HDP x WHN: Oorlogstoerisme

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016
Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series “World War Two Today”, 2016

This event is in Dutch.

 

Aankomende maandag 23 april organiseert What is Happening Now? in samenwerking met Huis De Pinto en de Amsterdamse alumnivereniging Holocaust en Genocidestudies een thema-avond over ‘Oorlogstoerisme’.

Tijdens deze avond zullen What Is Happening Now-leden Marieke Zoodsma en Laurien Vastenhout in gesprek gaan met fotograaf Roger Cremers (Roger Cremers photography) en dr. Ido Abram. Tijdens en na het gesprek is er uiteraard ook ruimte voor vragen en discussie.

 

In Cremers’ fotoserie World War II Today staat de naoorlogse herinneringscultuur centraal en de manier waarop deze wel of niet schuurt met het hedendaags toerisme. Abram, emeritus-hoogleraar holocausteducatie, is directeur van de Stichting Leren met als persoonlijke focus het onderwerp ‘Opvoeden na Auschwitz’.

Het aantal toeristen dat beladen plekken als Auschwitz en het Anne Frankhuis bezoeken, is de laatste jaren enorm toegenomen. De manier waarop mensen met deze plekken omgaan, verandert. Objecten worden gestolen en mensen nemen selfies op plekken waar dit ongepast lijkt. In hoeverre is dit ongewenst of zelfs schadelijk? En wie bepaalt wat de juiste manier is om je op dergelijke plekken te gedragen en te herdenken? Hoe zorg je ervoor dat deze plekken geen prooi voor reisorganisaties en massatoerisme worden? Is het beleven van de geschiedenis wel zo gepast op een dergelijke locatie? Vragen zoals deze willen we aan bod laten komen tijdens deze avond.

 

zaal open 19:30 | aanvang programma 20:00
toegang gratis | reserveren via contact@huisdepinto.nl

Klik hier voor het facebookevent.

What the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide has to do with the Amsterdam municipal elections

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons
Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons

By Marieke Zoodsma 


The Dutch municipal elections are coming up this week and so, for the last couple of weeks, the various Dutch national and local political parties have been particularly active. In the run-up to the elections, politicians are always keen on getting as much media attention as possible, and so resolutions on pressing issues are last-minute accepted and political promises are made. Another political tactic is the making (and breaking) of alliances between political parties. The election contest in Rotterdam, for instance, “has been an energetic mix of soap opera, pantomime and farce”. The lead candidate for the PVV was sacked after just one day (after being unmasked as an extreme-right supporter) while other right-wing parties are forming pacts in the second largest city of the Netherlands.


In Amsterdam, left-wing parties are actually breaking their pacts to cooperate in a coalition. The reason? “De kwestie van de
Armeense genocide” or “the matter of the Armenian genocide”, a euphemism used by Dutch politicians who do not want to name the mass murder of approximately 1 million Armenians in 1915 a genocide. The Armenian genocide was the systematic annihilation of the Armenian population by the Ottoman government during and after the First World War. It were these events in particular that moved Raphael Lemkin to legally define premeditated exterminations and coin the term genocide in 1943 (for more information on the definition of genocide, see my previous article on the genocide convention). The Turkish government does not recognize these atrocities as genocide, their argument; the killing happened during a civil war, casualties fell on both side of the conflict, and the number of Armenian deaths is overstated. Calling it the Armenian genocide is punishable under Turkish law.


As the ‘world capital of international justice’, the Dutch parliament decided in February this year to set an example and recognize the Armenian genocide, pledging itself to attend the commemoration once every five years. So, what is the problem in Amsterdam? Earlier, Tunahan Kuzu, national leading candidate for DENK (a progressive left-wing party founded by Turkish Dutch MPs who had left the Labour Party), proclaimed on Turkish television that by recognizing the genocide, the Dutch government “is pulling a stunt and playing the sympathy card in the run-up to the municipal elections”. According to Kuzu, candidate council-members all over the Netherlands will have to give their stance on ‘the matter of the Armenian genocide’ since the candidates “now no longer can hide”. Kuzu adds: “Recognition of something like this is completely unacceptable to us”. Different left-wing parties in Amsterdam, led by the Dutch Green Party (GroenLinks), responded by excluding any possible cooperation with DENK. DENK Amsterdam is outraged, directly targeting GroenLinks: “You name diversity and inclusion as one of your main standpoints, but you exclude New-West’s number 1 party?”.


