Lately I’ve read far more articles and opinion pieces on the Israel/Gaza war than is good for my mental health. I have friends and relatives on both sides of the conflict. Some of them say that Israel is committing genocide. Others insist that Israel is only defending itself against an enemy sworn to destroy it—that the attack of October 7 is part of a continuing attempt at genocide.
In this series of posts, I’ll look at the crime of genocide from a historical point of view, and then I’ll comment on the current conflict.
What Is Genocide, Anyway?
The word “genocide” was invented by law professor Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who escaped the Holocaust (although his family did not). In 1941, shortly after his arrival in the United States, he heard a radio broadcast where Winston Churchill declared, about the horrors of Nazi Germany, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”
Lemkin gave it a name.
Since the Second World War, lawyers and politicians have squabbled about what can officially be called genocide. Is it mass murder only, or can we include expulsion of a people from their homeland? What about destruction of their culture? Do you have to prove intention on the part of the murderers, via their speeches or publications, or are the heaps of corpses enough evidence?
Naturally, each government (with the sole exception of post-war Germany) denies that its actions constitute such a crime, no matter how many people they’ve slaughtered.
20th-21st Century Genocides
As I documented in my October 29 post, genocide is as old as human history. I listed a few instances, from the ancient Hebrews’ extermination of the Amalekites in the 11th Century BCE to the ongoing atrocities and “ethnic cleansing” in Sudan.
Here I have compiled a list of the genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries that I’ve read about—if you have the stomach to peruse it.
The numbers are only of those killed, not those expelled from their homelands or “ethnically cleansed” by forcible conversion or kidnapping of children. Omitted as well are accounts of mass rape, which has accompanied war since earliest times.
Perpetrators Victims Dates Est. Casualties
German Empire Herero & Nama 1904-1908 34,000-110,000
of South West Africa
Ottoman Empire Armenians 1915-1916 1 million
“ Greek Christians 1914-1922 300,000-900,000
“ Assyrian Christians 1915 275,000
Soviet Union Ukrainians 1932-1933 3.5-5.0 million
Nazi Germany Jews 1941-1945 6 million
“ Roma & Sinti “ 150,000-1.5 million
“ Poles “ 1.8-2.8 million
“ Serbs “ 200,000-500,000
“ Soviet POWs “ 3 million
” Homosexuals ” 10,000-15,000
” Disabled persons ” 200,000
Pakistan Bengali Hindus 1971 300,000-3 million
Khmer Rouge (govt) Cambodians 1974-1979 2.0-2.5 million
Rwandan Hutus Rwandan Tutsis 1994 500,000-800,000
Islamic State in Iraq Yazidis 2013-2017 5,000
China Tibetans 1959-present Ongoing
“ Uyghurs 2014-present Ongoing
Saudi Arabia Yemenis 2014-present Ongoing
Myanmar Rohingya 2016-present Ongoing
The estimated total number of victims, not including the ongoing slaughters, is over 24 million. But even that horrific figure is dwarfed by the largest mass murder in history. It began on October 12, 1492 and hasn’t ended yet.
To be continued…