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Genocide Memorial in Yerevan
Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. Photo: flickr/azkid2lt

In 2007, a publication of the Ankara-based Institute for Armenian Research noted, with perceptible resignation, that recognition of the Armenian genocide had shifted from an Armenian national agenda to a mainstream view among scholars.

"In recent years, the most salient but maybe the least noticed fact with regard to the Armenian question is that the Armenian claims are accepted more extensively by part of the Western academic society … At the end of this process, which resembles a chain reaction, many more academics read these publications and use them in their studies."

This chain reaction was part of the emergence of genocide as a new field of study in Western academia. In 1980, the University of Montreal launched the first ever academic course on "the history and sociology of genocide". Following the publication of Leo Kuper's 1981 book

  • Adam Jones's website
  • On Guatemala:

    Guatemala witnessed the Western hemisphere's worst 20th century genocide. The Historical Clarification Commission in Guatemala established to investigate the atrocities of the 1970s and 1980s in the Mayan highlands labeled the Guatemalan government's campaign genocidal: all Maya had been designated as supporters of communism and terrorism, the report noted, leading to "aggressive, racist and extremely cruel … violations that resulted in the massive extermination of defenseles Mayan communities." (NYT, 1999 26 February 1999). The report concluded:

    "that agents of the State of Guatemala, within the framework of counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people which lived in the four regions analysed … The CEH has information that similar acts occurred and were repeated in other regions inhabited by Mayan people." (paragraphs 122 – 123)

  • For a scholarly approach to the issue look at the University of Montreal course on"The History and Sociology of Genocide since 1933".
  • Kurt Jonassohn and Frank Chalk taught a course on genocide for the first time at Concordia University in 1980: "When we introduced the first half of the course, it was the first university course in the world to study genocide from ancient times to the present. This may still be the case, although there are now many universities with courses on genocides since 1900."
  • On the reading list of this course you also find a good overview by Ton Zwaan: On the Aetiology and Genesis of Genocides and other Mass Crimes Targeting Specific Groups, 2003. The report has been written at the request of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia:

    "Its sole purpose is to summarise, synthesise and present in a condensed form some of the main general findings and insights developed in the field of 'genocide studies' over the past twenty years or so."

  • Scholarly definitions
  • Zwann gives an overview of some of the scholarly definitions.

    Frank Chalk and Kurt Jonassohn define 'genocide' as:

    '(…) a form of one-sided mass killing in which a state or other authority intends to destroy a group, as that group and membership in it are defined by the perpetrator.' [1]

    Another scholar of genocide, Helen Fein, has asserted that 'genocide' is:

    '(…) sustained purposeful action by a perpetrator to physically destroy a collectivity directly or indirectly, through interdiction of the biological and social reproduction of group members, sustained regardless of the surrender or lack of threat offered by the victim.' [2]

    Yet another genocide scholar, Israel Charny, has proposed as a generic definition of 'genocide':

    '(…) the mass killing of substantial numbers of human beings, when not in the course of military action against the military forces of an avowed enemy, under conditions of the essential defenselessness and helplessness of the victims.' [3]

    Webster's Third New International Dictionary can be quoted. Under the word 'genocide' it states that 'genocide' is:

    'the use of deliberate systematic measures (as killing, bodily or mental injury, unlivable conditions, prevention of births) calculated to bring about the extermination of a racial, political, or cultural group or to destroy the language, religion, or culture of a group.' [4]


    [1] Frank Chalk & Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide. Analyses and Case Studies, (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, in cooperation with the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, 1990), p. 23.

    [2] Helen Fein, Genocide: A Sociological Perpective, (London: Sage Publications, 1993), p. 24.

    [3] Israel Charny, "Toward a Generic Definition of Genocide", in: George J. Andreopolis (ed.), Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), p. 66.

    [4] Merriam-Webster, Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language.Unabridged, (Cologne: Könemann, 1993), p. 947.

