Soner Cagaptay – Zionist Israeli Puppet?

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Turkey

Friends again – that’s diplomacy

The headline on Time‘s news feed read: Political Scientist: How President Erdogan Is Turning Turkey into Putin’s Russia”.

Well, that’s a pretty strange claim for a number of reasons, but I live in Turkey, and if anyone is magically turning it into Russia, I want to know about it – so I took a look.

The “political scientist” writer is a Turkish guy, long-term resident in the United States, called Soner Cagaptay. That’s an unfortunate name for a start. He must experience a lot of problems with monolingual, monocultural Americans who struggle to pronounce English words – and have no interest at all in familiarising themselves with the marvellously phonetic Turkish alphabet. For your information, “Soner” doesn’t rhyme with “boner”, and his surname should be pronounced “Charp-tie”.

zionist puppetBut that’s his problem – or one of his problems. Another big problem for Mr Cagaptay must be reconciling his academic integrity with the political agenda of his paymasters. After all, his CV claims a PhD from Yale, and teaching posts at Princeton and other top universities in the USA. I assume you don’t scale those heights by churning out sensationalist propaganda based on unsupported assertions. “Political scientist” may be one of his jobs – but I suspect a good chunk of his income derives from the fat wallets of bankers and industrial tycoons with major interests in controlling the Middle East for their own profit.

So what does this guy have to say about Turkey?

He starts by claiming the country is profoundly polarised, governed by a right-wing regime funded by resources far outweighing those devoted to opposing him.

WRONG.These days, despite the tireless efforts of anti-Erdoğan forces, Turkey is less polarised than it ever was. One of the larger opposition parties has thrown its weight behind Mr Erdoğan’s campaign for re-election. If “left” and “right” have any political meaning, surely “left” means taking a serious interest in the plight of society’s poorer members – in which case Turkey’s AK Party government is more “left” than any in earlier decades. Furthermore, it is clear that significant resources are being channelled by forces outside Turkey to getting rid of the country’s popular president.

Cagaptay goes on to speak of Mr Erdoğan’s “surging authoritarianism”, which he attributes to the president’s desire for “the country’s educated and creative elites to pack their bags and leave.” “Erdogan,“he says, “knows that an opposition led by powerful elites poses a permanent threat to him.”

WRONG AGAIN. What Mr Erdoğan surely knows is that for twenty years well-educated types and liberal urban professionals” have been bleating and complaining about everything he has done for the country, without showing any ability to organise themselves into an opposition capable of achieving victory at the ballot box. Most of them would love to return to the good old days when military coups were staged regularly to overthrow democratically elected governments and restore power to those “elites”.


What a terrible country! I need to get out now!

Many distinguished professors are said to be leaving the country, and their students are flocking away to Oxford University in “alarming”numbers. Among these are “many old-money Turks who espouse liberal values”. According to Cagaptay, in one of the few statistics he actually provides (though no source is given), in 2016 “Turkey was among the top five countries globally to experience the highest outflow of millionaires.”

Some truth here, perhaps. Certainly the biggest complainers I meet in Turkey are people living in nice houses, driving late-model cars, with well-paying jobs or private incomes – in short, people who you would think would be grateful for a government that has, Cagaptay admits, “made strides towards that goal [of making Turkey great again],by delivering economic growth. When he came to power in 2003, Turkey was country of mostly poor people. Now it is a country of mostly middle-income citizens.”In 2001, before the AK Party came to power, Turkey was, in fact, a country of millionaires, because it cost a million Turkish Lira to buy a newspaper or get on a city bus.

turkey economyBut those, I’m sure, are the real reasons Cagaptay and his money-masters oppose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government so rabidly. They don’t want to see genuinely populist governments succeeding in their aim of creating a more egalitarian society. Why did the United States government oppose Fidel Castro’s Cuba for 50 years with such determined ferocity? Why have they repeatedly used military and economic power to overthrow elected socialist governments in Central and South America? Why did they use the CIA to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister in 1952? Why did they support the dictatorship of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak for 30 years? Then support the ousting of Mohammed Morsi, elected democratically after Egypt’s Arab Spring?

The real goal of Cagaptay’s financial backers becomes clear in his closing paragraphs: “They want to transform Turkey from an economy that exports cars [and other real things] into one that is a hub for software, IT, finance, and services — in other words an information-based economy and a star power.” There you have it. An economy like the USA, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and other “First World” states where money rules, the country is governed by a wealthy elite with no patriotic loyalty, who have exported offshore their manufacturing sector, created systemic unemployment and keep most of their fellow citizens struggling to survive in a condition little removed from slavery.

How do I know this? Soner Cagaptay’s ubiquitous CV proudly boasts that he is the Beyer Family fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. ”So I took a look at their website. Now I want you to know that I am as liberalminded as the next guy. I have very few prejudices and I have never been anti-Semitic. I know, and have known some very nice members of the international Jewish community. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help noticing a striking feature of the WINEP’s Directors. Check the surnames: Kassen, Berkowwitz, Weinberg, Leventhal, Adler, Bernstein, Freidman . . . to cite just a few.

Well, that’s no big deal, you say – and maybe not. But I checked out some of the owners of those names:

President Shelly Kassen– chaired the religious school committee at The Conservative Synagogue, very active in the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, recipient of the United Jewish Appeal/Federation Community Service Award in 2007.

Her husband of 30 years, Michael Kassen, former president of the American Israel Public affairs Committee, America’s pro-Israel lobby; has always been involved in the Jewish community, since his childhood in Cleveland, where his parents were active in the local Jewish federation. The couple has always been involved in a Jewish federation, first in Boston and currently in New York and Westport. Check out this speech if you want to know his politics.

