Identify the sources of ethnic and religious conflicts in the following nations and regions

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A. Northern Ireland

B. The Balkans

C. Sudan

D. Rwanda

E. Sri Lanka

F. Kashmir

MAP.jpgFor more information, see AP World History Key Concept 6.2.

Focus Question: What are the sources of ethnic and religious conflicts in the following nations and regions?

In the past 20 years, major conflicts and violent have arisen in several regions around the globe within country's own borders and between their own peoples. Religion and ethnicity play a major role in these conflicts, as people have taken violent actions to either protect their own sense of power or force those who have it to redistribute it.
  • Northern Ireland [1] is full of conflict with two sides fighting, the Protestant UK supporters and the Catholic Irish supporters.
  • The Balkans [2] have seen many conflicts arise in the past few decades and have had strong nationalistic groups try and annihilate other sides completely.
  • Civil war has ravaged throughout Sudan [3] for the past 50 years or so and occurred in Rwanda [4] in the early 1990s. Sudan has seen a lot of fighting with each side constantly trying to gain control, Rwanda saw an extremely horrific scene when independence came and the majority rose up to attack the formerly powerful minority.
  • Sri Lanka [5] has been experiencing civil war also after a long period of peace in the area.
  • Kashmir [6] is another area that has been full of conflicts between Muslims and Hindus both fighting for land.

A. Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland in orange
Northern Ireland in orange

Most ethnic and religious conflicts occurring in Northern Ireland in the mid-late 20th century and the 21st century so far have been due to the historically rooted rivalry between the Irish and the British--the conflict being a direct result of colonization.
  • Before the British colonized the region, people of Irish-Gaelic descent were the dominant ethnic group.
  • When the British conquered Northern Ireland in the 17th century, they sent Protestant English and Scots to settle in predominantly Catholic Ireland, creating the foundation of the continuing cultural tension.

1920: the British passed the Government of Ireland Act, which divided Ireland into two separate political entities.
  • Northern Ulster Protestants approved of the act.
  • Southern Catholics disapproved of the act demanding a unified, independent Ireland

1921: Treaty signed creating:
  • the Irish Free State composed of 23 southern counties and 3 counties in Ulster
  • Northern Ireland (remaining six counties) which remained a part of the United Kingdom
  • (In 1949 The Irish Free State became the independent Republic of Ireland)

Tensions between Northern Protestants and Southern Catholics somewhat eased for a few decades following the treaty.
  • However, under the Protestant-dominated Stormont government which was in power from 1921-1971, Catholics began to organize against the discrimination they were experiencing.
  • Non-violent organizing was met with violent resistance, and the Nationalist Irish Republican Army (IRA) who had fought British forces in 1921 reemerged.
    • Conflict erupted between the IRA and the Ulster Police and Protestant paramilitaries beginning the period in which the violence was at its peak, commonly referred to as The Troubles [7], (1968 -1998).[1]

Some consider the situation in Northern Ireland during the latter part of the 20th century a civil war. Both sides committed numerous violent acts and engaged in tactics of terrorism and guerrilla warfare, as well as participating in attempts at diplomacy. In total, an estimated 3,700 people lost their lives during "the Troubles" (50% were civilian casualties).

On April 10, 1998 the two sides signed the Belfast Agreement and a sort of cease-fire occurred. The sides have lived in considerably less violent times since then but the tension still exists.

Multimedia.pngTo learn more about the conflict and the situation in Northern Ireland since the Belfast Agreement, watch: Northern Ireland: Uneasy Peace from PBS's Frontline.
A video describing the history of "The Troubles" can be found here.
Female_Rose.pngDuring the nationalist conflicts preceding 1920, a women's paramilitary group developed called Cumann na mBan.
  • Today they are called "the forgotten women of the rising," because their role in the 1916 Rising is underestimated.
    • More on Cumann na mBan here.

