For some time now, I've been considering writing a book. It's title would be simply: "How to Crush a Minority: with lessons from Saddam Hussein, Josef Stalin, Andrew Jackson and other ruthless dictators." It would be a tongue-in-cheek manual for every president and prime minister of a country bedeviled by an uppity minority asserting it's rights, and wishing to destroy said minority.
Seriously, though, there are few more important obstacles to peace in the world than the minority-majority problem. In the 21st century, so far, there has been only one international war, in Iraq. Every other war, including the one in Afghanistan, is a civil war (the Americans simply aided one side, the 'Northern Alliance' in its resistance to the Taliban). Most of those civil wars are rooted in ethnic or sectarian (religious) conflict. Even the war in Iraq, which started with the American invasion and occupation, and resistance to that occupation, has degenerated into a civil war between three ethnic/sectarian groups: Sunni Arabs, Shiite Arabs, and Kurds.
Why do national governments fear minorities? Because, when the minority is a majority in any given region, it is tempting for the minority to seek independence for their 'national homeland'. Even if the minority has not stated its desire for independence, the national government always fears it might. This fear is even recorded in the Bible, when the pharaoh sees the increasing number of Hebrews living in Egypt and fears they might "unite with our enemies against us." So he enslaves them and murders their children. The methods used by modern-day national leaders are sometimes more subtle (although not always) but the goal is the same: to weaken or destroy the minority, and eliminate its threat to national unity.
National government commonly use one of four strategies to crush a minority:
1. Destroying the minority. Otherwise known as genocide (or that despicable euphemism 'ethnic cleansing') this is the most straightforward method of crushing a minority. But of course, it is politically impossible for most modern liberal democracies, and even hard for authoritarian governments to get away with, in this age of international scrutiny and U.N. sanctions. Moving on...
2. Displacing the minority. Usually to a 'reservation'- the poorest land available, on which the minority cannot sustain itself, so that it will be dependent on government 'support'. With each generation of exile, it becomes harder for the displaced minority to reclaim its homeland. This strategy was used on the American, Canadian and Australian Aboriginal people. The 'Trail of Tears', when U.S. President Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokee to move west of the Mississippi River, is perhaps the most infamous example of this. It was also used by Stalin and his successors on the Crimean Tatars, and arguably by the Israelis on the Palestinian people (who still talk about the 'right of return' to their former homes in Israel).
3. Diluting the minority. If the minority are not the majority in their own homeland, it is impossible for them to win a referendum on independence (if one is ever called). So it is in the national government's interest to encourage immigration into the minority region. Since minorities often occupy less-developed, peripheral parts of the country, it is easy to justify this policy as 'developing' or 'settling' the frontier. China gives incentives to individuals and families from eastern China to move to Tibet, for this very reason (most of the migrants are Han Chinese, the majority in China). They hope to make Tibet just another Chinese-speaking province.
4. Assimilating the minority. Education is the most commonly used and effective tool of assimilation. We are so used to thinking of education as a good thing, that we forget how often it is used for malicious purposes. Aboriginal peoples in many countries have been forced to send their children to boarding schools, where they are indoctrinated into the majority's culture and forced to speak the majority's language (actually beaten if they speak their native language). Sometimes the minority is forced to abandon their traditional way of life and adopt the majority's culture and language in order to make a living, or just make ends meet. In some cases, the majority has deliberately destroyed the industry or livelihood of the minority. (The great buffalo hunts of 19th century America, which almost caused the extinction of the buffalo, was a deliberate attempt to starve the Plains Indians into submission. And it worked.) In many countries, any government job requires fluency in the majority's language. Since the best jobs in developing countries are usually government jobs, it's a strong incentive for the minority to learn the majority's language (and forget their own). Even in the private sector, many companies (especially multinational companies) are not interested in hiring employees who speak a minority language and can't communicate with managers who speak only the majority language.
Nearly every country has an ethnic or sectarian minority. And nearly every country has used one or more of these strategies to crush that minority. More than a few countries have used all of the above methods, including the United States and Canada in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and Turkey and Iraq far more recently. It is hardly surprising that many minorities seek autonomy or independence. Their very survival depends on it.