Genocide denial

Genocide denial is the attempt to deny or minimize the scale and severity of an instance of genocide. Denial is an integral part of genocide and includes the secret planning of genocide, propaganda while the genocide is going on, and destruction of evidence of mass killings. According to genocide researcher Gregory Stanton, denial "is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres".

Some scholars define denial as the final stage of a genocidal process. Richard G. Hovannisian states, "Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance. Falsification, deception and half-truths reduce what was, to what might have been or perhaps what was not at all."

Examples include denial of atrocities against Native Americans, Holocaust denial, Armenian genocide denial, Cambodian Genocide denial and Bosnian genocide denial. The distinction between respectable academic historians and illegitimate historical negationists and revisionists, including genocide deniers, rests upon the techniques which are used in the writing of such histories. Historical revisionists and negationists rewrite history in order to support an agenda, which is usually political or ideological, by using falsification and rhetorical fallacies in order to obtain their desired results.

Genocide denial or revisionism turned into a mainstream idea in the late 20th Century and the early 21st Century as a social phenomenon.


According to Taner Akçam, "the practice of 'denialism' in regard to mass atrocities is usually thought of as a simple denial of the facts, but this is not true. Rather, it is in that nebulous territory between facts and truth where such denialism germinates."

David Tolbert, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, states:

Denial is the final fortress of those who commit genocide and other mass crimes. Perpetrators hide the truth to avoid accountability and protect the political and economic advantages they sought to gain by mass killings and theft of the victims' property, and to cement the new reality by manufacturing an alternative history. Recent studies have established that such denial not only damages the victims and their destroyed communities, it promises a future based on lies, sowing the seeds of future conflict, repression and suffering.

Motives and strategies

Genocide scholar Adam Jones proposes a framework for genocide denial that consists of the following motives and strategies:

  • "Hardly anybody died." When the genocides lie far in the past, denial is easier.
  • "It wasn't intentional." Disease and famine-causing conditions such as forced labor, concentration camps and slavery (even though they may be manufactured by the perpetrator) may be blamed for casualties.
  • "There weren't that many people to begin with." Minimizing the casualties of the victims, whilst the criminals destroy/hide the evidence.
  • "It was self defense." The killing of civilians, especially able bodied males is rationalized in preemptive attack, as they are accused of plotting against the perpetrators. The perpetrator may exterminate witnesses and relatives of the victims.
  • "There was no central direction." Perpetrators can use militias, paramilitaries, mercenaries, or death squads to avoid being seen as directly participating.
  • "It wasn't/isn't 'genocide,' because ..." They may enter definitional or rhetorical argumentation.
  • "We would never do that." Self-image cannot be questioned: the perpetrator sees itself as benevolent by definition. Evidence doesn't matter.
  • "We are the real victims." They deflect attention to their own casualties/losses, without historical context.

By individuals and non-governmental organizations

  • In his 1984 book The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas argued that only "a few hundred thousand" Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, the Jews brought the Holocaust upon themselves because of their behavior, and Zionists had collaborated with the Nazis in an attempt to send more Jews to Israel. In a 2006 interview, without retracting these specific claims, he stated: "The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind."
  • In February 2006 David Irving was imprisoned in Austria for Holocaust denial; he served 13 months in prison before being released on probation.
  • 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)." 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.
  • Scott Jaschik has stated that Justin McCarthy, is one of two scholars "most active on promoting the view that no Armenian genocide took place". He was one of four scholars who participated in a controversial debate hosted by PBS about the genocide.
  • Darko Trifunovic is the author of the Report about Case Srebrenica, which was commissioned by the government of the Republika Srpska. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reviewed the report and concluded that it "represented one of the worst examples of revisionism, in relation to the mass executions of Bosniaks committed in Srebrenica in July 1995". After the report was published on 3 September 2002, it provoked outrage and condemnation by a wide variety of Balkans and international figures, individuals, and organizations.
  • 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"
  • On 21 April 2016 a full-page ad appeared in 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."

By governments



The government of Pakistan continues to deny that any Bangladeshi genocide took place during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. They typically accuse Pakistani reporters (such as Anthony Mascarenhas), who reported on the genocide, of being "enemy agents". According to Donald W. Beachler, professor of political science at Ithaca College:

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:

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.



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.


The government of the Republic of Turkey has long denied that the Armenian genocide was a genocide. According to Akçam, "Turkish denialism [of the genocide] is perhaps the most successful example of how the well-organised, deliberate, and systematic spreading of falsehoods can play an important role in the field of public debate" and that "fact-based truths have been discredited and relegated to the status of mere opinion".Turkey acknowledges that many Armenians residing in the Ottoman Empire were killed in conflicts with Ottoman forces during World War One, but disputes the statistics and claims that the killings were systematic and amounted to genocide.Measures recognising the Armenian genocide have languished in the US Congress for decades, and US presidents have refrained from labelling it such due to worries about relations with Turkey and intensive lobbying by Ankara.

