Genocides of the XX century

In the XX century, a new word “genocide” entered the lexicon. The International Tribunal for Rwanda called genocide “crime of crimes” and the Association of Genocide Scholars called the XX century a century of genocide. In the book Centuries of Genocide, it is affirmed that “Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish emigrant and noted scholar who taught law at Yale and Duke Universities, coined the term genocide in 1944”. A word “genocide” was formed by joining Greek genos – “a clan” and Latin caedo – “to kill”. A scholar described genocide as an act of violence and barbarism, which must be outlawed. Genocide is an action with intent to destroy a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. The author Benjamin Valentino states that “many of the most widely accepted explanations of genocide and mass killing see the causes of these events in the social structures, forms of government, or collective psychology of the societies in which they take place”. Genocide has occurred and still happens in different parts of the world in antiquity and in modern times. There are numerous reasons for it such as the appropriation of lands and resources or because of hatred of one person. Human history is a history of genocides. In the book Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, it is noted that “the roots of genocide are lost in distant millennia and will remain so unless an ‘archeology of genocide’ can be developed”. The situations that fall within the current definition of genocide are recorded even in the Bible. However, most of genocides happened in the XX century. There was genocide against the Kurds, genocide in Rwanda, genocide in Bosnia, genocide in Armenia, and the Holocaust. Genocide against Armenians is considered one of the most violent in the history of mankind. The Ottoman Empire, the center of which was on the place of modern Turkey at the end of its existence, is responsible for many human rights violations and the most terrifying is Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the XX century. Since 1915, while the rest of the world was involved in World War I, the Turks violently attacked the Christian minority of Armenians that resulted in numerous deaths of the Armenian population. The purpose of the current paper is to study the genocide against Armenians as it is considered one of the most tragic genocides in the history of mankind.


Literature Review

Genocide is an extremely significant issue that has been studied by many scholars. Furthermore, it is also a relevant issue as a great number of cases of genocide occurred in the XX century. Therefore, many historians have devoted their work to the study of the notion of genocide. While writing the current paper, nine sources were used. All of them are credible and describe the notion of genocide in general and cases of genocide in different countries. 

The book Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts written by Samuel Totten and William Parsons is of particular significance as there is numerous evidences provided by witnesses of cases of genocides and no historian can provide better information than real witnesses of these terrible events in the history of mankind. Several books such as Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction, The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, and Mass Killing and Genocide in the 20th Century explore genocides that happened in the XX centuries. Authors of these books give detailed information about historical background of the countries where genocide was committed, conjectural reasons, and consequences of terrible actions. The author Jacqueline Ching in a book Genocide and the Bosnian War examines genocide that occurred in Bosnia and the Bosnian war, as well as their effect on the further political situation on the country. The book Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia provides detailed analysis of all events that took place in the Islamic World along with the Al-Anfal campaign against the Kurdish population. Other books used in the paper such as The Armenian Genocide, The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies, and The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History study the history of the Armenian population, the events that preceded the Armenian genocide, and its consequences. 

The Biggest Genocides in the XX Century

As it was already mentioned, the XX century is considered a century of genocides. During this period of time, there were numerous ways to destroy nations. Al-Anfal campaign is one of them. In the book Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World, it is mentioned that “it is a military campaign undertaken by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime against the Kurdish population in 1987-1988”. The Kurds are an ancient Iranian ethnic group scattered across several countries in the Middle East. The Kurds constitute less than twenty percent of Iraq’s population, with the majority of the settlements located in the northern part of the country. They historically had quarrels with the Government of Iraq. However, tensions reached a maximum during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when the regime of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party put in place a program codenamed Al-Anfal that meant the fight against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq. As a result of the genocide, more than 180 thousands of Kurds were killed and thousands more were reported missing. It is a great number for innocent people. 

