Unit 2 Genocide

Overview What is Genocide?

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Key Questions:

  • What is the definition of genocide?
  • What criteria are used to determine if an action can be called genocide?
  • What factors motivate politicians, people and cultures to engage in genocide?
  • How can genocide be prevented from happening in the future?

Source: “The crime without a name” (Winston Churchill, August 24, 1941)

Action 1  


Genocide placemat

Let us start our investigation of these questions with what you ‘bring to the table’. Working in a group of four people, create a blank placemat that looks like the example below. Use large chart paper and markers. Each person is given one quadrant to write in. Your group needs to follow the instructions outlined in each step of the placemat.

A. Step One: Group Definition about Genocide

  • To be completed in 7 minutes.
  • As a group, write a definition of the term “genocide” using your common adjectives and images. Consider criteria that must exist in order to call an action “genocide”.

B. Step Two: Class Debrief

  • Post each group’s placemat around the room for viewing.
  • Compare similarities and differences in the findings of each group and whether or not the class agrees on a common definition of the term.


Defining the Term

The term “genocide” did not exist until 1944 when a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin used the word to describe the Nazi policies of systematically murdering the Jewish population of Europe. Lemkin combined the Greek word gene (race or tribe) with the Latin word for killing, cide. The term “genocide” was used by the International Military Tribunal in trials at Nuremberg after World War II to describe the actions of the Nazi leaders in committing ‘crimes against humanity’ but the term lacked legal status during the Nuremberg trials.

The term “genocide” did not receive legal status until December of 1948 when the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Genocide became an international crime and nations were to “prevent and punish” acts that met the terms of the legal definition. “Genocide” was defined in Article II of the Convention as any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The specific "intent to destroy" particular groups is unique to genocide. A closely related category of international law, crimes against humanity, is defined as widespread or systematic attacks against civilians. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Article III of the Convention states the following acts shall be punishable:

  • Genocide (see criteria above);
  • Conspiracy to commit genocide;
  • Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
  • Attempt to commit genocide;
  • Complicity in genocide.


What are the meanings of the bolded terms above?

Case 1: “Trail of Tears”

The United States government passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which allowed the forced removal of about 17,000 Cherokee men, women and children and some of their 2,000 black slaves from Georgia to a new designated territory in Arkansas and Oklahoma. This removal happened after the Cherokee had won a Supreme Court decision ruling that Georgia had no authority over Cherokee land. It has been estimated that 4,000 people died during this 116 day forced winter march due to cold, disease and not being allowed to rest.

Case 2: The Russian Gulags

Josef Stalin, the leader of the USSR (Russia) during the 1930s, was dedicated to creating a classless Communist state. All resisters to his image of what Russia should be, were shot or sent to gulags. Gulags were usually in isolated northern parts of the country. “I’ll send you to Siberia” had a frightening meaning for Russians. Stealing a loaf of bread resulted in up to ten years hard labor in a gulag. One large group of Russians who chose to resist Stalin were the so-called “rich peasants”. They owned their own land. Stalin forced these people into work camps if they did not give their land to the state. It is estimated that 7,000,000 died in these camps from hard labor or from starvation in Russia during this period.


  • Can we call the above two cases examples of genocide even if the term did not exist before 1944? Why or why not?
  • Could Josef Stalin be tried for committing genocide? Why or why not?

Gregory H. Stanton: The Eight Stages of Genocide

While working at the United States Department of State in 1996, Stanton wrote a paper outlining what he believed to be the stages of genocide. Stanton felt that after careful study he could see a pattern develop in countries that had a policy of genocide. Stanton felt by recognizing the stages, countries, cultures and individuals could prevent genocide from happening again. (Based on the work of Gregory H. Stanton. See website Genocide Watch for more detailed explanations and PowerPoint presentations.)

Stage One—Classification: All cultures have categories to distinguish people into “us and them” by ethnicity, race, religion, or nationality. For example: German and Jew (Holocaust), Hutu and Tutsi (Rwanda). Bi-polar (societies where there are two extremes) are the mostly likely to have genocide because these societies lack or even disallow the mixing of the categories.

Stage Two—Symbolization: People give names or attach other symbols to the classifications one makes. One might use names like “Jews” or “Gypsies” in a negative way, or apply a symbol like the yellow Star of David for Jews to distinguish the group. The second stage of genocide occurs when there is hatred toward an identified group who is also forced to to wear a distinguishing symbol.

Stage Three—Dehumanization: One group denies the humanity of the other group. By calling the victim group animals, vermin, insects or a ‘cancer’, killing is rationalized. Human nature is explained as acting properly to protect the dominant society. Hate propaganda is used in the media to help justify the actions of the dominant group. The victim group is not protected under the laws of the state.

Stage Four—Organization: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (i.e. the Janjaweed in Darfur). Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups). Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings (The Final Solution).

Stage Five—Polarization: The extreme elements of the dominant group use force and intimidation to drive moderates out and control the society with intimidation. Groups who might oppose the genocide become victims themselves. Laws are passed to forbid intermarriage and even interaction between the dominant and subordinate, or victim group.

Stage Six—Preparation: Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols. Their property is expropriated. They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.

Stage Seven—Extermination: The extremists quickly begin the mass killing legally called “genocide.” This killing might be called “ethnic cleansing” (Bosnia) by the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. The killers see themselves as making a better society.

Stage Eight—Denial: The perpetrators ‘hide’ the evidence of the mass killings by burning the bodies or create mass graves of the victims. Witnesses are intimidated or killed and investigations are blocked. Leaders of the genocide deny the event and even plead innocence upon capture. The victims are often blamed for the events.

••Each chapter in this unit examines a case study of genocide. See if there is evidence of Stanton’s Eight Stages model in each case. Are the unique features to each case presented?

Action 2  


The Essential Questions

Samuel Totem and William S. Parsons (2012, 4th ed.) in their Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, Fourth Edition (p.5) suggest a series of common questions to guide one’s ability to draw conclusions in comparing various episodes of genocide. The guiding questions are:

  • Who committed the genocide?
  • How was the genocide committed?
  • Why was the genocide committed?
  • Who were the victims?
  • Who was involved (e.g., state, social institutions, various peoples, ethnic groups, bystanders, etc.)?
  • What were the outstanding historical forces and trends at work that led to the genocide? What was the long-term impact of the genocide on the victim group?
  • What have been the responses of individuals, groups, and nations to the particular genocide?

These questions can guide your interpretations of the various chapters in this unit. As you work through each of the Case Studies in this unit, you can explore where the actions of governments might have prevented or diminished the genocide from taking place.

Before his days as British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill poses in this old black and white photograph. enlarge image
Sir Winston Churchill 1940

Credit Photo: Wikimedia.org

On August 24, 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered a live broadcast from London. Only a year before the German attack had concentrated on the bombardment of British cities. Now the Prime Minister described dramatically the barbarity of the German occupation in Russia:

"The aggressor ... retaliates by the most frightful cruelties. As his Armies advance, whole districts are being exterminated. Scores of thousands—literally scores of thousands—of executions in cold blood are being perpetrated by the German Police-troops upon the Russian patriots who defend their native soil. Since the Mongol invasions of Europe in the Sixteenth Century, there has never been methodical, merciless butchery on such a scale, or approaching such a scale.

And this is but the beginning. Famine and pestilence have yet to follow in the bloody ruts of Hitler's tanks. We are in the presence of a crime without a name."

Churchill's information about the mass executions that followed the German invasion came directly from a German source. Six weeks before on July 9th, British cryptographers broke the "enigma" code used by Berlin to communicate with the Eastern Front. Regular reports from mobile killing squads (the Einsatzgruppen which Churchill called "Police-troops") gave detailed accounts and specific numbers of 'Jews' and 'Jewish Bolshevists' killed in mass at locations throughout the occupied territory of the Soviet Union.

Therefore when Churchill spoke of whole districts being exterminated and "methodical, merciless butchery," he had specific detailed knowledge of locations and magnitude of the ongoing crime being committed by Germany in Ukraine and Russia.

Churchill was aware of what Germany was doing to the Jews of Europe. Yet the speech above does not mention Jews or the Final Solution.

Source: Crimes without name

Action 3  


The Moral Dilemma of Churchill:

Should Churchill and other western leaders have spoken out about the Holocaust in 1941? Consider the following in judging Churchill:

  • What was the historical context that confronted Churchill? Was Churchill worried that saving Jews might not motivate combat soldiers?
  • Why might we be cautious about imposing contemporary standards of right and wrong based on our knowledge today about decisions in the past?
  • What can we learn from Churchill’s decision that will help us make informed judgments about contemporary genocide events? What are the limitations of using a previous historical experience in making informed decisions when genocide occurs?

Source: Based on the work of Peter Seixas and The Historical Thinking Project

Conclusions: Preventing Genocide from happening—Stanton’s Eight Stages Revisited

Gregory H. Stanton believes that for each of the stages he identifies, an action can be taken to prevent the genocide from progressing. As you work through each of the Case Studies in this unit suggest where the following actions might have prevented or diminished the genocide from taking place.

Action 4  


Place the letter symbol associated for each case study (A for Armenia, R for Rwanda, B for Bosnia) beside the Stanton’s suggestion. There may be more than one case that can be applied to the statement.

___A. A Genocide emergency must be declared by world leaders and U.N. Emergency Forces must be used immediately to stop the genocide.

___B. An International Court must be established to try and punish the leaders of the genocide. Consideration must be given to try leaders in abstentia at the International Court.

___C. Outlaw leaders and militias who promote genocide.

___D. Religious leaders must take a strong stand against genocide nationally and internationally when ethnic, racial or religious polarization is present in a society.

___E. Hate speeches must be made culturally and legally unacceptable.

___F. The international funds of leaders who promote genocide must be frozen by governments and the banking community.

___G. The wearing of specific symbols that separate groups in a society must be condemned by the international community.

Action 5  

You can take action against genocide now! Yazidi Women are being raped and sold into slavery by ISIS.

A genocide of the Yazidi people has been happening in northern Iraq since 2014. This indigenous Kurdish and Arabic-speaking group lives in Iraq and Syria and practices a monotheistic religion tracing back to Adam in the Bible. ISIS has denounced them as infidels, has killed thousands of Yazidi men, and for two years has been raping the women and girls and using them as sex slaves. More than 7,000 women and children have been captured and the genocide continues while the rest of the world does nothing.


  • Discuss as a class how history repeats itself and how you might help save the Yazidi people.


  • Find websites that support your actions and learn more about what people are doing worldwide to save the Yazidis.
  • Record an action plan with dates, to make a difference as a class.

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 1 Did the World Willingly Let the Holocaust Happen?

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Ask yourself:

  • What motivated people living during the reign of Hitler to conform or dissent against the acts of the Holocaust?
  • Was there a clear divide between conformers and dissenters?
  • Where does the role of a bystander fit into the discussion of conformers and dissenters?

When studying genocide, we might ask ourselves how the world can let such horrendous events occur. This chapter will allow you to examine this question in more detail by using the Holocaust as a case study for discussing the role of conformers, dissenters, and bystanders. You will begin by brainstorming with classmates why people might decide to conform or dissent and will organize a list of historical identities under these two terms. You will then use primary sources from multiple perspectives to understand why historical characters thought and acted as they did, as well as learning the importance of avoiding generalizations. Afterwards, you will reflect on the role of a bystander and decide where this role fits within the previous discussion and within your own lives.


“Undesirables:” Groups of people deemed unworthy and unwanted by the Nazi regime because they saw them as a threat to Hitler's goal of creating a pure Aryan race. These groups included Jewish peoples, Gypsies, Afro-Europeans, people with disabilities, homosexuals, political enemies, and those of Slavic descent.

“Dissenter:” Someone who rejects, disagrees with, and/or acts in opposition to a cause.

“Conformer:” Someone who supports, agrees with, and/or acts in accordance to a cause.

“Bystander:”Someone who knows of, or observes a situation but chooses not to get involved, neither speaking or acting in confirmation or dissent.

Hitler Youth (German: Hitler Jugend): A youth organization in Germany that trained and educated boys and girls (aged 10-18) to actively support the Nazi regime.

The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose): A group of German university students who began a non-violent and anonymous graffiti and leaflet campaign against Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Reserve Battalion 101: A death squad consisting of middle-aged and middle class German men who were assigned the task of carrying out the Final Solution in Jozefow, Poland, because they were considered too unfit to be in the German military.

An elderly man rolls up his coat jacket to reveal a numbered Holocaust tattoo on his left forearm. enlarge image
Holocaust survivor with tattooed number

Photo Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

Here are the facts

The Second World War was not only characterized by territorial conquest, but also the strong ideological and racial element connected to it. The racial ideology was founded on antisemitism and driven by Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party (German: Nationalsozialismus—NAZIs). Antisemitism is hatred and/or discrimination expressed towards the Jewish population and is historically associated with their ethnicity and religion, creating tension especially with Christianity and its Christian followers. However, Adolf Hitler gave antisemitism a new shape by adding an economic element to the hate, blaming the Jews for the downfall of the German economy after the First World War.

During the Second World War, countless physical acts of violence were taken against the Jews and other populations deemed "undesirable" by the Nazis, including Gypsies, homosexuals, political enemies, and those with disabilities. Jewish peoples in particular were shot to death, underwent starvation, were poisoned in gas chambers, and burned in crematories. This mass murder or genocide of the Jewish people would come to be known as the Holocaust. Prior to the war, there were approximately 12 million European Jews and by the war's end, approximately 6 million of them survived.

When learning about the Holocaust we might ask ourselves how the world let such a horrendous event occur? The truth is the extent of the genocide was not known until years after the war and new evidence continues to be found today. This seems to contradict the quote in the Overview of this chapter: “Churchill had detailed knowledge of location and magnitude”. Regardless, you may still be wondering how this could have ever happened. In this placemat we will be examining the historical perspectives of different actors associated with the Holocaust and the roles they played as well as their attitudes towards the event.

Historical Perspectives

Taking the time to consider multiple historical perspectives helps inform our understanding of the past and provides us with insight to why certain events occurred as they did. It goes beyond identifying and empathizing with historical actors, to investigating the historical context that influenced the thoughts and actions of people at that time. However, we have to be careful not to make assumptions about the past using our own sets of values and beliefs, because our standards differ from those in other times and places in history. This being said, we can use historical evidence as an entry point to understanding the various political, social, economic, geographic, and emotional contexts that shaped the past and people's perspectives. You will have the opportunity to use the following primary sources to understand different historical perspectives around the Holocaust and decide to what extent the world willingly let the event happen.


