Genocide History

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Genocide History

Introduction to Genocide History

Genocide has occurred since ancient times. When a group or a nation conquered another group, it was common practice to kill all the men-civilians and soldiers alike-of the conquered group. Well-known examples of such genocides include the widespread killings by the army of the 5th-century Asian conqueror Attila in Europe and the massacres across the Middle East by forces of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan in the 13th century. During the 18th and 19th centuries many nations agreed that civilians should not be killed or injured during war. Eventually, international law was changed to include rules on warfare, but no mechanism existed for enforcing these rules.

In the 20th century mass killing increasingly became a part of some nations’ policies to achieve political goals. During World War I (1914-1918), the government of the Ottoman Empire deported two-thirds or more of its estimated 1 million to 1.8 million Armenian citizens in eastern Anatolia (present-day Asian Turkey). The deportations, mainly to the deserts of present-day Syria, led to the deaths of most of these Armenians by massacre, rape, starvation, and dehydration. (The government of Turkey denies Ottoman government responsibility for the deaths of the Armenians and disputes the labeling of these events as genocide. However, these events have been affirmed as genocide by the European Parliament and more than ten countries-including Vatican City-and also acknowledged in legislative bodies in the United States and Canada as well as by independent genocide scholars.) The systematic genocide accomplished by Nazi Germany during World War II resulted in the deaths of an estimated 5 to 6 million Jews, about 500,000 Roma, and millions of other people considered undesirable in German territory. About two out of every three Jews in German-occupied and allied Europe, nine out of every ten German Roma, half of all captured Soviet prisoners of war, and 10 to 20 percent of other peoples in Eastern Europe were killed. The government of Croatia in the former Yugoslavia also was responsible for genocide during World War II, killing an estimated 200,000 to 340,000 of its Serbian citizens.

Social scientists estimate that since the end of World War II at least 16 nations have attempted or committed genocide. Genocide has occurred in countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and in Europe. From 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia, the Communist Khmer Rouge killed close to 1.7 million Cambodians. In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony located in the southeastern portion of the Indonesian archipelago. Indonesia’s attempt to subdue and “integrate” the region resulted in the deaths of about 200,000 people-more than one-third of the indigenous East Timorese population.

During Guatemala’s civil war, from 1960 to 1996, an estimated 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, the overwhelming majority killed by Guatemala’s right-wing military governments. The military governments specifically targeted the indigenous Maya people, taking the lives of 85,000 to 110,000 indigenous people (according to Guatemalan generals’ estimates) in the rural highlands from 1981 to 1983. In 1999 the United Nations-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification recognized these massacres as genocide (see Guatemala). In 1994 in Rwanda, a country in east central Africa, between 500,000 and 1 million people, mostly of the Tutsi ethnic group, were slain after a coup by extremists of the Hutu ethnic group. In the 1990s thousands of people, predominantly Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), became victims of genocide in wars in the states of the former Yugoslavia (see Yugoslav Succession, Wars of).” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to Genocide History

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