94th Anniversary of the Treaty of Lausanne

24 July. You probably won’t read much about it in media elsewhere, but it’s a pretty important date in Turkey – and possibly one of the reasons Western powers have a long-standing grudge against Turks. I’m publishing a few extracts from other sources on the subject:

The Turkish Coalition of America

Greek invasion

Jubilant Smyrniots welcome the Greeks with garlands, flags and a picture of Premier Venizelos, May 1919.

“The Treaty of Lausanne followed the signing of the Armistice at Mudanya on October 11, 1922, after decisive victories by Turkish national forces led by Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk). Britain was forced to lift its occupation of Istanbul and the Turkish straits and call for a peace conference following the final defeat of Greek forces, which invaded Anatolia as Britain’s surrogates, and as occupying Italian and French forces decidedly moved toward non-confrontation with the Turkish national resistance movement.

Countries represented at the peace talks were Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania and Serbo-Croatia. Russia, Belgium, and Portugal entered the treaty negotiations at later stages to discuss the status of the Turkish straits and financial matters concerning the defunct Ottoman Empire. The Unites States attended the treaty negotiations as an observer.

The Turkish War of National Liberation, fought against the most powerful imperial states of the time, culminated in a military and diplomatic victory for the Turkish people who achieved full independence and sovereignty at Lausanne. This victory would serve as a source of inspiration for several nations in their struggles against Western imperialism and independence for many years to come.” 

Daily Sabah (English language news source published in Turkey)

“Signed on July 24, 1923 in Switzerland’s Lausanne, the treaty officially ended hostilities between the Allies and the Turkish state led by the Grand National Assembly and marked Turkey’s current borders with the exceptions of Hatay, which joined Turkey from Syria in 1939, and the border with Iraq, which was a British mandate at the time.

Sevres map

Turkey, if not for its War of Liberation and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne

It also reversed the extensive losses of Turkish-inhabited territories that were laid out in the Sevres Treaty, forced upon the Ottoman Empire by Allied powers.

The Treaty of Lausanne also put an end to the centuries-long economic concessions granted by the Ottoman Empire to European powers.”

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Great Speech to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly in 1927

“Gentlemen, I  don’t think it is necessary any  further to compare the principles underlying the Lausanne Peace Treaty with other proposals for peace.  This treaty, is a document declaring that all efforts, prepared over centuries, and thought to have been accomplished through the SEVRES Treaty to crush the Turkish nation have been in vain.  It is a diplomatic victory unheard of in Ottoman history!

Encyclopedia.com

“Defeat in World War I resulted in a harsh peace treaty for the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) stripped Turkey of all its European territory except for a small area around Constantinople (now Istanbul); demilitarized the straits between the Black and Mediterranean seas, opened them to ships of all nations, and placed them under an international commission; established an independent Armenia and an autonomous Kurdistan in eastern Anatolia; turned over the region around İzmir to the Greeks; restored the capitulations; and placed Turkish finances under foreign control. By separate agreement, some parts of Turkey left to the Turks were assigned to France and Italy as spheres of influence.

Unlike the other nations on the losing side in World War I, Turkey was able to renegotiate its treaty terms. This was the result of the decline of the sultan’s power, the rise of the nationalists under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the defeat of the Greeks’ attempt to expand their power in Turkey.

The Allied powers restored Constantinople and the straits to Turkish authority and called for a peace convention to renegotiate the terms laid down at Sèvres. [In a typical attempt to divide Turks against each other] the Allies invited both of the contesting powers in Turkeythe sultan’s government and the nationalists under Kemalto a conference at Lausanne, Switzerland. This precipitated Kemal’s decision to separate the positions of sultan and caliph, abolishing the former, exiling Mehmet VI and giving the residual powers of caliph to his cousin, Abdülmecit II. Thus, when the conference at Lausanne began in November 1922, Kemal’s Ankara government was the sole representative of Turkey.” 

