Next month is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide during which the Ottoman-Turkish government murdered one and a half million of its Armenian citizens. Obscured by the horror of the 20th century’s first genocide is the role that the Armenian holocaust played in the events leading to the creation of Israel or that it was the backdrop to an extraordinary love story.
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It began on April 24, 1915. The pretext was that the Armenians were supporting Ottoman-Turkey’s enemy, Russia, but one purpose was to fulfill pan-Islamic dreams of a huge Islamic state from the Mediterranean to the Ural Mountains. Orders had gone out to “without mercy and without pity, kill all from the one month old to the ninety-year old.” Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy, and dignitaries were rounded up and tortured and then hanged or shot.
With the leadership gone, the Turks followed up by arresting Armenian men en masse, marching them out of their towns, and, with the aid of mobs and bandits, hacking them to death with axes, pitchforks, hoes, iron rods, and hatchets. Then it was the turn of the Armenian women, children, and the elderly, who were pulled from their homes and forced on death marches into the scorching Syrian desert.
Soon the Turkish countryside became so littered with decomposing bodies that the government told provincial leaders to “issue the strictest instructions so that the corpses in your village are buried.” In general, these instructions were ignored.
In November 1915, Sarah Aaronsohn, a homesick young 25-year-old Palestinian Jew unhappily married to a Bulgarian Jewish businessman, fled her husband’s home in Constantinople while he was away on a business trip. She set out by train for her home in Palestine. But first she had to cross Turkey.