Genocide and war are inextricably linked’. To what extent do you agree with this statement?






People often use the term genocide interchangeably with war, but the two terms refer to two different things. However, understanding the intentions of genocide and war is crucial. While both war and genocide result in killings, the type and idea of killings on the battlefield differ. Genocide is usually associated with brutal killings of massive scale, and it is uncompromising in its choice of the victim (Shaw 2003, p. 34). Therefore, genocide may refer to the systematic and deliberate murder of a group of people because of their race, ethnicity, religion or nationality. The term is derived from a Greek word genos, which means tribe, race or nation and a Latin word cide, which means killing and it was first coined by Polish-born Jew called Raphael Lemkin, who worked in the US Department of War as an adviser during World War II (Valentino 2013, p. 9). Raphael witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, where members of his family were brutally murdered. Resultantly, he advocated for genocide to be recognized as one of the crimes against humanity under international law. Consequently, genocide was adopted to international law in December 1948 and implemented in January 1951. The Article II of UN Convention on Genocide states that,

genocide includes ‘any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such’ (Shaw 2007a, n.p); Murdering members of a particular group, inflicting severe mental or bodily harm to members of a particular group, intentionally inflicting life conditions to a particular group of people with an aim of bringing about physical destruction in part or whole, imposing measures intended to prevent births within a given group and forcibly transferring children of a particular group to another group (Shaw 2003, p. 36-37; Valentino 2013, p. 25).

On the other hand, war refers to atrocities directed against armies or sovereigns as opposed to civilians and subjects. Thus, killings are aimed at soldiers, police, political leaders, and various government officials. Subsequently, such perceptions require careful examination of records to determine whether these assumptions are true. Nonetheless, it is important noting that genocide is closely related to war as far as the recent genocidal history is concerned. For instance, the Rwandan Genocide was a consequence of the political war that started as a result of the assassination of the president. Another example is the killing of Armenians by the Young Turks regime during World War I (Valentino 2013, p. 157, 178). These examples, among others, support the idea that genocide and war are in a way related. Nevertheless, wars do not usually result in genocide as it was witnessed in the Falklands War of 1982 that led to the death of few civilians and more soldiers from the fighting countries, Britain, and Argentina. For the majority of the 20th century, most people in the world lived either under totalitarian regimes or colonial rules and it was only in the recent past when this situation was abandoned in favor of democracy. The current paper examines the relationship between genocide and war in reference to the 1915 Armenian Genocide 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the 1982 Falklands War.

The Link between Genocide and War

While genocide is, to a greater extent, associated with war, it is not inextricably linked to it because not all wars lead to genocides and not all genocides result from wars as witnessed in genocides such as Armenian and Rwandan Genocides as well as Falklands War. However, some people usually equate genocide to war because the former was initially discovered in the war context by Lemkin, who described the term as a massacre perpetrated against unarmed individuals. Lemkin indicated that genocide was “a concentrated and coordinated attack upon all the elements of nationhood” against a specific group of people. Clausewitz suggested that genocide is conceptually linked to the types of wars because most of the genocides that have occurred in the past happened during war times (Shaw 2007b, p. 111). Nevertheless, he warns that although most genocides occur during war periods, there is a pre-existing abomination by the state or one group of people to another, which is only expressed during warfare, be it a civil war, invasion, cold war, proxy war, or border war, among others (Kaldor 2010, p. 276). It is evident that war is a catalyst of genocide where either the government or a particular group of combatants perpetrate atrocities against a group of people whom they have had a pre-existing abhorrence (Shaw 2007b, p. 111). Therefore, while war plays a crucial role in the occurrence of genocide, there must be a pre-existing detestation that is expressed in the form of mass killings of a given group of people when a particular type of war erupts. This shows that although the genocide is to a greater extent, associated with war, it is not inextricably linked to it (Shaw 2007b, p. 112). In the following paragraphs, the paper comprehensively examines Armenian and Rwandan genocides with the aim of proving that genocide is not inextricably associated with war.

