IBM’s secret Nazi shame – Book extract

It’s not a big secret these days that Adolf Hitler rose to power with financial support from big business in Germany and the United States. Henry Ford is on record as being an enthusiastic supporter of the German dictator and his ethnic purification programme. The IBM connection, however, was news to me. Read on . . . And think that this was happening while my father and his generation were fighting for freedom and democracy. And if corporate America could do that then, what are they doing NOW?

IBM’s secret Nazi shame, by Frank Walker

Today, IBM (International Business Machines) is a massive New York based multinational technology corporation with operations around the world. It has annual revenue of US$81 billion ($107.8b) and 380,000 employees. Finance magazines Barron’s and Fortune dub IBM the world’s most respected and admired company. However, the huge corporation has a dark, secret past it doesn’t tell you about in its glossy brochures listing Nobel prize winners and technological breakthroughs. What they don’t tell you is that in the 1930s IBM was instrumental in providing groundbreaking technology that assisted the Nazi regime in identifying and tracking down Jews for its methodical program of genocide.

IBM Nazi computerOne of the machines is displayed in a place of prominence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The IBM badge can be clearly seen. It was a technical marvel of its time, the forerunner of today’s computers. The complex-looking machine was a punch card and card-sorting system initially built to assist the collation of vast amounts of information gathered in a census.

In the 1930s, IBM was one of the largest firms in the world, a true multinational conglomerate, with its headquarters in New York.

Oddly, IBM has Germanic origins. Herman Hollerith was the son of German immigrants. Working in the US Census Bureau, he was still in his twenties when he devised a machine using punch cards to tabulate the 1890 census. A smart businessman, he didn’t sell the machines or the punch cards but only leased them to whoever needed work done. It was a formula that kept the money rolling in.

His machines were used in censuses around the world, as well as for major operations such as railways and shipping.

Hollerith set up a subsidiary in Germany called Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft – Dehomag for short – and assigned it all of his patents. In 1911 Hollerith sold his firm to financier Charles Flint, who put tough and ambitious salesman Thomas Watson in charge. The name was changed to International Business Machines, IBM for short, and the company grew and grew.

In 1924 IBM owned eighty-four per cent of Dehomag, and the firm’s New York headquarters kept a close eye on all that its German subsidiary did throughout the war.

American investigative author Edwin Black was deeply shocked when he saw the IBM – Dehomag machine in Washington’s Holocaust Museum. The museum said on the display that IBM was responsible for organising the German census of 1933, which for the first time identified all Jews in the German population. Black was mystified how an iconic American corporation could be involved in the Holocaust, the most evil act of the twentieth century. He then spent decades digging up the links between IBM America and the Nazi genocide of millions of Jews and other inmates of the concentration camps. He said IBM tried to block his access to the firm’s records at every turn. But from archives around the world, and some files from IBM, he managed to assemble 20,000 documents that revealed IBM’s horrific role in the war, and in 2001 Black published his groundbreaking findings in “IBM and the Holocaust”.

It was shocking. Black wrote that IBM headquarters in New York knew all about its German subsidiary designing and supplying indispensable technological equipment that allowed the Nazis to achieve what had never been done before – “the automation of human destruction”. Buried deep in the files of the IBM company and German archives, Black alleged he discovered IBM boss Thomas Watson was an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazis from the very early years of the rise of Hitler.

“IBM NY always understood from the outset in 1933 that it was courting and doing business with the upper echelon of the Nazi Party,” Black wrote.

Nazi flagsWatson was obsequious in pandering to the Nazi hierarchy, writing a grovelling letter in 1937 to Nazi Economics Minister Hjalmer Schacht declaring that the world must extend “a sympathetic understanding to the German people and their aims under the leadership of Adolf Hitler”.

To show his gratitude to Watson and the support of IBM, Hitler personally bestowed on Watson a special swastika-bedecked medal to honour his unique service to the Reich – the Order of the German Eagle with Star. Black writes that in June 1940 Watson was forced to return the medal after public outrage that such a prominent American business leader would be in possession of a Nazi medal while Nazi troops occupied Paris.

Read the whole article . . .

And more if you have time: http://www.ibmandtheholocaust.com/

Glenfell Tower Inferno – A deliberate act?

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Death toll likely to rise

At this time the final death toll is unknown, but it will surely rise above the current figure of seventeen. The building, reportedly engulfed in flames within minutes, is now a burnt out shell.