  • Zwann also gives an overview of the development of the field of genocide studies:

    "The historical and social scientific field of genocide studies, which has gradually been taking shape since the early 1980s and is still expanding today, has mainly grown out of two types of studies. On the one hand, the number of detailed in depth studies of specific historical cases of genocide and other mass crimes targeting specific groups has increased considerably over the past decades. Especially about the Armenian genocide in the Ottoman-Turkish Empire during the First World War; about the persecution and genocide of the Jews in Germany and occupied Europe between 1933 and 1945; about the genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979; and, lastly, about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.[1] But also other cases, less widely known, have increasingly been scrutinised.[2] Most of these studies have been written by historians and are based on meticulously researched documentary and oral history sources. On the other hand, there is an increasing number of social scientists who, starting out from their own disciplines and using various theoretical approaches, are studying (aspects of) genocides and other mass crimes targeting specific groups. Among them are political scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists, but also criminologists, psychologists and psychiatrists.[3] Furthermore, there is a vast literature written by survivors, eyewitnesses, and bystanders; and there are outstanding studies by well-informed journalists, lawyers and others about different aspects of the subject.[4]

    "Without any implication of completeness, one might say that the field of genocide studies has been shaped over the past decades by (now) senior (or retired) researchers and prominent authors like Raul Hilberg, Leo Kuper, Frank Chalk, Kurt Jonassohn, Helen Fein, Robert Melson, Irving Louis Horowitz, Omer Bartov, Yehuda Bauer, Israel Charny, Ervin Staub, Norman Naimark and others …" (page 5)

    "At regular intervals international scientific conferences on the subject of genocide and other mass crimes targeting specific groups are organized, there are several professional organizations of scholars in the field, and there are two leading professional journals, Holocaust and Genocide Studies and the Journal of Genocide Research."

  • Finally, for illustration, one of the most recognised Genocide studies programs is found in Yale.


    [1] See for example, Vahakn N. Dadrian, The History of the Armenian Genocide. Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus, (New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1997 Sec. ed. (1995)); Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), Remembrance and Denial. The Case of the Armenian Genocide, (Detroit: Wayne State U.P., 1999); Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, (New York: Harper & Row, 1984 (1961)); Michael R. Marrus, The Holocaust in History, (London: Weidengeld & Nicolson, 1988); Omer Bartov, Murder in Our Midst. The Holocaust, Industrial Killing, and Representation, (New York/Oxford: Oxford U.P., 1996); David Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History. Politics, War, and Revolution since 1945, (New Haven/London: Yale U.P., 1991); Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime. Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Kmer Rouge 1975-79, (New Haven/London: Yale U.P., 2002, Sec.ed.); Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis. History of a Genocide, (London: Hurst & Co., 2002 (1995)); Alison des Forges, "Leave None to Tell the Story". Genocide in Rwanda, (New York/London: Human Rights Watch, 1999).

    [2] See for instance, Mark Levene & Penny Roberts, The Massacre in History, (New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999), and Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons, Israel W. Charny, Century of Genocide. Eyewitness Accounts and Critical Views, (New York/London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997), which documents fourteen cases.

    [3] For example Barbara Harff & Ted Robert Gurr, "Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945", International Studies Quarterly, (1988), 32, pp. 359-371; Frank Chalk & Kurt Jonassohn, The History and Sociology of Genocide. Analyses and Case Studies, (New Haven/London: Yale U.P., in cooperation with the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, 1990); Helen Fein, Genocide: A Sociological Perspective, (London: Sage Publications, 1993); Alexander Laban Hinton (ed.), Genocide: An Anthropological Reader, (Malden, Mass./Oxford: Blackwell, 2002); Alexander Laban Hinton (ed.), Annihilating Difference. The Anthropology of Genocide, (Berkeley/London: University of California Press, 2002); Alex Alvarez, Governments, Citizens, and Genocide. A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approach, (Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 2001); Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982 (1974); Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil. The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence, (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge U.P., 1989); Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors. Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, (London: Macmillan, 1986).

    [4] Two recent such studies are: Samantha Power, "A Problem from Hell". America and the Age of Genocide, (New York: Basic Books, 2002); Nicolaus Mills & Kira Brunner, The New Killing Fields. Massacre and the Politics of Intervention, (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

August 2009

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