United States

The government of the United States has been accused of denial of the genocide of its Indigenous peoples by academics such as Benjamin Madley, David Stannard and Noam Chomsky.


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


Genocide denial has an impact on both victim and perpetrator groups. Denial of a genocide affects relations between the victim and perpetrator groups or their respective countries, prevents personal victims of the genocide from seeking closure, and adversely affects political decisions on both sides. It can cause fear in the victims to express their cultural identity, retaliation from both parties, and hamper the democratic development of societies.

Effects on personal victims of the genocide

While confrontation of the committed atrocities can be a tough process in which the victim feels humiliated again by reliving the traumatic past, it still has a benign therapeutic effect, helping both victim and perpetrator groups to come to terms with the past. From a therapeutic point of view, letting the victim confront the past atrocity and its related painful memories is one way to reach a closure and to understand that the harm has occurred in the past. This also helps the memories to enter the shared narrative of the society, thereby becoming a common ground on which the society can make future decisions on, in political and cultural matters.

Denying recognition, in contrast, has a negative effect, further victimising the victim which will feel not only wronged by the perpetrator but also by being denied recognition of the occurred wrongdoing. Denial also has a pivotal role in shaping the norms of a society since the omission of any committed errors, and thereby the lack of condemnation and punishment of the committed wrongs, risks normalising similar actions, increasing the society's tolerance for future occurrences of similar errors.: 110 

Societal effects of genocide denial

Bhargava notes that "[m]ost calls to forget disguise the attempt to prevent victims from publicly remembering in the fear that 'there is a dragon living on the patio and we better not provoke it.'" In other words, while societally "forgetting" an atrocity can on the surface be beneficial to the harmony of society, it further victimizes the target group for fear of future, similar action, and is directly detrimental to the sociocultural development of the victim group.

On the other hand, there are cases where "forgetting" atrocities is the most politically expedient or stable option. This is found in some states which have recently come out of minority rule, where the perpetrator group still controls most strategic resources and institutions, such as South Africa. This was, among others, one of the main reasons for granting amnesty in exchange for confessing to committed errors during the transitional period in South Africa. However, the society at large and the victims in particular will perceive this kind of trade-offs as "morally suspect," and may question its sustainability. Thus, a common refrain in regard to the Final Report (1998) by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was "We've heard the truth. There is even talk about reconciliation. But where's the justice?"

Effects on democratic development

The denial has thereby a direct negative impact on the development of a society, often by undermining its laws and the issue of justice, but also the level of democracy itself.: 33–38  If democracy is meant to be built on the rule of law and justice, upheld and safeguarded by state institutions, then surely the omission of legal consequences and justice would potentially undermine the democracy. What is more dangerous from a historical point of view is that such a default would imply the subsequent loss of the meaning of these events to future generations, a loss which is resembled to "losing a moral compass." The society becomes susceptible to similar wrongdoings in the absence of proper handling of preceding occasions. Nonetheless, denial, especially immediately after the committed wrongdoings, is rather the rule than the exception and naturally almost exclusively done by the perpetrator to escape responsibility.

Implicit denial of genocide

While some societies or governments openly deny genocide, in some other cases, e.g. in the case of the "Comfort women" and the role of the Japanese State, the denial is more implicit. This was evident in how an overwhelmingly majority of the surviving victims refused to accept a monetary compensation since the Japanese government still refused to admit its own responsibility (the monetary compensation was paid through a private fund rather than by the state, a decision perceived by the victims about state's refusal to assume any direct responsibility). This can have the same effects on societies as outright denial. For example, atrocity denial and self-victimisation in Japanese historical textbooks has caused much diplomatic tension between Japan and neighbouring victim states, such as Korea and China, and bolstered domestic conservative or nationalist forces.

Turkey and Armenian genocide denial

The Turkish state's Armenian genocide denial has had far-reaching effects on the Turkish society throughout its history in regard to both ethnic minorities, especially the Kurds, but political opposition in general.: 48  The denial also affects Turks, in that there is a lack of recognition of Turks and Ottoman officials who attempted to stop the genocide. This lack of recognition of the various actors at play in Turkey could[weasel words] result in a rather homogeneous perception of the nation in question, thus making Armenians (but also third parties) project the perpetrating role onto the entire Turkish society and nation, causing further racial strife and aggravating the prospects of future reconciliation.: 24  For example, Armenian terrorist groups (e.g. ASALA and JCAG) committed terrorist acts during 1970's and 1980's as a direct result of the Turkish state denial of the genocide.: 110 

See also

This page was last updated at 2023-11-23 01:40 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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