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10 Most Shocking Ethnic Cleansing Campaigns

by Dan Cuesta
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In a flowering garden mixed with unwanted grasses, one may exhibit an eagerness to remove the grasses from the garden. The same concept goes to the nerves of historic and modern people when it comes to ethnicity and territory – to deport or forcibly remove people from particular ethnic groups in order to create racially homogeneous geographic areas. In this article, we list down the ten ethnic cleansing campaigns you would be shocked that have occurred.

Here are the ten most shocking ethnic cleansing campaigns in history.

  1. Armenian Massacre, Turkey (1915-1916)

The Armenian genocide was a deliberate destruction of the Armenian people and individuality in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, helmed by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). It was carried out primarily through the mass murder of approximately one million Armenians throughout death marches to the Syrian Desert, as well as the forced Islamization of Armenian children and women. Hundreds of Armenian academics and leaders were imprisoned and deported from Constantinople on April 24, 1915. In 1915 and 1916, on Talaat Pasha’s orders, a projected 800,000 to 1.2 million Armenian women, children, the elderly, and the infirm were sent on death marches to the Syrian Desert. Deportees were denied food and water and forced to theft, rape, and massacres as they were pushed onward by paramilitary guards. The survivors were split up into detention camps in the Syrian Desert. Another wave of atrocities was planned in 1916, with about 200,000 deportees still alive by the end of the year. Between 100,000 and 200,000 Armenian children and women were involuntarily converted to Islam and assimilated into Muslim families. During the Turkish War of Independence following World War I, the Turkish nationalist movement carried out massacres and ethnic cleansing of Armenian survivors. More than two millennia of Armenian civilization were destroyed in eastern Anatolia as a result of the Armenian genocide.



2. Circassian Massacre, Southwest Russia (1830-1870)

In the aftermath of the Russo-Circassian War (1763–1864), the Russian Empire carried out a systematic mass murder, ethnic cleansing, and exile of 800,000–1,500,000 Muslim Circassians from their country Circassia. The vast majority of Circassians were slaughtered or banished, however, a small number were sent to wetlands, and those who embraced Russification stayed. The Russian-Cossack soldiers are said to have utilized numerous means during the events, including ripping pregnant women’s stomachs. Russian generals like Grigory Zass referred to the Circassians as “subhuman trash,” justifying their slaughter and use in scientific experiments by permitting Russian troops to rape Circassian infants and women. Only a small fraction of those who agreed to Christian conversion, Russification, and settlement within the Russian Empire was exempt. Remaining Circassians who resisted were dispersed, forcibly resettled, and, in the majority of cases, tortured and/or slaughtered in mass. As a result, the region’s indigenous peoples were ethnically cleansed in vast numbers. The Circassians, Ubykhs, and Abazins were the peoples targeted for expulsion, but other Muslim Caucasus people were also affected to some extent.

3. Mexican and Mexican American Repatriation, United States (1929-1939)

During the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1939, the Mexican Repatriation involved the repatriation and expulsion of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans from the United States to Mexico. The number of people repatriated is estimated to be between 355,000 and 2,000,000. Citizens of the United States made up 40 to 60% of those repatriated, with the majority of them being children. While the federal government-backed deportations and repatriations, city and state governments were mostly responsible for organizing and encouraging them, frequently with the help of local commercial entities. Formal deportation was significantly less prevalent than voluntary repatriation. At least 82,000 people have been deported by the government. Repatriation was also supported by the Mexican government. Many Mexicans lost their jobs, which were widely blamed for worsening the Great Depression’s broader economic crisis. Because of the closeness of the Mexican border, the physiological peculiarity of mestizos, and easily recognized barrios, Mexicans were also targeted. Kevin Johnson, a legal scholar, claims that the deportation campaigns were motivated by ethnicity and met modern legal terms of ethnic cleansing because citizenship was regularly overlooked.


  1. Bosnia, Europe (1992-1995)

Killing civilians, rape, torture, destruction of civilian, public, and cultural heritage, burning and looting, and forcible transfer of civilian populations were all methods utilized during Bosnian ethnic cleansing activities. The majority of the offenders were Serb forces, while the vast majority of victims were Bosniaks. Several officials were eventually found guilty by the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of persecution on political, racial, and religious grounds, as well as forced transfer and deportation, which constituted a crime against humanity. The Srebrenica mass killing, which was part of an ethnic cleansing program, was ruled to be genocide.


  1. Rohingya, Myanmar (2016-2017)

In northern Rakhine State, Burma’s military launched a terrible ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. The ferocity of the military’s atrocities on that day stunned the entire community, but we also understand that the Rohingya had previously been subjected to decades of serious human rights violations, many of which continue today. A study published in January 2018 estimated that the combat and local Rakhine citizenry reportedly killed 25,000 Rohingya people and perpetrated gang rapes and other forms of sexual violence against 18,000 Rohingya women and girls, based on statistical extrapolations survey data conducted with a total of 3,321 Rohingya refugee households in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They estimate that 116,000 Rohingyas were beaten and 36,000 were burned alive.


