My Name is Red – or Fifty Shades of Pink

Our local newspaper informs me that novelist Orhan Pamuk has been awarded the Aydın Doğan Prize for 2015. The prize has been presented annually since 1996 for high achievement in some aspect of culture or the arts. I’m happy for Mr Pamuk.

Missing the good old days of military coups

Missing the good old days of military coups

When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, however, response in his native land was muted to say the least. Some might assert that was because of the muzzling of free speech in Turkey under the AK Party government, but I wouldn’t be one of them. I have yet to meet a Turk who has actually read one of Pamuk’s pre-Nobel novels through to the end. Aydın Doğan is founder/owner of a commercial empire that includes several of Turkey’s most popular daily newspapers – and I don’t remember any of them celebrating the nation’s first and only Nobel Prize winner with front-page banner headlines. Interestingly, Turkey’s President at the time of the Nobel Award, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, departed from his normal practice of congratulating citizens who won honours on the world stage and actually refrained from publicly acknowledging Pamuk’s achievement.

President Sezer, in fact, was no friend of the AK Party government, having been appointed (not popularly elected) by the previous non-Islamic-rooted DSP government of Bülent Ecevit. His refusal to congratulate Pamuk was based on the novelist’s statements in foreign media that Turkey was responsible for the killing of 30,000 Kurds and more than one million Armenians. Pamuk himself makes much of the fact that a court case was brought against him for these statements – though he tends to play down the result, which was that the charge was dismissed and he was never actually brought to trial. His references to the case also fail to mention that it was not brought by the government but by an ultra-nationalist lawyer, Kemal Kerinçsiz, who was later implicated in the Ergenekon trial of high profile military officers and civilians accused of plotting to overthrow Turkey’s elected government.

History Prof. İlber Ortay says: Pamuk doesn't know English or Turkish!

History Prof. İlber Ortay says: Pamuk doesn’t know English or Turkish!

So we need to be a little careful who we listen to here. I don’t remember President Sezer attracting much criticism at the time for his cold shoulder treatment of Mr Pamuk. What I do remember is that there was pretty widespread feeling in Turkey that it was Pamuk’s expression of political opinions critical of his own country rather than his phenomenal literary talent that had won the hearts and minds of the Nobel committee – and possibly others like the German Book Trade who presented him with their ‘Peace Prize’ in 2005; the 2006 Time issue that listed him among the ‘100 People Who Shape Our World’; and the online poll in 2008 that voted him the 4th topmost intellectual person on the planet.

Critical opinion of Pamuk’s literary achievement prior to 2006 was somewhat mixed. The Nobel committee, of course, made no specific mention of the novelist’s public criticism of his compatriots, preferring to laud him as one “who in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”. Professor Horace Engdahl, Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Committee, in his presentation speech, commended Pamuk for having ‘made your native city an indispensable literary territory, equal to Dostoyevsky’s St. Petersburg, Joyce’s Dublin or Proust’s Paris – a place where readers from all corners of the world can live another life, just as credible as their own, filled by an alien feeling that they immediately recognise as their own.’

Prof. İlber Ortay says: Pamuk has no understanding of Turkish culture

Prof. İlber Ortay says: Pamuk has no understanding of Turkish culture

Well, I don’t know about that. My advice to dwellers in other corners of the world would be to come to Istanbul and see the city for themselves rather than rely on the rather narrow perspective they will gain from Orhan Pamuk’s books. According to one reviewer, ‘Pamuk does not respect his native land or its people; indeed, a good case can be made that he finds them almost wholly ludicrous, childlike – not as to their innocence – but as to their emotional and intellectual development – and profoundly ill-equipped to handle the exigencies of life and politics on their own ground, let alone on the world stage.’ Rather unkindly, he/she refers to other critics who found Pamuk’s novel ‘Snow’ boring, and says, ‘We need more than another third world whiner who wants to be a first world intellectual.’ Another review of the same book, commenting on its ending, says, ‘It is telling that when the book ends on its last sad note – “As the train pulled out and the people receded from view into the blur of the falling snow, I began to cry” – we are completely at a loss as to what Pamuk is crying about.’

'I don't think I can finish reading this!'

‘I don’t think I can finish reading this!’

As for me, I ploughed through all 688 pages of Mr Pamuk’s turn-of-the-millennium novel ‘My Name is Red’ (‘Benim Adım Kırmızı’), in English translation. It was a feat of endurance made possible only by grim determination and a powerful desire to give the author a fair go. After learning that this was probably the most readable of Pamuk’s works, I confess my enthusiasm was not up to sustaining the effort through another one. Another critic has said, ‘Unfortunately, the word I would have to use in describing Pamuk’s fiction as a whole—excluding most of ‘My Name is Red’ — is “ponderous.” It lacks the comic vitality characterizing the best postmodern fiction, although Pamuk’s intention to inject something of Western postmodernism into Turkish literature still seems a worthy and potentially interesting project. Finally, however, the attempt rarely rises above the lugubrious and heavy-handed. One might hope that Pamuk’s future fiction will show him handling the task of adapting modernist and postmodernist literary strategies to his non-Western subjects with a somewhat lighter touch, but, having been rewarded for his work in its current form with the most prestigious literary prize available, one suspects that Orhan Pamuk will find few reasons to reconsider his approach.’