B. The Balkans

external image Big_red_apple.jpgMy Home is Not Your Home: A Comparison of Human Rights Violations in Slovakia and other Countries in the 20th Century from The New York Times Learning Network (April, 2000).

The Balkans is a region in Europe comprised of the following countries: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey along with a few others in past centuries. There have been several wars in the area along with a few invasions from outside forces. Nationalism has played a large role


in the area also, with bursts of it appearing throughout history and usually leading to some sort of battle. Since the area is comprised of so many different cultures, they often clash in attempts for power. Ethnic and religious conflicts were common in the area and in the late 1980s, and throughout the 1990s they reached their pinnacle with bitter fighting happening all over.

In the early 1990s Yugoslavia, which made up a significant portion of the Balkans, began to dissolve and all the groups within started to fight for power. This led to several conflicts including the major Yugoslav wars [8] and the Kosovo war [9] . NATO [10] stepped in and proceeded to bomb Kosovo due to the discovery of ethnic cleansing occurring. This was a vile situation and it included the massacre of thousands of Bosnians and other non-Serbians at the hands of Serbia. Albanians and Croats were also being forced to leave and atrocities were performed on their population as well. NATO sent in bomb squads both during the beginning of the Yugoslav wars and during the end while the Kosovo war was happening.

The Nato bombings turned as small-scale but ugly counter insurgency operation into a massive ethnic cleansing drive. After the bombings began, Serbian solidiers began driving hundreds of thousands of Albanians out of the country, and killed thousands of others. When the Albanians retuned under NATO protection, Serbian and Gypsy residents were driven out and killed. After all was said and done, Slobodan Milosevic [11] , the leader of the Serbian troops and the man behind the massacres, was ousted as leader and arrested. He was put on trial at the Hague for war crimes and died in prison in March 2006.
Multimedia.pngA BBC interview with a Serbian survivor of the conflict can be viewed here.
Multimedia.pngKosovo: War in Europe - The Road to War: On the one-year anniversary of NATO's 1999 war against Serbia--a war fought to prevent Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from deporting or destroying the Albanian population of Kosovo--"War in Europe" offers the first in-depth examination of what led to the war, how it was fought, and what it achieved.

The New York Times has published an analysis and list of informative resources as a Reader's Guide to the history of the Balkan conflict.

C. Sudanexternal image Darfur_map.png

Sudan gained their independence and divisions that were made within the country by colonial British forces became real distinctions and civil war erupted.
  • There were two civil wars that occurred here with a 10 year gap in between them. The civil wars took place due to a split in Sudan between the North and the South.
  • Under colonial rule, the two sides were treated separately and grew far apart as a result. See map showing the Sudan and its Darfur region.

The North was mostly Muslim and Arab and had a strong Egyptian presence and influence while the south was full of Christian blacks, which, as seen throughout history, eventually led to disputes over power and land.
  • The two sides clashed, and following a ceasefire and a period of peace continued this fighting. Tensions were high as each side feared the other side would take over.
  • The south was granted much sovereignty after the first civil war but began to fight again because that sovereignty was being taken away by the north.
  • There were heated battles and many attempts to claim that genocide was occurring. The north was a lot more powerful and killed at least a couple million civilians in the south throughout the two wars.

primary_sources.PNGOne students' personal account of his escape from the Darfur Genocide can be viewed here.

In January 2011, a referendum took place in Southern Sudan and an overwhelming majority (98%) voted for the region to become independent.
Multimedia.pngHigh Hopes in Southern Sudan Over Referendum from PBS Newshour.
Red: South Sudan, country directly above is Sudan
Red: South Sudan, country directly above is Sudan

external image Flag_of_South_Sudan.svgSouth Sudan was created as an independent state on July 9, 2011. Read its BBC country profile.
  • Click here for an article from CNN explaining the changes Sudan was seeing because of the creation of South Sudan.
  • Click here and here to read about the current Civil War in South Sudan, the world's youngest nation (2015).

