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Debates over genocide often run into legal difficulties because of conflation with ethnic cleansing. On paper, they are two separate crimes. While genocide is an attempt to destroy a group, ethnic cleansing, per PBS, only involves the expulsion of a group from its territory and is not considered a crime under U.N. law. But as the network notes, the lines are often blurred, because ethnic cleansing yields the same results as genocide.

Consider the following example from 1923. According to Al Jazeera, Turkey and Greece agreed upon a population exchange (aka mass expulsion). Turkey traded its Greek-speaking Christian population in exchange for Greece’s Muslim population. This does not technically fit the definition of genocide because there was no coordinated extermination. But although the Pontic Greek refugees survived as individuals, the BBC notes that exile from their Anatolian homeland put their unique traditions, history, language and very existence as a unique group in peril. The same can be said of Istro-Dalmatian Italians. According to historian Marino Manin, Yugoslav authorities killed or expelled over 350,000 Italians from their native lands. The Journal of Contemporary History argues that Yugoslavia intended at most to expel Italians, not exterminate them. Regardless of Yugoslav intentions, once the refugees are dispersed, ethnic cohesion is difficult to maintain. Thus the group disappears.

Since the destruction of a people and its culture fits the definition of genocide in everything but intent, it is easy to see why lines are blurred –- and begs the question if the two crimes should be separate in the first place.

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