Labour MP David Lammy says Grenfell Tower tragedy is “corporate manslaughter”

The UK’s Telegraph reports that this Labour MP has called the fire an “outrage”, labelling it “corporate manslaughter”, and demanding that arrests be made. David Lammy may be right – and already people who might be deemed responsible are ducking and weaving, looking to shift the blame elsewhere.

My desktop dictionary defines “manslaughter” as the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or in circumstances not amounting to murder.” The Farlex Free Legal Dictionary elaborates: “The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.” At the very least, that must fit the bill in this tragic situation.

David_Lammy

Labour MP for Tottenham lost a friend in the inferno

But is it possible that the reality is actually much worse? My desktop dictionary defines “murder” as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Again, Farley is more useful, examining the concept of “malice aforethought”:

“The term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing, or that he or she felt malice toward the victim. Generally, malice aforethought referred to a level of intent or recklessness that separated murder from other killings and warranted stiffer punishment. Express malice exists “when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.” Malice may be implied by a judge or jury “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

I was curious when I read that Glenfell Towers is located in Kensington, West London. Anyone who has been to the UK capital knows that inner west London is the expensive part of town. Yet TV footage showed residents milling around outside the burning tower block who were conspicuously not Anglo-Saxon (or wealthy Arab).

Chelsea house

A nice place in “The Boltons”

I checked the figures – and sure enough, the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, overseen by the Conservative Party, is “the most unaffordable borough in London when it comes to renting”. It has “a higher proportion of high earners (over £60,000 p.a.) than any other local government district in the country”. İt is “one of the few areas in the UK where population has dipped during the last ten years”.

A quick glance at property prices turned up a 7-bedroom house in “The Boltons” listed at £57,500,000; a more modest 5-bedroom end-of-terrace house for £35,000,000 – and a host of others in the £20-30 million range. Clearly I’ll need a second mortgage to get into that market – though I could lower my sights and snap up a studio “apartment” for around £1 million.

So what’s the story with Glenfell Towers, whose residents gave the impression of being unlikely to fit comfortably into that housing demographic? Well, apparently North Kensington is something of an anomaly – a picturesque multi-ethnic enclave at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, with a high rate of unemployment and a high proportion of welfare beneficiaries. Possibly not the kind of neighbours who would be the first choice of your average £50 million house owner, despite the contribution they might make to local “colour”.

residents

Local residents near Glenfell Tower

Apparently a company called Rydon “completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the council”. The refurbishment included affixing plastic and foam insulation panels to the exterior of the tower block at a cost of £9 million. According to that report, Cladding is considered a low cost way to modify the exterior of unattractive buildings and was used on Grenfell Tower so that the building would look better when viewed against the backdrop of conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington”.

The same report goes on to say, “Almost all witnesses said they saw the cladding basically firing up – bits of it were igniting before their very eyes.” Residents described how the foam-filled cladding “went up like matchsticks” as the blaze spread.

floor plan

120 flats – and ONE stairway?

Another report noted: “Renovations of the Grenfell building in North Kensington saw the building not only kitted out in controversial cladding that could have caused the deadly blaze to spread so quickly, but also stripped of two of its fire exits.”

Interesting! Even more interesting will be to follow what happens to the site after the tower block, which seems to be a complete write-off, is demolished. Will the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington replace it with low-cost housing for the surviving residents of Glenfell Tower? I suspect not. There will be many residents of South Kensington who, while sympathising with the victims of the fire, will be happy enough to see them relocated to a borough more appropriate to their socio-economic status. The value of the cleared land will undoubtedly richly reward developers given the opportunity to construct high-end residences for an influx of more wealthy ratepayers.

Is it possible that the whole business was a deliberate plan to get rid of that eyesore building and its misplaced inhabitants? It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Some might consider that £9 million for flammable cladding to be money well spent.

Turkey and The Netherlands – What’s going on?

Srebenica coffins

Muslim women mourning over victims of the Srebenica massacre

It seems to be blowing up into a major diplomatic issue, doesn’t it! Turkey’s President Erdoğan was reported yesterday as having raised a matter that the people of the Netherlands would no doubt prefer to forget. During the Bosnian War, in July 1995, more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks, mainly men and boys, were massacred. Between 25,000 to 30,000 Bosniak women, children and elderly were forcibly transferred and abused. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled in 2004 that the massacre constituted a genocide, and the ruling was upheld by the International Court of Justice in 2007.

