Top 10 Deadliest Civil Wars Of All Time

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Wars have shaped our history throughout time. These include civil wars in which countryman fights countryman and sometimes even brothers against

each other. They’ve changed the courses of countries and led into broader conflicts, leaving thousands of casualties in their wake. Here are the top 10 deadliest civil wars of all time.

10. Sri Lankan Civil War, 1983-2009

Sri Lankan Civil War Conflict

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the Tamil Tigers, fought against Sri Lankan government forces in an ethnopolitical struggle that lasted 26 years. Up to 40,000 people are said to have died in the war’s last five months as the war’s casualties have been estimated at more than 100,000. The United Nations has pushed for investigations of war crimes against both sides. 

9. Bosnian War, 1992-1995

Bosnian War Deadliest Civil War Conflict

The Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, sparking a civil war as Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces attacked the city of Sarajevo. About two-thirds of Bosnian territory fell under Serb control as Bosnian Serb forces, the Yugoslav army and paramilitary forces raged war against Bosnian Muslims called Bosniaks. The war resulted in International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia charges of genocide against rulers including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander General Ratko Mladic for their attempts at ethnic cleansing.

A 2007 casualty report by the Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo stated that the war resulted in 350,000 deaths including 97,207 civilians, 40 percent of the casualties. About 66 percent of people killed were Bosnian Muslims while 26 percent were Serbs and 8 percent were Croats. Mass rapes, forced labor and torture were also carried out during the war, which ended in 1995 thanks to United Nations air strikes and sanctions that resulted in a peace agreement. 

8. Somali War, 1991-ongoing

Somali War Civil War Ongoing

The overthrow of military dictator President Muhammad Siad Barre in 1991 led to a power struggle that still remains active today. An internationally backed government installed in 2012 brought some stability but not enough to end the warfare throughout the country. Between 350,000 and one million Somalis have died

7. America’s Civil War, 1861-1865

America's Civil War

The South’s attempt to secede from the United States over slavery and other issues resulted in a war fought in thousands of places, the majority in the states of Virginia and Tennessee. Union and Confederate forces lost an estimated 620,000 soldiers. All other U.S. conflicts have totalled 644,000 American soldiers, making the war between countrymen the country’s bloodiest war. 

6. Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

Spanish Civil War

Republicans loyal to Spain’s democratically elected government and Nationalists, a fascist movement under General Francisco Franco, battled for three years. About 500,000 people died as a result of the war, making it one of the deadliest civil wars of all time. Franco ruled the country for 36 years after the Nationalists won. 

5. Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970

Nigerian Civil War Deadliest Civil Wars Of All Time

Muslim Hausas of the north began attacking Christian Igbos of the southeast six years after Britain granted independence to Nigeria in 1960. General Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo, took over power of Nigeria in a coup but northerners killed him in a counter-coup. Southeast provinces made up mostly of Igbos attempted to form the Republic of Biafra, leading to military action by the Nigerian military after Nigerian government unification efforts failed. Nigerian forces took back the final Biafra-controlled territories in 1970. About 100,000 military casualties resulted. Starvation, allegedly caused by a Nigerian blockade, killed between 500,000 and two million civilians and made it one of the deadliest civil wars of all time. 

4. Angolan Civil War, 1975-2002

Angolan Civil War

Angola fought with Portugal for independence for 14 years but found short-lived peace afterwards as two rebel groups fought against each other for national control in one of the deadliest civil wars of all time. The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, supported by the United States and South Africa, fought against the Cuban-supported People’s movement for the Liberation of Angola. Civilians suffered rapes, mutilations, forced labor and assaults by both sides in the war. A 2002 peace accord brought the war to a close after UNITA leader Joseph Savimbi died and sanctions hurt the country economically. About 800,000 people died

3. The Second Sudanese Civil War, 1983-2005

The Second Sudanese Civil War, 1983-2005

After the First Sudanese Civil War concluded in 1972, the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out in 1983. It waged until 2005 between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. More than 2 million people died in a war that resulted in accusations of ethnic cleansing as well as the use of children as soldiers. 

2. Chinese Civil War, 1927-1950

Chinese Civil War, 1927-1950

The Shanghai Massacre, when Guomindang forces executed or assassinated hundreds of Communists from the Chinese Communist Party, triggered the Chinese Civil War. That came to a halt temporarily when the Japanese invaded in 1937 and started the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Historians refer to the main phase as being between 1946 and 1949 as the Chinese Communist Party and Nationalists agreed to peace talks in 1945. The 1945 talks resulted in the Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong ruling China while Nationalist general Jiang Jieshi set up an alternative government in Taiwan. The death toll varies as an estimated 2.5 million people died during the main phase and more than 6 million died throughout the period. 

1. Russian Civil War, 1917-1922

Russian Civil War, 1917-1922

The Russian Civil War tops the deadliest civil wars of all time as being its costliest. That’s what the Guinness Book of World Records says as it talks of casualties reaching about 1.5 million for combatants and around 8 million from armed attacks, disease, and famine.

The war brought Communism to the main stage after Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in 1917. Communist Bolsheviks led by Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin drew up a peace accord with Germany after World War I and set its sites on its opponents including the Tsar, ordering him and his family executed. Communist forces named the Red Army defeated anti-Communist forces in 1920.

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