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Scholar details Armenian genocide horror


— The first genocide of the 20th century wiped out half of the world’s Armenians and drew a response from the West that would become the sorry standard for the horrors to come in the death camps of Europe, the killing fields of Cambodia and throughout Rwanda .
“The major powers responded to the human catastrophe of the Armenians by trying to ignore it as much as possible,” Simon Payaslian, chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University , said on the eve of today’s 91st anniversary of the Armenian genocide. “There were official protests but nothing was done to help.”
On April 24, 1915, several hundred Armenian intellectuals, political leaders and businessmen were rounded up in Constantinople ( Istanbul ), arrested and eventually killed. The date marks the beginning of a genocide that eventually killed 1.5 million Armenians, but Mr. Payaslian traces the roots of the genocide to Muslim massacres of Christian Armenians in the 1890s that took as many as 200,000 lives.

“At Friday prayers in the mosque, Muslims were encouraged to attack Armenians,” Mr. Payaslian said. “After prayers let out, a bugle would sound from the minarets for the attack to begin, and then a bugle would sound for the attack to end.”
Soon after the onset of World War I in the fall of 1914, Armenians by the thousands were ordered out of their homes and force-marched to the Russian border to help provide for the Turkish military. “They were told once the war is over you will come back,” Mr. Payaslian said, “but once forced out of your house, there is no returning.”
For the next two years, hundreds of thousands of Armenians would be uprooted from their homes and sent into the Syrian desert . It was a centrally planned and tightly orchestrated ethnic cleansing, Mr. Payaslian said.
“First, all the Armenian community leaders would be arrested,” he said. “In the name of military conscription, men from age 16 to 40-45 would be taken away. Then came an announcement that in 15 days all Armenians would be removed. They could sell whatever they could sell and take whatever they could carry. With only women, children and the elderly left, it was very easy for officials to begin the forced deportations.”
Along the way, the refugees were robbed, beaten and murdered. Some went insane. Many died of starvation or exhaustion. About 200,000 survived the march, Mr. Payaslian said, and set up refugee camps near cities such as Beirut , Damascus and Aleppo in Northern Syria , where Mr. Payaslian’s grandparents landed.
In 1915, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey , Henry Morgenthau Sr., said, “The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915.” American consuls in Turkey repeatedly used terms such as “extinction” and “destruction of the race” in their cables back home, Mr. Payaslian said, to no avail.
The U.S. government still does not officially recognize the genocide and Mr. Payaslian doubts it ever will, out of deference to Turkey ’s strategic importance to American interests in the Middle East .
Turkey has steadfastly denied genocide ever took place, blaming Armenian deaths on the Russians and the war, despite pressure from European countries that will determine Turkey ’s admission to the European Union.
Mr. Payaslian believes Europe and America could have stopped the Armenian genocide with military force. “Ultimately, it was not in the geo-political interests of the U.S. or Europe to do so.” By the end of World War I, the importance of oil was well established. Mr. Payaslian said a rear admiral assigned to the region reported back to Washington that America should not jeopardize its access to Middle East oil sources for abstract humanitarian principles.
“Especially in the case of the Armenians,” Mr. Payaslian said. “Most of them were already dead.”