- Integrated Genocide History
Genocide studies—in short, analyzing one or more cases of organized mass destruction—is by now a somewhat established academic discipline. While it is still young, it is, after "having remained marginal to academic discourse" for decades, no longer a mere toddler in the field of humanities and social sciences thanks to a host of factors, from individual achievements to geopolitical shifts.1 Genocide, of course, is not young, not even as a concept. For instance, long before Nazi atrocities were famously dubbed "a crime without a name" by Winston Churchill in 1941, neologisms exactly similar to Raphael Lemkin's 1943/44 invention of the Greek-Latin hybrid word "genocide," (génos + -cide, i.e., the murder of a people/nation/race/tribe) were used by Scandinavian and German politicians, diplomats, reporters, and intellectuals from 1915, alongside "crimes against humanity," "extermination," and "race murder" to define or encapsulate the ongoing destruction of the Ottoman Armenians and Greeks. These neologisms were, for instance, folkemord, folkmord, and Völkermord, all combining the words "people" and "murder." Both before and after that, the Greek genoktonia, the Armenian tseghaspanutiun, and several similar words synonymous with genocide were used in various languages, while the term "holocaust" was regularly employed as a term for the destruction of Christians in the Ottoman Empire since at least the Abdülhamid-massacres of the 1890s.2
It was up to devoted Polish-Jewish legal scholar and activist Lemkin, though, to not only precisely name the crime, but also take the most vital initial steps towards developing a legal-historical concept and framework of genocide based on case studies such as the ongoing Holocaust, the Holodomor, as well as the destruction of Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire.3 As readers of this journal will know, it was a pioneering work that led directly to the 1948 UN definition criminalizing genocide, as well as to numerous scholarly definitions and debates that followed.4 After the slow start, genocide studies, comparative and otherwise, took off in earnest from the 1980s with a broad variety of historical, sociological, legal, anthropological, political, psychological, interdisciplinary, and so on, perspectives on mass violence, all basically exploring one or more of the questions of how and/or why do we do what we do when we are at our absolute worst? And how should we deal with this, individually, in groups, as a society after the fact, so that even the faintest of hopes of not only historical accuracy, but also of preventing similar crimes as well as preserving human dignity and justice, can be kept? This activist approach of going beyond the search for knowledge or explanations of human behavior has been pronounced in the field, as expressed by Canadian political scientist Maureen S. Hiebert: "Genocide studies has always been a [End Page 129] goal-oriented area of scholarship that has sought to make the post-Holocaust injunction, 'never again' a reality."5
If preventing genocide is indeed the most important criteria of success for the academic field in question, it has been an utter failure. When pointing to, say, the situation in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, and so on, at the time of writing, January 2018, it has indeed become almost a cliché in itself to point out that "never again" has become a cliché, as our collective scholarly, as well as political, diplomatic, and military, answers to mass atrocities are once more almost entirely lacking in effectiveness or sincerity.6 Even on a purely academic level (as if such a thing ever existed), we will most likely never get a clear, universally accepted answer to what the very core of the object of study, the term "genocide," even means or encompasses. In some circles it is still debated if it is even possible to explain the Holocaust, and, if so, how. That said, the universal fact that most scholarly findings and concerns are more or less detached from real-world implications should not come as a...