Boston University launching minor in Genocide, Holocaust studies

By Susan Seligson
Boston University will launch a new minor in Holocaust and genocide studies, BU Today reports. Although genocides large and small have been perpetrated throughout human history, the courses will focus on historical events since 1900. These include the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire had rounded up and deported or executed 1.5 million Armenians living there, most of them Ottoman citizens,
by 1922; the Nazi Holocaust, from 1933 until the Allied liberation of the death camps in 1945, which claimed the lives of six million Jews and five million Slavs, Roma, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political and religious dissidents from the European countries occupied by Germany; the Cambodian genocide, from 1975 to 1979, when the Maoist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot slaughtered an estimated three million; the Serbs’ “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnians in the wake of the 1992 collapse of the former Yugoslavia, killing 100,000; the 1994 Hutu-led killing rampage in Rwanda, which targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus and slaughtered more than 800,000 over 100 days; and most recently, this century’s Sudan state-sanctioned murder of at least 300,000 Darfurian civilians in what is now South Sudan.

Instead of viewing these atrocities as distant in time and place, an emphasis is being placed on studying them as a mirror to present-day conflicts and simmering hatreds. The multimedia coursework also answers the more urgent question, could it happen again? The answer is yes—in fact, as the coursework illuminates, attempts at genocide could likely rise from many simmering ethnic, religious, and political conflicts in the world today.

Hate is a learned emotion, says Simon Payaslian, the Charles K. and Elizabeth M. Kenosian Professor of Armenian History and Literature. “We’re not born with it. It can be unlearned. Genocide can happen anywhere.”

Payaslian, who teaches courses in genocide prevention, notes in his course descriptions that the subject of genocide warrants rigorous study because genocidal acts and atrocities persist despite the 1948 United Nations adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention, criminalizing genocide in the realm of international law, was institutionalized in 1951, and yet it has failed to prevent the string of genocides that has occurred since then.

According to its description on the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies website, the minor in Holocaust and genocide studies offers students “an opportunity to acquire basic academic tools of description and analysis of the various factors that contribute to the emergence of ultranationalist regimes and their genocidal policies.” The minor is also designed to help students “develop an awareness of the value of pluralism and an acceptance of diversity, as well as to explore the dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent to the vilification and oppression of others.”

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