Chairman Martin Gross– president of Sandalwood Securities, Inc. of Roseland, New Jersey, which he founded in 1990. Gross began in fund management in 1983. Previously, Gross “practiced tax and corporate law in New York City, and worked in the corporate finance department of L.F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin[1]. A member of the New Jersey and New York Bars, he has written numerous articles for The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and other financial publications and often lectures at industry (what industry?)conferences.

Chairman Emeritus Howard P. Berkowitz – Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director at HPB Management LLC. Mr. Berkowitz was the Managing General Partner at Hpb Associates Lp since 1980 which he also founded. He has managed investment funds since 1967, when he was a Founding Partner at Steinhardt, Fine, Berkowitz & Company. He served as Managing Director of BlackRock, Inc. BlackRock, Inc. is an American global investment management corporation based in New York City. Founded in 1988, initially as a risk management and fixed income institutional asset manager.

Founding President and Chairman Emeritus Barbi Weinberg – Past vice-president of AIPAC, major contributor to the World Alliance for Israel Political Action Committee and the Women’s Pro-Israel National Political Action Committee.

Well, maybe Mr Cagaptay believe all the stuff he spouts about Turkey – but I have my doubts. Four short years ago, he was saying this about Turkey’s attitude towards a possible Kurdistan on its southern border: “The takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has cemented the rapprochement between Turkey and the region’s Kurds, casting them as best friends in the increasingly unstable Middle East. The relationship has improved so much that if the Kurds in Iraq were to declare independence, Turkey would be the first country to recognize Kurdistan.” I wonder what he is saying now, after Turkey criticised the US government for supplying weapons to its Kurdish “allies” in Syria, and has been carrying out a military operation to drive them out of the area.

democracyOur learned “political scientist” also boasts that he has provided private briefings about Turkey to such champions of democracy and world peace as US Vice President Joe Biden, Presidential Envoy in Syria, Brett McGurk, former US Ambassador to Ankara, John Bass (currently, I believe, in exile in Afghanistan), former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton . . .

President Erdoğan is “turning Turkey into Putin’s Russia”? What does that even mean? One thing Mr Erdoğan does have in common with the Russian President is a total belief in the sovereign right of his own people to govern themselves free from outside interference. I only wish the leaders of my own country, New Zealand, had as much strength of character.

To end this piece, I want to share with you a delightful little clip I came across on Youtube: Vladimir Putin performing in public his own interpretation of Fats Domino’s great song, Blueberry Hill.

That guy went way up in my estimation!


[1] known for its merchant banking investments, particularly in high-technology companies. In the early 1980s, the firm emerged as the leading underwriter of initial public offerings, surpassing the elite investment banks (at the time, including Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley).


I’m cheering for Vlad the De-railer!

Who do those Americans think they are?

Russia Secretly Helped Venezuela Launch a Cryptocurrency to Evade U.S. Sanctions


Everyone needs a big friend when the bullies are out to get you!

President Donald Trump may not have realized on Monday that his executive order would step on Russia’s toes. Its official target was Venezuela, specifically the country’s plan to create the world’s first state-backed cryptocurrency, the petro, which went on sale Tuesday.

But behind the scenes, the petro was in fact a collaboration—a half-hidden joint venture between Venezuelan and Russian officials and businessmen, whose aim was to erode the power of U.S. sanctions, sources familiar with the effort told TIME.

Trump’s executive order did not mention the petro’s Russian backers, whose role has not previously been reported. Citing economic sanctions that the U.S. imposed against Venezuela in August, the order simply made clear that anyone who buys or uses the new cryptocurrency would be in breach of those sanctions, as would anyone under U.S. jurisdiction who helps Venezuela develop the petro. “Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited,” the document states.

Source: Time Magazine

Many Russians feeling nostalgic for communist past

An ‘Aha!’ moment. Wondering why Vladimir Putin has been so keen on military involvement in Syria? Why he’s been bombing the sh** out of Bashar el Assad’s opponents? And why he’s rattling his sabre so aggressively at Turkey?

Looks like he may be taking a leaf out of Margaret Thatcher’s book on political survival. Without that victorious mini-war against Argentina back in 1982, Britain’s Iron Lady might well have a been a one-term has-been. This little piece from Al Jazeera:

b7a846c80df04ff5534a041efa13dd75Amid a worsening economy, Kremlin seems concerned about potential resurgence of Communist party as elections near.

Moscow – Saturday marks the 63rd anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s death, but while the infamous dictator is dead and gone, communism in Russia is not.

A worsening economy has many Russians feeling nostalgic for the Soviet days of old. Recent polls suggest half of all Russians still think they were actually better off under the Soviet system.

Maria Krechatova, a curator at a Moscow exhibition of Stalin-era art, said: “Interest in Joseph Stalin is increasing. It is understandable. We celebrated the 70th anniversary of the World War II and we should not forget who was at the helm of the country and under whose leadership the victory was achieved.”

With parliamentary elections looming, a possible Communist party resurgence is starting to worry the Kremlin.

Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, singled out the party recently, saying it is the main electoral threat to the ruling United Russia party.

For his part, President Vladimir Putin surprised many recently with a rare attack on Lenin, saying he planted “an atomic bomb under Russia” with the way he had stitched the Soviet Union together.

Into the Valley of Death – Another Crimean War?

