The 10 Worst Genocides In History

There is nothing noble or worthwhile in genocide, which is typically defined as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.” The loss of entire people groups is ultimately a loss to the world because we always stand to benefit from the continued traditions and cultures of our cousins and peers. The word genocide is inherently controversial, as recognizing an event puts responsibility for reparation on currently existing governments. It is a somber reflection to recognize that this list covers nearly every section of the planet, implicating many modern-day nations. Because in some cases, these horrors are not so long ago, and worse yet: the assailants still walk the earth as free men.

The Genocides perpetrated by the Nazis in World War II

Street view on blocks at the Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany

A nightmare born from prideful ideology; the genocides committed by the Third Reich were done through systematic extermination of those deemed ‘lesser.’ Reports in media throughout the country made it public knowledge to the average German that killings were happening in crowded death camps. The total killings, targeted at Jewish/minority populations, Soviet prisoners of war, or ~8% of Polish people, totaled between 9.3 million-13.5 million people.

German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler receives Nazi Salutes as his rides in victory through Danzig on Sept. 19, 1939

The majority of these tragedies happened between 1941 and 1945, although the crimes against Poland started in 1939. This extreme horror was often achieved by putting people in gas chambers in concentration camps. One such camp, Auschwitz, still stands and hosts glass displays of millions of preserved shoes of the victims. These items are a reminder to all who visit that vigilance against such evil, in our leadership and ourselves, is utterly necessary.

Holodomor

Pigeons fly near the Monument to the victims of the Holodomor (big hunger in Ukraine) who died of starvation in 1932-33. Kyiv, Ukraine, September, 2021

Forgotten by many and rarely taught in early education, this violent attack by the Soviet Union has traversed years of darkness. Between 1932 and 1933, a possible 4 million Ukrainians were intentionally starved to death by the Soviet state. This artificial famine occurred in response to the Ukrainian peasantry resisting Soviet policies. The communist party desired to restrict agriculture so that state-run collectives would replace small farms. Even more egregiously, the Soviet government did not accept offers of aid from groups like the Red Cross. Today, the Russian government has continued to deny that the deaths were a ‘genocide,’ which is a possible insight into how they felt entitled to invade Ukraine during the past decade. The reporter who leaked to the West the news of the Holodomor genocide, Gareth Jones, was murdered by (suspected) Soviet agents in Mongolia two years later. 

Cambodian Genocide

View of Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. In the past, this place detained political prisoners and tortured political prisoners in Cambodia

“Pol Pot” is the face of this south Asian cataclysm. Between 1975 and 1979, his administration (The Khmer Rouge) orchestrated the killings of around 3 million people, through death camps that were filled by evacuating cities. The motive was to create an agrarian socialist state. Months before it began, the Khmer Rouge received approval and support from Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party. Notably, the United States is also accused of ignoring the genocide in order to fulfill political goals elsewhere, during the Vietnam War.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a museum dedicated the Cambodian genocide in Phnom Penh city in Cambodia

Classicide occurred by the singling out of educated persons, professionals, and intellectuals, for the purpose of addressing resistance in advance. Specific ethnicities were also targets, such as Thai and Chinese minorities, as well as Cambodian Christians and Muslims. The Khmer Rouge was infamous for the use of indoctrinated child soldiers, and the slaughter only ended after Vietnam invaded and usurped the Khmer Rouge.

Rwandan Genocide

Names of victims at mass graves in National Memorial to the victims of Genocide in Kigali, Rwanda, Africa

Too recent to be washed away in the recesses of time, the 1994 Rwandan Genocide alarmed and dismayed the watching world during a three-month period, until it finally ceased halfway through July. More than half a million innocents were targeted by Hutu militias, in an effort to eliminate the Tutsi ethnic group. Once again, the criticism falls towards not just the genocidal Hutu leaders, but the aware nations that did not intervene. The imagery of the murders consists of countrymen hunting down fellow countrymen who tried hiding in churches and schools, with the assailants wielding machetes and crude firearms. 

Saint Jean catholic church memorial, for the 11,400 massacred during genocide 1994 in Rwanda

In reflection, a notable catalyst was found in the RTLM radio station. They broadcasted extremist beliefs reflecting anti-Tutsi sentiment and also urging the Hutu people to eliminate the Tutsis. First, the militias targeted moderate politicians, and the next day began to systematically round up and execute Tutsis at places like checkpoints. A haunting memory that is still a reality fresh in the minds of survivors, the Rwandan Genocide can never be forgotten.

The Ottoman Genocides

Armenians laying flowers at the eternal flame in the center of the twelve slabs of Armenian Genocide memorial on anniversary of Armenian Genocide of 1915

The Ottoman empire had existed and ruled much of the Mediterranean coasts as early as 1299, until their collapse after defeat in World War I. Between 1894 and 1922, the Ottomans initiated four genocides; two massacres of Armenians, one of Assyrians, and lastly one of the Greeks living in present-day Turkey. The death tolls of the Armenians totaled around or over a million, equal to 90 percent of their population in the empire. This subject is extremely sensitive even today, as the decimation of that population enabled the current nation-state of Turkey to exist, and denying the genocide(s) is essential for preserving their founding myths.

Assyrian refugees from Tyari and Tkhuma near Urmia in late 1915

The Greeks, beginning in 1914, were targeted and 25% of them were viciously killed, totaling around half a million in number. Lastly, the Assyrian Genocide of 1915 took place in present-day Syria/Iraq/Turkey, with a death toll that potentially reached 750 thousand.

