Our human history has repeatedly been tarnished by genocidal crimes of the few. But rarely do we see genocide as a national project with full participation of the all to annihilate the ‘other’ people.
And yet, such is the reality in today’s Myanmar.
Consider, e.g., the first genocide of the 20th century (1904-1908) in which the German colonial forces in South-West Africa (today’s Namibia) killed some 100,000 Herero and Nama people through mostly starvation and dehydration. German authorities turned a blind eye to the widespread and systematic rape of Ovaherero and Nama women and girls, as well as the use of forced labor. In addition to land grabs, there were concentration camps where the German colonialists carried out exterminations and scientific experiments on the tribal people.
It took nearly a hundred years for the German government to recognize and apologize for the genocidal crimes committed in Africa during Emperor Wilhelm II’s era. Neither then foreshadowing the Nazi ideology nor the Holocaust that followed under Hitler (1930s-1940s) can one truly blame the entire German people for the state’s genocidal crimes. There were many good-hearted Germans that were against Nazism who tried to help and save Jews and other minorities targeted for total annihilation.
During Stalin’s rule of Soviet Union, he caused a famine in 1932-33 in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 Ukrainians perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe.
The same is the case with Muslims in the Caucasus that refused to be subdued under the Soviet rule. In 1929 they revolted against collectivization, leading to a decade-long struggle. Towards the end of the Second World War, when Russia started triumphing over Germany, a veritable reign of terror gripped the Muslim territories. Stalin accused Muslims of being Nazi-sympathizers and ordered the arrest of every man, woman and child among the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachai. Nearly 300,000 were massacred. Those who were not executed on the spot, nearly a million people, were deported on Feb. 23, 1944, on cattle carts to slave-labor camps in Siberia and wastelands in the Central Asia. One-third of the population died during the journey. Many others perished under the harsh conditions of exile. For all practical purposes, the last two groups of people had totally ceased to exist. Thirteen years later, in 1957, under Nikita Khrushchev, the Chechens and Ingush people were reinstated, told it was a mistake and invited to return to their homelands. Many did so on the foot. While Chechens still had a home to return to, the Ingush Muslims found their lands and houses occupied by Christian Ossetians. The exile became the defining event for succeeding generations of Chechens.
During Chechnya’s failed attempts to be an independent state, we saw the genocidal crimes of Putin and his predecessor in which hundreds of thousands of Chechens were killed. And yet, the crimes of the Soviet State and Russian Federation was not collectively shared by the general population.
In December of 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army marched into China's capital city of Nanking and proceeded to murder 300,000 out of 600,000 civilians and soldiers in the city. The six weeks of carnage would become known as the Rape of Nanking and represented the single worst atrocity before the World War II in either the European or Pacific theaters of war.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya (today’s Malaysia) tens of thousands of local Malays and Chinese were killed by the Japanese Imperial Army. And yet, it would be wrong to blame the entire Japanese people for such horrendous crimes of the imperial government.
And yes, there are some major exceptions, too. Consider, e.g., the cases of (i) Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-1995 resulting in ethnic cleansing of nearly 250,000 of Bosnian Muslims by the Serbian Orthodox Christians (mostly living in the breakaway state), and (ii) Rwanda in which some 800,000 Tutsis were killed by majority Hutus in 1994 along ethnic lines. Militiamen forced Hutus to kill their Tutsi neighbors or face a death sentence for themselves and their entire families. They also forced Tutsis to kill members of their own families. In both these cases above it was a national project to eliminate the targeted victims – Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Tutsis.