So here is how the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide becomes mixed up with Amsterdam municipal elections. As I have written before, denial comes in many shapes and forms. But the state denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey goes far beyond simply not using a specific word. Investigative journalists and scholars have been known to be threatened by state police, politicians in many countries were told there would be “strong retaliation” if they would recognize it as such, and there has been a costly lobbying campaign in Washington to avoid the US government from using ‘the g-word’. Not to mention the crippling impact the Turkish denial has on Armenia as a country, its economics, and foreign policy – see here for more information on the non-existent diplomatic relations between Armenia and its powerful neighbor Turkey.


The evidence that the events in 1915 must be considered a genocide is overwhelming. Denying is a mere political act that will continue to feed the cycle of suffering for the Armenian population: they are suffering from what happened back then in 1915 and they are now suffering from their useless attempt to attain recognition for it.* That Kuzu found it necessary to respond to the Dutch parliament’s recognition of the Armenian genocide on Turkish television is, obviously, his own choice and opinion. The consequences that he and his party might suffer from his poor choice of words should then, however, not come as a surprise to them. Is it not quite ironic that DENK is questioning the inclusiveness of other parties, while they are excluding all those who think differently about one of the first and largest genocides in the 20th century?


In a little over a month, on the 24th of April, it will be 103 years ago that the Armenian genocide took place. Let us honor the approximately 1 million Armenians who lost their lives, and stop euphemistically calling it “the matter of the Armenian genocide”.

 

* I highly recommend watching the TV-documentary Bloedbroeders (Blood Brothers), broadcasted on Dutch television in 2015 but still extremely topical and available online (however, unfortunately only available in Dutch). It consists of six episodes in which two Dutch journalists of mixed descent (one of Turkish and one of Armenian descent) travel through Turkey to Armenia in search of answers; ‘was the mass murder of 800.000 Armenians a genocide and can Turkey be held responsible?’, as well as; ‘what happened to the ancestors of the two presenters during this period?’. It is one of the best and poignant Dutch TV-series made in years.

Exposing “Ghosts” – An Online Hunt for Assad’s Thugs in Europe

A member of the Shabiha, with a tattoo of President Assad on his disproportionately large left arm
A member of the Shabiha, with a tattoo of President Assad on his disproportionately large left arm

A member of the Shabiha, with a tattoo of President Assad on his disproportionately large left arm

By Koen Kluessien -

 

“We love Assad because the government gave us all the power – if I wanted to take something, kill a person or rape a girl I could […]. The government gave me 30,000 Syrian pounds per month and an extra 10,000 per person that I captured or killed. I raped one girl, and my commander raped many times. It was normal.” This confession describes only one of many atrocities perpetrated by the Shabiha. According to a 2016 country report on Human Rights Practices conducted by the US State Department, these militias systematically perpetrated rape and other attacks on civilian populations. At least 7,672 incidents of sexual abuse were perpetrated since the beginning of the conflict. These predominantly Alawite pro-Assad death squads intimidate, rape, and kill Syrians who oppose the regime. It is no coincidence that Shabiha is Arabic for “ghost” or “shadow”. The militias feel untouchable. Some of these “ghosts” have now found their way to Europe, while their crimes have remained unpunished.

The Shabiha have been around for a long time. In the 1980s and 90s they smuggled food, cigarettes, and other commodities into Lebanon, selling these products with a huge profit. The smuggling was state sponsored and seemingly innocent. However, on the other side of the border luxury cars, guns, and drugs were smuggled from Lebanon into Syria’s state controlled economy. The Shabiha were nothing short of Syrian mobsters and were known for their brutal way of protecting their own business. When Bashar al-Assad came to power, the group was said to be disbanded. However, when the Syrian protestors took to the streets, the Shabiha gangs evolved into militia groups. This time not simply to smuggle products from and to Syria, but also to beat civilians into submission.

The Shabiha are Assad’s militia on steroids, literally. The members of the death squads are often described as wearing trainers and civilians clothes, added with a military style crew cut. What stands out most is their physique. According to one physician many of the members are recruited from bodybuilding gyms and are given steroids. This results in the militiamen resembling a somewhat chubbier and far more scarier version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It must be added that many of the current Shabiha do not resemble this stereotypical look anymore. Still, they are far from ordinary men.