As an interesting aside, I found this brief piece on a website calling itself historycentral.com:

“After an unsuccessful military campaign [sic!] against the Greeks, Turkey concluded a peace treaty with the allies. Under the terms of the agreement Turkey gave up all claim to non-Turkish territories lost in the course of World War I. It recovered however, Eastern Thrace. In the Aegean it received [sic!] Imbros and Tenedos, but the rest of the islands went to Greece [as a result of some submarine seismic activity?]. Turkey paid no reparations. The Straits of Dardenelles were demilitarized and open to all ships in time of peace and all neutral ships in a time of war.”

I’ve corrected the several spelling errors – and left the other nonsense to speak for itself. When it comes to “history”, there may be more than one version of the same events. Be careful which one you choose to believe!

the-treaty-of-lausanneTranslation of the French:

The Lausanne Conference

For Peace in the Near East [still waiting for that!]

At the Chateau d’Ouchy

From 15 November 1922 to 28 July 1923 [What’s with those Roman numerals?]

The United States of America, the British Empire, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Turkey, the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia [What happened to that one?], Bulgaria and Russia participated in the work of the conference which led to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne

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A day for national unity in Turkey

fft99_mf6871574Today, 23 April, was a big day in Turkey, one on which three significant events coincided. These three events represented three major aspects of life in Turkey – the majority religious faith and two other cultural phenomena that bear many characteristics of religion.

First of all, 23 April is the day dedicated to the nation’s children by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic. On that day in 1920 the new Republic’s Grand National Assembly was inaugurated, representing the establishment of national sovereignty in the face of aggression by Western imperialist forces. I am reblogging below a brief article posted on the website of the Turkish Coalition of America.

resimli-mirac-kandili-mesajlariThe night of 23/24 April this year also happens to be Miraç Kandili in the Muslim calendar. There are five of these special holy nights, and Miraç is the one celebrating the ascent of the Prophet Muhammed to heaven.

Finally, bringing together all Turks, secular and religious, and transcending all political boundaries, is the sacred game of football. Tonight two of Istanbul’s greatest clubs, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, faced off in one of the year’s crucial matches. I’m not going to detract from the grandeur of this day by discussing the match or even disclosing the result.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_3k3647qbhqeco88ssg0g0g88k_640The important message for Turks of all political persuasions surely is the need to work together to preserve their national sovereignty in the face of renewed threats from within and without.

“On April 23, Turkish Americans across the United States are celebrating Turkish National Sovereignty and Children’s Day. The day marks the inauguration of the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) on April 23, 1920, proclaimed in 1929 as a Turkish national holiday dedicated to children.  Every year, April 23 is celebrated in Turkey and Turkish communities abroad with international children’s festivals, in the spirit of world peace and harmony.

“The inauguration of the TGNA on April 23, 1920 was first step toward the creation of the Republic of Turkey, the roots of which were laid during the Turkish National War of Liberation led by Mustafa Kemal – later to be given the name Ataturk (father of Turks).

“The Turkish national liberation struggle began on May 19, 1919 and culminated in the liberation of Anatolia from foreign occupation, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. When the TGNA held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of the Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, patriotic movements began springing up all around Anatolia.

“The occupation of Izmir by invading Greek armies and the atrocities they committed against the Turkish population was the final outrage that sparked a nationwide resistance movement. This resistance soon turned into a war of independence under Mustafa Kemal, a young Ottoman military officer at the time. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolving of the Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal’s justification for opening the resistance movement’s new legislative body was created.

“With the opening of the Assembly, Ankara became the center of the Turkish national struggle and was declared as the capital of the new Turkish Republic on October 13, 1923. On the opening day of the Assembly, Mustafa Kemal was elected as its first president. His opening speech includes clues of what he envisioned this Assembly to achieve. Stating that “there will not be any power above the assembly,” Atatürk set the stage for the founding of the Republic of Turkey to replace the Ottoman monarchy. The Assembly, as the representative body of the Turkish people, established a national army and defeated the Allied Powers. Under the visionary leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it created a secular, democratic Republic.”

