Say My Name, Rohingya

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by Karen Topakian

When leaders refuse to say the name of those oppressed, we all suffer.

The most recent case took place in Myanmar when the Pope chose to not “say my name” Rohingya.

Instead, he said, “The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”

And

“Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation building.”

He came close to calling the Rohingya by name. But close ain’t good enough when it comes to genocide. Plain and simple, Myanmar did commit genocide – the extermination of a people and their culture – against the Rohingya people.

When we don’t name genocide, we cast doubt on it or deny its existence. By doing so, we render the victims and the survivors invisible at worst and liars at best. We make it easy to look away, aside, past it.

The effects of unnamed genocide last for many generations. My own people, Armenians, still struggle under the Turkish government’s refusal to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the genocide in 1915.

When we don’t name genocide, we enable other leaders, other despots, other tyrants to commit the same crimes against their people without risking retribution, sanctions, punishment. In the process, we bruise, stain, tarnish our own humanity.

We fight to be recognized. Heard. Believed. It happened. Say my name.