KIGALI, Rwanda — A groundbreaking conference titled “Genocide and Denial: The Armenian, Jewish and Tutsi Genocide” was hosted by and held at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in con- junction with the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG), on July 17 and 18.
The center houses a museum that includes exhibits on the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, as well as genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia and Darfur. The two-day con- ference featured papers by scholars from the US, Europe and Rwanda. Its primary focus was the analysis of denial in the aftermath of genocide.
The Rwandan media covered the conference and the Rwandan New Times ran a feature article on the program.
The master of ceremonies and conference co-organizer, playwright Bianca Bagatourian, called the conference to order on July 17, noting that many things, including “the legacies of denial perpetrated by the Turkish state, anti- Semitic groups and Hutu nationalists, connect the three unambiguous cases of genocide in the 20th century.” Because denial is always an issue following geno- cide, Jean-Pierre Karegeye, Tom Ndahiro, Jose Kagabo and Hadley Rose, all discussed various dimensions of denial in Rwanda today. Rose discussed the problems that arise in drafting geno- cide ideology laws.
Noted Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt emphasized at the conference that: “Denial of genocide, whether that of the Turks against the Armenians, or the Nazis against the Jews, or the Hutu against the Tutsi, is not an act of histor- ical reinterpretation. Rather, the deniers sow confusion by appearing to be engaged in a genuine scholarly effort. The abundance of documents and testi- monies that confirm the genocide are dismissed as contrived, coerced, or forgeries and falsehoods… Denial of genocide strives to reshape history in order to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators.” Conference co-organizer Peter Balakian later stated that “denialism is the final stage of genocide, as it attempts to falsify history and create a counterfeit universe for the survivors and their legacies, and it must be studied and analyzed in order to be exposed for the ethical problems it creates.”
The conference included a combination of lectures and presentations that dealt with facets of genocide and dimensions of denial. Among the speakers and their lectures were Balakian, of Colgate University, who spoke about “The Armenian Genocide and Modernity” and “A Fetishized Foreign Policy: Turkish State Denial of the Armenian Genocide;” Dr. José Kagabo, of Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, “On Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda: Different Forms of Denial,” Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, of Emory University, on “To Debate or Not To Debate: Strategies for Addressing Genocide Denial — Like Trying To Nail a Blob of Jelly to the Wall;” Dr. Donald Miller of the University of Southern California on “The Role of Survivor Testimony in Countering Genocide Denial: Comparing Oral History Testimony of Armenian and Tutsi Genocide Survivors;” and Dr. Gregory Stanton of George Mason University on “Tactics of
Denial: A Comparison of Denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish State and Denial of the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda by Hutu Power Genocidaires.”
Among the other speakers were Dr. Wendy Lower of Claremont McKenna College and Tom Ndahiro, researcher, Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center (IGSC), Rwanda.
During both days, audiences, which included Rwandans, Europeans and Americans, showed great interest in the presentations at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, which is now central to the cultural life of the city and is also visited by thousands of tourists annually. The Kigali Memorial Centre was established by the Aegis Trust, founded by Dr. James Smith, who also created the Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre in the UK.
The staff, led by Solange Umulisa, deputy director, did a superb job of mak- ing the conference a groundbreaking international event. “Having a scholarly symposium on Armenian, Jewish, and Tutsi genocides and their aftermaths,” Balakian said, “in an important sub Saharan African country like Rwanda opens up new pathways for intellectual work.”
— Jean-Pierre Karegeye