One question that immediately arises is: why are these fighters granted asylum? And more importantly, what are they doing here? There is not yet a clear cut answer to both questions, but open source research by human rights activists provides us with some answers. Humanitarian asylum is only granted to civilians, not to fighters. UNHCR clearly states that “military activity is incompatible with the very institution of asylum. Persons who pursue military activities in a country of asylum cannot be asylum-seekers or refugees.” Still, government militants are often not seen as a threat to the European way of life. Shabiha smoke and drink, are not devout Muslims, and wear Western clothes. With the authorities unaware of the crimes these militias committed, they are generally seen as people who would integrate into our society easily.

The militiamen are under close scrutiny of a special team within the Dutch police force. Still, even the police often has to rely on anonymous tips from refugees who have recognized war criminals. Militias have also been located by open source researchers in European countries such as Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Still, they feel untouchable, even when they are not directly protected by the Syrian government. The alleged war criminals carelessly post photos of their whereabouts on Facebook and other social media. Luckily, this makes it easier for researches to locate them and link them to photos and videos of them wearing combat uniforms and committing war crimes. Already a number of researchers and organizations are posting the names and details of foreign fighters who have been geolocated in European cities. Combined with eyewitness accounts from victims who are now asylum seekers and human rights reports this information can counter impunity. More importantly, human rights activists have received intelligence that a number of Shabiha have been sent by Syrian regime intelligence (the Mukhabarat) to spy on refugees.

Layth Ayman Munshdi is one example of a fighter that sought refuge in Europe and was tracked down by open source researcher Ben Davies, simply using social media. Munshdi joined a pro-regime militia to fight in the armed conflict Moreover, he took part in executions. He also posted photos of himself standing on the bodies of the dead Sunni men he most likely murdered. Later he was located in Neustadt, Germany simply because he uploaded photos from his new life in Europe. He remained there for several months, until Syrians started posting about the crimes he committed. Munshdi consequently deleted his account, he was then lost out of sight for a while. He now resides in Damascus and rejoined the Shi’a militias in Damascus.

 

Layth Ayman Munshdi as a fighter and as an “asylum seeker” in Greece

Layth Ayman Munshdi as a fighter and as an “asylum seeker” in Greece

 

The human rights activists conducting the much needed open source research are often Syrian refugees themselves. Needless to say, these researchers are biased in one way or another. When one researchers was asked if he would also publish articles on war criminals from the Syrian opposition he stated that he had not yet found any. It is clear that there is a margin of error to the research. Still, they analyze every detail there is to be found about the individuals. The information is then corroborated with human rights organizations on the ground.

Much of the open source research is conducted by human rights activists that are not part of a police force. They provide us with some much needed awareness on the crimes of the Syrian regime, but they lack any form of judicial power. Luckily, some of the pro-Assad militias residing in Europe are now on the radar of police forces and intelligence agencies. Special war crimes units have started interviewing eyewitnesses and victims, in case a Syrian tribunal is ever established. This pro-active attitude is essential to build a case against war criminals. Still, it is unclear if such a war crimes tribunal will ever come to fruition. Many countries see Assad as the lesser of two evils, arguing that to fight ISIL they must maintain diplomatic relations with the Assad regime. Consequently ignoring that the atrocities committed by the regime forces are often as atrocious as those committed by the Islamic State. If the Shabiha escape any form of sentencing, they will forever haunt the minds of their victims.

 

Elections in the Netherlands: what the outcome of the Dutch Elections says about the universality of human rights

Demonstration for the rights of refugees in Lausanne, France on 15 September 2015  (cc-by-nc-nd)
Demonstration for the rights of refugees in France on 15 September 2015  (cc-by-nc-nd)

Demonstration for the rights of refugees in France on 15 September 2015 (cc-by-nc-nd)

 

By Arja Oomkens -

 

“Will you consider the rights of children when you vote this week?”

- “Sure! Who are you going to vote for?”

“I don’t have a residence permit, so I’m not allowed to vote.

- “Really, how come? Your Dutch is perfect!”