What a strange education I had, or so I think now on looking back. When I was a lad in New Zealand there were still people referring to England (or Britain) as ‘Home’. My first primary school headmaster used to visit classes occasionally to brandish a leather strap he referred to as his ‘medicine’, and get us kids piping ‘Rule Britannia’ in our reedy little antipodean voices. Having pupils memorise chunks of poetry was a popular pedagogical technique. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ added to our sense of belonging to an empire on which the sun was still struggling to set, defended by men, any one of whom was worth ten or twenty of any other race on earth, and capable, when the chips were down, of staggering out into an Antarctic blizzard uttering a self-sacrificing epigram in ringing tones.
British lion defends Ottoman ‘turkey’ against
imperialist Russian bear
Well, there was one line in that immortal poem suggesting that ‘someone had blundered’, but most of it was clearly written to perpetuate the myth of men committed to facing, if necessary, overwhelming odds, and fighting or dying in defence of Empire. I have checked again and found one reference to the opposition – ‘Cossack and Russian’ – but no explanation of what those noble Light Brigade horsemen actually hoped to gain by charging into ‘the mouth of Hell’, other than death and/or glory.
In fact, the famous charge was little more than a futile sideshow in the Battle of Balaklava, the first major engagement in the Crimean War (1853-56). One might even think the whole war itself was a pretty questionable venture. I have no special reason to love Russians, but I have some sympathy for their plight, locked up in the largest, coldest most inhospitable and inaccessible land mass in the world. As the state of Russia (centred on Moscow) expanded from 1500 CE, one of its main driving forces was the need for access to warm water ports for shipping, trade and military purposes – and sandy beaches for summer holidays. Check your atlas. What would you have done if you were a Peter or a Catherine with Great ambitions?
For the Russians, it was pretty obvious that they had to have access to the Black Sea and if possible, a direct route to the Aegean or the Mediterranean. This involved fighting and conquering, or otherwise neutralising whoever was in the way – mostly Muslim Crimean Tatars, Ottomans and Circassians. An important tool in the Russians’ box of strategies was the Orthodox Christian religion which they used to enlist the support of allies, justify expansion and clear out unfriendly resistance.
Expansion as far as the Black Sea was pretty much accomplished during the 18th century, culminating in a victorious war against the Ottomans (1768-74). The Russian government formally annexed Crimea (not just the peninsula in those days) in 1783.
Again, however, a glance at the map will show that even possessing ports on the northern Black Sea coast doesn’t circumvent all your problems from a Russian point-of-view. Your ships still have to negotiate the Istanbul Bosporus and the Dardanelle Straits past the hostile eyes and guns of your resentful Ottoman neighbours. Wouldn’t it be nice to possess Constantinople/Istanbul itself, or drive a corridor through eastern Anatolia, emerging down in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean around the port of Alexandretta/Iskenderun? Of course both of these will involve further wars with those pesky Ottomans – though by now, the middle of the 19th century, they are not the fearsome military power they once were.
Still, you need a pretext for picking a fight, and what better than religion? How can good Christians allow those heathen Turks to control the holy places where Christ suffered and died? And there are Christian communities all through the region, Armenians and Syrian Orthodox for example, clearly in need of protection from the oppression and persecution of their Muslim overlords, never mind that they had all been co-existing in relative peace and harmony for centuries. Well, that protection idea caught on in Europe later, but at this stage, France and especially Britain were not about to let the Russians control the eastern Mediterranean and endanger their interests in that region and further afield in India. Hence the Crimean War. Let’s get over there, was the plan, and help our dear Muslim Ottoman friends defeat those dastardly Cossacks and Russians and keep them bottled up in their frozen wastes.
Well, international treaties and alliances make fragile bonds, and it wasn’t too many years before Britain and France were joining forces to finally erase the Ottoman Empire from the geo-political scene. Previously, however, in the 1850s and 60s, their sympathies lay more with Muslim populations suffering genocide and expulsion as a result of Russian expansion.
EGO | European History Online has this to say:Taking advantage of the favourable anti-Turkish sentiment, the Tzarist army conducted a military offensive against the Ottoman Empire in 1877/1878 which ended with the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkans and the re-establishment of Russia in the Black Sea. In the Russo-Turkish War, Russian and Bulgarian soldiers and francs-tireurs killed 200,000–300,000 Muslims and about one million people were displaced.  After the war, more than half a million Muslim refugees from the Russian Caucasus and the areas south of the Danube, which were under Russian protection, were settled in the Ottoman Empire.’ (Paragraph 3, 2014.03.10)
But who remembers that now? Apart from the Crimean Tatars and the Circassians themselves, that is. As far as I am aware, the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi went off with little disruption despite hopes held by the ex-patriate Circassian community of using the occasion as a stage to draw the world’s attention to the above-mentioned  ‘resettlement’. ‘The world’, sadly, for the most part, doesn’t want to know. It’s got enough problems of its own, and anyway it’s hard to know which plaintive cries of genocide to take seriously these days. Add to that the fact that most First World countries have ethnic cleansing skeletons in their own historical closets, and you can see why they are reluctant to risk their glass houses by throwing stones at each other.
Of course there has to be a certain amount of posturing. Our local Istanbul newspaper published pictures of the US destroyer Truxton steaming through the Bosphorus on its way to wave the Stars and Stripes in the Black Sea. President Obama, according to reports, has been having stern words over the phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin; and Republican Presidential hopeful, Senator Rand Paul says that ‘if he were President, he would take a harder stance against the Russian President for his actions.’

The sad fact of the matter is that it is extremely unlikely Russia will let Ukraine and Crimea go their own independent way. About as likely as the United States handing Hawaii back to the native Polynesians, or Texas back to Mexico. Probably the best Crimean nationalists can hope for is more conciliatory gestures from Mother Russia along the lines of renaming Stalingrad as Volgograd, recognising that the earlier name had bad associations for locals who remember the mass expulsion of Crimean Tatars to Siberia in 1944.

The Sochi Winter Olympics – What’s going on behind the curtain?