Another terrifying genocide of the XX century is genocide in Bosnia. The fall of the Soviet Union had far-reaching social and political implications, the most destructive of which were in former Yugoslavia. In 1990, the country started dividing into several republics. It resulted in population displacement and inter-ethnic tensions. The worst of the offenses occurred in the newly formed Bosnia. The forces of the Serbian republic and General Ratko Mladic murdered thousands of Serbs and Bosnian Muslims in an effort to ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. Peace in the region came only in 1995. However, more than twenty thousand victims were killed. Many people were shot, burned, raped, and even beheaded in public. One more example of violence against a certain group of people is the Holocaust. The author Richard Hovannisian notes that “the Holocaust was a German event, carried out by Germans in the heart of Europe”. Since ancient times, the Jews were persecuted by the Egyptians, Romans, and Christians. However, Adolf Hitler was the one who killed the greatest number of Jews. It is important to understand the socio-economic condition of Germany in the years after World War I. The country received a huge debt of reparations as the losing party. This fact greatly decreased the country’s economy. Inflation was so big that normal families might spend all the savings on only a few loaves of bread. In the midst of this chaos, Hitler brought the idea of hatred using the Jews as culprits for the loss of German’s wealth. Subsequent events are embodied in world history. The Jews were herded into ghettos. The Jews from all over Europe were brought into concentration camps, where they were subjected to unimaginable tortures and killed. By 1945, when the camps were liberated, approximately six million Jews had been killed. Thus, it is considered the genocide that killed the most of people. 

Armenian Genocide

Armenia is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The territory had been inhabited since ancient times. In the book The Armenian Genocide, it is stated that “they are a distinct ethnic group that originated in the Caucasus, an area bordered on the southwest by Turkey and on the north by Russia”. Historians and archeologists still find different proofs that the area of Armenia was among the first territories where ancient human civilization settled. It is also well-known that Mount Ararat, which is currently located in Turkey but was previously part of the territory of the Armenian kingdom, is a place where the Noah’s Ark stopped after the Great Flood. 

The emergence of the Armenian ethnos began in the IV-II centuries BC on the territory of modern eastern Turkey. By the II century BC, Armenians had united under the reign of king Artaxias I. Great Armenia had the biggest territory during the reign of Tigranes the Great, when the borders of his empire occupied the area from the Euphrates and the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea. In 301, Armenia was the first among the states that officially adopted Christianity. Subsequently, the Bible was translated into Armenian. The adoption of Christianity was the determining factor, uniting the Armenian ethnicity after the loss of statehood and the Armenian Church became an important institution of national life.

Since the XII century, the country had been invaded by numerous tribes including the Tartar hordes, the Mongols, and the Turks. There were also invasions conducted by other Central Asian tribes that occurred until the XIV century. Every invasion more weakened Armenia. The religious confrontation of the Armenians, who do not want to abandon Christianity during numerous Muslim incursions into the territory of historical Armenia, devastating wars, and mass migration led to the decrease in the number of the Armenian population. In the XVII century, the country was completely divided between Muslim Turkey and Persia. Later, the Russian Empire annexed the Eastern Armenia. The rest part remained under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I.

At the end of the XIX century, the population of the Ottoman Empire consisted of many Muslim ethnic groups. In such a way, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire being not Muslims were considered the second-class citizens. Despite the fact that 70% of the Armenian population was poor peasants, the Muslim population had a widespread stereotype of a cunning and successful Armenian with a great commercial talent, although the Ottoman sultans urged Armenians to engage in trade with Europe deriving from this a huge benefit. One of the reasons for hostility towards Armenians was unresolved social problems in urban areas and the struggle for resources in agriculture. Armenians played an important role in the business world of the empire, as well as European entrepreneurs. Armenians, Greeks, and to a lesser extent Jews constituted a significant number of business owners. Therefore, a great number of Muslims hated the Armenian population. Besides, numerous restrictions and rules were placed on them. Higher taxes were assigned to the Armenian population. As Christians, they were not allowed to testify in court. They were obliged to provide their pastures to nomads in winter that in addition to the financial burden led to looting and violence. 

These processes were complicated by the influx of Muhajirs – Muslim refugees from the Caucasus and the newly formed Balkan states. The government encouraged the resettlement of these migrants in the Armenian regions. This fact increased the risk to life and property of the local Armenian population. In the period between 1870 and 1910, about 100 thousand Armenians were forced to emigrate. Moreover, from 1890 to1910, more than 741 thousand hectares of Armenian property was illegally taken or confiscated by agents of the state. 

