Speech of Rev. Victor J. Kazanjian, Jr.
Executive Director of United Religions Initiative upon receiving the Humanitarian Hero Award from the Beyond Genocide Campaign for his support of the Yezidis and those Struggling for Freedom and Dignity.
August 29, 2017
Thank you Pam, Will, and Rabbi Helfand. And many thanks to the Beyond Genocide Campaign, to the Board of Rabbis of Northern California, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, the Marin Interfaith Council, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council and the Interfaith Center at the Presidio. And to Bishop Swing for his beautiful words. I am deeply moved to be a part of this remarkable evening. It is an honor for me to be part of a group of remarkable people that includes my dear friend Fatih Ates, my brother Rabbi Marvin Goodman and the inspirational and courageous Mir Salem Daoud. On behalf of the United Religions Initiative and the community of peacebuilders in 102 countries with whom I am blessed to work, I accept this honor and pledge our support for continuing to raise our voices on behalf of our Yezidi sisters and brothers.
This work is very personal for me. As a child, I sat in the lap of my Armenian grandfather as he shared the horrifying stories of his family and friends being massacred in that genocide. Within the past two years, while visiting URI grassroots Cooperation Circles around the world, I stood amidst human remains in the killing fields of Cambodia, at memorials in Germany and Poland to the millions killed in the Holocaust, and in the streets of Sarajevo where the scars of ethnic cleansing remain.
And two weeks ago, I visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda, with a Rwandan friend who had suffered the horrors of the genocide witnessing her husband and children and nearly a million fellow Rwandans murdered in the chaos of homicidal rage. We walked through the museum together, tears streaming down both of our faces at the tangled and twisted images of murdered sister and brother human beings. One exhibit told the stories of 20th century genocides including in Armenia, the Balkans, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and Rwanda. In the Armenian Genocide exhibit, I saw faces of Armenians and Yezidis fleeing the massacre together, and Armenian and Yezidi bodies lying side by side victims of the genocide.
Mass atrocity and genocide, the targeting particular groups for oppression or extinction, requires a set of preconditions that dehumanize people and legitimize their abuse. The rhetoric and policies that preceded these atrocities spread hatred and bigotry, dividing societies into an “us” threatened by the very existence of a “them.” This politics of dehumanization and division are strategies employed in all genocides including today against the Yezidis. We must confront this dehumanization and violence with the rehumanizing power of love and justice. To stand with the Yezidis, and with any targeted group including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, African-Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ siblings in this country today is a radically rehumanizing act of love and justice. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of blessed memory, “Just to be in a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Being and Living – being and living should be an accepted right of all human beings. May we continue to make our stand together each and every day of our lives protecting the being and living of the Yezidis and all people, until such violence in vanquished, and justice and peace prevail on our planet. The struggle continues… be strong my dear friends.