Ntarama church Genocide Memorial is situated approximately 30km south of Kigali city, Rwanda’s capital in the Bugesera region. This church and its contents are a reminder of the horrifying violence that took place at this site during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. Each time prior to 1994, when violence against Tutsis had erupted in Rwanda, the pursued could safely seek refuge in any church and find sanctuary. So when the violence broke out again in April 1994, many Tutsis took refuge in churches as their parents and grandparents had before them. This time however, the church did not save them from being slaughtered. Over 5000 people that fled to the church were all massacred!
Ntarama Church is now a small memorial center, it never returned to being a church. Inside, light filters through holes in the walls of the church made by grenades. Clothing of the victims hang from the rafters and personal belongings including, pens, pots, sleeping mats, glasses and books lay in piles in the front of the church, near the alter. A number of coffins are stacked up in piles in the front of the church. At the doorway, near the back of the church, there’s a large table topped with skulls lined up in rows.
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The Ntarama church massacre
In the weeks before the genocide, rumors of trouble were everywhere.
Innocent Rwililiza remembers the day his Hutu neighbour stopped him as they were walking home from work and said, “Innocent, listen to me, I need to tell you that you are all going to die.”
Like many Rwandans, Innocent, a 38 year old school teacher from Nyamata, found that hard to believe. They had survived trouble before, and they would survive again. But when the President’s plane crashed on 6th April, they got very scared. “We continued teaching in the daytime but for fear of underhand tricks, slept far from our homes in the bush at night,” he said.
On 11th April, a Monday morning, the interahamwe militia attacked towns, killed people using clubs and machetes. “They started with prosperous shopkeepers first, because even then they were above all preoccupied with getting rich.” A little later, people heard a lot of gunfire. Soldiers had arrived in town.
There was panic. Some people ran to the town hall, hoping for some protection from the local authorities. But the mayor came out and told them, “If you go back home, you shall be killed. If you escape into the bush, you shall be killed. If you stay here, you shall be killed. Nevertheless, you must leave here, because I do not want any blood in front of my town hall.”
Thousands crowded into church compounds. Alisa, who had arrived at Ntarama church with her family on 7th April, said, “We all thought that if we came into the house of God no-one would touch us.”