On the Path to Genocide: Armenia and Rwanda Reexamined
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The United Nations (UN) received its first offical warning of the risk of genocide in Rwanda in 1962 - technically speaking, some thirty-two years of advance notice. UN Commissioner Majid Rahnema, after returning from an observer mission, declared that the nation exhibited 'the symptoms of an explosive situation'. The 'social and political' tension there, he believed, 'may result either in the gradual extermination of the majority of the Tutsi population, or it may at any moment degenerate into violence and, possibly, civil war'. Certainly, there was some cause for concern during the decolonization process of the early 1960s. Yet within a decade or so, the risk appeared to have passed. By the mid-1970s, experts on Rwanda were predicting a bright future of ethnic unity. In the 1980s the volatile issue of regionalism, rather than enthicity, dominated the political agenda; even in 1991 some Rwandans 'openly scoffed' at the idea of 'ethnic' politics. For many of the thirty-two years between Commissioner Rahnema's counsel and the eruption of genocide, his warning seemed overstated and alarmist. Then suddenly it became prophetic. Between April and July 1994 the most intense genocide of the twentieth century tore through Rwanda, leaving close to a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu dead in its wake. Commissioner Rahnema's prediction had eventuated. And yet why thirty-two years later? Why did the genocide erupt in 1994 rather than 1964, or for that matter, 1974 or 1984? Was Commissioner Rahnema's warning in 1962 really portentous, or just and accident of history?