I’ve never been a big follower of the Winter Olympic Games. Ski-jumping, bob-sledding and the icy arts of curling were not much in vogue in the semi-rural beach suburbs of Auckland’s North Shore where I grew up. I can list the venues of the Summer Olympics in unbroken succession back to Helsinki, 1952 – but I would struggle to tell you one for the Winter Games . . . until this year.
This year, the Year of Our Lord 2014, I can confidently tell you the XXII Winter Olympic Games and the XI Paralympic Games (what is it with those Roman numerals?) will be held in Sochi. And I can further inform you that Sochi is a small city on Russia’s Black Sea coast near the Georgian border, with, somewhat surprisingly for Russia and a Winter Olympics venue, a sub-tropical climate. Two million tourists, mostly from the frozen wastes of more northerly regions, flock to the beaches of Sochi in summer – a fact that may explain some of what follows.
A little slice of Caucasian paradise
click for more

Needless to say, few of the winter sporting events will be held in the city itself. Sochi’s other major geographical appeal is its location on the fringes of the Caucasus Mountains, a lofty range with several peaks rising over 5,000 metres. Here is located the ski resort of Krasnaya Polyana, and as an interesting aside, Sochi is also, they tell me, where tennis heart-throb Maria Sharapova picked up a racquet at the age of four and took her first lessons in the sport.

Sad to say, this small piece of heaven on Earth seems to be attracting a good deal of unwelcome attention which is why, for the first time, the Winter Olympic Games have attracted mine. On 29 and 30 December, two bomb attacks killed at least 31 people in the city of Volgograd some 600 km northeast of Sochi. An earlier attack in October took seven lives, raising some fears for the safety of spectators and athletes at the Games. There seems to be some confusion about the reason for the violence in the collective mind of news media in the West. Say ‘Muslim’ and, as with the psychiatrist’s technique of word association, the inevitable responses are ‘terrorists’, ‘Arabs’, ‘Al Qaeda’, and ‘Axis of Evil’
An article in Time on 6 January was entitledGhosts of Munich Haunt Sochi Olympics in Wake of Russia Bombings’. The writer had interviewed the Vice President of Israel’s Olympic committee in an attempt to draw a parallel with the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, when a group of Palestinians invaded the Israeli athletes’ quarters killing eleven athletes before five of their own number were killed. Only towards the end of the piece did the writer (prompted by the Israeli VP) concede that the Russian events have nothing to do with Israel, Palestine or any other Arabs. So what, you may ask, was the purpose of that Timeheadline?
Reuters, as we might expect, provided slightly more informative article. They identified the suicide bomber as a woman (or a man) from Dagestan, ‘a hub of Islamist militancy on the Caspian’. They referred to Chechen insurgents who ‘want to carve an Islamic state out of the swathe of mainly Muslim provinces south of Volgograd’and to ‘North Caucasus militants [who] have also staged attacks in Moscow and other cities, the most recent in the capital being an airport suicide bombing three years ago that killed 37 people.’  Reference was made to the fact that Volgograd was previously known as Stalingrad, with positive memories for Russians but hated by Chechens for its association with the wartime dictator who deported masses of them to inhuman conditions in Siberia. In the end however, the article seemed to accept President Putin’s attempt to relate the bombings to Afghanistan, Syria and 9/11. A White House spokesperson and British PM David Cameron expressed sympathy and solidarity with Russia, the latter offering unconditional support.
Well, we need not be surprised that the average citizens of the United States or Kingdom have no idea about the whereabouts of Sochi, or its turbulent history. The pressure-cooker weapons of mass destruction that created havoc at last year’s Boston Marathon were allegedly detonated by two brothers of Chechen extraction – and apparently generated a good deal of hate mail on social media directed at the innocent citizens of the Czech Republic. On the other hand, there is no excuse for ignorance among leaders of the ‘Free World’. For a stone-cold certainty, the Russian Government knows exactly what the problem is, even if they would prefer the rest of us to join in the festivities and/or mind our own business. They will be quite happy, I expect, if feminists in the Ukraine continue baring their breasts to the winter chills, and Western concerns focus mainly on the treatment of gays and lesbians in Mother Russia.
‘Before 1864’, Wikipedia tells me, ‘Sochi was a Muslim town’. Now it seems, of a total population of 420,589, a mere 20,000 (less than five percent) profess that faith, and the city has no mosque where they can worship. How did this situation come about? What happened in and around that town in 1864 is crucial to an understanding of the controversy surrounding the Sochi Olympics. In fact, that year saw the culmination of a process that had been going on for 300 years. The Muslim Ottoman Empire had reached the zenith of its power during the reign of Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent) in the mid-16th century. As its glory days and influence receded, one of the chief beneficiaries was the expanding Empire of Russia. These two neighbours fought fourteen wars during those three centuries, resulting increasingly in Russian victories and loss of Ottoman territory. Collateral casualties, as the Russians pushed their borders towards the warm waters of the Black Sea, were the Muslim inhabitants of the Crimea and Caucasus regions who were either killed or expelled from their homes.
There’s more to this business
than meets the eye
The end stages of this southern expansion began in 1834 when Russia moved to complete its conquest of the Caucasus region. Impeding the push were various groups in Chechnya, and Dagestan, the Circassians and several other Caucasian tribes. The conflict went on for thirty years with some release of pressure when Russia was briefly diverted by the Crimean War. It eventually ended, predictably, with Russian victory in that fateful year whose 150th anniversary the losers and their descendants will commemorate as the world’s winter sports athletes gather to compete in the city which witnessed the final expulsion of Circassian Muslims from their ancestral home.
Clearly we must admire the courage and determination of the Circassians and their neighbours in holding off the Russian advance for those thirty years. Interestingly, they did receive some outside support. It seems that the British Government, while fighting the Muslim Ottomans in the Aegean to establish the independence of a Christian Greek Kingdom, were hedging their bets in the Caucasus by supplying the Muslim locals with arms and ammunition in their struggle against Christian Russia. There was actually an incident in 1836 where a British schooner, the Vixen, laden with military supplies, was detained by the Russian navy, creating an international incident that almost led to war between the two great powers.
At that stage, however, the Brits were not ready to engage in war with Russia, at least not for the sake of the Muslim inhabitants of a region few of their citizens had heard of.  The Wikipedia entry on Sochi includes a table showing population growth over a period of 123 years until 2010 when it exceed 400,000. In 1887 the total population of the city was 98!
Exactly how many civilians lost their lives is the subject of debate. The Circassian Cultural Institute claims that more than a million Circassian men, women and children were killed, and a similar number were expelled from their homeland. Bryan Glyn Williams, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, suggests a figure of 600,000 deaths and ‘hundreds of thousands more’ forcibly expelled in what he calls ‘modern Europe’s first genocide’. Most of those were crowded on to ships at the port of Sochi and dispatched across the Black Sea to the Anatolian coast where Ottoman authorities attempted to cope with the vast influx of impoverished refugees.
It does not require a great stretch of imagination to make a comparison with the present-day situation in Syria, where rebels are undoubtedly receiving arms and other support from outside, and Turkey is having to deal with more than a million fugitives from the conflict. At least the Syrian refugees are able to walk across the border, and modern medical supplies are available to treat serious health problems. Back in 1864 some of the ships sank with great loss of life, and diseases were rife amongst the survivors on arrival in the unsanitary conditions of refugee camps. According to Professor Williams, 75 percent of the Circassian population was ‘annihilated’.
It is against this background that the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics will be held on 7 February. No doubt Russian security forces and the International Olympic Committee will do their best to ensure that the games go ahead – while supporters of the Circassian cause have pledged to do theirs to prevent them. David Satter, Russian analyst on CNN, accused the IOC of irresponsibility in ‘indulging [President] Putin’s desire for a propaganda spectacular’. He claimed that Putin made a direct approach to the Committee and pledged $12 billon in preparations, ‘twice what was proposed by the other two candidates’. In fact, according to Businessweek, expenditure on the Sochi games has now exceeded $51 billion, making them the most expensive in Olympic history, far exceeding the $40 billion spent by China on the 2008 summer games.