US ‘concerned about quality of democracy in Turkey’

The headline was in our local English language daily, so I checked it online just to be sure. Well, as usual, there’s a context. The words were spoken at a US Dept of State press conference on Thursday. In fact the spokesman was doing his best to be diplomatic in the face of questioning clearly aimed at getting him to come out and criticise the state of democracy in Turkey. So, credit where credit’s due – he didn’t.

And well he might not! Whatever pious voices the US reporters might raise against Turkey, it’s pretty clear that they would be better advised to deal with the blows against democracy being struck by their own government at home and abroad.

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Thanks to a CIA-backed coup in 1952 to overthrow the democratically elected prime minister

For example:

“An executive at the Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank on April 13 pleaded not guilty to involvement in a multi-year scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran.


“Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager at Halkbank, entered his plea through his lawyer at a hearing in Manhattan federal court.

“U.S. prosecutors accused Atilla of conspiring with wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars of illegal transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of Iran’s government and other entities in Iran.”

Well, if these Turkish guys were actually trying to evade US sanctions against Iran (and I’m not saying they were), they were undoubtedly doing it for the benefit of their own country and not just Iran. Turkey had been suffering economically for more than 30 years by loyally supporting the US government’s sanctions against Iran. These sanctions were imposed after a grass-roots Islamic revolution in 1979 overthrew the US-puppet Shah who had been misgoverning the country for 27 years on behalf of his western masters. Who’s wrong here?

If you guys are really so keen on democracy, can you please tell us exactly how such interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation fits into your plan for democratising the universe? And how are things progressing in Afghanistan?

hqdefault

And $2 million for each bang

“The United States on Thursday dropped “the mother of all bombs,” the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat, on an ISIS tunnel and cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. The bomb, officially called the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), was dropped from a MC-130 aircraft in the Achin district of Nangarhar province, Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said, according to the Associated Press. The target was near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan.

“President Donald Trump said Thursday the bombing was a “very successful mission,” according to Reuters, and he touted the mission as evidence of a stronger foreign policy under his administration. It was not immediately clear how much damage the bomb did, how many militants were killed, or whether any civilians were killed.

“The GBU-43 is a GPS-guided weapon that weighs an enormous 21,600 pounds (9.5 tonnes), according to an article from the Eglin Air Force Base. Each one costs $16 million, according to military information website Deagel. During testing in the early 2000s, it created a mushroom cloud that could be seen from 30 km away, according to the Air Force story.

“The U.S. military says it has 20 MOAB bombs and has spent about $314 million producing them, according to CNBC.

“While not all details from Thursday’s blast have been made public, the bomb is very powerful. “What it does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire,” Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Air Force Times. “It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach.” (Source: Time)

Another article in Time informed me that Turkey is one of five countries where ISIS gets many of its foreign recruits:

187391-004-F45D75C6

Britain and France’s secret plan for post-WWI Middle East – and where did Kurdistan fit in?

“Turkey has its own fraught relationship with an ethnic minority agitating for independence. The Kurds are an ethnic group that number between 20 million and 40 million who straddle the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. Denied their own state when the borders of modern Turkey were established following World War I, they are now the world’s largest stateless ethnic group. Kurdish fighters have spent decades fighting the Turkish government to carve out an independent state for themselves, and some have resorted to terrorism; over the past three decades, more than 40,000 people have been killed in clashes between Turks and Kurds.

“Complicating matters is that Kurds in Syria are one of the most effective forces fighting both Assad and ISIS. Their success could create an independent Kurdish state inside Syria, which might encourage a larger share of Turkish Kurds to take arms with the same goal. So one of the greatest terrorist threats against Turkey is also a threat to ISIS.

“At the same time, roughly 2,100 Turks have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS. Since 2015, more than 400 people have been killed in terrorist attacks throughout the country. In other words, Turkey’s terrorism problem is only becoming more complicated.”

