Genocide denial

Genocide denial is the attempt to deny or minimize statements of the scale and severity of an incidence of genocide. This denial of genocide is usually considered a form of illegitimate historical revisionism. The distinction between respectable academic historians and those of illegitimate historical revisionists rests on the techniques used to write such histories. Accuracy and revision are central to historical scholarship. As in any academic discipline, historians' papers are submitted to peer review. Instead of submitting their work to the challenges of peer review, illegitimate revisionists rewrite history to support an agenda, often political, using any number of techniques and rhetorical fallacies to obtain their results.

The European Commission proposed a European Union–wide anti-racism law in 2001, which included an offense of genocide denial, but European Union states failed to agree on the balance between prohibiting racism and freedom of expression. After six years of wrangling a watered down compromise was reached in 2007 giving states freedom to implement the legislation as they saw fit.[1][2][3]

Writing on genocide denial in general

Gregory H. Stanton, formerly of the US State Department and the founder of Genocide Watch, lists denial as the final stage of genocide development:

Denial is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.[4]

George Orwell writes in 'Notes on Nationalism' that

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind.[5]

Israel Charny, Executive Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Israel, describes genocide denial by putting it into the following categories:

1. Innocence-and-Self-Righteousness

The respondents claim that they only intend to ascertain the truth. Moreover, they do not believe that human beings could have been so evil as the descriptions of the genocide imply. Furthermore, even if many deaths took place a long time ago, it is important to put them aside now and forgive and forget.

2. Scientificism in the service of confusion

The position taken is seemingly an innocent one that we do not know enough to know what the facts of history were, and rather than condemning anyone we should await the ultimate decision of research. This is a manipulative misuse of the valued principle in science that facts must be proven before they are accepted in order to obfuscate facts that are indeed known, and to confuse the minds of fair-minded people who do not want to fall prey to myths and propaganda. The very purpose of science, which is to know, is invoked in order to justify a form of know-nothingness.

3. Practicality, pragmatism and realpolitik

Here the claim is made that dealing with ancient history is impractical, it will not bring peace to the world in which we live today. One must be realistic and live through realpolitik.

4. Idea linkage distortion and time-sequence confusion

This is a dishonest linkage of different ideas, often out of time sequence, to excuse denials of the facts. Present needs, whether justified or not, are taken as a reasonable basis for censoring or changing the record of past history.

5. Indirection, definitionalism, and maddening

These are responses which avoid the issue by failing to reply, or no less by going off on tangents about trivial details that avoid the essential issue whether genocide took place. The avoidance can also be done in a seductive manner of acknowledging that the issue should be discussed, but then it never is.[6]

Notable genocide denials by individuals and non government organisations

  • In February 2006 David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial, he served 13 months in prison before being released on probation.[7][8]
  • Bernard Lewis was fined one franc by a French court for denying the Armenian genocide in a November 1993 Le Monde article.[9]
  • David Campbell has written of the now defunct British magazine Living Marxism that "LM’s intentions are clear from the way they have sought to publicize accounts of contemporary atrocities which suggest they were certainly not genocidal (as in the case of Rwanda), and perhaps did not even occur (as in the case of the murder of nearly 8,000 at Srebrenica)."[10][11] Chris McGreal writing in The Guardian on 20 March 2000, stated that Fiona Fox writing under a pseudonym had contributed an article to Living Marxism which was part of a campaign by Living Marxism that denied that the event which occurred in Rwanda was a genocide.[12]
  • Scott Jaschik has stated that Justin McCarthy, is one of two scholars "most active on promoting the view that no [Armenian] genocide took place".[13] He was one of four scholars who participated in a controversial debate hosted by PBS about the genocide.[14]
  • Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister (and later President) of Israel, was quoted in 2001 as having said: "We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide."[15][16] In response to criticism of the comments, the Israeli Foreign Ministry later clarified, "The minister absolutely did not say, as the Turkish news agency alleged, 'What the Armenians underwent was a tragedy, not a genocide.'"[17]
  • Darko Trifunovic is an author of the Report about Case Srebrenica,[18] which was commissioned by the government of the Republika Srpska.[19] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reviewed the report and concluded that it "represent[ed] one of the worst examples of revisionism in relation to the mass executions of Bosnian Muslims committed in Srebrenica in July 1995".[20] After the report was published on 3 September 2002, it provoked outrage and condemnation by a wide variety of Balkan and international figures, individuals and organizations.[19][21]
  • Patrick Karuretwa stated in the Harvard Law Record that in 2007 the Canadian politician Robin Philpot "attracted intense media attention for repeatedly denying the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis"[22]
  • In May 2010, American law professor Peter Erlinder was arrested and jailed in Rwanda on charges of denying the 1994 genocide of the Tutsis in preparation for the defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, who also was charged with promoting "genocide ideology."[23]
  • Since years, Volodymyr Viatrovych denies, downplays and falsifies facts about the massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. His works has been criticised by numerous historians, such as; Ihor Ilyushyn,[24] Andrij Portnov,[25] Grzegorz Motyka,[26][27] Andrzej Zięba,[28] Per Anders Rudling,[29] Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe,[30] Andrzej Leon Sowa[31] and Grzegorz Hryciuk.[32] In May 2016 in Foreign Policy Josh Cohen claimed that Viatrovych was "whitewashing Ukraine's past".[33]
  • On April 21, 2016 a full page ad appeared within The Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune that directed readers to Fact Check Armenia, a genocide denial website sponsored by the Turkish lobby in the US. When confronted about the ad a Wall Street Journal spokesperson stated, "We accept a wide range of advertisements, including those with provocative viewpoints. While we review ad copy for issues of taste, the varied and divergent views expressed belong to the advertisers."[34]

