Paper, Society for Applied Anthropology, 2015, Pittsburgh, PA
- N. Anderson
Dept. of Anthropology
University of California, Riverside
Last year at the SfAA-SASci meeting I gave papers on war and genocide. More data are now available, thanks to the dreadful events of the last year. Several recent authors, especially Scott Atran, stress the inadequacy of economic explanations. I stressed last year the role of ideological systems based on emotional rhetoric against some target group. I extend this explanation here with current data. This raises a wider question: if costly acts, counter to rational self-interest, are common (in this and other areas), we will need a whole new social theory. This fits the conference theme of Continuity and Change.
Genocide may be the defining crime of the 20th century, and seems to be maintaining itself in the 21st. Not only genocide itself, but indifference to it by the international community, remains a huge problem for the world (Apsel and Verdeja 2013; Hirsch 2014; Totten 2012, 2014).
We may therefore wish to be able to predict and explain it. My wife Barbara Anderson and I constructed a rather tentative model for predicting genocide in our book Warning Signs of Genocide (2012; see review by Shirley Heying, 2013). We have reported on our progress to SfAA in 2011 and 2014.
We follow the original definition by Raphael Lemkin: “the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” (Lemkin 1944:79; see Lemkin 2013). He included cultural destruction through forced assimilation, and also partial or attempted genocide that did not totally succeed. (Indeed, few actually totally succeed.) We further defined genocide as murder by a government of its own citizens or subjects, when they have done nothing other than belong to a particular category.
This category can be a religion or sect, a political philosophy, a “race” (however defined by the genociders), an ethnic group, or any other essentially arbitrary cultural category. Killing of actual enemies, however general and ruthless, does not count, which means we are using a quite different definition from Ben Kiernan’s in his magistral work Blood and Soil (2007). Kiernan, in a truly great study of genocide, defines it as any mass murder of noncombatants. Since all wars involve this, he basically studies all war throughout all history.
Restricting genocide to murder of a government’s own peaceful subjects eliminates almost all Kiernan’s cases. It leaves us with two quite different types: Settler genocides (Wolfe 2006), and modern total genocide. In the former, an ethnic group takes over an area and clears the land, once the people are subjected, by methodically exterminating them. This occurred in the New World with many Native American groups, and in Australia with the Aboriginals. In the latter, a government picks on long-established citizen groups and exterminates them for arbitrary reasons. The classic case, of course, is Hitler’s extermination of most Jews, Roma, homosexuals, handicapped and mentally ill persons, political dissenters, modern artists, and several other categories. Other particularly horrific examples include the massacre of Armenians by the “Young Turk” government of Turkey (Akçam 2012) and the genocide in Cambodia in th 1970s.
We found that modern genocide was predicted by 1) authoritarian government; 2) major challenging situation to it, almost always either consolidation after it just seized power, or civil or international war in which loss by the government was very likely. Hitler’s genocide, for instance, began with WWII but did not become total—the “Final Solution”—till it was uncomfortably apparent that the Axis was losing ground and would probably be defeated. Settler genocides (and conquest genocides that are structurally the same) are expected when a government of settlers (conquerors) is consolidating control, and has reduced the conquered people to subjects but is still afraid of rebellion or outbreak. Further work showed that an ideology constructed from hatred, but extending more widely to cover economic and moral issues in general, is also deadly, and when combined with the other causal circumstances appears to be 100% predictive.
Well, “great minds run in the same channels,” and every time I have a real insight, someone else independently has the same idea about the same time. In this case it was Barbara Harff, a student of conflict and civil unrest; she and her husband Ted Gurr are leading authorities in that area (Harff and Gurr 2005). We were alerted to her work by Armenian genocide scholar Alan Whitehorn, whose work is more interpretive and poetic (Whitehorn nd., 2015).
Her contributions to genocide specifically are relatively brief and hard to find, but extremely good. She was annoyingly outside the citation pattern of the more visible genocide scholars, which confirms my impression that they are not deeply interested in prediction or explanation—always excepting Ben Kiernan, but, again, his definition of genocide is so far from everyone else’s that he is really talking about a completely different thing.
Harff uses Lemkin’s definition, as we do. She further follows the UN definition, elaborated from (and partly by) Lemkin (but she and we follow Lemkin and not the UN in including political-ideological massacres). She defines genocide as governmental attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a communal, political, or politicized ethnic group” (Haff 2003:58, her italics; note that she does not make a point of noncombatant status, but she sympathetically cites others who do; she does not deal with the possibility that religion, gender identity, or modern art could be definers; we disagree with her here). Her sample in 2003 was genocides from 1955 to 1997. Ours was 1800 to 2007.