And made a whole lot more complicated by US interference in regional affairs. For a start, it wasn’t just Turkey that stood in the way of a Kurdish state. It was the victorious allies, Britain and France who drew the borders of Iraq and Syria for their own selfish reasons at the end of World War I. And if they’d had their way, the Turks would have been an even larger stateless group! Further, there is no doubt that most of the Kurdish people in Turkey do not support PKK separatist terrorism. They are getting on with the business of making a living, and a better life for their kids in the cities of Turkey – with the assistance of the present government. And the process is not helped by the US government supporting Kurdish revolutionary separatists in Syria in the so-called fight against ISIS. Yankee go home! Just let the locals get on with sorting out their own problems!

DSCF0115

Well, I don’t get to vote in the referendum, but if I did . . .

Dear Americans, you may think you have the best of intentions, but . . .

“Misdirected coalition strike kills 18 partner forces in Syria

“A coalition air strike accidentally killed 18 members of a U.S.-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near a key town in northern Syria, the U.S.-led coalition said on April 13.”

Who needs enemies when you’ve got a friend like the USA?

The Non-people – Let’s say that they are dead

I wrote this back in 2003. I wasn’t writing a blog in those days, so it didn’t get much circulation. I’m posting it now in response to three items that crossed my screen this morning:

  • A reply to my post about Turkey’s human rights record – expressing deep sadness and frustration at the writer’s powerlessness in the face of US aggression and lies;
  • A clip my sister sent me with a Scottish woman singing/reciting a beautiful song/poem about Donald Trump;
  • Another reply from a woman who lost a child to the injustices of the US health system.

“It doesn’t snow that often in Istanbul, so it’s a novelty, especially for an ex-pat Aucklander. I love looking out of the window at the flying flakes, the trees with their branches laden and bent, the lawn white, and the Bosphorus beyond looking infinite, the Asian shore lost in mist.

When I got up this morning, the world was white, and the house was cold. My heating hadn’t come on. I had to go downstairs and bleed some air out of the heat pump. Now I’m comfortable behind double-glazed windows, radiators warming every room, enjoying the framed pictures on every wall, unreal, like old greeting cards of northern winters celebrating a southern Christmas.

I had to go out. My weekend morning routine is a leisurely breakfast with plenty of freshly brewed coffee, and it’s not complete without a warm-from-the-oven baguette from the bakery in Sarıyer, and a local paper. It’s ok though – once you don overcoat, scarf, gloves, woollen beanie, boots . . . snow adds a new dimension to the short walk to the village. Wish I’d got up earlier, though. It’s less picturesque after a few hours of traffic have churned the virginal white to brown slush.

No sign of my local charities today. There’s an old chap with a set of scales who bases himself all day on the esplanade near the supermarket. Too proud to simply beg, he accepts offerings from passers-by in return for reading their weight with doubtful accuracy. I always make a show of putting down my shopping bags, and getting him to read the kilos, in return for which I slip him one Turkish Lira. He shakes my hand and thanks me effusively. But I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. Wonder where he goes in winter?

Outside the bakery sits a woman in late middle-age. She makes little nest for herself with flattened cardboard cartons. On a good day, she may score a wooden fruit box from the grocer across the road. “Allah razi olsun,” she says, in return for my greeting and my lira; “God bless you.” But she wasn’t there today either. Too cold, I suppose.

So I got home, with my loaf and my ‘Milliyet’. The house felt marvellously warm as the radiators began to do their job. I fiddled around in the kitchen preparing a plate of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scrambled egg . . . a glass of fresh orange juice (with coffee to follow), then settled down with newspaper spread out on the table.

Arab childI’d noticed, as soon as I took it from the newsagent that this morning’s paper looked different. Half of the front page was filled with the photograph of a doe-eyed Arab girl, about five years old, hair covered with a black embroidered headscarf, but her face open and innocent. “Ölü çocukların sessiz çığlıkları” read the restrained headline – little more than a caption, in fact: “The silent cries of the dead children.” It’s the title of a brief poem printed beside the photo:

‘Shall it be said of them that they are dead

Their hearts have long since stopped

Shall it be said of them that they are dead

The pupils of their eyes show no sign of life

Then let’s say they are dead

Like mighty ships at anchor

In great harbours

No sign of life in the pupils of their eyes

Shall it be said of them that they are dead?’

