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The Air Nomad Genocide was a mass slaughter committed by the Fire Nation that resulted in the near eradication of the Air Nomads and the fauna that lived within their territories and air temples. The only human survivor of the initial attack and its aftermath was Avatar Aang, who was ironically the prime target.[2] While destroying the Air Nomads, Fire Lord Sozin launched simultaneous attacks on the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes,[3] leading to the large-scale war that continued for one hundred years.[4]

Prelude

Growing tensions and Sozin's ambition

The Air Nomads were respected by many in the Fire Nation in the decades before the genocide. Air Nomad philosophy was so popular that the nobility supported the building of Fire & Air Center of Learning in the Fire Nation to share Air Nomad teachings and ideals with people, which was eventually endorsed by all four air temples.[5] However, Fire Lord Sozin began to see Air Nomad teachings as a threat to the preservation of Fire Nation culture. He seized the construction of the center from the nobility after an Air Nomad sect known as the Guiding Wind tried to sabotage construction, speaking out against the worldly prosperity of Fire Nation nobility and the harm it was doing to the spiritual enlightenment of all people.[5]

Sozin began to see the Guiding Wind as a direct threat to him, as they were inherently opposed to the concept of nobility and wealth. He was furious when his sister, Princess Zeisan, announced her intention to renounce her wealth and titles after she proposed a political marriage to the Guiding Wind's leader, Khandro, also hoping to undermine her brother's reign.[6][7] To counteract his sister's influence, Sozin began nationalistic propaganda campaigns targeting the poorest in society. There were also reports of members of the Guiding Wind committing violent acts across the Fire Nation in spite of their nonviolent principles, and Khandro suspected the involvement of the Fire Nation government.[6][7][8] Over the following decades, Sozin stoked xenophobic and nationalistic sentiment to the point that the once tolerant Fire Nation became a nation willing to invade the other nations and orchestrate heinous acts against them.

Buildup to war

The Eastern Air Temple flourished before the genocide.

After Fire Lord Sozin left Avatar Roku to succumb to the toxic fumes he inhaled during the volcanic eruption on his island, Sozin commenced to execute his plans to "spread the Fire Nation's state of peace and wealth to the rest of the world", to bring forth a brighter future. Sozin knew that Roku's successor would be reborn as an Air Nomad, thus he planned an initial surprise attack against the air temples. He decided to time the assault to take place during the arrival of the Great Comet, later dubbed Sozin's Comet, as it would give his firebenders an enormous power advantage.[1] In preparation for his global campaign of conquest, Sozin gradually and covertly expanded his already powerful military.[3]

Sozin's actions did not go unnoticed. The Air Nomad leadership, consisting of the councils of the temples, tried to prepare for a possible war to some extent.[9][10] However, the Air Nomads were deeply vulnerable in the period before the Great War. A great number of them had begun to travel the world much more than their compatriots in the preceding centuries. Motivated by the desire to help others, this reignited nomadism earned them much goodwill from the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes, but left them thinly spread out across the world.[11][10] With so many of their people regularily absent on spiritual quests or aid missions, the air temples were often left understaffed or even almost empty. Coordination among the Air Nomads had also grown increasingly difficult, as they had become more divided into different factions that disagreed in regards to philosophy and strategies.[10]

Due to the threat of oncoming war, the Southern Air Temple's council told Aang of his identity as the Avatar at the age of twelve, when under normal circumstances the Avatar is told of their identity at the age of sixteen. Despite this, Gyatso, believing Aang should have a normal childhood, continued to engage him in fun and games. This prompted a decision by Pasang and the rest of the Council of Elders to separate the two and send Aang to the Eastern Air Temple to complete his airbending training. This conversation, however, was overheard by Aang, who had been eavesdropping from a secret hiding place. Unable to deal with the weight of his new status and the path the head monks had chosen for him, he abandoned his home with his flying bison, Appa. Caught in a storm shortly afterward, Aang and Appa plunged into the ocean. Deep underneath the surface, the Avatar State was activated as a defense mechanism and, utilizing both airbending and waterbending, the Avatar State-induced Aang encased himself and Appa in a block of ice, saving them both from the immediate threat of drowning and Sozin's imminent assault against the Air Nomads.[9]

Genocide

Attacks on the air temples

Even though the Fire Nation eventually exterminated the Air Nomads, their losses were heavy as well, attested by the many corpses left in the air temples.

