Friday, April 24, 2015

Century of Genocide

The 20th century can rightly be called the Genocide Century. If you make a list of the deadliest genocides in human history virtually all of them fall within that pitiless century. The Germans, the Russians, and the Turks bear the bulk of the blame.

Nazis (Victims: Jews and Roma)
Gypsy wagon, German 1935
The Jewish Holocaust (HaShoah in Hebrew) is well known. Between 1933 and 1945, the Germans killed over two-thirds of the Jews living in the nations they occupied. That includes 90% of the 3.5 million Jews living in Germany and Poland. Less well know is the Gypsy genocide (Porajmos in Romani). While the Nazis didn't have the blind hatred of Gypsies they had for Jews, they did consider them a polluted race. Deportation efforts evolved into extermination as the war years progressed. Locked away in the same concentration camps as Jews, Gypsies wore a brown triangle to denote their "subhuman" status. Death estimates vary widely but it is probable that over a quarter of Roma under German control died during the Holocaust.

Turks (Victims: Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Kurds)
Armenian Woman's College, Erzurum, Ottoman Empire, 1900. By 1920 most of these women will be dead.

Even considering the Nazis, nobody practiced the art of ethnic cleansing more persistently than the Turks. At the beginning of the 20th century the 500 year old Ottoman Empire was dying. At one time they had ruled from the gates of Vienna in the west to Volgograd in the east and south to Ethiopia. By the beginning of World War I they had lost all their European holding while major areas like Egypt and Sudan were only nominally under their control.  And the various ethnic groups within the shrinking empire were longing for autonomy.

Nationalists, called Young Turks, took power and brought with them a paranoid fear of ethnic  minorities. The most famous of the subsequent genocides were the Armenians (Medz Yeghern or "Great Crime" in Armenian) starting in 1915. Their techniques, to be copied by Nazis later, was to slaughter men and boys of potential fighting age and force the rest into concentration camps in the Syrian desert. Most of the Armenians were forced marched into the desert, tens of thousands died en route. Upwards of 80% of Armenians, perhaps 800,000 people, were killed.

Concurrent with the Armenian genocide was the genocide of Assyrians (Sayfo in Aramaic). The Assyrians were Christians living in pretty much the same land now being fought over by ISIS. There were fewer forced marches and more outright massacres with the Assyrians. In total about two-thirds of the 200,000 Christians living in the region were killed.

Simultaneous with the Armenian and Assyrian genocides was the genocide of Greeks living in what is modern Turkey. Like the other groups, Orthodox Christian Greeks were assumed to be allies of the enemy during World War I and so had to be killed. About half of the two million Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire were killed. Virtually all the rest were expelled 1923 in exchange for an expulsion of Turks living in Greece.

Kurds helped the Turks during the Assyrian genocide. In the 1930's Turkish security forces turned on the Kurds and killed about 100,000 Kurds in two massacres. In 1930, the Turkish military set about ethnically cleansing 44 Kurdish villages in the Zilan Valley near Mount Ararat killing 40,000 Kurds. In 1937 they were sent to end a rebellion in the Dersim region of Turkey. An estimated 80,000 Kurds, mostly civilians, were killed. In subsequent decades there have been many lesser events.

Russia (Victim: Ukrainians and a near endless list of ethnic groups)
Were it not for Hitler, Stalin would be the greatest mass murderer in human history. In fact, Stalin probably beats out Hitler for the prize. But Stalin didn't use gas chambers. He uses starvation and the brutal Siberian winters to do his killing for him.

The jewel in Stalin crown is the Holodomor (Ukrainian for "Hunger Plague"). The cause was the forced change of Ukraine farmers from food crops (wheat) to cash crops (sugar beet and cotton) done to punish Ukraine for anti-Soviet nationalist tendencies.

The result was mass starvation in the breadbasket of Europe. No need for deaths camps, millions simply died quietly in their own homes. The exact number is unknown, Soviet record keepers were skilled liars. The best estimate is between seven and ten million or about one third of the population. Is it any wonder Ukrainians welcomed Nazi invaders as liberators eight years later.

Another favored Stalin technique was mass deportations. At one time or another Stalin suspected every ethnic group in the Soviet Union of treachery. The first mass deportation was 200,000 nomadic Kazakhs who were expelled from the country in 1933. The starvation weapon was used to kill an addition 1.3 million ethnic Kazakhs.

In 1940, a quarter million ethnic Poles were relocated to Siberia. Most died there. After the Nazi invasion in 1941, almost one million ethnic Germans were sent to Siberia to die. Another 3.3 million German POWs died in Siberian camps too. In 1944, Stalin forcibly relocated a half million Chechens to mostly depopulated Kazakhstan. Also in 1944, 200,000 Tartars were moved from the Crimea to Uzbekistan. In 1951, Stalin moved a half million Japanese and Koreans from the Japanese islands the Soviet Union took at the end of World War II. They went to Siberia to, mostly, die.

Stalin's largest deportation never happened thanks to his timely death. Stalin planned to move 20 million Jews into labor camps he was having built in Siberia. He has already begun the arrests, show trials, and executions of Jewish intellectuals (most loyal Soviets) when Stalin took ill and was allowed to die by his subordinates.

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