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  • Editors' Introduction:Starvation and Genocide
  • Frank E. Sysyn and Henry C. Theriault

Starvation has been used against populations throughout history. Siege warfare of course is partly a tactic of starvation, and settler genocides frequently used destruction of food sources as well as separation of indigenous peoples from food sources as a means of group destruction. Food deprivation was similarly an important tool in the execution of the Holocaust and, as we shall read, a central means of genocide in the Armenian case, the Ukraine Famine (Holodomor), and Cambodia. It is, of course, a primary method in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, where direct starvation has claimed many victims and malnutrition has weakened targeted groups and driven them into vulnerable positions that expose them to violence by Janjaweed forces as they search for food, firewood for cooking, etc. That food deprivation can be a means of genocide was clear to Raphael Lemkin and the framers of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It is a primary example of "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part," the third form of genocidal action identified in the convention's definition of genocide.

While food deprivation has received consideration in many works on particular genocides, it has only recently claimed broader and deeper theoretical consideration in its own right in the field of Genocide Studies. The concept of "genocide by attrition" that has emerged in the past decade manifests this increased attention on what might be termed "indirect" yet fully intentional methods of destroying a group, including, quite principally, starvation. Recent books such as Rhoda Howard-Hassmann's State Food Crimes, which is reviewed in this issue, offer important new insights and research on the topic.

In recognition of the increasing attention to the topic as well as the need for further research, the editors have devoted the current issue of Genocide Studies International to the role of starvation in genocide. This journal issue owes a special debt to the symposium "Starvation as a Political Tool from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century," which examined four case studies (the Irish Famine, the Armenian Genocide, the Ukrainian Holodomor, and genocide by attrition in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan) to shed light on the politics of starvation, examining methods, their effectiveness as instruments of government policy, and the devastating effects on target populations. The symposium, held at the University of Toronto on 22 October 2015, was co-organized by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies and the Holodomor Research and Education Consortium (HREC) of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian [End Page 1] Studies, University of Alberta. Since its establishment in 2013, HREC has organized five conferences or symposia, each examining the Ukrainian Holodomor in a different context and from the perspective of various disciplines.1 Three of the articles included in these pages, by George Shirinian (Armenians in the Ottoman Empire), Olga Bertelsen (Ukraine under Stalin), and Mark McGowan (the Irish Famine), were contributed by participants in the symposium. In addition to these, the editors have included Maureen Hiebert's treatment on the Cambodian Genocide.

Because GSI has been receiving so many impressive submissions, the editors have also included two articles on other topics, in order to ensure their timely dissemination and that GSI continue to serve as an important venue for the full range of topics in Genocide Studies.

The editors have chosen to begin the issue with George Shirinian's article on starvation in the Armenian Genocide. The article not only covers the chronologically first of the three positive cases in the special issue, but Shirinian's introduction to this specific case is an excellent primer on the general topic of starvation as a tool of genocide. Readers will benefit greatly from starting with this article and its introduction as a framework.

Shirinian's paper situates imposed starvation within the various methods used in the execution of the Armenian Genocide. His approach shows that starvation was one of the primary means of destroying the Armenian population, both directly and indirectly. Directly, deportation, the means used against the majority of victims, entailed...


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