In 0 AG, Sozin ordered his military to attack all other nations in a massive offensive backed by the power of the Great Comet. While the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribes were left distracted, forced to defend their own lands, the greatest Fire Nation assault targeted the air temples.[12] Even though the temples were extremely difficult to reach for any non-airbender, the Fire Nation military managed to get to the highly elevated areas of the mountain ranges in which they were situated.[2][nb 1]

The Fire Nation encountered different levels of resistance at the four temples. The Western Air Temple was overrun without much fighting, and its structures remained mostly intact.[14] In contrast, the Eastern Air Temple saw heavy combat, with much of it being destroyed and massive fires engulfing the entire complex.[1][14] Despite being a pacifistic culture, many Air Nomads fought back against their attackers with a fair amount of success, as evidenced by the dozens of firebender corpses surrounding the skeleton of Monk Gyatso.[2] Ultimately, however, they were no match for the sheer numbers and firepower of their opponents.[2][12] In fact, the speed and efficiency of the attacks were such that the temples fell before the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes could dispatch aid once they learned of the Air Nomads' situation.[12]

After wiping out the temples' populations, the Fire Nation troops began to loot their relics, destroying what they did not take back to the Fire Islands. However, some cultural artifacts remained hidden.[15]

Hunt for survivors

A small number of Air Nomads survived the initial attack on the temples and proved too elusive for the Fire Nation to hunt down. Changing tactics, Fire Lord Sozin removed relics from the temples and had a number of small residences high in the mountains furnished with them, giving these places the appearance of being inhabited by other Air Nomad refugees. Using spies to spread rumors about these safe houses throughout the Earth Kingdom population, Sozin successfully lured the remaining airbenders into the hands of waiting Fire Nation soldiers and eliminated them.[16]

Aftermath

Immediate

Aang was the sole survivor of the Air Nomad Genocide and its aftermath.

The only airbender known to have survived the genocide was the one that the Fire Nation sought to kill in its quest for world supremacy: the Avatar, Aang.[2] By running away from the temple, ignorant of the imminent attacks against the Air Nomads, he saved himself. Aang, however, later felt guilty about fleeing and believed he could have defeated the invading Fire Nation forces and saved his people if he had stayed.[9]

Sozin spent the last twenty years of his life looking for Aang, who by that time had been frozen in a submerged iceberg for several years, and eventually died at the age of 102 without ever finding him. Sozin's legacy to the world was a war that had begun with the Air Nomad Genocide and would last a hundred years.[1]

General

Without the Air Nomads to tend to them, many unique breeds of vegetables and fruits cultivated at the air temples went extinct after the genocide.[17]

Some colonies were established in lands once considered belonging to the Air Nomads, though the temples themselves remained abandoned.[18] Even in the late war, Fire Army units regularly patrolled the land to search for any suspicious activity, while some Air Nomad land was considered the perfect hideout for bandits.[19] Dark spirits also began to inhabit deserted areas, especially those that once held spiritual significance, and some haunted the area even decades after the end of the war.[19][20]

The Air Nomad Genocide was eventually followed by a propaganda campaign in the Fire Nation. The population was told that the Avatar and the Air Nomads had plotted to take over the world, justifying the genocide as a necessary act by the Fire Nation to stop them.[21] By 100 AG, children were also taught that Sozin battled the "Air Nation Army", completely omitting the fact that the Air Nomads were a peaceful people and did not have a formal army of their own. Nevertheless, this warped form of the history was generally considered correct by Fire Nation citizens.[22] Fire Nation citizens who knew the genocide's true nature justified it by arguing that the Fire Nation was naturally stronger and thus destined to conquer or destroy the other nations.[23]

Meanwhile, the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes gradually lost most knowledge of the Air Nomads, causing them, as well as the flying bison, to mostly be considered part of ancient myths and false legends. Intellectuals and elders were those who generally knew most of the Air Nomads, but even to them they were part of an ancient and virtually dead culture.[24][25] Before the awakening of Avatar Aang, Professor Ko from Ba Sing Se University tasked a group of people with recovering relics from the air temples in an attempt to preserve Air Nomad culture.[19]

Gyatso's skeleton was found in the Southern Air Temple.

One hundred years after the genocide, Katara and Sokka freed Aang and Appa from their frozen state.[24] Afterward, Aang soon learned of the fate of the Air Nomads. He revisited his former home, the Southern Air Temple, still hopeful that a few Air Nomads would have survived the attacks, but he discovered countless Fire Nation corpses along with Gyatso's frail skeleton.[2] His absence during the genocide of his people would frequently plague him, causing him many bouts of shame along with feelings of insurmountable grief.

However, not all air temples were left alone and in ruins for one hundred years; the Northern Air Temple was rediscovered by Earth Kingdom refugees around 90 AG. Forced from their homes by a flood years before, they stumbled upon the abandoned temple and made it their new home. Their leader, the mechanist, strongly modified the temple with his inventions, creating a safe haven for his people.[26] When Aang eventually arrived at the Northern temple during their journey, the Avatar was angry at the new inhabitants for what he saw as "vandalizing" the home of his people. However, Aang relented after seeing Teo's "airbender" spirit and how the refugees defended their new home against the Fire Nation. Aang stated that just like the hermit crab he saw earlier, they had found a new "shell" to call home and allowed them to stay.[27]

By 171 AG, the air temples were restored to their former glory and maintained by the Air Acolytes who made them their home.