Possibly Mr Erdoğan is embellishing the truth a little when he accuses the Netherlands of direct responsibility. There’s no evidence to suggest that Dutch soldiers actually killed or raped anyone. Nevertheless, the United Nations had declared the Muslim enclave of Srebenica a “safe area” under their protection, and a battalion of Dutch troops (UNPROFOR’s 370 Dutchbat soldiers) was responsible for ensuring the safety of the inhabitants. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they weren’t able to do so, and courts in the Netherlands have subsequently held the Dutch government responsible for the killings of of 300 Muslim Bosniaks. At this stage it seems unclear who was responsible for the other 7,700 deaths. (Source Wikipedia)

Geert Wilders

Whose fault is that? 68% of Dutch people say they have no religion, and 25%  claim to be atheists

You may say that’s a low blow from Mr Erdoğan. It’s old history after all. What we’re talking about here is politicians from Turkey wanting to go to the Netherlands to talk about a political issue when that country is days away from a particularly sensitive parliamentary election. That may be so, however:

  • On 16 April there will be an important national referendum in Turkey to approve or reject proposed changes to the country’s constitution.
  • There are nearly 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands – the largest minority ethnic group. Many of them hold dual citizenship and are entitled to vote in Turkey’s elections.
  • Politicians from Turkey had no interest in influencing the local Dutch election. Their aim was to speak to local Turks about a domestic issue in Turkey.
  • European governments, news media and the European Union itself have been, and still are, active in speaking out publicly against the Turkish government’s proposed changes to the constitution. Most recently, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe published a report asserting that the proposed changes will weaken democracy.

The report criticized the proposals for “letting the new president exercise executive power alone, with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone, allowing the president to be a member and even the leader of his or her political party, that would give him or her undue influence over the legislature and giving the president the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems.”

obamapowerJust out of interest, I googled “US presidential powers” . . . and what do you think? They can do all that and a whole heap more besides, including bomb other countries without having to get Congressional approval, and without even declaring war on them. So why pick on Turkey?

This time last year I expressed some surprise that the UK Consul-general in Istanbul, Leigh Turner, and a gang of his peers from Europe, Canada and the USA had fronted up to a court room where two Turkish journalists were being tried on “charges of procuring information vital to state security, political and military espionage, publishing state secrets and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” This was a mere four months before another gang, of rebel army officers, attempted to overthrow by force of arms Turkey’s democratically elected government. Those foreign diplomats were not only, by their presence en masse, attempting to pervert the course of justice in their host country, they also (some of them at least) snuggled up to the defendants and took “selfies”  which they then posted on their twitter accounts. When Turkey’s government closed the court hearing to the public, European media began screaming about democratic rights – after the situation had been brought about by the outrageous behaviour of their own “diplomats”.

Leigh Turner

Can’t even SPELL freedom, let alone know what it means!

And now, their cronies in Brussels are rallying round the Netherlands government, who did what? Turned back a plane carrying Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, refusing him entry to their country – then actually stopped the car of Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, took her into custody and deported her. Why? Because they wanted to speak to Turkish voters and put an alternative case to the one being promulgated by European press and politicians about Turkey’s upcoming referendum.

Put the two scenarios together and tell me honestly which is worse? Tell me who are the democrats and who the hypocrites?

Sad to say, there can be no winners in a situation like this. The Dutch Prime Minister is refusing to apologise, and his Turkish counterparts are in no mood to forgive these insults. That same Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is now suggesting that if the European Union does not honour its side of the deal, the migration agreement struck last year between Turkey and the EU could be nullified.

‘We see that the European Union has been stalling us. But our patience is not unlimited. Our citizens also have expectations. If visa liberalisation does not come, we will take steps regarding the migration deal,’ Çavuşoğlu told reporters on March 14.

Turkey agreed last year to work to keep migrants from crossing into the EU in return for funds to help it deal with some three million refugees.

The deal included a 6 billion aid package to help Turkey care for millions of refugees hosted in the country. However, Turkey has so far received only 677 million, with Brussels citing demands that Ankara loosen its tough anti-terror legislation. The agreement also allowed for the acceleration of Turkey’s EU membership bid and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals within the Schengen area.” None of which have eventuated – nor, if you want my opinion, are they ever likely to.

EU fence

The borders of Europe

It’s very nice for those politicians and media moguls in Western Europe sitting comfortably and complacently thousands of kilometres from the horrors taking place in the Middle East. Turkey, on the other hand, has to confront them on a daily basis, since they are happening just beyond their back fence.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council warned on Tuesday that a “tidal wave of bloodshed” over more than six years of war in Syria had effectively turned the country into a “torture chamber.”