Whether or not the cost will bring commensurate benefits to Russia, only time will tell. One thing, however, is certain – the Sochi Winter Olympics are providing a golden opportunity for Circassians to bring their historical grievances to the attention of the world.

Julian Assange, The Unauthorised Autobiography – Review

‘Indian [Native American] history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that Americans are God’s chosen people. Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this – not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again.’
That quote comes from a book I picked up on our recent visit to the USA, ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’, by James W Loewen who, the back cover tells me, is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont. My copy is the updated 2007 edition of a book that was first published in 1995 and claims to have won the American Book Award and the Oliver C Cox Anti-racism Award of the American Sociological Association.
The words can be found in the last paragraph of the 4th chapter, which is as far as I have got so far. The chapter is entitled ‘Red Eyes’, and discusses what Loewen refers to as ‘the most lied-about subset of our population,’ Native Americans. The learned professor’s thesis is that textbooks used in US high school history courses have presented, and mostly continue to present, an idealised programme of White American-centred myth-making and patriotic indoctrination that bores and frustrates students, and bears little relation to the reality of their nation’s past.
Earlier chapters deal with the process of hero-making, the true importance of Christopher Columbus, and the truth about Thanksgiving. In discussing that sacred event on the all-American calendar, Professor Loewen points out that the traditional ingredients of a Thanksgiving meal, pumpkins, turkey, corn and squash, were all indigenous to the Americas, and that the pilgrims, in reality, were indebted to their Indian neighbours more than to their God for survival in the new colony. He further informs us that celebration of the famous feast dates only from 1863 when President Lincoln, looking for ways to stir up patriotic fervour, declared the date a national holiday.
Well, as you will expect from my title, I am not here to review the Professor’s book. Loewen is discussing history, though he does include the warning that the present cannot be properly understood without a realistic appraisal of past events. My aim was to set the scene for a discussion of contemporary events that demonstrate the same processes at work: tailoring the story to suit a desired end result, overlooking inconvenient facts, and creating scapegoats and villains to justify a particular course of action.
When it comes to studying history, the problem is not so much that the true stories are not available – rather that they are generally only available to researchers and serious students. The rest of us are lulled into soporific acquiescence by the barrage of ‘facts’ served up by the weighty textbooks we lugged around at school. When it comes to contemporary issues, we are at the mercy of the mainstream news media, for the most part controlled by business and political interests whose purpose is rarely to present an unbiased account.
I am greatly indebted to my experiences in Turkey for opening my eyes to how much my own worldview had been shaped by those factors. One of my earliest such experiences was attending a celebration where Turks were commemorating 18 March 1915 as their day of victory in the First World War theatre we know as the Gallipoli Campaign – in defiance of New Zealanders and Australians who know our boys didn’t even get there till 25 April! Of course if you search you can find details of the Royal Navy’s earlier disastrous attempt to force a passage through the Dardanelle Straits – but that didn’t feature in any accounts I heard or read in my school years.
I guess life was easier in those days for government, military and status quo propagandists when the general public’s sources of information were fewer in number, narrower in scope and more easily controlled. I learnt, many years after the event, and from a very unofficial source, that the British military had been testing its atomic weapons in the trackless wastes of Australia’s central desert – and I was shocked. Surprisingly, many people still don’t know about the Brits’ nuclear testing programme, although I guess it’s no longer classified information.
Another historical fact I learnt recently is that the United States had five military bases in Turkey during the Cold War, with nuclear weapons, missiles and artillery aimed at targets in the Soviet Union. The thing is, I can’t help feeling that the Australian public, and maybe the public in Britain and in other NATO countries too, for all I know, would have liked access to that information at the time, in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s when it was extremely relevant to events on the international stage, and they might have exercised their parliamentary vote according to whether a political party supported or opposed the business. American citizens also might have been less starry-eyed and gung-ho about President JF Kennedy’s threat to start World War III if the Russians didn’t pull their missiles out of Cuba.
It’s a fantasy, I know, but what if British and United States voters had had been able to eavesdrop on conversations between George Dubya Bush and Tony (the Poodle) Blah prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq? What if the Queen (bless her heart) had heard Tony promising Cherie that he’d convert to Roman Catholicism just as soon as he stopped being Prime Minister?
Sadly, in those pre-Wikileaks days, they weren’t, and Her Majesty didn’t. Then, almost overnight, thanks to a white-haired computer geek from Townsville, Australia, the world changed – and I suspect, hope, pray, it will never be the same again. Wikileaks was the website that brought us memorable video footage from a US Apache helicopter gunship where we heard the crew chattering excitedly like 13 year-old war-gaming kids, heard the tak-tak-tak of the cannon as the gunner got the ok to ‘Light ‘em up!’, saw the mostly unarmed civilians, including two Reuters Agency photographers, dying in a hail of 30 mm shells, saw the small van with its occupants, including two children, trying to pick up the wounded, and  suffering the same fate. War photography too will never be the same.
It was Wikileaks again that allowed us to overhear US diplomats expressing their refreshingly undiplomatic feelings about world leaders most of us have serious doubts about: Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah pressing the U.S. to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ by taking action against Iran’s nuclear program. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi described as ‘feckless’ and ‘vain.’ German Chancellor Angela Merkel dismissed as ‘risk averse and rarely creative.’
