First European Congress of World and Global History - Panel 41: Genocide: Global Violence - Global Memory

First European Congress of World and Global History - Panel 41: Genocide: Global Violence - Global Memory

European Network in Universal and Global History; Organisationskomitee Leipzig: Frank Hadler, Matthias Middell, Hannes Siegrist, Katja Naumann
From - Until
22.09.2005 - 25.09.2005
Ruth-Stephanie Merz

Genocide and the memory of it has been an all-encompassing theme, which is not confined to the 20th century alone. As the actual situation in Darfur/Sudan and the ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkish government demonstrates, to name but two examples, it reaches well into the 21st century. The First European Congress on World and Global History tackled this subject with a panel entitled „Genocide: Global Violence – Global Memory“. Convened by Jürgen Zimmerer (Sheffield/UK), Dominik Schaller (Bern/Switzerland), Christoph Cornelißen (Kiel/Germany), Gordon R. Mork (Purdue/USA), Gerd Hankel (Hamburg/Germany), Paul B. Miller (Sarajevo/Bosnia), and Cathie Carmichael (Norwich/UK) dealt with examples covering more or less the entire 20th century.

Jürgen Zimmerer emphasised in his introduction, that genocide not only meant the physical destruction of a targeted group, but also their cultural destruction. Therefore the erasure of the memory of any aspect of the targeted group and of the genocide itself means a continuation of genocide. Furthermore he wanted to know, whether – if various instances of genocide share certain features – the attempts to come to terms with them does as well. Has the Holocaust not only become the universally recognisable chiffre for the ultimate evil, but a role model for dealing with it later on? Or are the unique features of the Holocaust too strong to make any comparison possible? These and other questions he had asked the panelists to answer.

The experienced tension in the commemoration of genocide between the perpetrators and the victims, or the descendants of both groups was also the major theme of the presentation by Dominik Schaller entitled: The Armenian Genocide between Remembrance and Denial. Schaller offered an outline of the historiographic research on the genocide against the Ottoman Armenians during World War One. The Armenian Genocide had been mostly compared to the Holocaust, but, according to Schaller, most works were motivated by memory politics, and tried, by highlighting the similarities, to put the Armenian case on the same level than the Holocaust and by doing so distinguish both from all other genocides. Only a few comparative studies succeeded in approaching the subject in an unbiased way, in analysing continuities and causal connections, rather than differences and similarities, thus acknowledging the dynamic nature of the history of genocides.

The following two presentations can be seen as a unit, as they were concerned with the Holocaust, its commemoration and teaching, both in the academia, as well as in the public sphere. Christoph Cornelißen pleaded in his talk entitled Memories of the Holocaust in Europe for a thorough monitoring of the globalising of the Holocaust memory. Cornelißen emphasised the dynamic nature of collective memory that should be seen as the result of ongoing discussions between different competing social groups. The Europeanization of Holocaust memory experienced in recent years, has spread through the world and paved the way to a Globalisation of Holocaust memory. This brought about a series of epistemological problems, of which Christoph Cornelißen enumerated some: European countries that had experienced great suffering and in this sense were reluctant to acknowledge the uniqueness of the Holocaust; the over-memorialisation and musealisation of the Holocaust, which might lead to self-indulgence in the wider public or in the future generations; the gap existing between the memories shared by the survivors and the mechanisms of political instrumentalisation of the Holocaust; and the danger of neglecting the social and political reality of the Holocaust, when it merely serves as a paradigm for universal evil.

Gordon R. Mork in Teaching the Holocaust and Genocide: From Eurocentrism to a Global Perspective was concerned with two similar questions, which were, as content regards, closely linked: (1) The teaching of genocide under global premises and (2) the conceptual and ideological problems inherent to this global approach, which have to be overcome. He talked about his experiences in teaching the Holocaust, in which he had encouraged students to search for systematic patterns of the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe and apply them to other Genocides. Here and in scholarship in general the problems start when researchers abandon the thorough analytical lens and begin to argue in terms of political identities, privileging one Genocide above all others and castigating colleagues as Holocaust deniers. To overcome this problem Gordon R. Mork proposed five approaches that should lay at the base of all scientific consideration of genocide: the separation of public memorialisation and scholarly research (although closely linked), the systematisation of definitions, the reflection that not all crimes against humanity can be qualified as Genocide, to be aware of the fact that comparability means not equivalency and, last, to recognise that the analogies are necessary instruments for the scientific communication, but remain, nevertheless hazardous.
The following two presentations largely confirmed the issues of the preceding thoughts, by focussing on two contemporaneous genocides in Africa and Europe, and the way over-remembrance on the one side can lead to indifference on the other, or to the creation of an unproductive counter-memory.
In Remembering Rwanda Gerd Hankel gave a brief insight into the political and social developments in Rwanda during the last decade and drew the attention to two key aspects of the memorialisation of the Genocide in Rwanda: justice and memory. In a society were victims and perpetrators had to coexist peacefully so shortly after the ending of the murdering, justice and memory were obstructed by the classification of the victims as being members of the Tutsi minority, while the Hutu majority are assigned the only guilt. On the international and on the local judicial level this official narration persists and leads to an unwillingness and reluctance of engaging into the search for justice, the international court being discredited, while the local courts don’t succeed in engaging the victims to participate. The tenace telling of the Rwandan Genocide also has a deep impact on the memorial. Gerd Hankel concluded that no lasting peace could be gained in Rwanda on these premises and that the role of leading Tutsi in the course of the civil war should be brought into the open.

Although in different nuances a similar problem in Genocide commemoration has been experienced by Paul B. Miller, who lives and teaches in Sarajevo, and which he analysed in a presentation entitled Contested Memories: The Bosnian Genocide in Serb and Muslim Minds. Unlike the survivors of the Holocaust, or even of the Rwandan Genocide, who were told to put the past behind, the commemoration of Srebrenica, of which we saw the tenth anniversary this summer, could be qualified as a “cult”, formed by myriads of social and interested groups and thus being instrumentalised for political, cultural, social and even economic purposes. Apart from the fact, that such a proceeding obstructs scientific analysis and ignores the complexity of history, it generates a counter-memorialisation of the Serbs, who place their story within a genealogy of cruelty experienced throughout history against their race and culture, and thus trying to deligitimise the Muslim experience. Again: peace and reconciliation will hardly be achieved in this way.

In what was a very lively debate introduced by the commentary of Cathie Carmichael, the need for more research not only in the causes and forms of genocide but also in its commemoration was articulated. It became obvious nevertheless, that the problems of the victims of mass violence share certain features and that the official as well as private commemoration encounters similar developments and problems, too.

Contact (announcement)

Katja Naumann
Universität Leipzig
Zentrum für Höhere Studien
Emil-Fuchs-Str. 1
04105 Leipzig
Editors Information
Published on
Regional Classification
Subject - Topic
Additional Informations
Country Event
Conf. Language(s)
English, French, German