‘As the conflict enters its seventh year, this is the worst man-made disaster the world has seen since World War II,’ Agence France-Presse quoted Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, as saying about the conflict that has killed 320,000.”

As I was traveling to work yesterday I noticed the minibus driver had a quotation displayed on the inside of his windscreen:

“Belki de haklısın . . . Sıfır’ın gücü yoktur; ama unutma ki, sıfır’ın kaybedecek bir şey de yoktur!”

“Maybe you’re right – Those who have nothing, have no power. But don’t forget, they also have nothing to lose!”

Smug self-righteousness is a sad and dangerous game to play.

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’.

Algeria

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.

German MPs label the 1915 massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire a “genocide,”

german-lawmakers-risk-erdogan-ire-with-armenia-genocide-vote

Ms Merkel, apparently, had pressing business elsewhere. We call it ‘having a dollar each way.’

Well done, the Germans! I hope it makes you feel better in some way. No doubt you have all done exhaustive research on the issue, listened to both sides of the story, weighed up the political implications of what you are doing, and decided that your vote here is somehow going to make the world a better place for all of us.

Sad to say, however, I suspect not. I suspect you are just going with the flow, listening to the loudest voices, kidding yourselves that you are sensitive new-age humanitarians, and picking on a country you think is a soft target.

I’m not going to argue the alternative view here. It is available on-line for anyone with a genuine interest in learning the truth. Just a quick summary:

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French massacres of Algerians. The hypocrisy is breath-taking!

Apart from the exaggerated numbers, the fact that the Ottoman Empire was not Turkey, and numerous other lies and distortions, there is the matter of selective morality. Is it only Jews and Christians who can be genocided? What about the 1.5 miilion Algerians killed by France ? What about the Native Americans virtually wiped out by deliberate US Government policies? What about the Australian Aborigines? The Russian ethnic cleansing of the Caucasus? How many Muslims and Jews lived where modern Greece now is before the modern Greeks took over? How many innocent civilians have died and continue to die in Iraq? Afghanistan? Syria? Killed by whom, with weapons manufactured where?

I read that Turkey’s government is trying to ‘blackmail’ Europe on this matter using the refugee agreement. Of course the issues are entirely separate, but this vote in the German parliament does seem pretty stupid at a time when Europe desperately needs Turkey’s self-sacrifice to stem the flood of refugees.

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One of many Armenian cemeteries in an up-market part of Istanbul. Check the dates on the gravestones. Then ask what happened to the historic Jewish cemetery in Greek Salonika.

There are already 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, placing an enormous financial and social burden on the country’s resources. A similar number have escaped to Jordan and Lebanon. None of these countries is to blame for the chaos that is causing this ongoing human disaster, and rich Western governments whose thirst for oil is the fundamental cause have refused to respond to United Nations’ repeated appeals for assistance.

Western Europe does not want these poor displaced people. They want Turkey to deal with the situation so they can get on with their self-indulgent lifestyles. They offered Turkey a package involving visa-free travel and fast-track entry to the European Union. In fact they will never deliver on either of those promises. All that’s left is a bribe of a few billion euros to their poor neighbour to close their borders and keep the refugees out of sight and out of mind.

They may learn to their cost that Turks are proud people. George W Bush offered a large bribe back in 2003 for Turkey to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom.’ The USA desperately wanted a Muslim country in there with them to dispel the criticism that this was another Christian Crusade. Turkey’s Government in the end turned down the bribe and kept out. Probably there are other, less independently-minded countries who now wish they had done the same.

Anzac Day and the Armenian ‘Genocide’ – What’s the connection?

Visitors from Australia and New Zealand attend a dawn ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gallipoli, at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli

2015 Anzac dawn service, Turkey

Tomorrow, or today, depending on your time zone, thousands of New Zealanders and Australians will gather for a dawn service on the beach of Anzac Cove beside the Dardanelle Strait in the Republic of Turkey. Most of them will then participate in organised tours around the battlefields and cemeteries of what we like to call the Gallipoli Peninsula.

I’ve been there several times myself. It’s a moving experience, reminding us antipodeans of our shared heritage, and providing us with a date on we can celebrate the emergence of a national consciousness.

Although I live in Turkey, I haven’t actually attended one of those 25 April commemorative services. My first visit was with a party of Turkish high school students and teachers, there for their own day of remembrance on 18 March. My most recent was with a couple of visitors from New Zealand on a quiet day in May.