Rwandan Genocide

Rwandan Genocide happened between April and June 1994 in a span of 100 days, where more than 800,000 people died through well-organized attacks (Collins 2014, n.p). Hutu tribe, particularly men, perpetrated the violence against Tutsis, which left most members of this tribe dead. The genocide was triggered by the assassination of the then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, who was a Hutu and whose airplane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6th April 1994 (Collins 2014, n.p).

Ethnic tension between Hutu and Tutsi existed for a long time before the Rwandan Genocide, and there had been several disagreements between the two tribes (Melvern 2004, p. 10). It is alleged that Belgium, who colonized Rwanda, played a huge role in the creation of this animosity. When Rwanda became a Belgium protectorate in 1916, the latter produced identification cards that classified Rwandan citizens according to their ethnic groups. Belgian officials regarded Hutus to be inferior to Tutsis, and the latter embraced this idea (Collins 2014, n.p). For the prolonged time after the arrival of Belgians, Tutsis enjoyed better educational and job opportunities than their Hutu counterparts. Consequently, resentment among the Hutus began to build up, resulting in an increased number of conflicts in 1959. During this year, approximately 20,000 Tutsis were murdered and many others fled to the neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Burundi, and Uganda. After Rwanda gained independence in 1962, the Hutus’ dominance ensued and Tutsis were blamed for every crisis that happened in the country (Collins 2014, n.p). During the administration of Habyarimana, the economy of the country worsened and the president started losing popularity even among his own tribesmen. At the same time, the Tutsis who had fled to Uganda and other neighboring countries were planning to overthrow the president to secure their right to return to their motherland. They formed a political group referred to as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that was led by Mr. Kagame, with the aim of toppling Habyarimana. RPF perpetrated several attacks, which led to several months of negotiation until when a peace accord between the RPF and the president was signed (Collins 2014, n.p). Nevertheless, the peace treaty did very little to curb the unrest in the country. When Habyarimana was assassinated in April 1994, a conflict between Hutus and Tutsis began which led to one of the most severe Genocides to have occurred in humankind history. While it is not well-known who exactly killed the president, it is alleged that Mr. Kagame and other Tutsis individuals belonging to RPF planned his killing. The death of the president created a power vacuum, which ended the peace accords. Police, militia, and soldiers killed prominent Tutsi and moderate Hutu political and military leaders, which escalated to genocide in the following days, leading to the killing of more than 800,000 individuals, most of whom were Tutsis (Collins 2014, n.p). It is estimated that the number of Tutsis who died during this genocide represented 75% of the Tutsis, which is an indication that the aim of Hutus was to wipe the entire tribe of Tutsi (Valentino 2013, p. 178). As indicated above, in most cases, war is used as an excuse to perpetrate genocide. In Rwanda, the mass killing of Tutsis by Hutus started as a civil war whose cause was the assassination of President Habyarimana. The tension that had existed even during pre-colonial times between the two tribes led to the extermination of Tutsis. Here, Hutus did not just start killing Tutsis as a result of the murder of Habyarimana who hailed from their tribe; rather, it was a hatred that had existed for many years prior to the genocide (Shaw 2003, p. 43). The civil war that happened in 1994 was exploited by Hutus to conduct a massacre, which shows that although genocide and war are related to some degree, they are not inextricably associated because the former does not only happen abruptly by overtime and it is catalyzed by the former.