Artifact 1 › Photograph of Hitler’s Youth Organization, dated 1938
An old coloured picture depicts a Nazi youth rally, with Nazi soldiers in uniform standing in the foreground, and enthusiastic German youths saluting Adolf Hitler in the stands behind them. enlarge image
Indoctrinating Youth.” Nazi Youth 1938

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Artifact 2 › Passages from a Popular Children’s Book used in German Schools, 1936
“The Lord God conceived the races:
Red Indians, Negroes, and Chinese,
And Jew, too, the rotten crew…
He gave them all a piece of earth
To work with the sweat of their brow.
But the Jew went on strike at once!
For the devil rode him from the first.
Cheating, not working, was his aim;
For lying, he got first prize”
“The Jew has always hated him!
Here is the Jew, as all can see,
Biggest ruffian in our country;
He thinks himself the greatest beau
And yet is the ugliest, you know!”

Source: Bauer, Elvira. Trust No Fox on his Green Heath and No Jew on His Oath. Nuremberg: Sturmer Verlag, 1936.
Permission granted by Randall Bytwerk

Artifact 3 › Memoirs from two German soldiers from the Reserve Police Battalion 101, a death squad hired to kill Jews in Jozefow, Poland during the summer of 1942.
"Those who did not want to or could not carry out the shooting of human beings with their own hands...remained by the arriving trucks and kept himself busy at arrival point. It could not be avoided that one or another of my comrades noticed that I was not going to the execution ...they showered me with remarks such as 'shithead' and 'weakling' to express their disgust. I was not the only one who kept himself out of participating.”
“I then cocked my carbine and shot him through the back of the head [an elderly Jew]. Because I was already very upset from the cruel treatment of the Jews...parts of the skull flew...I had become so sick that I simply couldn’t [shoot; kill] anymore.”

Source: Browning, Christopher R. “Ordinary Men” in The Holocaust: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretations, edited by Donald L. Niewyk. Connecticut, Wadsworth Publishing, pp.76-90.

Artifact 4 › Photograph of three members of The White Rose Movement in Munich, Germany
4.	An old black and white photo of three of the White Rose Movement teenage activists, holding a meeting outside. Sophie, the girl in the middle, is holding a white daisy. Hans is to the left of her wearing a uniform and beret. enlarge image
Hans Scholl (left), Sophie Scholl (centre) et Christophe Probst (right)

Credit: Yad Vashem

The White Rose Movement

The White Rose was a youth movement active in Munich, Germany from June 1942 to February 1943.

Source: Jewish Virtual Library.

Artifact 5 › Passages from two of the leaflets that the White Rose anonymously distributed throughout Munich and surrounding German cities.
"It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?"
First Leaflet, 1942
"Since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.“
Second Leaflet, 1942

Source: Inge Scholl, The White Rose: Munich 1942-1943, Trans. Arthur R. Schultz. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp.73-80.

Artifact 6 › A Response from the United States Federal Government concerning the approaching S.S. St. Louis (Telegram sent June, 1939)

Those aboard the S.S. St. Louis must, “await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”

Artifact 7 › A Photograph captured at the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, July 1942.
5.	An old black and white photo displaying a bicycle race stadium, full of Jewish families and a few of their belongings, all crowded together. enlarge image
A Photograph captured at the Vel’d’Hiv Roundup,  July 1942

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

4,045 Jewish adults and 4,115 Jewish children rounded up by French police in the bicycle stadium in Paris called Vel’ d’Hiv (V’élodrome d’Hiver), where they were held for four days before being transported to camps. Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Over the two days of July 16th -17th, 1942, French police forces participated in rounding up and killing Jews in Nazi occupied France. Many Jews lost their lives after being forced into this arena by French officers.

Source: French Culture Guide.

Artifact 8 › Quotes from residents living in Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a village in South Central France.
"As soon as the soldiers left, we would go into the forest and sing a song. When they heard that song, the Jews knew it was safe to come home.” (1941)
"We didn't protect the Jews because we were moral or heroic people. We helped them because it was the human thing to do.” (1989)

Source: Differences into Opportunities. Harvard Business Press, 2006, p. 27; The Holocaust: Crimes, Heroes, Villains.

Action 1  



Historically, why do you think people living during the reign of Hitler conformed with or dissented against the acts of the Holocaust? Create a mapping of connected thoughts/decisions made demonstrating these linkages.

Action 2  


My connections to history

Take a moment to independently and carefully observe each of the following artifacts (1 through 5). What intrigued you about these artifacts? Did they remind you of personal stories and events? How are they important to our knowledge of the Holocaust?

Action 3  


Seeing the stories

Complete the following exercises with a partner:

  • Compare Hitler’s Youth and the White Rose Movement (Artifacts 1 & 4). What are some similarities and differences between the two organizations? How do the images inform our perception of German youth and Germany in general during this time?
  • Re-examine Artifact 2, how effective is a children’s book as a tool for propaganda? Typically, propaganda is used to target older age groups. Why would targeting children be significant—if it is?
  • Does Artifact 5 provide us with a truthful representation of soldiers working for Nazi Germany? How useful are these quotes in helping us understand the perspectives of German soldiers?
  • Evaluate whether each Artifact provides us with an example of a person or group conforming with or dissenting against the Holocaust? Explain your reasoning.

Action 4  


Using Artifacts 6 through 8, discuss 4 of the 6 the following questions with a partner.
  1. What are some of the possible risks people face when conforming? And when dissenting?
  2. To what extent do you think that societal systems and structures influenced the actions of its members?
  3. Explain whether or not Artifact 6 is an example of conforming to the Nazi regime? How do the actions of the French police in Artifact 7 compare?
  4. To what degree was the United States justified in delaying the Jewish refugees entry? Is it fair to allow unlimited entry to any refugee? Where and when should we draw the line?
  5. Reflect on the T-Table you created in the Minds-On Activity. Would you make any changes to it now? Do you notice any new challenges when deciding where to place terms?
  6. After completing the activities, do you think the world willingly let the Holocaust happen? Why? Be sure to justify your reasoning.

Action 5  


The Bystander

Read the following poem written by German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller, during the Nazi reign.

First they Came
First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Permission: received by Sibylle Sarah Niemoeller von Sell

Source: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. First They Came.

  • Independently, reflect on how this poem speaks to us about the role of a bystander.
  • In your opinion, where does a bystander fit in our previous discussion of conformers and dissenters? Argue whether a bystander should be considered the former or the latter. Discuss your choice and reasoning with a partner.

Action 6  


Holocaust Survivors in Canada

The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program by the Azrieli Foundation was established to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the Holocaust who came to Canada. These memoirs — published in both English and French — are distributed free of charge to educational institutions across Canada.

Re:Collection is an innovative digital resource that combines video interviews with memoir excerpts, photos and artifacts, and features interactive timelines and maps to place survivors’ stories in historical and geographic context.

We cannot generalize about the experiences of Holocaust survivors. The experiences are as different as the individuals themselves. Watch 3 of the video interviews and write a piece comparing their individual perspectives.

Further reading

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow, 2005
The chilling story of Germany’s powerful Hitler Youth groups.

Boas, Jacob We Are Witnesses: Five diaries of teenagers who died in the Holocaust, 2009 Each diary in this collection reveals the voice of one teenager struggling with terror and clinging to hope.

Krygier, Joseph G. & Victor Breitburg A Rage to Live: Surviving the Holocaust so Hitler should not win, 2012 A historical account of Victor Breitbureg, a Holocaust survivor, who chose to move forward in search of his family.

Lewis, Jon E. Voices from the Holocaust: First-hand accounts from the frontline of history, 2012
The history of the Holocaust from Hilter’s rise to power to the Nuremburg trials. The anthology provides eyewitness testimonies that tell the story from people who were there, and were witnesses to both sides of the horror.

Wiesel, Elie Night, 2006
Originally published in 1982, this new translation provides an autobiographical account of Wiesel’s survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. The author shares memories of loss, guilt, death and faith at having survived the horror of the genocide campaign that consumed his family. Titles in the trilogy include Night, Dawn, Day.

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 2 The Role of Media in the Bosnian War: An Instrument of Truth or Device of Deception?

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Ask yourself:

  • How were the events of the Bosnian War portrayed on television and other media? What are the advantages and limits of such a media-influenced war?
  • Who was behind these media stories and what messages were they trying to convey?
  • How did such portrayals affect people's perceptions of war during that time and how does it affect our own understandings now?

This chapter uses the theme of media as an entry point for discussing and understanding the complexities of the Bosnian War. You will first refresh and practise your media literacy skills by examining and determining the accuracy and reliability of two modern advertisements. You will then analyze an array of primary sources from the war to observe what different journalists chose to publicize or omit from the media and how viewers responded to these choices. Ultimately you will be asked to decide whether or not you think the media functioned as an instrument of truth or device of deception during the Bosnian War.

Bosnian Muslim, Survivor of the Bosnian War
Poster of a gun riddled wall with graffiti below two windows. The words “Welcome to Sarajevo” are printed at the top of the poster. enlarge image
Welcome to Sarajevo poster of wall with bullet holes and graffiti in Bosnian.

Credit: Zlatko Vikovic. Wordpress.com


Media: Means of mass communication that provides information to the public.

Bosniaks: People who identify themselves as descendants of their Bosnian ancestors who embraced the Ottoman Empire and the Islamic religion that it introduced. Because this identification is rooted more in history than religion these descendants commonly call themselves Bosniaks instead of Bosnian Muslims.

Urbanicide: The deliberate destruction of cityscapes during times of war. This method is used to destroy historical and cultural elements of a city and to displace the urban population living there.

Dayton Agreement: An international peace agreement led by the United States in Ohio and signed by Presidents of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia (the latter representing Bosnian Serb interests) in November 1995 to end the war in Bosnia. The Agreement officially partitioned Bosnia into the Republic of Serbia and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a shared Bosnian and Croatian territory).

Utashi: An ultra-nationalist Croatian organization that aligned itself with Nazi Germany during WWII and were responsible for the death of many Jews, Serbs, and Roma.

Chetniks: A Serbian nationalist guerrilla force that brutally fought against the Axis Powers, Utashi, and Communists in Yugoslavia.

Ethnic Cleansing: Intentionally and systemically removing members of an ethnic group with intimidation and/or armed forces, in order to produce an ethnically homogenous (uniform) territory.

Source: Black, Eric, Bosnia: A Fractured Region. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1999.

This picture shows two war-torn apartment building complexes in Sarajevo. The scene is desolate with piles of rubble in the foreground and an old abandoned car in between the two buildings. enlarge image
The war-torn Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica in 1996, a site of rape camps during the Bosnian War and subject of the award-winning film Grbavica

Credit: Wikimedia.com


This really happened

Appearing in various streets in Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, in 1992, posters reminded its viewers of the city's once brighter past. Less than a decade before, Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and showcased the peace and prosperity Yugoslavia was enjoying since its former Communist leader, Josip Broz Tito, came to power in 1945. Depicted in the poster, is Olympic mascot, Vu?ko the Wolf, sporting an Olympic scarf and crossing his fingers with high hopes for Yugoslavia in the games.

Much of Yugoslavia's Golden Age (1981-86) was attributed to the prior work of Tito, who for thirty-five years helped the country triumph despite a Balkan history plagued by ethnic rivalry. He did this by suppressing any forms of ethnic nationalism within the country's six republics (See Figure 1.2 below) and by promoting "brotherhood and unity” throughout Yugoslavia. Tito's vision of a united Yugoslavia was most visible in Bosnia, the country’s most ethnically diverse republic, where an increasing number of people married inter-ethnically, spoke the common Serbo-Croatian language, used a combination of Cyrillic and Latin script, and began to identify themselves as Bosnian.

With Tito’s death and the eventual collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, republican nationalism resurfaced. By 1989, the Serbian government asserted power over its originally autonomous (self-governed) provinces (Kosovo and Vojvodina) and the republic of Montenegro. In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, followed by Bosnia a year later, but these changes did not come without a cost. A series of wars between Yugoslavia’s different ethnicities ensued, culminating in Bosnia.

Unlike its more nationalistic neighbours, the Bosnian coalition government vowed to remain strongly committed to its diverse ethnic population while independent. At the time, Bosnia’s population was 44% Bosniaks (Muslims), 31% Serbs, 17% Croats, and 8% Jews, Albanians, and Roma. However, the government’s commitment proved to be unsuccessful as the war severed many of the republic’s ethnic bonds and Bosnia was eventually partitioned by ethnicity officially with the signing of the Dayton Agreement in 1995. During the war, the Serbian government largely backed the Bosnian Serb cause to unite all Serbs under an autonomous region in Bosnia, while the Croatian government wavered between doing the same for its people or supporting Bosniak efforts to protect a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

enlarge image
Map of Yugoslavia, 1945-88

Source: United Nations - Department of Public Information Cartographic Section. This image is a map derived from a United Nations map. Unless stated otherwise, UN maps are to be considered in the public domain. This applies worldwide.

With this in mind, the previous poster not only tells a story of Yugoslavia's past, but also one of the Bosnian War, where the bullet holes in the poster’s background not only marks the mass destruction caused by urbanicide and genocide, but the deep pain many Bosnian people experienced during this time. Media, like this, expressed stories of horror, hate, and honour in the words and images presented by journalists in newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasts worldwide. The invention of portable camcorders and satellites, enabled not only government officials and journalists, but civilians alike, to instantly report and record their 'real-time' stories of events. This made the Yugoslavian War the most recorded and first truly televised war in history. But who was behind these stories and what message were they trying to convey? How were the events of the war portrayed on television and other media? And how did this portrayal affect people's perceptions of the war and our own understanding now?

These are all questions we will contemplate.

Establishment of the ICTY and the question of Responsibility

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is a United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s. Since its establishment in 1993 it has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law and provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced.

Source: About the ICTY.

In its precedent-setting decisions on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Tribunal has shown that an individual’s senior position can no longer protect them from prosecution. It has now shown that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed can be called to account, as well as that guilt should be individualised, protecting entire communities from being labeled as “collectively responsible”.


Key Political Figures

Slobodan Milosevic: President of Serbia from 1989 to 1997. He vowed to protect and unite Serbs in Yugoslavia, but in 1994 redirected his focus to international peace negotiations to end the war in Bosnia.

Radovan Karadzic: Opposition leader in Bosnia and spokesperson for the nationalist Bosnian Serb cause of uniting all Serbs under an autonomous region in Bosnia. He declared portions of Bosnia the Republic of Serbia and served as President of these regions from 1992-1996.

Franjo Tudjman: President of Croatia from 1990 to 1999. He advocated and led the Republic to independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Croatia switched its support from Bosnia to Serbia and back during different parts of the war.

Alija Izetbegovic: Served as President of Bosnia from 1990-1996. When in power he formed a coalition government that included representatives for Bosnia’s Croatian and Serbian population. Izetbegovic represented the Bosniak population, but was committed to upholding a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

Historical Thinking Concepts

Before we begin to explore media in the Bosnian War, we should first recall three of Peter Seixas’ six Historical Thinking Concepts and understand their relevance to our learning.

Historical Perspectives: While completing this placemat, you will be given the opportunity to explore the various historical perspectives expressed through multiple media during the Bosnian War. These perspectives and primary sources can then be used as entry points to understand how various social, political, and cultural contexts influenced people’s use of and reaction to media during the Bosnian War.

