Eloge Butera was only 10-years-old when he was forced to live through an almost unspeakable horror. Living in Rwanda in 1994, he experienced his family, his best friend, and many others being killed in the genocide which saw around a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu people butchered to death by extremist Hutu gangs.
“The fundamental issues are losing a piece of humanity,” Butera explained, “and the pain that comes with knowing people believe the world will be a better place without us.”
Butera and several other speakers spoke as part of an organized Genocide awareness event Tuesday, March 23, organized by the United Armenian Youth Committee of Quebec. The night consisted of a panel of genocide survivors, and professors, who spoke of the effects of genocide, the reason of acknowledgement, and the importance of standing united against it in the future.
For Butera, the common link between all Rwandan genocide victims and survivors is the loss of their identity. “I want to convey that behind the numbers and behind the stories told on large screens, there are lives that are broken and futures that will never be the same.”
Liselotte Ivry, a Holocaust survivor and presenter, also shared a similar story of loss, of being unwanted, and of eventually losing her identity to a number that was burnt on her wrist in Auschwitz. “My number was 70663. We became numbers.”
Born in Czechoslovakia, Ivry survived three different concentration camps before finally being released by the British in 1945. She lost everyone in her family and endured incredible hardship. She shares her story to remind people to be courageous and fight against hate crimes and discrimination.
“Don’t ever be a bystander. Raise your voice, help, do something,” said Ivry.
This theme was repeated throughout the evening, as a call to action to prevent future genocides. Butera’s story in particular was a reminder to the audience that other nations, including Canada, did not prevent the Rwandan genocide from happening.
The issue of the Armenian genocide was brought up as well. The issue has turned into a political issue in past years, with many countries such as the United States, Canada and France deeming the killing of over one million Armenians from 1915-23 a genocide, while Turkey continues to vehemently deny it.
Professor Yair Auron, the associate director of The Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, condemned Israel for not officially recognizing the genocide. “In my point of view, Israel is betraying the memory of the Holocaust by contributing with genocide denial.” He explains how the Holocaust is a crucial element in forming Jewish identity and by not supporting the acknowledgement of other genocides they are not recognizing their own struggle and identity.
“If one recognises the genocide, the other will do the same.” Auron said, “it is other victim groups’ obligation to never again be victims, perpetrators, or bystanders.”