Armenian Genocide

Another case study that shows genocide and war are not inextricably related is the Armenian genocide that occurred in 1915 during the First World War. The Genocide is estimated to have consumed more than 1.5 million Armenians in a span of 5 years (Shaw 2003, p. 32; Valentino 2013, p. 157). Several others were expelled from the country to various other countries across the world. Like the Rwandan Genocide, in the Armenian Genocide, the events preceding the atrocities were thought to have started several years back. Armenian people had established their homes for more than 3000 years in the Caucasus region in Eastern Europe (Sotirovic 2018, p. 121). Since the control of the region inhabited by Armenian shifted from one kingdom to the other, Ottoman Empire conquered Armenia in the 15th Century. Ottoman rulers were Muslims who subjected smaller kingdoms such as Armenia to unjust and unequal treatment (Shaw 2003, p. 33; Bartrop 2010, p. 522). For instance, since the Armenians were Christians, they were bound to pay higher taxes compared to Muslims, and they had limited legal and political rights. Despite being subjected to these obstacles, Armenians still thrived and tended to be wealthier and better educated than their Turkish counterparts who in turn, grew resentful to their success. Such resentment became stronger because Muslims in the Ottoman Empire suspected that since Armenian were Christians, they would be more loyal to their neighboring Christian countries such as Russia in case a war erupted (Theriault 2009, p. 7). All Muslim Rulers in the Ottoman Empire such as Sultan Abdul Hamid II, hated Armenians with passion and had promised to solve what was referred to as the “Armenian Question” to shatter Armenians’ revolutionary ambitions (Valentino 2013, p. 158). In the 1890s, Armenians protested unfair treatment by the Turkish government and in response, the military soldiers, officials, and ordinary men in Turkey killed hundreds of thousands of Armenians in various villages and cities (Mangassarian 2016, p. 374). When Young Turks clinched power in 1908, they considered non-Turks, particularly Christians to be the number one enemy to the new state. During World War I, Turks confirmed their support to Germany and Hungarian Empire and declared severe war with all Christians apart from their allies. At this time, the Turkish military leaders started arguing that all Armenians were traitors and that they wanted Turkey to be defeated so that they could gain independence (Mangassarian 2016, p. 374; Valentino 2013, p. 163).  During the war, Armenians organized themselves and volunteered to help Russian soldiers to fight against the Turkish military in the Caucasus region. Following these events, on 24th April, the Turkish government started executing hundreds of Armenian intellectuals followed by thousands of ordinary Armenians; some were killed instantly and others sent on death marches through Mesopotamia desert without water or food (Shaw 2003, p. 32). Usually, individuals were forced to walk under very hot sun naked until they collapsed dead and people who stopped to rest were killed through gunshots. The records indicate that during these killings, government squads abducted children, converted them to Muslims and gave them out to Turkish Families. Muslim families also moved into Armenian homes and seized their properties. When the genocide ended in 1920, approximately 1.5 million out of 2 million Armenians had been killed (Shaw 2003, p. 32). Following these events, it is apparent that World War I was not the main cause of the Armenian Massacre but was used as an excuse, as is the case of the Rwandan Genocide (Bartrop 2010, p. 523; Shaw 2003, p. 32). Turkish populations hated Armenians on the ground that they were Christians and were more successful than they were in terms of education and wealth. Although genocide happened during wartime, it was something that had been pre-mediated that was only waiting for a trigger. Up to today, Turkey has denied the allegations that the Armenian massacre was genocide, arguing that it was not pre-meditated and that it is the behavior of Armenians during the First World War that led to their killings (Sotirovic 2018, p. 123). However, a suspicion arises as to why the Turkish government authorized killing, raping, and abduction of children and women who did not actively participate in the war between Turkey and Russia. If the Armenian massacre was not pre-meditated, the government would only kill Armenian soldiers who participated in their war with Russia and spare the rest. In this case, the eruption of war plays a crucial role in the occurrence of genocide (Shaw 2003, p. 32). There are several other examples such as Nazism when the Nazis killed thousands of Jewish people and other minorities during World War II. Prior to this war, the Nazis had accused Jews of their misfortunes and were highly resentful because the Jews were more successful in all aspects of life (Valentino 2013, p. 167). These examples indicate that genocides are preceded by a number of events and war offers a platform for their execution.