I have, I guess, an unusual perspective on the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. I grew up imbued with all the legend and mythology associated with its memory in New Zealand. My years in Turkey have shown me another side to the story. Interestingly, both countries trace aspects of their origins to that tragic, bloody and ultimately futile conflict.

One factor, however, that has kept me from joining my fellow New Zealanders on their annual pilgrimages, is a feeling that we are not quite as appreciative as we might be of the hospitality the people of Turkey show in welcoming their former invaders, and allowing us to celebrate our national identity on their soil. What were our boys doing there, after all, 17,000 kilometres from home, invading the land of a people they barely knew existed, who certainly had not done them any harm?

Politics - Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Winston Churchill with German Kaiser Wilhelm, 1909

However brave our lads were, and that is beyond debate, they were in the wrong – or at least their military and political leaders who sent them were. I sometimes half seriously ask my Turkish students who they consider their country’s ‘Number Two Man’, after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. They show considerable surprise, even anger, when I offer my nomination of Winston Churchill for the title.

Certainly Mustafa Kemal was the victor of Gallipoli/Çanakkale, and the founder of the Republic. However, my contention is that, without the outrageous provocation of the British Empire, and Churchill in particular, the spark that ignited the struggle for liberation and independence might never have been struck. His was the grand plan to force the Dardanelles and the surrender of the Ottoman government, and to assist Imperial Russia in attacking Germany from the east, thereby relieving pressure on the Western front. Undeterred by failure, the British encouraged the Greek army to invade Anatolia in 1919 as part of their plan to divide and destroy the Ottoman Empire once and for all. When the Greeks too were driven out, Churchill’s final affront was an ultimatum calling on Turkish nationalists to refrain from attempting to liberate Istanbul from occupation. His bluff was called, and the modern Republic of Turkey came into being on 23 October 1923.

One of the most touching memories for me of the 1915 tragedy is the extract from a speech delivered by Atatürk, addressed to the families of the Anzacs who left their mortal remains on the battlefields of Gallipoli:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

We shouldn’t forget, when we visit Turkey, that we are there as guests of a sovereign nation. The British Government back then underestimated Ottoman resistance, duped by their own rhetoric about ‘The Sick Man of Europe’. Our grandfathers paid a high price for that. Short-term visitors to Turkey cannot be expected to learn the local language – but we might make some effort to learn a little history and geography. ‘Gallipoli’ is in fact a town in Southern Italy. The Turkish name for the peninsula is Gelibolu, a corruption of the ancient Greek town called Kallipolis. Turks refer to the campaign as Çanakkale (Chunnuck-kaleh) a name they also apply to the strait we choose to call the Dardanelles. This latter word derives from another ancient Greek town named for the mythical son of Zeus and Electra.

Who cares, you may ask? But I’m arguing that we, New Zealanders of all people, should care. For some years we have been starting to realise that many of our own place names arrogantly replaced meaningful words assigned by the indigenous Maori people – Aotearoa, Taranaki/Mt Egmont, Aoraki/ Mt Cook, and so on. The Republic of Turkey will celebrate its 93rd birthday this year. Perhaps its time we consigned that Greek mythology to its rightful place on library shelves.

NPG 142; George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron replica by Thomas Phillips

Lord Byron in ‘Albanian costume’ – I never even liked his poetry

After all, we owe much of our ‘knowledge’ of ‘Greece’ to a controversial, aristocratic English poet, Lord George Gordon Byron. A few words from his Wikipedia entry:

“Byron was both celebrated and castigated in life for his aristocratic excesses, including huge debts, numerous love affairs – with men as well as women, as well as rumours of a scandalous liaison with his half-sister – and self-imposed exile. He was living in Genoa when, in 1823, while growing bored with his life there, he accepted overtures for his support from representatives of the movement for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. Byron spent £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet.

Byron planned to attack the Turkish-held fortress of Lepanto, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth. He employed a fire-master to prepare artillery and took part of the rebel army under his own command, despite his lack of military experience. Before the expedition could sail, on 15 February 1824, he fell ill. He developed a violent fever, and died on 19 April. It has been said that if Byron had lived and had gone on to defeat the Ottomans, he might have been declared King of Greece. However, contemporary scholars have found such an outcome unlikely.”

Thwarted by Byron’s untimely death, the British government arranged for the installation of a German prince from the Bavarian Wittelsbach family as King Otto I of their new puppet state.

