It seems unthinkable that humans are capable of atrocities as fierce and as devastating as genocide, yet we commit them with near nonchalance. The United Nations has defined a genocide as, “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This includes not only the mass killing of members of a group but the attempt to eradicate it as a living culture.
Every genocide, regardless of its scale, is a tragedy of epic proportions – the loss of a people, a culture, a language is an extinction that hits far too close to home. While attention to international politics has increased dramatically in the past 20 years as our access to information and connectivity increases, genocides continue to occur without intervention, and are happening as we speak without our knowledge. After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire famously asked, “How many times must we say never again?” This is a question we still seem to be asking ourselves and one another as we silently watch these massacres happen. Here’s a look at the worst genocides to have occurred in the past several centuries – let’s avoid repeating history this time.
15. Tibetan Cultural Genocide
Perhaps the most controversial genocide on this list, especially due to it’s disputed status, the cultural genocide of Tibet has been underway since China took back control of the nation in 1950. Tibet, a sovereign country prior to that, continually pushes for self-determination and has a government that functions in exile. Much criticism abounds regarding China’s introduction of many social, economic, and political reforms that have forced changes in Tibetan cultural norms. China also facilitated the mass migration of 6 million Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, further exerting pressure on the preservation of Tibetan culture. China’s tactics are likely to cause the disappearance of Tibetan culture with few noticing.
14. Moriori Massacre
Most genocides we’ve witnessed in history, when involving aboriginal peoples, involve a colonial conqueror massacring them not another tribe. In the early 19th century the Moriori people, a peaceful and passive people living in the Chatham Islands, were massacred by the neighbouring Maori people, the most prominent Aboriginal group in New Zealand today. Though leaders of Moriori tribes were aware of their neighbours armed invasion and their fierce and unforgiving nature in battle, Moriori leaders declared that their “law of Nunuku”, or nonviolence, was a moral imperative not to be abandoned just because of attack. All Moriori who survived the heinous massacre were enslaved by the Maori and forbidden to reproduce with other Moriori in order to eradicate the people. The last “full-blood” Moriori died in 1933; a people and culture lost forever.
13. Bosnian Genocide
The break-up of Yugoslavia in 1992 was the result of ethnic tensions boiling over – Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks fought each other for independence and territory. Unfortunately, the Muslim Bosniaks, the ethnic group that inhabits Bosnia andHerzegovina today, suffered on a much larger scale. Between 1992 and 1995, over 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed in combination with mass forced eviction and the brutal rape of women and girls. While actions undertaken by Serbs under General Ratko Mladic constitute ethnic cleansing and genocide, many international bodies are still hesitant to label it a genocide.
12. Secret Pygmy Genocide
The Batwa Pygmy people are an “unusually short” Congolese people in danger of being eaten to death… Since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when Hutu militias began taking cover in the Congolese forest to avoid capture by Rwandan forces, the Pygmies have been victims of terrible crimes. Many militiamen believed the Batwa Pygmies to possess special powers that could be transferred to them if they ate them, therefore, not only have the Batwa been displaced, they’ve been hunted as well. Other Pygmy groups have reported that their people are being “eaten like game”, with reported violence as recent as 2012. It is estimated that over 70,000 Pygmies, of a population that wasn’t that big to start with, have been killed in the civil wars of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
11. “Burmese Darfur”
Little is known about the mystical land that is now called Myanmar after a military coup in 1962, which led to the country being shut off the rest of the world. The country is beginning to open up little by little and with that comes more information about the country’s troubled past and present. Little known, the Burmese genocide of their Karen people, a predominantly Christian minority, is brutal and waged in incessant waves. The military’s strategy is not outright massacre – instead they capture and destroy villages and then use Karen civilians as workers to clear teak forest and mine rubies on their ancestral lands. A system of “concentration-camp” style villages are being set up in the Burmese jungle and anyone trying to flee in shot. Many people are dying daily from easily preventable diseases and starvation. It is estimated that over 27,000 Karen have already fled to neighbouring Thailand, and death counts are impossible to estimate.
10. Canadian Residential Schools
Though Canada likes to pride itself on a crystal clear and peaceful history, cultural genocide was the norm until quite recently. With the last residential school only closing in 1996, Canada partook in almost a century of seizing Aboriginal and First Nations children from their homes, families, and communities in order to “Canadianize” them. Over 150,000 children were put in federally funded boarding school where only English was spoken, teachers were white, and Anglo-Saxon traditions were spread. Over 4,000 of these children died during that time, and countless more were sexually and physically abused by priests and caretakers. This has led to a generation of “lost children”, endangered languages, and horrific stories of addiction. Australia took a similar path trying to “beat the Indian” out of these children.
9. Gypsy Holocaust
While every child learns about the horrors of the Holocaust and the genocide of the Jews, very few pay tribute to the Roma people, commonly referred to as Gypsies, who were senselessly massacred during the same time period. A nomadic European people with no true “homeland”, these people were targeted by the Nazi regime and Axis powers for being “racially inferior.” Much like the Jews, the Roma were evicted from their homes and sent to internment and concentration camps to be killed. While it is unknown how many were killed due to the nature and lifestyle of the Roma people, it is estimated that up to 220,000 Roma were murdered by the Axis regimes during those devastating 6 years.