Falklands War                                 

Although some wars have contributed to genocide incidence,  some do not always result in the targeted killing of some groups of people (Bartrop 2010, p. 530). One of the examples of such wars is the Falklands War that occurred in Falkland Island in 1982 (Bluth 1987, p. 6). The war was between the United Kingdom and Argentina, who fought over two British dependent territories in the South Atlantic. Thus, the conflict was a two nations battle that sought to gain territorial supremacy (Stransky 2011, p. 473). Argentina made it clear that the islands were its territory, which prompted the Argentine government to characterize its military action in an attempt to reclaim its territory from British Rule. On the other hand, Britain claimed that the islands were part of its protectorate and regarded the action by the Argentinian government as an invasion of its territory, which resulted in the British government retaliating. The war lasted for a total of 74 days, where Argentina eventually surrendered and returned the islands to British control (Bluth 1987, p. 6). A total of 639 Argentine and 255 British Soldiers died during this conflict, with only three civilians dying from the war hostilities (Stransky 2011, p. 473). Therefore, unlike the Rwandan civil war and First World War that led to genocides, Falklands War did not lead to the targeted mass killing of a particular tribe, race, or religious group (Hewer 2013, p. 143). Instead, the war was between the armies of two countries, and a large number of casualties were soldiers as opposed to non-combatants like it has been observed in previous cases. It is, therefore, apparent that not all wars lead to genocide.


It is evident that while genocide is, to a greater extent, linked to war, it is not inextricably associated with it. By definition, genocide refers to the mass killing of a given group of people as a result of their racial, ethnic, religious, social, and political background, whereas war is a conflict between two combatant groups. Thus, in war, non-combatants such as women, children, and unarmed men are not usually targeted, unlike in genocide, where all these groups in a population are brutalized. From the information provided above, while genocides typically occur during different types of wars such as civil war, state wars among others, they are not exclusively the outcome of such wars but resulted from the pre-existing hostility between two groups where one group takes advantage of the war to perpetrate atrocities against the other group. Rwandan and Armenian genocides did not happen overnight and were not entirely the outcome of the war. The targeted groups in these massacres experienced hostilities a long time before these respective wars erupted. Thus, in the Rwandan and Armenian genocides, the perpetrators used war as an excuse to execute pre-planned attacks on the targeted groups. The militias in these atrocities conducted large scale killings, forced deportations among other brutalities against civilians which are not characteristics of war. This indicates that genocide cannot be entirely linked to a particular war, but it is an outcome of various events happening prior to that particular war. Nonetheless, while genocide often happens during war times, not all wars result in targeted mass killings. Some wars result in large numbers of casualties being the combatants rather than civilians. Falklands War did not lead to genocide because there was no pre-existing animosity between the two fighting groups; rather, it was a territorial battle between two governments that did involve the killing of civilians, as it is the case in genocides. Thus, it is clear that genocide is a distinctive structure of armed conflict that is closely linked to other types of armed conflicts such as war.  It is important to give every situation the right label because using wrong terms gives the bystanders and perpetrators the opportunity to defuse and confuse effective responses by the international community and various governments. In some instances, the international community has used wrong tags such as civil war, humanitarian crisis, and ethnic cleansing to describe targeted killings in various parts of the world which has led to ineffective responses by the United Nation such as providing food, medicines and shelter instead of protecting a particular group from inhumaneness. Providing these items will not be enough to save the targeted groups but taking necessary actions could stop the perpetrators from burning and bombing villages, raping, killing and deporting civilians.  Careful assessment of every conflict to determine whether it is a war, humanitarian crisis, ethnic cleansing or genocide is, therefore, crucial because it will help in the provision of the necessary aid and save lives that would be otherwise lost if the entire situation was perceived wrongly.
















Reference List

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Sotirovic, V.B., 2018. The Armenian Genocide: The First Modern Islamic-Jihad Ethnic Cleansing. Journal of Security Studies and Global Politics3(1), pp.121-125.

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