Continuity & Change: By comparing media at different points during the war, you may be able to detect patterns of continuity and change in how the war was being portrayed in the media. How consistent were the different governments, journalists, and graphic designers in their portrayal of the war? Did anyone’s expression of the war change over time? And, if so, what were the reasons behind this change or lack of change?

Historical Significance: Keeping this concept in mind while completing the placemat, you will be observing what people chose to publicize or omit from the media as well as the motivations behind these decisions. You will also be making judgments on the extent of accuracy and truth within such media selections.



Artifact One: › Yugoslavian Federal Laws related to Media under Josip Tito

A. From the Federal Criminal Code of Yugoslavia:
Article 134: “Whoever by propaganda or in any manner incites or fosters national, racial, or religious hatred or antagonism shall be sentenced to one to ten years of imprisonment.”

B. Law on Prevention of the Abuse of Freedom of the Press:
Article 4: “required publishers to provide the local Prosecutor’s office with two copies of every publication before it was released to the public.”

Article 19: “extended the Prosecutor’s banning powers to radio, television, and other media.”
Source: Thompson, Mark. Forging War: The media in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina. Bedfordshire, UK: University of Luton Press, 1999.


Artifact Two: › Words Displayed in the Media prior to the Outbreak of the Bosnian War

“At home and abroad, Serbia’s enemies are massing against us. We say to them: ‘We are not afraid. We enter every battle to win.’ ”

~Slobodan Milosevic, soon President of Serbia, November 19, 1988.

“On this day Christ triumphant came to Jerusalem. He was greeted as a Messiah. Today, our capital is the New Jerusalem. Franjo Tudjman has come to his people!”

~Member of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) after Tudjman became President of Croatia, May 30, 1990.

“We will view any attempt to repress (independent) Croatia as an enemy occupation.”

~Stipe Mesic, Croatian Prime Minister, 1991.

“Bosnia won’t stay in a Yugoslavia run by Serbia. I won’t let Bosnia be part of Greater Serbia.”

~Alija Izetbegovic, President of Bosnia, 1990.

“I warn you, you’ll drag Bosnia to hell. You Muslims aren’t ready for war—you could face extinction.”

~Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in Bosnia, 1990.

Source: BBC. The Death of Yugoslavia (Documentary). 1995.

Artifact Three: › The Use of and Reaction to Media during the Bosnian War, 1992-1995

A. Status of Main Television Transmitters in Bosnia by 1993

Transmitters in Bosnia by 1993

Source : Forging War, 1999

B. Three Reports on the Situation in Kupres, South Western Bosnia (April 1992)*
An independent newspaper in Croatia, Slobodna Dalmacija, “reported when Kupres fell to Serb forces on 9 April,” while the Federal Croatian television station, HTV did not. The same evening, “viewers of Serbia’s TVB news learned from a reporter that, “After fifty years, Kupres is free!’ For a further three days...HTV reported that ‘Kupres is securely in Croat hands.’ Consequently Slobodna Dalmacija received angry phone calls, accusing it of defeatism. Refugees from the Kupres area later (said) they had believed the HTV reports and were almost caught in the Serb advance.”

*This type of reporting on events was typical during the Bosnian War.
Source: Forging War, 1999.

C. Reporting of Concentration Camps used for Ethnic Cleansing during the Bosnian War

“Foreign journalists arrived and began to film us. They caught me first, next to the barbed wire, and I began to talk when one of the guards standing behind said: ‘Record the names of all those talking so we can kill them.’ I hardly said anything, except I was hungry and exhausted...Everyone who said more to the journalists and had their names recorded was (sic) taken by the Serbs that night—to be killed”
Bosniak male, who also claimed the same news story saved his life and the lives of many others.

Serb-run concentration camps, including Omarska and Manjaca, were the first found and mediatised, but Bosniak and Croatian special military forces also constructed their own camps for similar purposes.

Source: Weine, Stevan M., History Nightmare. London: Rutgers UP, 1999.

D. Language in the Media*

“In autumn 1993, the Chief of Staff of the ABiH** , General Rasim Delic, issued an order to the Sarajevo media to call the HVO by the title not (‘ustashi’ forces) and to call the Serb forces ‘paramilitary units of Bosnian Serbs’ or ‘Yugoslav Army’ (not ‘chetniks’). The order did not work for long, even in RTVBiH***.”
“According to New York Times reporter John Burns, (a) young soldier, had ‘absorbed and accepted a view of Muslims which contradicted his own experience of growing up in a nationally mixed part of Sarajevo. From Serbian radio, television, and in gatherings with other Serbian fighters ...he learnt Muslims posed a threat to Serbs...were planning to declare ‘an Islamic republic’ in Bosnia (and) would require children to wear Muslim clothing.”

*Language was similar in Croatia. Some forms of media being more nationalist than others.
** Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina
***Federal Bosnian television station

Source: Forging War, 1999.

E. A Change in Serbian Media, starting in 1994

“The War in Bosnia continues, but for our television screen it no longer exists,” said a Serbian TV correspondent. A Politka editor declared: “We are trying to control passions in Serbia.”

Milosevic began to distance himself from Radovan’s mission of uniting all Serbs in Bosnia and instead directed his focus to peace negotiations, in which he later represented the interests of Bosnian Serbs.

Source : Forging War, 1999

Action 1 


The powerful influence of the media

Take a close look at the artifacts provided above and discuss the following questions with a partner:

  • To what extent do you think the media influenced the beliefs and actions of its viewers? Imagine reading these stories as they were happening in your own country.
  • What are some of the benefits, drawbacks, and dangers of such a mediatised war?
  • In the 1990s Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia had media laws that were similar to Tito’s, but why then did history unravel differently after Tito’s death? Do you think media should be censored? What are the advantages and limits of censorship?
  • What implications do you think Serbia’s change in media had? Was the change for better or for worse? And for whom? Please explain your reasoning.
  • After studying the artifacts provided, do you think media acted as an instrument of truth or device of deception during the Bosnian War? Why? Justify your reasoning using at least 3 artifacts.
  • How does media from the Bosnian War influence our current understanding of the period? Are there any overarching themes/common messages that arose? Are you left with any unanswered questions?

Action 2 


Read the following statement made in the International Commission's report on the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913.

"The real culprits in this long list of executions, assassinations, drownings, burnings, massacres, and atrocities by our report, are not, we repeat, the Balkan peoples...The true culprits are those who mislead public opinion and take advantage of people's ignorance to raise disquieting rumours and sound the alarm bell, inciting their country and consequently other countries into enmity...."

Source: Forging War, 1999.

  • How does this statement apply to what we have learned about the role of media in the Bosnian War?
  • To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement? And why?

Action 3 


Further Reflection:

Radovan Karadzic convicted of war crimes March 24, 2016

Explore the following websites on the ICTY considering the actions of the global community and the question of responsibility for the other. 

Bosnia War Crimes
And this one:
War Crime Tribunal


  • What is the responsibility of the global community of nations in response to ethnic strife given the developing precedents of International Law going back to Nuremberg?
  • How are we as global citizens implicated in ongoing ethnic conflicts around the world when we fail to act to protect the vulnerable citizens caught in these horrific events?

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 3 How Should We Remember the Armenian Genocide?

Back to top

Ask yourself:

  • To what extent can history provide us with an accurate view of the past?
  • What happens when two historical narratives contradict each other? How do you decide what is true? Or what to believe?
  • Why is gaining genocide recognition so important to the Armenians? Why are the Turkish government and many other countries so reluctant to call the events of 1915 genocide?

This page explores the controversy surrounding the historiography and recognition of the Armenian genocide. Use the timeline and the primary and secondary sources below to understand the arguments of genocide "believers" and "deniers," as well as the importance of genocide recognition for the Armenians, and the reluctance of many countries to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”.

Atom Egoyan – Armenian-Canadian Film and Stage Director


Genocide: The deliberate and systematic destruction of an ethnic, racial, caste, religious, or national group.

Historiography: The writing of historical events that produces a written history.

Ottoman Empire (1453-1922): An Islamic empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to North Africa and became completely dissolved when modern Turkey was formed.

Sublime Porte: The central government in the Ottoman Empire.

Millet System: The Ottoman Empire was organized into millets based on religion. While Muslim millets enjoyed the most freedoms, those in Christian millets, such as Armenians, were seen as secondary citizen Citizens and faced higher taxation.

Hamidiye: A semi-regular regiment of Kurdish and Circassian horsemen organized by Sultan Hamid II to suppress Armenian rebellions in the Ottoman Empire.

The Young Turks: A Turkish reform organization promising to replace the disorder and corruption under the Sultan’s reign with a constitutional government where all Ottoman citizens would be equal.

The Committee of Union and Progress: A branch of the Young Turk organization that assassinated Sultan Hamid II.

The Young Turk Triumvirate: An ultra-nationalist government led by Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal. Together they took control of the original Young Turk government and promoted Pan-Turkism instead of equality.

Pan-Turkism: An ideology seeking the construction of a Turkish empire stretching from Anatolia into Central Asia and whose population would be exclusively Turkic instead of Ottoman.

Turkification: A process attempting to destroy non-Turkic cultures through assimilation or removal.

Shotas: A special organization gang trained and equipped by the Young Turk triumvirate to assist with the round-up of the Armenians and to disrupt the deportation process by looting, ravaging, and killing Armenians en route.

Source: The Genocide Education Project, Human Rights and Genocide, 2005.

Armenian Refugee Camp in Syria: Hundreds of Armenian refugees dressed in white are grouped together in the Syrian desert, next to what appears to be a train station. enlarge image
Armenian Near East Relief Refugee Camp in Syria - October 25,1916 (Near East Foundation – NEF, formerly the American Committee for Armenian and Assyrian Relief)

Credit: (Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-29847 (digital file from original negative) Rights Information: No known restrictions on publication.) This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

This really happened

“The aim of war is not to reach definite lines, but to annihilate the enemy physically. After all, who today still speaks of the massacre of the Armenians?”

It was Hitler who told this to his military officers a week before Nazi Germany invaded Poland and brought the world into war for a second time. But what exactly did Hitler mean when stating this? Especially when referring to the massacre of the Armenians?

As historian Peter Balkian explains, Hitler is recalling what many refer to as “the forgotten genocide” or “hidden holocaust” of the Armenians that began in 1915. The genocide resulted in the death of approximately 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and has left many of its survivors scattered worldwide. But wait, you might ask, “wasn’t the Jewish Holocaust the first genocide of the 20th century?” This really depends on whom you ask. The Armenian genocide is one of the most contested genocides in history and is still being debated today—almost a century later. However, before we dive deeper into the controversy around the genocide, let’s take a step back and explore the Turkish and Armenian past by examining the timeline on the next page. For a more comprehensive timeline visit the following websites:

The Armenian National Institute
The Armenian Genocide Museum

So where does the controversy lie? It lies in two divergent and competing interpretations of the events you just read about in the timeline. Even though both accounts agree that the massacres of the Ottoman Armenians did take place, they disagree on the case of whether or not these massacres should be deemed genocide. A summary of the two main interpretations is presented in the table below.

Genocide BelieversGenocide Deniers
Genocide Believers Genocide Deniers
Declare that genocide did occur because the Young Turk Triumvirate conducted the massacres and deportations systematically and with the intention of exterminating the entire Armenian ethnic population. Proclaim genocide did not occur because the Young Turk Triumvirate was rationally responding to Armenian rebellions, which were supported by the Allied Powers and threatened the dissolution of the entire Ottoman Empire.

Both views have found a place in separate historical narratives that vow to disprove the other. The former supported by the Armenian population, while the latter, by the Turkish government. Whichever historiography other countries choose to acknowledge greatly depends on how they recognize the genocide. Although international recognition for the Armenian genocide is growing, there are still a large number of countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1915 as genocidal. Before we decide how to personally and individually recognize the genocide, let’s first take the time to give the issue a more thorough examination by consulting primary and secondary sources.

Timeline of the Armenian Genocide

YearEvents in History
Year Events in History
1502 Historical Armenia falls under Ottoman control and the millet system (the separate legal courts pertaining to "personal law" under which communities (Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon law and Jewish Halakha law abiding) were allowed to rule themselves under their own system.) is implemented there. Relatively peaceful relations between the Turks and minority groups, including the Armenians.
1860-1865 Sublime Porte raises taxes to exorbitant levels. Constitutionalism spreads throughout Europe. Armenians begin to protest for equal citizenship and are violently subdued by Ottoman troops. Some Armenians begin to seek refuge in Europe and North America.
1876 Abdul Hamid II becomes Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and severely oppresses any sign of civil disobedience.
1877-1878 The already deteriorating Ottoman Empire is defeated in the Russo-Turkish War and experiences substantial territorial losses from the Balkans after signing the Treaty of Berlin.
1880-1890 Thousands of Muslims from the Balkans seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Living conditions in the Empire decrease, while taxes rise.Rise of the Armenian middle class in the Empire. Ottoman Armenians organize politically and receive support from Eastern Armenians under Russian control.
1892-1896 Armenian political parties encourage Armenians to boycott taxes, post placards in Anatolia decrying the corrupt Sultan, and take over Bank Ottoman to gain international awareness of the Armenian massacres. Hamidian Massacres: Hamidiye troops suppress Armenian efforts encouraged by their parties, and kill approximately 200,000 Armenians. International community sends humanitarian aid to Armenians.
1908-1909 The Young Turk Committee of Union and Progress overthrow Sultan and form a constitutional government. Armenian Bishop Mushegh declares the end of Armenian servitude and need to protect their new rights. 30,000 Armenians are massacred in response to the Bishop’s words. An attempt to restore the Sultan’s power fails.
1913 Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal organize a military coup, assassinating the leaders of the liberal and progressive branches of the Young Turk Revolution and consolidate power themselves, forming an ultranationalist Young Turk triumvirate.
1914 The Sublime Porte decides to join the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary) during the outbreak of the First World War.
Under the Young Turk Triumvirate (1913-1918) Armenian businesses, houses, and monasteries looted and some destroyed. Turkish males drafted for war and arms distributed to Muslim residents, while Armenian soldiers disarmed and sent to labour camps. Armenian political and intellectual figures arrested and murdered. Of the 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, hundreds of thousands of Armenians are deported and over a million are killed.
1915 After reports from various embassies in the Ottoman Empire, the Allies warn the Sublime Porte that they will be held responsible for any crimes against the Armenians.
1918-1919 Russian troops pull out of Eastern Armenia after a Russian revolution and Armenian leaders declare an Armenian Republic on May 28, 1918. Armistice signed at Mudros, ending the war between Turks and Allies. Triumvirate flees the Empire and Young Turk government dissolved. New Ottoman government supported by the Allies initiates court martial proceedings against triumvirate and other top officials.
1920-1923 Mustafa Kemal forms an opposition party and invades the Armenian Republic with the support of Turkish troops. The Armenian Republic sacrifices independence and turns to Communist Russia for support. Court martial proceedings suspended as Kemalist movement spreads. Treaty of Lausanne dissolves Ottoman Empire and recognizes a new Turkish Republic under Kemal. Treaty fails to mention the Armenians.