8. Colonial Genocide in Australia
While Australian academics and writers are hesitant to admit it, many consider colonial treatment of Aborigines in the 19th century to be genocide. While it is impossible to prove, some scholars believe that foreign, European diseases were introduced by the English onto the continent near Sydney in order to kill large masses of the native population, making it the first instance of biological warfare. Whether intentional or not, it sure was effective killing between 500,000 and 750,000 people in an incredibly short time. Killings were most atrocious during the Black War in Tasmania, where Aboriginals were determined to have been “exterminated” in the 19th century. Like many countries with colonial pasts, tensions remain high between the Aboriginal population and settler descendants as these minority populations continue to suffer from worse health outcomes, death rates, and eduction than their counterparts.
7. Kurdish Genocide
Since the creation of the modern state of Iraq, the Kurd’s life has been one of genocide. Attempts of genocide began in 1963 with the “Arabification” of Kurdish villages began and escalated as time passed. Though several prominent massacres have occurred, over 1 million Kurds have “disappeared” in Iraq. The most prominent of these massacres, the Anfal Operations, occurred in the late 80’s when 90% of Kurdish villages were destroyed and 180,00 people are thought to have been killed. While women and children were also killed, Iraq committed strategic gendercide; 70% of the deaths were able-bodied men and boys to weaken resistance and fighting power. The killing of Kurds continues to this day and is getting worse as the Islamic State expands into Iraq and has little interest in non-Arabs.
6. Great Potato Famine
Though not generally referred to as genocide, it has been argued many times that the tensions between Ireland and Britain, combined with Britain’s reluctance to act constitutes this great famine a genocide. Between 1845 and 1852, over 1 million Irish perished from starvation and over a million more emigrated from Ireland due to a disease that devastated the potato crop upon which 2/5 of the population was reliant on. Though enough food was being produced in Ireland to feed the population, Britain’s laws made it so that Irishmen were treated as second-class citizens and were obligated to send that food to the Brits while they starved for 7 years. Despite pleas to the Queen for help, they were flat out ignored.
5. Armenian Genocide
The earliest of this top ten, the Armenian genocide occurred in 1915 towards the end of the Ottoman empire. 1.5 million Armenians, the minority ethnic group, were exterminated. The genocide was carried out in two strategic phases: the killing and/or forced conscription of able-bodied men and then the forced deportation of women, children, and elderly on death marches into the Syrian desert. The modern state of Turkey refuses to recognize these mass killings as genocide, though it is this example that was said to define genocide in 1943. It is due to this merciless massacre that most diaspora Armenian communities exist, the largest being throughout Russia and Los Angeles.
4. Rwandan Genocide
In 1994 the world stopped and stared as the small African nation of Rwanda seemed to tear itself apart. A country with two ethnicities, artificially and colonially constructed, was at war, hacking one another apart with machetes. Beginning with the assassination of Hutu president on April 6, 100 days of hell ensued in which the Hutu majority brutally slaughtered between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsis (and other Hutus), nearly 20% of the nation’s citizens. A recent documentary released by BBC has raised speculation as to whether the official version of the events is true – information is emerging that the current, and renowned, President Paul Kagame instigated and controlled the fighting in order to gain and retain power and ignite unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
3. Cambodian Genocide
The Cambodian genocide occurred between 1975 and 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot, a nutcase leader of the communist Khmer Rouge campaign. Pol Pot was quoted as saying that his intentions were similar to that of the Nazis – “the purification of the populace” and “the creation of the master race.” During the 4 years, which only ended with the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, almost 25% of the population was massacred (3.5 million people) in Pot’s pursuit of an agrarian paradise governed by the master race. Pol Pot was also heavily influenced by the ideas of Stalin.
The Darfur Genocide, which began in 2003 and continues to this day, was the first genocide of the 21st century. It refers to the killing of Darfuri men, women, and children in Western Sudan by government armed and funded Arab militias called Janjaweed, or “devil on horseback.” To this day over 480,000 people have been killed in this outrageous, modern genocide and 2.8 million people have been displaced, fleeing as refugees. The Janjaweed not only kill people outright but rape Darfuri women and poison food and water supplies of whole villages. Conflict has existed in Sudan since independence from the British leaving the country split along North-South, Black-Arab, rich-poor lines. Thankfully the international community began to take notice of this conflict in 2007 and South Sudan because its own country in 2013. While it has eased some tensions regarding refugees, the killing continues.
1. The Holocaust
The most infamous and atrocious genocide of the 20th century was the Holocaust, when Nazi Germany attempted to eradicate the world of the “inferior” Jewish race and religion. Hitler went to extremes during WWII creating labour and concentration camps to be mass execution sites of European Jews. Between 1941 and 1945 over 6 million Jews were killed in Europe alone, 2/3 of the European Jewish population. The only good thing to come out of the Holocaust for the Jewish faith (not those living there already) was the return of the Jewish homeland and an end to a nomadic, diasporic and persecuted reality: Israel. Strangely enough, the Jews then performed a sort of cultural genocide upon themselves by outlawing the use of Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazi Jews, in Israel. It is estimated that Yiddish is spoken by a mere 1 million people today with fewer people learning every year.