Female_Rose.pngMuch of the violence in Darfur has been in the form of human rights violations against women . Learn more at Human Rights Watch.
Multimedia.pngThis video describes some of the challenges facing female Sudanese refugees, as well as hardships Sudanese refugees of all genders face.

D. Rwanda

Rwanda's population (1961-2003)
Rwanda's population (1961-2003)

Many areas, as seen, experienced civil wars in the 20th century but none were more vicious as that which happened in Rwanda in 1994.
  • As seen with Sudan and other colonized lands, the colonizer will often try and split up the country into “sides” meant to help to prevent any uprisings since the sides will often differ on many core issues.
  • In the case of Rwanda, the two sides were the Tutsis and Hutus.
  • The colonizers in the area were the Germans and the Belgians and they alone can be seen as planting the seeds for what would eventually turn into genocide.

Prior to colonization, the Hutu and Tutsis lived together in peace. They shared a culture, language and occasionally intermarried.
  • The distinctions between the two sides were created using a “race science” that was being used in the 19th century.
  • According to this view, the Tutsis, who were the minority in Rwanda, were the superior class. They were Hamitic which basically meant that they were more European in their appearance and manners.
  • The Tutsis were thus given the power in the area. It is thought that at this time less than 20% of Rwanda was Tutsi.
  • When the Belgians took control of the area following Germany’s defeat in World War I, things got even worse for the Hutus despite being the majority. The Tutsis were given all the benefits of the area including better access to health, education, and other important necessities and began to look down on the Hutus. The Tutsis began to really identify with the superior race belief and started to oppress the Hutus.

In 1962 independence was officially granted by the Belgians.
  • Prior to the formal grant of independence, the Hutus, with guidance from the Belgians, began a shift in power through the 1959 Revolution.
  • The Hutus, who were the clear majority, gained control over Rwanda and began to treat the Tutsis as they had been treated for decades. The Tutsis were often blamed for the problems in Rwanda and many were killed or exiled.
  • In the 1959 Revolution approximately 20,000 Tutsi were killed and over 300,000 fled to neighboring countries. This created a greater divide between the two groups, pitting them against one another more than ever.

Rwandan Refugee Camp in East Zaire, 1994
Rwandan Refugee Camp in East Zaire, 1994

The tensions culminated in 1994 when Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was assassinated in a plane crash. He was a Hutu and many Hutus began to rise up against the Tutsis following the crash.
  • What followed was not simply a civil war but genocide. The Hutus severely outnumbered the Tutsis and began to massacre them.
  • The Rwandan Genocide lasted about 100 days and finally ended when a Tutsi-led rebel force, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that was living in exile (in Uganda and neighboring countries) overthrew the Hutu government and took back power.
  • The fighting here led to millions of deaths and also caused other wars to occur in neighboring regions.

Multimedia.pngSurvivors of the Rwandan Genocide: New York Times
Female_Rose.pngMany women who were not murdered were sexually abused and infected with the HIV virus during the Rwandan genocide. Read more at Gendercide Watch.

Rwandan Genocide Memorial Where 6000 Are Buried
Rwandan Genocide Memorial Where 6000 Are Buried

Multimedia.pngThe United Human Rights Council on the genocide in Rwanda.
primary_sources.PNGInterviews from those involved with the genocide from PBS.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png100 Days of Slaughter timeline from PBS.
Multimedia.pngBBC News Africa looked at Rwanda and how the genocide happened.
Multimedia.pngAn assortment of video clips from The History Channel.

primary_sources.PNGPrimary documents, radio transcriptions, genocide records from Christopher Newport University.
Multimedia.pngRwanda on the internet, a collection from Stanford University.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.29.04 AM.pngA graphic novel on the Rwandan genocide.
rotating gif.gifFor more on independence movements in Rwanda and other African nations, see World Geography A.5.

