APRIL (REALLY) IS THE CRUELEST MONTH
At the Kigali Memorial Centre on the outskirts of town, 258,000 people are buried, their bodies exhumed and re interred on the site. Overlooking the capital you see that Rwanda really is the land of a 1000 hills, les mille collines, undulating, green, lush, verdant, a country recovering from madness. You can't go to Kigali without visiting at least one genocide memorial. This April marks the 15th year since that genocidal madness.
With that I found myself walking through the museum wandering around the upstairs rooms. The exhibits in those rooms explored other equally horrific genocides in the hope that maybe understanding them will stop them or at least alert the world when they may be about to occur. The signs were there in Rwanda, but the world chose to look away. Man, unfortunately, never learns from history despite not forgetting.
Rwanda's holocaust started on the evening of April 6th, 1994. The frenzy continued all night and into the next day, April 7th, as it happens my birthday. Adolf Hitler's birthday is less than two weeks later, though several decades and a previous century earlier than mine - April 20th, 1889 - a terrifying thought.
At approximately 8:20 pm on April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) Chief of Staff Deogratias Nsabimana, and other prominent figures was shot down as it approached Kigali International Airport.
During that night and through to the morning of April 7, General Romeo Dallaire, then commander of UNAMIR, frantically engaged in dialogue with the Forces Armees Rwandaises. UNAMIR served as the military and legal force behind the Prime Minister of Rwanda. Ten blue helmets guarded Premier Agathe Uwiringiyimana. Their murder in Kigali on April 7, 1994, precipitated the withdrawal of Belgian troops and later of other foreign troops.
That unleashed 100 days where Hutu hordes massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Between 800,000 and one million people died. Using clubs and machetes up to 10,000 Rwandans were killed each day. People would pay for their murderers to dispatch them swiftly rather then have them hack off an arm, only to return later in order to hack off another limb, until death finally came, slowly, and more, as we know.
I mention April because that month kept coming up as I toured room after room in the genocide museum. One by one 20th century genocides, like the stacks of the bodies of their victims, piled up. The killing fields of Cambodia began when the Khmer Rouge took power on April 17, 1975.
The third Anfal campaign, which took place between April 7-20, 1988, continued the genocide of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein's government. It was in northern Iraq where 'Chemical" Ali Hassan al-Majid used mustard gas and chemical weapons.
April 24th is the day commemorated worldwide by Armenians as Genocide Memorial Day. In 1915 hundreds of Armenian leaders were murdered in Istanbul after being summoned and gathered.
The Siege of Sarajevo began on April 5th 1992 continuing until February 29, 1996. Muslim forces responded to three nights of heavy shelling by launching a counter-offensive to break the nine-week Serbian siege.
In Israel, and in Jewish communities around the world, Holocaust Memorial Day, Yom Ha'Shoah, follows the Jewish calendar but usually falls in April, marking the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The heroic uprising began on April 19th 1943 but the destruction of the ghetto signaled the end of hope and the end stage of the final solution of the Jews of Europe.
The UK celebrates HMD, commemorating the Holocaust and other genocides, on January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets, but when former Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to determine the appropriate date, the Aegis Trust, a British NGO that campaigns against genocide, suggested April. "Aside from being close to Yom Hashoah, April 15th 1945 was the date Bergen-Belsen was liberated by British troops and so there was resonance with that period of history with many families of veterans as well as survivors. We noted it would have brought HMD it into a month when other genocides were marked and we were curious why so many dates associated with genocide fell in April" says Chief Executive James Smith, "However other countries in Europe already marked January 27th and as Holocaust Memorial Day is more of an educational event, January was favored as there are no holidays and pupils would not be so close to writing exams."
The Rwandan genocide began when school was out for Easter, and children were back in their villages with their families. This would have made it easier for the perpetrators to kill entire families of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, who were identified and betrayed by neighbors. Logistically it was not so convenient as April is the wettest month. That also made it a bad time of year for the victims who were running or hiding. The plan to shoot down the President's plane, if there was one, would not have been planned strategically because of the month but linked to the timing of Arusha Peace Process talks taking place in neighboring Tanzania.
What is it about April that makes it, as TS Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, the cruelest month? Had all these people actually read Eliot and taken him at his word? Why is there a genocidal spring clean in April? Is it when testosterone levels soar?
Perhaps the stars have the answer. The war-like sign Aries is associated with conflict, connected to the planet Mars, the god of war. Aries are aggressive, determined to get what no matter the price. According to Deike Begg of the Association of Professional Astrologers International, "when one of the outer planets - Uranus, Neptune, Pluto - changes signs, there are disruptions on earth, and each year of the genocide was accompanied by such a shift."
In China the symbolic ploughing of the earth by the emperor and princes of the blood takes place in their third month, which frequently corresponds to our April. The Finnish called this month Huhtikuu, or 'Burnwood Month', when the wood for beat and burn clearing of farmland was felled.
The "days of April" (journees d'avril) is a name appropriated in French history to a series of insurrections at Lyons, Paris and elsewhere, against the government of Louis Philippe in 1834, which led to violent repressive measures, and to a famous trial known as the proces d'avril.
It certainly stirs the poetic imagination. Seasonal change, especially on his New Hampshire farm, inspired American poet Robert Frost. In his poem, "Two Tramps in Mud Time" he wrote:
The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day When the sun is out and the wind is still, You're one month on in the middle of May. But if you so much as dare to speak, A cloud comes over the sunlit arch, A wind comes off a frozen peak, And you're two months back in the middle of March.
Not quite the same rollicking and satirical sentiments as in Mel Brooks classic melody 'Springtime for Hitler' perhaps, though he could no doubt have found inspiration in this grisly series of events. There may be no explanation other than man's continued barbarity. Maybe it's the positioning of the planets. More likely it is the randomness and coincidence of history.