In order to preserve the Air Nomad culture, Avatar Aang founded the "Air Acolytes" in 101 AG. Part of an international group of monks and nuns, they carry on the teachings, culture, and traditions of the Air Nomads through practice.[28] They did their best to recover relics and documentation about the lost Air Nomad culture in order to reconstruct and revive the culture to the best of their ability. A few years after their founding, they began to plan the repairs to the air temples.[29] The temples were fully restored by 171 AG.[20] Fire Nation officials also worked to return Air Nomad relics to the Air Acolytes.[30]

Though the airbender population is still crippled beyond sustainability, the population has slowly begun rising with the birth of Aang and Katara's son, Tenzin, who in turn also has a family with three known airbenders: Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo. Following Harmonic Convergence in 171 AG, airbending has resurfaced in a number of nonbending citizens across the world.[31]

Appearances

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Book Three: Fire (火)

Trivia

  • After the Air Nomad Genocide, Aang found an island inhabited by a different species of flying bison and winged-lemurs. These included ring-tailed winged lemurs and sky bison with more stripes on their back.[32]
  • The genocide was briefly completed by Sozin's great-granddaughter, Azula, when she killed Aang with a lightning strike during the Coup of Ba Sing Se.[33]

Notes

  1. Even though Aang expressed the belief that the air temples could only be reached on flying bison,[2] it is known that pathways to the temples existed by Avatar Kyoshi's time. These could be transversed by foot, and were large enough for significant groups of pilgrims.[13]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ehasz, Elizabeth Welch (writer) & Spaulding, Ethan (director). (October 26, 2007). "The Avatar and the Fire Lord". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 3. Episode 6. Nickelodeon.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 DiMartino, Michael Dante (writer) & MacMullan, Lauren (director). (February 25, 2005). "The Southern Air Temple". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 3. Nickelodeon.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Lost Scrolls: Water, Section "Introduction", in The Lost Scrolls Collection.
  4. Throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 46.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 48.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 49.
  8. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 50.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ehasz, Aaron (writer) & MacMullan, Lauren (director). (June 3, 2005). "The Storm". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 12. Nickelodeon.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 51.
  11. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 44.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 58.
  13. Yee, F. C. (author), DiMartino, Michael Dante (author). (July 16, 2019). Chapter Thirty-Two, "Hauntings". The Rise of Kyoshi. Amulet Books.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 27.
  15. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 59.
  16. Hamilton, Joshua; Matte, Johane (writer), Matte, Johane (artist), Kim, Hye-Jung (colorist), Comicraft (letterer). "Relics" (May 7, 2011 [Free Comic Book Day edition]), Nickelodeon.
  17. Avatar: The Last Airbender Cookbook: Official Recipes from the Four Nations, p. 7.
  18. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 39.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 265.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Hamilton, Joshua (writer) & Heck, Colin (director). (November 1, 2013). "The Guide". The Legend of Korra. Book Two: Spirits. Episode 9. Nickelodeon.
  21. Hicks, Faith Erin; Hedrick, Tim (writer), Wartman, Peter (artist), Matera, Adele (colorist), Betancourt, Jimmy (letterer). Katara and the Pirate's Silver (October 13, 2020), Dark Horse Comics.
  22. O'Bryan, John (writer) & Dos Santos, Joaquim (director). (September 28, 2007). "The Headband". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 3. Episode 2. Nickelodeon.
  23. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Quickstart, Version 1.0, 2021, p. 30.
  24. 24.0 24.1 DiMartino, Michael Dante, Konietzko, Bryan (writers) & Filoni, Dave (director). (February 21, 2005). "The Boy in the Iceberg". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 1. Nickelodeon.
  25. O'Bryan, John (writer) & Volpe, Giancarlo (director). (July 14, 2006). "The Library". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2. Episode 10. Nickelodeon.
  26. From older Avatar: The Last Airbender official site, originally on Nick.com. Encyclopedia now broken, archived at The Lost Lore of Avatar Aang - Character: Mechanist.
  27. Ehasz, Elizabeth Welch (writer) & Filoni, Dave (director). (November 4, 2005). "The Northern Air Temple". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 1. Episode 17. Nickelodeon.
  28. DiMartino, Michael Dante; Konietzko, Bryan; Yang, Gene Luen (writer), Sasaki of Gurihiru (penciling, inking), Kawano of Gurihiru (colorist), Heisler, Michael; Comicraft (letterer). The Promise Part Three (September 26, 2012), Dark Horse Comics.
  29. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 71.
  30. Avatar Legends: The Roleplaying Game. Core Book, Version 1.0, 2022, p. 89.
  31. Exclusive: Book Three premiere date announcement. IGN (June 20, 2014). Retrieved on June 20, 2014.
  32. San Diego Comic-Con 2011
  33. Ehasz, Aaron (writer) & DiMartino, Michael Dante (director). (December 1, 2006). "The Crossroads of Destiny". Avatar: The Last Airbender. Season 2. Episode 20. Nickelodeon.
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