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Naimark delves into the roles played by the four horsemen in ethnic cleansing

Credit: Theodore Teichman/ Credit: Theodore Teichman/ Credit: Theodore Teichman/ Credit: Theodore Teichman/

Last Thursday, Carnegie Mellon University hosted Norman Naimark, the Robert and Florence McDonnell Professor of Eastern European Studies at Stanford University, to discuss his opinions on the definitions of war and genocide. Titled “Horses of the Apocalypse,” his lecture addressed various brutal acts of murder and explained why he believed they did or did not qualify as genocide.

Norman Naimark is considered one of the leading experts of today when it comes to the topic of genocide and ethnic cleansing. He was invited to Carnegie Mellon as part of the series of lectures on war and the humanities, an effort by Carnegie Mellon to promote discussion on the atrocities of war and their effects on the world today.

To begin his lecture, Naimark reminded the audience of a striking image, one that many have heard of before: the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Harbingers of doom and biblical representations of the worst things to happen to the human race, the four horsemen (War, Conquest, Famine, and Death) all take part in the cause of genocide. Naimark’s main argument was that where War goes, genocide follows near after. The two are closely linked, so closely that it is very rare to find an example of genocide that does not take place during a time of war. These four horsemen are the embodiment of the greatest fears of mankind and, as Naimark remarked, even today “the four horsemen haunt modern man.”

Although the term genocide has only been defined fairly recently, Naimark said that “genocide is not a side phenomenon of human history, but part and parcel.” He reminded the audience of Joshua and the battle of Jericho, where Joshua prevented the city of Jericho from being built again at the cost of the children of the people from Jericho, effectively an ancient genocide. While we may think of genocide being solely linked to the twentieth century, people have continuously attempted to annihilate their enemies completely since the beginning of time — and, according to Naimark, will probably continue to do so in the future.

Naimark next discussed a type of genocide that is often overlooked in his discussion of mass murders based on race, a type of violence that Naimark has christened “communist genocide.” Examples of communist genocide include the starvation of the Ukrainians by the Soviet regime under Josef Stalin, the Cambodian genocide led by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and the atrocities committed by Mao Zedong in his Great Leap Forward. As with almost any mass killing, applying the title of genocide has been met with contention among most of these examples. Naimark is of the opinion that although some of these have not been recognized, they are genocides due to their attempt at extermination of a race of people. In the case of the Ukrainian genocide, many ignore it because it wasn’t a direct killing. It is harder to pinpoint starvation as an active form of killing people, yet it causes death just as surely as the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

Norman Naimark next showed why genocide is often found within wars. Perhaps the most influential part of war is that “war habituates people to killing.” When acts of violence are a part of ones everyday life, it is harder to discern acts of war and acts of genocide. From a modern perspective, it is common for people to study history and ask “how could people commit these atrocities?” Naimark argued that if we examine the context of violence and hate often surrounding these genocides, it becomes clear that people were desensitized to killing and hatred.

In conclusion, Naimark asked the audience to consider the future. The study of history is pointless if we do not learn from its lessons, and the lessons we learn from genocides are the most important of all. He posed a question to the audience: “Has mankind been cleansed by our tribulation?”

The circumstances surrounding genocide have not left us. After every one of these incidents, the world has been poised to say “never again,” yet these horrors continue to occur. Naimark left the audience with a somewhat ominous message: “The horsemen have not been satiated, and they continue to threaten the Earth.”

Naimark is an expert in the study of genocide and war, and has written several books on the topics such as Stalin’s Genocides, and Fires Of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing In 20th Century Europe.