E. Sri Lanka

external image map_of_sri-lanka.jpg

Ethnicity and religion play a huge role in the conflicts that have been occurring in Sri Lanka for the past 30 years. The dispute here is again between the majority and minority and has again led to civil war that is continuing to rage today. The two sides are the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Hindu Tamils. The Buddhists are in the majority and are in power and the Tamils have been fighting for the creation of a separate state. Again the seeds for this dispute can be traced to British colonial rule, but it should be noted that the distinction between the two sides existed long before the British rule. The sides had separate governments and each experienced autonomy. During British rule, however, the Tamils were given many benefits and got much better treatment from the British than the Sinhalese. Once independence came, the Sinhalese took power and often massacred Tamils. All the benefits that may come from colonialism were given to the Tamils, and after independence the Sinhalese began taking what they felt was theirs. Civil war erupted in 1983 beginning with a series of riots and battles titled Black July [13]. The fighting continued with each side experiencing severe blows to their populations. A ceasefire occurred in 2001 and ended nearly 20 years of fierce fighting, but fighting resumed in 2005 and is going on today.

More on the Sri Lankan Conflict from the Council on Foreign Affairs.

Here can be found a number of photographs taken during the events of Black July.

A detailed timeline of the events leading to, and after, Black July - from 1505 to 2009.

F. Kashmir


The dispute in Kashmir is between three sides: China, India, and Pakistan. All three countries control sections in Kashmir and have been battling for its control for decades.

Wars between China and India and between India and Pakistan erupted between the 1950s-1980s. China has pretty much relinquished their land and Pakistan seems in charge of that area. The battle now is almost completely between Pakistan and India who both feel the land is completely theirs. It is a highly contested area and the two sides have been viciously fighting for it.

The area is mostly Muslim but is ruled by India and as such has been witness to numerous battles and scores of terrorism. The deaths range in the tens of thousands and continue today. There have been several attempts at peace in the area made by both sides and several outside forces but after any peace, the fighting seems to continue.

The constant fear is that both sides have now gone nuclear and if any real war were to break out, devastating consequences could follow.

A brief history of the conflict in Kashmir can be found here.

Q&A from BBC of the Kashmir conflict.

For a general overview of the Kashmir conflict, The Economist has published an explanatory video.

Female_Rose.pngA small series of photographs focusing on the lives of women living through the conflict can be viewed here.

[1] Northern Ireland. ( 2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9110757
[2] Sowards, S (January 8, 2007). TWENTY-FIVE LECTURES ON MODERN BALKAN HISTORY. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Steven W. Sowards Web site: http://www.lib.msu.edu/sowards/balkan/
[3] Reed, R. Sudan's Second Civil War. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Ryan Spencer Reed Web site: http://www.ryanspencerreed.com/main.html
[4] (2007). Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Official Website of the Republic of Rwanda Web site: http://www.gov.rw/
[5] (March 19, 2007). Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Sri Lanka Government Web Portal Web site: http://www.gov.lk/index.asp?xl=3
[6] (March 1, 2007). The Official Website of Jammu and Kashmir Government. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from The Official Website of Jammu and Kashmir Government Web site: http://jammukashmir.nic.in/
[7] Johnston, W (2001). The Troubles. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from The Ireland Story Web site: http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/past/troubles/index.htm
[8] Yugoslavia. (2007). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 14, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9389170
[9] (March 20, 2007). Kosovo War. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_war
[10] (2007). NATO. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Web site: http://www.nato.int/
[11] (March 12, 2006). Chronology of Milosovic's Career. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from The Boston Globe Web site: http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2006/03/12/chronology_of_milosevics_career/
[12] (January 25, 2007). Rwandan Genocide. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from BBC News Web site: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/africa/2004/rwanda/default.stm
[13] (March 21, 2007). Black July. Retrieved March 21, 2007, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_july
[14] Andreas, Joel. Addicted to War; Why the U.S. can't kick militarism. AK PRESS Oakland California 2004
  1. ^ PBS Frontline: Rough Cuts, "Northern Ireland: A Profile". Retrieved March 6, 2011, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/rough/2006/03/northern_irelanlinks.html