Kofi Annan – “a guiding force for good”

World mourns loss of Kofi Annan

There was an outpouring of condolences from leaders around the world on Saturday after the death of former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate KofiAnnan. 

The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Aug. 18 extended condolences on the death of Kofi Annan.      

The ministry in a statement said Kofi Annan was a distinguished diplomat, who contributed a lot to world peace and received a Nobel Peace Prize.   

He was also commemorated for his strong effort and plan during his time in 2004 on the Cyprus issue.    

The Elders organization — a group of statesmen co-founded by Annan which speaks out on global issues – hailed him as “a voice of great authority and wisdom in public and private”. 

“The world has lost an inspiring figure – but one whose achievements will never be forgotten, and whose commitment to peace and justice will endure to inspire future generations,” deputy chair Gro Harlem Brundtland said in a statement.

Greek Cypriots Reject a U.N. Peace Plan

Divided as ever as Cyprus limps into the European Union, Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations peace plan on Saturday that would have reunited the Turkish and Greek sides of the island, while Turkish Cypriots approved it.

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But nothing came of it

Three of four Greek Cypriots rejected the plan put forward by Secretary General Kofi Annan that would have allowed tens of thousands of Cypriots to return to homes they lost in 1974 when Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in response to an attempt by Greece to annex the entire island.

In contrast, about 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots approved the United Nations plan in the hopes of ending their international isolation and shaking off the effects of a 30-year economic embargo.

The Mediterranean island is only 35 miles from Turkey’s coastline, closer than it is to Greece. It has twice in the past half-century brought Greece and Turkey, ancient rivals and NATO allies, to the brink of war. The prime ministers of both countries, as well as the United States and the European Union, had supported the reunification plan, and said their improved relations would not be affected by the outcome of the Cyprus vote.

But without an endorsement from both Cypriot sides, which voted in separate referendums, the peace plan is effectively dead. Both Mr. Annan and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell have warned the Cypriots that no other settlement effort is on the horizon.

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The Cyprus Issue – Searching for the truth

Turkey has been suffering international condemnation for nearly fifty years for its military intervention in Cyprus back in 1974. The island was granted independence from Britain in 1960, with a constitution recognising the rights of both Greek and Turkish communities. The Greeks, however, were determined to unite with mainland Greece. When the Greek military junta in Athens implemented a coup d’état on the island in July 1974, the Turkish government asked for United Nations and British intervention (as provided for under the constitution). When both failed to get involved, Turkey’s government acted unilaterally (again, as allowed for in the constitution) and sent a military force that established a separate Turkish enclave in the north.

eu-and-u-s-world-champion-in-hypocrisy-750x400As far as Turkey is concerned, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was a political necessity as a result of illegal interference by the government of Greece. Ideally, they would like to see an independent united island, as provided for by the 1960 constitution, and as proposed by several United Nations initiatives – the latter always vetoed by the Greek community.

Despite the foregoing, the European Union and other Western governments have constantly put pressure on Turkey to withdraw, and insist on supporting the Greek position.

This article appeared in our English language news site the other day. I haven’t been able to check the quoted source because it is a Greek language newspaper based in Cyprus. If anyone can help with that I’ll be grateful.

10 Turks ordered to be killed for each Greek during Cyprus violence: Report

A Greek Cypriot newspaper published new documents about the violent years that led to the division of the Mediterranean island some five decades ago, including an instruction on Greek Cypriot security forces ordering that “10 Turks shall be killed for each Hellen.” 

Daily Politis’ article series titled “Cyprus: Crimes that went unpunished” reported on Aug. 7 cyprusthat two Greek officers and a Greek Cypriot policeman were killed in Magosa on May 11, 1964 at a time when tensions ran high amid the Greek attempt to unify the island with Greece, known as Enosis. One of the slain was Costakis Pandelidis, the son of the Greek Cypriot police director in Nicosia.

According to the report, Greek Cypriot security forces were then instructed that “10 Turks shall be killed for each Hellen” as retribution. The following day, 17 Turks were kidnapped and executed by a firing squad in Famagusta. 

The killings, which are considered by Turkish Cypriots as ethnic cleansing, continued on May 13 when 11 Turkish Cypriot workers were kidnapped and killed near Paralimni Lake. Their remains were found in 2006, the report added.

The newspaper reported there were many other atrocities committed by the Greek Cypriot side and that had gone unpunished in the following decade. For instance, 126 Turks, most of them women, children and elderly, were killed and buried in mass graves in Muratağa and Sandallar villages on Aug. 14, 1974.

“Most of the killers were EOKA militants but there were also some Greek Cypriot neighbors of the Turkish victims among them,” the report said.

The newspaper also gave other examples from Greek atrocities, including the raping of Turkish women, the plundering of Turkish villages and horrific murders, such as the death of Muratağa village’s Turkish coffeeshop owner Mustafa Kukudi, who was killed by quartering of his body on Aug. 10, 1974.