Dzungar Genocide

The left side of Defenders of the fatherland monument, where Kazakh batyrs are portrayed smashing people from the Dzungar tribes

From 1636 until 1912, the great Qing dynasty ruled the region that is now known as China. This kind of unparalleled expansion, and unrivaled maintenance of territory, came at a great cost in the name of unification. The genocide of the nomadic Dzungar tribe, who roamed lands between Kazakhstan and southern Siberia, is a chapter in the history of Qing subjugations. The war between the groups had started in 1687, but after a refusal to submit, the Qianlong emperor ordered a complete elimination of the Dzungar state and people group, claiming that heaven permitted such an action against a ‘barbarian’ people. Many of the emperor’s generals hesitated to carry out such devastation against the unarmed and were punished for it. The emperor made use of Uyghur troops, who had been abused under Dzungar rule, and thus were willing to engage in the atrocities. Around 80% of the population was killed and thus ended the last great nomad tribe.

Circassian Genocide

Unidentified Circassian activists protest "genocide and exile of 1864" on May 20, 2012 in Istanbul,Turkey

The Russian Empire wanted to grow, and the Caucasus region was too tempting to resist. Except, of course, the people of the Caucasus felt otherwise, and the Russian military class believed that “extermination only would keep them quiet.” The deportations and targeting had roots beginning in the late 1700s, but the true horrors occurred in the 1860s. Tsar Alexander II officially instructed troops to deport the Circassians, but commanders turned to genocide instead. Villagers were flushed out into the woods, the homes were razed, and the people were starved or shot. Resistance groups appealed to western nations but were overrun. Public mutilations and crimes against humanity were common, and diseases and murder contributed to 95 percent of the Circassian population's disappearance. The death toll likely reached one and a half million. There has been no justice or admission of genocide by any Russian government, and the Tsar gladly ordered the areas resettled by Russian nationals.

Genocide in Bangladesh

Bangladesh Liberation War memorial in Savar near Dhaka. Design by Syed Mainul Hossain

Bengali women were declared ‘public property.’ Soldiers used flamethrowers to smoke tenants out, and into the arms of machine gun annihilation. Doctors, journalists, and professors were targeted as a form of classicide. Potentially 3 million Bengali nationals were killed. “…The most calculated thing since the days of the Nazis in Poland” reflected one US senior official. These eight months in 1971, East Pakistan, can only be described as a living hell for all who witnessed it. Religious and political leaders in Pakistan simply desired a silencing of Bengali and Hindu people groups, and the permitted violence of the Pakistan Army and Islamic extremist groups seemed to have no limit. The US President, Nixon, declined to address the genocide for the sake of preserving Pakistan as an ally during the Cold War. It took until the 21st century to bring only a handful of war criminal leaders to justice, which is a haunting measure of humanity in this so-called modernity.

The Genocide of Indigenous Americans by European Colonizers

Old illustration of a Tepee in Comanche native American camp, published on Le Tour du Monde, Paris, 1860

Although often designated a conquest, the elimination of 55 million indigenous Americans by European forces was systematic and racial, allowing scholars to classify it as a genocide. Between 1492 and 1832, European colonists settled the new world, engaging in physical and biological warfare with native people groups, who operated sophisticated civilizations. Spanish Conquistadors even witnessed blood transfusions being performed by Incans, which was possible because of the prevalence of O Blood Type. Nevertheless, the conditions that led to the spread and severity of diseases in the indigenous populations were certainly inflicted by colonists, who are known to have believed in the inferiority of indigenous ethnicities. Whether or not smallpox blankets were intentionally or effectively distributed by colonists is a debated topic. Regardless, 90% of the native population died which allowed the European settlers to overwhelm them.

The Conquests of Genghis Khan

Unidentified Mongolian horse riders take part in the traditional historical show of Genghis Khan era in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

With evidence based on scattered writings and modern genetic markers, the accepted estimate for the deaths caused by the Mongol Armies is 40 to 60 million people, around 11% of the world’s population at the time. These events occurred around 1250 AD and revolve around a nomadic civilization, led by Genghis Khan, laying siege to all who would resist occupation and vassalage. Modern-day Iran was targeted in particular, between 1219 and 1256, with a death toll equaling ¾ of the Persian population. Allegedly, the Persian empire attacked the Khan’s caravans and murdered a Mongol ambassador, provoking an unrestrained wrath. In general, the Mongol Empire’s strategy focused on offering immediate surrender and peace to territories, and should they decline, automatic and merciless slaughter would follow. The Khan did not show difference based on race or religion typically, but the sheer volume of death that followed Genghis Khan's wake certainly merits placement on this list.

The concept of reparations deals with the financial toil a conquering state has forced an ethnic group to illegally endure, so therefore the state is bound to ‘reimburse’ all survivors or descendants. It is a cold and unforgiving reality, however, that no amount of compensation can ever forgive the slaughter of ancestors en masse. It is unignorable, however, that the state which commits these acts of violence and has continued to survive, often profits significantly from the seizure of land and resources of the victim populations. In shame, many modern governments deny either their past participation or current profit from the actions of previous administrations. Therefore, self-education about these events is crucial in order to push leaders toward equity and integrity.

Share