To be fair, it seems that, since the award of the Nobel Prize, Pamuk has moved into more populist literary territory – to the extent that he has become a favourite with the Istanbul elite who earlier shunned him, some even accusing him of plagiarism. Witness the Aydın Doğan Prize mentioned above. Perhaps coincidentally, he seems to have moderated his former tough stance on the Kurdish and Armenian issues, pleading that he wants to be seen as an artist rather than as a political commentator – while at the same time espousing current politically correct views critical of Turkey’s AK Party government.

In an interview that gained some coverage in media at home and abroad, Pamuk was quoted as saying that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was “destroying the balance of powers, which is in fact the key to any democracy.” ’ Apparently in his little elite corner of Istanbul, he has detected “a climate of fear, people whispering.” ‘Commenting on Turkey’s recent history, from coup-happy generals to [Turkey’s President, Tayyip] Erdoğan, he said: “Authoritarian soldiers were (pushed) out, (an) authoritarian and Islamist government took their place” ‘. This is a theme Pamuk expresses frequently, as though he is the only courageous soul with the cojones to speak the truth – instead of being merely a member of a host of p.c. nay-sayers who have been vociferously criticizing Mr Erdoğan’s government with impunity since the day they were elected.

I hope I am not being unfair to the man, or shattering the illusions of European democrats eager to lionise him, but nothing I have read of his background leads me to believe that Mr Pamuk would raise his voice so loudly if he really believed there might be personal danger in so doing. Drawing on several biographical sources[1] here’s a little of what I have learned about the life and times of Orhan Pamuk.

Nice pun! Wrapped in cotton wool but an 'expert' on criticising Turkey

Nice pun! Wrapped in cotton wool but an ‘expert’ on criticising Turkey

He was born and grew up in the old money Istanbul district of Nişantaşı, roughly comparable to Mayfair in London, or New York’s Upper East Side. ‘Though his family was technically a Muslim one,’ according to one source, ‘it was a thoroughly secular household. “In my childhood, religion was something that belonged to the poor and to servants,” ’ So we can deduce that the Pamuk family had servants who were religious and clearly viewed as an inferior breed. “My grandmother,” he says, “used to mock them.” Orhan and his brother, however, were sent to Robert College, Istanbul’s American-sponsored academy for the elite, where they learnt English. Their first foreign travel was a trip to Geneva in 1959 when little Orhan was 7 years old. Thereafter, he said in an interview, I didn’t leave Istanbul again until 1982.” Apparently Orhan’s father did his best to fritter away the family fortune, but in spite of that he was able to send his son to university to study architecture.

Those were the days, as we know, of protest, hippiedom and alternative lifestyles, so it’s not surprising that Orhan left without completing a degree. His path did not lead to anti-establishment protest, however, but to a withdrawn life of self study. He enrolled in the late 70s, during one of Turkey’s most turbulent periods, in a journalism course which he did complete, admitting that ‘while his friends were risking their lives facing down soldiers, he spent most days reading at home in Nişantasi.’

Of course, all that is perfectly fine. I have nothing against a man whose desire for a life of artistic fulfilment drives him to live outside the mainstream of conformity and ticky-tacky boxes in suburbia. It’s pretty evident, however, that Orhan Pamuk was able to lead a life of privilege by virtue of family wealth. He was able to drop in and out of university, pursue a course of self-study in ‘the works of Western civilisation’s most acclaimed writers’, and groom himself for a career as a writer without the burden of having to support himself financially. In fact, nothing I have read in any of the biographical material on Mr Pamuk suggests that he has ever actually held down a real job.

Again, good luck to him. Many of us would have been only too happy to live such a life. I do question, however, whether someone who has spent most of his 63 years on the planet in the rarefied air of socio-economic privilege; who didn’t travel outside the largest city in Turkey for the first 30 years of his life; and who has never actually had to work for a living, can be considered such an expert on life, the universe and everything. Please correct me if I’m wrong.



The Simit Comes to London

London simits

This ad appeared in our local newspaper the other day. I couldn’t resist translating and sharing it with you . . .


It’s a well-known fact the English love their 5 o’clock tea. Every day, as evening approaches, they set the table with little snacks and fill the teacups. That’s fine, we said, but wait a minute; the best thing to go with freshly brewed tea is a simit.

What’s more, the most delicious tea and the tastiest wheat are grown in our soil. Every flavour is enhanced by the touch of our sun and our water.

So we felt a responsibility to introduce our tea and our simit to the English. Besides it’s our mission to ensure that the irresistible flavour of the simit reaches every corner of the world.