‘When the photograph of this little girl arrived at the reporters’ department of ‘Milliyet’ yesterday afternoon we were in a meeting.

It was taken in Baghdad yesterday during Friday prayers by Reuters correspondent Shuayib Salem . . .

The little girl’s name was not attached. Maybe it’s Ayshe, Fatma perhaps, or Emine . . . No one knows her name; in my opinion, no one wants to know.

Because, for the movers and shakers sitting in warm rooms in the great capitals of the world, whose names we read in newspapers, whose faces we see on television, it’s necessary that she should have no name, no identity. It’s necessary that she should remain a statistic . . .

In that way, it’s easier to accept the suffering . . .’

That was the front page. I don’t usually read every word – my Turkish is still a bit slow. I brewed my coffee and savoured the taste and the aroma as I flipped through the rest of the paper: movie reviews, apartments to rent, cartoons, football . . . On page 16, news that eighty thousand Turkish troops will be going to Iraq[1], along with fifty thousand from the US; three hundred US aircraft will be based on Turkish soil.

And it occurred to me that I don’t know the name of the old chap with the scales; nor the woman outside the bakery in her cardboard nest – the man and woman who weren’t there. For sure it’s easier that way.”

_____________________________________________

[1] In the end, those Turkish troops weren’t sent.

Same old story, 100 years on – “100 Yıllık Terane”

dscf0497I’ve been cruising past the sign for a week or so now – a huge billboard strikingly designed in red and black and white, located near a busy intersection on Istanbul’s Baghdad Avenue. It’s a long way from Baghdad, Iraq, of course, but once upon a time this road was probably the main route to that legendary city of the Near East. These days, Baghdad Ave, at least around where that billboard is, is the premier shopping district on the Asian side of the city – and a popular strip for young unattached wealthy males to prowl in their Porsches and Lamborghinis searching for an impressionable and willing young lass to whisk off to designer paradise.

The local council is unapologetically CHP – meaning they, and the citizens who elected them, are implacable foes of the AK Party that governs the country and manages the broader Istanbul Metropolitan region. So I suspect there are a few locals gnashing their teeth over this billboard – if they’ve actually noticed it, or managed to work out what it’s all about. I don’t want to undervalue the intelligence of those implacable foes – but sometimes I wonder whether their brains are actually engaged with their mouths.

The huge red and black billboard is advertising a book. That in itself is something of an oddity in a culture not especially given to reading for information or pleasure. I passed it several times myself before deciding to take a closer interest. I checked it out online, and then, my curiosity aroused, dropped into a nearby bookstore and purchased a copy: “100 Yıllık Terane” by Taha Ün – subtitled “This kind of coincidence is only seen in films”.

Well, I’m still a slow reader of Turkish, and the introductory pages are pretty heavy going – but Mr Ün, a journalist and amateur historian, I gather, has found a very interesting thesis. He is revisiting the closing years of the Ottoman Empire, in particular, a period of 33 years from 1876 to 1909 when Sultan Abdulhamid II was on the throne. He wasn’t the last Ottoman Sultan, and by no means a major threat to Europe, but he has possibly the worst reputation among the 36 scions of the House of Osman. Taha Ün has looked back on how that Abdulhamid was depicted in the Western press – and drawn 180 pages of fascinating parallels with the 15-year tenure of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as Prime Minister first, and now President of the modern Republic of Turkey.

conquestofconstantinoplebythecrusadersin1204

Crusaders conquering CHRISTIAN Constantinople in 1204

It’s a subject that needs airing – and not only to a Turkish audience. In fact I suggest that the determination of Western opinion-leaders to blacken the image of Turkey and earlier Islamic civilisations is centuries-old. For two hundred years after the first Crusade in 1095 CE, Western “Christendom” launched wave after wave of ruinous invasion on sophisticated civilisations in the Near East, with little concern as to whether they were Muslim or Christian.

