FALMOUTH – When T.S. Eliot wrote the line “April is the cruelest month,” he must have had Mainers in mind; the longing for warmth as nature teasingly wakes up, unhurriedly, with a yawn, giving us damp rain, cold wind and brief glimpses of sun.

Yet when it comes to man-made cruelty, April is also recognized as the Genocide Prevention Month — a time for honoring the victims and survivors of past genocides: Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and the mass killings of innocents in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda.

In 1944, the term “genocide” was added to the English language once Raphael Lemkin made it up by combining the Greek word “genos” (race) with the Latin suffix “cide” (killing). The United Nations defines genocide as “‘the mass killing of a group of people committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

Since the slogan “never again” was vowed by a world grieving the Holocaust, some 260 million people have lost their lives in genocides.

The mass killings have been — and are being — committed to get rid of a perceived threat or the group associated with it; to intimidate; to grab land and gain power; or to implement a belief or ideology.

Genocides begin by dehumanizing “the other” and to charge a group or a community as the enemy. In Germany, the campaign to eliminate the entire Jewish population of Europe started with a boycott of Jewish businesses and ended with the death of millions in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

In Cambodia, once “Year Zero” was declared, the process of “purification” of Cambodian society began, leaving 20 percent of the country’s population dead, and millions displaced and sent to exile. In 1994, Rwandan government forces slaughtered between 800,000 and 1 million people, mostly Tutsis.

The mass killings of Bosnian Muslims and Kurds followed next. In the case of my people, the Kurds, the world’s failures to confront the tyranny of Saddam Hussein on behalf of Kurds and others came back to haunt us later, for in most cases what happens “there” would soon affect us here.

But Genocide Prevention Month is more than a history lesson, as the ongoing Darfur (homeland of Fur, in Arabic) genocide shows.

Since 2003, more than 300,000 civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan have been killed and as many as 2.7 million people have been displaced, including some 80 to 100 Darfur refugees calling Maine home.

For our Darfur neighbors, other Maine refugees coming from war-torn countries, and survivors of distant past and recent genocides (the Armenians, the Jews, Cambodians, Bosnians, Rwandans and Kurds), April or not, memories of loss and disrupted lives are haunting.

Some have turned their sorrow into hope by educating and inspiring us to act. One such leader, El-Fadel Arbab of the Maine-based Fur Cultural Revival, visits Maine high schools, colleges and houses of worship to tell his life story. Often these narratives challenge, motivate and call many to action.

For instance, students from Falmouth High School and members of the southern Maine section of the National Council of Jewish Women are busy raising money to purchase solar cookers to help Darfur women living in refugee camps in Chad. Each cooker could save a woman from possible harm as she no longer has to risk leaving the camp in search of firewood.

One other opportunity to learn more about the conflict in Darfur, and purchase a solar cooker, will be on hand when John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project, an initiative to end gneocide, and author of “Not On Our Watch” and “The Enough Moment,” will be in Portland as part of the 2011 Douglas M. Schair Memorial Lecture to talk about Darfur.

The talk, open and free to the public, will be at the University of Southern Maine on April 11.

Collectively, young and old, survivors and non-survivors, we can strive to end this century’s genocide in Darfur and hope for a time when the term “genocide” can be retired for good.

– Special to the Press Herald