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/

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Armenian “genocide” movie panned by critics and flops at box office

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

There seems to be some debate about whether it was Joseph Goebbels or Adolf Hitler who said it – or whether either of them did. Some people say Hitler claimed inspiration for his Jewish Holocaust from the Ottomans’ treatment of their Armenian citizens. That certainly, we know to be untrue.

MV5BYTI5NmI0N2UtOWQyOC00MDg2LWI5YWUtNWEwZTgyM2VlYThmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTk1MDM0OTc@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_A new film, The Promise, is attracting some media attention in the USA. It premiered last year but its producers waited until this month (April 21) to release it in the United States, for reasons that will become obvious. The New York Times and Time Magazine have published sympathetic reports – but the response from film critics and at the box office has been less positive:

“It is bombs away at the Friday box office. The $100 million movie is projected to earn $1.5 million-$2 million Friday from 2,251 theaters for a $4 million-$5 million launch – a sobering start considering the movie’s hefty budget.”

“’The Promise’ ends up feeling very old fashioned in a bad way. It’s bloated, it’s sweeping, there’s a love triangle, and there are four-too-many endings. But since there’s so much movie there, there’s also quite a bit that works – including lead performances from Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, and Charlotte Le Bon. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save the whole ship, and in the end, the film turns out to be disappointingly unremarkable.”

MV5BMTg3ZDVlMjgtNTM4Yi00ZTQ3LThmM2QtYzdjZmRjMTcxMTkzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDExMzMxNjE@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_The NY Times piece leads the reader in gently, noting that the film’s “director Terry George figured there’d be weirdness around [it]. Gradually we learn that the subject of The Promise is the alleged “Armenian genocide” of 1915 – and the “weirdness” is the response it has elicited from Turkish ambassadors and others. One example of the “weirdness” is that another film, The Ottoman Lieutenant, dealing with the same historical events, appeared around the same time. Possibly the most interesting thing about the two films, neither of which seems destined for cinematic glory, is that the former was financed by a mega-rich gentleman of Armenian descent; the latter, allegedly by Turkish sources – probably true, although I have been unable to verify the claim.

The NY Times writer asserts that “The battle over these two new films represents just the latest front in Turkey’s quest to control the historical narrative.” We may think that claim debatable at least, given that the $100 million to make The Promise was provided by the late Kerkor Kerkorian, an American of Armenian descent featuring highly on the Forbes Rich List. The Wikipedia link to the production company, Survival Films, took me directly to the late Mr Kerkorian’s page. The company spokesperson is named as Eric Esrailian, and Kim Kardashian West has been tweeting enthusiastically about the film. The “genocide scholar” Taner Akçam, notorious for playing fast and loose with historical data, is also quoted; and the US release of The Promise was deliberately timed to coincide with the date chosen by the genocide lobby to publicise their cause. But it would be wrong, of course, to suspect the Armenian diaspora of trying to “control the historical narrative”.

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1923 – See it written there?

Nevertheless, the Times writer, Cara Buckley, seems all too ready to reiterate the one-sided arguments aimed at holding the modern Republic of Turkey responsible for a “crime” that took place eight years before it came into existence. She quotes people associated with the film as expressing “nebulous fears” about their safety, implying that sinister Turkish forces may try to silence them – breathing not a word about the 31 Turkish diplomats assassinated in the 1970s and 80s by Armenian terrorists pushing their own agenda. In the interests of fair play you may like to check out this report in the NY Times of 29 January 1982.

Fair play is not something you’ll get much of in Buckley’s article. The United Nations” she says, “the Roman Catholic Church, the European Parliament, historians and scholars have roundly recognized the atrocities as a genocide, the 20th century’s first.” In fact the United Nations has never recognised the “Armenian genocide”, nor has the United States government, despite incessant lobbying; and the French Constitutional Court ruled recently that their parliament did not have the authority to legislate on such issues.

Another gentleman Buckley quotes extensively is “Advertising executive-turned-documentarian Joe Berlinger.” Berlinger, maker of a recent pro-genocide documentary “Intent to Destroy” apparently worked closely with Promise director, Terry George. Well, I don’t want to belittle advertising executives in general, but  selling their services for a fee is what that business is all about I guess.