 

Last week, Anood (22) campaigned for children’s rights before the final debate on the Dutch parliamentary elections in The Hague. Her goal was to encourage young adults to go and vote, and for them to consider their impact on the protection of human rights. She described to passersby her daily reality of feeling Dutch while living in fear of being sent back to Iraq – a country that she has no connection with, because she grew up in the Netherlands. She hoped to engage youngsters to think about the significance of their vote: “Especially during elections, citizens cannot avert their eyes. Every vote makes a difference.”

 

In 2008, Anood fled with her family from Iraq to the Netherlands. Nine years later, she has a high school degree and studies biology in The Netherlands, speaks fluent Dutch, and has built up a large network of friends. And yet, every day Anood wakes up with the possibility of being sent back to Iraq. How is it possible that she still has no residence permit?

 

In 2012, the newly elected members of parliament were posed similar questions. This resulted in arrangements being made for a so-called Child Pardon Act. The aim of this act was to grant residency to children who had resided in the Netherlands for at least five years. For the first months of 2013, this policy worked reasonably effectively. But after May 2013, the criteria became so strict that hitherto 95% of children’s applications have been rejected.

 

The main reason for rejection is the fact that the legal status of children depends on the actions (or inactions) of their parents or guardians. For example, children who apply for the Child Pardon Act are rejected if their parents do not “cooperate” with the authorities by leaving the Netherlands. When parents are awaiting appeal in their own asylum-procedure, they are expected to leave the Netherlands during this period, and take their children with them. For this reason, the Child Pardon Act did not offer a solution to Anood, and more than thousand other children. These children are punished based on the unreasonable criteria their parents have to fulfill.

 

The Child Pardon Act is an illustrative example of the overly strict and inadequate immigration law and policy in the Netherlands. Being too restrictive, it unfairly excludes children who have resided in the Netherlands for over five years, leaving them with no clear future perspective.

 

It also illustrates how political (and public) support for the rights of refugees, and in effect human rights, has eroded over the past few years in the Netherlands. The outcome of last week’s elections confirms this. Despite Anood’s plea, the results show that the majority of Dutch citizens did not vote for the universality of human rights. For various reasons, many Dutch citizens see their own rights eroding and are inclined to vote for right wing parties that promise their protection. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte made some highly controversial statements during his election campaign, his political party still became the largest in parliament. In his most widespread election-statement, a letter to “all Dutch citizens,” Rutte stated: people “who come to our country […] misuse our freedom and spoil everything” must either “behave normally, or go away.”

 

This normalization of the use of discriminatory language is a cause for concern. By alluding to immigrants in his election-statement, Prime Minister Rutte generalizes all immigrants as belonging to the same group, blaming them for all sorts of disturbances in Dutch society. First of all, from a legal perspective, this is problematic since the protection of human dignity and non-discrimination are considered universal and fundamental in European and international law, whereas Rutte implies that such rights are rather relative. Second, the normalization of such discriminatory language has great implications on a societal level, as it constructs and reinforces a social hierarchy between people, and groups of people, and furthers polarization. In the run up to the elections, Dutch-Moroccan producer Abdelkarim El-Fassi pointed out how he experiences this polarization on a personal level. While he grew up in the Netherlands and has always been open-minded, the current political debate makes him want to withdraw into the Dutch-Moroccan community.

 

To create space for understanding individual situations, such as the situation of Anood and her family, steps must be taken to condemn the normalization of discriminatory language. One option is via legal avenues, such as the Dutch court that found far-right leader Geert Wilders guilty of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans – although this arguably worked out to his advantage. Therefore, most importantly, discriminatory language must be condemned by public opinion. A first step in this direction is to engage in personal contact. In doing so, individuals and groups move closer to each other, and towards a more cohesive society – as a recent study by Dutch news website De Correspondent aptly illustrates. Through an open and active attitude of Dutch residents, and by having voices like Anoods be heard – as well as the many other diverse voices of people in similar situations in the Netherlands – it becomes easier to sympathize with one another.