  1. Rwanda-Burundi, Africa (1994)

Although Hutus account for about 85% of Rwandans, the Tutsi minority has always governed the country. Thousands of people of Tutsis fled to neighboring nations, particularly Uganda after the Hutus deposed the Tutsi monarchy in 1959. In 1990, a group of Tutsi exiles founded the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which seized Rwanda and fought until a peace agreement was reached in 1993. A jet traveling then-President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira – both Hutus – was shot down on the night of April 6, 1994, killing everyone on board. Hutu extremists condemned the RPF and promptly launched a well-coordinated killing campaign. The RPF claimed the plane was hijacked by Hutus as a pretext for the genocide. Neighbors were murdered, and some men murdered their Tutsi wives after threatening to kill them if they refused. Because people’s ethnic groups were listed on their ID cards at the time, militias set up barricades where Tutsis were massacred, frequently with machetes that most Rwandans carried around the house. Thousands of Tutsi women were kidnapped and forced to work as sex slaves. Many academics agree that the underlying cause of the genocide was clear: it was the consequence of an overbearing government and regional elite aiming to maintain power by inflaming ethnic tensions.


  1. Kosovo, Europe (1998-1999)

A substantial number of Kosovo Albanians joined and supported the movement after the founding of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Serbian police and the Yugoslav army retaliated with brutality. International sanctions were imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1997 as a result of Yugoslav security forces’ persecution of Kosovo’s Albanians. During the Kosovo War, which lasted from early 1998 to June 1999, a number of war crimes were committed. During the war, the Slobodan Miloevi regime’s forces committed rape, killed many Albanian citizens, and exiled them, as well as destroying civilian, cultural, and religious property.


  1. Ethiopian War in Tigray, Africa (2020)

The Ethiopian War in Tigray has been regarded as a continuous ethnic cleansing of ethnic Tigrayans by Ethiopia. Tigrayans have been issued new identification cards, and many Tigrayans residing in other Ethiopian regions have been targeted for ethnic cleansing. In Tigray, Ethiopia has weaponized famine as a crucial combat tactic, leaving an approximately 90% of the populace susceptible to starvation. Ethiopia has switched off all electricity, therefore cutting off Tigray’s connectivity with the rest of the world. Even if someone was dead, according to one schoolteacher, they have been shot repeatedly numerous times, including priests. They massacred the whole Tigrayan population.


9. Herero and Namaqua, Southwest Africa (1904-1908)

The Herero and Namaqua genocide was a campaign of ethnic cleansing and collective punishment carried out by the German Empire in German southwest Africa against the Herero (Ovaherero), Nama, and San peoples (now Namibia). Between 1904 and 1908, it was the first genocide of the twentieth century. The Herero people, headed by Samuel Maharero, and the Nama people, commanded by Captain Hendrik Witbooi, revolted against German colonial rule in January 1904. On January 12, they assaulted about 100 inhabitants in the Okahandja area, sparing children and women, as well as all British friends at the moment. In August, German General Lothar von Trotha fought the Ovaherero at the Battle of Waterberg and marched them into the Omaheke desert, where many died of thirst. The Nama people rose up against the Germans in October, only to meet the same end. The genocide killed around 24,000 and 100,000 Hereros, 10,000 Nama, and an undetermined number of San. Due to German forces preventing the Herero from escaping the Namib Desert, the first period of the genocide was marked by massive death from famine and dehydration. Thousands of Hereros and Namas were imprisoned in detention camps after being vanquished, the bulk of them perished of diseases, mistreatment, and exhaustion. The aftermath was categorized by the United Nations’ Whitaker Report in 1985 as an attempt to destroy the Herero and Nama citizens of southwest Africa, making it one of the first attempts at genocide in the twentieth century. The German government acknowledged and repented for the events in 2004, but refused to compensate the victims’ descendants financially. The German government and the speaker of the Bundestag declared the incidents to be genocide in July 2015. However, at the time, it declined to consider restitution. Despite this, the last set of skulls and other remains of killed tribesmen were returned to Namibia in 2018, with Petra Bosse-Huber, a German Protestant bishop, identifying the event as the first genocide of the twentieth century. The German government committed in May 2021 to pay €1.1 billion over 30 years to finance development in genocide-affected areas.


10. Generalplan Ost, Germany (1941–1945)

The Generalplan Ost or the Master Plan for the East, abbreviated as GPO, was the Nazi German government’s strategy for mass extermination and ethnic cleansing in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as German annexation. It was to be carried out in German-occupied countries during World War II, and it was undertaken during the war, resulting in millions of deaths by executions, starvation, disease, labor annihilation, and genocide. However, complete implementation was not believed feasible during significant military operations, and as a result of Germany’s loss, it never happened. The program’s operating rules were based on Adolf Hitler’s and the Nazi Party’s Lebensraum policy, which was aimed to fulfill the Drang Nach Osten philosophy of German expansionism. As such, it was meant to be a part of Europe’s New Order. The plan was still in the works. It has four known variations, which have evolved over time. Following the German defeat at Stalingrad, however, plans for colonization in the East were put on hold, and the idea was eventually abandoned. Despite this, projections for implementation costs vary from 40 to 67 billion Reichsmarks, the latter amount being close to Germany’s overall GDP for 1941.


The concept of ethnic cleansing is astonishing from what was written on the paper. However, the fulfillment of the goal results in deaths and damages to infrastructure and homes. Some took it to a higher level of violence and violation of human rights and independence. Not as shocking as these incidents are, that ethnic cleansing is no different from genocide.

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