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The U.N convention defines genocide as all acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.1
What are the motives behind genocide? There lies within humans a potential to commit genocide. The dark side of human nature awakens when a combination of economic catastrophes, political disasters and social upheaval makes a segment of a population desperate for change. Then, a regime’s propaganda can successfully motivate it’s citizens to commit genocide on a certain identifiable group or “victim”.
There are 4 motives for genocide. Number one: elimination of a threat. Number two: economic gain. Number three: creation of terror amongst surrounding people. Number four: fulfillment of a theory or belief system.2
There are six major early warning signs that indicate a genocide is very near. Number one: hate propaganda, showing the future victim group as a lethal danger to the survival of society. Number two: the preparation of death lists and the killing of the people on the list. Number three: the introduction of restrictions, not allowing journalists to travel freely in the country. Number four: the use of code words to plan killings. Number five: the creation of training of special murder units. Number six: the murder of military or police officers who are against genocide.3
This paper will examine three Genocides committed in the twentieth century–Armenia, Nazi Germany and Rwanda.
Muslim Armenians and Christian Turks lived in peace in the Ottoman Empire for centuries. Things began to slowly change. Nationalism, a new force in the world came to be. The Turks started to love their country so much that they would die to defend it. As well as this time every nationality in Europe wanted their “own” country, not to live under the rulings of an Empire. As a result, the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart. The only thing holding it together was the European powers lack of agreement on how to split it up into different nations. Some Armenians began to call for independence like the Greeks, while some Turks began to see a new Pan-Turkish empire spreading all the way to Central Asia. Armenians were the only ethnic group living in Turkey.4
In the 1890’s hundreds of thousands of Armenians died in pogroms ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II in order to rid Turkey of these ethnic people. In 1908 extreme Turkish nationalists took complete dictatorial control of Turkey. This was just a step closer towards completing the Turkish dream of an Armerian-free Turkey.
World War One gave the Turk government the cover and the excuse to carry out their plan.. On April 24th 1915, hundreds of Armenian leaders were murdered in Istanbul after being summoned and gathered there. The attack on ordinary Armenian citizens was to follow and mass murder of innocent Armenian men, women, and children took place from village to village.5
After this episode of extermination the Armenian people hoped that the nightmare of terror was over, but in reality it had only just began. The Turkish people wanted to create a new kind of Turkic state, eliminating those people who were different from the “ideal” type of Turkish citizens. The government planed to “relocate” the Armenians, “for their own good”. First the Armenians were asked to turn in their hunting weapons, for the war effort. The government later claimed that these weapons were proof that the Armenians were planning to rebel. Young and healthy Armenian men were then “drafted” into the army as a second part of the government’s plan. They were immediately killed or worked to death in labour camps. Part three of the plan involved gathering the remaining Armenian residents including doctors, lawyers, politicians and authors, relocating them in a remote desert. Unable to fight back, or protest the Armenians, were gathered up, and escorted by Turkish soldiers in death marches to the desert, Dier-El-Zolv. There the Armenians were tortured, starved, raped and murdered.
More than 1.5 million innocent ethnic Armenian people were murdered in this genocide.
The Turkish government held criminal trials, but after months the guilty Turkish leaders, such as Tehlirian were acquitted. Following this many Armenians assassinated government leaders and army personnel who committed this genocide.
Turkey agreed to let the United States draw a new border between the new Republic of Armenia and the Turkish government. The Turkish government still denies that a genocide ever occurred.
“Those who forget or ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them”.
Nazi Germany, 1939-1945
After the Jewish emancipation in the late 1800’s the Jews of Germany were recognized as citizens of the state. They became extremely involved in many aspects of German society, they constituted a high proportion of doctors, lawyers, accountants, judges, etc. Never before has such a group of people risen so high in German society in such a short period of time. This resulted in the Germans developing a strong hatred and envy against the Jews.6 Not only did they rise to high society, but the Germans believed that they stole jobs away from them, the “pure Germans”. The Germans lost World War One and were forced to sign a treaty with their enemies. Many Jewish people helped to write the new German constitution and many regular German people were angry about this, they felt they were “stabbed in the back”. When the depression hit Germany in the late 1920’s the entire country was hit economically. The German people needed a scapegoat to blame their miseries on and the easiest target were the Jews.7
A new political party, the Nazi party was formed. They preached hatred against the Jewish people specifically for the 3 points mentioned above. Hitler rose to become the charismatic leader of the Nazi party and he stood firmly in his strong anti Jewish policy gaining the respect and support of Germany.
During the early stages of World War Two the Nazis decided that getting rid of the “Jewish problem” would return Germany to a pure Aryan race and the Third Reich would be triumphant for a thousand years. The Nazis’ plan called “The Final Solution” was developed. The first step was to identify and gather all the Jewish people and send them into Ghettos where they were starved to death, murdered, raped etc. The surviving Jews from the Ghettos were packed like animals onto trains and sent to work camps or death camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor and others. At these death camps the old and the weak were put immediately into gas chambers while others were starved, tortured, and humiliated, degraded and then put into gas chambers. Many medical experiments such as cancer cells being implanted, tests on identical twins, women and babies were all carried out with no anesthetic The stronger Jews who survived the torture in the camps were used as slave labour in projects to benefit the war effort for Germany, and then were eventually put to death.
More than six million Jewish men women and children were murdered by the Nazis during these years as an attempt to clean up German society and get rid of the none Aryan blood infecting their world.
