University of South Florida
This day in world history: Oct. 7[10.07.2010]
October 1967. In Nigeria, on the west coast of Africa, civil war raged. Ethnic and cultural differences fueled the fighting, which followed the secession of the mostly Igbo region to the east of the Niger River, an area renamed Biafra.
Nigerian government troops had arrived in Asaba, an ethnically-Igbo town on the west bank of the Niger that remained part of Nigeria. On Oct. 7, 1967, federal troops gathered up men and older boys, accusing them of Biafran sympathies. They opened fire on the terrified group, and as many as 700 people were slaughtered. The bodies were buried in several unmarked, mass graves. Little historical documentation exists about the killings and for decades it appeared the massacre would remain forgotten.
But in 2001, a few witnesses told their stories to a Nigerian Truth Commission, and the Nigerian head of state during the civil war made a public apology to the people of Asaba.
Now a movement to create a permanent memorial to those killed in the massacre is gathering interest, and several researchers at the University of South Florida are involved.
The USF team, in conjunction with supporters in Asaba and Lagos, Nigeria, and the USF Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, are spearheading an Asaba Memorial Project initiative. The goal is to break the silence, honor the dead, develop a historic record of the event and secure funding to build the permanent memorial.
Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist in the USF Department of Anthropology, initiated the project, and first visited Nigeria in 2008. In 2009, Elizabeth Bird, professor of anthropology, and Fraser Ottanelli, professor and chair of the USF Department of History, traveled to Nigeria to initiate the historical documentation through eye-witness testimony.
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