Politis drew the ire of the Greek Cypriot administration because of the latest article series, which continued with a new episode on Aug. 8. The newspaper, as well as its reporters, reportedly received death threats this week.

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Turkey’s “Peace Operation” 1974

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island’s Turks and Ankara’s intervention as a guarantor power.

The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared on Nov. 15, 1983. It is currently recognized only by Turkey as an independent state.

The United Nations has sought a peace deal to unite Cyprus under a federal umbrella that could also define the future of Europe’s relations with Turkey.

The latest attempt to reunify the long-divided Mediterranean island ended in failure in July 2017 after two years of negotiations.

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Well, it’s an issue that’s been bubbling away on the international scene for many years now, emerging from time to time as a major issue from time to time, such as when the EU want to justify their constant refusal to accept Turkey into their exclusive club.

I always thought this business was another manifestation of the general anti-Turkey obsession in the West. However, another news item caught my eye the other day that made me think again. Why is the Western First World so determined to support mainland Greece’s annexation of an island so far from its own shores; an island with no connection to “Greece” at all since it was seized from the Byzantine Empire by England’s crusading King Richard I in 1191?

Now I learn that the “Greek” republic of Cyprus is an important tax haven and provider of money-laundering services to the rich and powerful in those self-righteous Western “democracies”. Paul Manafort, former chairman of Donald Trump’s election campaign, is on trial in the United States on a wide range of corruption charges. And I thought to myself, “Aha! So that’s what it’s all about!”

Ex-Manafort Aide Rick Gates Describes Funneling Millions Through Bank Accounts in Cyprus

manafort trump

Thumbs up for money-laundering, tax evasion and general corruption

(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) —Paul Manafort’s longtime deputy told jurors Tuesday how he spent years disguising millions of dollars in foreign income as loans to lower the former Trump campaign chairman’s tax bill. 

Rick Gates, the government’s star witness, recounted how he and Manafort used more than a dozen offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, all while concealing the accounts and the income from the IRS.

“In Cyprus, they were documented as loans. In reality, it was basically money moving between accounts,” Gates said during his second day of testimony in the financial fraud trial of his former boss.

Prosecutors summoned Gates, described by witnesses as Manafort’s “right-hand man,” to give jurors the first-hand account of a co-conspirator they say helped Manafort carry out an elaborate offshore tax-evasion and bank fraud scheme. Gates also provided the first witness testimony that overlaps with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Source 

Manafort lawyer: ‘So many lies’ Gates can’t keep up

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — In blistering and aggressive questioning aimed at undermining the credibility of the government’s star witness, a defense lawyer accused the protege of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of being immersed in “so many lies” he can’t remember them all and demanded to know how a jury could possibly trust him.

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We’re squeaky clean – it’s Turkey that’s guilty!

Defense lawyer Kevin Downing began his cross-examination of longtime Manafort deputy Rick Gates by confronting him on his own lies to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, an extramarital affair and hundreds of thousands of dollars he admitted to embezzling from his former boss. 

Prosecutors had braced for the tough questioning by getting Gates to come clean about his own crimes. He told jurors how he disguised millions of dollars in foreign income as loans in order to lower Manafort’s tax bill. Gates recounted how he and Manafort used more than a dozen offshore shell companies and bank accounts in Cyprus to funnel the money, all while concealing the accounts and the income from the IRS. 

Prosecutors summoned Gates to give jurors the first-hand account of a co-conspirator they say helped Manafort carry out an elaborate offshore tax-evasion and bank fraud scheme. Gates testified that he and Manafort knew they were committing crimes for years, saying they had stashed money in foreign bank accounts and falsified bank loan documents.

“In Cyprus, they were documented as loans. In reality, it was basically money moving between accounts,” Gates said.

Source

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The Cyprus business used to be about controlling the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Now, it’s about controlling the world!

So who invaded Cyprus first?

It’s not the main topic of the news item, but it does make an interesting point about Turkey’s “invasion” of Cyprus back in 1974 . . .

Spooky pics of abandoned Cyprus airport frozen in time

nicosiaTHIS once bustling transport hub was suddenly abandoned 40 years ago, leaving jet planes and empty terminals as eerie signs of the past.

THIS airport was once a bustling, state-of-the-art transport hub on a popular holiday island. 

But for more than 40 years, time has stood still at Nicosia International Airport on Cyprus, which is now an eerie scene of decaying check-in desks and terminal equipment, and stripped-back jets stuck on the abandoned tarmac.

The airport became deserted after 1974, when it became a flashpoint for civil conflict on the Mediterranean island.

Cyprus had seen years of tensions between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots after it became independent from Britain.

In 1974, Greek nationalists overthrew the elected president of Cyprus and in the days that followed, Nicosia airport was briefly used to bring in troops from Greece.

The airport was also a scene of chaos during that time, as holiday-makers and other foreigners sought to flee the conflict.

Within days of the coup d’etat, Turkey invaded Cyprus, and the airport was severely damaged in a bombing campaign.

nicosia jetA demilitarised zone was created and Nicosia airport wound up right in the middle of it, which led to it being suddenly abandoned. The last commercial flight departed Nicosia in 1977.

