“How many of you know one solid fact about Darfur?” asked Alexandra Petropoulos, a member of STAND (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur). The nearly two-dozen members of the audience in Luther Bonney’s Talbot Lecture Hall remained silent as she continued.
“How many of you know that Darfur is a country in Africa?” A few students cautiously raised their hands.
Darfur is not a country-it’s actually a region in the northeast African country of Sudan-but Petropolous’ trick question proved her point: the lack of information about the region and the ongoing genocide going on within its borders could be to blame for the lack of action.
Following these questions, Petropolous began her presentation as part of STAND’s “Darfur: Just the facts” event that took place last Tuesday.
Petropoulos presented facts to the audience about the history of Darfur and the genocide that is taking place.
She then handed the stage off to Mansar Ahmed, a refugee from Darfur who is now living in Portland.
“Six years of genocide, while the international community stands by,” Ahmed began as the emotion of the topic choked up his voice. Ahmed is one of nearly 90 refugees who fled from the violence-racked country and are now living in Maine.
Some of the refugees have started a group to speak out about the genocide, the Fur Cultural Revival, in recognition of the Fur tribe they belong to.
He went on to explain the history of his country and how and why the genocide began. In the 1980s, he said, the Janjaweed, an Islamic militia responsible for the ongoing genocide, began killing “important people.” This included teachers, missionaries, and sheiks-the leaders of Arab villages.
Ahmed explained that in the 1990s, the level of violence increased as they came in larger numbers to villages and began killing ordinary civilians.
“What else can you do but defend yourself, or else you would be killed,” said Ahmed .
After local militias retaliated against the Sudanese government, the “real genocide” began.
The killing in Darfur has been going on for six years now, has claimed upwards of 400,000 lives and displaced millions of others.
The Janjaweed carry out rape and murder and burn down whole villages, backed mainly by the Sudanese government. The international community, he said, has remained ineffective in taking strong action to end the violence.
Ahmed and Petropoulous told the audience that the younger generation needs to step up and force the world’s leaders to take strong action. They explained that while the Bush administration has been one of the leaders in calling for action in Darfur, it has amounted to little more than strong words.
“Students are supposed to stand for action,” said Ahmed .
The two speakers urged students to stay informed and pass on what they learn to others. Petropolous explained that hand-written letters to government leaders are the strongest means of communicating the need for action, along with divesting from Sudanese-linked companies and donating to humanitarian aid efforts.
The presentation wrapped up with a clip from the movie Hotel Rwanda, which is about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that saw little action from outsiders until between 800,000 and one million people had been killed.
Ahmed explained that so many genocides have happened throughout history, but they continue because action is never taken until it’s too late.
“We’re still saying enough is enough,” he said. “Well, enough is supposed to mean ‘no more.'”