First we treated our guests all over Anatolia. Then, moving beyond our borders, we spread to all points of the compass. We offered our tasty delights from Holland to Saudi Arabia.

As if that was not enough, we crossed the oceans to other continents. We opened a Simit Sarayı on New York’s famous Fifth Avenue.

And we haven’t finished. We rolled up our sleeves to make new dreams come true.

174596_simit-cayWe have now opened a Simit Sarayı in London.

We haven’t changed our name or our taste. We want the name and the flavour of our land to be known everywhere! Turkey’s Simit Sarayı is now a growing world brand.

381 Oxford St, London

So Long, and Thanks for all the Coffee – Getting out of Yemen

Once upon a time, in the city of al-Mukha, there lived a Sufi mystic, Abu al-Hasan al-Shadili. He used to travel around the region and was much respected for his wise teachings and his ability to heal the sick. One day, while in Ethiopia, he saw a flock of birds whose unusual activity and excited behaviour attracted his attention. He noticed that the birds were feeding on the berries of a certain plant, and he decided to try the berries himself. On tasting them, however, he found them to be unpleasantly bitter. He tried roasting them, but they became too hard to eat. Finally he boiled them to soften them, and the result was a fragrant brown liquid which he drank. Within a short time he found himself revitalised and full of energy. Subsequently he returned to his hometown and began using his new miracle drug in the treatment of patients. The success of his cures established his reputation, and he was made a saint.

Palestinian women grinding coffee in happier days

Palestinian women grinding coffee in happier days

Abu al-Hasan’s hometown is better known to most of us as Mocha, in what is now Yemen. We may not be able to precisely locate the city on a map, but we are almost certainly aware of it as an item on Starbucks’ menu of available beverages – and the wise Sufi’s medicinal berries were, of course, the fruit of the coffee plant.

Coffee aside, Yemen’s main appeal to the rest of the world has been its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea. The Ottoman Empire added it to their dominions in 1538, largely for its importance in guarding sea access to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina (against the Portuguese) – though a side benefit was their discovery of the joys of coffee-drinking. A century or so later ‘java’ culture passed into Western Europe when the first coffee house was opened in Vienna. There is, I understand, no truth to the legend that Sultan Mehmet IV’s unsuccessful siege of that city in 1683 was motivated by a desire to punish the Viennese for infringement of patent.

Where to find Yemen

Where to find Yemen

The rising red tide of British imperialism washed ashore on the coast of Yemen in 1838 when the Brits bombarded and seized the port of Aden – subsequently signing treaties of ‘friendship and protection’ with the local Arab tribes. The port became a vital refuelling station for steamships on their way to India, the Jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown, and South Yemen remained a British Protectorate until 1967.

North and South Yemen united in 1990 to form a single independent state, whose independence, however, has been fraught with difficulties, and the county has struggled to free itself from outside interference. President for the first 22 years of its existence was Ali Abdullah Saleh, under whose guiding hand Yemen attained the status of a kleptocracy[1], and a ranking of 164th out of 182 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. In spite of this, his misguided support of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden Harbour in 2000, the neighbouring Saudi royal family have been transferring large payments into the pockets of tribal leaders and certain members of the regime, and the US Government has been providing annual military aid to Saleh, amounting to $140 million as recently as 2010. Despite the existence in Yemen of a major Al Qaeda franchise (AQAP) Saleh apparently managed to convince George Dubya Bush that he was an ally in the ‘war against terror’.

George Dubya had nothing against Muslim dictators

George Dubya had nothing against Muslim dictators

Who can know what’s really going on? The Saudis and the US were angry with Saleh for opposing the use of force against Iraq back in 1991 – yet his friendship with Saddam Hussein had made him popular with Washington in the days when Saddam was the enemy of their enemy Iran. Both countries were conspicuous by their non-involvement in Yemen’s Arab Spring protests in 2011 in spite of the brutality with which the demonstrations were suppressed. More recently they began to support internal demands for Saleh’s resignation – but his replacement was his own vice-president, and Saleh was to be granted immunity from prosecution.

Now it seems we have a new militant Islamic group in the region – Houthi rebels who are apparently of Shi’ite persuasion with close links to Iran. This, I guess will be another headache for the US Government as it attempts to build bridges with its former implacable foe. As Houthi forces have captured the Yemeni capital Sanaa, the US state Department has closed its embassy there and instructed US citizens to leave the country. This apparently means more than the loss of employment for a few diplomatic staff. It seems that the Sanaa Embassy was the headquarters of CIA operatives coordinating a campaign of drone-strike killings in the area. According to a news report in Time Magazine, ‘There were 23 U.S. drone strikes reported in Yemen last year, 26 in 2013 and 41 in 2012.’ In 2009 US warplanes targeting Al Qaeda training camps wiped out an entire village with a salvo of cruise missiles, killing as many as 60 civilians, among them 28 children.

