The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective

By Robert Gellately; Ben Kieman | Go to book overview

2
The Study of Mass Murder and Genocide
Underlying Ideological Themes from Armenia to East Timor
BEN KIERNAN

The perpetrators of the 1915 Armenian genocide, the Holocaust during World War II, and the Cambodian genocide of 1975–79 were, respectively, militarists, Nazis, and communists. All three events were unique in important ways. Yet racism–Turkish, German, and Khmer–was a key component of the ideology of each regime. Racism was also conflated with religion. Although all three regimes were atheistic, each particularly targeted religious minorities (Christians, Jews, and Muslims). All three regimes also attempted to expand their territories into a contiguous heartland (“Turkestan, ” “Lebensraum, ” and “Kampuchea Krom”), mobilizing primordial racial rights and connections to the land. Consistent with this, all three regimes idealized their ethnic peasantry as the true “national” class, the ethnic soil from which the new state grew.

These ideological elements–race, religion, expansion, and cultivationmake an explosive mixture. Most also appear, in different colors and compounds, in the chemistry of other cases of genocide, including the Indonesian massacres of Communists in 1965–66 and in East Timor from 1975 to 1999, and also in the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides of the early 1990s.


RELIGION AND RACE

In colonial genocides, racial divisions are usually clear-cut, overriding even religious fraternity. The first genocide of the twentieth century pitted the German military machine against the Herero and Nama peoples of South West Africa, whose leaders were mostly Christian-educated.1 Two days after

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1
Mark Cocker, Rivers of Gold, Rivers of Blood: Europe's Conquest of Indigenous Peoples (New York, 1998), 304, 314–15, 335.

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