Auction_of_Souls_(1919)_-_Ad_8

Advertising poster for the 1919 Hollywood movie

Inspiration for The Promise is said to have come from a 1933 novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Daghbased on true events that took place in 1915”. According to the Wikipedia entry, the book “achieved great international success and has been credited with awakening the world to the evidence of the persecution and genocide inflicted on the Armenian nation during World War I.” A NOVEL, remember. An earlier production stirring up American emotions on the subject was the 1919 Hollywood movie “Ravished Armenia” or “The Auction of Souls”, stills from which are frequently passed off by pro-Armenian lobbyists as actual photos of Ottoman atrocities (see below).

The Time Magazine report is headed “The real history to know before you see ‘The Promise’“. The writer, Olivia B Waxman, seems to have sourced her “facts” from one Peter Balakian, a poet and translator of such balanced works of history as Armenian Golgotha and The Ozone Journal – based on the account of an Armenian survivor and a recent excavation of bones in Syria.

Well, my purpose here is not to make light of tragic events that undoubtedly happened during the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, as its leaders struggled against forces within their borders and beyond determined to tear it apart. Justice is rarely served, however, by viewing historical events through the filter of narrow national interests. To anyone interested in a more balanced view of those years, I recommend the American historian Justin McCarthy. He, and others like Stanford Shaw have indeed received serious threats aimed at shutting them up.

Decide for yourself – but don’t believe something just because it is constantly repeated.

______________________________________________________

CrucifictionYou’ll see this image again and again on sites arguing for the Armenian “genocide. Compare it with the film poster image above.

https://5165news.com/armenia/areg-galstyan-why-trump-should-recognize-the-armenian-genocide/

https://coercioncode.com/2016/08/09/erdogans-turkey-remembering-armenian-christian-genocide-1915/

This was one caption: “Taken by a German officer in 1915 showing a row of young women who had been hanged upon crosses in mockery of the Crucifixion of Jesus because they had refused to convert.”

French MPs Can’t Rule on Genocide

I’m passing on this news item without comment. It was reported on the Turkish Coalition of America website:

French Constitutional Council Reaffirms that Crimes Against Humanity or Genocide must be Established by Competent Courts not Legislature

“On January 26, 2017, the Constitutional Council of France repealed a provision of the Law on Equality and Citizenship that aimed to criminalize speech that disputes genocides.

“The amendment, contained in article 173 of the Law of Equality and Citizenship, had been stealthily inserted into the reform package late last year through efforts by the Armenian French lobby. However, the Constitutional Council repealed the amendment on grounds that it violated France’s Law on the Freedom of Speech and Press and the French Constitution. The Council’s decision described the amendment as an unnecessary and disproportionate attack against freedom of speech.  The Council also reaffirmed its earlier decision that a crime against humanity or genocide must be established by a competent court, not by the legislature.

“Armenian French organizations have long lobbied to criminalize what they consider genocide denial in order to stifle debate and inhibit scholarship on the Ottoman-Armenian tragedy that does not agree with their one-sided perspective. Their efforts have repeatedly been pushed back by the French high court.”

Interestingly, I can’t find any reference to this decision of the French court in any mainstream Western media – even in French! It only seems to have been reported objectively in Turkish sources, eg The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on Armenian blog sites, with their predictable slant on the business.

Meskhetian Turks commemorate 72 years of exile

Oh no! Not another one! 😦 Who’s responsible for this one?

Meskhetian Turks living in the United States commemorated their 72 years of exile from their then-Soviet homeland Georgia in front of the White House on Nov. 12.
Aydın Memedov, the head of the Ahiska Turkish American Council, an umbrella organization representing Meskhetian Turkish American organizations in the U.S., said the commemoration was a way to remember his ancestors who were exiled to nine different countries.

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Protest in front of the White House

Memedov added that the group sent a letter to Congress explaining the circumstances their ancestors suffered, including people who were deported in railcars.

Meskhetian Turks, also known as Ahiska Turks, were expelled in 1944 from the Meskheti region in Georgia by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, in an attempt to remove Turks from the shores of the Black Sea.
The group faced discrimination and human rights abuses before and after the deportation. Those who migrated to Ukraine in 1990 settled in shanty towns used by seasonal workers.