13th century gate at Yemen's capital, Sanaa

13th century gate at Yemen’s capital, Sanaa

That Time article quoted President Obama, in a breath-taking sound-byte of political understatement, saying, ‘Yemen has never been a perfect democracy or an island of stability.’ Apart from the brutal suppression of internal dissent, the country ranks among the world’s poorest, with 45% of the population living in poverty. So perhaps we should not be altogether surprised that some militants, Muslim or otherwise, might be tempted to seek a solution of their own.

The country’s neighbours, however, immediately went crying to the United Nations, insisting that the international community should take forceful action. Those neighbours expressed their call to arms via the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) which consists of such shining lights of democratic freedom and champions of human rights as Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Their goals for Yemen, they say, are ‘preserving legitimacy’ and ‘resuming the political process’ – and if the UN doesn’t do the right thing, they may take matters into their own hands.

You may be interested to learn, as I was, that the USS Cole returned to naval service after repairs following that attack 15 years ago. Its most recent deployment, on 8 February 2015, was a cruise into the Black Sea ‘to promote peace and stability in the region.’ My source here is a website calling itself US Naval Forces Europe-Africa/US 6th Fleet. The report goes on to say: ‘Cole’s presence in the Black Sea will serve to reaffirm the U.S. dedication to commitment towards strengthening the partnerships and joint operational capabilities amongst U.S., NATO and regional Black Sea partners. Cole entered Black Sea in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The United States continues to demonstrate its commitment to the collective security of our NATO allies and support for our partners in Europe, in light of the on-going Russian intervention in Ukraine.’

America's beloved Black Sea partners

America’s beloved Black Sea partners

Not merely ‘commitment’, you notice, but ‘dedication to commitment’! Incidentally, those ‘regional Black Sea partners’, apart from Ukraine, are Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Georgia – all of them located some distance from the Atlantic Ocean. I suspect it is exactly that kind of aggressive American foray into Russia’s backyard that has prompted President Vladimir Putin to start drawing lines in the sand.

By the way, the Yemeni gentleman who brought coffee to the world way back when was, of course, a Muslim. The belief system of the Sufi (Tasawouf in Arabic) ‘has been referred to as a path, a journey, a journey of the heart. Such a journey has a beginning; a point of departure that leads towards a destination. A Sufi takes an inner journey to attain the knowledge of Self, a knowledge that leads towards the understanding the Divine. A journey towards understanding such truth will necessarily involve steps; one has to pass through stations of learning, awareness and understanding.’

Don’t we need a little of that in the world these days!


[1] A country whose ruler uses his power to steal the country’s resources

Islamophobia – Following John Lennon on the search for truth

Apparently the guy who executed those three young Muslim people, a young married couple and the wife’s sister, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina wasn’t carrying out a hate crime. It seems he’s an atheist with no links to any of those fundamentalist Christian sects who have been posting photoshopped material on Facebook and elsewhere purporting to show that Islamic terrorists are out to murder Americans in their beds. The guy is not a militant Islamophobe, we are told. He was actually just sorting out a dispute over a parking spot, as any normal red-blooded American male might.

The victims were identified as 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

The victims were identified as 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

Well, I’m relieved to hear that, as I’m sure are many American liberals. Expectations had been building that defenders of freedom, democracy and human rights the world over would be obliged to stage the kind of demonstrations they had turned on in support of those free-thinking French caricaturists. If this was merely a case of some guy defending his parking rights, clearly that won’t be necessary.

Nevertheless, the fact that one middle-aged North Carolinian has got nothing against Muslims doesn’t do much to ease global tensions on the matter. President Obama is currently asking the US Congress to authorise another military invasion of the Middle East, to nip this ISIS outfit in the bud before they take ship across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic to invade homeland USA. He’s also teaming up with his bosom buddy Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure Palestinians not to bring charges of war crimes against the Israeli government, at the International Criminal Court, for their 50-day bombing of the Gaza Strip last year. If they dare to do so, the administration is threatening to cut their $440 million aid package. No mention of reducing aid to Israel in spite of their steadfast refusal to heed United Nations warnings over their illegal occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel has, in fact, been the largest single recipient of US aid since the Second World War, although it ranks among the world’s top 20 highly developed economies.

Well, I’m not justifying the killing of innocent civilians by extremists of any persuasion for the making of a political point. I would, however, question the moral integrity of cartoonists who mock the religious beliefs of a disadvantaged ethnic minority in the name of freedom. US sources tell me that if Barack Obama gets the go-ahead to go to war with ISIS in Syria or Iraq, it’ll be the first time Congress has given such authority since George Dubya got it to bomb the living bejabers out of Iraq in 2003 (on what turned out to be pretty dubious grounds) – and how many innocent civilians died there?

It would be strong stuff to call the leaders of the free world liars – but you can’t help wondering if the creation of an Islamic bogey is a useful political tool to gain public support for increased ‘security’ measures, suppression of opposing points of view and control of the media, especially the internet. A website I discovered recently, PoltiFact, chose the scare-mongering related to Ebola as the ‘Lie of 2014’. The people at PoltiFact, incidentally, were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for their “fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters”.

