Our history is filled with incidents of mass genocides, wars, killings, riots, and other forms of cruelty that we can’t even fathom. No matter how historians try to spin the facts, they can’t deny that in the last 100 years, tens of millions of people have lost their lives due to ethnic cleansing and mass exterminations. I was reading this Al Jazeera article on the 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide when I got curious about other genocides. These are the top 10 largest genocides in the verified history of humanity.
The term “Genocide” wasn’t coined until 1944, around the same time Nazi Germany was executing millions of Jews. “Genocide” comes from a combination of Greek word genos, meaning race or people, and the Latin suffix -cide, meaning the act of killing.
According to the United Nations, genocide is the “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” This list of the largest genocides is based on the estimated death toll caused directly or indirectly by genocide. It doesn’t include other mass killings that don’t fit the definition of genocide, such as the atrocities in the Congo Free State by King Leopold II of Belgium.
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10- Bangladesh genocide, 1971
In 1971, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to suppress the calls for independence by people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). During nine months of what came to be known as the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Pakistani Army and Islamist militias butchered between 300,000 and 3 million people. They raped between 300,000 and 400,000 women, saying the Bengali Hindu women were “public property.” More than 20% of the Bengali Hindu population died in Operation Searchlight. Citing “independent researchers,” BBC News said in 2011 that 300,000 to 500,000 people were killed in Bangladesh genocide.
9- Genocide by the Ustase, 1941-1945
An estimated 357,000 to 600,000 people died in the genocide by the Ustase between 1941 and 1945 in the Independent State of Croatia, which was a fascist and racist state supported by Nazi Germany. The Independent State of Croatia covered what is modern-day Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ustashe regime wanted Croatian independence from Yugoslavia with the support of Germany. They had set up concentration camps and terrorist training centers, and exterminated hundreds of thousands of Jews and Serbs.
8- Circassian genocide, 1864-1867
Circassia is a region along the north-east shore of the Black Sea. In 1864, the Russian Empire launched the ethnic cleansing, expulsion, and forced migration of Circassians from their native place. The Circassian genocide began in the aftermath of the century-long Russo-Circassian War. Between 1864 and 1867, the Russian Empire killed or deported about 97% of the Circassian population. An estimated 400,000 to 1,500,000 people were killed.
7- Dzungar genocide, 1755-1758
When the Manchu Qing dynasty of China conquered the Dzungar Khanate, Dzungar leader Amursana rebelled against the Qing dynasty. The sixth Qing emperor launched the genocide in 1755 to suppress the rebellion. The Dzungars were Tibetan Buddhist Oiran Mongol tribes. According to scholars, more than 80% Dzungars were killed in the genocide. Their population at the time was estimated to be between 500,000 and 800,000.
6- Rwandan genocide, 1994
Between April and July of 1994, members of the Hutu majority in Rwanda murdered between 500,000 and 800,000 people of the mostly Tutsi minority community. An estimated 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide. The influential Hutu politicians were planning the genocide at least a year before it began. While it was one of the largest genocides in modern history, the United States, France, and many other Western nations chose to ignore it.
5- Armenian genocide, 1915-1922
Between 1915 and 1922, the Ottoman government carried out systematic extermination of Armenians in Turkey, killing more than 50% of the Armenian population. The Ottoman Turks were concerned that the Armenians could support Russian forces during the First World War. They carried out the genocide in two phases. In the first phase, they murdered the entire able-bodied male population. In the second phase, they deported women, children, and the elderly on death marches towards the Syrian Desert. More than one million people are estimated to have been killed in the genocide.
4- Kazakh genocide, 1931-1933
The Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was an autonomous republic of the Soviet Union. Filipp Goloshchyokin, the First Secretary of the Kazakh Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, created an artificial famine between 1931 and 1933 that killed almost half of the Kazakh population. An estimated 1.3 million to 1.7 million people died in the genocide. It was a defining moment in the formation of Soviet Kazakhstan. It also forced the Kazakhs to change their pastoral nomadic way of life.
3- Cambodian genocide, 1975-1979
The Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot wanted to turn Cambodia into a socialist agrarian republic. He changed the name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, and forced people living in cities and towns to relocate to labor camps in rural areas. It resulted in the death of 1.6 million to 1.8 million people between 1975 and 1979 due to starvation, mass executions, forced labor, and diseases. According to scholars, about 25% of Cambodia’s population died in the genocide.
2- Holodomor, 1932-1933
Just like the Kazakh famine, the Holodomor was an artificial famine created by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union in Soviet Ukraine. Stalin inflicted the famine after people rebelled against his “collectivization” system of land management. In “collectivization,” the Soviet government seized the farmlands of people and forced them to work in collectives. The Holodomor is estimated to have killed between 3.3 million and 7.5 million Ukrainians.
1- The Holocaust, 1941-1945
Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany believed Jews to be an inferior race and a threat. He had devised a plan to create a “master race” of pure blood by eliminating his political opponents, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and slaves. More than six million Jews were brutally murdered between 1941 and 1945 in Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, and other parts of Europe. The Nazis had set up concentration camps, gas chambers, and extermination camps to kill Jews. Hitler’s madness directly and indirectly caused the death of more than 50 million people, including six million Jews in The Holocaust.