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”.

turkey-domestic-politics-14-638

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.”

Who is that economist working for?

41wtMZTrtVL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

If you believe that . . .

Economics has been called the dismal science. Well, “dismal” it may be, certainly in the way it is used to justify the gross inequalities in the distribution of our planet’s wealth – but “science”? Possibly a “human” science, ranking with other notoriously imprecise fields of human knowledge such as psychology and sociology.

I have noted previously that Alfred Nobel did not include economics in his list of prizes. Not only did he think it unfit to sit alongside the true sciences (physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine), he didn’t even consider it as objectively assessable as Literature and Peace!

Bearing that in mind, then, it seems to me that I have as much right as anyone to have my ideas on the subject taken seriously. It could even be argued that the views of a high profile rugby player in New Zealand have greater validity than those of a former Governor of my country’s Reserve Bank.

We are all aware that high-level sport these days is mostly about money, and economics has inserted its dismal finger so that honesty, fair play, clean living and sportsmanship now rank well down the list of priorities. The home ground of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş football club, formerly commemorating the republic’s second president and close friend of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has recently been rebuilt and reopened as the Vodafone Arena, commemorating . . . the power of money.

banksters-300x199It’s a brave sportsman or woman these days who can cite moral principles to his or her paymasters as Sonny Bill Williams has done in New Zealand. Williams has the advantage of being an extremely valuable property, moving seamlessly between two rugby “codes” (league and union) in a way that would once have been frowned upon. So, when he announced that he would not wear a team strip emblazoned with the logo of the Bank of NZ, he opened a can of worms. Williams is, apparently, a Muslim, and follows that religion’s injunction against usury – the lending of money at interest.

A columnist for the NZ Herald, Brian Gould, picked up on Williams’s moral stand, writing an opinion piece entitled “Banking should be under closer Government control”. Supporting the Muslim rugby player’s position, Gould said, Most people believe, and it is a belief assiduously promoted by the banks themselves, that the banks act as intermediaries between those wishing to save and those wishing to borrow, usually on mortgage. . . But this benign view of their operations is inaccurate and misleading. The banks do not lend you on mortgage money deposited with them by someone else. They lend you money that they themselves create out of nothing, through the stroke of a pen or, today, a computer entry.”

The next day, the Herald published a reply from a gentleman by the name of Don Brash insisting that both Williams and Gould were wrong.

“Mr Gould is not alone in peddling this nonsense, but that certainly doesn’t make it correct.

How the Fed works

How the banking system creates MONEY. Money is not wealth, especially if you have to borrow it at commercial interest rates. (Source: Time Magazine)

“The banking system does create money. When Bank A lends money to one of its customers, the customer may use those funds to buy something from somebody who banks with Bank B. Bank B then finds itself with an additional deposit, a part of which it can lend out to its customers (keeping some of the additional deposit as a liquidity reserve). So an initial loan may end up considerably increasing the total lending by the banking system.

“If individual banks really could create money by “the stroke of a pen or a computer entry”, as Mr Gould contends, why do they bother paying interest on deposits, why do they borrow funds from parent banks overseas, why do they borrow funds in the international market, why do they need to hold some funds in government securities as a liquidity reserve, why do some banks occasionally run out of money when customers lose confidence in them?

As well as being a former Governor of the Reserve Bank, I now chair the small New Zealand subsidiary of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in the world. It would certainly make life very much easier if we could, “by the stroke of a pen or a computer entry”, simply create the money which we lend out to New Zealand borrowers. Unfortunately, we can’t.” (My highlighting)

Pinocchio

Would I lie to you?

So, according to Brash, Gould and Williams are wrong – but the banking system does create money. Huh? Look at the weasel words in the last sentence. OK, that’s not how they do it exactly, Don. And Bill Clinton did NOT have sex with that woman.

As I hinted above, Don Brash was Governor of New Zealand’s Reserve Bank from 1988 to 2002. He has held academic positions at several universities at home and abroad, sat in big chairs in large offices in several well-known banks, and even been involved in politics at the highest level. Clearly he, and the editor of the NZ Herald, and other naïve souls too for all I know, believe his words carry the power of gospel truth in matters of economics.

Look closer, though, and ask yourself if a guy who works at the upper levels of banking administration can possibly express publicly an unbiased view of the workings of the banking system.

Check the guy’s record, and you’ll see that he is a loser from way back. His first foray into politics was in 1980 as National Party candidate for the “safe” National seat of East Coast Bays. He lost, not to the main opposition Labour Party, but to an opponent representing Social Credit, a party whose main platform was exactly the view of banks expressed by Messrs Williams and Gould. That was a by-election. He failed to win the seat back in the General Election of 1981 and was dumped.

es514f00bfSomehow he managed to get himself elected as leader of the parliamentary National Party, despite his inability to actually win an electoral seat – holding the position from 2003 to 2006, then resigning from Parliament in 2007 to take up another academic post as economics guru.

He returned to politics in 2011 as leader of the right wing ACT Party, holding the post for seven months before resigning again after failing to make any impact in that year’s General Election. Clearly the average New Zealand voter is more perceptive than those who appoint general managers in banks or professors of economics at universities.

Brash is a hired lackey of the capitalist establishment, and a loser whenever he has offered his services to the New Zealand public. I’m not going to stoop to discussing his private life. If you’re interested you can get an overview on his Wikipedia page.

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.

129792_da75bc12de05deb032b8a382753a9e4c_large

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?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (Part 2)

I’m not a hundred percent sure who said it first – Mark Twain, Benjamin Disraeli or the first Duke of Wellington. Whoever it was, they drew our attention to the sad truth that “facts and figures” can be manipulated, distorted and misinterpreted to prove just about anything.

