The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924
By Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi
Harvard University Press, 2019, 672 pp.
First Raise a Flag: How South Sudan Won the Longest War but Lost the Peace
By Peter Martell
Hurst, 2018, 320 pp.
These two books are gut-wrenching chronicles of human depravity that show how ordinary people can become barbarians. Both describe, in numbing detail, decades of pillage, rape, starvation, and torture. Morris and Ze’evi tie together the three waves of killing that swept across the Christian population of Anatolia (in modern-day Turkey) from 1894 to 1924. First, the Ottoman Empire, under Sultan Abdulhamid II, massacred hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Then, in 1914, the Young Turks, who had marginalized the sultan after the revolution of 1908, launched their own, far larger Armenian genocide. Finally, after 1919, the Republicans under Kemal Ataturk began killing and deporting the remaining Christians, many of whom were Greek. Over the three decades, between 1.5 million and 2.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks were murdered. Morris and Ze’evi convey well the horror of the killings. In a cave where the bodies of at least 100 Greeks were found, they write that “all apparently had first had their hands and feet cut off, after that they were either burnt alive in the cave or had their throats cut.”
If anything, the killing in southern Sudan over the last 60 years has been even more extensive than that in Anatolia. For centuries, the Muslim north of Sudan systematically raided the animistic south for slaves. When Sudan gained independence, in 1956, the southern third of the country was already in revolt. Apart from a brief interlude in the 1970s, the region has known only suffering and death ever since. In recent decades, slave raiding has been replaced by the competition for oil rents, southern Sudan’s only source of revenue other than international aid. Today, the butchers are no longer northerners; they are southern leaders and their militias. According to some reports, since 2013, two years after South Sudan gained independence, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, may have orchestrated the slaughter of about 300,000 members of the Nuer tribe, to which his principal rival, former Vice President Riek Machar, belongs. Like Anatolia at the time of the Armenian genocide, southern Sudan has large inaccessible areas that have become killing fields, rarely observed by outsiders, except a few courageous missionaries. As a result, estimates of the number of victims are uncertain, but they run into the millions. Martell, an intrepid journalist who covered the region for the BBC, has interviewed many of the victims, heroes, and butchers. As he shows, this was not the efficient killing of Nazi extermination camps but individual, face-to-face barbarity. In both Anatolia and Sudan, the heroes of one era became the killers of the next. In neither case have the leaders responsible ever been held to account in a court of law.