Like us, she stresses the role of autocratic governments, and also “political upheaval” 62; again, her italics) as the near-invariable immediate cause. She emphasizes the frequency of prior genocides in a nation’s record, which we did not stress because we worked with a larger sample, over a longer period of time, which tended to wash out this variable. She discusses the existence of “ethnic and religious cleavages” (63) and (later in the paper) found no correlation; all nations have diversity but only some have genocide. “Low economic development (64)” also bought her little variance, and again our wider sample confirms this, destroying any correlation. After all, major genociders included Germany at a time when it was one of the three or four richest countries in the world, and even within her time frame there were genocides in Argentina, Chile, China, Serbia, and elsewhere, as she notes. More recently, Israel has engaged in genocidal activities in Palestine, with calls by major government figures for outright extermination of Palestinians (Robinson 2014), and several other affluent nations have hovered on the brink.
She does find, quite robustly, that recent genocides have more likely in countries that were relatively isolated or independent of the world-system (65). Again this does not hold for older genocides. Even in her sample, it is difficult variable to deal with, because of such issues as China’s genocides in remote western areas (Tibet, Xinjiang) while being open to the world (69).
Her final result as of 2003 (66) was that autocratic government and prior genocides were both correlated at .9 with genocides that occurred, but of course both conditions also existed in countries without genocide. Other political upheaval correlated only .47, but “exclusionary ideologies” (our “hate ideologies,” Anderson and Anderson 2014) and rule by members of a self-conscious ethnic minority both correlated .69. Openness to trade, a proxy for world-system incorporation in my terms, correlated .7. She admits that the model did not predict genocides in rich, trade-involved countries (e.g. Chile), or even poor but trade-involved ones (Philippines, El Salvador, several others).
In 2012 she reaffirmed her risk factors, and predicted serious troubles in several countries. First on the list was Myanmar, which in fact has had genocidal attacks on Muslims since she wrote. As she pointed out, it was rather a simple prediction, since the country was a military dictatorship with almost continual war against minorities. Second was Syria, and we know what has happened there. Third was China, and indeed the Uighur genocide has come up since she wrote. Fourth was Sudan, but the breakaway of South Sudan damaged the government so much that it has not had the energy to do much more than harass Darfur, though that long-running genocide continues. Meanwhile, South Sudan has had genocides of its own. Less successful predictions were the next few: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and Iran, though the first two have had a great deal of violence and repression. Then comes a solid hit, D. R. Congo, but of course genocide was already ongoing there when she wrote. A number of lower-risk countries follow, of which only Central African Republic has had a genocide, and there—for once—the international community moved fast to damp it down (Brown 2013). The others include very stable countries like Saudi Arabia.
In general, since we found essentially the same risk factors she did, I would make similar predictions at the top range, though different ones farther down (partly on the basis of her nonsuccesses, I admit). However, our model has the advantage of breaking regime consolidation out from response to disruption, and also noting that economic and military disruptions are both causative and predictive.
The most hopeful sign in all this is that both Harff and we have independently come to stress more and more the ideological side—what she calls “exclusionary ideologies” and I call “hate ideologies.” Governments that live and maintain themselves by mobilizing hatreds are almost always forced sooner or later to deliver—to exterminate the people they say they hate. I have studied one case in which this did not happen: Mahathir bin Muhamad’s Malaysia in the 1970s. That case may be instructive. Mahathir took over on a ticket of hatred and suppression of the Chinese, after several years of ethnic rioting and violence in which Bumiputera (Malays) and Chinese battled. Under Mahathir, the Chinese gave as little cause as they could for actual repression, tolerated a great deal of impact, and meanwhile worked terribly hard to build up the economy and make sure Mahathir and his group were beneficiaries of this. His position softened in direct proportion to his own and his political group’s economic success…. Thus hate ideologies are real and dangerous, but enough economic success may convince most haters to be more quiet. This has not happened recently in the United States, however, where every new statistic showing the US is economically flourishing seems to make the racists more and more furious with Obama.
Meanwhile, Samuel Totten, veteran student of genocide and especially of mass murder of Indigenous minorities, has added his own more immediate warning signs—signs that genocide is ongoing, not just that it is potential:
–A specific groups is “demeaned, ostracized, marginalized, segregated, excluded, or isolated”;
–“mass deportations and forcible transfer”;
–Government forces “kill unarmed civilians at will” [hardly a warning sign—the fact itself!];
–“test massacres are carried out”;
–“mass rape and enforced pregnancy are taking place.” (Totten 2014:24).
