8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About

8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About

Stephanie Schoppert - March 4, 2017

8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About
Soldiers standing over skulls of victims from the Armenian village of Sheyxalan in the Mush valley in 1915. Ibtimes.co.uk

Armenian Genocide

At the end of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was in decline. The crumbling Muslim empire was failing and both the leaders and the Muslim population sought someone to blame. The Armenians were Christians that had been absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, and, despite being unfairly treated by the Ottoman Empire (higher taxes, fewer legal rights and political freedoms), they flourished. The Muslim leadership feared that this Christian population would side more with other Christian nations than with the Turks and therefore viewed them as the enemy.

In the late 19th century a pogrom was started against the Armenians, villages were ransacked and hundreds of thousands of Armenians were massacred. In 1908 a new government came into power in Turkey and this gave the Armenians hope that their persecution would be over. Instead the new government sought Turkish purity and therefore believed that the non-Turkish, non-Muslim Armenians were a threat to the state.

On April 14, 1915, a new genocide against the Armenians began. Special organization squads were formed made up of murderers and ex-convicts. They were given the sole duty of eliminating the Christian presence in the country. Armenian children were taken and given to Turkish families after being converted. Women were forced to join Turkish harems. Muslim families took over the homes and belongings of murdered and deported Armenians. Armenians were burned, drowned, crucified, thrown off cliffs, and forced on endless death marches to be “deported.”

In 1922 when the killing finally ceased there were only 388,000 Armenians left in the Ottoman Empire. Most estimates put the number killed at around 1.5 million. To this day the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge the genocide that occurred against the Armenians. The Turkish government continues to refer to the events of 1915 as deportations, not genocide.

8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About
Biafran children suffering from starvation due to the blockade. Ezeluchie.blogspot.com

Biafra Genocide

Nigeria in 1965 was made up of 250 ethnic groups, with the north primarily inhabited by the Hausa tribe which was Muslim, the south-west by the Yoruba tribe that was half-Muslim and half-Christian, and the south-east by the Igbo tribe that was Christian. Until 1965 the tribes were relatively peaceful, but that year oil was discovered in the region inhabited by the Igbo. Following political upheaval and violence in Nigeria, an Igbo colonel declared the region inhabited by the Igbo to be the independent state of Biafra in May 1967.

The Nigerian army was sent in to suppress the independence movement in Biafra, but the first three attacks on the region failed. Unable to suppress the rebellion militarily, the Nigerian government went with another tactic. On May 9, 1968, the Nigerian army took control of Port Harcourt. This was the most important port in Biafra and it allowed the Nigerian government to implement a land and sea blockade of the region.

The goal of the blockade was to completely starve the residents of the region. The army bombed farms and destroyed any method of generating food. Famine set in and the military forces in Biafra suffered. With the military of Biafra deteriorating, the Nigerian Federal Military Government just waited until the right moment to strike. On December 23, 1969, the military moved in and divided the region in two. One by one, cities fell to the Nigerian forces.

The final city fell on January 13, 1970, the leader of Biafra fled, and his deputy signed the surrender. Estimates put the death toll from disease and starvation at 2 million, with most of the dead being women, children, and the elderly, those who had nothing to do with the fighting. The surviving Igbo had all their money in Nigerian banks taken and were given only 20 pounds in return. Their cities were taken and given to other tribes. Even today, the Igbo face discrimination and violence.

8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About
A woman stands among a graveyard for just a few of the victims of the Kurdish Genocide. Worldbulletin.net

Kurdish Genocide

In 1970 the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani reached an agreement for the autonomy of Kurdistan and political representation within the Baghdad government. While the agreement seemed like a positive end to nearly a decade of violence, by 1974 many parts of the agreement were still not fulfilled. Hostilities once again broke out and by the end of the 1970s, 600 Kurdish villages were completely destroyed, and 200,000 Kurds were forced to move to other areas of Iraq.

With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranians began providing support to Kurdish guerrilla forces in their fight for independence. The Iranians hoped that a stronger Kurdish force would divide the Iraqi military. The Kurdish rebellion was easily suppressed by the Iraqi military, but the Kurds joined with the Iranians in order to keep fighting against the Iraqis.

Unfortunately for the Kurdish people, the reprisal was a terrifying campaign named the Al-Anfal campaign. The Iraqi military conducted ground attacks and aerial bombings in order to destroy Kurdish villages. Concentration camps were built to house and exterminate captured Kurds. There were mass executions of men who were of military age and chemical warfare that killed entire villages.

One of the worst attacks occurred in 1988 when Iranian troops and Kurdish guerrillas took control of an Iraqi military base in Halabja. The Iraqi Air Force retaliated by firing rockets and napalm into the residential areas. This was followed by a poison gas attack which killed as many as 5,000 civilians, most of which were women and children. 10,000 more were severely injured, making it the worst poison gas attack since World War I, when the practice was outlawed.

The Al-Anfal campaign finally came to an end in 1988 when both sides agreed to amnesty. The end of hostilities came as a surprise to the Kurds, but was likely a result of Baghdad believing the Peshmerga (Kurdish military forces) was defeated. Throughout the entire campaign, an estimated 182,000 Kurds perished and 2,000 villages were destroyed.

8 Genocides of the 20th Century That You Might Not Know About
Soldiers posing with the severed heads of Chinese civilians in Nanking. Beijingshots.com

Rape of Nanking

While not widely described as a genocide, the Rape of Nanking was a massacre of epic proportions that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chinese. In December of 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese war was in full swing and the Japanese were furious that the war was dragging on, as they had bragged they would conquer all of China in just three months. 50,000 angry Japanese soldiers marched into Nanking where the Chinese forces were ill-prepared for the Japanese assault. It took just 4 days of fighting for the Japanese to overtake the substantially larger Chinese force, and they entered the city on December 13.

Once they entered the city, the Japanese troops were given a simple order; “Kill all captives.” The Japanese troops first went for the 90,000 Chinese soldiers who had surrendered. The POWs were trucked to the outskirts of the city where they were tortured and executed. Once all of the captured soldiers were dead the Japanese returned to the city and moved on to the women. Women and girls of all ages were gang-raped and then killed by the soldiers. Anywhere from 20,000 to 80,000 women suffered this fate.

The Japanese soldiers turned the city into a sadistic playground. Torturing anyone they pleased, forcing families to commit sex acts on each other, locking people inside burning buildings, and firing machine guns into crowds. For six weeks, the Japanese soldiers were left unchecked to kill, rape, torture, steal, and destroy whatever they wished. At times the soldiers would amuse themselves with killing contests to see who could decapitate the most people before throwing the corpses into mass graves.

As many as 300,000 died in the massacre. Those that survived did so because 20 Westerners, armed with little more than Red Cross flags, secured a 2.5-mile square in the center of the city. They declared the space the International Safety Zone and refused to allow the Japanese to enter. Only those Chinese who made it to the safety zone lived.