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Genocide denial

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Genocide denial is the attempt to deny or minimize the scale and severity of an incidence of genocide. Denial is an integral part of genocide[1][2][3] and includes secret planning of genocide, propaganda while the genocide is ongoing,[1] and destruction of evidence of mass killings. According to genocide researcher Gregory Stanton, denial "is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres".[4]

Some scholars define denial as the final stage of a genocidal process.[1] Richard G. Hovannisian states, "Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance. Falsification, deception and half-truths reduce what was to what might have been or perhaps what was not at all."[5]

Examples include Holocaust denial, Armenian genocide denial, and Bosnian genocide denial. The distinction between respectable academic historians and those of illegitimate historical negationists, including genocide deniers, rests on the techniques used to write such histories. Illegitimate revisionists rewrite history to support an agenda, often political, using falsification and rhetorical fallacies to obtain their results.


According to Taner Akçam, "the practice of "denialism" in regard to mass atrocities is usually thought of as a simple denial of the facts, but this is not true. Rather, it is in that nebulous territory between facts and truth where such denialism germinates."[6]

David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, states:

Denial is the final fortress of those who commit genocide and other mass crimes. Perpetrators hide the truth in order to avoid accountability and protect the political and economic advantages they sought to gain by mass killings and theft of the victims' property, and to cement the new reality by manufacturing an alternative history. Recent studies have established that such denial not only damages the victims and their destroyed communities, it promises a future based on lies, sowing the seeds of future conflict, repression and suffering.[7]

By individuals and non-government organisations

  • In his 1984 book The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas argued that only "a few hundred thousand" Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, that the Jews brought this on by their behavior, and that Zionists had collaborated with the Nazis in order to send more Jews to Israel. In a 2006 interview, without retracting these specifics, he stated that: "The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind."[8]
  • In February 2006, David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial; he served 13 months in prison before being released on probation.[9][10]
  • David Campbell has written of the now defunct British magazine Living Marxism that "LM's intentions are clear from the way they have sought to publicize accounts of contemporary atrocities which suggest they were certainly not genocidal (as in the case of Rwanda), and perhaps did not even occur (as in the case of the murder of nearly 8,000 at Srebrenica)."[11][12] Chris McGreal writing in The Guardian on 20 March 2000, stated that Fiona Fox writing under a pseudonym had contributed an article to Living Marxism which was part of a campaign by Living Marxism that denied that the event which occurred in Rwanda was a genocide.[13]
  • Scott Jaschik has stated that Justin McCarthy, is one of two scholars "most active on promoting the view that no [Armenian] genocide took place".[14] He was one of four scholars who participated in a controversial debate hosted by PBS about the genocide.[15]
  • Darko Trifunovic is an author of the Report about Case Srebrenica,[16] which was commissioned by the government of the Republika Srpska.[17] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reviewed the report and concluded that it "represent[ed] one of the worst examples of revisionism in relation to the mass executions of Bosniaks committed in Srebrenica in July 1995".[18] After the report was published on 3 September 2002, it provoked outrage and condemnation by a wide variety of Balkan and international figures, individuals and organizations.[17][19]
  • Patrick Karuretwa stated in the Harvard Law Record that in 2007 the Canadian politician Robin Philpot "attracted intense media attention for repeatedly denying the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis"[20]
  • On 21 April 2016 a full page ad appeared within The Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune that directed readers to Fact Check Armenia, a genocide denial website sponsored by the Turkish lobby in the US. When confronted about the ad a Wall Street Journal spokesperson stated, "We accept a wide range of advertisements, including those with provocative viewpoints. While we review ad copy for issues of taste, the varied and divergent views expressed belong to the advertisers."[21]

By governments


The government of Pakistan continues to deny that the 1971 Bangladesh atrocities took place under Pakistan's rule of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. They typically accuse Pakistani reporters (such as Anthony Mascarenhas) who reported on the genocide of being "enemy agents".[22] According to Donald W. Beachler, professor of political science at Ithaca College:[23]

The government of Pakistan explicitly denied that there was genocide. By their refusal to characterise the mass-killings as genocide or to condemn and restrain the Pakistani government, the US and Chinese governments implied that they did not consider it so.

Similarly, in the wake of the 2013 Shahbag protests against war criminals who were complicit in the genocide, English journalist Philip Hensher wrote:[24]

The genocide is still too little known about in the West. It is, moreover, the subject of shocking degrees of denial among partisan polemicists and manipulative historians.


