Armenian 'genocide': Nine ethnic and religious groups facing extermination today

100 years after the Armenian 'genocide', atrocities continue around the world

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 24 April 2015 19:50 BST
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Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a 1915-16 genocide by Turkey's former Ottoman Empire; Turkey has the figure at 500,000 (AFP/Getty)
Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their forebears were killed in a 1915-16 genocide by Turkey's former Ottoman Empire; Turkey has the figure at 500,000 (AFP/Getty) (AFP/Getty)

As the world commemorates the Armenian genocide today, campaigners are warning of continuing atrocities against ethnic and religious groups around the world.

Turkey has maintains that up to 1.5 million deaths at the hands of Ottoman soldiers during the First World War did not constitute genocide, saying the Armenians killed were the victims of civil war and unrest rather than a systematic extermination.

That interpretation is disputed by more than 20 countries including France and Austria, who have urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to change his stance.

"The Armenian claims on the 1915 events, and especially the numbers put forward, are all baseless and groundless,” he said yesterday.

"We have no fear, no worries on this subject. Our ancestors did not persecute."

The UN Convention on Genocide defines it as acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

One hundred years later, numerous other peoples are at risk as sectarian conflicts continue across the world.

Yazidis in Iraq

As Isis swept through the country last summer in its bloody quest to establish an “Islamic State”, Shia Muslims, Christians and anyone not conforming to its violent Salafist ideology was killed and persecuted.

The Yazidi minority was pursued with particular ruthlessness as militants seized Sinjar, driving thousands of families into the mountains, where many died of hunger and thirst.

Men were summarily executed and women were captured to become sex slaves to Isis fighters.

The group has declared Yazidis heretics and published an article in its propaganda magazine Dabiq justifying their subjugation and extermination using theological rulings of early Islam.

A UN report last year found that Isis may have committed “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide” with the intent to “destroy the Yazidis as a group”.

Most survivors have now fled northern Iraq, either by forced exile or as refugees.

Non-Sunnis under Isis

Isis gained control of huge swathes of Iraq and Syria in its violent advance last year and is now spreading its franchise to countries including Afghanistan and has Islamist affiliates operating in numerous countries.

Its Salafist ideology and enforcement of Sharia law makes Shia Muslims, Christians, Assyrians and all other minorities an enemy standing in the way of its ultimate goal to establish a caliphate.

In all places where Isis operates, these groups and others have faced forced conversion, persecution or death.

An Amnesty International report found ethnic cleansing on a "historic scale", seeing the systematic targeting of "non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014".

Unecso's Director-General, Irina Bokova, warned that the “cultural cleansing” of the so-called Islamic State is inherently genocidal.

“This is a way to destroy identity," she said. "You deprive (others) of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution they want to eliminate – to delete – the memory of these different cultures.”

An Assyrian woman attends a mass in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria

Rohingya in Burma

Genocide Watch, a group monitoring atrocities around the world, has declared an emergency in the state of Rakhine where around one million members of the minority are believed to live.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority who claim to be indigenous to Burma but face systematic religious and ethnic discrimination.

Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million, denies them citizenship, as does Bangladesh.

In the last three years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds of Rohingya dead and 140,000 trapped in camps where they live without access to adequate health care, education or jobs.

The UN has warned of a deteriorating situation in Rakhine, where humanitarian agencies are struggling to deliver aid to hundreds of thousands of people.

It urged the Burmese government to give Rohingya equal access to citizenship and to crack down on Buddhist violence against them and other Muslims.

The Rohingya crisis has led to the highest outflow of asylum seekers by sea in the region since the Vietnam War, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said this week.

Over the years hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have taken refuge in Bangladesh to escape the deadly sectarian violence

Kachin in Burma

Another ethnic group in Burma has become the victim of genocidal violence, according to human rights groups.

The Kachin Independence Army is fighting in a state of the same name with its majority Christian population pitted against the Burmese Buddhist government.

In June 2011, a 17-year peace agreement was shattered and fighting between the KIA and Burmese government has been non-stop ever since.

Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 100,000 civilians Kachin have yet to return home following fighting from 2011 to 2013.

The rape and murder of two young Kachin women found dead in their homes in January was blamed on Burmese soldiers and the security situation remains tense with a large Burmese army troop presence, landmines, and continued alleged abuses by government forces including rape and murder.

Displaced persons in government-controlled areas face arbitrary arrest and torture from security forces, including for allegedly supporting Kachin insurgents.

A young Kachin activist in Myanmar performs a piece of street theatre depicting a victim of war rape attempting to commit suicide (AP)

Non-Muslims in Boko Haram-controlled Nigeria

Boko Haram, the Islamist faction fighting a bloody insurgency to establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria, have targeted Christians and other minorities in endless terror attacks, massacres and kidnappings.

The school where almost 300 girls were kidnapped in Chibok last year was in a dominantly Christian village and churches have often been targeted by militant attacks.

Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has declared “jihad” on Christianity in Nigeria and vowed to attack Nigerian government police and government officials.

The group has also appeared to target the ethnic Igbo people and anyone opposing its control and implementation of Sharia law.

Genocide Watch has put Nigeria on its “emergency” list of countries at risk of genocide.

The aftermath of a suicide bomb attack on a Catholic church in Nigeria (Getty Images)

Muslims and Christians in the Central African Republic

Both the UN and French officials have warned of the risk of genocide in the CAR at the hands of both sides in the continuing conflict.

Abuses by Anti-Balaka Christian self-defence militias have targeted minority Muslim communities, while the mostly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition is also accused of grave abuses against Christians.

Although a UN commission was recently unable to prove genocide had taken place, violence on both sides is deemed genocidal in nature because victims are targeted for their religion with the aim of wiping opposition out in areas various groups want to control.

An report submitted to the UN Security Council found that up to up to 6,000 people had been killed by the anti-Balaka militia but that “genocidal intent” had not been proved.

“Although the commission cannot conclude that there was genocide, ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population by the anti-balaka constitutes a crime against humanity,” it said.

Sectarian violence spread from western parts of the country toward central and eastern areas last year, Human Rights Watch said. Witnesses on both sides frequently described the attacks as retaliatory in nature, indicating a growing cycle of revenge killings.

By the end of 2014, thousands of civilians had been killed by both sides and more than 800,000 people were displaced from their homes, with many fleeing to neighbouring countries as refugees.

Militia fighters known as anti-balaka pose for a photograph in Mbakate village, Central African Republic (Reuters)

Dinka and Nuer in South Sudan

A dispute between President Salva Kiir and his deputy, Riek Machar, quickly degenerated into open conflict in December 2013, pitting Dinka forces controlled by the government against ethnic Nuer.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said last year that the country had been hit by “ethnic, tribal, targeted nationalistic killings” and that the violence “could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide”.

Following fighting between government forces and defecting Nuer soldiers, ethnic Nuer people were subjected to targeted killings, house-to-house searches, mass arrests, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, and torture, Human Rights Watch said.

In one of the worst incidents recorded, government forces rounded up between 200 and 400 Nuer men and massacred them in December 2013.

Last April, opposition forces attacking Bentiu slaughtered hundreds of civilians, including in attacks on a mosque and hospital.

Displaced people – here in South Sudan with a UN patrol – are ‘traumatised and without assets’ (AFP/Getty)

Additional reporting by agencies

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