Researching Genocide, Promoting Peace at Mason’s S-CAR

Posted: October 8, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: October 9, 2013 at 7:00 am

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By Buzz McClain

Richard O'Brien

Richard O’Brien, visiting scholar in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, will discuss his research on Oct. 8.

“Help us, we’re being massacred.”

That was the subject line of an email received at 1:45 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2001, by Richard O’Brien, founder and director of the Center for Genocide Prevention in Alexandria, Va. The haunting message began a series of actions that meant life or death to not just hundreds, but thousands of potential victims.

The concept of genocide prevention seems obvious — what nation wouldn’t want to stop genocides from happening? — but the world is ill-prepared to deal with large-scale slaughter for a variety of reasons, as O’Brien’s often grim research shows. The United Nations, for instance, has a single officer who deals with genocides before they occur. And once they occur, it’s often too late to help.

O’Brien is now visiting scholar at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), well into researching a book about global massacres called “The Most Dangerous Century: Genocidal Indifference from 1915-2014.” O’Brien will preview his findings on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at Founders Hall, Room 125, at Mason’s Arlington Campus.

The center O’Brien founded closed in 2004, but he’s discovered a welcome haven for continuing his work at S-CAR. He considers it a luxury; S-CAR considers it a privilege.

“Richard has been involved in genocide prevention for a long time, and he came to me and asked if he could come here as a visiting scholar and pursue three or four projects,” says S-CAR dean Kevin Avruch. “This is exactly the kind of place where you can do that.”

Avruch explains, “Over the years we’ve had a number of visiting practitioners who have come here who have been able to find in temporary academic settings some protected space to work on their projects.” The scholars benefit from office space, access to the S-CAR library, and a community of like-minded colleagues, many of whom are leaders in the field of conflict resolution. George Mason students benefit from the events, such as O’Brien’s book preview, that the visiting scholars host.

For O’Brien, preventing genocide is personal. “I’m half Armenian,” he says. “And the Armenians were massacred in 1915. I grew up hearing stories of my great-grandfather being hacked up in front of my great-grandmother, things like that.”

He realized as he was preparing his dissertation at Georgetown University that “genocide could be snuffed out in the course of 10 to 20 years, but nobody realizes it.”

As abhorrent as genocide is, O’Brien considers it human nature. “It’s as much human to be evil as it is to be a hero,” he says. “You have to assume for it, and you have to protect for it.

“At the international level, you need to have some sort of mechanism for early warning, for rapid response, it has to be a standing force, and it has to be able to move. But it’s nowhere on the horizon.” O’Brien hopes to change that with his research.

As for that alarming email from 2001, O’Brien and his center’s staff confirmed the fears behind the phone call, and convinced global leaders to compel Indonesia president Megawati Sukarnoputri “to send 4,000 troops into Tentena, and broke up the massacre right on the spot,” says O’Brien.

Write to Buzz McClain at

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