Permission granted - Armenian Genocide Museum

Source: The Genocide Education Project, Human Rights and Genocide, 2005.
The Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.

Asking these types of questions can help us understand how decisions about what to include or not include in these histories are made and in turn can help lead us to make our own critical and informed decisions on how we ourselves will choose to remember the Armenian Genocide.

Pictured here are Armenian refugees in front of Ottoman barracks. A few are sitting beneath a tent in front of the group, and to their right, some refugees sit amongst the few possessions they could bring with them. enlarge image
Armenian refugees' camps, Aleppo 1918, at the main Ottoman barracks.

Credit: AGBU archives, Vartan Derunian. This work was created in Syria and is now in the public domain there because its term of copyright has expired pursuant to the provisions of Law No. 12/2001, Syria's first ever copyright law. In order to be hosted on Commons, all works must be in the public domain in the United States as well as in their source country. Syrian works are currently in the public domain in the United States if their copyright had expired in Syria on the date of restoration (June 11, 2004).


Artifact One › A cable sent to Washington from the American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, July 1915
"Persecution of Armenians assuming unprecedented proportions. Reports from widely scattered districts indicate systematic attempt to uproot peaceful Armenian populations and through arbitrary arrests, terrible tortures, whole-sale expulsions and deportations from one end of the Empire to the other accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage, and murder, turning into massacre, to bring destruction and destitution (hardship; poverty) on them. These measures are not in response to popular or fanatical (obsessive) demand but are purely arbitrary and directed from (the Sublime Porte in) Constantinople in the name of military necessity, often in districts where no military operations are likely to take place... there seems to be a systematic plan to crush the Armenian race."
Henry Morgenthau

Source: Power, Samantha. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York: Perennial, 2003.

Artifact Two › A Passage from Talaat’s Memoir (assembled after his death in 1921)
"I admit that we deported many Armenians ...but we never acted in this matter upon a previously prepared scheme. The responsibility for these acts falls first of all upon the deported people themselves. Russia, in order to lay hand on our eastern provinces, has armed and equipped Armenian(s) and organized strong Armenian bandit forces...(that began) blowing up the bridges, setting fire to the Turkish towns and villages...and endangered the Turkish Army’s line of retreat...Every Armenian Church, it was later discovered, was a depot of ammunition. In this disloyal way they killed more than 300,000 (Muslims)...
It was impossible to shut our eyes to the treacherous acts of the Armenians, at a time when we were engaged in a war which would determine the fate of our country. Even if these atrocities had occurred in a time of peace, our Government would have been obliged to quell such outbreaks. The (Sublime) Porte...wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings...
These preventative measures were taken in every country during the war, but, while the regrettable results were passed over in silence in the other countries, the echo of our acts was heard all over the world."
~Henry Morgenthau

Source: The Armenian Genocide in Perspective. Ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. New Brunswick: Transaction, 1986.

Artifact Three › Resistance by Armenians in the Province of Van, April-May, 1915
"Gradually we got news that Turks wanted to finish off all Armenians... we had secret meetings to figure out when this was going to happen and how we could prepare to resist and defend ourselves”
"We children used to go from house to house to gather brass candle bars to make shells for the bullets... The Turks had all the ammunition and ours was very limited, so we had to be very careful not to waste any."

Russian forces came to support the Armenians in Van in late April and the Turks retreated until 1918, when they eventually gained control of the province.

Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.
Photo from Genocide Resources

Artifact Four › Excerpts from the Sublime Porte’s Public Notice of Deportation, 1915
  • ...all Armenians are obliged to leave [except the sick], within five days... under [police] escort...
  • ...they are free to carry with them...their movable property... [but] are forbidden to sell their land... Because their exile is only temporary, their landed property will be taken care of under the supervision of the Government.
  • To assure their comfort during the journey, [inns] and suitable buildings have been prepared...
  • ...if some of them [Armenians] attempt to use arms against the soldiers...[or] refrain from leaving, or hide themselves ...if they are sheltered or are given food...[they or] the persons who thus sheltered them or aid them shall be sent before the Court Martial for execution.
  • As the Armenians are not allowed to carry any firearms...they shall deliver to the authorities every sort of arms they have concealed in their places of residences and elsewhere...
  • ...soldiers and gendarmes [police] are required and are authorized to use their weapons against and to kill persons who shall try to attack or damage Armenians...

Source: Facing History And Ourselves.

Artifact Five › Two Eyewitness Accounts of the Deportation of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
"All able-bodied men were sorted out with the excuse that they were going to be given work. The women and children were sent ahead under escort ...The men kept behind were taken out of town in batches of 15 and 20, lined up on the edge of ditches (and) shot. After plundering and committing ...outrages on the women and children, they (the “shotas”) massacred (many) them. The military escorts had strict orders not to interfere with the “Shotas.”
Lieutenant al-Ba’aj, military escort

Source: http://www.facinghistory.org/

“They had been on the road for three to five months; they have been plundered several times over, and have marched along naked and starving, the Government gave them on one single occasion a morsel of bread— a few had it twice. It is said that the number of these deported widows will reach 60, 000; they are so exhausted they cannot stand upright; the majority have great sores on their feet, through having to march barefoot”
Reverend Essayan of Aleppo

Source: Miller, D.E., and L.T. Miller’s Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide.

Artifact Six › List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
List of Countries that Officially Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
  1. Argentina
  2. Belgium
  3. Canada
  4. Chile
  5. Cyprus
  6. France
  7. Germany
  1. Greece
  2. Italy
  3. Lebanon
  4. Lithuania
  5. Netherlands
  6. Poland
  7. Russia
  1. Slovakia
  2. Sweden
  3. Switzerland
  4. United States
  5. Uruguay
  6. Vatican City
  7. Venezuela

Source: Armenian Genocide.

Artifact Seven › Percent of Countries that Recognize the Armenian Genocide, 2013
This graph shows that 90% of countries do not recognize that the Armenian genocide was a genocide.
Artifact Eight › Responses from the Armenian and Turkish Government concerning the Genocide
"There has not been a genocide and if people for political motivations want to use (recognize) it ... they take the risk of influencing their relationships with Turkey”
Solmaz Unaydin, Turkish Ambassador in Tokyo, 2003.
"History suggests to us that if we are to survive and keep up our national identity, we need strength and a fighting spirit...We need nationwide solidarity and unity to make our Cause (sic) heard in any part of the globe.”
Tigran Sargsyan, Prime Minister of the Armenian Republic, 2009.

Source: BBC Documentary, “The Betrayed,” (2003) and Armenian Genocide Victims

Artifact Nine › Excerpts from Article 301 of Turkey’s Penal (Criminal) Code, 2008
"A person who publicly denigrates (insults) the Turkish Nation... shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years"
“A person who publicly denigrates the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institution...the military or security organizations shall be ...(imprisoned for) six months to two years.”

As Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian explains, the law has been used against numerous intellectuals in Turkey, including himself, who chose to use the term, “genocide” to describe and discuss the events of 1915.

Source: PBS Documentary, “The Armenian Genocide.” 2006.

Moving forward to reconciliation

In December 2008, a number of Turkish intellectuals, politicians, and journalists came together to start the I Apologize campaign in Turkey. The campaign allows Turkish citizens to individually and personally apologize for the atrocities against the Armenians by adding their name to an online form under the following statement:

“My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.” *

*The list of names of those who signed the online petition displayed below the statement.

The campaign website can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/armenians1915.

So far, of Turkey's population (approximately 76,000,000 in 2012), almost 32,500 have signed the campaign.

Action 1 


My connections to history

Independently identify at least three factors that distinguish between the concept of “the past” and “history.”

  • Brainstorm what it is that makes these concepts different from one another.
  • Pair up with a partner and complete the following exercises:

A. Compare and contrast your ideas from Task One. Be sure to discuss any similarities or differences of opinion you may have.

B. Discuss the following questions:

  • What are some of the advantages and challenges of studying history?
  • To what extent can history provide us with an accurate view of the past?
  • What happens when two historical narratives contradict each other? How do you decide what is true? Or what to believe?

Source: This Minds On Activity was adapted from: Denos, Mike and Roland Case, Teaching about Historical Thinking. Ed. Peter Seixas and Penney Clark. Vancouver: The Critical Thinking Consortium, 2006.

Action 2  


After independently observing Artifacts One to Nine, economically, and geographically. E. discuss the following questions with a partner:

A. Justification(s)

  • How does Talaat rationalize the measures the Young Turks took against the Armenians in Artifact One?
  • To what extent were these measures justified? Use evidence from Artifacts Two to Seven to support your answer.
  • Is it ever necessary to compromise human rights for concerns of national security?

B. In Henry Morgenthau’s cable to Washington, he speaks of a “systematic plan to crush the Armenian race”. Does Morgenthau have reason to make this claim? Please explain your answer using the timeline provided and Artifacts One to Seven.

C. Did these artifacts influence your understanding of the Armenian Genocide? Explain how or how not? Are you left with any questions or concerns? If so please write them down for future discussion.

D. Why do you think only ten percent of the world officially recognizes the Armenian genocide? What do you think influences a country’s choice of whether or not to recognize genocide? Think politically, socially, economically, and geographically.

E. Why is gaining genocide recognition so important to Armenians? Please explain your reasoning.

F. On the other hand, why do you think the Turkish government is so reluctant to call the events of 1915 “a genocide”?

Action 3  


Reflect on the following questions and record your answers:

A. To what extent does this campaign make a difference? Do you think it helps reconcile the relationship between Turkish and Armenian peoples? Explain.

B. Would you sign a similar campaign commemorating the genocide against the Armenians? Now that you’re more informed, how has your opinion changed about this horrific genocide?

Action 4  


Read the article “Armenians in Canada.”

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 4 Seeds of Division: Rwanda

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Ask yourself:

  • Are there any current conflicts where the international community is failing to intervene appropriately?
  • When have the international communities intervened in conflicts in a positive way?
  • What role should peacekeepers play in conflict situations? What situations merit our participation and is it ever appropriate for peacekeepers to use force?
  • How can a period of collective mourning help Rwandan youth remember the past, especially considering that many of them were born after the genocide?


This really happened!

While, the ethnic divisions between the Hutus and Tutsi came to a head in April 1994, tensions had been mounting for years. The distinction between the two groups, the cattle-owning Tutsis and the pastoral Hutus was initially fluid as families, friends, and neighbours intermixed. However, with the arrival of the Belgian colonists and their new identity card system, the differences between the Tutsi minority and Hutu majority became more pronounced. When the Tutsis were put in control by the Belgian authorities, the Hutu majority began to resent their influence as well as the economic disparity between the two groups. In the years leading up to the 1994 genocide, the two ethnic groups struggled for control and extremist views rose to prominence.

On April 5, 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyiarimana, Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, and other dignitaries were flying from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda. As they approached the Kigali airport, the plane came under heavy fire and crashed, killing everyone on board. The ethnic Hutu majority immediately accused the Tutsi minority of planning the attack and began a systematic slaughter of the Rwandan Tutsis that lasted 100 days. Official estimates place the death toll at approximately 800,000 as neighbour killed neighbour in unprecedented acts of violence led by Hutu militants, known as the Interhamwe.

Survivor of Rwandan Genocide
A Rwandan woman stands in a room between rows of skulls on shelves. As she looks up in the room, the window above her casts a light on her sad face. enlarge image
Survivor of the Rwandan Genocide, Kigali Rwanda

Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

This picture shows rows and rows of skulls, and bones beneath them, from the victims of the Rwandan genocide. enlarge image
Each of these skulls represents a human being: a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a friend …

Credit: Yuri Dojc 2014

Action 1


The Meaning of Words & the Power of Rhetoric

Before and during the genocide, radio was the main means of communication. Throughout the country, Rwandans tuned into daily radio connecting people in remote rural environments to each other, and promoting the rise of ethnic hatred. On November 22, 1992, at a political party conference Léon Mugesera gave an inflammatory speech emphasizing the potential dangers posed by the rising Tutsi minority. He labeled the Tutsi as “inyenzi” meaning cockroaches, a name that became an integral part of the anti-Tutsi propaganda machine and radio broadcasts. Years later, the word “inyenzi” still has powerful connotations and is avoided by most Rwandans.

  • Léon Mugesera fled the country shortly after his speech and lived in Quebec for several years until he was deported in 2012. Back in Rwanda, Mugesera was put on trial for inciting genocide and ethnic hatred. Imagine you were on the jury, what would you have to consider when deciding whether or not Mugesera’s speech makes him guilty? Compare your criteria with a partner; are they similar or different? The transcripts of these speeches are held at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.
  • Can you think of another historical situation where words or speeches have been accused of inciting violence or hatred? Use a T-chart or Venn diagram to determine the similarities and differences between these two situations.

On April 15, 2016, Léon Mugesera was given a life sentence for hate speech during the Rwandan genocide. Now age 64, the high court in Rwanda convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity. He denied the accusations, saying he immigrated from Rwanda to Canada before the massacre in 1994.

"The court finds that Mugesera is guilty of ... public incitement to commit genocide, persecution as crime against humanity and inciting ethnic-affiliated hatred," Judge Antoine Muhima said.

Action 2


The role of international observers: How can we work together as an international community?

According to investigative journalist Linda Melvern, “Rwanda’s violent divisions might have been easier to heal and its tragic history somewhat different had it not been for the involvement of outside interests.” As commander of the UN forces in Rwanda, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire repeatedly requested reinforcements from the New York headquarters. His requests were consistently denied; in fact, his mission was reduced in size during the genocide, in spite of the protocols laid out in the 1948 Geneva Convention.

A. With a partner, create a list of other situations where the international community has failed to intervene appropriately. Are there any present day conflicts that should be on the list? When has the international community intervened in a positive way?

B. Social media brings global communities together and facilitates a constant flow of information. In our rapidly shrinking world where information is available at our fingerprints, what social media tools (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) can we put in place to ensure that human rights abuses don’t occur? Do you think that the events in Rwanda would have been different if they had been broadcast using social media? Compare this to the Arab Spring where social media was used extensively to highlight injustice and provide real-time updates.