After Nicosia airport was abandoned, authorities opened a new international airport at Larnaca, which is the island’s main airport that most Australians now fly into or pass through.

But intrepid travellers who venture to neglected Nicosia airport can see how its has become frozen in time, with derelict rows of seats in the terminals, stained carpets on now-empty corridors, and decrepit jet planes stuck where they last came to rest all those years ago.

Source

And another related snippet from the BBC . . .

Varosha – The abandoned tourist resort

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Famagusta before the Greek military coup – and subsequent Turkish invasion

Miles of sand where it’s just you and nature. Dozens of grand hotels where you’ll have the pick of the rooms.

Just remember to pack your bolt cutters to make a hole in the fence – and watch out for the army patrols with orders to shoot on sight. 

Before the division of Cyprus in 1974, Varosha – a resort in Famagusta – was booming. The rich and famous were drawn by some of the best beaches on the island. Richard Burton and Brigitte Bardot all dropped by – the Argo Hotel on JFK Avenue was said to be Elizabeth Taylor’s favourite.

But 40 years ago, after years of inter-ethnic violence culminating in a coup inspired by Greece’s ruling military junta, Turkey invaded Cyprus and occupied the northern third of the island.

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Incidentally, before taking matters into their owns hands, the government of Turkey had asked the UK government, as guarantors of Cyprus’s independence, to intervene  – which they declined to do.

Cyprus ‘selling’ EU citizenship to super rich

Here’s something I spotted on the pages of The Guardian. It made me wonder if the gnomes of Brussels are having second thoughts about their politically motivated expansion of the European Union. It goes without saying that we’re talking about “Greek” Cyprus here – not the other part of the island unrecognised by anyone except Turkey.

“The government of Cyprus has raised more than €4bn since 2013 by providing citizenship to the super rich, granting them the right to live and work throughout Europe in exchange for cash investment. More than 400 passports are understood to have been issued through this scheme last year alone.

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And look! The Brits still have military bases there. OK for them, but not for Turkey.

“A leaked list of the names of hundreds of those who have benefited from these schemes, seen by the Guardian, includes prominent business people and individuals with considerable political influence.

“The leak marks the first time a list of the super rich granted Cypriot citizenship has been revealed. A former member of Russia’s parliament, the founders of Ukraine’s largest commercial bank and a gambling billionaire are among the new names.

“The list sheds light on the little-known but highly profitable industry and raises questions about the security checks carried out on applicants by Cyprus.

“Beneficiaries of the pre-2013 schemes include an oligarch and art collector who bought a Palm Beach mansion from Donald Trump, and a Syrian businessman with close links to the country’s president, described in a leaked US diplomatic cable as a “poster boy for corruption” in war-torn Syria.

“European politicians have been watching the sector’s growth with alarm, with some saying the schemes undermine the concept of citizenship. Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MEP, described “golden visas” as ‘absolutely immoral and perverse’.”

Read more

TCA Marks Anniversary of Cyprus Peace Operation

I’m reblogging this from the website of the Turkish Coalition of America:

July 20, 2017

Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the Turkish peace operation in Cyprus, which took place on July 20, 1974 to protect the lives and liberty of the island’s Turkish community.

The dispute over Cyprus did not begin in 1974.

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Known in Turkey as “The Peace Operation”

The independent Republic of Cyprus was born in 1960 as a partnership state based on the political equality of the co-founding Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot peoples. It had a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice-president, each with veto powers to ensure political equality at the executive level.

A special international treaty, the Treaty of Guarantee, obligated Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom to preserve the independence of Cyprus and prevent its annexation by any other state.

This system of checks and balances, however, faced a serious challenge when Greek Cypriots attempted to amend the Constitution by removing all provisions that gave Turkish Cypriots a meaningful say in the affairs of the state. In late 1963, the Greek Cypriots launched an all-out armed attack on Turkish Cypriots throughout the island, killing and wounding thousands, driving one-quarter of the Turkish Cypriot population from their homes and properties in 103 villages, and causing widespread destruction.

The ferocity of this onslaught was described by former U.S. Undersecretary of State George Ball, in his memoir titled “The Past Has Another Pattern” where he observed that Archbishop Makarios, the then Greek Cypriot leader, had “turn(ed) this beautiful island into his private abattoir.” He further stated that “Makarios’ central interest was to block off any Turkish intervention so that he and his Greek Cypriots could go on happily massacring the Turkish Cypriots.”

The Turkish rescue operation in 1974 undoubtedly saved the Turkish Cypriot community from mass-extermination, prevented the annexation of Cyprus to Greece, and thus preserved the independence of the island. Turkey’s legitimate and timely action has kept the peace on the island since 1974.