There was a period of two centuries or so after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 when Western powers, not yet in the ascendancy, were obliged to find ways of getting along with their powerful Muslim neighbour. That began to change, however, after a coalition of European forces won a decisive victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Thereafter Ottoman power went into slow decline – to the delight of rising Western Empires eager to add its territories and wealth to their own expanding spheres of influence.

Tourists in Istanbul tend to spend much of their time visiting historical sights in the Sultanahmet area. Ahmet I reigned from 1603 to 1617 and was responsible, among other achievements, for commissioning the famous “Blue Mosque”. He is not to be confused with Sultan Ahmet III, who ruled the Empire for twenty-seven years at the beginning of the 18th century until deposed by a military coup.

Ahmet III’s reign is commonly known to historians as the “Tulip Era”, in reference to a craze for the bulbs and flowers among Ottoman court society. The uprising of Janissary soldiers that overthrew Ahmet in 1730 is generally portrayed in Western histories as a popular revolt against “the excessive pomp and costly luxury” of the Sultan and his court. The figurehead of the uprising, Patrona Halil, a Janissary officer of Albanian extraction, apparently found time and leisure from his insurrectionary duties to pose for a romantic portrait by the French artist Jean Baptiste Vanmour.

Patrona_khalil_calkoen

Romantic French portrayal of Patrona Halil

Perhaps surprisingly, then, Ahmet III had actually been doing his best to cultivate good relations with France – incidentally at a time when that nation was not notable for democratic treatment of its own citizens. Apart from growing tulips, and living in the lap of luxury – a lifestyle not altogether shunned by his French contemporary, Louis XIV – the Ottoman Sultan “left the finances of the Ottoman Empire in a flourishing condition . . . without excessive taxation or extortion procedures”. He was probably the first of his line to look Westward with an eye to emulating European progress. He was a patron of literature, architecture and the arts in general, promoted commerce and industry, and authorised the introduction of printing presses for producing books in the Ottoman language. During Ahmet’s reign the Ottomans came close to destroying the power of the emerging Russian Empire – and it is perhaps here that we may seek the reason for his negative portrayal in the West.

Apparently King Charles XII of Sweden was given sanctuary by the Ottomans after his army had been defeated by the Russians in 1709. Refusing to hand over the Swedish monarch brought Ahmet into a war with his northern neighbour, which was going badly for the Russians until the Safavid Persians attacked the Ottomans in the east. At least one historian has argued that the resulting peace treaty possibly turned the course of history, in that it saved Tsar Peter, who subsequently went on to become the Great Emperor of Russia, from possible capture and imprisonment.

That looks like quite an impressive list of achievements for a guy who ascended the throne at the age of 13; and it might seem a trifle unfair to write him off with a belittling reference to tulips and luxurious decadence. Russia had had close diplomatic relations with Persia since at least the middle of the 16th century. As their power increased, it is likely that they saw benefits accruing from stirring up conflict between the two Muslim empires to the south – and not impossible that the Shi’ite Persians hoped to win favour with Russia and territorial gains for themselves by striking the Sunni Ottomans while they were otherwise engaged. It is also possible that Western interests were served by fomenting internal strife against Sultan Ahmet when he looked as though he might be turning the tide of Ottoman decline. But it’s just a theory, you understand.

selimiye-barracks

Selimiye Barracks – still an Istanbul landmark

Anyway, let’s move forward another hundred years. By the beginning of the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was really struggling. Western Europe was well into its industrial revolution; the Big Three, Britain, France and Russia, were expanding on all fronts; and military defeats by their troublesome eastern neighbour had become a thing of the past. Selim III ascended the throne in 1789, the year of the French Revolution, with reform on his mind, particularly in the fields of education and the military. The landmark four-towered army barracks on the Asian shore of the Bosporus near Kadıköy stands as a symbol of his efforts. They were cut short, however, by forces of conservatism within the Empire, the Janissary army, religious leaders and the hereditary elite, who, fearing the loss of their traditional power, joined forces to overthrow and murder him. Selim’s two successors both had brief reigns and came to nasty ends, before his great-nephew Mahmud II took over in 1808.