According to Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Edina Becirevic, the faculty of criminology and security studies of the University of Sarajevo:

Denial of the Srebrenica genocide takes many forms [in Serbia]. The methods range from the brutal to the deceitful. Denial is present most strongly in political discourse, in the media, in the sphere of law, and in the educational system.[25]


The government of the Republic of Turkey has long denied that the Armenian genocide was a genocide.[26] According to Akçam, "Turkish denialism [of the genocide] is perhaps the most successful example of how the well-organized, deliberate, and systematic spreading of falsehoods can play an important role in the field of public debate" and that "fact-based truths have been discredited and relegated to the status of mere opinion".[6]


The European Commission proposed a European Union–wide anti-racism law in 2001, which included an offense of genocide denial, but European Union states failed to agree on the balance between prohibiting racism and freedom of expression. After six years of wrangling a watered down compromise was reached in 2007 giving states freedom to implement the legislation as they saw fit.[27][28][29]


Genocide denial has an immense impact on both victim and perpetrator groups. The denial not only affects the relations and the possible reconciliation between victim and perpetrator, but it also affects the identity of the respective group, impacting at large the society they live in. While confrontation of the committed atrocities can be a tough process in which the victim feels humiliated anew by reliving the past,[30] it still has a benign therapeutic effect, helping the society to come to the terms with the past.[31] From a therapeutic point of view, letting the victim confront the past atrocity and its related painful memories is one way to reach a closure and to understand that the harm has occurred in the past.[32] By acknowledging the past errors, the relating memories are co-processed, "sometimes resulting in the narrator feeling a little better and the listener a little worse."[33] This also helps the memories to enter the shared narrative of the society, thereby becoming a common ground on which the society can build its future on.[34] Denying recognition will have a negative effect, further victimizing the victim which will feel not only wronged by the perpetrator but also by being denied recognition of the occurred wrongdoing. This implies that the denial also has a pivotal role in shaping the norms of a society since the omission of any committed errors, and thereby the lack of condemnation and punishment of the committed wrongs, risks normalizing similar actions, rising the society's tolerance for future occurrences of similar errors.[34]: 110  Scholars exemplify the latter aspect in the case of Republic of Turkey and how the Turkish state's Armenian genocide denial has had far-reaching effects on the Turkish society throughout its history in regard to both ethnic minorities, especially the Kurds, but political opposition in general.[34]: 48  The denial also affects the self-image of the perpetrator by omitting the "righteous" individuals among its own ranks. This lack of differentiation between "we" (the righteous") and "them" (the wrongful "other") could result in a rather homogeneous perception of the nation in question, thus making the victim (but also third parties) to project the perpetrating role onto the entire society/nation, aggravating the prospects of future reconciliation.[34]: 24 

Bhargava notes that "[m]ost calls to forget disguise the attempt to prevent victims from publicly remembering in the fear that 'there is a dragon living on the patio and we better not provoke it.'"[35] In Bhargava's words "It is well known that remembrance of past harm reinforces asymmetries of power. The fear of physical suffering in the future feeds on the remembrance of past acts of repression. Such thinking encourages passivity and obedience in victims, and this in turn serves the interest of the powerful. But such remembrance can cut both ways. If memory of suffering is kept alive, reprisal may occur at future, inopportune moments."[35]: 52  In the Armenian case, one could point to the committed terrorist acts during 1970s and 1980s (e.g. ASALA and JCAG as a direct result of the Turkish state denial of the genocide).[34]: 110 

However, political contingencies could in certain cases necessitate some degree of denial (or at least holding back the entire truth) in order to promote a recovery and re-building a society. This approach is especially conspicuous in post-conflict societies where the prevailing power constellation might require a political trade-off in regard to past committed wrongs. This aspect was true in post-Apartheid South Africa where the perpetrating group was still in possession of power (judicial, police, army), risking political instability if they were put on trial and risked punishment.[36] This was, among others, one of the main reasons for granting amnesty in exchange for confessing to committed errors during the transitional period in South Africa. However, the society at large and the victims in particular will perceive this kind of tradeoffs as "morally suspect,"[37] and sooner or later will question its sustainability. Thus, a common refrain in regard to the Final Report (1998) by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "We've heard the truth. There is even talk about reconciliation. But where's the justice?"[38]

