April 24, 2016
The founder of an orphanage in Burundi who defied death threats and witnessed unspeakable violence as she saved thousands of children from ethnic slaughters in the 1990s is the winner of a new prize created in memory of the Armenian genocide a century ago.
The New York Times. - The founder of an orphanage in Burundi who defied death threats and witnessed unspeakable violence as she saved thousands of children from ethnic slaughters in the 1990s is the winner of a new prize created in memory of the Armenian genocide a century ago.
The winner, Marguerite Barankitse, was one of four finalists considered for the prize, which was announced on Sunday at a ceremony in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
“No one can stop love,” Ms. Barankitse said in accepting the award from George Clooney, the activist actor, who was a co-chairman of the selection committee. “Not armies, not hate, not persecution, not famine, nothing.”
Vartan Gregorian, a prominent American philanthropist and scholar of Armenian descent, had helped lead deliberations over the choice of a winner since March, when the finalists were chosen from nearly 200 submissions.
Ms. Barankitse was born in Burundi, a central African nation where a tumultuous ethnic conflict pit her people, the Tutsis, against the Hutus.
In 1993, she sought to shelter a group of Hutus at a Catholic diocese where she worked and was forced to watch a Tutsi mob dismember and burn two Hutus she had tried to protect. She paid the mob a ransom to spare 25 Hutu children under her care.
She later established Maison Shalom, an organization that provided a haven for orphaned Burundian children of all ethnic backgrounds. Forced to flee Burundi under threat of death, she now runs Maison Shalom from neighboring Rwanda and has expanded its mission to care for children orphaned by AIDS in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She has called herself “a citizen of the world.”
The award, known as the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, was structured so that the winner receives $100,000 and designates organizations that were a source of inspiration to share $1 million.
Ms. Barankitse said she planned to donate the $1 million to three organizations that help child refugees and orphans and work to eradicate poverty: the Grand Duke and the Grand Duchess Foundation of Luxembourg, the Jean-François Peterbroeck Foundation, and the Bridderlech Deelen Foundation of Luxembourg.
The prize creators, including Mr. Gregorian and two other prominent philanthropists of Armenian descent, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, announced the prize a year ago on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. As many as 1.5 million Armenians died from the combination of forced exodus, starvation and killings by Ottoman Turk soldiers and the police from 1915 to 1918.
The prize founders named it after a survivor of the Armenian genocide, Aurora Mardiganian, who told the story of what she had witnessed, including the killing of members of her family and her sale into bondage, in a book and film titled “Ravished Armenia.”