A basket containing white and red roses, with white ribbons on either side sits on the ground. A sash of ribbon with the words “Genocide never again” is tied across the front. enlarge image
Commemorative flowers for Rwandan genocide

Credit: endgenocide.org

Action 3


Romeo Dallaire and Peacekeepers
Romeo Dallaire poses for a headshot, wearing his Order of Canada pin on his left lapel. enlarge image
Romeo Dallaire

Credit: Worldwide Streamer Speakers

Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire is one of Canada’s most respected military leaders and human rights advocates. Before his retirement, he held several important military posts including the commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). This mission placed him in the middle of a brutal genocide and civil war that affected him profoundly. Upon returning to Canada, he “plunged into a disastrous mental heath spiral” and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In the introduction to his award-winning memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, he wrote the following:

"It’s been nine years since I left Rwanda, but as I write this, the sounds, smells and colours come flooding back in digital clarity. It’s as if someone has sliced into my brain and grafted this horror called Rwanda frame by blood-soaked frame directly on my cortex. I could not forget even if I wanted to. For many of these years, I have yearned to return to Rwanda and disappear into the blue-green hills with my ghosts. A simple pilgrim seeking forgiveness and pardon. But as I slowly begin to piece my life back together, I know the time has come for me to make a more difficult pilgrimage: to travel back through all those terrible memories and retrieve my soul.”
Shake Hands with the Devil

Source: Youtube.com

Lieutenant General Dallaire is not alone is his response to wartime atrocities. Soldiers returning from combat zones are often left with deep-seated psychological scars. Canadian soldiers have served overseas throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and for most of us at home their experiences are difficult to comprehend. It is important to recognize that the horrors of wartime have an impact on everyone involved, including the soldiers sent in as peacekeepers and international observers.

A. One of the reasons Lieutenant General Dallaire was so distraught by the events in Rwanda was that he was powerless to change the outcome. Debate the following:

  • What role should peacekeepers play in conflict situations?
  • What situations merit our participation and is it ever appropriate for peacekeepers to use force?

B. It is important to recognize the difficulty that many soldiers have when they return home from duty.

  • What support do we offer our veterans and how can we make the transition easier for them?
  • Do you think it is important to have systems in place to help them on their return?

C. One program that currently exists is Helmets to Hardhats Canada, which helps provide veterans with new skills and apprenticeship opportunities.

  • What other programs could we put in place to help ease soldiers’ transition and address the challenges they might face?

Action 4


How do we remember?

Even though Rwanda has changed dramatically in the years following the genocide, parts of the country still remain underdeveloped with high poverty rates. The Kigali Memorial Centre (KMC) contains the remains of over 250,000 genocide victims, as well as a detailed account of the 1994 events, personal artifacts, video testimony, and a children’s memorial. Unfortunately, not all Rwandans have access to the museum and its resources. KMC and its partner, Aegis Trust, are in the process of designing a mobile exhibit to travel around the country and educate the youth.

A. Considering artifacts
If you could contribute to the design of mobile exhibit, what types of personal artifacts or primary sources would you incorporate? Would you choose to use photographs, video testimony, and/or written accounts? Create a model of your display using pictures, drawings, and/or words. You can visit the Aegis Trust/KMC website to see what resources they have available and build off that.

B. Designing your own Rwandan exhibit
In most cases, Rwandans of both Hutu and Tutsi descent will be visiting the exhibit together. Even though the terms are no longer used, it is important to remember that everyone is bringing their personal histories and backgrounds with them. It is crucial to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable.

  • What kind of activity could you do with a school group when they arrive at the exhibit?
  • In a group, address these issues through drama, art, writing or oral story telling.

Most villages in Rwanda have memorial stones and mass graves dedicated to their genocide victims. In the years following the genocide, bodies were added to these mass graves as they were discovered. In some communities, they have chosen to keep the massacre sites intact to make a statement, as opposed to the customary interring of bodies. Every April, Rwandans gather as a community to remember the genocide victims. The commemoration period begins with a week of memorial services followed by a 100-day period of remembrance that includes changing the music they listen to and plastering the countryside grey, the colour symbolic of mourning in Rwandan culture.

Rwanda - Carly Bardikoff


C. Why remember?

  • Why is it imperative to commemorate past atrocities?
  • How can a period of collective mourning help Rwandan youth remember the past, especially considering that many of them were born after the genocide?
  • Are there other examples you can think of where groups come together to remember as a community?


D. Reflecting on images

Choose one of the images of Rwanda below and write a caption, poem, or reflection that combines the theme of remembrance with the image. Then find a classmate who chose the same image and compare your responses.

Photo of a brick Rwandan schoolhouse. enlarge image
School in Rwanda

Credit Carly Bardikoff

A group of Rwandan school children are dancing, while a larger group behind them looks on and claps. enlarge image
School in Rwanda

Credit: Carly Bardikoff

Action 5


Returning to Village Life: How do we work together to heal?

One of the aspects that made the Rwandan genocide unique was the fact that it truly was a case of neighbours, friends and family turning on each other and that a civil war took place alongside it. The Hutus and Tutsis were so interconnected and the level of involvement in the genocide was so pervasive that the aftermath presented a new set of challenges. In 100 days the estimated death toll was 800,000, which means that an average of 10,000 people were murdered each day. It also means that determining who committed individual crimes was incredibly challenging and that prosecuting everyone responsible would be a long, arduous process. While prominent political figures and leaders of the Interhamwe were sent to the UN Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, the traditional Gacaca court system was brought back to promote peace and reconciliation in village communities.

A. In many cases, Gacaca courts brought family members in direct contact with people accused of murdering their loved ones as they listened to their stories.

  • While confessions on this scale can be difficult to comprehend, has there been a time in your life where you have had to confess something or listen to someone else’s confession?
  • In your journal, describe how this made you feel. Is there anything you would do differently next time when confessing or when reacting to someone else’s confession?

B. The genocide also came hand-in-hand with a civil war that ravaged the country and created a refugee crisis throughout East Africa. After 1994, many Rwandans spent a long time away from their homes and/or in refugee camps.

  • Imagine you were returning home after a long trip away, what would you be looking forward to?
  • What types of things might have changed while you were away?
Beautiful landscape of rolling hills and lush forest greenery in Rwanda enlarge image
Countryside in Nyamasheke District, Rwanda.

Credit: Carly Bardikoff

This photo is of an old basketball net on a dirt court in a school playground. Thick Rwandan forest can be seen in the background. enlarge image

After the genocide — An Interview

My name is Carly and I recently returned from living in Rwanda for a year and a half. I spent a year in a rural village in the southwest training teachers and six months editing magazines in the capital, Kigali. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and incredibly impressed by how much it changed and developed since the events of 1994. My family and friends were very interested in my experiences, especially since they associated the country with mass murder and political instability. I thought that I would take the opportunity to share my reflections here and answer some of the questions I have been asked about living in Rwanda.

How did you prepare yourself for a move to Rwanda? Were things different or the same as what you expected?
In 2006 I visited Ghana in West Africa and was absolutely blown away by the people I met and the places I visited. That trip opened a door for me and I have been volunteering and working in different parts of Africa ever since. Before moving to Rwanda I spent time in Uganda, which borders it to the north and has geographical and cultural similarities. This made Rwanda seem a bit familiar and made me want to visit it even more. I also read extensively on Rwanda’s history and the genocide, which gave me a basic understanding of the country before I moved there. When I got to Rwanda the organization I worked for held a two-week training program that addressed cultural and political issues. They explained how village life worked and gave general guidelines on how to address (or not address) the genocide in everyday situations. They advised us not to ask too many personal questions, but always to be ready to listen if someone wanted to share.

Even though I had spent time in Uganda, I was not prepared for how beautiful Rwanda is. The lush green rolling hills took my breath away and I immediately understood why the country is nicknamed “the land of a thousand hills” or “le pays des mille collines.” I was also surprised at how clean the country is, especially Kigali, where people sweep the streets every day! This was a huge change from the some other African cities I’d been to. I knew how much Rwanda had developed since 1994, but seeing in person was another thing. Sometimes I would forget what had taken place, but other times it was all too vivid as every village had their own bright purple memorials you would see by the roadside.

Do issues around the genocide come into daily life?
I think this depends on where you live in the country and what you’re doing. I lived in a village where most of the Tutsi population had been killed in 1994 and even though many Tutsi refugees returned after the genocide they usually moved to Kigali. We had a memorial and mass grave near the village church and memorial services were held there every April. Most people that I worked with didn’t speak about the genocide often or at all, but others would allude to the fact that their lives had changed and they had lost family members. They were always happy to hear that I was Canadian because the Canadian peacekeepers under Lieutenant General Dallaire were very highly thought of. Sometimes, I would look around and realize that I was in a place where people had been killed or taken refuge. I always wondered if the Rwandans around me were thinking about that as well, but I knew that it was insensitive to ask. Obviously, people who worked in fields directly related to the genocide, like trauma counseling or genocide prevention, would have different answers.

Did you hear any personal accounts?
While I knew not to ask what my neighbours and colleagues experienced, some did tell me on their own accord. One day I got a ride from someone working on the roads in my village and, unexpectedly, he told me what happened to his family. As a young boy he lost his father and most of his siblings to Interhamwe (Hutu militants). For him, every day was still a struggle and he was very aware of the challenges posed by living in a post-genocide society. I heard several other stories second hand or as part of an explanation for why an individual was an orphan or why the education system needed to develop.

Scene of sprawling hills emerge through some fog and low hanging clouds. A dirt road has been carved into the side of the nearest hill, curving around the bend. enlarge image

Were you ever worried or concerned for your own safety?
In general, Rwandans treat their visitors with respect and hospitality. The people I met in my jobs and in both places I lived were incredibly warm and genuinely excited to have me there. On a day-to-day basis, the issue of safety did not cross my mind. I would walk home alone at night without worry, something that I don’t often do in Toronto. Even though ethnic tensions still do exist I never felt threatened by them or fearful that another genocide would erupt. Sometimes when I took public transportation in rural areas, I would look around and wonder what the people sitting next to me had done in 1994. However, as the country placed such an emphasis on moving forward, I felt it was important for me to respect that and follow their lead. The only time I was ever worried about safety was when tensions escalated on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, that was an external, not internal situation.

Have you visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre? How did that make you feel?
I visited the genocide museum on several occasions and in fact, by the end of my time there I was a regular and knew many of the staff. I was impressed by the amount of information in the museum, all presented in Kinyarwanda, English, and French. The museum is also filled with personal artifacts and video testimonies that can be difficult to watch, but help understand what people went through. Everyone reacts to the exhibits in their own way and most are overwhelmed by the stories in front of them. For me, the experience was one of profound sadness and I appreciated the care and thought that went into preserving the memories of those who died. In addition to the museum’s genocide exhibit, there is also a very touching children’s memorial, as well as an exhibit upstairs on other genocides around the world. There are also memorial gardens and mass graves outside where it is customary to leave flowers. The fact that the remains of victims were onsite made it very different from the Holocaust museums that I visited in Washington, D.C. and in Israel.

Permissions: Carly Bardikoff


Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 5 Exposing the Ukrainian Holodomor: How starvation was used as a political weapon

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Ask yourself:

  • How could millions of people be starved to death in 1932-33 without international exposure of this Soviet-era cover-up?
  • How could the conditions for an artificial famine be created in a country known for its rich fertile soil and record-breaking harvests?
  • What kind of psychological, social, and cultural scars does the trauma of prolonged hunger and starvation leave on its victims and their children?

This page examines the historical events that led to the tragedy called the Holodomor - literally, “murder by starvation”, a Ukrainian term for the engineered famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-1933 under the regime of Joseph Stalin. Study the timeline and the primary and secondary sources provided in order to understand the circumstances that caused this massive forced starvation of several million men, women and children in central Ukraine during Stalin’s leadership. Explore the arguments of genocide ‘believers’ and ‘deniers’, and the role of diaspora survivors in revealing the Soviet era cover-up.

Valentina Kuryliw, the Director of Education, Holodomor Research and Education Consortium.

Eye-witness account of survivor Alexandra Brazhnyk

Source: http://www.holodomorsurvivors.ca/Survivors.html


Bolsheviks – the word “Bolshevik” is Russian, derived from “one of the majority”. They were members of the Russian Social Democratic Labour party who split from the minority Menshevik faction in 1903. They believed themselves to be leaders of the revolutionary working class of Russia. Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks founded the Communist Party in 1912 and brought about the takeover of the Russian government after the October Revolution in 1917.

Collectivization – a government policy in which private ownership of farmland is discontinued; land is forcibly taken from land owners and amalgamated into government-owned structures known as collective farms. They were large agricultural units where people worked in a factory-like environment controlled by the totalitarian Soviet government.

Communism – a totalitarian system of government in which all the land, natural resources, industries and institutions, including education and media, are owned or controlled by the government.

Diaspora – a group of people who have been ‘dispersed’ from the area in which they had lived for a long time or who are living outside the area in which their ancestors lived.

Gulag – the Russian acronym for the government agency that ran Soviet forced labour camps during the Stalin era between 1930 and 1950. The camps were established to punish anyone who dared to oppose the government. Many Ukrainian farmers, kulaks (see definition below) and political dissidents were imprisoned in these concentration camps.

Halych-Volhynia State (also spelled Galicia-Volhynia) – a break-off principality formed in the western regions of the Kyivan Rus State in the latter Middle Ages.

Kozaks (also spelled Cossacks) – group of predominantly East Slavic-speaking people who became known as members of democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities, mainly located in Ukraine and in Russia. They fled to the south and east borderlands of Kyivan Rus to escape national and religious persecution in Poland-Lithuania. They tried to establish an independent Ukrainian Kozak State and served in the cavalry under the czars in return for special privileges.

Kulaks (Ukrainian term - ‘kurkuli’) – refers to the successful independent farmers who resisted collectivization. Stalin’s drive to liquidate the kulaks resulted in more than 600,000 Ukrainian farmers and their families being executed, deported or sent to Gulag camps.

Kyivan Rus – a powerful independent state (est. 882 AD) that preceded the formation of current-day Ukraine. The indigenous land of Ukrainians, Kyivan Rus is often mistaken as land that belonged to the principality of Muscovy (est. 1283 AD). Some history books incorrectly interpret the term ‘Rus’ as the short form for Russia.

Industrialization – transformation from a mainly agricultural society to one that is based on manufacturing of goods. Manual labour is replaced by mechanization.

Muscovite State – a break-off principality formed in the north-eastern regions of the Kyivan Rus State.

Propaganda – a systematic effort to persuade people to accept certain ideas or to mold people’s views into a particular mindset using such means as education, mass media, public meetings, and publications of various kinds.

Russification – laws, decrees, and aggressive actions taken by imperialist Russia and Soviet authorities between 1700 and 1991, aimed at imposing Russian language and culture, and social and political systems on all non-Russians.

Secret police – a select group of police or small agency within government known to suppress political dissent through terror, intimidation, torture and killing. In the Russian empire, they were first called by the acronym CHEKA, and later in the USSR, they were known as OGPU, NKVD and KGB.

Totalitarianism – a political system in which one political party or group maintains control over all spheres of life. Totalitarian governments are extreme dictatorships that combat all opposing groups and ideas and all rivals. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union and all communist countries were examples of totalitarian governments.

Ukraine – Google Mapsenlarge image
Ukraine – Google Maps

This Really Happened

The Famine of 1932-33 is called the Holodomor, a Ukrainian word that means prolonged, agonizing murder by starvation. The Holodomor is known as an artificial famine because it was not caused by crop failure or natural disaster. Joseph Stalin created the conditions for mass starvation in order to destroy the people who dared to oppose his government’s plan for collectivization and industrialization.