The denial has thereby a direct negative impact on the development of a society, often by undermining its laws and the issue of justice, but also the level of democracy itself.[34]: 33–38  If democracy is meant to be built on the rule of law and justice, upheld and safeguarded by state institutions, then surely the omission of legal consequences and justice would potentially undermine the democracy.[39] What is more dangerous from a historical point of view is that such a default would imply the subsequent loss of the meaning of these events to future generations, a loss which is resembled to "losing a moral compass."[40] The society becomes susceptible to similar wrongdoings in the absence of proper handling of preceding occasions.[41] Nonetheless, denial, especially immediately after the committed wrongdoings, is rather the rule than the exception and naturally almost exclusively done by the perpetrator in order to escape responsibility. In some cases, e.g. the Armenian genocide, this denial is done explicitly, while in some other cases, e.g. in the case of the "Comfort women" and the role of the Japanese State, the denial is more implicit. The latter was evident in how an overwhelmingly majority of the surviving victims refused to accept a monetary compensation since the Japanese government still refused to admit its own responsibility (the monetary compensation was paid through a private fund rather than by the state, a decision perceived by the victims about state's refusal to assume any direct responsibility).[42]


  1. ^ a b c Üngör, Uğur Ümit; Adler, Nanci (2017). "Indonesia in the Global Context of Genocide and Transitional Justice". Journal of Genocide Research. 19 (4): 609–617. doi:10.1080/14623528.2017.1393985.
  2. ^ Huttenbach, Henry R. (1999). "The Psychology and Politics of Genocide Denial: a Comparison of Four Case Studies". Studies in Comparative Genocide. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 216–229. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-27348-5_12. ISBN 978-1-349-27348-5. Archived from the original on 18 June 2018. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  3. ^ Herf, Jeffrey (2006). The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during the World War II and the Holocaust. Harvard University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-674038-59-2.
  4. ^ "10 Stages of Genocide". Archived from the original on 21 November 2020. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  5. ^ Hovannisian, Richard G. (1998). "Denial of the Armenian Genocide in Comparison with Holocaust Denial". Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide. Wayne State University Press. p. 202. ISBN 081432777X. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  6. ^ a b Akçam, Taner (2018). Killing Orders: Talat Pasha's Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide. Springer. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-3-319-69787-1.
  7. ^ Tolbert, David (24 April 2015). "The Armenian Genocide: 100 Years of Denial". International Center for Transitional Justice. Archived from the original on 1 February 2021. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  8. ^ Akiva Eldar (28 May 2003). "U.S. told us to ignore Israeli map reservations". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 1 February 2013. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  9. ^ Staff Holocaust denier Irving is jailed Archived 5 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine BBC, 20 February 2006
  10. ^ Veronika Oleksyn (Associated Press) Holocaust Denier Freed, Gets Probation Archived 25 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine 20 December 2006.
  11. ^ David Campbell. ITN vs Living Marxism Archived 8 April 2004 at the Wayback Machine, Part 2 Archived 16 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Footnote [49] cites Linda Ryan "What's in a 'mass grave'?, Living Marxism, Issue 88, March 1996 Archived 24 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine" (The link he provides in the footnote does not exist any more so the link is a substitute). Accessed 20 April 2008
  12. ^ McGreal, Chris. Genocide? What genocide? Archived 7 February 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian 20 March 2000
  13. ^ "Genocide? What genocide?". The Guardian. London. 20 March 2000. Archived from the original on 7 February 2017. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  14. ^ Jaschik, Scott (22 October 2007). "Genocide Deniers". Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  15. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (17 April 2006). "A PBS Documentary Makes Its Case for the Armenian Genocide, With or Without a Debate". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 February 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2006.
  16. ^ "Brief Record". US Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 22 April 2009.
  17. ^ a b Gordana Katana (a correspondent with Voice of America in Banja Luka). REGIONAL REPORT: Bosnian Serbs Play Down Srebrenica Archived 11 May 2021 at the Wayback Machine, website of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved 25 October 2009
  18. ^ Judgement against Miroslav Deronjic Archived 26 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine ICTY
  19. ^ "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline, 02-09-03". 3 September 2005. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  20. ^ Release of Rwanda's mastermind of death promotes genocide denial Archived 6 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Harvard Law Record, 4 December 2009
