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25 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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genocide during 1971 liberation war

Int’l recognition not easy task

Founder Director of Dhaka University’s Centre for Genocide Studies Dr Imtiaz Ahmed tells The Independent
FAISAL MAHMUD, Dhaka
Int’l recognition not easy task

Bangladesh is trying to obtain international recognition of the genocide conducted in this country on the ‘black night’ of March 25. With that aim, the Centre for Genocide Studies was formed seven years ago at Dhaka University (DU). The Independent recently talked to Prof. Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, the founder director of the Centre for Genocide Studies. Here are excerpts of the interview:

Q. In 1971, a genocide was obviously conducted in Bangladesh. As the founder director of the Centre of Genocide Studies and as a Professor of International Relations of Dhaka University, how do you evaluate DU’s role in awareness of that genocide?

A. If you look at the history, you will see that behind the formation of Bangladesh, the thing that worked as one of the primary catalysts was genocide. Without the genocide on March 25, the Declaration of Independence wouldn’t have occurred on March 26. Without the Declaration of Independence on March 26, the Liberation War wouldn’t have taken place and, of course, without the bloody war, we wouldn’t have obtained our Bangladesh.

Bangladesh was born as a result of its prolonged fight for democracy. In 1970, West Pakistan announced the country would hold an election for its first general elections since the country gained Independence. In that election, 138 seats would go to West Pakistan representatives and 162 to the more populous East Pakistan (which had about 20 million more inhabitants). While West Pakistan’s votes were split between different parties, an overwhelming majority of votes in East Pakistan went to the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Shocked by the results and what they meant for the stability of the country, President Yahya Khan delayed calling the first meeting of the assembly and instituted martial law on March 1. On March 2, the students of Dhaka University came out on the streets and chanted slogans of Independence. On that very day, a cricket match was being held in

the Dhaka stadium between the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Pakistan team. That match was cancelled because of the situation in the city.

On that very day, students of Dhaka University raised the flag of independent Bangladesh. They later handed the flag to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Dhanmondi 32. That flag became the rallying call for Independence and the symbol of the new nation during the nine-month struggle for liberation.

You have to understand the significance of the matter. Dhaka University is the only university in the world where the students raised the flag of the country and handed it over to the national leaders. No other university in the world has played such a role in a nation’s independence.

That’s why, on the night of 25 March 1971, Dhaka University became a predictable target of the Pakistan military. On that day, the victims, apart from faculty members and students, included caretakers, gardeners, security guards, sweepers, canteen owners and even peons. Put differently, not only scholars and students, but also unarmed and relatively marginalised people were brutally murdered.

For that reason, Dhaka University can be considered the ‘epicentre’ of the genocide that was conducted on the night of March 25.

Q. What was the main purpose of establishing this Centre of Genocide Studies inside Dhaka University?

A. As I told you, since Dhaka University was the epicentre of this genocide, it is befitting for the university that such a centre has been established here on the university campus. This is the only such centre in any Asian university, if I’m not wrong.

The centre established here is a non-profit, non-political research-based academic institution of professionals, researchers, planners, policymakers and academics. The centre has several purposes, but the main purpose is obviously to conduct significant research work into the genocide that took place in Bangladesh in 1971.

Unfortunately, the genocide that took place in Bangladesh is yet to obtain international recognition. The United Nations will not give it recognition without having enough evidence backed by significant research work. The Armenian genocide got its due recognition after many years and after many significant research work.

We have to realise that getting UN recognition for genocide is not an easy task. Turkey strongly opposed the recognition of Armenian genocide and they tried to prove that nothing happened there. But as significant research work was conducted about the Armenian genocide and there was enough evidence backed by scientific research, the UN was compelled to recognise it.

So, one of the main purposes of the centre is obviously to conduct significant scientific research. We want to have scholarly research works of an international standard on the Bangladeshi genocide so that the UN cannot refuse the proposal to give it its due recognition. Pakistan will try to oppose it. Superpowers like the US and China, who are strong allies of Pakistan, might try to exercise their influence in the UN in Pakistan’s favour.

Especially the US directly aided Pakistan during 1971, and Henry Kissinger, the then Secretary of State, who is still alive, was aware of the genocide, as the leaked WikiLeaks papers showed that Kissinger was informed about the genocide at that time. Despite knowing that, the US didn’t hesitate to aid Pakistan by sending its Seventh Fleet.

Q. Aside from researches on Bangladeshi genocide, is there any other scope for research for the centre?

A. Of course. This is a proper academic centre that offers postgraduate diploma courses and fellowships. Courses of all kinds, semester-wise or year-long, including those designed for the professionals, will be offered by the Centre for Genocide Studies.

Obviously research on the Bangladeshi genocide is one of the main purposes of this centre. Another main objective of the centre is to conduct research on genocide itself so that the evils of genocide can be understood and showcased properly, so that future genocides cannot be averted.

There are other activities of the centre, too. One is to conduct a ‘genocide tour’ for the public. The birth of Bangladesh, as indicated earlier, cannot be contemplated without taking into consideration the glorious role and the painful sacrifice of Dhaka University. As a result, the campus has become a destination for tourists, both local and foreign. But such touristic exposure of Dhaka University needs to be made more informative, authentic and efficient, and the Centre for Genocide Studies with student-volunteers as tour guides can certainly play a role.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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