"With Roku gone, and the great comet returning, the timing was perfect to change the world. I knew the next Avatar would be born an Air Nomad, so I wiped out the air temples. But somehow, the new Avatar eluded me. I wasted the remainder of my life searching in vain. I know he's hiding out there somewhere. The Fire Nation's greatest threat ... the last airbender."
The Air Nomad Genocide was an enormous massacre committed by the Fire Nation that resulted in the near eradication of the Air Nomads and the fauna that lived in the air temples. The only human survivor of the initial attack and its aftermath was Avatar Aang. The outrage over this cultural destruction compelled the Earth Kingdom and the Water Tribe to take up arms and declare war on the Fire Nation, leading to the large-scale war that continued for one hundred years.
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 Nomads. The assault was timed to take place during the arrival of the Great Comet, later dubbed Sozin's Comet, as it gave his firebenders an enormous power advantage.
Due to the threat of oncoming war, the Council of Elders told Aang of his identity as the Avatar at the age of twelve, when under normal circumstances the Avatar is told of his or her 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 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.
It is uncertain how the Fire Nation's armies managed to reach the Air Nomad temples in the very highly elevated areas of mountain ranges, as Aang stated that the only way to reach an air temple is with a flying bison. Some temples, such as the Eastern Air Temple, appear to have suffered more damage than others, unlike the still relatively intact Western Air Temple.
A small number of Air Nomads escaped 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.
The only airbender known to have survived the brutal onslaught was the one that the Fire Nation sought to kill in its quest for world supremacy: the Avatar, Aang. 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.
Sozin spent the last twenty years of his life looking for Aang, who by that time had been frozen in an iceberg beneath the ocean for several years, and eventually died at the old age of 102 before he could find Aang. Sozin's legacy to the world was a war that had begun with this first fatal strike to the Air Nomads and would last a hundred years.
The Air Nomad Genocide was eventually followed by a propaganda campaign in the Fire Nation. By 100 AG, children were 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. The other nations, meanwhile, had 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.
One hundred years after the genocide, Katara and Sokka freed Aang and Appa from their frozen state. 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. 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. 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.
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, and have restored the air temples by 171 AG.
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 the events of the Harmonic Convergence in 171 AG, airbending has resurfaced in a number of nonbending citizens across the world.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book Three: Fire (火)
- 306. "The Avatar and the Fire Lord" (flashback)
- 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.