Bucking the trend of recent years, the 30th Sultan managed 31 years on the throne and died of natural causes. He carried out far-reaching reforms in administrative, fiscal and military matters. One of his major achievements was abolishing the Janissary corps, once-feared symbol of Ottoman military might, that had long since become more active as a force of reaction, overthrowing and sometimes assassinating reform-minded Sultans. Mahmud went on to set up a more equitable taxation system; curb the power of local governors; establish a modern army and navy; and institute clothing reforms that brought his subjects more into line with Western conventions. Interestingly, it was he who introduced the fez in place of the traditional turban – though that headgear itself later came to be seen as a symbol of Ottoman backwardness.

Once again, however, the machinations of European powers worked against Mahmud’s positive moves. “The Eastern Question” assumed increasing importance as a motive behind the foreign policies of Western governments. The essence of the question was: “When will the Ottoman Empire finally collapse and disintegrate – and which of us will get what parts of it when it does?” British, French and Russian governments might, of course, have different answers to this question, with the result that sometimes they worked together against the Ottomans; and sometimes supported the Ottomans against each other, bolstering them up to suit their own interests while doing their best to undermine them and assist the break-up of the Empire from within.

prinz_otto_von_bayern_koenig_von_griechenland

Prince Otto of Bavaria – King of “independent” Greece, 1830

The Greek War of Independence that began in 1821 illustrated the complexities of the Eastern Question. Russia, always keen to get access to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, saw advantage in championing the Sultan’s Eastern Orthodox Christian subjects to rebel, and bring the Bosporus Straits and the Aegean Sea under Russian control. Britain and France wanted to keep Russia bottled up in its frozen wastes. A compromise was brought about when the navies of the three Great Powers combined to smash the Ottoman and Egyptian navies, and create an “independent Greek” state. Just how “independent” became clear when a Roman Catholic Prince from Bavaria was installed on the throne of the new kingdom, whose finances were supported by loans from Britain and the Rothschild bank.

The very name “Greece” in fact carried little or no significance for the “Greeks” themselves, who preferred (and still prefer) variations on the theme of “Hellas”. British aristocrats supporting the “Greek” struggle had confused ideas about returning modern-day locals to the pagan glories of mythological ancient times they remembered hazily from their Etonian school days. Modern Hellenes laboured under the misconception that they would be permitted to re-establish a Christian Byzantine Empire centred on Constantinople. Dream on!

Nevertheless, a precedent was set for the Great Powers to support downtrodden Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, encouraging them to rebel and bring down the wrath of the Ottoman government on their heads – whereupon said great Powers would be justified in getting involved with a nationalist struggle on humanitarian grounds.

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So, which empire showed more humanity?

This new strategy of the Western powers proved a major nightmare for Mahmud’s son, Abdulmejid (Abdülmecid), Sultan from 1839 to 1861. The new monarch is remembered in Turkish history as the initiator of Tanzimat (Reorganisation), an ambitious programme of reforms encompassing finance, the civil and criminal law, the establishment of modern universities, equal treatment for religious minorities in the Empire, and the abolition of slavery. According to Wikipedia, he had “plans to send humanitarian aid of £10,000 to Ireland during its Great Famine, but later agreed to reduce it to £1,000 at the insistence of British diplomats wishing to avoid embarrassing Queen Victoria, who had made a donation of £5,000.”

His attempts to combat the rise of separatist nationalist movements, however, by legislating for equal rights, and promoting “Ottomanism” as a unifying doctrine were undone by Great Power support for Christian minorities. While Britain and France were lending support in the Crimean War to contain Russian expansion, the Russians themselves were driving out the Muslim inhabitants of the Caucasus, and, following the example of “Greek independence”, inciting Armenian Christians in eastern Anatolia to rise up against their lawful government.