Well, I’m not here to talk about Lord Byron and the past sins of Imperial Britain – rather to warn that we need to exercise caution in deciding what to believe, especially when that belief may lead to actions with unintended and undesirable consequences. The 16th century French essayist, Michel de Montaigne, observed that Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know’, and the passage of time has not detracted from the truth of his words.

Western news media are presently full of articles and opinion pieces referring to the so-called ‘Armenian genocide’. The reason is that the global community of Armenians chose 24 April as the day to commemorate another tragic event of 1915. The issue, as I’m sure you are well aware, is whether the expulsion and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at that time should be labelled a ‘genocide’ – and whether the modern Republic of Turkey should accept responsibility.

Clooney-invite

If you can afford $33,400 to $353,400 for a ticket

The Catholic Pope has apparently come out in support of the Armenian claim, and I read of a church service being conducted by a Catholic cardinal in a cathedral in Boston. George Clooney, better known as a Hollywood actor, has also announced his support for the Armenian cause. President Obama, meanwhile, has angered Armenians by soft-pedalling on the issue, despite earlier promises on the campaign trail.

Well, I’m not going to engage in diversionary arguments about whether the Catholic Church has any right to take anyone else to task for human rights abuses. Nor attack Mr Clooney and his wife for their ‘obscene’ financial support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

I would, however, like to express my sadness and disappointment over an article published in the New Zealand Herald today. Admittedly it’s an opinion piece, and possibly doesn’t reflect the position of the owners and publishers of the paper. However, it’s a sensitive issue, and they should give some thought to the warning of M. Montaigne.

The writer, James Robins, has chosen to make a connection between the Anzac involvement in the Gallipoli Campaign, and the current campaign to have the Armenian tragedy recognised as a genocide. He claims that New Zealand soldiers actually witnessed events proving that a genocide, the systematic and near-complete destruction of a people’ took place. Robins asserts that For centuries the Armenians had been second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire.’ In fact, Armenians, along with Orthodox Christians and Jews had been given the right to build schools and churches, speak their languages, practice their religion, bury their dead, hold high positions, and live rich and comfortable lives in the Ottoman Empire.

The article contains a picture of a desecrated and destroyed Armenian cemetery. I can take Mr Robins to many Armenian churches and cemeteries occupying fabulously valuable real estate in modern Istanbul. If he has any Greek friends, he could ask them to show him mosques or synagogues in Athens or Salonika, cities that once had large Muslim and Jewish populations. And good luck with the search.

Armenian cemetery 2

Armenian cemetery in Şişli, one of Istanbul’s most expensive neighbourhoods

Robins quotes the ‘historian’ Taner Akçam – much of whose ‘research’ has in fact been called into question. A Turkish historian, Haluk Şahin, has just published a book, ‘Anatomy of a Forgotten Assassination Plot’. Şahin refers to the murder of two Turkish diplomats in Santa Barbara, California, on 27 January 1973 by an American citizen of Armenian descent – the first killing in an orchestrated programme that caused the deaths of 90 Turkish diplomatic staff and members of their immediate families.

I have in front of me an article from Al Jazeera dated 5 April, about the ongoing conflict between the country of Armenia and its neighbour Azerbaijan. The subheading reads: ‘The international community has consistently deplored the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories’. The article refers to the 1993 incident where Through the Armenian aggression and ethnic cleansing policy, 20 percent of the internationally recognised Azerbaijani territory (Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven adjacent districts) were occupied by Armenia, and more than one million Azerbaijanis were expelled from their ancestral lands.’

I’m not interested in taking sides on these issues. We New Zealanders have unsavoury and still unresolved events in our own history. The Roman Catholic Church likewise. I do hope, however, that the Herald’s correspondent, James Robins, represents a minority point-of-view when he asks, ‘Can New Zealand state officials stand on a platform with Turkish officials at Gallipoli knowing that they actively refuse to acknowledge the truth of what happened to the Armenians? Knowing now that New Zealanders risked their lives for the survivors?’

Just remember who looks after those Gallipoli cemeteries from one Anzac Day to the next; whose government gives New Zealanders free visas to enter their country, and whose people welcome us like family when we’re there. Are you really so sure of your facts that you want to jeopardise those privileges?

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Other posts on this issue:

Who killed the Armenians?

Armenian Massacres and the Nationalism of Hate

In Search of Solutions

History at 10,000 metres

Reality buttocks, papal infallibility and the Armenian issue

Selective Amnesia

Who hijacked the left?

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.

ikinci-abdulhamid_263661

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 Abdülmecit’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.

erdogan-merkel1

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.