The phenomenon of genocide has baffled historians for many generations. The question that has been and continues to be asked is what goes through the minds of leaders, however despotic and ruthless, to conclude that committing genocide against their real or perceived enemies will provide them with salvation that only the extermination of other people would bring? And what does that say about us as human beings, who have failed to adopt "never again," sworn to in the wake of World War II, as the mantra to guide us in preventing the occurrences of genocides?
It seems that we settled on the notion that modernity and civilization, and international laws that prohibit crimes against humanity, will be enough to prevent future genocides. To the contrary, modernity is where genocide reached its pinnacle, enabling countries to murder on an assembly line, such as the genocide committed by Germany against the Jews. Obviously, this notion is completely misguided, as is evident by the genocides in Kosovo, the Sudan, and Rwanda that were perpetrated nearly five decades after the conclusion of the second World War.
The various motives that prompted previous leaders to commit such large-scale genocides have not changed, as xenophobia, racism, discrimination, and intolerance remain very much a part of human society. Even a cursory review of what is happening around us at the present, from China to America, suggests that the roots of genocide have not been eradicated. Indeed, as long as we continue to see each other from the prism of a different religion, different color, different race, or different ideology, and blame others for our plight, the prospect of future genocides still looms high.
The genocides that occurred over the past 110 years were motivated by different rationales but led to similar horrifying consequences.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks advocated for the formation of an exclusively Turkish Muslim state. The policy of "Turkey for the Turks," and rejection of any nationality that did not subscribe to Islam, led to the decimation of nearly 2.5 million Pontic Greeks and Armenians. In Rwanda, genocide was perceived as the only way to break out of a historical cycle of discrimination and oppression of the Hutu majority by the Tutsi minority.
The Germans believed that they belonged to a superior race -- Aryan -- while the Jews belonged to an inferior race that threatened to contaminate and pollute German society and culture. Serbia adopted a strong exclusionary ideology, proclaiming that Serbia was for Serbians and that other nationalities should leave or be eliminated. Finally, in Sudan, competition for scarce resources and north Sudan's takeover of the southern Sudanese, the majority of whom are non-Muslim and non-Arab, sparked genocide there.
Methods of extermination
The states that perpetrated genocide by and large used similar methods to exterminate their enemies. Against the Pontic Greeks, the Ottomans employed massacres, death marches, summary expulsions, arbitrary executions, rape, and forced conscription into labor battalions.
The Serbian military's effort to reassert control over the region was accompanied by atrocities such as the destruction of over 500 villages and killing of an estimated 15,300 civilians. Twenty thousand women were raped, and thousands disappeared. Serbia's response to NATO's intervention was to drive out all the Kosovar Albanians, pushing nearly 1.2 million refugees into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro.
The Turkish policy of exterminating Armenians was carried out under the guise of deportation. Massacres were carried out through mass burnings: 80,000 Armenians in 90 villages were burned in stables and haylofts. Thousands were killed by drowning women and children would be placed onto boats that were capsized in the Black Sea. Turkish physicians also contributed to the planning and execution of the genocide. All in all, nearly 1.5 million Armenians were extinguished.
In Germany, the Extermination of the Jews, the "Final Solution," began with mobile killing groups called Einsatzgruppen. They gathered Jews town by town, marched them to huge pits, stripped them, lined them up, and shot them with automatic weapons. Immediately following the Wannsee Conference in 1942, Jewish men, women, and children were methodically killed with poisonous gas. More than six million Jews perished over a period of four years.
In Rwanda, an unofficial militia group called the Interahamwe was mobilized; at its peak, this group was 30,000 strong. In addition to brutal mass killings, systematic rape was also used as a weapon of war during the genocide.
The Darfur genocide began in 2003 with the mass murder and rape of people living in Western Sudan, carried out by the Janjaweed, a government-funded group that continued attacks until 2010. The Janjaweed are ethnic Arab militia groups, which would follow government attacks from the air with scorched-earth campaigns, burning villages, and poisoning wells.