Where did ISIS get the idea for those orange overalls?

Where did ISIS get the idea for those orange overalls?

You may remember that one of Mr Obama’s pre-election promises was to close the US prison at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba. GTMO (Gitmo) had brought the United States much unwelcome publicity over reports of torture and prolonged detention without trial of Muslims supposed to have some connection with ‘terrorist’ organisations. So it may have come as a surprise to you to hear that the Obama administration has not only not closed down the prison, but it also continues to reject requests from the government of Cuba to return the land used as a US military base – in spite of their stated wish to normalise diplomatic relations with their uncooperative neighbour.

Another news item that may have surprised you was the release of a study by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation programme. The report was approved by the Senate in December 2012 but not finally declassified for public release until two years later. According to the chairperson’s Foreword, the study was initiated in March 2009, but ‘had its roots in an investigation into the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of CIA detainee interrogations that began in December 2007.’ That was around the time when the CIA ceased using its so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on its prisoners – so it has taken a little over eight years for the truth to see the light of day.

As you might expect, there has been loud criticism of the report from certain individuals, most notably CIA Director John Brennan, 78 year-old conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and George Dubya’s Vice-President George Cheney. I don’t know how much coverage you got of the report in your local media. In fact it was an article in our local Turkish daily that drew my attention to it. In case you didn’t have time to read the full text, let me quote you a few excerpts:

The Committee finds, based on a review of CIA interrogation records, that the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.

While being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.

The Committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects. In some cases, there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees during or after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

Some of the plots that the CIA claimed to have “disrupted” as a result of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were assessed by intelligence and law enforcement officials as being infeasible or ideas that were never operationalized.

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, fullmouth.'” Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a “series of near drownings.”

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm totheir families— to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

At times, the detainees were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

In late 2001 and early 2002, senior attorneys at the CIA Office of General Counsel first examined the legal implications of using coercive interrogation techniques. CIA attorneys stated that “a novel application of the necessity defense” could be used “to avoid prosecution of U.S. officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives.”

A year after being briefed on the program, the House and Senate Conference Committee considering the fiscal year 2008 Intelligence Authorization bill voted to limit the CIA to using only interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual. That legislation was approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives in February 2008, and was vetoed by President Bush on March 8, 2008.

44 years on - and still waiting

44 years on – and still waiting

The CIA provided extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information related to the operation and effectiveness of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to the White House, the National Security Council principals, and their staffs.

The CIA repeatedly provided incomplete and inaccurate information to White House personnel regarding the operation and effectiveness of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. . . specific questions from White House officials were not answered truthfully or fully. In briefings for the National Security Council principals and White House officials, the CIA advocated for the continued use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, warning that “termination of this program will result in loss of life, possibly extensive.”

The CIA withheld or restricted information relevant to these agencies’ missions and responsibilities, denied access to detainees, and provided inaccurate information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to these agencies.

The use of coercive interrogation techniques and covert detention facilities that did not meet traditional U.S. standards resulted in the FBI and the Department of Defense limiting their involvement in CIA interrogation and detention activities. This reduced the ability of the U.S. Government to deploy available resources and expert personnel to interrogate detainees and operate detention facilities.

The CIA blocked State Department leadership from access to information crucial to foreign policy decision-making and diplomatic activities. The CIA did not inform two secretaries of state of locations of CIA detention facilities, despite the significant foreign policy implications related to the hosting of clandestine CIA detention sites and the fact that the political leaders of host countries were generally informed of their existence. Moreover, CIA officers told U.S. ambassadors not to discuss the CIA program with State Department officials, preventing the ambassadors from seeking guidance on the policy implications of establishing CIA detention facilities in the countries in which they served.

The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

In July 2002, on the basis of consultations with contract psychologists, and with very limited internal deliberation, the CIA requested approval from the Department of Justice to use a set of coercive interrogation techniques. The techniques were adapted from the training of U.S. military personnel at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school, which was designed to prepare U.S. military personnel for the conditions and treatment to which they might be subjected if taken prisoner by countries that do not adhere to the Geneva Conventions.

Numerous CIA officers had serious documented personal and professional problems—including histories of violence and records of abusive treatment of others—that should have called into question their suitability to participate in the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, their employment with the CIA, and their continued access to classified information. In nearly all cases, these problems were known to the CIA prior to the assignment of these officers to detention and interrogation positions.

Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held and did not meet the detention standard in the September 2001 Memorandum of Notification (MON). These included an “intellectually challenged” man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined that they did not meet the MON standard.

The CIA required secrecy and cooperation from other nations in order to operate clandestine detention facilities, and both had eroded significantly before President Bush publicly disclosed the program on September 6, 2006. From the beginning of the program, the CIA faced significant challenges in finding nations willing to host CIA clandestine detention sites. These challenges became increasingly difficult over time. With the exception of Country X the CIA was forced to relocate detainees out of every country in which it established a detention facility because of pressure from the host government or public revelations about the program. Beginning in early 2005, the CIA sought unsuccessfully to convince the U.S. Department of Defense to allow the transfer of numerous CIA detainees to U.S. military custody. By 2006, the CIA admitted in its own talking points for CIA Director Porter Goss that, absent an Administration decision on an “endgame” for detainees, the CIA was “stymied” and “the program could collapse of its own weight.”