  21. ^ "FULL-PAGE WSJ AD DENYING ARMENIAN GENOCIDE SPURS ANGER". Newsweek. 21 April 2016. Archived from the original on 21 April 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2016.
  22. ^ "His article was – from Pakistan's point of view – a huge betrayal and he was accused of being an enemy agent. It still denies its forces were behind such atrocities as those described by Mascarenhas, and blames Indian propaganda."Mark Dummett (16 December 2011). "Bangladesh war: The article that changed history". BBC Asia. Archived from the original on 28 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  23. ^ Beachler, Donald W. "Genocide Denial; The Case of Bangladesh". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011.
  24. ^ Philip Hensher (19 February 2013). "The war Bangladesh can never forget". The Independent. Archived from the original on 28 December 2020. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  25. ^ Denial of genocide – on the possibility of normalising relations in the region Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine by Sonja Biserko (the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia) and Edina Becirevic (faculty of criminology and security studies of the University of Sarajevo).
  26. ^ Evelyn Leopold (9 April 2007). "UN genocide exhibit delayed after Turkey objects". Reuters. Archived from the original on 9 March 2021. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  27. ^ Ethan McNern. Swastika ban left out of EU's racism law Archived 5 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine, The Scotsman, 30 January 2007
  28. ^ runo Waterfield. EU plans far-reaching 'genocide denial' law Archived 10 March 2020 at the Wayback Machine, The Daily Telegraph 4 February 2007
  29. ^ Ingrid Melander EU to agree watered-down anti-racism law-diplomats Archived 7 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Reuters, 18 April 2007.
  30. ^ Margalit, Avishai (2002). The Ethics of Memory. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00941-X.: 61–64 
  31. ^ Amstutz, Mark R. (2005). The Healing of Nations: The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0-7425-3580-0. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 24 
  32. ^ Colvin, Christopher J. (2003). "The Healing of Nations: The Promise and Limits of Political Forgiveness". In Hodgkin, Katherine; Radstone, Susannah (eds.). Contested pasts: The politics of memory. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28647-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 156 
  33. ^ Adler, Nanci; Leydesdorff, Selma; Chamberlain, Mary; Neyzi, Leyla, eds. (2009). Memories of Mass Repression: Narrating Life Stories in the Aftermath of Atrocity. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4128-0853-8. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: xii 
  34. ^ a b c d e f Avedian, Vahagn (2018). Knowledge and Acknowledgement in the Politics of Memory of the Armenian Genocide. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-13-831885-4. Archived from the original on 11 September 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 45 
  35. ^ a b Bhargava, Rajeev (2000). "Restoring Decency to Barbaric Societies". In Rotberg, Robert I.; Thompson, Dennis F. (eds.). Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05071-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 52 
  36. ^ Gutman, Amy; Thompson, Dennis F. (2000). "The Moral Foundations of Truth Commissions". In Rotberg, Robert I.; Thompson, Dennis F. (eds.). Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05071-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 39 
  37. ^ Rotberg, Robert I. (2000). "Truth Commissions and the Provision of Truth, Justice, and Reconciliations". In Rotberg, Robert I.; Thompson, Dennis F. (eds.). Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05071-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 8 
  38. ^ Bevernage, Berber (2012). History, Memory, and State-Sponsored Violence: Time and Justice. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-88340-5. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 47–48 
  39. ^ Jelin, Elizabeth; Kaufman, Susana G. (2000). "Layers of Memories: Twenty Years After in Argentina". In Lorey, David E.; Beezley, William H. (eds.). Genocide, Collective Violence, and Popular Memory: The Politics of Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. SR Books. ISBN 0-8420-2982-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 36 
  40. ^ De Brito, Alexandra Barahona; Enriquez, Carmen Gonzalez; Aguilar, Paloma (2001). "Introduction". In De Brito, Alexandra Barahona; Enriquez, Carmen Gonzalez; Aguilar, Paloma (eds.). Genocide, Collective Violence, and Popular Memory: The Politics of Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924090-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 25 
  41. ^ Adler, Nanci (2001). "Conclusion". In De Brito, Alexandra Barahona; Enriquez, Carmen Gonzalez; Aguilar, Paloma (eds.). Genocide, Collective Violence, and Popular Memory: The Politics of Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924090-6. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 311 
  42. ^ Mionw, Martha (1998). Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence. Beacon Press, cop. ISBN 0-8070-4506-3. Archived from the original on 11 May 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2020.: 105 

Further reading

External links

Quotations related to Genocide denial at Wikiquote