Thursday May 31, 2012
PITTSFIELD -- Every so often the conflict in Darfur takes center stage in the news cycle. Then the coverage subsides, and many times the interest goes away as well -- until the latest atrocity captures the spotlight.
But even when Darfur isn't a "trending" topic, it is always on the mind of Professor Darius Jonathan, a native of southern Sudan and former advisor to the vice president of Sudan. Jonathan, who's been in the United States for about 30 years, is a senior lecturer of Arabic at the University of Vermont; he lived through the turmoil of a civil war that has fractured the region for several decades. After receiving an education in northern Sudan and working in the government, Jonathan became more in volved in academia, first in Hawaii and then in the northeastern United States.
His experience is something he can never forget, and so Jonathan continues to talk about Sudan to keep it on the public's radar. The ongoing and complicated conflict, which first started over ethnicity and religion between the Africans and the Arabs, Jonathan said, also includes rights for autonomy and oil resources between northern and southern Sudan.
"Thank God (for) some of us who witnessed this," said Jon athan, who is proficient in six languages. "This is my perception as a concerned U.S. citizen and as a person from Sudan. Its geopolitics -- It is sad, because I have good friends in the north (of Sudan). There are good people, but it's the fundamental(ist) government."
For Jonathan, Sudan, as he knew it, changed on Aug. 18, 1955.
"I was 10 years old. A shooting broke out. Suddenly we saw throngs of people running to us. They said, ‘The Arabs are coming. They are killing us.' That was how the civil war began," said Jonathan.
The division grew between the Arabs and the Africans.
"My father (a police officer) was in protective custody be cause he was suspected of rebellion," he said.
strife deeply affected the family. With his dad gone, Jonathan's mother, who was pregnant, was left to care for her children, including the young est son, who was gravely sick and needed urgent medical care.
But it was too late.
"My youngest brother died, and when my mother gave birth, that child died," said Jonathan.
He believed that had his father been home, he would have been able to get his brother the care he needed and lessen the stress off his mother.
"My brother would have been in his 50s today. I saw on the face of my parents the agony of losing two kids."
His family's pain encouraged him to get an education -- making him the first person from his clan, the Marimbas, to go to college, at the University of Khar toum in northern Sudan.
The decision to learn and master Arabic was a strategic one.
"The best thing to do is to know your enemy better than yourself," he said. "I did it just to understand."
However, it's much harder for Jonathan to fathom the staggering loss of life at the end of the war -- 2.5 million people. While there were intermittent phases of peace, he said, those resolutions didn't last long once the government decided to negotiate with rebel groups.
"Once that happened, the stipulation was that government had to do certain things for peace," he said.
But instead of peace, the genocide in Darfur began in 2003. The Janjaweed, or Arab tribesmen in the northern part of Chad and Sudan, slaughtered men, women and children in Darfur -- a total of 300,000 people to date.
"The reason was they were not happy with Darfurians who asked for autonomy," Jonathan said.
The ongoing genocide, coupled with the bombing of South Sudan by Sudan over oil re sources, has left South Sudan ravaged.
Despite this tangled web of issues, Jonathan said people can still do something to bring about eventual change through political pressure. He credits celebrities like George Clooney, who have used their platform to bring attention to the region.
"(Clooney) is doing a wonderful job What we need to do in this country is to re-educate people about what's going on. Write to your congressman and talk about the bombing of innocent people," he said. "Ask questions. We want congressmen to send a rejection of these politics. The time has come to declare a no-fly zone in some of these areas. Keep the pressure (on)."