14 Tragic Lesser-Known Genocides That Deserve To Be Remembered

The Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany was inarguably one of the worst events of the 20th century. Six million Jews and millions of others (gay people, those with disabilities, Roma, and more) were massacred, while many others became refugees or went into hiding.

Unfortunately, these kinds of historical tragedies aren't limited to just Nazi Germany. We've seen this kind of genocide before, but humans have an alarming propensity to gloss over the dark parts of our history. Some genocides were even turned into holidays that celebrate the perpetrators' success. We don't often hear much about these obscure historical pogroms, because as they say, history is written by the victors.

Maybe it’s important, then, to discuss even those genocides throughout history that aren’t as well-known. By keeping these victims alive in our minds and hearts, we may be able to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. That's the whole point of being human, right? Over time, we get better. It does, however, behoove us to remember the times when we were at our worst. 

  • Armenia is a small country next to present-day Turkey. The Armenians lived in this region for thousands of years before being absorbed by the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. WWI exacerbated tensions between the then-collapsing Ottoman Empire and the Armenians, who had helped the Russians take on the Turks.

    In 1915, the Turkish government began executing Armenian intellectuals and evicting Armenian citizens from their homes. They were forced to march through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water until they perished from dehydration and hunger. By the time the massacre ended, almost 1.5 million Armenians were dead. To this day, Turkey still denies the scale of the massacre. The Turkish government refuses to even call it "genocide." 

  • Canada's Indigenous Genocide

    By now, everyone should know that the United States committed genocide against the Native American people. People forget, however, that Canada also committed genocide against its native population.

    Between the 1800s and the 1970s, Canada took 150,000 Native children away from their homes and forced them to attend Christian boarding schools. In 2015, the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission completed an investigation of Canada's Indian Residential Schools system and concluded that Canada had committed "cultural genocide." Some, however, argue that Canada just committed straight-up genocide.

    Although Canada did not ostensibly aim to kill indigenous people, the death rate at these boarding schools was alarmingly high. And as the above article points out, the UN’s Convention on Genocide considers "Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" to be genocide in and of itself. What the Canadians did to their indigenous population definitely fits the bill. 

  • The Moriori Genocide

    The Moriori people inhabited the Chatham Islands, located 400 miles east of New Zealand. Their peak population was only about 2,000, but they were almost completely wiped out by another group: the Māori (the indigenous people of New Zealand).

    Ethnically, the Moriori and the Māori are the same. Around the year 1500, a group of Māori decided to move from New Zealand to the Chatham Islands and began calling themselves Moriori. They adopted a new lifestyle grounded in non-violence and pacifism.

    In 1835, the Māori brought weapons they had acquired from the European colonists of New Zealand to the Chatham Islands. They killed about 300 Moriori right off the bat, and whoever survived that initial massacre was enslaved. By 1862, only about 100 Moriori were left. The last full-blooded Moriori passed in 1933.

  • Pakistan's Bengali Genocide

    When British India was split into India and Pakistan in the Partition of 1947, the new nation of Pakistan also included present-day Bangladesh. The newly installed government would spend the next two decades trying to suppress the Bengalis, refusing to recognize their language and way of practicing Islam.

    The Bengalis responded by launching a nationalist movement. In response, the Pakistani government launched Operation Searchlight in 1971, designed to eliminate all opposition to the Pakistani government. The death toll estimates range from 500,000 to almost 3 million. Thankfully, the Bengalis were able to form their own nation in the early 1970s with overwhelming international support.  

  • Belgium's Congolese Genocide

    This might be the deadliest genocide in modern history, but it's rarely (if ever) talked about. The horror started when King Leopold II of Belgium claimed the Congo (the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) for himself in 1885. To make the colony profitable, he forced the Congolese to harvest rubber. If a village didn't meet its rubber quota when the collectors came, they were slaughtered.

    By the time the mass murders stopped in 1908, some estimate that between 2 and 15 million Congolese people had been slaughtered. The fact that such a gap exists in the estimate at all is terrifying and speaks to the low value the Belgians placed on Congolese life. Depressingly, an investigation into the allegations of genocide didn't get launched until almost 100 years after the fact.

  • Russia's Circassian Genocide

    The Circassians are a small ethnic group that lived to the east of Crimea for 4,000 years until the Russians invaded their land in the 1760s. Hundreds of thousands of Circassians were slain in the conflict. After gaining control of the territory, Russian soldiers slaughtered unarmed women and innocent children.

    The remaining Circassians were forced to move to Turkey, but many perished in transit. The Turkish government was ill-prepared to resettle and provide resources to the more than 1 million refugees that arrived in need of aid. By the time the dust settled, 625,000 people had perished.