The Kurds and the failure of ‘never again’

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Turkish soldiers secure in Syrian town of Ras al Ayn, northeastern Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Turkish media reports say Turkish troops and their allied Syrian opposition forces are securing a town in northeast Syria after Syrian Kurdish fighters pulled out of the area.  Photo courtesy of Ugur Can/DHA via AP. Thumbnail photo courtesy of AP Photo.

Turkish soldiers secure in Syrian town of Ras al Ayn, northeastern Syria, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Turkish media reports say Turkish troops and their allied Syrian opposition forces are securing a town in northeast Syria after Syrian Kurdish fighters pulled out of the area. Photo courtesy of Ugur Can/DHA via AP. Thumbnail photo courtesy of AP Photo.

After the Second World War, the West took it upon itself to take a stand in favor of human rights, and oppose genocide. The startling events of the Holocaust and the loss of two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population were an evil that would not be repeated. This was codified into international law via the United Nations, and statutes were put in place on prosecuting crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, this has not prevented genocide from happening. Worse, the West has shown startling apathy towards acts of genocide. President Trump’s startling decision to remove all American troops from Northern Syria, thus leaving the Kurds in the area open to Turkish massacres, was rightly met with condemnation. Yet, it is only the latest in a long list of genocides since 1945 that the West has either ignored, or indirectly aided. 

One of the worst examples of genocide since World War II was the Cambodian Genocide. The genocide, which happened between 1975 and 1979, reduced the entire population of Cambodia by about a quarter. The genocide, which was perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, killed political dissidents, ethnic minorities, intellectuals and anyone else deemed a threat to the regime. In all, about 2 million people are believed to have been killed in this genocide. The genocide was largely a tragic byproduct of America’s bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Between 1969 and 1973, about 2.7 million tons of bombs were dropped on Cambodia by the U.S. This heavily destabilized the government, and played a role in the Khmer Rouge coming to power in Cambodia in April 1975. What is even more startling is that the U.S. continued indirectly aiding the regime through funding after their ousting by Vietnam in 1979. The Khmer Rouge maintained a seat in the U.N. despite having not been in power for 14 years.

The Rwandan Genocide was another one of the worst cases of genocide to occur since World War II. At least 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by the extremist Hutu government in a period of roughly 100 days between April and July 1994. Despite escalating tensions and warnings of danger, the U.N. did nothing concrete to stop the genocide. The troops present could not fire on those doing the killings, because they did not have enough ammo for a prolonged firefight. In America, there was little to no coverage of the genocide, and the safe zones present in Rwanda were woefully inadequate for protecting victims. Most of the focus was on evacuating foreigners in the country, not those Rwandans who were in desperate need of help. The world just sat back and watched as thousands were murdered every day. Rwanda will always be a black mark on the record of the West at large. The biggest nations in the world were completely unwilling to lend any aid to ending the slaughter and will have to live with that forever. 

So, now, when our president decides to be complicit in another genocide, how should we respond? I must say I am not surprised by Trump’s decision, considering that the United States provided Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons that were used in another genocide against Kurds. Be skeptical of any media outlet that seems shocked that such a thing could happen. The past 75 years have been filled with genocides that have had the West’s blood-stained fingerprints all over them.    

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Ben Sagal-Morris is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at benjamin.sagal-morris@uconn.edu.

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