Soviet-era historians present various explanations for the Famine of 1932-1933, such as excesses in the Soviet drive for collectivization, the slaughter of livestock by farmers opposed to collective farms, drought, and a poor harvest. However, most scholars and Ukrainian survivors of the Holodomor have evidence to confirm that the Famine was deliberately planned and artificially engineered. It was not the result of natural causes, such as drought or a poor harvest. During the years of the Famine, the weather conditions were favourable and the harvest was plentiful enough to feed the entire population of Ukraine, as evidenced by official government reports from those years. Survivor accounts confirm that the Famine was artificially created by Stalin’s government. The government imposed crop quotas that were excessive, demanding that the entire harvest in the fields of Ukraine be confiscated, as well as all food supplies in people’s homes.

By the fall of 1932, the rural population of Ukraine was starving. Laws, such as the Decree of August 7, 1932, made it a punishable crime to gather and hide for oneself any produce from the fields, as these were declared to be “socialist property.” Entire regions of Ukraine were placed under food blockades, with orders to halt the delivery of food to stores in these regions. Distressingly, as millions lay dying in the streets and in village huts, Soviet granaries were filled to capacity with the year’s harvest. Large shipments of grain were sold to Germany and other countries, contributing to a depression-era drop in the price of wheat in Europe.

Soviet regions just outside the borders of Ukraine (other than the Don and the Kuban, inhabited by former Ukrainian Kozaks) experienced minimal food shortages. Police patrols had to be placed on Ukraine’s borders during the time of the Holodomor to keep starving Ukrainians from crossing into Russia where they could obtain food to survive.

Official documents and materials now available to the public confirm the extreme lengths taken by Stalin’s regime to suppress news of the artificial Famine in 1932-33. Soviet authorities ordered the press to deny the existence of the Famine, and severely punished anyone who spoke or wrote about it. The country was eventually closed to foreign correspondents. The suppression of the truth continued for several decades until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A few western journalists who travelled to Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33 were too intimidated to write about what they were witnessing at the time. They chose to share their experiences after they were safely at home. Journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones were appalled by the starvation and loss of life, particularly in central Ukraine. Unfortunately, one very influential journalist, Walter Duranty, denied that he had witnessed the horrible results of the Famine in exchange for lavish Soviet favours. Duranty’s articles for the New York Times in 1932-33 convinced many people that reports of starvation in Ukraine were untrue. He pointed to large grain exports from the Soviet Union as proof that all was well in Ukraine.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, researchers have gained access to hidden government documents and Communist Party archives. They have found numerous documents that prove the conditions for forced famine were created by Stalin’s regime. Stalin himself admitted to Prime Minister Winston Churchill that 10 million peasants died in Ukraine and neighbouring regions in the 1932-1933 Famine. He viewed this as successful revenge against people who were considered to be hostile to the Soviet communist system.

Adapted from http://ncua.inform-decisions.com/eng/files/UkrGenocide_Teacher_Student_Workbook.pdf. Used with permission.

Map of depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929-33enlarge image
Map of depopulation of Ukraine and southern Russia, 1929-33. Territories in white were not part of the USSR during the famine.

Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36679963

Historical Context

Current-day Ukrainians trace their historical roots to the Kyivan Rus State, which was one of the strongest and most influential social, political and economic powers of Europe between the 9th and 14th centuries. The state was made up mostly of Slavic tribes, with the major tribe, the Polianians, eventually becoming ethnic Ukrainians. The Meryans, in the north, a Finno-Ugric tribe, became the Russian peoples. The history is clear - Ukrainians and Russians did not stem from the same Slavic tribe, nor did Ukrainians evolve from Russian tribes or historic states.

The Kyivan Rus State, with its capital, Kyiv, was a major hub of north-south and east-west trade beginning in the 9th century. The territory was very susceptible to Mongol and Tatar invasions from the East. By the 12th century, the Tatars had destroyed Kyiv and the state was splintered into several principalities, two of which were Vladimir-Sudal-Rostov in the East and Halych-Volhynia in the West.

The town of Moscow was founded in the east beginning in the 14th century. The surrounding area became known first as the Muscovite State. By the 19th century, the Muscovite State became the Russian Empire. In the west, Ukrainian lands were incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For a brief time, the Ukrainian Kozak State existed on the fringes of the Commonwealth. Ultimately, the Kozak State fell to the Russian Empire led by Peter the First. Catherine the Second of Russia continued Russian imperialism by expanding the empire and enforcing russification on the Ukrainian population.

In the 19th century, Russian leaders introduced the secret police and continued imperial expansion, making russification a government policy. It was at this time that the descendants of the Kyivan Rus State began to refer to themselves as Ukrainians, in order to clearly differentiate their nationality from Muscovites/Russians.

Early in the 20th century, following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas the Second of Russia, the Russian socialist political parties were formed and the Bolshevik (later Communist) party under Vladimir Lenin seized power. Lenin believed that a transition to true communism required a period of dictatorship. The Bolsheviks laid claim to all lands of the former Russian empire. They established the secret police to imprison and execute anyone who opposed Soviet dictatorship, calling them "enemies of the state".

In 1918, Ukrainians declared independence and created the Ukrainian National Republic, but were soon overrun by German and Austrian forces. A civil war ensued on Russian-held territory as the Bolsheviks continued to consolidate power. Six different armies were operating on Ukrainian lands during this time of anarchy and collapse of authority. When Ukraine was allied with Poland for a short term it gained some ground, but by 1920 all of Eastern and central Ukraine except Crimea was taken over again by the Bolsheviks. In 1922, the Communists created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) as a federation of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia. When the U.S.S.R. collapsed in 1991, Ukraine regained its independence.

Wikimedia File: ‘Kyiv Rus’ - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kyiv_Rus_T.png
Den’ Article: A Restorer of the Ukrainian Nation - http://day.kyiv.ua/en/article/ukraina-incognita/restorer-ukrainian-nation
Video map 'Historical Maps of Ukraine-Rus' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh9y97in2CA

“Bitter Memories of Childhood”. Holodomor monument, Wascana Centre, Regina SKenlarge image
“Bitter Memories of Childhood”. Holodomor monument, Wascana Centre, Regina SK (2015)

Photo provided by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Saskatchewan.
Credit: Petro Nakutnyy


The following timeline provides an overview of historical events leading up to the Holodomor. It traces Ukraine’s history from 1918 to the present day.


Ukrainian National Republic


Bolsheviks create the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

Ukraine declares a short-lived United Ukrainian National Republic by incorporating Western Ukrainian lands



Ukrainian nationalist forces unable to repel foreign aggression [(Red Army, White Army, Poles, Entente); leaders forced into exile.

1918 - 1921

War; Communism
Bolshevik policy aims to establish a totalitarian socialist order; nationalizes all productive property; Cheka (secret police) and the Bolshevik Red Army suppress worker and peasant uprisings.

Ukrainian lands divided up between four countries: Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania.


Red Army takes most of Ukrainian territory. A period of inflation, food rationing, forced labour and economic collapse ensues.

First Famine in Ukraine
The expropriation of grain, a poor crop and severe food rationing result in 1.5-2.0 million deaths by starvation in Ukraine.

1921 - 1923

The expropriated food is sent to feed Russian cities and the Red Army.

Source: Subtelny, O. 2009. Ukraine: A History, Fourth ed. Toronto, pp. 380-381




Russia creates the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Transcaucasia. Ultimate control, however, is by the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Moscow.

In Ukraine, this policy is called 'Ukrainization' and results in a significant social, political, cultural renaissance, as well as the spread of a national consciousness.
Source: Magocsi, P. 1996. A History of Ukraine, Toronto, pp.533-547


The USSR introduces a policy to recruit non-Russians to the Communist Party.



Vladimir Lenin dies and a struggle for power sees Joseph Stalin take control of the Communist Party. Stalin aims to make all non-Russian republics into one single Russian socialist/communist state. He uses the OGPU, successor to Cheka secret police, to eliminate all internal opposition. Through terror, deportations and executions Stalin assumes complete control.

Of the approximate 29 million people in Ukraine, 80% are ethnic Ukrainians and 89% of the farming sector population is Ukrainian and demonstrates little desire for communist totalitarianism.


Stalin fears that the peasant class, which owns agricultural land, is the social base of Ukrainian nationalism, and are thus, ‘enemies of the state’.

Collectivization meets with opposition from successful, wealthier, independent farmers.


Stalin introduces the first Five Year Plan, a state imposed 'revolution from above', focused on rapid industrialization to modernize the USSR. He initiates forced total collectivization of agriculture (from private farms into state-owned) so the state can sell grain abroad and pay for industrialization.

Stalin directs his secret police, OGPU, to arrest Ukrainian political, intellectual and religious leaders for allegedly belonging to a fictitious Union for the Liberation of Ukraine and conspiring for the separation of Ukraine from the USSR. Next he liquidates the Ukrainian Autocephalous (autonomous) Orthodox Church, sends bishops and priests to labour camps.

Through executions, deportations or exile to the Gulag (Soviet prison camps) over 600,000 farmers and their families are liquidated, their property transferred to collective farms.

Moscow sends in urban workers to expropriate property, organize collectives and supervise grain shipments; peasant uprisings are quelled by the regular army and OGPU units; any protesters are imprisoned or killed. Peasants slaughter farm animals in protest.

1929 - 1931

Stalin regards Ukrainian nationalist tendencies as an impediment to building socialism.

The Soviet state labels successful farmers as 'kulaks' and 'enemies of the state' and Stalin calls for the 'liquidation of the kulaks as a class'.

Stalin launches an attack on the remaining mass of farmers, most of whom oppose collectivization.

Famine spreads in Ukraine. There is not enough grain to meet government demands and to feed people. Many peasants flee collective farms, seek food in towns and cities.

The Ukrainian Communist Party pleads with Stalin to lower grain quotas.

Famine (Holodomor) rages in Ukraine.








Swollen from hunger, desperate peasants eat rats, tree bark and leaves to survive. Numerous cases of cannibalism are recorded.

Demographers claim that at least four* million men, women, children have starved to death in Ukraine as well as at least 600,000 deaths in the predominantly Ukrainian Kuban region.


The state creates penalties and policies making private farming economically impossible, sets unrealistically high grain quotas for collective farms and demands they give up seed grain reserves.

> August:
Stalin responds by sending his associates to supervise grain procurements, to use harsher methods, and to confiscate every last bit of grain in order to meet collection quotas. A law written on August 7, 1932, known as the Law of Five Stalks of Grain, threatened severe punishment, even death, for picking any food, including grains, from the fields.

Red Army units, OGPU secret police and urban Russian communist activists act as enforcers.

> November:
Villages, farms believed to be sabotaging grain requisitions, are placed on a blacklist, no food or goods can enter or leave. Over one-third of Ukrainian villages are put on this list, people are condemned to starvation.

> December
An internal passport system is introduced denying farmers any ability to travel to cities or outside of Ukraine to seek food; essentially confines them to stay home and starve!

*In a meeting with Winston Churchill in 1942, Stalin admits to 10 million deaths during collectivization.

During the spring and summer of June – July 1933:

  • 28,000 people are dying per day,
  • 1,167 people are dying per hour,
  • 19 people are dying per minute
  • one-third of these deaths are children under 10 years old.

Western governments, such as Great Britain, France, USA and Canada, are aware of the Holodomor but choose not to interfere in the 'internal affairs of the USSR'.

The Holodomor Legacy
Stalin's artificial famine destroys one quarter of Ukraine's population, particularly the most productive farmers, and traumatizes the Ukrainian people for generations (intergenerational trauma).

The famine provides a path to Soviet repopulation of areas where massive starvation occurred. Through the addition of Russian and other Soviet peoples to Ukraine and the dispersion of Ukrainians throughout the Soviet Union over several years, ethnic unity is destroyed and nationalities are mixed.


> January
Stalin seals the border so that no Ukrainian farmers can enter Russia, where there is no famine.

Stalin appoints Postyshev to speed up grain collection and to reprimand Ukrainian Communists for failing to meet quotas. Some Communists begin calling Stalin's brutality in Ukraine 'genocidal'. Postyshev's gangs of activists conduct brutal house searches, tear up floors and walls looking for grain. Watchtowers are placed around farm fields; guards are directed to shoot anyone picking crops for food.

At the height of this artificially-induced Famine (Holodomor), Stalin's unrelenting drive to finance industrialization sees the Soviet government selling wheat to other countries and at below-market prices.

The Soviet government* denies the Famine, refuses help from any international charitable organizations like the Red Cross.

*(Soviet propaganda and disinformation campaigns continue this denial into the 1980s.)

Ukrainian communist officials are replaced by Russian officials. Ukrainian cultural and political leaders are imprisoned or killed. Any spoken or written mention of the Holodomor is strictly forbidden and harshly punished.

By Soviet policy, Russian is to become the language and culture of all of the peoples of the USSR.

1933 - 1938

The Great Terror:
Ever fearful of Ukrainian nationalism, of 'losing Ukraine', Stalin instructs Postyshev to complete Russian colonization, to destroy any remaining 'Ukrainization'.

Russification of Ukraine ensues, continuing 18th century policies of the Russian Empire.

The Ukrainian Communist Party declares the Famine was a 'national tragedy', but does not admit that is was genocide.



Ukraine declares its independence after the USSR dissolves.



President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's first pro-Western leader, and the Ukrainian parliament recognize the Holodomor as genocide.


Russian parliament passes a resolution denying that the Holodomor was genocide.

Pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejects the Holodomor as genocide.



Euromaidan (Revolution of Dignity)
Massive public protests by Ukrainians, similar to those that took place on the Maidan in 2004, demand integration into Europe after President Yanukovych refuses to sign an association agreement with the European Union. Millions of people gather in Independence Square in Kyiv to protest corruption and human rights violations and eventually force President Yanukovych to flee the country.


Fearing a resurgence in Ukrainian nationalism, Russia annexes the Crimea and begins using hybrid warfare to destabilize Ukrainian sovereignty.

The Holodomor is presented as genocide in history texts and is studied by students in Ukrainian schools.


The Kremlin continues to deny the Holodomor.

Sources: http://ncua.inform-decisions.com/eng/files/UkrGenocide_Teacher_Student_Workbook.pdf, pp.6,7
Magocsi, P. 1996. A History of Ukraine, Toronto, pp.557-563
Klid, D. & Motyl, A. 2012. The Holodomor Reader, Edmonton, Toronto, pp. 80-81
http://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/media/Lecture_XVI-Serbyn.pdf (p.3)
Hrushevsky, M., 1970. A History of Ukraine, Yale.
Hrushevsky, M., 1999. History of Ukraine-Rus', Vol. 7, Edmonton, Toronto.
Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Kyivan Rus’.
Kuryliw, V., 2016. Holodomor in Ukraine (in press)
Lemkin: Genocide against Ukrainians. http://www.infoukes.com/lists/politics/2008/10/0012.html

The timeline traces Russian imperialist aggression toward Ukraine beginning in the 19th century. You will notice that the Holodomor was one in a series of attempts by Russian imperialists and later Soviet authorities, to dominate the land and people of Ukraine. However, the Holodomor was the most ruthless of all, in that Stalin’s decrees created the conditions for mass genocide. As reports of starvation continued to surface, there was no compassion and no reversal of the plan. Stalin was determined to destroy Ukrainian citizens who openly defied communist ideology and collectivization within the USSR. The result was massive starvation of millions of men, women, children and infants.