Today, the Constitution of the Republic is dead and the government of the Republic of Cyprus has been usurped and monopolized by Greek Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots and successive Turkish Governments have worked toward a settlement and have either instigated or accepted all major United Nations initiatives aimed at a just and lasting solution. The latest and most elaborate initiative was the “Annan Plan” named after former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was the architect of the plan. The Annan Plan put forth separate and simultaneous referenda of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots on April 24, 2004. It was overwhelmingly accepted by Turkish Cypriots with a 65% majority; but was rejected by Greek Cypriots, at the behest of their leadership, with a margin of 76%.

Despite the Turkish Cypriots vote in favor of peace and reunification, the European Union rewarded intransigent Greek Cypriots with E.U. membership. As long as the equal rights and interests of both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots across the island are disregarded, it will be nearly impossible to find a solution to the Cyprus problem.

A Stroll through Nature and History – Yıldız Park and Abdülhamit II

The storks are back. I saw a muster of them a week or so ago. Or it could have been a phalanx. According to Wikipedia, the terms are interchangeable. Whatever, there were hundreds of them circling in the sky over the financial district of Levent as I headed home from work. In fact the birds don’t nest in Istanbul, but they gather here twice a year as they depart for, or return from their annual migration to warmer climes for the winter.

Red tulips

Spring tulips in Yıldız Park

So another spring is with us in Turkey. The swallows flew in a week before the storks, Persephone is on leave from Hades, and at least two ‘cemre’ (djemreh) have fallen. What’s a ‘cemre’, you may ask. Well, despite its being a Turkish word, I have yet to find anyone who can actually give a definition. Nevertheless, three of them are said to fall in the spring time, warming the air, the water and the earth – and then it’s summer.

In recent years the Istanbul Metropolitan Council has sponsored a tulip festival, and this year they’ve planted 8.5 million bulbs in parks around the city. This man-made riot of colour supplements the display of the ubiquitous erguvan (Judas tree) that splashes both banks of the Bosporus with dense bunches of purple blossom. You’ve got a brief two-week window of opportunity, so if you’re in town, you need to get out and feast your eyes. This year our choice settled on Yıldız Park.

Squirrel

Yıldız sincabı – Check out the squirrels

Yıldız is an interesting and picturesque area located on the slopes above the coastal districts of Beşiktaş and Ortaköy on the European side of Istanbul. Despite hysterical claims three years ago that the government was destroying the city’s last green areas, Yıldız Park is just one of its many beautiful natural reserves. These 29 hectares (73 acres) of semi-wilderness and ordered gardens are what remain of a forest formerly used for hunting by Byzantine and Ottoman aristocrats. Probably what saved this remnant for posterity was being chosen as a safe haven by one of the last Ottoman Sultans.

Abdülhamit II was the 34th Padishah, and one of its longest-reigning, ascending the throne in 1876 with the empire facing external threats on all its borders, as well internal rebellions, and managing to survive until deposed in 1909. In spite of, or possibly because of, holding a beleaguered fort for 33 years as the Ottoman Empire crumbled around him, Abdülhamit is regarded in the West as some kind of devil incarnate – and his time on the throne, even in Turkey, as a period to be quietly avoided.

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Sultan Abdülhamit II, 2nd from the right

Nevertheless, I have to tell you, I’ve got some sympathy for the man. A little like George VI of England, Abdülhamit ascended the throne somewhat unexpectedly. However, George’s rise to monarchic splendour came as a result of his older brother’s infra dig marriage to an American divorcee. Abdülhamit’s elder sibling was forcibly removed from office after a brief 93 days on the throne. This was the second such event in a matter of months, the royal princes’ uncle, Abdülaziz, having been deposed by his ministers earlier in the year. Uncle Aziz was found dead five days later – whether by his own hand or that of another, history does not tell us. So it was an inauspicious beginning for the 34 year-old Abdülhamit, and the fact that he retained his throne for 33 years is testament at least to his commitment and determination.

Things were not going well for the Ottoman Empire, and had not been for some time. The Great Powers of Europe, in particular, Britain, France, the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire (where are they now?), and Russia, were keen to see it disappear, and to pick up the pieces for themselves. After 1870, two Johnnie-come-latelies, Italy and Germany, appeared on the scene, with similar intentions. All that really stood between the Ottomans and final dissolution was the self-seeking determination of each of those European powers to see that they got the best bits and the others didn’t.

So the Ottomans survived Russia’s expansionist plans in the 1850s because Britain and France decided it was in their interests to help out. They were fast losing interest, however. Russia’s pretext for starting the Crimean War, its ‘altruistic’ desire to champion the Ottoman’s oppressed Christian minorities, was recognised as a clever ploy, and that was the beginning of the end.

Yıldiz mosque & palace

Yıldız Palace and Hamidiye Mosque – fading glories of the 600-year Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire had for centuries been an obstacle to European incursions into Asia, and to Russian desire for access to the Mediterranean Sea. When the Suez Canal was opened under French control in 1869, that region suddenly assumed even greater importance for European trade. John D. Rockefeller founded his Standard Oil Company a year later, and ‘black gold’ slowly began to assume crucial significance. Put two and two together, and you can see why the downfall of the declining Ottoman Empire was pretty much signed and sealed. – and why its 34th Sultan was on a hiding to nothing when he got the big job.