Of course, I understand that President Obama and his Secretaries of State past and present, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry are seriously p—d off with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. I can totally understand how they would be happy to lock him up in some federal penitentiary until they felt he was suitably penitent – which might be a while. On the other hand, I know there are some Americans, and even a few Australians, in spite of the reluctance of their government to stand up for the guy, who believe he did the world a favour by making that stuff available, and are secretly hoping the Ecuadoreans will find a way to spirit Assange out of their embassy, past those London bobbies, and off to the sanctuary of Quito where he can keep giving us insights into events and information our leaders would prefer us not to know.
So I want to tell you a little about the book I read before starting on the one dealing with the lies I learnt at school. It’s called ‘Julian Assange, the Unauthorised Autobiography’, and it may be even more important than the one about Steve Jobs.
One detail that needs explaining early on (and the publisher, Canongate Books does so) is how an autobiography can be unauthorised. Apparently Assange signed a contract and worked with a chosen writer, but later tried to pull out of the deal. By that time, according to Canongate, money had already changed hands (and been used by Assange to pay legal bills) and 38 publishing houses were committed to releasing the book. So here we have it – unauthorised but apparently straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
The book begins with Assange in a cell in Wandsworth Prison in London, comparing himself to Oscar Wilde, who, at about the same age, but in an earlier century, had spent time there after being convicted of ‘gross indecency’ – Victorian-speak for male homosexuality. Assange’s sexuality seems to be more mainstream, but it’s not until the penultimate chapter that we get his side of the business with the Swedish lasses. At first he is more concerned with giving details of his court appearances and time in prison, despite not having been charged with any crime – and explaining why he believes it’s not actually about the ladies.
From Wandsworth Gaol we flashback to Australia, mostly northern Queensland, where Assange was born into a hippy alternative lifestyle in an idyllic tropical paradise tinged with reality by the difficulties of being raised by a 19 year-old politically active solo mum. I’ll skip the details, but those were interesting times – and young Julian seems to have grown up in an environment of healthy anti-establishment scepticism.
The 1980s decade brought the personal computer into middle class homes, and for Assange, the world-changing technology came in the shape of a Commodore 64, produced by a now defunct company that, for a time there, actually outsold IBM PC compatibles, Apple machines and Atari. The C64 became his ‘consciousness’. Assange and his computer geek peers ‘always knew that the world was more modern than [the old guard] realised. Cairo was waiting. Tunisia was waiting. We were all waiting for the day when our technology would allow an increasing universality of freedom. In the future, power would not come from the barrel of a gun but from communications, and people would know themselves not by the imprimatur of a small and powerful coterie, but by the way they could disappear into a social network with huge political potential.’
Assange tells of his hacking exploits, under the code-name Mendax, starting in the late 1980s, as he rose to the challenge of ‘getting past a barrier that has been erected to keep you out’. One of his better efforts, apparently, was hacking his way into the computer system of the Pentagon’s 8thCommand Group. He compares his circle of like-minded freedom fighters to the 17thcentury Levellers in England – a political movement which, according to Wikipedia, ’emphasised popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance’, expressing their ideas in a manifesto they called ‘Agreement of the People’. Perhaps, in a premonition of what was to come, Assange writes that ‘Governments were much more scared [of the power of the internet] than they were of people demonstrating in the street or throwing petrol bombs over barricades.’ In a chapter headed ‘Cypherpunks’,he speaks of a movement ‘engaged in establishing a system for the information age . . . that would allow individuals rather than merely corporations, to protect their privacy.’
What this movement produced in 2006 was Wikileaks, ‘the most secure platform for whistle-blowers the world had ever known.’ The essential principles were: so-called human rights are only rightsif they are enforceable; ordinary citizens are often in possession of information the rest of us should know for true democracy to operate; if they want to share it they should be able to do so in privacy and anonymity; once they decide to share the information, it needs to be published by the mainstream media.
The 70-page Appendix to Assange’s autobiography contains details of the most noteworthy leaks made available via the Wikileakswebsite, many of which were picked up by major news media, to the benefit of their circulation, no doubt, and to the extreme embarrassment of many governments: the Standard Operating Procedure Manual for Guantanamo detention centre, for example, and information provided by a former employee of Julius Baer Bank (HQ in Zurich) detailing how the bank assisted wealthy clients to move taxable funds to tax-havens in the Cayman Islands.
The book is a fascinating read, essential for anyone wishing to access an alternative view to that presented by those ‘outed’ governments and their lapdog news media. As Assange notes, the Information Age has rendered obsolete, or at least highly debatable, many legal concepts laid down in simpler times, not least of which is the question of who ‘owns’ information. Of course, as those 17th century Levellers discovered to their cost, the establishment elite in any society will fight tooth and nail to preserve their power and privileges. Sad to say, Assange may have been unduly optimistic about the democratic freedoms new communications technology would bring to Egypt. Possibly we will never know the extent to which the governments of the United States and Saudi Arabia influenced the military coup in Cairo. As for Wikileaks, we watch in stunned disbelief as the debate is switched from shocking revelations about events actually taking place behind the scenes on the world stage, to the romantic escapades of an Australian citizen and two sexually liberated Scandinavian women – with the active connivance of news media that were previously so keen to publish the leaked material.
Back in England in the 1640s, leaders of the Levellers were tried and hanged, or hunted down and shot by Oliver Cromwell’s men– thereby collapsing one of history’s early movements advocating popular democratic freedoms. We are currently waiting to hear how many lifetimes Private Bradley Manning will spend in prison; and Russian President Putin has seriously upset the US Government by granting asylum to Edward Snowden, who would otherwise very likely share Manning’s fate. How long Julian Assange can hang out in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London remains to be seen. The important thing for supporters of true democracy is not to lose sight of the real issue.
‘It is not Wikileaks the United States government is afraid of, and it is not Julian Assange that they are afraid of. What does it matter what I know? What does it matter what Wikileaks knows? It matters not at all. What matters is what you know. This is all about you.’

