The Dehumanization Process: For a successful genocide, you must first you first water the ground.
The Nazis did not start their genocide with killing Jews. For the Holocaust to happen, the ground had to be watered and the seeds of genocide had to be planted. First they had to “define the enemy,” the Jew. Drawing on preexisting stereotypes they hammered the image of the shekel grabbing Jew, who was always at the center of some secret global conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy society. The Jews corrupted the culture, destroyed the economy, profiteered from wars and sabotaged the German military in battle. For the Holocaust to happen, the Germans had to first believe all this and more about their “enemy.”
The Armenians were a largely peasant minority in the Ottoman Empire. A small number of them were able to attain lofty positions in government, banking and commerce. It wasn’t long until their Ottoman and Kurdish hosts started to notice their success, and the narrative began to spin. Who were these “alien” Armenians? Could they be trusted not to betray the Ottoman Empire? Just asking. As you do.
An Opportunity Presents.
On the 9th of November 1938, a German politician by the name of Ernst vom Rath, was assassinated by a 17 year old Polish Jew. To the Nazis, this was the opening they had been waiting for, Kristallnacht would take place within a few hours of vom Rath’s death. The narrative that “the Jews” had murdered a beloved son of Germany invigorated wild mobs who went out and burned down synagogues, destroyed Jewish business and murdered Jews in the streets. 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camp. It had begun.
In 1913 the Ottomans would suffer a humiliating defeat in the First Balkan war. Pogroms against Armenians had taken place in the past due to their refusal to pay oppressive taxes and participation in political demonstrations. But this time a new government had come to power, The Young Turks, and they placed the blame for their losses in battle squarely on the Balkan Christians in the Ottoman Empire. As World War 1 began, the Ottomans would again accuse the Armenians of treachery as some Armenians who lived on the Russian-Ottoman front decided to side with Russia. Whenever the Ottomans lost in battle, the general feeling was that Armenian treachery was to blame. And so it began.
The Igbos of Nigeria.
In 1966 a series of massacres were carried out against Igbos in Nigeria. By 1969 a civil war had broken out, and it was reported that 1000 Igbo children were dying a day due to starvation. This is the story of how we got there.
The anti-Igbo pogroms are often framed as a retaliation for the murder of Northern military and political leaders by Igbo army officers. The Igbos “drew first blood” when they murdered the Sardauna and gloated about it in marketplaces all over the Northern Nigeria. Another Igbo, Aguiyi Ironsi had seized power and refused to punish the coup plotters. So aggrieved Northerners decided to take matters into their own hands and get “justice.” This sort of flawed thinking, that Igbos provoked their own near annihilation, has become foundational to our modern understanding of the Biafran genocide.
Let us start at the beginning. The idea that the Igbos were trying to steal Nigeria from under the feet of every other ethnic group didn’t start with the Nzeogwu coup. For years, even before Nigeria’s independence, the narrative of the crafty, greedy Igbo coming to infiltrate the North and seize its economic activity had been brewing. Ahmadu Bello even went as far as likening the Igbos to “colonizers.” The fear that Igbos and Southerners would dominate Nigeria and the North by extension was very real for Northen elite.
So when 6 majors, 5 of whom were Igbo, led a bloody coup against the Nigerian government headed by Tafawa Balewa, it confirmed a lot of the North’s long held preexisting biases. It didn’t matter that the junior officers involved in the coup were from all over Nigeria, or that the coup plotters were in no way flag-bearers of any larger Igbo interest. The January ‘66 Nzeogwu coup was the North’s Kristallnacht moment. It was finally time to put the Igbos in “their place.”
A group of young military officers of Northern extraction would lead a counter coup in July of that same year. The “July rematch” would see Igbo military officers murdered en masse. Outside the barracks Northern civilians would massacre their Igbo neighbors for months on end. These events would later culminate in the civil war where between 1–3 million more Igbos would be systematically wiped out.
Often times the actions of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and co are used to “contextualize” the pogroms that Igbos were met with. That the murders of Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa were so grave a sin that the slaughter of 30,000 innocent Igbos in retaliation was understandable, if not justifiable. What this deeply immoral position misses is that neither the massacres nor the anti-Igbo sentiments were new in the North. In 1953, a whole 13 years before the Sardauna was killed, Igbos were attacked and killed by irate Northern youth because the Sardauna and his Northern delegates were insulted in Lagos. The pogroms simply followed an already established pattern of behavior in the North. One that, judging by the riots over cartoons drawn in Holland, still exists today.
So it is little wonder that Muhammadu Buhari, one of the architects of the 1966 counter coup can threaten the South East with the memories of the civil war today. He built his military and political career on murdering Igbos in the military, along with Murtala Mohammed, TY Danjuma, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Shehu Yar’Adua.
There is a distinct lack of shame in how these events are discussed. None of these men ever faced any consequences for their ethnic cleansing in the military, in fact Murtala, Buhari, IBB and Abacha would go on to force their way into power one after the other. Shehu Yar’Adua may have died in prison, but at his baby brother would die in the presidency some decade later. TY Danjuma would become one of Nigeria’s richest men. A whole generation of vampiric oligarchs were born out of that one bloody night.
The Need For A Moral Reckoning Is Urgent.
Nobody remembers the name of the teenager who assassinated vom Rath. In fact, I’m certain you’ve never heard of this event until today. Nobody remembers which Armenian splinter group fought on the side of Russia. Nobody debates if the Tutsis really shot down a Hutu President’s plane in Rwanda. With regards to every other genocide we remember the victims, and condemn in the strongest terms, the abominable actions of the perpetrators. So why then is the story of the Biafran genocide constantly tainted with this “Igbo coup” nonsense?
One may say they are simply “contextualizing” the pogroms, ethnic cleansing and genocide. This is a particularly irresponsible argument. The consensus across large swarths of Nigeria is that the Igbos deserved the pogroms, so one man’s “context” is another man’s justification.
To anyone who still can’t see the problem with Muhammadu Buhari’s comments, I will make one last attempt to educate you. The civil war was not a surgical strike targeting Biafran combatants, it was a total warfare, humanitarian crisis that left 1–3 million civilians dead. The Nigerian government was willing to turn millions of innocent little children into statistics and collateral damage. It is a stain on our history, not some display of “toughness” with which anyone, least of all a sitting President, should use as bragging rights. You cannot reference a time when you murdered innocent children and claim your message is targeted at “Unknown Gunmen.” Bullshit.
So let us not be shocked at Mr President’s casual use of genocidal rhetoric. Had the Nazis been rewarded for the Holocaust, Hitler would have done the same. This is the country we created.