I want to share three items I came across recently, all circulated by people with Turkish names, but seeking to present Turkey in an unfavourable light. Two of them were posted on the business network LinkedIn, and the other, in our local English language news site, Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey & ChinaThe first item is a graph purporting to compare the “productivity” of Turkey and China over a 25-year period. The two countries were, allegedly, neck-and-neck in 1990. By 2014, China’s “productivity” had grown exponentially to ten times that of Turkey, which had clearly languished in a state of economic inertia.

Well, several questions arose in my mind as I studied the graph. First, what was the source? No sign of that, and the gentleman who posted it online was unable to provide an answer. Second, given that China’s population is twenty times that of Turkey, is it fair to compare their economies in absolute terms, rather than, say per capita GNP? Moreover, is it likely that their “productivity” was equal in 1990? A more serious question, however, is, what, exactly, does the y axis of this graph measure? 500,000 what? 2,000,000 what? Dollars? Automobiles? Chinese noodles?

bi_graphics_middleeast-3The second item is a graphic listing the fifteen most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Leaving aside the debatable matter of whether Turkey is in the Middle East, at least we know the source of this graphic: globalfirepower.com via Business Insider. The figures are not up-to-date (2014) but leave that aside too. What interested me was that Turkey is said to be Number One on the list despite the following:

  • Saudi Arabia’s military budget is three times that of Turkey – though admittedly the Sauds don’t seem to have got much for their money.
  • Israel has 80-200 nuclear warheads (its neighbours have none) and (which the table doesn’t show) an “Iron Dome” (provided at stupendous expense by the United States government) so that no other country can actually attack them.
  • Iran and Egypt both have more active personnel than Turkey, and Egypt also has more aircraft.
  • Syria has more tanks and Iran has more submarines.

Of course, Turkey’s military capabilities should not be underestimated, as Britain, France and Greece learned to their cost after the First World War. However, the figures suggest they wouldn’t be wise to start throwing their weight around in the region, even if they did have the inclination.

Graph 1Finally, there was a graphic in our local daily showing the world’s “Top 15 Manufacturing Countries”. The writer’s main focus was on “Turkey’s relative performance [which] says a lot about Turkey’s transformation. Turkey entered [the list] in 1990, hung on until 2000, but dropped out afterwards. Today, we are muddling around between number 16 and 17.” (My highlights)

The first thing that struck me is, the global economy is a competitive market, and to be ranked in the top 20 out of 200 is not a bad achievement for a country that was an economic basket-case less than a century ago. Then, once again, the unit of measurement puzzles me. What exactly is “global nominal manufacturing gross value added”?

Moreover, let’s take a look at the other economic powerhouses. The United States has lost its Number One ranking, and anyway I’d be interested to know how much of their manufacturing actually takes place on home turf? Australia, the Netherlands and Argentina, in the Top 15 in 1980, had all “dropped out” by 2013. The United Kingdom, Spain and Canada had fallen from fourth, ninth and tenth, to eleventh, fourteenth and fifteenth respectively. On the other hand, South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, out of the running in 1980, had powered up to fifth, ninth and thirteenth places by 2013.

So what do we understand from this? One thing is certain, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Do these figures take any account of the proportion of a country’s population living in abject poverty, eg China and India? From a purely subjective point-of-view, the situation in Turkey doesn’t look too bad to me. Without getting into detailed comparisons, levels of air pollution are far below those of China. Destruction of the natural environment by rapacious business interests is nowhere near as bad as in Brazil or Indonesia.

In the final analysis, comparisons are odious (not sure who originated that one either) but one other thing is certain, we should treat statistical evidence with caution.


PS – For Part 1 click here

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.

Turkey slams US over critical human rights report

afghan-civilians-killed-wounded

Afghan civilians sit near the bodies of children reported to have been killed during a NATO airstrike in the Kunar province on April 7, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

The US Department of State has released its report on the state of human rights practices around the world. The report is critical of Turkey’s recent record, and the Government of Turkey has responded strongly.

They have tactfully avoided asking how many civilians have died in Iraq and other Middle East countries (and elsewhere) as a result of US government aggression. They have also not pointed out the hypocrisy of criticising Turkey’s human rights record when they are currently trying to cope with more than three million refugees from the US-sponsored civil war in Syria – and wealthy Western countries are refusing to help.

This report in today’s English language Hürriyet Daily News:

“Turkey has lashed out at the United States for criticizing measures taken in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt in its annual human rights report, describing these criticisms as “unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality.”

_48891052_iraq_deaths464x261

Source: BBC

“The parts of the latest report regarding Turkey, released on March 3, 2017, comprise unacceptable allegations, misrepresentations and interpretations that do not reflect reality. In this period, when we are faced with unprecedented threats of terrorism against the survival of our nation and state, misrepresentation of our legitimate struggle against terrorist organizations, in particular FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terror Organization], the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], the DHKP-C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front] and DAESH [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], in a way that does not reflect realities, has caused deep disappointment,” read the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in response to a 75-page U.S. Department of State report.

“Inconsistent access to due process,” “government interference with freedom of expression,” and “inadequate protection of civilians,” especially in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt, were among the significant human rights problems observed in 2016.

“It is denotative that the report makes no reference to the role of FETÖ elements in the July 15 coup attempt, or the fact that the FETÖ leadership lives in the U.S. Also, the description of our fight against the PKK terrorist organization as an ‘internal conflict’ is totally unacceptable,” the ministry stated.

“It is clear that this report, which ignores information and opinions provided by our authorities within the understanding of constructive cooperation, fails to claim any basis in terms of objectivity,” it added.”

Read the full article

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.

irish-famine

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.

148849-004-740d6392

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.