Boko Haram and the relevance of genocide

While writing my op-ed, The Language of Genocide, (The Hill, April 24, 2014), I was shocked to hear from learned folks that genocide “is not relevant to today’s news.” After my limbic brain settled (as I am not one to flee from a fight on a topic for which I am fervent), I reverted to my prefrontal cortex cognitive status to research the relevance of genocide. In doing so, I had to first look at the definition of relevance and decide whether or not relevance has an expiration date.

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of relevance is that which is in “relation to the matter at hand.” So I began my quest by surveying the top news stories, both trending and editor-picked, from the leading online and print media outlets to determine whether they have any relation to genocide. The longest lasting story in the headlines (based on the same evaluation two weeks ago) was Boko Haram, its abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls, and the violence created by these and other terrorists in the region.

Other top stories included a Russian-Chinese gas deal, the V/A health scandal, and the story of a kidnapped woman who escaped after 10 years of captivity. Notably less prevalent from stories above the fold are those relating to Putin’s annexation of Crimea and mischief in Eastern Ukraine. Also alarming, and buried deep among world headlines, was my first encounter with a story that directly related to genocide: 20 guards from the Majdanek concentration camp were recently identified and now face the possibility of war crime charges.

Thus, the international matters at hand included violence in Africa and Asian energy agreements. I could determine no association between genocide and the energy deal but I was not so sure about Boko Haram. One can draw parallels between the instant name recognition of Boko Haram after the abduction of over 300 Nigerian schoolgirls (and subsequent murderous rampage) and that of the Nazi’s switch from threat to horrific action with the Kristallnacht of November 9th and 10th in Germany and Austria, 1938. Both groups used the blood and terror of innocent civilians to prove in less than two days that their groups were to be feared both within their borders and abroad. So yes, I would say that at least the naissance of a genocide is relevant to today’s news.

Now let’s look at Merriam-Webster’s secondary definition of relevance: “practical and especially social applicability.” I think few would argue that genocide, oppression, and terror are related and have social applicability. International laws, such as the Geneva Conventions, sprouted from genocide and other crimes during wartime. However, based on recent actions of the California Assembly (their lower house), the social applicability of such matters is hitting much closer to home.

Believe it or not, the California Assembly recently voted to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh (a region that is internationally recognized as part and parcel of Azerbaijan) as an independent nation. I can explain this in only one of two ways: the Assemblymembers were swayed to vote for this by the Armenian community (perhaps to create yet another Russian vassal state?) and they did not care that they were voting to recognize a “nation” led by enactors of genocide -- or they simply didn’t know any better. If nothing else, that which should have been met by heated debate instead was complacently voted through. Wake up, ladies and gentlemen. Would you vote to create a Boko Haram independent nation ensconced within Nigeria? I think not.

I have personally faced the remnants of Armenian and Russian aggression towards Caucasian states: specifically the human remains of victims in Guba, Azerbaijan.  I have also seen the passion in which the Azerbaijani citizens continue to fight the international community for not only remembrance -- but recognition that the genocidal acts in Khojaly during the Nagorno-Karabakh war even happened. We cannot decide upon an expiration date for recognizing the genocide in Khojaly just as we cannot tell the Majdanek guards that their atrocities have a  statute of limitations.

So we are left with the same question with which we began: what is the relevance of genocide? Is it related to our national and international headlines? Very much so. Is it socially applicable? Of course. However, perhaps if we spend less time debating the relevance of history and more time learning from it, we wouldn’t have to keep counting corpses at all. We have to stop rewarding those who commit atrocities with recognition or time-based absolution and instead stand fast and insist, “We won’t let you do this…again.”

Moss is a board-certified Nurse Practitioner of Psychiatry. She is also a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric nursing and currently serves at Colorado’s prestigious AspenPointe.