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Special Issue

2004-04-06

Ethnic genocide of the 20th century

Rome (Fides Service) - The 20th century which historians have called “the century of totalitarisms”, will also go down in history as the “century of genocide”. There were numerous attempts deliberate and systematic - perpetrated in different parts of the world and in different periods of the century - to exterminate entire peoples, by eliminating all linguistic, cultural and religious traces.
The genocide of the Jews will always be the one for which the 20th century will be tragically recorded in history books: during the Second World War (1939-1945) in Europe the Shoa was a genocide of the Jewish people. Six million Jews were exterminated by Germany led by Hitler who came to power in 1933. The fundamental ideological motive was racism, understood as the affirmation of the superiority of the German people considered a “pure Arian race”, compared to the “Jewish enemy”. The success of the project was made possible by the fact that Hitler had made Germany a totalitarian state. The scientific planning of the massacre reached aberrant and inhuman levels: it became a factory of extermination. The macabre rationalism of Nazi ideology even went as far as to recycle organic material removed from the corpses of people killed in gas chambers, such as hair and gold teeth. A Holocaust which humanity will later describe as “unthinkable and unspeakable”, but which was perpetrated in the heart of highly civilised modern Europe.
Before the Jewish genocide there was that of the Armenian people which started in the early months of 1915 by the Young Turks Party comprising nationalist officers of the Ottoman Empire. The elimination of the Armenians, carefully planned by the regime, was camouflaged at first under the term “necessary military evacuation of war zones”. In September 1915 the greater part of the genocide had been completed: about 1.5 million Armenians had died during deportation or in extermination camps in the Syrian desert.
Still to be settled also in the Middle East, the question of the Kurd people, a “nation without a homeland” living in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. For years during the ferocious dictatorship of Saddam Hussein the Kurds suffered attempted ethnic cleansing also with the use of chemical weapons. The Iraqi army razed to the ground whole villages with dynamite and bulldozers. Kurds in northern Iraq were deported to desert areas to eliminate all trace of Kurdish traditions and culture. The attempted genocide which killed thousands was stopped only thanks to the intervention of the international community.
Just as serious for the number of dead, a more recent genocide in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. The ruthless government led by infamous Marxist leader Pol Pot, who died a few years ago, was accused of causing the self-genocide of its own people: between 1975 and 1979, about 2 million Cambodians died of hunger, hardship, illness, violence and executions perpetrated by fanatic Maoist revolutionaries who governed Cambodia.
The people of China also suffered a massacre of ideological origin : at least 48 million Chinese fell under the regime of Mao in the “Great leap forward”, ethnic cleansing, cultural revolution and labour camps between 1949 and 1975.
The same destiny befell almost one million Communists in Indonesia in 1965-67 under President Suharto deliberately eliminated by the Indonesian government. And in 1974 and in 1999 in East Timor 250,000 civilians were killed by pro-Indonesian paramilitary groups.
Also to be included on the long list of genocide perpetrated for political or ideological reasons the death in Sudan of 1.9 million Christians and Animists when Khartoum refused to access humanitarian aid for Southern Sudan and in Latin America where, from the Revolution in Mexico, to the “desaparecidos” victims of military dictatorships of the 20th century, victims of violence on the part of Latin American states are said to be at least one million. In addition in the Amazon alone almost 800,000 Indios died in a hundred years of oppression and abuse.
With regard to extended elimination of ethnic groups coming into contact with new forms of civilisation, we cannot fail to mention the case of the Australian Aborigines. According to historical research already at the end of the 19th century with the knowledge of government authorities native people in Tasmania were systematically killed like animals, poisoned or “dispersed”.
Looking further back in history the case of the Aborigines reminds us of one of the oldest cases of genocide in modern times: the genocide of Red Indians in North America. At the beginning of the 16th century when the first settlers from Europe reached North America there was about one million Red Indians grouped in 400 tribes and about 300 linguistic families. The extermination of the Indians was carried out mainly by American and British armies as they moved further into the territory of North America chasing native Indians from their traditional lands, massacring also women and children. Today the Indians are no longer a nation: some are now completely integrated in the white civilisation while the rest still live in hundreds of reserves situated all over the United States and Canada.
Many other episodes of mass killing called by historians “genocidal massacre” regard our own day: in Europe the Balkan situation; in Asia, Tibet, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Indonesia, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam; in Africa, massacres in Nigeria, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia; in America, slaughter in Guatemala, Salvador, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. All episodes of widespread violence which show that our own era is not immune from the crime of genocide.(PA) ( Fides Service 6/4/2004 lines 62 words 633)

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