More Papal Palaver

The best form of defence is a good attack. It’s an adage applicable to a range of human activities, from chess to warfare – and even religious leaders, it seems, sometimes employ the tactic. The Catholic Church has a bunch of problems these days, from empty pews in its monumental temples, to those pesky accusations of paedophilia and other kinds of institutional child abuse that just won’t go away. So I guess if I were the Pope of Rome I’d probably take time off occasionally from excommunication and beatification duties to go after a soft target or two with the aim of distracting opponents and critics.

pope and noah

Two  old guys in fancy dress pouring water on Noah’s Ark. Are they for real?

And indeed, there he is, dear old Pope Francis, God bless him, visiting his tiny RC flock in Armenia, and taking time, while there, to reaffirm his recent support for Armenian genocidists. One thing he loves about Armenia, apparently, is that its people were the first to make Christianity their official state religion, way back in 301 CE. I guess in his position, he’d have to be a fan of rulers enforcing religious uniformity – though personally, I’m inclined to the view that that’s where most of the intolerance, persecution and violence starts.

Anyway, Francis is firmly of the opinion that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide on poor inoffensive Armenians a hundred years or so ago, that it was the first genocide of the 20th century, and one of its big three holocaustic events. By voicing these statements in his official capacity as leader of an estimated 1.27 billion Roman Catholics, he undoubtedly knows that he is giving powerful tacit support to those who want to hold the modern Republic of Turkey responsible.

Well, once again, I’m not going to get involved in the debate of who did what to how many of whom and when they did it. I do, however, want to take issue with the Pope’s jaw-dropping cultural arrogance in selectively focusing on the 20th century, and on Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and the Ottoman Empire as the worst offenders. First off, that gentleman is boss and CEO of a trans-national organisation that has been persecuting, torturing, enslaving, war-mongering, genociding and paedophiling for most of its 2,000 year history. OK, they’ve done some good stuff along the way too, but come on! That’s not just a glasshouse you’re living in, Frank. It’s a monumental crystal palace built on a foundation of quicksand!

George Clooney

George Clooney was there – but the Kardashians couldn’t make it this time.

And then what’s the big deal with the 20th century? Why pick an arbitrary cut-off point like 1900 CE for your moralising? As if I didn’t know. As far as the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims are concerned (beating the Catholic’s best estimate by 30 million), it was the year 1416, dating from the Hijra of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina. The Year of Our Christian Lord 1900 equated roughly to 4597 in the Chinese calendar, and 5660 for those of the Jewish faith. Just another year, in other words. Remember the doomsayers forecasting worldwide computer failure, financial meltdown, and apocalypse now for the year 2000? And what happened? If there is a God out there somewhere, I’m fairly sure He/She doesn’t give a monkey’s whatsit for calendars, Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian or whatever.

Still, from Popey’s point-of-view, ignoring those previous 1,900 years allows him to erase some pretty horrendous demographic obliterations. Modern scholarship suggests that the pre-Columbian population of the Americas could have been up to 100 million. Admittedly not all of the deaths were deliberately caused by the Roman Catholic Church in particular and Western Europeans in general – but undoubtedly their actions directly and indirectly led to near total extinction – and the new-comers weren’t too unhappy to see them go.

He can overlook the Roman Catholic Inquisition and the ‘Reconquista’ of the Iberian peninsula that turned a scientifically progressive and culturally diverse multi-religious, multi-ethnic society under comparatively tolerant Islamic rule to an exclusively Christian RC preserve where Muslims and Jews were tortured, massacred or forced to migrate. Most of the survivors ended up in the Ottoman Empire whose Islamic government welcomed them with open arms.

Slave sale

Bucks and wenches – people, actually.