A somewhat similar list is found in “The Ten Stages of Genocide,” posted by Gregory Stanton (2013) on his Genocide Watch website—a very useful resource. The ten stages are classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution, extermination and denial. They are indeed stages to watch for, and Stanton gives quick definitions and suggests countermeasures, including things for governments and the United Nations to do. Dr. Stanton is promising a book on this. He also maintains on his website a list and map of countries that are genocidal or threatening to go there: http://genocidewatch.net/alerts-2/new-alerts/. The assessments are similar to Barbara Harff’s (he cites her on the website) and to ours. An earlier posting, “Twelve Ways to Deny a Genocide” (2005), neatly summarizes that unpleasant aspect of mass murder. It will be noted that nobody takes these denials very seriously. They are thin excuses, not real denials. The international community ignores them for various reasons, but rarely believes them.
With Harff and Stanton actively predicting risks and advocating preventive measures, and with other new work summarized below, knowledge about genocide prevention has been revolutionized since we wrote our book. I wish I could be hopeful that this will translate into action, but continued fecklessness of the world community in the face of ISIS and Boku Haram indicate that the lessons are not being learned.
Also, since we wrote, a very good review by Kristin Doughty (2015; thankfully received) of our book has appeared in the American Anthropologist. She has identified several needs for future work that we do indeed hope to address, including “the political and moral economy in which violence and humanitarianism occur,” and looking more at “recent anthropological work on violence, the state, collective belonging, and human rights” (all quotes are from p. 175); she also points out that when we define genocide as state murder of its own citizens, we should have provided an extension for genocidal pursuit of people across national boundaries. We thought this was obvious from Hitler’s massacre of the Jews and others—he murdered all he found in any country under his control—and also from our notes on the hot pursuit by Tutsi and Hutu of each other into the Congo (which she notes), but we should have spelled it out. Finally, she asks some questions. First, the directs us to more attention to “how the act of labeling violence is political and…mobilized within specific historical trajectories of global configurations of power.” On this we plead not guilty by reason of the fact that Ben Kiernan, Taner Aksam, and others have covered it beyond all need for further attention in a general work. Much more serious is her other question: “What are the warning signs that the human tendency toward group hate is being exploited by powerful people for violent ends?” We had, again, thought that was obvious, but the appalling failure of the world at large to spot this in the Koch brothers’ manipulation of the Tea Party, the Saudi Arabian manipulation of extremist Islam, and many other governments’ exploitation of hate shows we were extremely misguided. I will devote much future attention to this question.
On a more hopeful side, prevention of genocide and bringing genociders to justice have moved forward. Governments are more aware of international sanctions. Rios Montt was finally found guilty of genocide in Guatemala and sentenced to 80 years in prison, though of course he will not serve any such time frame (Faussett 2013; see superb new study of his rule by Victoria Sanford, 2014). Marcus Alexander and Fotini Christia (2011) found that schools in Bosnia that had been well integrated ethnically did not have the hatred and problems of schools that had not. The journal Genocide Studies International moved up from newsletter to serious major journal in 2014, with a stunning introduction by veteran genocide scholar Herbert Hirsch that bluntly calls out the world powers for failing to deal with the problem (Hirsch 2014).
The Gurr group’s biennial survey of conflict has moved to new editors (Hewitt et al. 2012; Barker et al. 2014). Barker, Wlkenfeld and Huth’s new survey (2014) uses their own model of risk for overall conflict, which identifies—in order—Afghanistan, Guinea-Bissau, Djibouti, Guinea, Burundi, D. R. Congo, Somalia, Niger, Mali, Pakistan, and so on down a list. Several of these countries are indeed troubled with violence, but it seems odd that very peaceful places like Djibouti are far above Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Syria is, astonishingly, ranked “low risk” (p. 8), in spite of one of the world’s most historically violent civil wars ongoing as the book was published—a “clouded crystal ball” of epic proportions. However, they make up for this in later (and later-written) sections of the book, in which they provide extremely thorough and valuable summaries and analyses of conflicts in Syria and every other country. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in conflict, anywhere.
International denial and national denial have been rigorously analyzed by Kaligian (2014). Carol Kidron (2012) compared Jewish and Cambodian refugees in their approach toward their genocidal past; Jews talked more and worked it over, Cambodians talked less and had more problems, but the situation is not as simple as talking vs. silence; there are many issues of community support, how one does the talking, whether one is listened to, success in the new society, and more (Barbara Anderson had little trouble getting most Cambodian refugees to talk, but it did require counseling skills and some never opened up). A new collection of texts by Bartrop (2013) gives enough anguished stories to convince anyone that genocide should be stopped.
