Survivors of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda Gather in Salt Lake City

Tue, 05/31/2022 - 1:09pm
Karen Jungblut, director emerita of Global Initiatives with USC Shoah Foundation, and Esther Mujawayo-Keiner, co-founder of Avega – Aghazoa, who gave her testimony over the weekend
Karen Jungblut, director emerita of Global Initiatives with USC Shoah Foundation, and Esther Mujawayo-Keiner, co-founder of Avega – Aghazoa, who gave her testimony over the weekend

Hundreds of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi congregated in Salt Lake City over the weekend for the largest-ever international gathering of survivors.

Organizers say the event, hosted by IBUKA-USA and supported by a number of organizations including USC Shoah Foundation, was a safe space for survivors to discuss issues including bringing genocide perpetrators to justice, preserving the memory of victims, and fighting against revisionism.

“The gathering was an opportunity for survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi to meet and share stories of how they have coped over the last 28 years,” said Edith Umugiraneza, a genocide survivor who now works at USC Shoah Foundation and serves as IBUKA-USA’s vice-chairperson. “It was a healing process, a chance for survivors to address the challenges they face as they continue to grapple with their shared ordeal.”

USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive currently contains 135 indexed and searchable interviews related to the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, a series of events that culminated in the death of an estimated one million people over the course of approximately 100 days.

A USC Shoah Foundation team was on hand in Salt Lake City to collect eight new testimonies from survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi.

Karen Jungblut, director emerita of Global Initiatives with USC Shoah Foundation, spoke of the imperative of collecting new testimonies.

“It has been almost 30 years since the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda occurred. But when you listen to the stories, you also understand that it has ONLY been 30 years,” she said. “The need for fellow human beings to truly understand the human costs of genocide so these events stop is still an elusive goal. But I do believe that with each story and testimony we create a chance to get closer to that goal.”

Edith Umugiraneza conducted a number of the new interviews over the weekend. She sat down to talk about the IBUKA-USA event, the new collection efforts, and her own experience as a genocide survivor and a USC Shoah Foundation interviewee.

Tell us about the IBUKA-USA event in Salt Lake City this weekend.

For many years there have been state-wide gatherings of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi around the United States—in Utah, in New York, in Texas. And when we started IBUKA-USA a couple of years ago, we thought it would be good to start doing something on a national level that attracted survivors from all over the country, and in this case, all over the world. Everyone was really excited to be there.

You and the USC Shoah Foundation team collected another eight testimonies at the IBUKA-USA event. Were the survivors eager to participate?

Yes, there are still many people who want to talk about what happened to them. Who want to share their stories. And until now, many haven’t known how to do so.

Many survivors come to me and say they want to record their testimonies because they are scared of forgetting what happened to them. It’s an issue of memory. They say, “We are starting to forget things, we don’t remember certain aspects of what happened to us anymore.” And I explain to them: “Even if you are not ready to talk about it now, or you are forgetting some details or names, it’s better to have your testimony recorded, for the benefit of your kids and others.

Part of IBUKA-USA’s mission is to fight against revisionism. Why is that important?

Because there are still so many people who deny that the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi took place. And there are other more subtle issues that need to be addressed. For example, there are people in the United States who refer to the events of 1994 as “The Rwandan Genocide.” They don’t say “The 1994 Rwandan Genocide Against the Tutsi.” The UN has recognized the term “The Rwandan Genocide Against the Tutsi” but the US government has not done so yet. It was not the genocide of the whole population of Rwanda. It was against this specific group, the Tutsis. So, we want people to understand that, to talk about it.

You yourself are a genocide survivor and in 2010 gave testimony that is now in the Visual History Archive. What compelled you to do so?

I had young kids. And I thought, maybe if I talk about it now, my kids can listen to my testimony even when I am no longer here. They’ll be able to listen and know what I went through. If I leave my story somewhere, they can go there, learn about my story, about Rwanda, and about what happened to me.

 

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