated experiments in developmental psychology.  A video discussing a more recent replication of the experiment can be found below:

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The Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s present but another case where casualty numbers are highly politicized— manipulated and employed by various actors to serve their interests. Twenty years after the wars in the former Yugoslavia ended, debates continue about their naming, framing, and death tolls. These debates are so polarized that the various ethnic groups involved do not even agree on who committed genocide to whom. 

Michael Büker’s Photograph of Gravestones at the Potočari Genocide Memorial Near Srebenica.

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