The challenge to social science in these models is abundantly clear. Social science has overwhelmingly assumed that people were rational, and acted in their rational self-interest. Such is clearly not the case; humans are creatures of irrational hate. The Harff, Totten, and other models have extremely high success in predicting and explaining behavior based on the implicit or explicit assumption (implicit in Harff and Gurr, explicit in ours) that humans are primarily social and primarily creatures of emotion, and that their primary emotion is hate. There is no amount of self-interest they will not abandon to kill their rivals, and even their friends and neighbors.
Violence in a hierarchic, repressive society almost invariably triggers outbreaks that seem to the outsider to be literally insane. People afterwards often recall feeling out of their minds—either crazed with blood lust or feeling like automatons (Anderson and Anderson 2012 review a very long literature on this, and I have found a lot more since; see also Staub 1989, 2011). From a considerable literature on evil and human hate, we may mention Scott Atran’s Talking to the Enemy (2010), Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999), and Erwin Staub’s The Roots of Evil (1989) as particularly comprehensive and valuable works.
Social science will have to start over from the ground up, with the basic principles that people are basically social and emotional, and that hate takes priority in times of threat and disturbance. Love and solidarity may rule, or reasonable self-interest or unreasonable greed may rule, the rest of the time; in any case, emotion is the usual driver. This may make sense in a world that is often threatening, and in which we never have the “perfect information” on which rational choice models depend. We have to be alert to danger, and prioritize response to it when threatened—which is a lot of the time. But when the response is social hate, as it often is, violent trouble begins. When the hate is further whipped up and mobilized by a dictator, for his own reasons, then catastrophe is predictable.
Fortunately, better things are possible. Some years ago, John Heidenreich (2001) gave us a number of ways that diplomacy and political resolve could stop genocide. Far more ambitious is Ervin Staub’s life work, epitomized in Overcoming Evil (2011). This book summarizes all possible causes of genocide and terrorism, and gives an extremely comprehensive and detailed account of what can be done by ordinary people to damp down the vicious cycles of hate and violence that lead to mass murder. The methods range from getting people from the different sides to talk to each other and work out their problems (the classic group therapy techniques) to active-bystander intervention, and on up to political, media, and educational approaches. The latter will certainly be needed, since encounter groups can never be comprehensive and widespread enough to do the job—though they are surely desirable, even necessary. Staub emphasizes the need to see others as ourselves—to see that we are all in the same boat, all humans together (see summary point, p. 515). I am more inclined to see the successes he describes as coming from damping down vicious cycles—from turning positive feedback loops of hatred into negative ones. The germs of genocide are the millions of imagined slights and trivial hurts that we all suffer every day in our capacity as social beings. They almost always get constructed into annoyance and exasperation, and then projected on scapegoats. People angry at their loved ones take it out on safe targets, especially minorities and other vulnerable people. Evil businessmen and politicians find this tendency very easy to exploit. They deliberately whip up hatred and direct it against scapegoats. They they get caught in the vicious cycles they have started. We are seeing this in the United States today; the Koch brothers started the Tea Party, which has become an out-of-control rampage of racism, religious bigotry, gender hate, and structural violence against the poor. It could easily destroy the United States, including the Koch interests.
We will all have to confront these crimes at national and international levels, and throw the whole weight of citizenry behind ways to reverse vicious spirals and get people to see each other as all in the same lifeboat, and not fighting over the provisions on it, either.
As I write, violent ethnic repression is going on in China (Xinjiang and Tibet), Congo (D. R.), Israel, Turkey (Kurds—once again), Worst of all is the outright genocide of Yazidis and mass murder of Shi’a and of rival tribes within the unrecognized but all too real Islamic State of the Levant.
Civil war or violent civil unrest are on a large scale in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere. Significant ethnic and related violence is taking place in India, Myanmar, and many other countries. Hatred ideologies are too numerous to list. The Salafi/Wahhabi form of Islam (if Islam it can be called) is by far the most deadly. However, the BJP has taken over control of India, and its past as a terrorist neo-Nazi party is all too obtrusively evident in its policies, so I personally would now regard India as the highest-risk country in the world that is not actually at war or in a warlike state (as are e.g. Pakistan and Nigeria).
