Thursday, June 26, 2008

Armenian Genocide Monument in Boston

I thought I'd take a moment to digress from my usual ramblings and discuss a bit of local news. Today, the Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) approved the Armenian Heritage Foundation's request to build a monument paying homage to the 1.5 million Armenians killed during the first genocide of the 20th century. But of course, it hasn't been without debate and controversy.

The monument, which is set to be constructed on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, was proposed eight years ago with Mayor Thomas M. Menino opposing it, noting that it would open a floodgate of other requests for monuments on the Greenway.

Pish Posh!

The Bostonist was kind enough to point out in a 2006 article that there are plenty of monuments throughout Boston (such as the Holocaust memorial in Faneuil Hall) yet the request for monuments seems to be under control. And what about the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Flagstaff Hill in the Commons or the Leif Erikson monument on Comm Ave?

The article drew a valid and unfortunate conclusion:
"...the Armenian Genocide, like the Holocaust, has its naysayers, foremost among whom is the government of Turkey. Perhaps because the Armenian Genocide took place from 1915 to 1922, its deniers have had more success than those who would deny the Holocaust - the matter is a hot enough topic that the Wikipedia page on the event is closed to comments. Nevertheless, the consensus among historians seems to be that the Ottoman Empire really did kill as many as a million Armenians just because they were Armenians. That hasn't stopped a local teacher, with the aide of a Turkish-American organization, from suing the Massachusetts Department of Education to require the teaching of the Turkish version of events (i.e., no massacre, just lots of inadvertent death, and the Armenians aren't nice anyway) alongside the more historically accepted version."
President Bush's refusal to recognize the mass killings as genocide last October is bound to cause some political tensions when raising the topic of a monument commemorating a genocide. But regardless, all political jargon aside, it is what it is. One and a half million people murdered over the fact that they were Armenian is no different than the murder of six million Jews during WWII. If we recognize one, we need to recognize the other.

The sad thing is, this isn't a matter of recognition. It happened. Perhaps it's time we faced the facts.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just A Personal Update

As I've mentioned in some previous posts, I've been on an intense search for a job now that I've graduated college. But, my search has come to an end. I've found a job within the PR field working with non-profit clients (which was exactly the line of work I wanted to get involved in).

Hopefully, as time goes on and I get further into the non-profit world, I'll be able to incorporate some of the lessons I learn at work with some of my insights here.

So stay tuned.

Getting Active the DigiActive Way

My attention was recently drawn to a new site (well, it launched in February so I'm a little behind, but better late than never) known as DigiActive. The site's co-founder, Amine, described it to me as an organization that "seeks to promote and explain the digital tools of social change so activists can use them effectively."

What I really like about it is the different types of information it provides. DigiActive combines a substantial helping of human rights campaigns and issues along with guides, tools and examples on how social media is being used for human rights. So a bit of education with a bit of "can-do" attitude makes it a great resource for people interested in getting involved in social change or those who are already knee-deep in it.

It even has an introduction video to digital activism which includes commentary from some of the major sites involved in human rights including Global Voices Online, Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS. It's not the most thrilling of videos but does give some good advice on how to get started with Daudi Were (blogger for and Ushahidi) noting that it really comes down to basic journalism: grabbing a notepad and a pen and writing what you see.

Check it out:

The feature that stands out the most to me is its Activist Map which makes finding different campaigns easy, interactive and fun. With about a dozen different campaigns, the map gives a snapshot of information about the issues each one covers. Hopefully, as the site expands, it will include even more campaigns.

The other great aspect is that DigiActive is extremely eager for user participation (which makes sense given that social media depends on it) and encourages people in a variety of ways including an email list, writing for the site or adding their cause to the Activist Map among others.

So, whether you're interested in just trying to learn a little more about what's going on in the world or whether you want to take the extra step in getting involved, DigiActive is a good way to get going.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ogaden: The Darfur of Ethiopia?

Darfur, the tormented region of Sudan, has played a pivotal role in demonstrating the power of satellite imagery for human rights ( as I discussed here) but a new region has come to light. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released information on June 12 that satellite imagery has been used to uncover evidence of brutality in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

Lars Bromley, project director for the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program was behind the project and also handled obtaining the satellite imagery for the Crisis in Darfur map. The "before" and "after" images that were gathered displayed tangible proof that the Ethiopian military has attacked civilians and burned down villages within the region.

In addition, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the same day as AAAS about the surge in violence and extent of the abuse to which civilians have been subjected, including executions, torture and rape at the hands of the Ethiopian military.

Although the conflict has been brewing for years between the Ethiopian government and an Ethiopian Somali rebel movement, it came to a peak in mid-2007 with ethnic Somali civilians as the main victims.

The New York Times' Dot Earth Blog, covered AAAS' use of satellite imagery and considering the Ethiopian government has had a tight grip on who is allowed within the Ogaden region, more exposure is bound to result from something as concrete as these documented images.

While satellite imagery wasn't used for Darfur until years after the conflict had erupted, it has still paved the way for exactly the purpose it was meant for: to bring light to human rights issues at the beginning of the conflict. Yes, these images of Ethiopia are coming forth a year after the height of violence, but one year versus four years down the line (as in the case of Darfur) can make a dramatic difference. It demonstrates the evolution of the use of this technology and can hopefully be even more instrumental in uncovering humanitarian issues as they happen or even before they happen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Getting Back on Track

After three weeks in Europe (which I was sick with bronchitis through most of) I've finally returned to Boston and I'm attempting to get my blog rolling again. Unfortunately, a little thing known as unemployment and my recent college graduate status has forced me to spend a lot of time looking for a job upon my return but I'll be doing my best.

With my focus on human rights, I figured I'd share some of my experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in Poland. My friend and I stayed right near the market square in Krakow (an amazing city) and took a tour to see the camps which was extremely humbling.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the actual tour of the camp because it focused so heavily on the history of the Holocaust in general. While I understand that there are many out there that have not studied the major details of what happened in those camps, I am familiar with them and wanted to learn more about the inner workings of the camps. Certain parts of Auschwitz were revamped into more of a museum feel but we were shown where prisoners assembled for role call as well as one of the crematoriums and prisoner cells where people were starved and tortured.

Above is a picture of the entrance to Auschwitz with the infamous sign that read "Work will free you." I couldn't get a clear shot given all of the people and the fact that I'm only five feet tall.

This is just another view of the camp. The barbed wire and watch towers are still in tact and it's such an eerie and desolate place even after over 60 years.

I found Birkenau to be a bit more unsettling simply because it is exactly as it was left after liberation, unlike Auschwitz, which I mentioned was revamped a bit.

These are views of the rows and rows of prisoner barracks in Birkenau. The top picture shows the ones that are still in tact while the bottom one shows the remaining chimneys of the ones that were destroyed by the Germans as they evacuated the camps. Looking out from the watchtower that we were able to climb up, it was easy to see the massive amounts of people the camp held given the countless barracks that disappeared into the horizon. It was quite disturbing.

These images are of the "bathrooms" the prisoners used and the barracks they slept in in Birkenau. I can't emphasize enough how unsettling it is to see this in person but it really is something I'm glad to have gotten the chance to do.

It would take me forever to describe all of the amazing things I saw in Auschwitz-Birkenau so I'll spare you the details. If you ever do get the chance to visit them, I highly recommend it. It may be depressing when you're there but it is so worthwhile to see.

I'm hoping to start posting again on a regular basis and dedicate more time to this so stay tuned.