In the past year, there have been extreme comparisons between our nationalist sentiments and the election of Trump to Nazi Germany and the rise of Hitler. This dire mental image only becomes exacerbated with the number of terrorist attacks that have occurred all over the world, North Korea’s recent showings of strength and the rising refugee crisis in the Middle East. However, one of the most notorious aspects of the Holocaust was the concentration camps where Jews and other minorities were exterminated, which are, unfortunately, being brought back into usage. This time around, they have a different target: gay and bisexual men living in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
CNN reported that Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has stated that “this violation of human rights cannot be ignored — Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”
In this same article, however, it was reported that “A Chechen government spokesman called the allegations of a gay crackdown in Chechnya “an absolute lie,” and denied gay men exist in the republic.” If Chechnya isn’t going to take responsibility for the abuse of an entire population of their country, even going so far as to deny their existence, then whose responsibility is it to ensure this situation ends?
This is a human rights issue, period, full stop. Besides the many statements given by victims to CNN of the abuse going on within Chechnya, the claim that gay and bisexual men don’t exist within an entire geographical region is ridiculous, and the implication of this statement to me is chilling. There’s a subtext here of “There aren’t gay men that exist in the republic, and if there are, they won’t exist for much longer.” This kind of terrorization cannot be tolerated, or else we have learned nothing from the events of the Holocaust. We say that we’d never let anything like what happened then happen today, and yet we’re still allowing this corrupt government to be in charge of their own actions. In this circumstance, humanitarian intervention is absolutely necessary to at least fully investigate these accusations.
I’m admittedly jaded when it comes to the concept of U.S. intervention into foreign affairs. As history has shown us, often times when the U.S. charges into foreign conflicts in an effort to be the hero, the situation is worsened or we had ulterior motives driving us there in the first place. I’ve never supported the US getting involved in wars overseas that had nothing to do with us at the start, whether it be our invasion of Iraq over the pursuit of oil or our entrance into Vietnam to supposedly “aid” the Vietnamese people. However, when it comes to human rights issues that are eerily reminiscent of the concentration camps of the Holocaust, global intervention needs to happen. Full investigations need to take place to assess the validity of the situation and the capability of Chechnya’s government. This shouldn’t just be a US response either — we need global involvement to put down a disastrous event that only seems to be getting worse.
There’s a poem that came out of the Holocaust by Martin Niemöller, famous for its refrain of listing who “they” came for, and how he did not speak out each time because he didn’t belong to the group being victimized. He ends by saying, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” This poem has stuck with me since I read it in the eighth grade, and I remember it now for it’s unfortunate relevance to the events of today. We can’t all just be looking out for ourselves; we can’t claim to be a global community if we don’t have each others’ backs, certainly not if we haven’t learned from our mistakes. This isn’t a gay issue; you don’t have to be gay or even like gay or bisexual people to care about what is happening in Chechnya. These people that are part of our global community deserve protection as much as anyone else, and it’s up to the rest of the world to make sure they have it.