 

“Citizens cannot avert their eyes,” Anood said during the election campaign. When open communication and condemnation of discriminatory language becomes the norm, there is no need to fear for the devaluation of human rights as universal values. As the conversation between Anood and a man on the street in The Hague shows, there is a great discrepancy between the urgency of the plight of refugee and immigrant children in The Netherlands and a general understanding of their situation. Because of the open conversation Anood initiated there in The Hague, this man can put a face and voice together with a clear example of the inadequacies of Dutch immigration policy. But not all people in situations like Anood’s are fluent in Dutch or have a platform to tell their stories. Hopefully, her example can serve as an opportunity to open up the debate; to move beyond the current rhetoric, and inform people of the restrictive immigration policies enforced throughout the country on people like Anood, who have as much right to be here as any other Dutch person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Different Shades of Denial: are the White House and the German far right relativizing the Holocaust?

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

By Marieke Zoodsma

 

January is an important month for those involved in Holocaust remembrance; the 27th of January, the day that Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a month in which events are organised that involve Holocaust remembrance or topics related to the crimes of the Nazi regime, such as the Nooit Meer Auschwitz lecture in Amsterdam. It is also a month in which politicians engage in public statements regarding (the commemoration of) the Holocaust and the Second World War. However, it is also in the realm of politics where genocide, be it the Holocaust or any other, can become a dangerously fluid, unclear and undefined concept. Lobbyists, activists, and politicians from all different sides of the political spectrum use the term for their own agenda, thereby often (wilfully?) misinterpreting the facts. I will point out two examples.


At a speech in Dresden
on the 17th of January, Björn Höcke, a politician from the German right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD), labelled the Berlin Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’. Höcke, a former history teacher, said; “Until now, our mental state continues to be that of a totally defeated people. We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital.”. General outrage from within as well as outside Germany followed as Höcke was being condemned for his statement as being anti-Semitic and a demagogue. One way or another, it is highly questionable if a political figure should engage in such inflammatory comments on (the remembrance of) a not-so-long-ago history. Perhaps his political agenda guided him otherwise.


The United States White House commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement. The statement reads: “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”. Here too the statement was followed by astonishment since it did not include Jews, Judaism or antisemitism. Jonathan Freedlander commented in The Guardian: “The Nazis were broad in their hatred, targeting Roma, gay people and disabled people, as well as socialists, communists and many others. But any full account of that period begins with the recognition that Jews were singled out for total eradication.”. According to professor Deborah Lipstadt, whose story on Holocaust denial is intriguingly depicted in the film Denial, it is a form of classic “softcore denial” of the Holocaust. According to Lipstadt, the statement is not necessarily denying the facts but it minimizes them; arguing that the Jews as a group were not particularly targeted for destruction. This way, the Holocaust is de-Judaized.


Denial comes in many shapes and forms. The deaths in a genocide can for instance be rationalized as a result of an ‘age old conflict’ (as the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić did during the Bosnian war), or the statistics can be questioned or minimized. A common form of denial, especially among lawyers and politicians, is the claim that what is going on is not genocide. It is a definitional argument of which the United States State Department employees were fully aware when they drafted a memo in May 1994 (during the Rwandan genocide) saying; “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something’”. Different actors can deny certain things from having happened, from individual politicians to states – such as Turkey denying the Armenian genocide.


In the described statements, Holocaust denial or not, politicians are venturing out onto a slippery slope. Where the German politician Höcke can be said to trivialize the remembrance of the Holocaust, the United States government is minimizing the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust. As with many historical events – and perhaps especially commemorations – the Holocaust is being used for political agendas. Höcke, in the face of the refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Berlin, might want to construct the image of a unified glorious German people to build on a better and brighter future instead of a defeated people with a shameful past. The motives for the United States might be focussed on combating the Jews “special pleading” over the Holocaust.


The sociologist Stanley Cohen offers an interesting perspective in his influential work States of Denial (2001). Trying to answer the question “how could people simultaneously know and not know about certain matters?”, Cohen argues that there seem to be “states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and we don’t know at the same time”. The language that was being used during the extermination process is hereby an important aspect. The euphemisms, or language rules, that were deployed in the extermination process made it possible to deny what was actually happening; “the victims of Nazi atrocities were ‘deported’ to ‘work camps’ for ‘special actions’”. The meaning of the Holocaust is hereby simultaneously literally denied and one can thus claim it did not happen – during but also afterwards the genocide itself.


These language rules that are being used to literally deny and thereby reject the actual meaning of the Holocaust sound awkwardly reminiscent to the “alternative facts” (“falsehoods”, or in other words: denying the truth) of the new Trump administration. And we venture out further on that slippery slope…