Well, maybe you think that’s going back too far in time. OK, let’s think about the contribution made by slave labour and the slave trade to the British Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the USA as an industrial power in the 19th century. According to Wikipedia the transatlantic slave trade uprooted and transported more than eleven million Africans between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Possibly four million more died after being captured and before they even boarded a slave ship. 1.5 million are estimated to have died on the journey, and many more died young as a result of the brutality of living and working conditions. From the 17th century, Britain became the main slave-trading nation, and industrial towns like Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester benefitted greatly from exporting goods such as guns to Africa, selling the slaves purchased, and importing the produce of slave-labour, such as sugar and cotton. Admittedly most Brits were C of E, and not Catholic, but it obviously suits the Western/European version of history to gloss over these realities – and African Americans are still waiting to be ‘paid for the work they done’.

That 1900 date cut-off also conveniently allows the omission of other war crimes and near-genocidal campaigns carried out by the British Empire during the 19th century: violent and punitive ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Maori in New Zealand, the Aboriginal tribes in Australia, the Zulus in South Africa – and the war of 1899-1901 where the Brits are credited with having invented the concentration camp to facilitate their aggression against Boer farmers. We can forget the ruthless brutality with which British rulers suppressed the Indian rebellion in 1857-59, calling it a ‘mutiny’. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 Indians died, most of them as a result of a ‘no prisoners, no mercy’ policy of revenge carried out by the British Army after the rebellion was defeated.

No event in history takes place in a vacuum. There are always reasons and causes not always acknowledged when the victors write their version of history. Ottoman rulers had learned, during the 19th century, what would happen to Muslims when parts of their empire and its hinterland were ‘liberated’ by ‘Christian’ Powers. Muslims were massacred or expelled when the Kingdom of Greece was established in the 1820s. The process was repeated as Imperial Russia expanded southwards into Crimea and the Caucasus – culminating in an event remembered by descendants of survivors as the Circassian Genocide in 1864.

But let’s accept Pope Francis’s arbitrary date for a moment, and consider how sincere he really is in looking for suffering peoples to sympathise with. Exception has been taken to his repeating of the claim that the Armenian tragedy was the first genocide of the 20th century. That honour apparently can rightly be claimed by Germany, and their ‘attempted annihilation of the Herero in South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) from 1904 to 1907’.


Selective remembering – and forgetting.

Possibly Francis decided not to count official world wars in his brief list, but it seems a pity not to mention World War One, believed by many to have been brought about by an unholy alliance of European Imperialists and capitalist financiers. Seventeen million combatants and non-combatants died and a further twenty million were wounded. He may also have decided to gloss over France’s unsuccessful war to prevent Algerian Independence. Depending on which side you’re listening to, between 350,000 and 1.5 million died between 1954 and 1962, mostly Algerians.

Similar disagreement exists over how many Iraqis died as a result of the United States’ invasion in 2003. Estimates range from 151,000 to over a million – but possibly their importance is lessened by being of the wrong religion. We do seem to know with greater accuracy the number of US military personnel who lost their lives: 4,491. It’s too early to put a figure on the civil war in Syria. Again estimates vary widely, ranging from 140,200 to 470,000. Al-Jazeera claims that 10.9 million, or almost half the population of Syria, have been displaced and 3.8 million have been made refugees.

So it’s not surprising that there is disagreement over how many Armenians died back there in the early 20th century. Of course even the lowest estimate adds up to a terrible tragedy that should never be forgotten. On the other hand, selective remembering and forgetting of historical events almost always has a political purpose, and seekers after truth should be open-minded in their search. Photographs can be used to dishonestly stir emotions – even those taken in the days before Photoshop. Anecdotal evidence also has emotive power, but historians at least cannot rely merely on first-hand accounts of ‘survivors’.

Joseph Hirt

There’s the tattoo right there, see?

A recent item on CBS News highlights the danger. ‘A 91-year-old Pennsylvania man who has for years lectured to school groups and others about what he said were his experiences at Auschwitz now says he was never a prisoner at the German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.’ The admission came after a New York high school history teacher made inquiries when his suspicions were aroused. Joseph Hirt had apparently gone to the extent of having a false prisoner identification number tattooed on his arm.

So, Pope Francis – I am suspicious of your motives.