Interestingly, despite his reputation in some circles for despotism and bloody massacres of innocent minorities, there had been expectations that Abdülhamit would continue the modernisation and democratisation processes set in motion by his father Abdülmecit (ruled 1839-61). Circumstances were against him, however.

  • In 1860 Christian-minority Maronites rose up in Lebanon and established a peasant republic. Pretty advanced stuff for Middle Eastern peasants in those days! Britain and France threatened to intervene on their behalf, and the Ottomans were obliged to accept a Christian governor in Lebanon.
  • In 1860 there was a rebellion on the island of Crete in support of enosis – union with the recently established ‘independent’ kingdom of Greece. ‘Christian’ Greeks claimed that Muslims had massacred Greeks, in spite of which, the latter managed to seize control of the island with the assistance of thousands of Greek troops from the mainland.
  • The Russian invasion of the Caucasus saw Crimean and Circassian Muslims massacred and displaced, and hundreds of thousands of them sought sanctuary in Ottoman Anatolia after the Russians final victory in 1864.
  • The ‘Balkan Crisis’ began in 1875 as the Habsburgs and Russia attempted to annex Ottoman territory. Public opinion in Europe was aroused by reports that the Ottoman administration was using bashi-bazouk troops to commit atrocities against the innocent local Christians. In fact there were atrocities committed by both sides, of course. The bashi-bazouks admittedly had a long-standing grudge since most of them were recently settled Crimeans and Circassians who had seen first-hand what Christians did to Muslims.
  • In June 1876, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire with the tacit support of Austria-Hungary and Russia. The European Powers held a conference in Istanbul/Constantinople to sort the issue out, but neglected to invite the Ottomans.
  • Meanwhile, in 1877, the Russians opened a new front threatening the Ottomans in the Caucasus. Their forces, led by Armenian commanders, captured several Ottoman towns in the east, and laid siege to others. What happened to the Muslims out there is generally overlooked in Western historical accounts – but it may well have contributed to later events when the Ottomans regained control.
  • Back in the west, Russian forces were at the gates of the Ottoman capital, whatever you like to call it (Constantinople? Istanbul?), and it was only the threat of intervention by the British Royal Navy that brought about a truce. And while everyone was looking the other way, the Brits grabbed the island of Cyprus.

The cost of all this to the Ottoman administration was disastrous: great losses of territory, not to mention prestige; a huge influx of impoverished refugees from the new ‘Christianised’ countries; enormous expenses leading to crippling debt; and a reputation in the West for savagery and barbarity Turks are still struggling to live down.

So poor Sultan Abdülhamit was up against it right from the start. Other supposedly enlightened nations have resorted to a state of emergency and suspension of freedoms with less reason – and yes, our man did suspend the recently introduced constitution. Well, I guess there are times when democracy just doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. And it was obvious that even his own ‘loyal’ governing classes were all-too-ready-and-willing to depose their monarch in times of trouble.

Erguvan and Bosporus

Judas trees flowering in Yıldız Park

But what about Yıldiz Park, and Istanbul in the springtime? What happened to that story? Well, the new sultan clearly felt that his father’s palace, Dolmabahçe, designed by his Armenian architects, and beautifully located on a spectacular Bosporus-shore location, was a little vulnerable. Consequently he took the decision to built a new home for himself a little further from the sea higher up in the forest. Possibly by this time, Armenians were shifting their loyalties, and responsibility for the royal building programme had been handed over to an Italian, Raimondo D’Aronco.

The palace complex comprised a number of buildings including accommodation for visiting dignitaries, a theatre and opera house, and a porcelain factory. Most of these buildings are now open to the public, apart from one retained by the government for receptions and office space. The Chalet Pavilion, where the sultan lived with his family, is now a museum, as is the carpentry workshop. Among Abdülhamit’s many hobbies and interests, he was a skilled carpenter/cabinet-maker and much of the furniture in the palace was made with his own hands. The porcelain factory still produces exclusive pieces for the high-end market – though more European than Ottoman in design, and they don’t appeal to me much.

In spite of his evident interest in Western technology and culture, Abdülhamit began to turn increasingly towards the practice of Islam, and his role as Caliph, leader of the world’s Muslims. This is hardly surprising, given that Christian subjects of the empire, despite having been allowed to build their schools and churches, practice their religion, speak their languages, educate their children, hold important positions in the empire, make pot-loads of money, and generally mind their own business for centuries, were beginning to seek support from foreign imperialists.

Interestingly Abdülhamit, in his capacity of Caliph, is said to have supported the United States’ conquest of the Philippines by requesting that Muslims there accept and support US sovereignty – which they duly did, and scant thanks the Ottoman Sultan got in return. It just goes to show, huh?