After World War Two the Nuremberg trials were held to prosecute the Nazi war criminals. In his closing remarks Robert Jackson the U.S Chief prosecutor for the trial issued the following warning to the world: “Two world wars have left a legacy of dead which number more than all the armies in ancient or medieval history. No half-century ever witnessed slaughter on such a scale, such cruelties and inhumanities and annihilations. These deeds are the overshadowing historical facts by which future generations will remember this decade. We can not eliminate the causes… and prevent the repetition of these barbaric events the 20th century may succeed in bringing the doom of civilization.”8
For most of the world the Nuremberg trials were just a symbolic expression of outrage over the Nazi atrocities. At the end, people just wanted to put the whole matter in the past.
At the start of the 21st century, the slogan “Never again” threatens to become an empty phrase; mocking our lack of humility and our desire to prevent genocide. The examples of the failures of the international community to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity unfortunately continue to multiply since 1945: Rwanda, Burundi, East Timor, Bosnia and Kosovo represent only the tip of the iceberg. More then one million people have been killed in Bangladesh in 1971. Between 1975 and 1978 three million Cambodians were murdered. These two tragedies just prove that people must have very short memories..
“Those who forget or ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them”.
The ethnic group that comprises Rwanda are the Hutu, 89%, the Tutsi, 10%, and Twa, 1%. They share physical features, a common culture and a common past. Belgium gained control of Rwanda from Germany after World War Two and then it developed different social classes for the Africans according to the number of cattle that an individual owned. A Tutsi was someone who owned more then 10 cows and a Hutu was someone who owned less then 10 cows. Therefore the Tutsi’s became the higher class, as the Jews were in Germany, while the Hutu remained peasants, angry and jealous. This, (even though forty years ago) began the intense competition for power and the intense hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsi. 9
The first genocide took place in Rwanda, in 1959 after the death of their king Mwami. A bloody Hutu uprising occurred against the high class Tutsis and as Rwanda got its independence from Belgium the Hutu’s were able to form a government. Ethnic lines were strengthened with the creation of the Democratic Republic Movement attracting the Hutu population and forcing thousands of Tutsis to flee the country to Burandi, Rwanda’s neighbour. 10
In 1991 the Rwanda army began to train and arm civilians known as the Interahamwe (code word for “those who stand together”). Tutsis were being persecuted and massacred around the country as the Hutus were encouraged by activists Dr. Mugusera to send the Tutsis back to “where they belong”, in Ethiopia.11
In 1994 extremists radio stations began broadcasting propaganda against the Tutsis and on April 6th, 1994 President Habyarimana of Rwanda was killed in a plane crash. Within half an hour the genocide began with the call for the destruction of the Tutsis. Rwanda army and the Interahamwe went from house to house killing thousands of Tutsis. meanwhile the United Nations cut its force in Rwanda from 2500 soldiers to 250.
As the violence against the Tutsis continued the U.N security council on April 30th, spent 8 hours discussing the crises in Rwanda but the word genocide was not used, so the U.N. was not obliged to punish the Hutus.
By the end of May the slaughter of Tutsis continued and thousands of refugees kept flowing to surrounding countries. By July 1994 U.N troops were brought into the country and the Hutu government was forced to flee. The Tutsis took power of the government. But by then cholera was already killing thousands of Tutsis in refugee camps and the Interahamwe were still active, killing as many Tutsis as they could find. Millions of innocent men, women and children were murdered.12
With the help of foreign aid, Rwanda slowly began to rebuild its country. In February 1995 the U.N security council encouraged the arrest of all people suspected in the genocide. There were 8 suspects. As in Nuremberg Trials, they were charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. Three leaders of the Hutu extremists were put to death and four were sentenced for life in prison after the trials at the International Criminal Tribunal in Tanzania. In September 1998, a U.N. tribunal sentenced Jean Kambanda, a former prime minister of Rwanda to life in prison for his part in the 1994 genocide. He became the first person in history to be convicted for the crime of genocide, first defined in the 1948 genocide convention after World War Two.
Rwanda was devastated over the loss of millions of lives and human resources. Skilled people in the area of engineering, medicine, law, etc were either killed or ran away. Could this tragedy been avoided if we citizens of the world spoke out and took a stand during the early signs of genocide? Once again our silence set the stage for disaster… as in Nazi Germany. as in Turkey…
“Those who forget or ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them”
We live in an era where holocausts and genocides are still possible. These human disasters are produced by factors such as deep hatred, lack of moral direction, brutal dictatorship, anger, and envy against certain group of citizens, and wars. Who can say which people of the world will be the next victims? Law Professor Irwin Cotler, the member of Parliament for Montreal’s Mount Royal riding reminds us of Aldous Huxley’s observation that “life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards”.
Historians like to conclude that humans are in a constant state of progression-mankind is evolving for the better, from generation to generation. Then why, does it often appear that mankind has not evolved at all?
History has important lessons to teach all of us. We owe the search for those lessons to the victims of past genocides and to those whom we would protect from future genocide.
Absolute Power Week, Biography, A&E Television
A History of the Holocaust. Bauer, Yehuda. Danbury, Ct. Franklin Watts Publishing, 1982.
Concordia University Magazine, “Focusing on Human Horror”. Howard Bokser (editor). Office of University Advancement, Concordia University
Fight Genocide in the 21st Century: A strategy for building a better future. Professor Frank Chalk.
Encarta CD ROM, 1999 edition
The World Book Encyclopedia on CD Rom, 2K edition
The Institute for Genocide Studies, Concordia University
The War Against the Jews by Lucy Dawidowicz
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