Photo: painting by artist Robert Sutz
April is Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month, and Scottsdale Community College will once again present its Genocide Awareness Week conference. This event “seeks to address how we, as a global society, confront violent actions and current and ongoing threats of genocide throughout the world, while also looking to the past for guidance and to honor those affected by genocide.”
This year, the event will be held virtually from April 12-17 and includes lectures, exhibits and storytelling by survivors, scholars, politicians, activists, artists, humanitarians and law enforcement members. As always, the event is free and open to the public.
For the conference’s 10th anniversary, in 2022, the location will be moving to Arizona State University. With increasing attendance year after year, the conference has outgrown SCC. John Liffiton, who has been the conference director, will be accompanying the event to its new home.
“I’m retiring from community college after 20 plus years. I am taking the conference to ASU, and I’m going to be a consultant at ASU for one year,” says John. “Then I will retire, and ASU will take it on from there.”
In bringing the event to Tempe, John has been working with Lisa Kaplan and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson with ASU Jewish Studies, along with many other individuals and departments at the university. The conference is currently the largest one held in North America, and John believes that once it starts at ASU, it will become the biggest genocide awareness conference in the world.
ASU is also working in partnership with the University of Arizona, the Martin-Springer Institute at Northern Arizona University and the Jewish History Museum and Holocaust History Center in Tucson. These partnerships will allow for a more comprehensive statewide conference and bring students and faculty from all the states’ universities to ASU.
“We’re already working on 2022 now and have some speakers booked,” says John. “The keynote speaker will be Father Patrick Desbois.”
Father Desbois, a French Roman Catholic priest, founded Yahad-In Unum (translation: together as one), a non-governmental organization based in Paris, to research and uncover genocidal practices worldwide. His first book, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, documents the daunting task of identifying and examining all the sites where Nazi mobile units exterminated Jews in the Ukraine in WWII. His second book on this topic, In Broad Daylight: The Secret Procedures Behind the Holocaust by Bullets, was released in 2018.
Father Desbois was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the 2020 conference, and then the pandemic hit, and the event was canceled. Fortunately, John was able to reschedule him for April 2022.
John says that they will also be bringing back the exhibit, “In Broad Daylight: Holocaust by Bullets,” to ASU. The exhibit was at the Arizona Capitol Museum for a brief time at the beginning of 2020.
Even though it’s bittersweet to not have the conference in person for its last year at SCC, the online accessibility will allow a larger audience to access the high caliber of speakers that have been assembled.
This year’s keynote speaker will be Kerry Kennedy. Kerry will speak at 5 pm on April 12.
She is a human rights activist, writer and the seventh child of Robert F. Kennedy. She is currently the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a nonprofit human rights advocacy organization.
“What she’s speaking on is something that we have never had anyone speak on yet,” says John. “She’s going to speak on the Rohingya Crisis, where the Buddhists are killing the Muslims in Burma.”
Other topics being covered include The Assyrian Genocide, Building Trust in Rwanda, Genocidal Warnings along the U.S.-Mexico Border, Genocide and Human Rights, The Armenian Genocide and Jewish Refugees in the Caribbean.
A majority of the conference addresses the Holocaust, and there will be speakers from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in addition to local survivor Oskar Knoblauch.
Special Law Enforcement and Society Workshops, that are not open to the general public, will be held on Friday, April 16. These law enforcement presentations are restricted to sworn law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys only, and registrants will have to provide proper identification before registering.
For educators, Kim Klett will present an ADL Educators Workshop on Echoes & Reflections. This program introduces students to the complex themes of the Holocaust to understand its lasting effect on the world.
Kim teaches English at Dobson High School in Mesa, where she has developed a year-long course, Holocaust Literature. She also teaches a Holocaust course at SCC and is the board secretary for the Phoenix Holocaust Association.
Throughout the week, the schedule will include a couple of presentations in the morning and then a larger one in the evening. Registration is free for all the programs, and there is no limit to the number of people that can attend a presentation.
“The platform that we’re using at SCC to run this virtual program can accommodate 10,000 people, so there’s no issue with the technology,” says John. “I’m excited. I think we’re going to have a good virtual conference.”
To see the complete schedule or to register for Genocide Awareness Week, visit scottsdalecc.edu/genocide-awareness-week-2021.