12 thoughts on “More Papal Palaver

  1. Just today I was walking through Kulturpark in the heart of Izmir. I could not pull from my mind that this park, less than a century before was the heart of the Greek quarter that was burned to the ground along with tens, if not hundreds of thousands of refugees both Greek and Armenian lost their lives as well. This happened while twenty one warships from multiple nations were docked in the harbor intentionally ignoring the four hundred thousand refugees lining the port. This also happened less than a decade after the Armenian Genocide officially “ended”. If the world did not “selectively ignore” what was happening then, if Turkey was made to stick to its treaty agreements and also the war crimes trials of those masterminding the genocide were held accountable.
    From Mustafa Kemal right down to the present day every single government in power here in Turkey has thumbed their nose at truth and the civilized world in their continued denial that such a genocide ever even happened. In January this year I was in Diyarbakir watching with my own two eyes over five thousand Kurds being forcibly evicted from their homes in Sur joining the many thousands more who had already experienced the same. I wonder if such a crime would be possible if Turkey did not know from past experience that they can easily get away with it? I wonder if enough people, like the Pope, willing to speak out against the injustices of the past could put a stop to the injustices of the present? Are there there plenty of other injustices that also need to be addressed? Sure. Does the RCC have a spotted past? Definitely. I am not Catholic but my denomination is less than perfect as well. That does not give me the license keep silence. Rather than berate the Pope for highlighting an injustice, let us applaud him for speaking up and encourage him to continue speaking up wherever he goes about the other injustices specific to that location as well. Then lets raise our voices with him as we match our words with actions in making this world a more just place.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I certainly agree that we all have a responsibility to speak out against injustice, wherever it occurs – and I’ll be happy when I hear the Pope giving his support to the Native Americans, the African Americans, the New Zealand Maoris, the Circassian, Iraqi and Syrian Muslims and all those other peoples that suffered and continue to suffer ethnic cleansing and persecution at the hands of powerful nations. I’m just not holding my breath while I’m waiting.

  2. Military hotspots are flaring up worldwide:
    *CHINA, Japan, & Philippines in conflict over S. China Sea w/ U.S./Australia hyping war scenarios.
    *Russia respond to US/Ukraine/NATO’s aggressiveness.
    Sadly, war campaigning is ramping up worldwide alongside military spending, strategic deployments and war exercises, indicating what empires are planning…

    I recall some interesting synonyms for empire:

    The “Holy See”, and the Church of England history fit in the above like a glove, as the Church endorsed Saint Augustine’s view that slavery was ordained by God.
    England: “Bishops ruled over groups of parishes called dioceses. They usually came from rich families. Bishops lived in palaces and often took part in government.”

    U.S. Raised Alert To DEFCON 3

      • Yes, the use of military dog-tags says it all, as obedience training, sacrificial pawns, and the geopolitical strategy game continues into the 21st century.

        >b>RT reported 6-27-2016:
        “Erdoğan apologizes to Putin over death of Russian pilot, calls Russia ‘friend & strategic partner’”

        I find the apology curious, and wonder what actions will follow up the apology?
        The Syrian border and supply-lines are still hot topics when last I looked for reports.

        “Russian President Vladimir Putin has received a letter in which his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologized for the death of the pilot who was killed when a Russian jet was downed over the Syrian-Turkish border last November, the Kremlin said.

        “In his letter, Erdoğan called Russia “a friend and a strategic partner” of Ankara, with whom the Turkish authorities would not want to spoil relations. “We never had a desire or a deliberate intention to down an aircraft belonging to Russia,” the letter read, according to a statement published on the Kremlin website.” …

      • I think Erdoğan’s apology was very carefully worded. ‘We’re sorry for the death of the pilot; shooting down Russian planes is not part of our long-term strategy.’ And yes, Turkey and Russia have an important relationship that goes back centuries, if you include the Russian and Ottoman Empires. They need each other. I understand Russian tourists are very keen to book summer holidays in Mediterranean Turkey now that the ban has been lifted. And who can blame them? But national integrity and pride has to be preserved on both sides.

  3. History needs to be written on truths, not written by the elites or the ones, who want to give a shape of history, not for the lies. And one of the biggest lie the great Izmir fire has been started by Turks! There are historical documents about this subject, but important thing is propaganda and the giving shape what they wanted on this planet anytime. In 13-17 September 1922, the days of big fire was not made by Turks. It was made by Armenians; I didn’t say this just on my opinion. Here are the truths! I will quote and copy paste these informations from one of my posts:
    13-17 September 1922 in four days, Greeks, Turkish, Jewish, Armenians neighborhoods were burned. 2/3 of the city was destroyed.

    The quotes of report of the Director of the P. Greskovich from Izmir Fire Insurance Company (at that period): “11/12 September an hour after midnight they gave news us that the fire occurred in the Armenian neighborhood. I moved on fire area with the fire brigade. While we were passing up the Greek Hospital,120-150 Greek women and children were sitting and women were shouting bitterly.

    “Why are you yelling?” I asked ;

    They said “Armenians burned us; we were lived in Seyis Han,’”

    These were Greeks. These people said to us: “We were living with side by side Armenian homes. They cut a hole in the adjacent wall and the Armenians fired the houses with pouring a lot of gas through the hole.”

    Greskovich tells in his report Izmir fire the continuation of the report as follows:

    “We were trying to extinguish the fire, Armenians were shooting and thrown projectiles were hitting the fire extinguisher pump.”

    Dated September 30, 1922 ‘French Illustration’ in the copy of the newspaper, the news of the reporter named Ercole G. dated September 14, 1922 is provided in the following:

    “Two o’clock in the afternoon a cloud of smoke was rising towards the Armenian neighborhood. However, this trend does not extend fire and extinguished as it seems. Gunshots heard, grenades exploding. Armenians who decided to die rather than live under Turkish management, they set fire to city with beginning own houses and began to fight with Turkish soldiers. The people threw themselves into the sea for surviving from fire.”


    The report of American Near East Organization Representative Mark O. Prentiss who came to Izmir with American warship Bristol.

    “It seems that everyone wants to believe the Izmir fire responsibility belongs to Turks, in America. Turks cannot be accused with such an accusation which has senior importance. Izmir, was one of the biggest prize seized the eastern war. For Turks, this city was using for the emergency needs of the house for Turks army. What they have reason to burn?”


    Published in French in Izmir ‘Le Levant’ newspaper dated September 21, 1922 Izmir news about the fire:

    “All Armenian homes were closed before the fire and there was no sign of any life. With fire, Armenians went out their homes as armed. Even an Armenian, who lived in Ayavukla neighborhood, was seen that he went out by setting fire his home. Fire fueled rag fragments have been found in many Armenians homes. Armenians who are living with us side by side also began to shoot the sooner firefighters who want to extinguish the fire.”

    I know this has been long comment, I hope it wouldn’t be problem for you. But it has to be known against all imperialist lies, my Earthling friend.
    To blame Turks for every event is kind of tradition anymore. 🙂 Here these four historical reports I have added. It is so easy to blame based on lies and stories of imperialists. And when people walk through Kulturepark Izmir, they should walk around by knowing Izmir was burned by Armenians! And I hope they can feel the same pain for the Turks at the big Izmir fire. Or is it not possible to feel pain for the scape goat Turks of people on Earth?

      • As you mentinoed, from these documents, Mark O. Prentiss said that at my quotes: Izmir, was one of seized biggest prizes of the eastern war. For Turks, this city was using for the emergency needs of the house for Turks army. What they(Turks) have reason to burn?

        But mankind majority is an ignorant; mankind doesn’t want to believe even if you put all evidence in front of them. They love the stories, even they love the hate each other, What is racism, my Earthling friend? Hate, ignorance, blind mind, or all of them? It is easy for them to believe without knowing truths; because the truth wants to labour. For the truths people must dig and dig almost until the end of the searching, with giving big effort. Instead of labour, they are with together majority, to point some ones as guilt is very easy. Actually they serve the racism willingly as a part of it. But they don’t admit by self.

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