So who can you trust? The President lied to Congress, the news media and the electorate to get support for his Iraq invasion. The CIA lied to the President, the news media, the Senate and Congress about what they were doing to their ‘detainees’ – and the truth came out years later. The news media pretty much report the news that harmonises with the philosophy of their owners and ignore anything that doesn’t. And your government wants to control the internet!


Gimme Some Truth was a track on John Lennon’s 1971 album ‘Imagine’. Click and listen!

The Alevi Sect in Turkey

I’d like to share this article with you about the Alevi sect in Turkey. I did write a post on the subject some time ago, but this writer has done more personal research, and the accompanying photographs are very evocative. The views expressed in the article do not necessarily represent my own, but the subject is one that needs a wider readership in Turkey and beyond.

Faith and Fear in Istanbul

Text by Ömer Warraich184348_newsdetail

Photographs by John Wreford

In many ways, it resembles a traditional mosque. The worshippers slip off their shoes and tread slowly over rows of intricate, hand-woven rugs. Everyone is dressed demurely and the women tie scarves over their hair. Before the prayers begin, they sit cross-legged on the floor. Above them is a domed ceiling, in the center of which dangles a large chandelier.

But look closer and there are some key differences. The dome has 12 edges, Under each is a portrait of a different turbaned man. All of them have thick beards and piercing eyes, their faces shadowed by a saintly penumbra. These are the 12 imams revered by Shiites—Imam Ali, his son, Imam Husayn, and the 10 who came after them. All but the last of them were killed.

The timing is different from a traditional mosque as well. It is Thursday evening, the time of the week when many Sufis across the Muslim divide gather for spiritual remembrance, rather than Friday afternoon, when most Muslims meet once a week for prayer. There is no pulpit. There isn’t even a niche in the direction of Mecca. Instead, the worshippers sit in a circle of about 50 men and at least twice as many women. They sit near each other, the women as prominently placed as the men. Read the whole article

History at 10,000 metres – An Armenian fairy-tale

No one loves flying Cattle Class. Every year I head back to New Zealand and Australia to visit family, spending on average 46 hours in the cramped cabin of a Boeing or Airbus intercontinental jetliner (not counting stops for refuelling and/or transferring to a connecting flight). How many meals can you eat? How many B movies can you watch? How many hours can you sleep? How many times will you clamber over drowsy neighbours to visit a reeking toilet, or stretch atrophying muscles?

Australia Day 26 January - Another way of looking at it

Australia Day 26 January – Another way of looking at it

Still there are compensations. This year Dilek came with me – which meant the lottery of who would occupy the adjacent seat was taken care of, on one side at least. For that reason alone, this was probably my most enjoyable trip. We flew from Istanbul to Auckland via Tokyo in two 11-hour legs: the first a half-empty Turkish Air flight where we got to spread over three seats; the second a more crowded one with Air New Zealand. I can actually remember one of the movies I watched – a SciFi pic called ‘Cloud Atlas’. I can’t pretend I fully understood it. IMDb tells me it’s an ‘exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. The film has multiple plotlines set across six different eras.’ Four big stars, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant play multiple roles in what is said to have been one of the most expensive independent films of all time. Well, it inspired me to buy the novel by David Mitchell, and I’m hoping I’ll have a clearer idea of what it’s all about after I finish that.

Our return journey was more arduous. I try to avoid routes passing through the Middle East, requiring as they do 14-hour stages from Australia and lengthy spells in air-conditioned airport terminals in oil-rich, culture poor Arab states. This time it was unavoidable, and Qatar Airways dropped us off for seven hours in a surreal world of La Coste, Rolex and Lamborghini lotteries. On the plus side of the ledger, we did see the golden disc of the sun rising out of the sea into a cloudless desert sky as we landed – and eleven hours later, the same orb turning clouds spectacular shades of purple, pink and crimson as it set in the Turkish west.

Not often found in cattle class. Many thanks to our Armenian friend

Not often found in cattle class. Many thanks to our Armenian friend

In between we had a final five-hour flight enlivened by sharing our three-seat block with an Armenian-Turkish gentleman. I admit to some resentment when he first sat down. I’d been hoping again for an empty seat – and the guy was clearly too large to be comfortable in the confines of economy class. To be fair, he did his considerate best to avoid excessive invasion of my airspace; and he brought the added bonus of preferential treatment by virtue of having a daughter who worked for the airline. This manifested in the appearance of a bottle of cognac with the coffee service (normally reserved, I imagine, for business class passengers), and I was offered a glass.

We got chatting, especially when our new friend realised we spoke Turkish. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, we were treated to a lengthy history lesson (Armenian version), rising in intensity in inverse proportion to the contents of a generous glass of Hennessy V.S.O.P.

At first we were happy to listen. What we learned was that the Armenian people are responsible for just about everything positive in the history of the world. Among other things, we learned that they call themselves ‘Hay’ and they were the first people to become Christian (in 301 CE). Around that time they built an enormous church near Kars in eastern Anatolia, larger than Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, and the first church to have a stone floor. Subsequently Armenians (or Hays) designed and built most of Ottoman Istanbul, and after the Republic of Turkey was founded an Armenian created the modern Turkish alphabet.

Well, some of those ‘facts’ might be debatable, but we listened to the lecture. Apart from mere politeness, it was the first time I’d had an opportunity to hear these things from a real live person, rather than reading them on an Armenian website. At one stage, Dilek did suggest that we might be getting a slanted point of view, but we were assured that this was the true history. On learning that Dilek’s father had immigrated from Salonika, our friend informed her that she must in that case be Jewish. In spite of that, or possibly forgetting it, he later informed us that all Jews are cowards, though there seemed to be some confusion in his mind about whether Jewishness was a race or a religion. As the story became more outrageous, I did start to inject some questions of my own. How did the Armenians become Christian? When did the Turkish-Armenian conflict begin? Is Armenianism itself a race or a religion? Why did Jews (and Muslims) leave Salonika in large numbers? The answers tended to be sketchy and in some instances, mutually contradictory.

As we drew nearer to Istanbul, our instructor moved on to the subject of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Were we aware that the revered founder of the Republic of Turkey had been blind in one eye, and known to his acquaintances as ‘Kör Kemal’ (Kemal the Blind)? He recounted an anecdote about Atatürk’s being introduced to a Zeybek warrior who made fun of his short stature and high-pitched voice. At that point a young man in the row in front, clearly unable to remain silent, turned and challenged our Armenian friend. The exchange grew quite heated, to the point where passengers behind us became concerned.

Fortunately no blows were exchanged, and the antagonists were able to leave off the debate and shake hands before cabin staff were required to intervene. Our plane landed at Sabiha Gökçen Airport, and we made our way home without further incident. I did, however, feel the need to check some of the information our friend had shared with us, and I want to append some of my findings:

St Giragos Armenian Church, Diyarbakır. Recently restored and reopened for worship

St Giragos Armenian Church, Diyarbakır. Recently restored and reopened for worship

The Kingdom of Armenia was apparently the first state to adopt Christianity as a state religion, pipping the Romans by a few years. Armenians had been converted to the true faith by two of Jesus’s apostles, Thaddeus and Bartholomew. In recognition of his evangelical activities, the latter is said to have been flayed alive and crucified upside down – this fate earning him beatification and saintly responsibility for desperate cases and lost causes.

Armenian Christianity, I can inform you, despite being ‘Apostolic’ (thanks to St Thad and St Bart), is non-Chalcedonian – which means it departs from most of Western and Orthodox Christendom in certain doctrinal matters, mostly related to interpretations of the true and mysterious nature of Jesus. ‘Chalcedon’ refers to an ecumenical council held in 451 CE in what is now the Istanbul district of Kadıköy. Interestingly the doctrinal split didn’t stop Armenians from building several churches that can still be seen in Kadıköy today.

The word ‘Armenia’ is said to derive from old Persian, and the people do in fact prefer to call themselves ‘Hay’. That name seems to originate from a mythological character ‘Hayk’ who is believed by some to have founded the Armenian nation. There was indeed a Kingdom of Armenia that existed in one form or another from 321 BCE to 428 CE; though for much of that time it was a vassal state of various larger empires, the Hellenistic Seleucids, the Romans, Byzantines and Sassanids. Prior to that, some histories speak of proto-Armenian peoples connected to the Urartian civilisation that existed in biblical times around Mt Ararat – but it is generally acknowledged that separating fact from mythology in those days is no easy task. Most peoples in the region have legends identifying themselves as the aboriginal race. Who can know?

The matter of monumental Armenian churches seems to be a subject of debate. The ruins of a large monastery dedicated to the said St Bartholomew can be seen near the town of Başkale close to Turkey’s border with Iran. Local traditions assert that the complex was built over the tomb of St Bart in the 1st century CE, but there are apparently no official records prior to the 13th century. Another large church, St Giragos, is to be found in the eastern city of Diyarbakır. Again, there is some debate about when it was constructed, but the earliest date seems to be some time in the 15th century. It has recently been restored by the Government of Turkey and reopened for worship. A third edifice is the Cathedral of Ani, located in the ruined city which was the capital of an Armenian city-state that flourished briefly from 960 to 1045 CE. Maybe they all had stone floors – but most pre-Christian pagan temples did too, so I wouldn’t have thought that was a major innovation.

Main gate of Dolmabahçe Palace - designed by Garabet Balyan

Main gate of Dolmabahçe Palace – designed by Garabet Balyan

The ruins of Ani are located close to the modern Turkish city of Kars, so it is possibly this cathedral that our fellow traveller was referring to. Whatever the case, none of the three churches comes close to rivalling Hagia Sophia in size; and the first two were actually built during the period of Turkish supremacy in Anatolia, either the Seljuks or the later Ottomans. As for Ani, it was fellow Christians, the Byzantine Greeks who wreaked most of the destruction, before the Seljuks finished the job. Evidently the citizens of that town were not well beloved of whoever was in power in the region in those days.

Aside from that, however, Armenians seem to have had rather happier lives under Muslim rule than they did when their Orthodox co-religionists ran the show. As noted above, permission was granted for the construction of those other two large churches by Seljuk and Ottoman rulers. Furthermore, as our Armenian friend was eager to tell us, architects of his persuasion were responsible for designing many of the great buildings of imperial Istanbul. Five generations of the Balian (Balyan) family, for example, designed and constructed numerous major buildings, including palaces, kiosks, mosques, churches and various public buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries. Clearly the Ottoman desire to exterminate Armenians came at a later date, for reasons that may bear closer scrutiny.

I couldn’t confirm that an Armenian was responsible for the modern, marvellously phonetic alphabet used in writing the Turkish language, replacing the Arabic script of Ottoman days. The Wikipedia entry lists nine members of a committee set the task by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1928 – but none of the names is conspicuously Armenian. As for Atatürk himself, existing photographs clearly do not show him to be a giant, nor a half-blind midget for that matter. If he was 1.69 m as our friend claimed, that probably made him around average height for his people in those days. I have heard scratchy recordings of the great man’s voice in public performance, and it does sound somewhat high-pitched. In his defence, though, I would say that in the days before electronic amplification, it was customary for a public speaker to pitch his (or her) voice a little higher to get the carry needed for his (her) words to reach listeners in the back rows. It wasn’t necessarily a sign of deficient masculinity, as our friend seemed to be implying.

One happy family in Qatar - Don't believe that stuff about slave labour from the 3rd world

One happy family in Qatar – Don’t believe that stuff about slave labour from the 3rd world

Well, history is more or less bunk, as Henry Ford is supposed to have said. I began this blog largely as a result of living in Turkey and discovering that there was a version of history somewhat different from the one I had learned in post-colonial New Zealand. I was privileged to get a glimpse of the world from a Muslim perspective; of the deleterious effects of European imperialism; and why in more recent times the American Way has not always been viewed benignly by the rest of the world. Some peoples, like some individuals, seem able to position themselves advantageously in the marketplace out of proportion to their actual merit. It’s as well for us to bear in mind that one man’s history may be another man’s bunk.

Turkey, Armenia and the Tragedies of Wars

I came across this article on, and I’d like to share it with you. The writer, Merve Sebnem Oruç is a managing editor in online journalism and a commentator in Turkey.

Australians commemorating Anzac day at Gallipoli

Australians commemorating Anzac day at Gallipoli

“Gallipoli is a good place to start for resolving the historic dispute between Turkey and Armenians.

“The Battle of Gallipoli was one of the most critical scenes in Turkey’s history. Britain and France opened an overseas front in Gallipoli in East Thrace and tried to overcome the Ottomans. The Russian Empire was promised the capital Istanbul by the two of Entente Powers of World War I. It was a fight for the survival of a nation, a struggle for life or death.

“The victory in Gallipoli didn’t help Turks win the war but it gave hope to resist and start the war of independence a couple of years later. The resistance is honoured every year on March 18 in Gallipoli and on the shores of the Dardanelles.

“Gallipoli is of significant importance to others like Australia and New Zealand. Each year, on April 25, they commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who died in Gallipoli. This is known as ANZAC day.

“It was a battle away from home. It wasn’t even their war. They were dominions of the British Empire when the war broke out. Gallipoli is now a symbol of their national identity and existence. Their nations were born there.

Armenians remember 24 April with greater sorrow

Armenians remember 24 April with greater sorrow

“This year is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited more than 100 world leaders, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, to attend centennial commemoration ceremonies. The UK’s Prince Charles and the prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand are expected to take part in the ceremonies as well.

“It is upsetting that Sargsyan has decided to reject the invitation, which would have helped lead us one step closer to understanding and reaching closure on the tragic events of 1915. The invitation, after all, was yet another historic move following Erdoğan’s statement.

“Turkey will commemorate the centennial on April 24 instead of the regular memorial date, March 18, in a symbolic gesture of compassion. April 24 also marks the start of the deportation of Armenians by Turkish unionist authorities – it is the day Armenians around the world traditionally commemorate their ancestors who were killed in that campaign.

“Ten years ago, merely talking about 1915 [in Turkey] was a feat of bravery, but now there is no taboo when discussing anything out loud.

“Discussing and understanding history is more conducive to progress than being stuck at the same point for years, and Gallipoli is one of the most appropriate places to start.” Read the whole artice.