Abdulmejid died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 and was succeeded by his brother, Abdülaziz. Despite his continued attempts to modernise the Empire, Ottoman travails continued. He attempted to cultivate ties with France – which was undermined by France’s crushing defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Britain, as always, proved an untrustworthy ally, by this time more interested in acquiring Ottoman territories after the construction of the Suez Canal. The British Government originally opposed the French project but, later took over the canal, and extended its influence into Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. Increasingly desperate, the Ottoman government turned to Russia for assistance, but Russian support for nationalist independence movements in the Balkans meant there was little hope to be gained from that quarter. Abdulaziz struggled on for fifteen years before mounting crises at home and abroad led to his deposition in 1876. There is some disagreement over his subsequent death – did he top himself, or was he “offed”?

Whatever the case, the once mighty empire was in an almighty mess. Abdulaziz’s nephew lasted 93 days on the throne before being ousted on the grounds of insanity. His younger brother was crowned Abdulhamid II on 31 August 1876. Within fifteen months the Ottomans had fought and lost a disastrous war with Russia, whose forces were massed at the very gates of Istanbul/ Constantinople. Only last minute interference by the British Navy averted total defeat – but most of Ottoman territory in the Balkans was lost, and the Brits made off with the island of Cyprus.

Which brings us back to that book. There seems to be some revision of history under way in Turkey these days. Of necessity, the founders of the Republic dissociated themselves from the Ottoman Empire, on whose ashes they hoped to build a new nation. In looking to the West for inspiration and guidance, they took on board Western perceptions of Ottoman history depicting its rulers as corrupt, decadent and brutal. An unfortunate side effect of this process was a loss of identity, a feeling of inferiority that manifested itself in attempts to leapfrog 900 years of history and establish a semi-mythological connection to Turkic forebears in Central Asia. All of which bolstered Western stereotypes of swarthy, camel-riding barbarians not fit to be granted entry into Europe.

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Sultan Abdulhamid II

An important new industry in Turkey is producing television drama series that have been finding surprisingly enthusiastic audiences, not only at home, but in the Middle East and as far away as South America. Yesterday the first episode of a new historical drama was screened: “Payitaht: Abdülhamid”. The title is somewhat cryptic – possibly implying that, for better or worse, this guy WAS the sole governing power of the Empire at that time. Apparently the series deals with the last thirteen years of that controversial Sultan’s reign, from 1896 to his deposition in 1909. Another sign, perhaps, that Turkey is no longer satisfied to be defined by Western stereotypes.

93rd Anniversary of the Republic of Turkey

Cumhuriyet Bayramınız kutlu olsun!

To commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the official founding of the Republic of Turkey, I’m passing on this piece posted on the Turkish Coalition of America website:

unnamedOn October 29, 1923, the newly recognized Turkish parliament proclaimed the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, formally marking the end of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day, Mustafa Kemal, who led the Turkish National War of Liberation and was later named Atatürk (father of Turks), was unanimously elected as the first president of the Republic.

Turkey had effectively been a republic from April 23, 1920 when the Grand National Assembly was inaugurated in Ankara. When the Turkish parliament held its first session in 1920, virtually every corner of the crumbling Ottoman Empire was under the occupation of Allied powers. Exasperated by the Ottoman government’s inability to fight the occupation, the nationwide resistance movement gained momentum. With the Allied occupation of Istanbul and the dissolution of the Ottoman Parliament, Mustafa Kemal’s justification for opening the resistance movement’s new legislative body was created.

With the opening of the Assembly, Ankara became the center of the Turkish national struggle for liberation. The National War of Liberation culminated in the emancipation of Anatolia from foreign occupation, the international recognition of modern Turkey’s borders by the Treaty of Lausanne, and finally, the founding of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. October 29, or Republic Day, is an official Turkish holiday celebrated each year across Turkey and by peoples of Turkish heritage worldwide.

Following the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk embarked on a wide-ranging set of reforms in the political, economic and cultural aspects of Turkish society. These reforms have left a lasting legacy of which the peoples of Turkish heritage are proud: the conversion of the newly founded Republic into today’s modern, democratic and secular Turkish state.

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.