'When the snow started falling ...'

Roughy 100 people gathered at Temple Sinai in Glendale Sunday afternoon for a forum on the recent genocide and atrocities that have taken place in Darfur.

The Glendale Interfaith Community Forum on Genocide and Darfur was moderated by Conressman Adam Schiff (D-Glendale).

Schiff introduced the three speakers: Father Vazken Movsesian from In His Shoes International, whose grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide, addressed the Armenian Genocide; Robert Geminder, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Poland; and Mohamed Suleiman, a Darfurian refugee who shared personal stories of survival.

“Over the past 30 years, an estimated 450,000 people have lost their lives, killed by the government-sponsored Janjaweed militias, in what is universaily recognized as the first genocide of the 21st century,” Schiff said in his opening remarks. “And those words alone, 'first genocide of the 21st century,' are in themselves so tragic, if you consider the hopes that we had at the end of the last century that genocide might become a thing of the past.”

The goal of the event was not only to expose the audience to the events in Darfur but to discuss the atrocities of the Armenian, Jewish and most recently the Rwandan genocide, and how the world must not allow this to continue.

Father Movsesian traveled to Rwanda 10 years after the genocide in that country, wondering what similiarities, if any, existed between that country's post-genocide period and Armenia's.

“It was a very rude awakening. What we talk about as genocide and holocaust, these are just words until you start touching people's lives,” Father Movsesian said. In Rwanda, Father Movsesian had the opportunity to visit the Holocause museum there, and what he saw there was othing short of shocking.

“Here we are in this museum, and I am looking at picture after picture of the Rwandan people, and as I am reading their stories, it's like a slap in the face. Every story my grandmother had told me about her experiences was being repeated in this museum. It was the same evil,” said Father Movsesian, angrily. “You want proof about evolution and creation — that we have not evolved as a species? Everything that happened in 1915 to the Armenians was happening in Rwanda at the end of the century, and it's happening today,” said Father Movsesian.

“Yes, there were 6 miliion Jews that were killed, but one more thing: there were 5 million non-Jews that were killed, so we're talking about a Holocaust of 11 million people,” said Geminder, who was 4 years old at the beginning of the Holocaust in 1939. “Why did I survive? Pure luck. Pure luck.”

Geminder was among a group of 18,000 people driven to a cemetery to be shot to death and thrown in a mass grave. Of those 18,000 people, 12,000 were killed in one day. The 6,000 who survived, including Geminder, were told to go home “when the snow started falling and it became dark.” Later, Geminder escaped his ghetto after staying in a closet all day and escaping with his mother at night.

“What do we do, and what do we want to see — when I say 'we' I mean the poor people and all decent pepole around the world who advocate for justice and hope and want to stop the genocide in Darfur and everywhere else,” said Suleiman.

michael.arvizu@latimes.com (818) 790-8774, ext. 17

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