This engineered famine and tragic loss of millions of lives has gained international recognition. However, there are still many countries that do not officially recognize the events of 1932-33 as a genocide created by the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Before you draw your own conclusions about Holodomor as genocide, let’s take some time to examine primary and secondary sources of information.

Dying peasants in Kharkivenlarge image
Dying peasants on the streets of Kharkiv during the Famine-Genocide (1933 photo by A. Wienerberger)

Source: www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/

Artifact 1: Politburo Resolution on Grain Procurement in Ukraine

No.44 Resolution of the CC AUCP(b) Politburo on grain procurement in Ukraine35
January 1, 1933

The CC CP(b)U and Ukrainian SSR RNK shall widely inform village councils, kolhosps, collective farmers and proletarian private farmers that:
a) Those who hand in any grain that was previously misappropriated or concealed will not be subject to repressions;
b) Those collective farms, collective farmers and private farmers who stubbornly insist on misappropriating and concealing grain will be subject to the strictest punitive measures provided by the USSR Central Executuve Committee Resolutioin of August 7, 1932 “On the safekeeping of property of state enterprises, collective farms and cooperatives and strengthening public (socialist) property.”

Secretary, CC AUCP(b), J. Stalin

RGASPI, fond 17, list 3, file 913, sheet 11.

CC AUCP (b) – Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) based in Moscow
CC CP (b) U – Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine based in Kharkiv
RGASPI – Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History
Ukrainian SSR RNK – Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Rada Narodnykh Komisariv (RNK), or Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih; Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.77.

Eyewitness account: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-holodomor-famine-survivors/25178009.html

Artifact 2: Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv

No. 67 Report from the Consul of Italy in Kharkiv to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy on “Famine and Sanitary Conditions” (excerpt)
July 10, 1933

The current situation in Ukraine is horrific. Apart from larger towns and raions within a fifty kilometer radius of cities, the country is engulfed in famine, typhus and dysentery. There are also cases of cholera and even plague which until recently were sporadic. […]

The famine has decimated half the rural population.

Police apprehend fleeing peasants with livid brutality (I have noticed that the urban population willingly takes part in this hunt for villagers, either because of some incomprehensible feeling of self-defence, or under the influence of crafty propaganda, or an overwhelming desire to commit torture). If somebody tries to escape from the police transports, there are always a dozen city residents prepared to chase him down, beat him up and turn him over to the police. There are orders prohibiting doctors from administering medical treatment to villagers in the cities.

Two thousand such poor souls are rounded up every day and shipped out during the night. Entire families, that came to the city in the last hope of avoiding death from starvation, are held in barracks for one or two days and then transported, hungry, 50 kilometers from Kharkiv and thrown into rain-formed gullies.

Many of them that can no longer move and simply die on the spot; some manage to escape and others are fortunate enough to make it back to the city where they end up begging for food. One of them told me about an area located between the ponds beyond Rai-Yelenivka, a four-hour walk away from nearest railway station. Every three to four days, a team of gravediggers is dispatched there to bury the dead.

Some doctors whom I know confirmed that death rates in the villages often reach 80 percent, but never less than 50 percent. Kyiv, Poltava and Sumy oblasts were most afflicted by the famine and can be described as depopulated.

I am adding another name to the list of dead villages: Lutova near Kharkiv. 44 Prior to the famine its population was 1,500. Today it is just under 90.

As for sanitary conditions, they can be no worse than their current state. Doctors are prohibited from speaking about typhus and death from starvation. They are also prohibited from compiling statistics that may be interesting from the scientific point of view. Nonetheless, I was able to obtain the following information about pathologies due to undernourishment. People who are unable to secure bread (very black bread with various additives) gradually grow weaker and die of heart failure without any signs of disease. Meanwhile, those who consume only fluids and milk experience swelling of their joints and legs. They also die from heart failure.

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih; Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.114-115.

Artifact 3 – Population Figures

Population Figures for the East Slavic Nationalities and the USSR as a Whole
 1926 1939% Change
 Population% Population%  
Taken from: The Great Famine in Ukraine: The Unknown Holocaust. Published by the Ukrainian National Association, p. 33. The source of information is “Natsionalisti SSR” by Kozlov, p. 29.
Small Soviet Encyclopedia, 1940 edition, under “U” – “Ukrainian SSR”; Ukraine’s population in 1927 census listed at 32 million; in 1939 (twelve years later) – 28 million.
  1926   1939 % Change
  Population %   Population %  
USSR 137,397,000 100.0   170,557,100 100.0 +16.0
Russians 77,791,001 54.0   99,591,500 54.0 +28.0
Byelorussians 4,738,900 3.3   5,275,400 3.1 +11.3
Ukrainians 31,195,000 21.6   28,111,000 16.5 -9.9
Number of Children Attending Schools
DatesRussian SFSRUkraineByelorussia
Source: Cultural Construction of the USSR, Moscow: Government Planning Pub., 1940, pages 40-50.
Dates Russian SFSR Ukraine Byelorussia
1914-1915 4,965,318 1,492,878 235,065
1928-1929 5,997,980 1,585,814 369,684
1938-1939 7,663,669 985,598 358,507

Charts reprinted from http://ncua.inform-decisions.com/eng/files/UkrGenocide_Teacher_Student_Workbook.pdf. Used with permission.

Artifact 4 - Resettlement Directives

No. 68 Resolution of the USSR SNK on resettlement to Kuban, Terek and Ukraine
August 31, 1933
The Council of People’s Commissars of the Union of SSR resolves:
The All-Union Resettlement Committee of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall organize the resettlement of 10,000 families to Kuban and Terek, and 15,000-20,000 families to Ukraine (Steppe) by the beginning of 1934.
Chairman, USSR Council of Peoples’ Commissars,
V. Molotov (Skryabin)
Executive Director, USSR Council of Peoples’ Commissars,
I. Miroshnikov
No. 69 Resolution of the CC CP(b)U Politboro on additional resettlement of Steppe raions (excerpt)
September 11, 1933
Prepare the following numbers of additional resettlements to the Steppe raions during the fourth quarter of 1933: 22,000 families to Dnipropetrovsk, 9,000 families to Odesa and 4,000 families to Donetsk oblasts.
Recruit additional resettlers from among those collective farmers, laborers and private farmers who are willing to join the collective farms of the Steppe.
Establish the following recruitment targets: 8,000 families each from Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts and 6,000 families from Vinnytsia oblast.
Conduct additional resettlement to Dnipropetrovsk oblast from Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, to Odesa oblast from Vinnytsia and Kyiv oblasts, and to Donetsk from Chernihiv oblast. […]

SNK – Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR (Soviet Narodnyhkh Komisariv)
CC CP (b) U – Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine based in Kharkiv

Source: Holodomor of 1932-33 in Ukraine: Documents and materials. Compiled by Ruslan Pyrih;
Translated by Stephen Bandera, Kyiv Mohyla Academy Publishing. (2008). p.116-117.

Artifact 5: International Recognition of Holodomor

Canada recognizes the Holodomor as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In addition to Canada, other countries/states recognizing the Holodomor are:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Colombia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Ecuador
  • Georgia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Mexico
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Slovak Republic
  • USA


In 2003, the United Nations (UN) and delegations from 25 countries issued a Joint Statement on the Great Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine (Holodomor). The opening statement reads as follows:

In the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victims to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (Holodomor), which took from 7 million to 10 million innocent lives, became a national tragedy for the Ukrainian people. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Joint_Statement_on_Holodomor

While the UN considers the Holodomor a national tragedy, they fall short of the term genocide. In 1990, the UN International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932-33 Famine in Ukraine (Geneva) concluded that the Famine in Ukraine was, in fact a genocide. At the same time, the Commission could not confirm that the Moscow authorities had a preconceived plan to organize a famine in Ukraine.

Recently released evidence from primary sources in Ukraine may have an impact on the UN’s position in coming years.

Artifact 6 – An Author’s Chronicle of Events

Following an unofficial trip to Ukraine in 1933, journalist Gareth Jones shared his stories of government oppression and famine with George Orwell, a young British author. Years later, Orwell wrote the novel “Animal Farm” in which he satirized the corrosive effects of communism. He also alluded to an artificial famine and the need to conceal it from the outside world in Chapter Seven of his novel.

“For days at a time the animals had nothing to eat but chaff and mangels. Starvation seemed to stare them in the face. It was vitally necessary to conceal this fact from the outside world. Emboldened by the collapse of the windmill, the human beings were inventing fresh lies about Animal Farm. Once again it was being put about that all the animals were dying of famine and disease, and that they were continually fighting among themselves and had resorted to cannibalism and infanticide. Napoleon was well aware of the bad results that might follow if the real facts of the food situation were known, and he decided to make use of Mr. Whymper to spread a contrary impression.”

Orwell created a different preface to his novel in an underground Ukrainian edition of “Animal Farm” that was published in 1947. The translated edition was circulated throughout displaced persons’ camps in Europe following World War II.


Artifact 7 – Intergenerational Impact of the Holodomor

Researchers have found that collective trauma is passed down from generation to generation, a phenomenon known as intergenerational trauma. In Canada, the impact of intergenerational trauma has been highlighted by survivors of residential schools. It is what happens “when untreated trauma-related stress experienced by survivors is passed on to second and subsequent generations. The trauma inflicted by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop was significant, and the scope of the damage these events wrought wouldn’t be truly understood until years later.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/the-intergenerational-trauma-of-first-nations-still-runs-deep/article23013789/

A research study by Brent Bezo and Stefania Maggi (2015) investigated how three consecutive generations perceived the impact of the Holodomor on their lives in modern-day Ukraine. The findings indicate that:

“…intergenerational trauma, stemming from the Holodomor genocide, continues to exert its effect through gender-specific impacts. These impacts seem to occur at the individual level, in terms of affecting well-being and behaviours. The participant reports also suggest that collective trauma has a long-term, intergenerational impact on how men and women view themselves and each other, in a broader sense and in relation to gender roles, expectations, and performance. In this respect, participants did not only refer to themselves or known individuals in their own personal environments, but also spoke about a wider impact affecting the greater Ukrainian context. As such, our results suggest that the Holodomor had an impact at the societal level. This result reflects an area that has not been extensively studied and has yet to be well understood, but is consistent with the view that collective traumas play a critical role in shaping socio-cultural norms and values beyond the individual level. The impact of genocides at the societal level has implications for how interventions may address the healing of collective trauma and its intergenerational transmission, which may require the application of multi-level frameworks. Specifically, our results suggest that the healing of collective trauma also requires an understanding of gender-related impacts, in that victimization of men via gendercide might also result in a hidden or less overt intergenerational victimization of women. Hence, the historical roots of collective trauma should be considered for healing its intergenerational impacts.” (p.3-4)


The Press – Facts versus Fake News

Previously sealed files from the Soviet era are now available to authorities, historians, and researchers. Many of the documents from the files provide compelling evidence of a government-imposed famine, with losses ranging between four and ten million victims.

Unfortunately, in 1932-33, evidence of the famine was kept well-hidden. Journalists were rarely allowed into Ukraine due to a travel ban. At least three noteworthy journalists did manage to travel to the region, one with the permission of Soviet authorities, and two who ignored the travel ban. The articles they wrote convey divergent views.

Read the article written by Ian Hunter titled “A Tale of Truth and Two Journalists”, available at: http://faminegenocide.com/resources/2journalists.html . Study the summary of interpretations offered in the chart and examine the articles published by both Malcolm Muggeridge and Walter Duranty (links given) to gain greater insight into each interpretation.

Note: Duranty’s article was written in response to the eyewitness accounts of journalist Gareth Jones. Walter Duranty travelled with the permission of Soviet authorities. Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones ignored the travel ban and went on their own.

Genocide Believer: Malcolm MuggeridgeGenocide Denier: Walter Duranty

Understood the reasons behind Ukraine’s rejection of imperialism and collectivization;

Knew that weather conditions for abundant harvests were favourable in 1932 and 1933;

Shared eye-witness reports*: “Hunger was the word I heard most. Peasants begged a lift on the train from one station to another sometimes their bodies swollen up—a disagreeable sight—from lack of food.”

Recognized that Stalin’s political weapon was famine; only death would ensure that Ukrainian resistance to collectivization would be removed.

*Reprinted article from The Manchester Guardian (1933): http://www.garethjones.org/[...]

Refused to acknowledge that millions of people in central Ukraine were being starved to death;

Created media reports about abundant harvests and general economic prosperity in the Soviet Union;

Shared eye-witness reports*: “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition”;

Promoted the view that economic prosperity in the Soviet Union was the result of Stalin’s political leadership and policy of collectivization.

*Reprinted article from The New York Times (1933): http://www.garethjones.org/[...]

Note: The term ‘Russians’ was incorrectly used by Duranty to describe all citizens in the Soviet Union. Duranty’s misrepresentation aligned with Stalin’s plan to create a society in which Russian language and culture dominated all 15 ethnically diverse states of the Soviet Union.

The article “Holodomor – Denial and Silences” offers some reasons for the lack of awareness by the public of the artificial Famine of 1932-33. http://holodomor.ca/education/teaching-materials/holodomor-denial-silences/. It is interesting to note that even though many detailed accounts of the Holodomor were written, Duranty’s articles, which were backed by Soviet authorities, overshadowed the work of other journalists.

Action 1


  1. Why was the Holodomor denied for so long and what ended the controversy?
  2. Can historical facts be denied when there is archival proof? Consider other examples such as Holocaust denial and the Armenian Genocide.

Write your answer and then discuss as a class.

Action 2


Why is it that the earliest historical accounts of the Holodomor originated from diaspora Ukrainians and not from survivors living within Ukraine?

Write your answer and then discuss and compare with a partner in your class.

Action 3


Although the Holodomor of 1932-33 is now widely recognized (see Artifact 5), Canada prides itself on being the first country in the world to declare that the engineered famine was a genocide against the Ukrainian people.

The Senate calls upon the Government of Canada “to recognize the Ukrainian Famine/Genocide of 1932-1933 and to condemn any attempt to deny or distort this historical truth as being anything less than genocide”. June 17, 2003.

In 2008, a private members’ bill was introduced to establish a day of remembrance for the Holodomor, Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (“Holodomor”) Memorial Day.

  1. Read about the introduction of Bill C-459. Link: https://openparliament.ca/bills/39-2/C-459/. Which speaker, in your view, had the most compelling presentation?
  2. Select and record six pieces of information about the Holodomor that were shared by the speakers and captured your attention.
  3. Discuss as a class: Why is it important to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?
  4. Are there other examples of historic injustices recognized by Canada’s parliament? Work in pairs to research and record your answers.