The same period was marked by the growth of the Armenian national identity among the educated Armenians and the emergence of a network of Armenian schools and newspapers. The requirement of Armenians in the personal and collective security and the simultaneous deterioration of their position in the Ottoman Empire led to the so-called Armenian issue. The peculiarity of the Armenian issue was that the Balkan peoples were concentrated in the provinces of the empire, which were in the process of separating while the Armenians were dispersed throughout the territory. The demographic picture dictated Armenians to improve their situation without the demand of independence but security, as well as political and social reforms.

Without the ability to wait for assistance from the Western powers, the Armenians began to struggle for their rights. Numerous rebellious-minded groups organized attacks on Turkish territory from Erzurum to Istanbul and other Turkish cities. The first collision occurred in 1890, when authorities tried to find weapons in the Armenian Cathedral. Despite the fact that the weapon was found, the Turks attacked the Armenian houses and shops in a few days. When about 200 Armenians gathered to draw up a petition to protest, the authorities ordered them to disperse and used the weapon. It was followed by a large number of other collisions with many victims from the Armenian side. 

Nevertheless, the real tragedy began on April 24, 1915. This date is recognized as the beginning of the genocide of the Armenian people. On this day, the Young Turk rulers ordered to gather all the Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul and deport them. However, deportation of the population in fact pursued the aim of its destruction. The mass murder throughout Turkey began. Men and women were often separated and killed separately. Taken from the places of their permanent residence, Armenians were reduced in caravans that were sent to the interior of the Empire – in Mesopotamia and Syria. There, special camps were built for them. The lack of basic sanitation, hunger, and epidemics were the cause of death of hundreds of thousands of people in deportation.

The deportation of the Armenian population was accompanied by a massacre. Armenian churches, monuments, neighborhoods, and the whole cities were destroyed during the massacre. Many people were burnt alive in churches and homes. Witnesses of these events, the Armenians who survived the horrors of deportation and genocide, left many descriptions of enormous sufferings endured by the Armenian people. The massacre of Armenians continued in subsequent years. In November 1918, the trial over the culprits began. In the book The Armenian Genocide, the author Raymond Kevorkian states that “the following month saw the creation of courts martial charged with trying the Young Turk criminals”. However, even until modern days, not all the culprits of these terrifying events have been found.

The Armenian genocide was realized by governments of Turkey. They are the main culprits of the monstrous crime of the first genocide of the XX century. Implemented in Turkey, Armenian genocide inflicted huge damage to the material and spiritual culture of the Armenian people. During the genocide and in subsequent years, thousands of Armenian manuscripts kept in Armenian monasteries, as well as hundreds of historical and architectural monuments, were destroyed. Destruction of historical and architectural monuments in Turkey and appropriation of numerous values of the Armenian people’s culture continues to the present days. The tragedy of the Armenians was reflected in all aspects of life and social behavior of the Armenian people and firmly settled in their historical memory. Both a generation that became its immediate victim and all subsequent generations experienced the impact of the genocide.

A progressive public opinion of the world has condemned the heinous crime of Turkish people who tried to destroy one of the oldest civilized nations of the world. Social and political figures, scientists, and cultural workers of many countries stigmatized the genocide qualifying it as the gravest crime against humanity. They took part in the implementation of humanitarian aid to the Armenian people and especially to the refugees who found refuge in many countries around the world. As it was already mentioned, after Turkey’s defeat in World War I, the leaders of the Young Turks party were accused of that they dragged Turkey into a disastrous war and put on trial. The Armenian genocide is considered the first happened in the XX century. After World War II, genocide was qualified as the gravest crime against humanity. However, despite this fact, numerous cases of genocide occurred even World War II. 


Genocide and its problem are closely connected with the history of nations and peoples of the world. It is extremely important for the history of memory of specific states and peoples. Therefore, it is significant to recognize all genocides that were committed during the history of mankind. In the XX century such genocides were conducted as genocide in Rwanda, genocide in Bosnia, the Holocaust, and others. Armenian genocide is also considered one of the cruelest genocides in the XX century. These days, Armenians are divided into those who remember and those who try to forget the terrifying events that happened with them in the XX century. Another part of people remembers and makes a contribution to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the international community. These were tragic events accompanied by deportation and massive massacre of the Christian minority of the Armenian population. As a result of the genocide, Armenia lost a great part of its native population.