On April 5, 1994, Andy Amour remembers making a routine telephone call from Edmonton to his aunt in Rwanda. It was two days before the start of the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi peoples.
“She told me that it was just a matter of days before the killing would start,” explained Amour, now a 55-year-old junior high teacher at St. Michael School in Calgary. “The people knew what was going to happen. The militia was going door to door and telling them, ‘Today is going to be your last day.’”
Just three days after, Amour made another phone call to his aunt. After turning on his television and witnessing the eruption of centuries worth of ethnic divide in his home country of Rwanda, he was watching it reach its tipping point.
“I phoned out of panic because I knew the killing had started,” said Amour. “On the other end of the telephone were the people who had just finished killing my aunt; the people who had just killed my family. They told me to never call again because the house was now theirs.”
Despite a tragic past, Amour’s sense of humour and kind nature are always on display. Whether it be taking time to joke around with each and every guest during the 23rd Annual Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, or just the welcoming atmosphere of his junior high classroom, Amour has never let a horrific past dictate his future.
“People are now finally going to Rwanda. It is a beautiful country that does not have to be known for a horrible past. The more we commemorate and get through the past together, the better the Rwandan community will be in the long run.” — Andy Amour
Larissa Amour, Andy’s daughter and a first generation Canadian, was quick to praise her father’s willingness to bring a community together with open arms.
“He’s an amazing host,” said Larissa. “Ever since I can remember there were always people from the Rwandan community at our home and he insisted that his house be the place for any gatherings.”
“The sweetest thing he has done is build a network of friends and family who would always be welcome, even if they were newcomers from Rwanda. There would always be a community for them and that’s because of my dad.”
Born in Rwanda in 1962, Amour was barely six months old when his parents fled Rwanda for the neighbouring country of Burundi. They left because of the violent, social revolution that ultimately lead to the majority Hutu people taking control of the country from the Tutsi aristocracy for the first time.
As tensions slowly came to a boil in Rwanda, Amour, who lived the first half of his life as a refugee, made his way to Canada in 1990 to pursue a second degree in education at the University of Alberta.
“Living as a refugee for so long, I never felt I belonged to Burundi. I knew I was Rwandan, but I never felt like I truly belonged there because I was forbidden to go there. I wanted to belong somewhere. Coming to Canada gave me that chance.”
Amour became a Canadian citizen in 1994, the same year one of the most horrific crimes in modern history had such an unspeakable effect on the world. But more specifically, the horrific crimes has an effect on people like Amour, who felt an immediate impact when the gruesome, three month slaughter first began.
“Watching the events unfolding on the television for me was completely different than almost anyone else. You see these people who have been hacked to death by machetes and they are your people. You’re thinking, ‘Maybe that body lying in the street is my uncle.’ These are your relatives, but you can’t do anything at all.”
One hundred days of senseless murders followed, and from April 7, 1994 to July 15, 1994, when the genocide finally stopped. Over 800,000 Tutsi people were killed; meaning nearly 80 per cent of the Tutsi population was murdered. Hutus were called on to kill their Tutsi neighbours, while some Hutus were forced to kill their own husbands or wives out of fear of being killed themselves.
“There was an ideology of hate created by the leadership, and it was projected down upon the people. There was a nourishment and establishment of hate and a them vs. us mentality. That culture was made to divide the Rwandan people. That’s why the genocide started.”
Now, 23 years after the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide of Tutsis, Amour, who is the president of the Canadian Rwandan Society of Calgary, is slowly building a community of Rwandan-Canadians and bringing them together one step at a time.
“I happen to be one of the oldest Rwandan people in the province, and I’ve been here a long time. I’m here to help new Rwandans who are coming here. I want to bring everyone together and I want to build a community where we all support each other.”
The 23rd Annual Commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide, held at Mount Royal University on April 8, 2017 was created by Amour’s tireless efforts to ensure the countless family members that both he and many others lost in the genocide do not become a statistic.
“The month of April is by far the toughest month for people of Rwanda, especially survivors of the genocide, The intent of the event is not technically to commemorate, it is more of a show of support to the Rwandan community.”
Dr. Glen Ryland, an associate professor in the department of general education at Mount Royal University, has known Amour since the two met five years ago. They were introduced through a fellow Rwandan genocide survivor that suggested the University sponsor the commemorative event. Ryland was quick to hop on board due to Amour’s incredible character.
“Andy has a very reasoned approach when addressing what the community needs to hear,” said Ryland. “Not only has he really brought the community together, but he has brought them together while the community is growing. There are a lot of challenges for him, but his role is an important one, and it’s something he is really doing well at.”
Amour’s leadership and ability have not only allowed him to bring together Canadian-Rwandans every year, but his event has also provided some much needed awareness around the Hutu and Tutsi conflict to Calgarians.
“We want to spread awareness. We want people to know how genocide affects people and families for generations. But most importantly, it is about remembering the victims of the genocide and coming together as a community to honour them the best we can.”
Most importantly, Amour truly wishes that his home country is not solely remembered for the heinous events that had transpired over the spring of 1994.
“People are now finally going to Rwanda. It is a beautiful country that does not have to be known for a horrible past. The more we commemorate and get through the past together, the better the Rwandan community will be in the long run.”
The editor responsible for this article is Cassie Riabko and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org