The Next Holocaust Victims Could Be Chechen Gays
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
After the scale of the Third Reich’s plan to exterminate the Jewish people, and all others seen as a threat to the Aryan race, was revealed in the aftermath of WWII, the common phrase heard was “never forget.” Since 1945, we have heard the term attached to other mass tragedies, such as the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 90s and September 11, 2001. But never since have we heard it attached to another systemic and calculated murder of a targeted group of people. Last week, we began seeing reports of the Chechen government gathering and murdering gay men in concentration camps. The phrase of “never forget” needs to be echoed — loudly — once again.
Chechnya, a small republic South of Russia, ordered a “preventative mopping up,” of suspected and certain gay and bisexual men in the beginning of February. These men have been abducted and sent to former military barracks where they are severely beaten and tortured. As of April 12, NBC News reported that as many as twenty men have been killed in these camps. Russian LGBTQ advocacy groups are working with men in the LGBTQ community to flee Chechnya and seek safe havens elsewhere. The nature of these efforts and the identities of the individuals in their care are being kept private for security purposes.
U.S. State Department Spokesman, Mark Toner, issued a statement on April 7 acknowledging the targeted imprisonment of the LGBTQ community, additionally stating, “[w]e urge Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports, and hold any perpetrators responsible.” Chechnya, however, denies that any identifying LGBTQ person lives in their country stating, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic, If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
Chechnya is helmed by Russia — a country plagued with human rights abuses and is known to specifically target the LGBTQ community with lethal intent. Chechnya’s provincial leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, enjoys a close relationship with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin — no doubt a fruit of Chechnya’s near autonomy from Russia.
As history tells us, this is how genocides and massacres begin. It is not an exaggeration to compare aspects of this harrowing news to the horrors of the Holocaust. It is not creating something out of nothing. In April of last year The Washington Post highlighted the work of researchers, mostly volunteers and students, who tracked the depth and frequency of information the general public received on the persecution of the Jewish people during the rise of the Third Reich. Contrary to popular belief, the American people were far more aware than we have come to believe.
We cannot continue to become a people who repeat “never forget” ad nauseam. It would be to our detriment to do so. News cycles are arduous and redundant, leaving so many of us bored and apathetic. With all of the terrors in the world coming at us and from us on a daily basis, it is easy to want to tune it all out. While U.S. citizens may not be able to help directly with the Chechen people, we can support the groups who are helping. We can become educated on how holocausts and genocides start.
If the research conducted by History Unfolded can tell us a single thing, it is that no matter how much information is disseminated and analyzed, the truth of the matters at hand tend to be worse than we originally thought them to be.