Tunuslu Şeyh Muhammed Zafir

Abdülhamit’s personal spiritual teacher

Anyway, the Sultan, as one might expect of an educated man, was interested in the mystical aspects of religion, and in fact was a follower of one of the Sufi dervish sects. The Ertuğrul Tekke Mosque, on the right as you walk up the hill from Beşiktaş, was dedicated to the Shadhili (Şazeli) Sufi order, and the Sultan’s personal spiritual guide, Sheikh Hamza Zafir, is buried in the grounds[1]. The mosque itself is named for Ertuğrul Gazi, father of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire. Further reflecting Abdülhamit’s focus on his Ottoman roots, another mosque in the grounds of the Central Military HQ further up the hill, bears the name of Orhan, son of Osman, and the Empire’s second sultan.

A third mosque, grandest of the three, and worth a visit, except that it is currently undergoing extensive restoration, is the imperial Yıldız Hamidiye, completed in 1886 in a combination of Neo-Gothic and traditional Ottoman architecture. The long, narrow Serencebey Park that now isolates these historic buildings from the frenetic traffic of Barbaros Boulevard used to be a public square, and was the site of an assassination attempt on the Sultan in 1905 by Armenians seeking revenge for the much publicised ‘Hamidian Massacres’ – which perhaps need to be seen in the context of our earlier historical discussion.

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Turkey’s President Erdoğan hosting Germany’s Merkel at Yıldız Palace

I suggest a walk starting from the ferry buildings in Beşiktaş, up the hill through the Serencebey Park where, apart from the mosques, you will pass the statue of Yahya Kemal Beyatlı, revolutionary poet, politician and diplomat, who spent some years in voluntary exile in Paris because of his opposition to Abdülhamit. Clearly there is ambivalence in Turkey about their Ottoman heritage. After passing the campus of Yıdız Technical University, take a right at the traffic lights and cross over the motorway leading to the Bosporus Bridge. You’ll catch some intriguing glimpses of the bridge and the strait before arriving at the gate of Yıldız Park. Enjoy the peace, the trees, the flowers and the wildlife. Visit the porcelain factory shop. Stop for a coffee, a snack or a meal at one of the several cafes and restaurants. Pay a visit to the Chalet Museum. Emerge at sea level beside another stylish little mosque of the period, Küçük Mecidiye, opposite the gates of Çırağan Palace, now a five-star Kempinski hotel. Stroll back to Beşiktaş to complete your circuit. It’ll be a day well spent.

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[1] As an aside, Sheikh Shadili, founder of the sect, is reputed to have discovered coffee drinking in the Arabian town of Mocha, way back in the 13th century, whence the practice journeyed slowly westwards, eventually reaching America – another thing they don’t seem very grateful for.

Greece’s Hidden Centuries – Revising History and Forgiving the Turks

A news item earlier this year announced that a mosque in Thessaloniki, had been opened for Muslim worshippers. Not such a big deal, you might think, if you are resident in another major European city where mosques are a not uncommon feature of post-modern multi-culturalism. The situation in Greece, however, is an altogether different story, for a number of reasons.
  • First, until the early 20thcentury there were over twenty mosques in that city, known in those days as Selanik, and a major city of the Ottoman Empire. Now there is one, and that opened in April this year.
  • Second, Athens is the only European capital city that does not have a functioning mosque.
  • Third, the newly re-opened mosque in Thessaloniki is actually 111 years old but served in its intended capacity for only twenty-one of those years. It was closed, along with all the other mosques in the city, in 1923, after the unsuccessful Greek invasion of Anatolia necessitated a population exchange according to religious affiliation.
  • Fourth, the Yeni, or New Mosque, as it is called, designed by an Italian architect, is notable for its interior and exterior design. One writer describes it as: ‘A hybrid of European and Islamic styles, fusing Baroque, neoclassical, and Byzantine, it also contains Jewish features.’ The reason for this last peculiarity is that Thessaloniki/Selanik, was, in Ottoman times, one of Europe’s main centres of Jewish religion and culture. Some of those Jews, however, as a result of events I have described elsewhere, converted, at least overtly, to Islam – while continuing, according to some, to retain the practices of their original faith behind closed doors. 