Action 4


After viewing Artifacts 1, 2 and 3, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Statistical data and documents from the years 1932-33 were released to the public following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Given these new sources of evidence, do you think that the integrity of journalists such as Malcolm Muggeridge and Gareth Jones will be restored? Explain your reasoning.
  2. Create a five-minute presentation to the Pulitzer Prize committee about Walter Duranty’s award, and present it to your class.

Action 5


A. Holodomor survivors who escaped to diaspora countries such as Canada have shared eyewitness accounts of cruelty and starvation in Ukraine during 1932-33.

  1. There was no mention of the artificial famine, the Holodomor, in school textbooks in the Soviet Union, including Ukraine. Reflect on why this information was left out of the school curriculum.
  2. Germany has set an example by recognizing and apologizing for Hitler’s crimes. Reflect on the political, cultural, educational, economic and geographic implications for Russia if government authorities were to accept responsibility for the Holodomor.

B. The next question refers to George Orwell’s Animal Farm. If you have read it, please proceed.

Andrea Chalupa has researched Orwell’s introduction to the Ukrainian version of Animal Farm (see Artifact 6). She speaks of the ‘revived revolutionary spirit’ among displaced persons (DPs) upon reading this satire about communism, collective farms, and famine. Do you think that Orwell’s book motivated Ukrainian DPs to share their recollections of the Holodomor in the diaspora? Why or why not?

Action 6


Artifact 4 contains examples of resolutions for resettlement following a methodical plan by the Soviet authorities to starve millions of Ukrainians in central and eastern Ukraine.

Do you think that it will ever be possible for Ukraine to reconcile its relationship with Russia? In reflecting on this question, consider the factors that led to demonstrations at the Maidan in Kyiv in 2004, (the Orange Revolution) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Revolution and 2014, the Revolution of Dignity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Ukrainian_revolution

Action 7


Artifact 7 explores intergenerational trauma. Define the following terms as related to the history of residential schools in Canada: colonization, mistrust, indigenous inhabitants, cultural genocide, intergenerational trauma, and resettlement.

  1. Using your definitions, work with a partner to draw parallels between the victims of residential schools and the Holodomor.
  2. Is it ever acceptable to compromise human rights to build a nation? Reflect on this topic and record your answers. Make a presentation to classmates, with a clear explanation of your views.

The Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward in China

Twenty-five years after Stalin's Holodomor, General Mao Tse Dong launched the "Great Leap Forward" in 1958. Both Communist leaders wielded apparently unlimited power in their efforts to eliminate private farms and promote rapid industrialization. According to an expert on the subject, historian Frank Dikötter, Mao's policies precipitated mass famine, rampant cannibalism, causing an estimated thirty to fifty million deaths.


Dikötter, Frank - Mao's Great Leap to Famine. International Herald Tribune. 15 December 15, 2010

Action 8


A. Select 10 adult participants for a History Survey. First thank them for participating and let them know they will be identified only by number with no names ever recorded.

B. Question for them:
What do you know about the Holodomor and the Great Leap Forward?

C. Give them scores out of a total of 5 based on correct answers to:
Where? When? What? Who? Why?

  1. (Where) know that Holodomor refers to the Ukrainian genocide and the Great Leap Forward was a Chinese genocide.
  2. (When) provide dates exactly (1932-1933 Holodomor; 1958-1963 GLF) or in the correct decade.
  3. (What) express a rough approximation of the number of man-made deaths attributed to the Holodomor (7 - 10 million) and the Great Leap Forward (at least 45 million).
  4. (Who) know that General Mao was behind the GLF and Stalin was behind Holodomor.
  5. (Why) know that both genocides were done by Communists who wanted to eliminate private farms and rapidly increase industrialization.

D. Participants may be asked to volunteer their level of education and how they learned about these genocides.

E. Analyze your results as individuals and then as a class looking at trends and the potential explanations of those trends.

Ukrainian Canadian Congress logo

“Exposing the Ukrainian Holodomor: How starvation was used as a political weapon”
was developed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress of Saskatchewan
– Holodomor Awareness & Education Committee
www.ucc.sk.ca ; uccspc@ucc.sk.ca

Unit 2 Genocide

Chapter 6 Cambodia: The Forgotten Genocide?

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Ask Yourself

  • Have you come across any references in your courses, textbooks, or the news about Cambodia?
  • Do you know where Cambodia is, without looking at a map?
  • Should the genocide be remembered? How?
  • Can the Cambodian Genocide be compared to other genocides in this unit?
  • The region now called Cambodia has had many names throughout its history: Funan, Angkor Empire, Khmer Empire, Kingdom of Cambodia, Khmer Republic, Democratic Kampuchea, People’s Republic of Kampuchea and State of Cambodia. What do these frequent name changes suggest about its history?

Cambodia: A Little History

Hinduism and Buddhism influenced Cambodia throughout its history, like other states in Southeast Asia, though most Cambodians today follow Buddhist practices. Its national language has influences from India rather than China, despite China’s influence in the region over time. The original state, Funan, morphed into the Angkor Empire under a series of powerful Khmer rulers from the 9th-12th centuries CE (Common Era). At its peak, this empire included parts of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). The rulers built an impressive series of more than a thousand temples. Some of these are popular tourist attractions in particular Angkor Wat, a Unesco Heritage site north of Siem Riep, that was built in the 1100s.

Angkor Wat enlarge image
Angkor Wat

This temple was originally a Hindu complex that was converted to a Buddhist one. It has more than 100 temples extending over approximately 400 square kilometres.

Source: Creative Commons

Action 1  

Do >

Search Google Maps and find a map of Cambodia and southeast Asia. Zoom in and trace the route of the Mekong River, the longest river in the area. Since river travel was very important historically, how could the river influence history in the area, both positively and negatively?

Like so many empires, after a period of regional dominance, things changed and by the 1400s Cambodian power was surpassed, first by other influences in the region such as Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam, and later by European colonial powers. In the case of Cambodia, it came under the influence of France like its neighbour, Vietnam. Japan took over the area briefly during World War II. This was followed by struggles for independence from France, achieved in 1953. Throughout colonial history, borders were set without consulting the peoples who lived in the area. In this case, the mixture of Vietnamese and Cambodian Khmers led to tensions between the two groups.

Communism in Cambodia

In the 1960s and early 1970s the Cold War in Asia involved the United States and the Peoples’ Republic of China, and supporters of both sides. This eventually brought instability to the region. Cambodia was not spared. The Vietnam War (eventually won by the communist north in 1975) spilled into Cambodia with a military coup, an insurgent campaign by Cambodian communists led by Pol Pot, and thousands of bombs dropped by the United States to support the military government against both Vietnamese and Cambodian communists. The thousands of civilian casualties were a recruitment tool for the Khmer Rouge, the name for Cambodia’s communists. Pol Pot and many other founders of the Khmer Rouge were well-educated students who had lived in France yet, like their Vietnamese classmates, felt alienated by the post-independence Kingdom of Cambodia. Both groups were attracted by communist ideas.

This Really Happened

In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge forces defeated the Cambodian military and took over the capital city, Phnom Penh. Urban areas had supported the military when it first came into power. Though their support cooled due to government dictatorial policies they were even more afraid of the Khmer Rouge so they fled the cities or were forced out. Many of them, likely millions, were forced to do unpaid agricultural work.

The Khmer Rouge engaged in a wave of killings in the four years it controlled the country. After killing many supporters and soldiers connected to the previous military government, they brutalized Buddhist monks and ethnic minorities including Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais and others not connected to the Khmer majority population. The new government also cut Democratic Kampuchea (the new name for Cambodia) off from the rest of the world.

Purges continued with anyone suspected of disloyalty, even communists who disagreed with the Pol Pot government and former urban dwellers who were already starving after evacuating the cities to live in the countryside. Peasants were also persecuted. The death toll between 1975 to 1979 was estimated to be at least 1.7 million and perhaps even more than 2 million victims of murder, starvation, overwork or disease (out of a population of about 8 million) in this “reign of terror”. One in four or one in five Cambodians died within just four years! The Khmer Rouge even killed children and babies, since by killing them they would not grow up to take revenge for the deaths of their parents.

Money, free markets, schools, private property, foreign styles of clothing, religious practices, and other aspects of traditional Khmer culture were abolished, and buildings such as schools, pagodas, and government properties were turned into prisons, stables, camps, and granaries. Family relationships were heavily criticized, and the Khmer Rouge forced children to be “child soldiers” since they were easy to control and would follow orders without hesitation, to the point where many were forced to shoot their own parents.

Action 2  

Discuss >

A phrase that the Khmer Rouge used when describing some of the Khmer they killed was that these were “Khmer bodies with Vietnamese Minds”. What does this say about relations between the two countries even though both were considered Communists in the Cold War period?

The Killing Fields

Tourists now visit graves and memorials to the “Killing Fields” as well as ancient wonders like Angkor Wat. Khmer Rouge moved over to a system of more than 150 “Killing Fields,” all over Cambodia. In addition to political opponents, those unable to do the farm work in the fields were marked for execution. Approximately 60% of the deaths during the genocide were by direct execution and the remaining victims died from disease or starvation. There were more than 20,000 mass graves containing the bodies and bones of nearly a million and a half victims. The term “Killing Fields” was coined by a Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran, who managed to escape. His experiences and those of an American journalist, Sydney Schanberg, were the basis for a 1984 British film, The Killing Fields. The film was nominated for and won several Academy Awards.

The Killing Fields enlarge image
The Killing Fields

Source: Wikimedia

The Killing Fields enlarge image
The Killing Fields

Source: AP

Action 3  

Do >

A. Imagine if you were one of those victims in these photos. What would you say to the survivors? Write a dialogue that might take place in that scenario. What would they say to help you better understand what they went through? What questions would you have for them?

B. After watching the movie, “The Killing Fields”, how might your thoughts be affected by the previous activity? What does this say about the power and limits of the media, whether fiction or non-fiction, to inform us?

A High School Reunion

“Hill of the Poisonous Trees" (Tuol Sleng) was a former high school, established by the Khmer Rouge as just one of at least 150 execution centres.

Imagine taking a tour of your old high school like this:

Tuol Sleng school exterior enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school exterior

Source: Wikipedia

Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells

Source: Wikimedia

Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells enlarge image
Tuol Sleng school interior and prison cells

Source: Wikimedia

Tuol Sleng - plaque about the high school turned into secret security office enlarge image
Tuol Sleng - plaque about the high school turned into secret security office

Source: Wikimedia

Discuss >

Among those marked for imprisonment and execution were people wearing eyeglasses. Why do you think they were selected?


The Khmer Rouge had a belief in the superiority of their people; i.e. the majority Khmer people. This was evident in their attacks on non-Khmers in Cambodia as well as attacks on several of their neighbours, including Vietnam, ruled by fellow Communists whom one would expect to be on the same side. Refugees from Cambodia fled to Vietnam and lobbied to get that country’s support. When Cambodia declined to negotiate with Vietnam over the border fighting, the Vietnamese army invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge and set up the People's Republic of Kampuchea. After a decade the Vietnamese withdrew the last of their troops and the government renamed the country the State of Cambodia. Over the years, under United Nations support, it emerged as a democracy with free elections and the return of the monarchy as a symbol of national unity.

What Happened to the Khmer Rouge?

Many who were considered moderate members were killed during the rule. The leaders fled.

Pol Pot, gives an interview June 22, 1979 in the Cambodian jungle. enlarge image
Pol Pot, gives an interview June 22, 1979 in the Cambodian jungle.

Source: AP Photo

Pol Pot, with some supporters, hid out along the border of Cambodia and Thailand, making rare appearances to denounce the Vietnamese invaders and any who supported them. The Peoples’ Republic of China were supportive of the Khmer Rouge remnants. Gradually the government in Cambodia persuaded Khmer Rouge members to defect. In 1998, Pol Pot died while taking a nap. A few of his remaining supporters mourned his death.

In 1997, the Cambodian government with help from the UN established a tribunal to investigate the genocide. It took nine years to agree to the shape and structure of the court – a hybrid of Cambodian and international laws. The investigating judges were presented with the names of five suspects by the prosecution in July of 2007. On September 19, 2007 Nuon Chea, second in command of the Khmer Rouge and its most senior surviving member, was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He faced Cambodian and foreign judges at the special genocide tribunal, was convicted on August 7, 2014 and received a life sentence. On July 26, 2010 Kang Kek Ieu, the director of the S-21 prison camp was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment. In 2012, his sentence was extended to life imprisonment.

Action 4  

Do >

List the reasons why Khmer Rouge leaders avoided trials for decades and why Pol Pot escaped trial. Compare your list with a classmate.

International Response

The international community was largely silent during the course of the genocide. Neither the U.S. nor Europe called attention to the genocides as they were happening, although scholars and others in the West tried to bring attention to the atrocities being committed.

Action 5  

iSearch >

Yale University has an ongoing study of the Cambodian (and other) genocides. Explore the sections on U.S. involvement in this website: https://gsp.yale.edu/case-studies/cambodian-genocide-program

What information helps explain the lack of response from the United States and other countries?

Action 6  

Do >

Two common expressions that are often used to explain how things happen are

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

“Once bitten, twice shy.”

Discuss and record your answers to the following questions.

A. How do these apply to the reaction of the United States to events in Cambodia?

B. What conflicts in the world today persist because of the ideas in the expressions above?

C. What can Canadians do when faced with issues that offer less than perfect choices as indicated by the quotes above?

Literary Insights that inform history

Like people throughout the world, the Khmer (Cambodian people) created folktales over the centuries. Elders passed stories on to their children, sometimes to teach and other times to entertain. However, in this ancient land with powerful animals like elephants, tigers and cobras some tales have a surprising hero: a small rabbit! Mr. Hare uses his brain to make up for his size! Time and again he outsmarts huge elephants, hungry crocodiles, fierce tigers…and even men!

Action 7  

Do >

Read the Khmer folk tale: How the Hare Crossed the River on the Crocodile’s Back (https://aseanfolktales.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/how-the-hare-crossed-the-river-on-the-crocodiles-back/).

Given the history of Cambodia, might this tale be an allegory? If so, who is the rabbit and who is the crocodile? What purpose do allegories serve?

In many ways, How the Hare Crossed the River on the Crocodile’s Back resembles a fable. What are the characteristics of a fable? Why might this Cambodian tale be described as a fable?

Do some research into the Khmer era described in this unit. Select an event that you find interesting and create a fable to present it. Your fable should be between 400-500 words. Select one of the following methods of presentation: a Powerpoint (include illustrations with your slides); a dramatization (invite some of your classmates to participate); story-telling.

Action 8  

iSearch >

Do an internet search for other Khmer folk tales. See http://khmeridentification-edu.blogspot.ca/2011/10/collection-of-cambodian-folk-tales.html.

A. What message or lesson is embedded in each?

B. Can you think of a Western folk tale or fable that presents the same lesson?

C. What does this suggest about the human condition?

Going Further

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh