World War Three?

I came across a curious article the other day while skimming through various news sources. The headline was:

The Queen has a SECRET speech prepared and ready for WORLD WAR 3

royal family

World War 3, anyone? A show of knees, please. The royals’ll be right there, of course – fighting them on the beaches etc.

Dear old Elizabeth, I thought. Well, she’s been sitting on that throne for a long time now, so you’d have to think she’s got pretty much every possible event covered. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, as we used to say.

The UK Express published this little piece as accusations against Russia were surfacing over the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, former spy and double agent. Now talk of a Third World War seems to have become the latest buzz topic in the salons of the well-off.

“The Queen”, readers would no doubt have been comforted to hear, “has a speech prepared in case this terrible event does happen. It may have been written nearly forty years ago and is of its time, but it is still relevant today.”

‘Now,” says Lilibet, “this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.’”

But, hang on – forty years ago? Yep. Apparently, this “incredibly prescient” speech was written on 4 March 1983, a year after the much-faded British Empire had launched an attack by land, sea and air on that major threat to world peace, Argentina, over a tiny archipelago 1,800 km from Buenos Aires, and 12,686 km from London. Great Britain, it seems, had claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands in 1690. There was some debate, however, in international circles over this claim, with Spain, France, Argentina and later the United States all expressing interest. The Brits, nevertheless, World Number One at the time, backed up their own argument in 1833 with the time-honoured strategy of gunboat diplomacy – and has exercised “de facto sovereignty” ever since.

soviet-union-is-the-focus-of-evil-in-the-modern-world-ronald-reagan-67-54-70

OK, they’ve gone – so who is it now?

1983: Geriatric former Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan, was in his first term as President of the USA. He was much-mocked at the time – but his tenure has since come to be viewed with wistful affection in the light of subsequent horrors. Those were the days when Soviet Russia was, allegedly, still the main threat to world peace – and Reagan “The Gipper” was planning to locate missile bases in outer space to get a better coverage of earth-bound targets.

thetcher-1

There wasn’t much sadness when Maggie went on her last journey

Maggie Thatcher, a one-term wonder if ever there was one, had ensured her re-election to the UK premiership by waging that outrageous little war against a third-world South American dictatorship, swept back in on a wave of nostalgic jingoistic patriotism. “The Witch” then proceeded to destroy the unions, create widespread unemployment and poverty, and hand the UK economy over to the financial leeches of London City. The retributive hand of Divine Justice sentenced her to spend her declining years in demented insanity – before casting her into the fires of perpetual damnation. But of course, I don’t really believe in that stuff 😉

The really important question, however, is, whose mortal hand is working behind the scenes of these exemplary democracies to ensure that these looney ideologues are “elected” as leaders of the so-called “Free World”?

lawrence

Apparently he was quite keen on a spot of flagellation

I recently read a history of the First World War by John Keegan – lauded by some as one of the world’s great military historians. I have to say I found it pretty heavy-going, and I mostly skipped over detailed accounts of pointless battles of attrition on the Western and Eastern Fronts. I was really interested in the “theatres” that received little attention in the “history” I was brought up with – especially British attacks on Ottoman territory in Palestine and “Mesopotamia”. With the exception of TE Lawrence’s romanticised, self-aggrandising tales of sado-masochistic adventures in “Arabia”, we knew little of the British government’s plans to establish a Zionist state in Palestine, and seize the Middle Eastern oil-fields for themselves.

But empire-building was what that war was really all about – overcoming rivals to control the world’s resources and enslaving the poorer people in one’s own and other countries. State propaganda was widely used to persuade the public that war was necessary to preserve freedom and defeat an evil enemy. Thinking citizens who refused to believe the lies were ruthlessly punished.

A second more terrible war broke out a mere twenty years after that one ended. The propaganda was more sophisticated, but the Second World War was really a continuation of the First – a continuing struggle for world dominance by competing empires. And a conflict manufactured by financial-industrial oligarchs to establish a new world economic order after the disastrous depression they themselves had created.

With Germany and Japan defeated and laid waste, and the British Empire disintegrating, the United States emerged from that second war as the world’s number one military and economic power. “United” however, it certainly wasn’t. The North-South divide had never gone away. Racial tensions seethed below the glamorous surface illusion created by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Extremes of obscene wealth and abject poverty were preserved by armed force when necessary. Relaxed open societies flourished in coastal cities contrasting with the religious conservatism of inland states. An existential danger posed by an outside threat was needed to unite a divided people – and for forty years Soviet Russia’s “evil empire” provided that unifying service.

So, what’s changed? Let’s list the changes:

rust belt

Rust Belt, USA

  • The United States’ economic engine has long-since stalled. Its manufacturing sector has been exported to poor countries where the labour force can be exploited to generate greater profits for owners and “shareholders”.
  • Once-great cities have been turned into deserts of poverty, crime and systemic unemployment, with enclaves of super-wealthy guarded by private police, high walls and razor-wire.
  • Real economic growth has ceased. An unsustainable illusion of growth has been maintained by media-driven consumption and shopping.
  • The USA has been transformed from the world’s banker into its greatest debtor.
  • The country’s pristine natural environment has been increasingly ravaged and sacrificed to the greed of industrialists and commercial interests.
  • The anarchy of the internet has brought into the open the dirty secrets of governments that had previously portrayed themselves as representatives of freedom, democracy, justice and equality. More and more people all over the world are discovering the real truth about how the US has used its military and economic power to overthrow democratically elected governments, install puppet dictators and condone their use of torture and murder.
  • The USSR fizzled out of existence, removing the long-standing danger that had prevented the “United” States from disintegrating into its multitude of component parts.

No credible external enemy has been found to replace the evil Soviets. They’ve tried Muslims, but Islam is just about as divided as Christianity – although retaining perhaps a little more faith and sincerity. No one can really believe in a unified Islamic monster opening its jaws to swallow Western civilisation.

trump-kin jong un

Who would you say poses the bigger danger to world peace?

North Korea? With a population of 25 million, and economy ranked 125th in the world, it’s hard to see Kim Jong-Un as a major threat, no matter how hard you try.

Russia again? It may be the largest country by land area, but according to Forbes, its economy is smaller than that of Texas. You may not like Vladimir Putin, but Russians seem to – and he has given them some self-belief back after the shame of the Soviet collapse. Nevertheless, Mr Putin’s probably got enough problems in his own backyard without challenging for world domination.

bankers-warsSo, are we on the brink of a Third World War? In whose interests would it be? Certainly not the tens or hundreds of millions of human beings who can expect to die quickly or slowly if it does break out. As in all other wars, it is the power elite who will do none of the actual fighting, suffer few of the hardships, but expect to reap major financial benefits. Who will start it? As in the past, it is that elite and their minions who will instigate provocations until some other government decides enough is enough and begins to fight back. Then they will be blamed for the ensuing conflagration.

God save us!

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Do as you’re told, or we’ll destroy your economy!

The Turkish Lira has been taking a battering in the “money markets” recently. Could there be a connection between that and Turkey’s defiance of US plans in Syria? (That’s a rhetorical question) And , surprise, surprise, the only currency doing worse is the Russian ruble! The sooner the world escapes from the hegemony of the Yankee dollar, the better for all of us!

Erdoğan blasts investors amid tumbling Turkish Lira

shadow bankers[Turkey’s] President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hit out at international investors on April 12, saying “no one could bring Turkey to heel using exchange rates,” casting the recent sharp drop in the value of the Turkish Lira as a conspiracy by outside powers. 

“Don’t worry, Turkey is continuing on its path with determined steps. Nobody can bring us to heel using exchange rates,” Erdoğan said in a speech in Ankara.

“The rise in exchange rates has no reasonable, logical or regular explanation,” he added.

His comments came as the lira took a breather after plumbing record lows for five straight trading days. 

Jacob RothschildThe lira, which has been highly sensitive to developments in neighboring Syria, recovered slightly to trade at 4.1010 per dollar after hitting a record low of 4.1920 on April 11, with investors’ anxiety over a threatened clash between Western powers and Russia in Syria easing.

The lira is down 2 percent so far this week, also hit by concern about high inflation and the country’s current account deficit.

The lira was the second worst performing emergency currency over the last month after Russian ruble with a nearly 7 percent loss in its value.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/erdogan-blasts-investors-amid-tumbling-turkish-lira-130212

Armageddon coming up?

 

If I were at all inclined to religious fundamentalism, I’d say God must be just about ready to blast these people with a major disaster . . .

Anyone want to buy a dinosaur? Two on sale in Paris

dinosaur for sale

Length of diplodocus skeleton – 27 metres. Length of our entire house – 14 metres! Damn! It won’t fit!

The skeletons of an allosaurus and a diplodocus are up for auction in Paris this week, marketed as hip interior design objects for those with big enough living rooms.

“The fossil market is no longer just for scientists,” said Iacopo Briano of Binoche et Giquello, the auction house that is putting the two dinosaurs under the hammer on April 11.

“Dinosaurs have become cool, trendy; real objects of decoration, like paintings,” the Italian expert said, citing Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage as fans of such outsize prehistoric ornaments.

Cage, however, did hand back the rare skull of a tyrannosaurus bataar, a close cousin of T. rex, that he bought in 2007 after it was found to have been stolen and illegally taken out of Mongolia.

Dinosaur bones are increasingly gracing collectors’ cabinets, with another huge skeleton, that of a theropod, expected to fetch up to 1.5 million euros when it goes up for auction in June.

“For the last two or three years the Chinese have become interested in palaeontology and have been looking for big specimens of dinosaurs found on their soil, for their museums or even for individuals,” Briano said.

The new buyers are now bidding against multinational corporations as well as ultra-rich Europeans and Americans, the “traditional” buyers of dinosaur skeletons, Briano added.

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/anyone-want-to-buy-a-dinosaur-two-on-sale-in-paris-130074

Syrian refugees in Germany returning to Turkey

A growing number of Syrian refugees in Germany are seeking to return to Turkey as a new German legislation has introduced new barriers to family reunification, local media reported on April 12.

Syrians in germany

The milk of German kindness

The German government recently imposed stricter measures to curb family reunification for Syrian refugees, many of whom were granted “subsidiary protection.”

German broadcaster ARD reported that its correspondents documented the journey of several Syrian refugees who sought to return to Turkey by paying hundreds of euros to human smugglers.

The refugees wanted to return to Turkey because they could not receive permission from German authorities to bring their family members who had fled to Turkey after the Syrian civil war broke out, the report said.

The EU’s largest economy has accepted more than 700,000 Syrian refugees since 2015, but amid domestic political pressure, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government introduced barriers to family reunification. A cap of 1,000 people per month was imposed on who could come to Germany for family reunification.

Family reunification was a hot issue in last year’s elections after media reported that around 390,000 refugees could apply for this right and bring their spouses and minor children to Germany.

The far-right Islamophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) alleged that family reunification was an “incalculable risk” for the country and called for severe restrictions.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

Meanwhile, several hundred thousand Syrian refugees have been able to return to their homes since the Turkish military started operations in Afrin, the Syrian region bordering Turkey. There are, however, still around three million displaced Syrians in Turkey.

Eskishehir –an old city rejuvenated

YHTTransport systems in Turkey have been revolutionised since I first came to this country back in the 1990s. Last week we took a trip on the High-Speed Train (YHT) that now connects Istanbul to the capital Ankara.

In fact, we only went as far as the city of Eskishehir, a two-and-a-half-hour journey – and I have to say I was less than impressed. I have a memory of riding the TGV in France years ago, hissing along almost silently at 300 km/h as power-poles and scenery flashed past the window. According to the video display, our Turkish train did hit 250 km/h on a couple of occasions, but for the most part we cruised along at more sedate speeds.

To be fair, Turkey’s geography is a factor. Much of the country is high altitude steppe once you leave the coastal regions, and getting up there requires a few twists and turns. You can actually feel your ears pop as the train climbs from sea-level. Probably, if you continue to Ankara or Konya, you’ll have a better high-speed experience.

Porsuk river

The Porsuk River at dusk

Our main purpose, however, was to check out Eskishehir itself.  The city has become popular with Istanbul day-trippers in recent years, reputedly thanks to a go-ahead mayor and council who have worked a 21st century miracle of Europeanisation on their dusty Anatolian town.

Well, in general, I’m happy to save my European experiences for when I visit Germany, or other pinnacles of post-modern development. I love Turkey for what it is – but still, I confess it is nice to enjoy a few modern comforts. The Eskishehir City Council have indeed laid out some pretty parks; and encouraged development of a buzzing bar and café scene along the banks of the Porsuk River, catering for a youthful population augmented by the presence of two large universities.

Personally, however, I was more interested in scratching the surface to find what lies beneath the face presented for public consumption.

One peculiarity of Eskishehir is that many of its people have Tatar ancestry. According to Wikipedia, the Crimean Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group that formed in the Crimean Peninsula during the 13th–17th centuries, primarily from the Turkic tribes that moved to the land now known as Crimea in Eastern Europe from the Asian steppes beginning in the 10th century. . . Since 2014 Crimean Tatars were officially recognized as indigenous peoples of Ukraine . . .

Crimea-Tatars-Turkish-Press

Yeah, I know! But what can I do?

The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal state during the 15th to 18th centuries . . . The Turkic-speaking population of Crimea had mostly adopted Islam already in the 14th century.”

That was probably their big mistake. After Russia defeated the Ottomans in the War of 1768-74, they began expelling Muslim Tatars from Crimea – and continued during the wars with Napoleon in 1812. Further expulsions took place during the Crimean War (1853-56) and another war with the Ottoman Empire in 1877-8. In those days the Russian government was implementing a policy of Russification and Christianisation, and the Tatars didn’t fit into either category. Soviet Russia continued the ethnic cleansing in the 1920s, culminating in 1944 when Josef Stalin’s regime exiled the entire remaining Tatar population to Central Asia. Over that period of 170 years, hundreds of thousands of Tatars sought and found sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire and later, in the Republic of Turkey. Many of their descendants live in Eskishehir today.

No picnics

“Picnicking in the park is forbidden!” I guess they have their reasons

I hinted above that the city is getting a reputation with well-heeled Istanbulites as a beacon of European enlightenment in a country many of them see as descending into an abyss of Shariah Islamic fundamentalism. Whether or not that is the case, I have no intention of discussing here. It is certainly true that the Mayor of Eskishehir is unabashedly affiliated with the opposition CHP – the Republican People’s Party that claims direct descent from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk himself.

Turkey has probably one of the most complex histories of any country on Earth. Empires have come and gone over many millennia, of which the most recent are the pagan Hellenistic creation of Alexander the Great, the equally pagan Roman Empire, the Christian Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the Muslim religion practised in Turkey differs considerably from that of its Middle Eastern neighbours in Syria, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Much of this difference stems from the work of a fellowship of mystical Sufi philosophers who exerted considerable influence on the people from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The best known in the West is Rumi – Mevlana Jelalettin, founder of the sect sometimes referred to as “Whirling Dervishes”. Another poet, well known in Turkey, is Yunus Emre (1238-1320) whose use of the Turkish vernacular made his spiritual insights accessible to common folk. He is said to have been buried in a village not far from Eskishehir. We came across the tomb of another Sufi mystic, Sheikh Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi in the old part of town – although apparently the Sheikh’s last resting place is claimed by several other cities, and not only in Turkey.

türbe

Shrine of Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi

Shuhreverdi is said to have founded a sect known as Fütüvvet (I’ve no idea what that is in English), whose followers were known for their humility, courage, generosity, kindness to others, not giving importance to material possessions, tolerance and adhering to firm moral principles (can’t see much wrong with that!). The Sheikh claimed to have derived his eclectic philosophy from Zoroastrian sources and Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Shuhreverdi’s views were considered heretical by some orthodox Sunni leaders, and threats were made on his life. Apparently, he met a nasty end, executed in 1191 CE on the orders of an Islamic judge in Aleppo – so maybe his remains are somewhere in Syria.

Be that as it may, Shehabeddin Shuhreverdi’s name is still remembered in Eskişehir, and his shrine is known to some in Turkish as “Salı Tekkesi”, the “Tuesday Chapel”, since local folk used to gather there formerly on Tuesdays. Why, I can’t tell you, but it is possible that some of that holy gentleman’s unorthodox opinions and independent streak have passed down to present-day Eskishehirians.

pipe

Meerschaum pipe

Another of the city’s many claims to fame is that it is the main source of the world’s supply of sepiolite, more commonly known by its German name meerschaum, from which elaborately carved pipes were much prized by aficionados. The German word means “foam of the sea” since the stone is so light it will actually float on water. Luletaşı, in Turkish, I was surprised, and not a little shocked to learn, is also used for cat litter – one of its qualities being the capacity to absorb unpleasant aromas.

A highlight of our visit to Eskishehir was visiting a museum commemorating Turkey’s War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). I am quoting here from the website of The Turkish Coalition of America:

Kurtuluş savaşı müzesi

Liberation War Museum

“The Ottoman Empire . . . had been carved up as a result of its ill-fated decision to join World War I on the side of the Germans. The defeated Ottoman government signed the Mondros agreement with the Allied forces, securing its own existence, while relinquishing almost all of its territories, except for a small Anatolian heartland, to Britain, Italy, France and Greece. The Mondros agreement, designed to decimate the Ottoman nation, was being implemented step by step under the watch of the surrendered Ottoman government. The final insult to the Ottomans came with the invasion of Izmir by the Greek army and its violent advance into Anatolia. Civilian resistance began building up against the occupation, but without a sense of direction or coordination.”

Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) formed a national parliament in Ankara on 23 April 1920, organised an army of national resistance, and was elected commander-in-chief. The war “lasted four years and culminated in the international recognition of Turkey’s borders through the treaty of Lausanne July 24, 1923 and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923”.

Several crucial battles were fought in the vicinity of Eskishehir, and the museum, located in a historic wooden mansion, contains maps, artefacts and explanations of the war’s course. There is also an excellent film screened in a small theatre that brings to life the events of those turbulent years. An extract can be viewed on YouTube. It’s in Turkish, of course, but the visuals tell some of the story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCnbUpswcw4

Of less geopolitical significance, but still a high point of our self-guided tour was sipping a beer in one of the riverside cafes and seeing a “muster” of storks circling overhead. These are migratory birds that return to their nests in Turkey every spring to breed and raise their young, before flying off to warmer climes for the winter. So, spring has arrived, I’m happy to say!

storks

A “muster” of storks over Eskisheir – or a “phalanx”, if you prefer – I’m assured the terms are interchangeable

Does Istanbul need a mega-canal?

There is an argument to be made. The Bosporus Strait runs through the middle of Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, with a population of around 15 million. The narrow waterway is of critical importance to countries bordering the Black Sea, especially Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The strait carries a huge volume of shipping, but poses considerable navigational difficulties. Mega-tankers carrying oil and gas ply back and forth along its narrow, sinuous 31-kilometre length, creating a constant threat of disaster.

ship hits yalıStricken ship crushes wooden waterfront mansion on Istanbul’s Bosporus

A cargo vessel crossing through the Bosphorus in Istanbul crashed into a waterside mansion on April 7 due to a technical fault, crushing the fragile wooden building. The Maltese-flagged Vitaspirit lost control and ploughed into the edifice. The building’s roof and upper floors collapsed, and television pictures showed the basement slumping into the water.    

Such waterside mansions, known as yalis in Turkish, are among the most historic and expensive properties on the waterway that runs through Istanbul and divides Europe and Asia.    

The Deniz Haber maritime news agency said that the 225-meter (740 foot) Vitaspirit, which was heading from Egypt to Ukraine, lost control due to a technical fault with its engines. Images showed the stricken vessel ramming the mansion on the Asian side of the Bosphorus with the tip of its bow, sending a cloud of dust and rubble into the air as the building collapsed.    

The damaged Hekimbasi Salih Efendi Mansion is seen after the Maltese flagged tanker Vitaspirit crashed into it by the Bosphorus strait in IstanbulThe vessel was extracted from the mansion with the help of tugs but the Bosphorus was closed to shipping traffic in both directions, NTV television said. There were no casualties in the collision.

The wooden Hekimbaşı Salih Efendi mansion was built by Ottoman nobles in the 19th century. It had no permanent residents but was rented out for marriage ceremonies or concerts.  

The Bosphorus is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and in 2017 it was transited by some 42,000 military, naval and commercial vessels.

The government says the risk of such accidents shows the need to build its planned and hugely controversial new canal for Istanbul that would take the shipping traffic and lessen the pressure on the Bosphorus.

Read the whole article.

Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque

Imperio-Otomano

Turned back at the gates of Vienna!

Ottoman history is undergoing something of a revision in Turkey these days. Despite its portrayal in the West, it was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious state. The concept of Turkishness and Turkish nationalism emerged in the late 19th century in response to the rise of national independence movements within the Ottoman Empire, encouraged by the so-called Great Powers of Europe. During the 19th century, the Empire lost much of its former territory as a result of wars which the European powers justified by claiming to champion the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. When oil began to replace coal as the fuel of choice, and it was discovered that vast resources of “black gold” lay within their domains, it became increasingly fashionable to brand the Ottoman government as bloodthirsty barbarians slaughtering their poor downtrodden minorities.

At its greatest extent, in 1683, The Ottoman Empire covered more than 3 million km2 spread over three continents. As late as 1820, Muslims made up no more than 60% of its population. The website Lost Islamic History has this to say:

Yıldız Hamidiye

Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque – opened 1886

“While analyzing the Ottoman Empire’s Islamic character, one must keep in mind that much of the empire’s population was not Muslim. Large communities of Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Catholics all lived in the empire. At some times, Muslims even formed a minority of the empire’s population. At no time in the empire’s history were non-Muslims forced to abide by any Muslim laws. Instead, a system of religious pluralism, known as the millet system, was implemented. In the millet system, each religious group was organized into a millet, or nation.

Each millet was allowed to run by its own rules, elect its own leaders, and enforce their own laws on their people. For example, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II had the Orthodox Christian community of the city elect a new patriarch, who served as their leader. By not enforcing Islamic laws on non-Muslims, the Ottoman Empire ensured social and religious stability and harmony within its borders for much of its history. Contrary to this, throughout the rest of Christian Europe, religious freedom only began to take root in the 1700s and 1800s. Denial of rights and persecution of non-Christians continued, however, as is seen in the Holocaust of the 1940s and the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Bosnians in the 1990s.”

dome

The dome in Yıldız Mosque

The Encyclopedia Britannica elaborates:

“The purpose of the millet system was to keep the different peoples of the empire separated in order to minimize conflict and preserve social order in a highly heterogeneous state. Christian hatred of Muslims and Jews, however, led to constant tension and competition among the different millets, with the Jews being subjected to “blood libel” attacks against their persons, shops, and homes by the sultan’s Greek and Armenian subjects. Those attacks intensified during the week preceding Easter, when Greeks and Armenians were driven into a frenzy by the old accusations, invented in ancient times by the Greek Orthodox Church, that Jews murdered Christian children in order to use their blood for religious rituals. The sultan intervened to provide protection for his Jewish subjects as much as possible, though the fact that many of his soldiers were Christians converted to Islam who retained the hatreds instilled in their childhoods made that intervention difficult.”

Yıldız parkı

The redeveloped Yıldız Park

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed after the end of the First World War, what little remained was saved by the efforts of a nationalist resistance movement that employed, of necessity, the uniting principles of Turkish identity and the Muslim religion. The secular republic that emerged from the struggle was, perhaps ironically, more exclusively Turkish and Muslim than the Ottoman state had ever been. An important aspect of its founding mythology was the need to deny a connection with the once-great empire from whose ashes it was emerging.

What has been happening in recent years is a greater willingness to acknowledge the fact that the Ottoman Empire, its history, culture and achievements, are an important aspect of the heritage of the modern Republic of Turkey. Movies such as Fetih 1453 (The Conquest of Constantinople), Dedemin İnsanları (My Grandfather’s People), and popular TV series like Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century) and Payitaht Abdülhamid (The reign of Abdülhamid II), have been bringing Ottoman history to life and making it palatable to new generations in the 21st century.

sultan-2-abdulhamitThe case of Abdülhamit II is possibly the most striking example of the revisionist revolution taking place in Turkey. Condemned for years in the West as “The Red Sultan” or “Abdül the Damned” for his alleged atrocities against Armenians, Abdülhamid ascended to the throne in August 1876 at a bad time in Ottoman history. His older brother, Murat V, had been deposed after a brief eight-month reign. Murat himself had taken over from his uncle Abdülaziz who had been ousted and forced to commit suicide. Shortly after getting the top job, Abdülhamid found himself involved in a disastrous war with Russia, which ended with a victorious Russian army at the gates of Istanbul. The British Government intervened to keep Russia in its place, but the Ottomans again lost territory – including the İsland of Cyprus, which the Brits grabbed as a “protectorate”.

Abdülhamid managed to keep his rickety empire afloat for a further 33 years, in the face of increasing threats from within and without. In 1905 he survived an assassination attempt by Armenian revolutionaries, but was overthrown by a coup in 1909, in which, according to a Turkish source, there was Jewish involvement. The Sultan had upset powerful Jewish interests by opposing their plans for a Jewish state in Palestine – at that time in Ottoman territory.

balcony

Elaborately decorated interior, Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque

During his reign, the third longest in the empire’s 623-year history, Abdülhamid:

  • Modernised the army
  • Opened many schools and hospitals
  • Extended postal, rail and telegraph networks
  • Introduced major law reforms
  • Left an impressive architectural legacy

The Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque was opened in 1886 near the Sultan’s new residence on the hill above Beşiktaş. Interestingly, the architect was an Armenian, Sarkis Balyan, whose family had served the Ottoman dynasty for several generations. A substantial portion of the palace grounds have been preserved as a public park – the 46-hectare Yıldız Park has recently undergone substantial redevelopment, and is a restful oasis in the megalopolis that is present-day Istanbul. I’ve been waiting impatiently for restoration of the mosque to be completed. After four years, it was re-opened in March to mark the 100th anniversary of Abdülhamid’s death. I’m told the cost of renovation amounted to 27 million TL (around $US 5 million), and the result is spectacular.

There is a three-storey clock tower in the courtyard. The mosque is entered by a double stairway of white marble, and the interior decoration was designed to exceed that of the palace itself. In recent years students have been learning the neglected skills of Ottoman art and decoration, of which the Yıldız Mosque is a magnificent exhibition. Some of the elaborate woodwork in the interior is said to have been made by the Sultan himself, a skilled cabinet-maker in his spare time.

exterior

Mosque dedicated to Sheikh Tunuslu Muhammed Zafiri

A hundred metres or so downhill towards the centre of Beşiktaş is a smaller mosque dedicated to a Sufi Sheikh, Tunuslu Muhammed Zafiri. Abdülhamid Khan took his religion seriously, and was apparently a devotee of the Şâzelîlik sect that originated in North Africa.

Well, there’s only so much history we can absorb at a sitting – but I’m pleased that the current ongoing review of Ottoman history is opening new angles on the world we all inhabit. It’s not possible to find answers until we know what questions to ask – and I’m constantly finding new questions to which I’m seeking answers.