Greece and its next-door neighbour Turkey have a strange relationship, whose intricacies can only be understood by a study of their shared history. Visitors from one country to the other find great similarities in the cuisine – and citizens of both nations argue heatedly about who actually invented Turkish/Greek coffee, the delicious sweet pastry baklava, or the stuffed vine-leaves known as dolma/dolmas. It has been said jokingly of Britain and the United States that they are two countries divided by a common language. It might be said of Greeks and Turks that they are one people divided by two religions.
Some months ago I referred to a book I had been reading, ‘Greece, the Hidden Centuries’, and I undertook to write about it in more detail. In the mean time, my attention was captured by political events in Turkey and Egypt, and my promise remained unfulfilled. The situation in Turkey, at least, appears to have settled down somewhat, and what’s happening in Egypt is there for all to see – so the time has come to tell you about that very interesting book.
The author, David Brewer, seems to be an unusually modest chap and you won’t learn much about him personally from Amazon’s author page, or even a Google search. The notes in my copy of the book told me simply that Mr Brewer ‘is the author of “The Flame of Freedom: The Greek War of Independence, 1821-1833”. After studying Classics at Oxford University, he divided his life between teaching, journalism and business before devoting himself to the study of the history of Greece.’
What you will find, if you visit the Amazon website, is an interesting range of opinions indicating clearly that the author has ventured into controversial territory, and challenged the strongly held beliefs of some readers. As one reviewer comments, the book is obviously anathema to the average Greek whose notions of the period are derived from his grandmother, his church, and from Greek political thought.’
One such Greek writes: ‘it is evident by his conclusions that it is simply biased and one sided. I am sorry Mr Brewer, but you have it very wrong on this one. I do not recommend this book.
With all due respect to that Greek reviewer and his grandmother, you’d have to think that an Oxford Classics graduate would have some sympathy for the Greek cause. That he took the trouble to write a history of the Greek War of Independence (fought to break free from the Ottoman Empire) would suggest a continuation of that sympathy into modern times, and perhaps some detailed knowledge of the subject. In his introductory notes to the book under discussion, Brewer informs the reader that, out of respect for the Greeks who prefer to hold that they were ruled by Turks rather than Ottomans, and have never accepted the loss of their Byzantine Empire, he will speak of Turks and Constantinople (rather than Istanbul). This in itself should convince an objective reader that the author has gone to some lengths to avoid upsetting Greeks – even at the risk of offending Turks.
Brewer sets out the rationale for the book in his prologue, subtitled ‘The Greek View of Turkish Rule’, which he begins with an anecdote about the arrival of an Ottoman official in a Greek village in 1705. The purpose of his visit was to recruit fifty youths who would be taken to Istanbul to be trained for service in the Sultan’s court or the elite military unit known as Janissaries. There could be no refusal of course, but the villagers not only refused – they killed the official then formed a band of outlaws whose principal occupation was robbing and murdering Turks. Needless to say, the Ottoman authorities took a dim view. Retribution was forceful and brutal.
The anecdote illustrates the approved Greek view of Ottoman rule. Greeks were virtual slaves, the flower of their male offspring were torn from their families by force, and any attempts to assert their human rights met with vicious suppression. This state of affairs continued from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the foundation of the modern kingdom of Greece in 1833. During that black period of almost 400 years, referred to as Tourkokratia, Greeks were under constant pressure to change their religion, were not allowed to build churches, had to educate their children in secret to keep their language alive, and were heavily taxed. It was a dark age where Greeks were cut off from the processes of modernisation going on in the rest of Europe, and the Turks left nothing of value to show for their four centuries of rule.
Challenging this received version of history is not a task undertaken lightly. In his final chapter, ‘Some Conclusions’, Brewer gives an account of an attempt by the Greek government in 2006 to introduce a new school history textbook for twelve-year-olds. He quotes the Minister of Education, Marietta Yannakou, as saying, ‘I believe in truth, in what really happened in history. We must not tell children fairy tales at school.’ In the face of fierce opposition from the Church, some academics and the leader of the far-right political party, the textbook was withdrawn for some judicious revision. In spite of that, Ms Yannakou lost her parliamentary seat in the 2007 election, and the book disappeared from the education agenda.
Between his prologue and his concluding remarks, Brewer covers all the pertinent issues in a detailed but readable fashion. What was the status of Greeks before the Ottomans arrived? What actually happened when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople? Would Greeks have been free and happy if not for the Ottomans? Were all Greeks of one mind on the question of freedom and independence? Did they get what they wanted in the end?
Brewer limits his discussion largely to the Greek mainland and the islands in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas generally considered to be their territory. In fact, however, as he says in his prologue, the Greek dream, formulated shortly after gaining independence from the Ottomans, was the recreation of former Byzantine glory, a Great Idea (Megali Idea) envisaging an empire centred, not on Athens, but on Constantinople. The likelihood of this, however, had disappeared long before the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II led his victorious troops into that city.
The once great Roman Empire had lost its western half when the city of Rome fell in 476 CE. The increasingly Greek eastern Romans had two peaks of imperial greatness in the 6th and 10thcenturies – but found themselves constantly under threat from Arab and other Islamic expansion from the south and east, and later from their Crusading western Christian brethren. The latter, despite their stated purpose of evicting the Muslim infidels from the ‘Holy Lands’, set up kingdoms and principalities in former Byzantine territories, even besieging, sacking and occupying for 57 years, the imperial capital in the early 13thcentury.