Julian Assange The Unauthorised Autobiography(Canongate Books, 2011) 339 pages 

The Circassian Genocide – I’m a Caucasian too!

I was out and about last Sunday, showing a couple of friends from New Zealand around various parts of the city, and my eye was drawn to posters on a subway wall in Karaköy. The text was in Turkish, of course, so it meant little to my visitors, but it was announcing a demonstration planned for 21 May to commemorate the 148th anniversary of the ‘Circassian Genocide’. Participants will apparently congregate in the big square of Taksim, whence they will march down Istiklal Avenue to the Russian Consulate. There, no doubt, they intend to request politely that Vladimir Putin and his government apologise, and perhaps make some restitution for the displacement, deaths and expropriations that took place in the years leading up to that date in 1864.

Circassian Genocide anniversary poster

I did mention this matter briefly in a previous post, but I have to confess, I wasn’t aware at that stage of the full ramifications. Well, I wouldn’t presume to claim even now that I’ve got everything worked out, but it’s an interesting business for sure, and its effects are still being felt in a part of the world most of us have heard of – though we might have trouble locating it on a map. Anyway, let’s plunge in and see where we end up.

First of all, I’m not much of an expert on Russian history, so I did what I usually do when I feel the need to improve an area of weakness – I ‘googled’ ‘Russian Empire’ and read a few of the suggested sources. Interestingly, none of them made any mention of invading or conquering the Caucasus or Crimean regions. The nearest they came was references to several wars with the Ottoman Empire as a result of which territory was gained and the Empire was expanded southwards.

Now, you can’t really blame the Russians for wanting to expand south and west. I’m sure Russia is a lovely country, but it’s not blessed with harbours and access to warm water seas. Accordingly, in the 18th century, Tsar Peter the Great succeeded in wresting access to the Baltic from Sweden and established his new capital, St Petersburg. Another Russian ‘Great’ by the name of Catherine continued the drive south towards the Black Sea, and here, it seems, lie the roots of our problem with the Circassians. Most of the Ottoman imperial expansion had been completed a hundred years earlier, and undoubtedly not all of the conquered peoples were totally happy with the new situation. Nevertheless, the Ottomans did allow certain freedoms to their subjects, among them, freedom of language and religion. The Russians, on the other hand, were, evidently, somewhat less accommodating. Lands in the path of their southward expansion were populated largely by Muslims with distinct languages and cultures, and clearly this was not in keeping with the grand plan of a Russian-speaking, Orthodox Christian empire.

I don’t want to get sidetracked from my main subject, but the first people to suffer from the Russians’ grand plan were the Crimean Tatars. Crimea had been part of the Ottoman dominions since the 15th century, and its inhabitants were mostly Turkic speaking Muslims. After the Russians’ military defeat of the Ottomans in the 1770s, they proceeded to annex Crimea and colonise it with Christian Slavs. It has been estimated that, over the next century, two-thirds of the Tatar population abandoned their homes and emigrated to various parts of the Ottoman Empire, many of them perishing on the way. 

We may imagine that word of this had reached the Tatars’ near neighbours in the Caucasus area, and when they saw signs that the Russians were aiming to move in their direction, they decided to resist. Some resistance they put up, in fact! The Caucasus War, also known as the Russian conquest of the Caucasus, lasted from 1817 until 1864 (the year referred to on those posters we mentioned above). The Circassians were the most organised, most determined and most militarily capable of the Caucasian peoples and their struggle bore the brunt of the Russian invasion. These people, who call themselves Adyghe, are considered to be the indigenous natives of the Caucasus region. In fact their resistance was such that the Russians were unable to subdue them by force of arms alone. The preferred method became a policy of clearance – burning of villages and killing or driving out the Muslim inhabitants. The author, Leo Tolstoy, served with the Russian army in the Caucasus, and the experience seems to have been the catalyst that turned him from a life of wealthy idleness to one of creativity, spirituality, pacifism and renunciation of privilege. One of his quoted observations:

“It had been the custom to rush the auls [mountain villages] by night, when, taken by surprise, the women and children had no time to escape, and the horrors that ensued under the cover of darkness when the Russian soldiers made their way by twos and threes into the houses were such as no official narrator dared describe.”

Another contemporary observer, a British consul by the name of Dickson, also reported: “A Russian detachment captured the village of Toobah on the Soobashi river, inhabited by about a hundred Abadzekh [a tribe of Circassians], and after these had surrendered themselves prisoners, they were all massacred by the Russian Troops. Among the victims were two women in an advanced state of pregnancy and five children.

