August 30, 2011

Letter: Many faces to genocide

remember victims

“Turkey’s extermination of Christian Armenians in 1915, resulting in the deaths of an estimated one to 1.5 million people, is often forgotten”

By Richard Deaton, Ottawa Citizen

Re: History’s victims born to flames, condemned to remember, July 19.

Genocide has had many different faces and victims throughout history, and has not been limited to any one group, race or religion.

A standard dictionary definition of genocide is, “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” A similar definition is now found in the UN’s Genocide Convention of 1948. A historical perspective or overview of genocide is useful.

In one of the first recorded instances, in the Old Testament, the Midinites were ordered exterminated. Later, the Romans decimated the Carthaginians (modern Tunisia).

During the 14th to 17th centuries, Europe experienced vicious religious wars, including the 100 Years War, and the Bartholomew day massacre.

The Spanish conquest of the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, and subsequent British expansion into North America, resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10 to 16 million indigenous peoples as a result of pandemic diseases, deliberate starvation, mas-sacres, pillage and forced religious conversions. During the 18th and 19th centuries, an estimated 10 million blacks died while being transported as slaves to the Americas.

In the late 19th century, King Leopold III of Belgium worked to death or slaughtered approximately 10 million blacks in his pursuit of rubber profits in the Belgian Congo. According to the 1985 UN Whitaker Report, the first genocide of the 20th century took place in Namibia, when the Germans carried out the extermination of two-thirds of the Heroes and Nama tribes (1903 and 1905).

Turkey’s extermination of Christian Armenians in 1915, resulting in the deaths of an estimated one to 1.5 million people, is often forgotten. The clandestine intervention by the allies in the Soviet civil war contributed to millions of deaths during the famine of 1921.

Historians estimate 40 to 45 million people were killed during the Second World War, including 20 to 25 million Soviets and 15 million Chinese. According to Reitlinger’s data prepared for the Nuremburg trials, 5.7 million Jews were killed by the Nazis. Michael Marrus of the University of Toronto, considered to be one of the world’s leading historians of the Holocaust, has stated, “People from many groups and nations could be found in the camps, and gassing … accounted for deaths among Gypsies, mentally ill Germans, Soviet prisoners of war, anti-Nazi Poles, and many others.”

In the post-World-War period, there have been at least 25 instances of genocide including the Indian-Pakistan partition, Indonesia, Biafra, Chile, Central America, the Kurds, Cambodia, Eritrea the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, and the Balkans.

These examples establish no one religious, racial, cultural or political group has been the sole and exclusive victim of state-sanctioned or sponsored genocide. All victims of genocide’s long and grim history deserve to be remembered.

Richard Deaton, Ottawa