In fact, long before 1453, Greeks were predominantly a subject people – and even after that year, their overlords were not Turks alone, but Europeans, especially Genoese and Venetians, masters of the Mediterranean until the rise of Ottoman power largely supplanted them. So, it was not from the Greeks themselves but from the Venetians that the Ottomans seized mainland Greece, Chios and other Aegean islands in the early 16thcentury, and Cyprus in 1570. Venetians had ruled the island of Crete for 400 years before finally surrendering it to the Ottomans in 1669, and for twenty years after that, were still trying to reconquer the Greek mainland. Brewer suggests it is at least open to debate whether Greeks were better off under Venetian or Ottoman rule, given that the Italians were Catholics whose Church had no great love for their schismatic eastern cousins.
President Obama meets with Bartholomew I,
Patriarch of the Orthodox Church
based in Istanbul, Turkey
Contrary to the commonly painted portrait of the Turks as brutal suppressors of subject peoples, Muslims viewed Christians and Jews as ‘people of the book’. Orthodox Christians, Jews and Armenian Christians ‘each formed a partly self-governing community, a millet. Each had a spiritual head who was also to some extent the political leader: for the Jews it was the Chief Rabbi, for the Armenians the Gregorian Patriarch, and for the Orthodox, the Orthodox Patriarch’. According to Brewer, 100 years after the conquest of Constantinople there were 77 churches on either side of the Golden Horn. Even today, the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchs continue to minister to their flocks from headquarters in Turkish Istanbul. My research indicates that there are sixteen synagogues in modern Istanbul and somewhere between forty and 123 churches. I can’t account for the discrepancy, but even the radical Armenian website Armenian Weekly admits that there are 28 active Armenian churches. According to Wikipedia, at the beginning of the 20th century (70 years after mainland Greece became independent) there were 1.8 million Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire. Even after the enforced population exchange of 1923, 200,000 of those ‘were permitted to remain’ – all of which suggests that life under Ottoman rule must have had some compensations.
Returning to Brewer’s book, the author makes the interesting suggestion in his prologue that ‘Greek bitterness about past rulers largely depends upon what happened after that rule ended, and has rather less to do with the nature of the rule itself.’ Genoa and Venice, even Italy itself, no longer wield much power in world affairs, so there is little to be gained from venting spleen on them. Russia proved an unreliable ally over the centuries of Ottoman rule – but in the end, with Britain and France, helped to win the naval battle[1]that secured Greek independence. Besides, they are fellow Orthodox Christians (at least in history and traditional culture), so it’s harder to hate them. It might have been a different story, however, if they had been allowed to fulfil their ambitions of capturing Constantinople/Istanbul and controlling the Bosporus Straits.
The Turks, however, for better or worse, continue to occupy that city of cities, and show no signs of relinquishing their hold. It was Turkish nationalists who turned back the Greek invasion of Asia Minor, on which they had embarked with the encouragement of their European allies, especially Great Britain. When their erstwhile friends left them in the lurch, there was little to be gained by aiming recriminations in that direction. It was Turks who drove the Greek army into the sea in the victory that ensured Ottoman Orthodox Christians would have to be uprooted from their ancestral homeland, to be exchanged for Muslims expelled from the Greek mainland, in what Greeks came to know as the Asia Minor Catastrophe. For Turks, on the other hand, it is the War of Liberation..
Brewer concludes his final chapter with a quotation from a modern Greek poet, George Seferis: ‘The Greeks say it was the Turks who burned down Smyrna[2],the Turks say it was the Greeks. Who will discover the truth? The wrong has been committed. The important thing is: who will redeem it?’
It’s a step in the right direction that the Greek government is reopening a mosque in Thessaloniki – though we might wonder why they chose that one, with its dubious Islamic provenance, rather than the 15th century Hamza Bey Camii, which suffered the indignity of being used as a cinema before being abandoned to decay. As for Athens, plans for a mosque there seem to have stalled for a variety of reasons. Again, rather than reopening one of the historic mosques in that city, despite Turkish government offers to finance the project, the Greek government planned to erect a new building from scratch, according to a Reuters report, in a disused naval base littered with weeds and rubble in a rundown neighborhood.’ Even that humble proposal, however, seems to have foundered on the rocks of opposition from the ultra-right Golden Dawn Party. Greek construction companies are showing a reluctance to tender for the job, allegedly from ‘fears of intimidation’.
Brewer’s achievement in this book is to draw attention to a major act of historiographical distortion. Of course all countries prefer to view their own history in terms flattering to themselves, or evoking sympathy for their plight. In this case, however, the Greek ‘fairy tale’ has found wide acceptance beyond their own shores. It is not merely 400 years of history that have been hidden. From the final conquest of the Greek city states by the army of Rome in 146 BCE to the foundation of the independent kingdom in 1832, there was no Greek political entity as such. The Byzantine greeks are a Western construct. That empire considered itself Roman, and its church, Roman Orthodox (Rum Ortodoks in Turkish). It has suited Western powers, for various political and quasi-religious reasons, and for a thousand years or more, to pretend otherwise.
Thanks to David Brewer for lifting the veil. I found his argument to be well researched and convincing. While detailed notes and an extensive bibliography lend scholarly credibility, the author’s style is lively and accessible to the non-academic reader. I think he has got this business pretty right, and I emphatically recommend this book.
Greece: The Hidden Centuries: Turkish Rule from the Fall of Constantinople to Greek Independence David Brewer (IB Tauris, 2010)


[1] Battle of Navarino, 1827
[2] Modern Izmir