Notable genocide denials by governments

  • The government of the Republic of Turkey has long denied that the Armenian Genocide was a genocide.[35] This was exemplified by their objections in April 2007 to the wording in a United Nations exhibition, entitled "Lessons from Rwanda", about the 1994 Rwanda genocide, that forced a delay to the opening of the exhibition. The sentence rejected by Turkey was "Following World War 1, during which one million Armenians were murdered in Turkey, Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin urged the League of Nations to recognize crimes of barbarity as international crimes".[35] As a diplomatic compromise, the wording was changed to "In 1933, the lawyer Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, urged the League of Nations to recognize mass atrocities against a particular group as an international crime. He cited mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in World War I and other mass killings in history. He was ignored."[36] The exhibition opened on 1 May 2007 three weeks later than planned.[37]
  • According to Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, and Edina Becirevic, the faculty of criminology and security studies of the University of Sarajevo:

Denial of the Srebrenica genocide takes many forms [in Serbia]. The methods range from the brutal to the deceitful. Denial is present most strongly in political discourse, in the media, in the sphere of law, and in the educational system.[38]

The government of Pakistan explicitly denied that there was genocide. By their refusal to characterise the mass-killings as genocide or to condemn and restrain the Pakistani government, the US and Chinese governments implied that they did not consider it so.

Similarly, in the wake of the 2013 Shahbag protests against war criminals who were complicit in the genocide, English journalist Philip Hensher wrote[41]

The genocide is still too little known about in the West. It is, moreover, the subject of shocking degrees of denial among partisan polemicists and manipulative historians.

Harms of Denial


  • It continues to destroy the victim group both psychologically and culturally.
  • Denies them of memory of murders of loved ones.
  • It does not give them a chance to heal on all levels.
  • With no Transitional Justice, there is no recognition of the crimes the perpetrators committed. This may create hatred or spark old tensions.


  • Those who were involved in the perpetration can get away with the crime of genocide. (e.g. Ottoman Courts-Martial of 1918-1920)
  • Studies by genocide scholars have shown that denial of a past genocide is one of the indicators of future ones. The deniers within the country are three times more likely to help commit the crimes.
  • In many countries where the government denies genocide (e.g. Turkey), education on this event is non-existent, or the children are told it is a myth. Writings on the truth of the event result in the persecution of the author and publisher.[42]


