- Hidden Genocides: Power, Knowledge, Memory ed. by Alexander Laban Hinton, Thomas La Pointe, and Douglas Irvin-Erickson
Hidden Genocides is an edited volume that includes 11 thought-provoking essays asking us to consider questions about why academics and others devote a great deal of time and attention to studying certain genocides, such as the Holocaust or the decimation of the Ottoman Armenians; pay some attention to other instances of genocide, such as Kosovo or the Kurds; and virtually ignore particular genocides, such as the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The genocides covered in this book are hidden or neglected in varying degrees. While the genocides of indigenous peoples in settler-colonial societies are not widely discussed outside scholarly circles, the fates of indigenous peoples feature prominently in this book and in many recent discussions of genocide. Other victim groups included in the book, such as the Ottoman Assyrians and Greeks and the Circassians of the Caucasus, are more accurately defined as hidden or neglected. The analyses of the complex issues raised in many of the case studies in this volume offer insight into the academic “construction” of genocides and ongoing controversies in the contentious field of genocide studies. This book is a useful contribution to the field, which has seen its share of civil wars, as vitriolic rhetoric has been hurled, academic associations have been split apart, and journals have been disbanded amidst extreme acrimony.
The Holocaust is, of course, not a hidden genocide, and therefore, it is not a major focus of a volume on neglected genocides. It is, however, a significant theme in Dirk Moses’s chapter on the creation of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). Still, it is worth recalling that many of the issues covered in this book have also arisen in the field of Holocaust studies, which, Raul Hilberg has noted in his autobiography, was a neglected topic when he first published Destruction of the European Jews, in 1961. The Holocaust as a historical event was not always free of controversy either. Peter Novick, for example, engendered a great deal of controversy with his rather dispassionate history of the evolution of interest in the Holocaust in the United States. For a time, a fierce debate raged over whether the Holocaust was unique; what entitlements, if any, uniqueness gave Jews; and how uniqueness applied to the geopolitical interests of the state of Israel. This book greatly expands the scope of discussion of the politics of genocide studies both thematically and, of course, geographically.
A particular genocide may be hidden by a culture or government at one time and openly acknowledged at another. The transparency of a genocide may vary with political imperatives or changing mores. As Dakota scholar Chris Mato Nunpa notes in his chapter on the destruction of Indigenous people in the United States, in the nineteenth century, government officials were quite open about their practices of relocation, killing, and coerced assimilation of this group, which was viewed as an impediment to the conquest and settlement of the area that is now the United States. Today, there is a great deal of reluctance, in political circles, to describe the decimation of Indigenous people in North America as a genocide. Moses, in a chapter on what he terms the “passionate, [End Page 269] if ill tempered” (43) debate over the establishment of the CMHR in Winnipeg, argues that a government that claims to derive political legitimacy from a commitment to universal principles of human rights cannot readily acknowledge that it was founded on genocide. Moses demonstrates that the controversy over the organization of the CMHR involved disputes over the primacy of the Holocaust, the role given to the Armenian Genocide of 1915, and the prominence of the Ukrainians who suffered millions of deaths at the hands of the Soviet regime in the 1930s, in the so-called Holodomor. While the museum does recognize the fate of indigenous...