Archive for the ‘genocide’ Category

Genocide and war (audio)

Posted: December 13, 2016 in genocide

All 57 minutes of my recent talk ‘The Problem of Genocide (In War and Terrorism)’ at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews, can be listened to here.


I have coauthored the following article:

Goldberg, Amos; Kehoe, Thomas J.; Moses, A. Dirk; Segal, Raz; Shaw, Martin; and Wolf, Gerhard (2016) “Israel Charny’s Attack on the Journal of Genocide Research and its Authors: A Response,” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 10: Iss. 2: 3-22. DOI: Available at: View article here

Abstract: Israel Charny has published an article, “Holocaust Minimization, Anti-Israel Themes, and Antisemitism: Bias at the Journal of Genocide Research” (JGR) in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism. His specific allegations are bundled together in a single sentence: “minimization of the Holocaust, delegitimization of the State of Israel, and repeat[ing] common themes of contemporary antisemitism”. We write as the authors of articles and contributors to the JGR attacked by Charny. His allegations are false and we reject them. This article shows how they are based on distortions, misquotations, and falsifications of our work.

What is Genocide 2nd editionThe Second Edition of my What is Genocide? has just been published by Polity Press. Fully revised, it includes a new chapter with an extended critical assessment of Lemkin, development of the argument on ‘structure’ and genocide, and improved presentation for teaching purposes. 20% discount and examination copies are available via this link: What is Genocide 2nd edn flier.

Today, April 24th 2015, is being commemorated as the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, in which over a million Armenians from what is now Eastern Turkey died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, directed by the leaders of the Turkish nationalist party. Since modern Turkey continues to deny the 1915 genocide – in the triple sense of denying the scale and character of the violence, the state’s responsibility and above all the applicability of the word ‘genocide’ – much commentary will, in addition to commemorating the victims, repeat the necessity of ‘recognising’ this, one of the largest genocides of the often-genocidal twentieth century.

I want to suggest a different line. I think that the worst thing about the situation today is the fact that, in the very region in which so many Armenians died a hundred years ago, local Armenians are among those dying as result of the genocidal civil war in modern Syria. It was into the deserts of modern Syria and Iraq that Ottoman forces drove the Armenians – mainly the old, women and children, since most younger men had already been killed – to face robbery, rape and death through starvation and thirst.

Across these deserts today the armies of the Syrian and Iraqi governments as well as militias which include a self-proclaimed new Caliphate (would-be successor to the Ottoman empire overthrown after the 1915 genocide), are engaged in a ferocious new war. Many of the forces involved, not just ISIS, are committing genocidal atrocities. More people have died, or been made homeless, as a result of the targeted violence of the Syrian regime than of the Islamist killers.

The Armenian Genocide occurred before the era of ‘humanitarian’ intervention, although in the pleas of the Armenian victims to the Western empires we can see precedents for the desparate cries of help of Christians, Yezidis and others threatened in Iraq and Syria today. Some see the current US intervention against Islamic State as an advance on yesterday’s indifference, but since it comes at the price of accepting Bashar al Assad’s atrocities, I find it difficult to join them.

After 1915, most of the surviving Ottoman Armenians made their way eventually to Western Europe and the United States. It is a striking comment on our lack of progress that when today’s fleeing Syrian refugees try to make it to Europe, they face not only official barriers but perilous sea-crossings after which, should the boats carrying them capsize, Europe has even tried to evade the elementary duty of rescue.

The new denial of the scope of genocide and suffering in 2015, and of the responsibilities which arise from it, is even more shocking than the old Turkish denial of the meaning of 1915

I published this letter in the Guardian on 27 January 2015 (scroll down for my letter):

‘The proposals of a European Council on Toleration and Reconciliation report for a Europe-wide ban on genocide denial, as part of a swathe of new legal measures (Jewish groups want EU ban on intolerance, 26 January), are highly problematic. First, it is proposed to ban denial of the Holocaust, but not of other historic cases such as the Armenian genocide or the Palestinian Nakba – although Nakba denial (legally enforced in Israel) is as likely to contribute to antisemitism (a major concern of the report) as is Holocaust denial.

Second, it is proposed to outlaw denial only of any “other act of genocide the existence of which has been determined by an international criminal court or tribunal”. This sounds reasonable, but international courts try individuals, only adjudicating history incidentally; most recent genocide, like historic genocide, has not been tried internationally; and these courts’ operations are highly politically constrained.

The proposed bans will only lead to arbitrary and contested prosecutions which increase polarisation, not reconciliation. It is better to combat genocide denial through argument and evidence.
Martin Shaw
Author, What is Genocide?

To expand, there are at least five separate issues here:

1. Banning ideas, however reactionary, as such – rather than when they threaten violence or discrimination – breaches freedom of speech.

2. The report doesn’t say what is to be banned – ‘literal’ denial (of the facts) or ‘interpretative’ denial (whether the events constitute a genocide). My reference to the Nakba illustrates the contentiousness of the latter issue, and the line where legitimate debate and denial gets blurred. I do not think it is possible to legally define this line: it is a matter for historians.

3. Naming the Holocaust as a genocide that can’t be denied, while requiring all other genocides to pass a legal test before their denial counts for the purposes of banning, is inconsistent and protects the memory of the Holocaust while not protecting that of many other historic and contemporary episodes.

3 In any case, there is no international legal framework for recognising genocides and the corpus of international legal decisions is decidedly not robust enough to provide an impartial framework. Many cases cannot be brought before international courts for political reasons, and courts are subject to political pressures in operations, leading them to inconsistent decisions which even involve genocide denial as in the case of the International Court of Justice decision on Bosnia.

4 In the contemporary European context, to legally ban Holocaust denial while not protecting the memory of other genocides such as the Nakba, which matter particularly to Muslim and Arab minorities, can easily be construed as a partisan intervention, and enforcement could easily contribute to polarisation. The incarceration of Holocaust-denying ‘historian’ David Irving in Austria did little good, and the indictment of Muslim Holocaust-deniers in France, say, could actively cause harm.

5 The report is considerably motivated by the desire to stem (indeed ban) anti-semitism. However we know that contemporary European anti-semitism, while rooted in jihadist ideology as well as historic legacies, is hugely stimulated by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, as the big spike following last summer’s Israeli atrocities in Gaza showed. Israel has instrumentalised the Holocaust while simultaneously banning commemoration of the Nakba. Netanyahu is now shamelessly instrumentalising the recent genocidal mini-massacre of Jews in Paris. I argue that to weaken anti-semitism, rather than reinforcing these Israeli narratives by banning Holocaust denial, it is necessary to seek a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and to challenge Israeli ideology. Recognition of the Nakba could be a powerful step in that direction. The European Council on Toleration and Reconciliation would have done better to focus on.this alternative agenda.

My podcast interview about Genocide and International Relations on New Books in Genocide Studies is online at

I have a chapter on ‘Genocide and Large-Scale Human Rights Violations’ in Mary Kaldor and Iavor Rangelov’s new Handbook of Global Security Policy. It’s a pretty pessimistic chapter, as I record the way in which the emergence of global policy towards genocide has been confined by geopolitics. Developments since I wrote, such as today’s widespread support for allying with the genocidal Assad regime to defeat the genocidal Islamic State movement, only underline the limitations of global policy which I outline in the chapter.

Handbook of Global Security Policy

(Before any readers complain, I must point out that several typos in the chapter, such as two references to the “United State’s” actions, are the result of Wiley-Blackwell’s awful editing, and not my responsibility.)