|Ethnic Cleansing in the 20th Century
The 20th century has sometimes been called the Killing Century. The latter half of that century saw more wanton death and murder that many previous centuries combined. This is due in large part to the massive world wars waged between the superpowers. Also, the 20th century also saw the advent of large-scale genocide, the mass murder of huge groups of people. This is also referred to as ethnic cleansing. The term ethnic cleansing literally refers to the attempt to completely wipe out entire ethnicities. An ethnic group, or ethnicity, is defined as a large group of people who share a distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic, or otherwise cultural heritage. When borders were redrawn at the close of World War II, many ethnicities were grouped together within the same nation. Conflicts arose and some would escalate to mass murder. There are numerous examples of ethnic cleansing ranging from the past to the present. Even back into the 19th century, one could argue that the Irish Potato Famine was an attempt by England to ethnically cleanse the Irish using famine as a weapon. There was actually enough food being grown in Ireland at the time to feed the population many times over, but that food was being sent to England instead. The result being the decimation of the Irish population by one-third. In modern times, the nation of Iraq under the dictator Saddam Hussein, has committed genocide on the Kurdish people. The weapon typically used in this conflict is poison gas. The major examples of genocide and ethnic cleansing follow.
The Armenian Massacre
In the late 1890s extreme nationalistic forces began to exert greater influence inside of the Ottoman Empire. Before, Islamic Turks and the minority Christian Armenians lived in relative peace, as each ethnic group remained separate. But, as nationalistic sentiment increased to fight off European imperialism, the peaceful co-existence ended. When the Armenians protested the stricter policies of the government, thousands were put to death. Over the course of twenty five years, more than a million people were massacred, the worst of it occurring during World War I. Many Armenians fled Turkey and settled in the United States. The Turkish government still maintains there was no organized effort at eliminating the Armenians.
The Nazi Holocaust
The first episode concerning the mass murder of an ethnic group in the 20th century was also the most devastating in its magnitude and utter evilness. The Holocaust saw the murder of over 12 million people, 6 million of which were Jewish. Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany following World War I. In the interim period between the world wars, Hitler and his Nazi party used anti-Semitism, or the organized hatred of Jewish people, to call on the fears and problems faced by the German people. Hitler provided a scapegoat by blaming the Jews and other groups of what the Nazis considered undesirables. By removing these groups, Hitler was promoting his Aryan Race, a pure German race superior to all others.Systematic and organized attacks on the Jewish people were occurring by the early 1930’s. An example being Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. This involved beatings, the burning of synagogues, and the deportment of Jews into concentration camps. As the use of camps progressed and the numbers of the persecuted rose, slave labor was utilized in the war effort against the Allies. Life in the camps was brutal, with death being the only escape. When Germany began losing the war, Hitler began the Final Solution, which was an attempt to eradicate all Jewish people from Europe. The work camps turned into death camps where thousands were murdered in gas chambers. Upon losing the war, Nazi officials were charged with crimes against humanity in the Nuremburg Trials. Hitler avoided this through suicide. The precedent was set that the “following orders” defense was no longer a legitimate excuse.
The Balkan Situation
As displayed in the map below, the region called the Balkans is extremely diverse. Prior to the fall of communism, most of the region was one nation called Yugoslavia, a communist state. Czechoslovakia was also considered to be apart of the Balkans and peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the 1990’s. However, the end of communism had created a large degree of instability in politics, economics, and society, as is the case of Yugoslavia. In 1991, ethnic tension resulted in a civil war that ended Yugoslavia as a nation. The power-vacuum that resulted was the formation of a substantial number of smaller states, each having a majority of the population falling within certain ethnic and/or religious lines. Ethnic groups were divided by new borders, grouping groups together within one country. To exacerbate the conflict, the multiple ethnicities have centuries old animosities for one another. Therefore, the ruling majorities often did not give equal representation in government to the minorities. The three main ethnic groups are the Croats, Muslims, and Serbs. However, also present are significant numbers of Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Rumanians, Slovenes, Bulgarians, Montenegrins, Albanians, Macedonians, Turks, Germans, Ukrainians, and Greeks.
Focus should be given to the Bosnian conflict, although it is one of many similar conflicts. Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic, pictured here, had risen to power in Bosnia after the fall of communism. Despite its established independence, Bosnia remained divided among its ethnicities. Muslims were in the majority but Serbs and Croats were only minorities by slight margins. Under the direction of Milosevic, Serbs began receiving money and weapons from Serbia and entered into the practice of ethnic cleansing. Serbs began forcibly removing any non-Serbs from controlled areas. Many were murdered, raped, and brutalized. The United Nations tried to intervene but not before the country and the people themselves were torn apart. Recently, Milosevic was charged and convicted of crimes against humanity for his role of leadership in the brutality.
Ethnic Conflict in Africa
Disunity and many of the problems faced by Africa since the end of WWII can be blamed on European Imperialism. Political corruption is rampant because European imperialists left without establishing stable governments. Ethnic tension exists because European borders were made without any thought given to the tribal system. Tribalism is one of the biggest hindrances to Africa because traditional enemies were contained within one European-made border. A good example of ethnic tension is the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis in which over 500,000 on both sides were massacred and many more fled to Zaire and Uganda to seek refuge, discarding their weapons as they went. Both the nations of Rwanda and Burundi had significant populations of Hutus and Tutsis, both traditional tribes. In Rwanda, Hutus are the majority and have political and economic dominance over the Tutsis. In Burundi, the opposite is the case with Tutsis in power. Ethnic differences that are are invisible to an outsider, had resulted in seven-year long civil war. Other places of contention that have pitted ethnic groups against one another are Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, and Sierra Leone, and Uganda under the infamous rule of Idi Amin.