See also


  1. Ethan McNern. Swastika ban left out of EU's racism law, The Scotsman, 30 January 2007
  2. runo Waterfield. EU plans far-reaching 'genocide denial' law, The Daily Telegraph 4 February 2007
  3. Ingrid Melander EU to agree watered-down anti-racism law-diplomats, Reuters, 18 April 2007.
  4. Gregory Stanton, Eight Stages of Genocide, Genocide Watch
  5. George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism
  6. The Psychological Satisfaction of Denials of the Holocaust or Other Genocides by Non-Extremists or Bigots, and Even by Known Scholars – by Israel W. Charny
  7. Staff Holocaust denier Irving is jailed BBC, 20 February 2006
  8. Veronika Oleksyn (Associated Press) Holocaust Denier Freed, Gets Probation 20 December 2006.
  9. Robert Fisk Let me denounce genocide from the dock The Independent on Sunday, 14 October 2006
  10. David Campbell. ITN vs Living Marxism, Part 2. Footnote [49] cites Linda Ryan "What’s in a ‘mass grave’?, Living Marxism, Issue 88, March 1996" (The link he provides in the footnote does not exist any more so the link is a substitute). Accessed 20 April 2008
  11. McGreal, Chris. Genocide? What genocide?, The Guardian 20 March 2000
  12. "Genocide? What genocide?". The Guardian. London. 2000-03-20. Retrieved 2009-10-25.
  13. Jaschik, Scott (22 October 2007). "Genocide Deniers".
  14. Stanley, Alessandra (17 April 2006). "A PBS Documentary Makes Its Case for the Armenian Genocide, With or Without a Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-09-02.
  15. Robert Fisk. Peres stands accused over denial of "meaningless" Armenian Holocaust, The Independent, 18 April 2001
  16. Barak Ravid, Peres to Turks: Our stance on Armenian issue hasn't changed, Haaretz, 26 August 2007
  17. Auron, Yair. The Banality of Denial. 2007, page 127.
  18. "Brief Record". US Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-04-22.
  19. 1 2 Gordana Katana (a correspondent with Voice of America in Banja Luka). REGIONAL REPORT: Bosnian Serbs Play Down Srebrenica, website of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Retrieved 25 October 2009
  20. Judgement against Miroslav Deronjic ICTY
  21. "Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline, 02-09-03". 3 September 2005. Retrieved 3 July 2009.
  22. Release of Rwanda's mastermind of death promotes genocide denial Archived 6 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine., Harvard Law Record, 4 December 2009
  23. Holland, Hereward (28 May 2010). "Rwanda arrests U.S. lawyer for genocide denial". Reuters.
  24. Игорь Ильюшин, Плохо забытое старое: о новой книге Владимира Вятровича, Ab Imperio, 1/2012, pp.382-385 - Ihor Ilyushyn, "A poorly forgotten past: Volodymyr Viatrovych's new book" (in Russian).
  25. Андрей Портнов, Истории для домашнего употребления, «Ab Imperio», 3/2012, pp. 324-334 - Andrij Portnov, "History for domestic consumption" (in Russian).
  26. Гжегож Мотыка, Неудачная книга, «Ab Imperio», 1/2012, pp.387-400 - Grzegorz Motyka, "An unsuccessful book" (in Russian).
  27. Grzegorz Motyka, "W krainie uproszczeń", Nowa Europa Wschodnia, 1/2013, pp. 97-101 - "An extreme simplification", New Eastern Europe (in Polish).
  28. Анджей Земба, Мифологизированная “война”, «Ab Imperio», 1/2012, pp. 403-421 - Andrzej Zięba, "A mythologised 'war'" (in Russian).
  29. Per Anders Rudling, "Warfare or War Criminality?: Volodymyr V’iatrovych, Druha pol’s’ko-ukains’ka viina, 1942–1947 (Kyiv: Vydavnychyi dim Kyevo-Mohylians’ka akademiia, 2011). 228 pp.", «Ab Imperio», 1/2012, pp. 356-381.
  30. Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe, "Debating, obfuscating and disciplining the Holocaust: post-Soviet historical discourses on the OUN–UPA and other nationalist movements", East European Jewish Affairs, 42:3, pp. 207-208
  31. Andrzej Leon Sowa, "Recenzja książek: Polśko-ukrajinśki stosunki w 1942-1947 rokach u dokumentach OUN ta UPA, red. Wołodymyr Wiatrowycz oraz Wołodymyr Wiatrowycz, Druha polśko-ukrajinśka wijna 1942-1947," [in:] Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość, nr 21, pp. 450-460 - "A review of Polish-Ukrainian Relations in 1942-1947 (ed. Viatrovych) and The Second Polish-Ukrainian War, 1942-1947", in Memory and Justice (in Polish)
  32. Grzegorz Hryciuk, "Recenzja książki: Wołodymyr Wiatrowycz, Druha polśko-ukrajinśka wijna 1942-1947", [in:] Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość, nr 21, pp. 460-471 - "A review of Viatrovych, The Second Polish-Ukrainian War, 1942-1947", in Memory and Justice (in Polish).
  33. Josh Cohen, "The historian whitewashing Ukraine's past", Foreign Policy, 2 May 2016
  35. 1 2 Evelyn Leopold (9 April 2007). "UN genocide exhibit delayed after Turkey objects". Reuters.
  36. Evelyn Leopold Rwanda genocide exhibit revises words on Armenians Reuters 30 April 2007
  37. Associated Press report. Genocide: Exhibit Opens at U.N. After Compromise [1 May], 2007.(A copy on website of
  38. Denial of genocide – on the possibility of normalising relations in the region by Sonja Biserko (the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia) and Edina Becirevic (faculty of criminology and security studies of the University of Sarajevo).
  39. "His article was – from Pakistan's point of view – a huge betrayal and he was accused of being an enemy agent. It still denies its forces were behind such atrocities as those described by Mascarenhas, and blames Indian propaganda."Mark Dummett (16 December 2011). "Bangladesh war: The article that changed history". BBC Asia. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  40. Genocide Denial; The Case of Bangladesh by Donald W. Beachler – "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2011. Online summary hosted at Institute for the Study of Genocide
  41. Philip Hensher (19 February 2013). "The war Bangladesh can never forget". The Independent. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  42. Stanton, Gregory. "The Cost of Denial." Genocide Watch. Genocide Watch, 2000. Web. 2016.
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