The majority of the Meskhetian Turks in Ukraine fled their homes during the 2014 conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Source

Guilty and Guiltier – One law for the 99% and . . .

fifa-corruption

It’s just a beautiful game. Yeah, sure!

Well, at least he’s been sentenced to jail, even if he’ll never actually see the inside of a cell. Argentinian and Barcelona football superstar Lionel Messi has been handed a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud – and his father was apparently in on the business too whereby the Spanish government and taxpayers were defrauded of €4.1 million.

Pretty much everyone knows the round-ball game, most of its administrators and many of its top players are corrupt as hell – though fans touchingly continue to take matches and tournaments seriously. I can’t see it getting any better if courts don’t start treating the crooks they catch the same as they would the rest of us.

Tax evasion is bad enough when we wage and salary-earners, and pension beneficiaries, have no escape from the internal revenue sharks. But what about taking your nation into an unjustified and unprovoked violent invasion of another country far from your own borders, assisting in the destruction of that country’s infra-structure, collaborating in the deaths of tens of thousands of that country’s innocent citizens, and creating in the process a chaotic power vacuum that has totally destabilised the entire region? Thirteen years after the event, Former LABOUR Party Prime Minster Tony Blah expresses no regret for his genocidal actions – and Knight of the Realm Sir John Chilcot, after a seven-year investigation, stops well short of demanding that Blah be brought to justice for his war crimes.

bush_blair_poster_blank

What went on under the blanket?

As for multi-millionaire, Roman Catholic convert, man-of-the-people Tone, he has this to say: “The intelligence assessments made at the time of going to war turned out to be wrong, the aftermath turned out to be more hostile, protracted and bloody than ever we imagined…. and a nation whose people we wanted to set free from the evil of Saddam became instead victims of sectarian terrorism. For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe.”

Well, we expect weasel words from politicians, so we shouldn’t be surprised – but notice that Blah ‘expressed’ sorrow and regret rather than actually feeling it. Is there an apology wrapped in all that BS or not? If so, it’s for stuff done in the passive voice, by agents unknown. ‘Our’ intentions were pure – is that the royal ‘We’? As far as I remember, United Nations inspectors were quite clear at the time. They had found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction; so whose ‘intelligence’ was being ‘assessed’ and by whom? Anyone with half a brain understands that PM Blah knowingly and deliberately misled the British Parliament and its constituents. And for what purpose? I would be interested to see a statistical comparison of the number of Iraqi citizens who died under the Saddam regime, and those who have died as a direct result of the Bush family invasions.

Still, that’s in the past, except for the ISIS/Daesh bogey spawned in the chaos created by poodle Blah and his owner George Dubya. However, it’s starting to look very much as though the world’s exemplary democracy, the United States of America is about to elect its first woman president. That’s Hillary Clinton, who knowingly and deliberately used her private email server for official business while she was Secretary of State; who lied about what she had done to investigators, and tried to cover her tracks.

In spite of that, the FBI investigation has decided that she should not face criminal charges. Apparently she and her ‘aides’ were merely ‘careless’ and despite ‘evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information’, there is ‘no evidence’ that Mrs Clinton had a deliberate intention.

Cartoonist Gary Varvel: The new Clinton scandals

How bad can Donald trump be?

Now I must admit to some confusion here. What exactly was the ‘carelessness’ the FBI are referring to? Was Mrs Clinton careless in her wrongdoing and in getting caught? Or was she careless in carrying out her duties as Secretary of State? If the latter, what confidence can anyone have that she is competent to be President of the world’s sole remaining superpower? And can anyone clarify for me what exactly a ‘potential’ violation is? It seems the USA has ‘statutes regarding the handling of classified information’ – and I am curious to know whether these statutes were violated or not. I imagine there must be some citizens and potential voters in the United States who would also appreciate clarification on that point.

I have read a number of articles recently describing a growing disillusionment with politicians around the globe, and an emerging trend among voters to punish them for their lies and deceit. The ‘Brexit’ vote in the United Kingdom and the general election in Australia are cited as examples of the trend. Sad to say, such negative voting probably won’t make the world a much better place in the short term – but if it gives corrupt and dishonest political leaders a headache or two, some might think it’s worth it.

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.

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.

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

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

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