The United States is drifting rapidly toward genocide. Many leading conservative religious figures have recently called openly on national media for total extermination of gays and lesbians. Calls for extermination or re-enslavement of African-Americans are far more marginal, but are now quite commonly heard or seen if one follows right-wing social media. The Tea Party, created and funded largely by Charles and David Koch, has been a consistent voice for racist, religious, and gender-based hate. They could easily elect a president in 2016, in which case I believe genocide would be certain—I mean literally 100% probable. Many other countries are on the edge.
In such a world, I find it incredible that most Americans seem concerned solely with video games and TV shows. Even those who are concerned with political troubles are apparently more worried about “Wall Street” than about genocide or other really serious world problems. I do not mean to minimize the problem with banking in America, but it can at worst slow the economy down a bit as in 2008. The election of a Tea Party president in 2016, by contrast, would, by my best prediction, lead to 15,000,000 murdered through genocide within a few years. (The figure is derived from looking at the percentages of their populations slain by Hitler, Stalin, Rios Montt, Pol Pot, the Interahamwe, and others; range 2% to >25%, average around 5; 5% of the US gives us 15 million.)
We need to be very worried about the United States and much of the rest of the world. The good news is that genocide can be prevented, and can be stopped when it starts. We need to deal with risks rapidly and thoroughly.
Akçam, Taner. 2012. The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Alexander, Marcus, and Fotini Christia. 2011. “Context Modularity of Human Altruism.” Science 334:1392-1394.
Anderson, E. N., and Barbara Anderson. 2011. “Poisoned Soil, Deadly Seed: Preventing the Conditions of Genocide.” Paper, Society for Applied Anthropology, annual conference, Seattle.
— 2012. Warning Signs of Genocide. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
— 2014. “A Predictive Model of Genocide.” Paper, Society for Applied Anthropology, annual conference, Albuquerque.
Apsel, Joyce, and Ernesto Verdeja (eds.). 2013. Genocide Matters: Ongoing Issues and Emerging Perspectives. New York: Routledge.
Atran, Scott. 2010. Talking to the Enemy: Faith, Brotherhood, and the (Un)Making of Terrorists. New York: HarperCollins.
Backer, David A.; Jonathan Wilkenfeld; Paul K. Huth. 2014. Peace and Conflict 2014. Boulder: Paradigm.
Bartrop, Paul. 2014. Encountering Genocide: Personal Accounts from Victims, Perpetrators and Witnesses. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Baumeister, Roy F. 1997. Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.
Beck, Aaron. 1999. Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence. NY: HarperCollins.
Brown, Hayes. 2013. “The Inside Story of How the U.S. Acted to Prevent Another Rwanda.” ThinkProgress website, Dec. 20.
Doughty, Kristin. 2015. Review of Warning Signs of Genocide: An Anthropological Perspective. American Anthropologist 117:174-175.
Fausset, Richard. 2013. “Ex-Guatemalan Dictator Found Guilty of Genocide.” Los Angeles Times, May. 11, p. AA6.
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— 2012. “Assessing Risks of Genocide and Politicide: A Global Watch List for 2012.” In Peace and Conflict 2012, J. Joseph Hewitt, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Ted Robert Gurr, eds. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press. Pp. 53-56.
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Kaligian, Dikran. 2014. “Anatomy of Denial: Manipulating Sources and Manufacturing a Rebellion.” Genocide Studies International 8:208-223.
Kidron, Carol A. 2012. “Alterity and the Particular Limits of Universalism: Comparing Jewish-Israeli Holocaust and Canadian-Cambodian Genocide Legacies.” Current Anthropology 53:723-754.
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Lemkin, Raphael. 1944. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation—Analysis of Government—Proposals for Redress. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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Robinson, William I. 2014. “The Political Economy of Israeli Apartheid and the Spectre of Genocide.” Truthout, online, Sept. 19, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26254-the-political-economy-of-israeli-apartheid-and-the-specter-of-genocide#.VBx1N7Gx35A.facebook.
Sanford, Victoria. 2014. “Communal Responsibility and the Guatemalan Genocide: Genocide as a Millitary Plan of the Guatemalan Army under the Dictatorships of Generals Lucas Garcia., Rios Montt and Mejia Victores.” Genocide Studies International 8:1:86-101.
Stanton, Gregory. 2005. “Twelve Ways to Deny a Genocide.” Posting, Genocide Watch website , http://genocidewatch.net/genocide-2/12-ways-to-deny-genocide/
— 2013. “The Ten Stages of Genocide.” Posting, Genocide Watch website: http://genocidewatch.net/genocide-2/8-stages-of-genocide/
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— 2011. Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict, and Terrorism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Totten, Samuel. 2012. Genocide by Attrition: Nuba Mountains, Sudan. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
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