Genocide studies

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Genocide studies is an academic field of study that researches genocide. Genocide became a field of study in the mid-1940s, with the work of Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide and is the field's founding father. The Holocaust was initially the primary subject matter of genocide studies, and the field received an extra impetus in the 1990s, when the Rwandan genocide occurred.



The beginning of genocide research arose around the 1940s when Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-Jewish lawyer, began studying genocide.[1] Known as the "father of the genocide convention", Lemkin invented the term "genocide" and studied it during the Second World War. Over one and half million Armenians died in the Armenian Genocide, which took place between the years of 1914 and 1923. Lemkin's interest in prosecuting the perpetrators was sparked when he first learned about the genocide during his studies at University of Lwów (from which he graduated in 1926). In his autobiography, Lemkin wrote that he had been influenced by the 15 March 1921 assassination of Talaat Pasha:

Then one day I read in the newspapers that all Turkish war criminals were to be released... The Turkish criminals released from Malta dispersed all over the world. The most frightful among them was Talaat Pasha, the minister of the interior of Turkey, who was identified with the destruction of the Armenian people... One day he was stopped in the street by a young Armenian with the name Tehlirian. After identifying Talaat Pasha, Tehlirian shot him saying, 'This is for my mother.'[2]

This event became a topic of discussion for Lemkin during his studies on the topic of sovereignty at Lwów: "Sovereignty… 'cannot be conceived as the right to kill millions of people."[2] The murder of Talaat Pasha and trial of Tehlirian prompted Lemkin's future path. Lemkin wrote: "At that moment, my worries about the murder of the innocent became more meaningful to me. I didn't know all the answers but I felt that a law against this type of racial or religious murder must be adopted by the world."[2]

Lemkin During WWII[edit]

[3][clarification needed] In 1944, Lemkin's book Axis Rule introduced his idea of genocide, which he defined as "the destruction of a nation or ethnic group". After his book was published, controversy broke out concerning the specific definition. Many scholars believed that genocide is naturally associated with mass murder, the Holocaust being the first case, but there were also several other scholars who believed genocide has a much broader definition and is not strictly tied to the Holocaust.[4] In Lemkin's book, he says that "physical and biological genocide are always preceded by cultural genocide or by an attack on the symbols of the group or violent interference of cultural activities."[5] He concludes that genocide is the annihilation of a group's culture even if the group themselves are not completely destroyed.[6]


Starting off as a side field to the Holocaust studies, a few scholars around the period continued Lemkin's genocide research, and in the 1990s, the field saw a tremendous growth in academic journals such as the Journal of Genocide Research, Genocide Studies and Prevention, and the German academic journal Zeitschrift für Genozidforschung (Journal of Genocide Research). The major reason for this increase in research can be traced back to the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, which showed Western scholars the prevalence of genocide.[7]


According to Anton Weiss-Wendt, the field of comparative genocide studies has very "little consensus on defining principles such as definition of genocide, typology, application of a comparative method, and timeframe."[8] Weiss-Wendt concludes that comparative genocide studies have been "a failure" in preventing genocide.[8]


In 2010, the study of genocide connected to gender was a new field of study and was considered as a specialty topic within the broader field of genocide research. The field attracted research attention after the genocides of Bosnia-Herzegonia and Rwanda, in which war crimes tribunals acknowledged that several women were raped and men were sexually abused.[9] Feminist scholars also study the differences between males and females during genocide by studying the lives of women survivors during the Holocaust.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bloxham & Moses 2010, p. 2; Moses 2010, p. 22.
  2. ^ a b c Lemkin, Raphael; Frieze, Donna-Lee (2013). Totally Unofficial, The Autobiography of Raphael Lemkin. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 19, 20. ISBN 9780300188066.
  3. ^ Bloxham & Moses 2010, p. 2; Moses 2010, pp. 19, 21.
  4. ^ Moses 2010, p. 32.
  5. ^ Moses 2010, p. 34.
  6. ^ Moses 2010, p. 35.
  7. ^ Bloxham & Moses 2010, p. 2.
  8. ^ a b Weiss-Wendt 2008, p. 42.
  9. ^ Von Joeden-Forgey 2010, p. 61.
  10. ^ Von Joeden-Forgey 2010, p. 63.