At such a distance of time it is not possible to arrive at an absolute figure for the death toll. Some Circassian historians claim a figure of four million; official Russian reports say perhaps 300,000. Less partisan sources suggest somewhere around a million and a half. Undoubtedly, apart from those killed during the war itself, huge numbers perished as a result of forced migration. Thousands died of hunger and disease after being driven from their villages; thousands more on the Black Sea beaches as they waited for Ottoman ships to ferry them away. More still were drowned when overcrowded vessels sank in passage, and more again after reaching the sanctuary of Ottoman territory in the insanitary conditions that prevailed there. The land, dwellings and possessions they left behind were taken over by Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Cossacks and Georgians, brought in to repopulate and ‘Christianise’ the area. Once again, we may imagine the feelings of anger and resentment these events stirred up, not only in the survivors and refugees themselves, but in the people of the Ottoman areas who listened to their tales of atrocities and suffering, and had to provide for them.

Who else knew what was going on in the Caucasus? Why do we know so little about it? These are pertinent questions. I came across an interesting source while researching this issue: an archive in the National Library of New Zealand, of a newspaper called The NZ Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. In the edition of 17 August 1864, was an article reprinted from the London Times of May 9, based on a report dated 28 April, from Constantinople (Istanbul):

“Official information has been received here of the capitulation of Vardar, the last stronghold of the Circassians, and of the consequent submission of all the tribes. I had occasion in a previous letter to refer to the flood of immigration which was pouring into the Turkish dominions from the Caucasus, and to the defeats which had been experienced by these gallant mountaineers; and although there could be no doubt at that time that the cause of the Circassians was hopeless, there was not sufficient ground for anticipating the extraordinary movement which has since developed itself, and which threatens, unless immediate relief and succour be obtained, to degenerate, as regards these poor people, into an awful disaster. Whether this movement is to be attributed to a panic consequent on defeat, or to the hatred inspired by the Russians, it is rather difficult to determine; but there is no doubt that the three tribes known as the ‘Shabsoukhs’, Oboukhs’ and ‘Abazehs’ have determined to abandon their country to a man, and take refuge in Turkish territory. Already the outflowing tide of emigrants is so great as to place the Turkish Government in the greatest embarrassment. 27,000 of these unfortunate creatures, in the most utter destitution, have poured into Trebizond (Trabzon). The privations of the voyage in a most inclement season have produced disease of the very worst kind among them, which is not only committing fearful ravages in their own famished ranks, but it is extending to the local population. Typhus and smallpox are raging at Trebizonde, and the place is threatened with a famine. The Turkish government is willing and anxious to receive the fugitives, and incorporate them into its own population, but the movement has been so sudden and so extensive that it has been impossible to make provision for the hosts that are daily pouring in. It is calculated that no less than 300,000 will, in the next two to three months, seek shelter in this country . . .”

The British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Sir Henry Bulwer, presented reports to the Prime Minister of the day, Earl Russell. In one such report, dated April 12, 1864, he said:

“The continued advances of the Russians in Circassia, and the ill-treatment experienced by the natives from the Russian troops, have led to an almost complete emigration from the country: 25,000 have already reached Trebizond, and others are attempting to escape in small boats at every risk. The conglomeration of vast quantities of these people, who have no industrial habits, threatens the health and peace of any one locality, and the loss of life which is occasioned by their hazardous attempts to escape from their conquerors is shocking to humanity. The Turkish Government is therefore about sending vessels to Trebizond to remove the emigrants thence, and place them in different parts of the Empire; and it is also in negotiation with the Russian Chargé d’Affaires here, in order to be able to adopt some measures by which those unfortunate people who, after the most heroic attempts in defending the country where they were born, are at last obliged to abandon it, may be able to seek an asylum with safety in the Ottoman dominions.”

It seems reasonably clear, then, that the British Government of the day, and the literate public of remote New Zealand were aware of the events unfolding in the Caucasus region. Perhaps we can excuse their lack of action to alleviate the suffering of the Circassians, or to exert diplomatic pressure on the Russians. White settlers in New Zealand in those years were also engaged in forcefully driving the indigenous Maori people from their land, and suppressing their attempts to defend their way of life. The United States government was doing the same to its Native Americans, and the Redcoats of the British Empire were here, there and everywhere demonstrating to local peoples that resistance to the civilising benefits of empire was useless. It was a scant six years since the Brits had brutally put down what they liked to refer to as ‘The Indian Mutiny’. In the circumstances, it would have been difficult to act self-righteously.

Detailed map of the Caucasus region
Why we have ‘forgotten’ the Russians’ treatment of the Circassians is less easy to explain, when we seem well able to ‘remember’ the Greeks and the Armenians. Could it be that we find it easier to attribute brutality to Muslims than to Christians? Or perhaps Armenians were better able to draw attention to their cause by the use of terror tactics. Who knows? Whatever the case, Russian ethnic cleansing of its Muslim subjects did not end in 1864. In 1943 and 1944, Josef Stalin forcefully ‘relocated’ hundreds of thousands from the Caucasus and Crimea to remote and desolate parts of the Soviet Union, Siberia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia, resulting in untold deaths. 

Those Circassian demonstrators in Taksim on 21 May will be commemorating the 148th anniversary of their final defeat by the Russians – but the legacy of those days continues well into the 21st century. The population of modern Chechnya is 94 percent Sunni Muslim, and their struggle for independence continues. In neighbouring Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, the situation is similar. It is unlikely, however, that Mother Russia will let her Caucasian children go, taking their wealth of oil, natural gas and other minerals with them. It is equally unlikely that President Putin will apologise to the Circassians and offer restitution for their past sufferings. After all, it was pre-Revolutionary Tsarist Russia that did the deed.