Deborah MayersenOn the Path to Genocide: Armenia and Rwanda Reexamined

Berghahn Books, 2014

by Kelly McFall on September 23, 2014

Deborah Mayersen

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I live and work in the state of Kansas in the US.  We think of ourselves as living in tornado alley and orient our schedules in the spring around the weather report.  Earthquakes are something that happen somewhere else.

Recently, however, our southern neighbor, Oklahoma, has been rocked repeatedly by minor earthquakes.  Why this is so has been the subject of endless speculation.  In the midst of this speculation, one occasionally hears reference to the fact that major earthquakes are frequently preceded by a series of minor earthquakes that can, after the fact, be seen as signs that something big is coming.  All too often, however, this is only recognizable in retrospect.

Genocide studies has something of an earthquake problem.  Countless books (well, I suppose you could count them, but you get the point) have proposed theories of causation and prediction.  Many of these books lay out a thoughtful, historically rich set of signs that indicate genocide is possible.  All too often, however, these theories suggest ways of predicting when genocides are likely, but not ways of predicting the speed at which conflicts accelerate or die down, nor a way to discern which crises will explode and which will be resolved more or less peacefully.

Deborah Mayersen has set out to try to move us toward a solution of the earthquake problem. In her new book On the Path to Genocide: Armenia and Rwanda Reexamined (Berghahn Books, 2014), she lays out a theory explaining what makes political crises explode and to identify key points at which the pace of events accelerates dramatically.  Using Rwanda and Armenia as her case studies, she examines a rich set of causal factors to craft a thoughtful explanatory framework.  Her work is careful, historically informed and theoretically elegant.  It may not be the end of the story.  But it is an important step in helping expand our understanding of the ways crises become genocide.

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