More Papal Palaver

The best form of defence is a good attack. It’s an adage applicable to a range of human activities, from chess to warfare – and even religious leaders, it seems, sometimes employ the tactic. The Catholic Church has a bunch of problems these days, from empty pews in its monumental temples, to those pesky accusations of paedophilia and other kinds of institutional child abuse that just won’t go away. So I guess if I were the Pope of Rome I’d probably take time off occasionally from excommunication and beatification duties to go after a soft target or two with the aim of distracting opponents and critics.

pope and noah

Two  old guys in fancy dress pouring water on Noah’s Ark. Are they for real?

And indeed, there he is, dear old Pope Francis, God bless him, visiting his tiny RC flock in Armenia, and taking time, while there, to reaffirm his recent support for Armenian genocidists. One thing he loves about Armenia, apparently, is that its people were the first to make Christianity their official state religion, way back in 301 CE. I guess in his position, he’d have to be a fan of rulers enforcing religious uniformity – though personally, I’m inclined to the view that that’s where most of the intolerance, persecution and violence starts.

Anyway, Francis is firmly of the opinion that the Ottoman Empire committed genocide on poor inoffensive Armenians a hundred years or so ago, that it was the first genocide of the 20th century, and one of its big three holocaustic events. By voicing these statements in his official capacity as leader of an estimated 1.27 billion Roman Catholics, he undoubtedly knows that he is giving powerful tacit support to those who want to hold the modern Republic of Turkey responsible.

Well, once again, I’m not going to get involved in the debate of who did what to how many of whom and when they did it. I do, however, want to take issue with the Pope’s jaw-dropping cultural arrogance in selectively focusing on the 20th century, and on Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and the Ottoman Empire as the worst offenders. First off, that gentleman is boss and CEO of a trans-national organisation that has been persecuting, torturing, enslaving, war-mongering, genociding and paedophiling for most of its 2,000 year history. OK, they’ve done some good stuff along the way too, but come on! That’s not just a glasshouse you’re living in, Frank. It’s a monumental crystal palace built on a foundation of quicksand!

George Clooney

George Clooney was there – but the Kardashians couldn’t make it this time.

And then what’s the big deal with the 20th century? Why pick an arbitrary cut-off point like 1900 CE for your moralising? As if I didn’t know. As far as the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims are concerned (beating the Catholic’s best estimate by 30 million), it was the year 1416, dating from the Hijra of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina. The Year of Our Christian Lord 1900 equated roughly to 4597 in the Chinese calendar, and 5660 for those of the Jewish faith. Just another year, in other words. Remember the doomsayers forecasting worldwide computer failure, financial meltdown, and apocalypse now for the year 2000? And what happened? If there is a God out there somewhere, I’m fairly sure He/She doesn’t give a monkey’s whatsit for calendars, Christian, Muslim, Zoroastrian or whatever.

Still, from Popey’s point-of-view, ignoring those previous 1,900 years allows him to erase some pretty horrendous demographic obliterations. Modern scholarship suggests that the pre-Columbian population of the Americas could have been up to 100 million. Admittedly not all of the deaths were deliberately caused by the Roman Catholic Church in particular and Western Europeans in general – but undoubtedly their actions directly and indirectly led to near total extinction – and the new-comers weren’t too unhappy to see them go.

He can overlook the Roman Catholic Inquisition and the ‘Reconquista’ of the Iberian peninsula that turned a scientifically progressive and culturally diverse multi-religious, multi-ethnic society under comparatively tolerant Islamic rule to an exclusively Christian RC preserve where Muslims and Jews were tortured, massacred or forced to migrate. Most of the survivors ended up in the Ottoman Empire whose Islamic government welcomed them with open arms.

Slave sale

Bucks and wenches – people, actually.

Well, maybe you think that’s going back too far in time. OK, let’s think about the contribution made by slave labour and the slave trade to the British Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the USA as an industrial power in the 19th century. According to Wikipedia the transatlantic slave trade uprooted and transported more than eleven million Africans between the 16th and the 19th centuries. Possibly four million more died after being captured and before they even boarded a slave ship. 1.5 million are estimated to have died on the journey, and many more died young as a result of the brutality of living and working conditions. From the 17th century, Britain became the main slave-trading nation, and industrial towns like Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester benefitted greatly from exporting goods such as guns to Africa, selling the slaves purchased, and importing the produce of slave-labour, such as sugar and cotton. Admittedly most Brits were C of E, and not Catholic, but it obviously suits the Western/European version of history to gloss over these realities – and African Americans are still waiting to be ‘paid for the work they done’.

That 1900 date cut-off also conveniently allows the omission of other war crimes and near-genocidal campaigns carried out by the British Empire during the 19th century: violent and punitive ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Maori in New Zealand, the Aboriginal tribes in Australia, the Zulus in South Africa – and the war of 1899-1901 where the Brits are credited with having invented the concentration camp to facilitate their aggression against Boer farmers. We can forget the ruthless brutality with which British rulers suppressed the Indian rebellion in 1857-59, calling it a ‘mutiny’. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 Indians died, most of them as a result of a ‘no prisoners, no mercy’ policy of revenge carried out by the British Army after the rebellion was defeated.

No event in history takes place in a vacuum. There are always reasons and causes not always acknowledged when the victors write their version of history. Ottoman rulers had learned, during the 19th century, what would happen to Muslims when parts of their empire and its hinterland were ‘liberated’ by ‘Christian’ Powers. Muslims were massacred or expelled when the Kingdom of Greece was established in the 1820s. The process was repeated as Imperial Russia expanded southwards into Crimea and the Caucasus – culminating in an event remembered by descendants of survivors as the Circassian Genocide in 1864.

But let’s accept Pope Francis’s arbitrary date for a moment, and consider how sincere he really is in looking for suffering peoples to sympathise with. Exception has been taken to his repeating of the claim that the Armenian tragedy was the first genocide of the 20th century. That honour apparently can rightly be claimed by Germany, and their ‘attempted annihilation of the Herero in South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) from 1904 to 1907’.


Selective remembering – and forgetting.

Possibly Francis decided not to count official world wars in his brief list, but it seems a pity not to mention World War One, believed by many to have been brought about by an unholy alliance of European Imperialists and capitalist financiers. Seventeen million combatants and non-combatants died and a further twenty million were wounded. He may also have decided to gloss over France’s unsuccessful war to prevent Algerian Independence. Depending on which side you’re listening to, between 350,000 and 1.5 million died between 1954 and 1962, mostly Algerians.

Similar disagreement exists over how many Iraqis died as a result of the United States’ invasion in 2003. Estimates range from 151,000 to over a million – but possibly their importance is lessened by being of the wrong religion. We do seem to know with greater accuracy the number of US military personnel who lost their lives: 4,491. It’s too early to put a figure on the civil war in Syria. Again estimates vary widely, ranging from 140,200 to 470,000. Al-Jazeera claims that 10.9 million, or almost half the population of Syria, have been displaced and 3.8 million have been made refugees.

So it’s not surprising that there is disagreement over how many Armenians died back there in the early 20th century. Of course even the lowest estimate adds up to a terrible tragedy that should never be forgotten. On the other hand, selective remembering and forgetting of historical events almost always has a political purpose, and seekers after truth should be open-minded in their search. Photographs can be used to dishonestly stir emotions – even those taken in the days before Photoshop. Anecdotal evidence also has emotive power, but historians at least cannot rely merely on first-hand accounts of ‘survivors’.

Joseph Hirt

There’s the tattoo right there, see?

A recent item on CBS News highlights the danger. ‘A 91-year-old Pennsylvania man who has for years lectured to school groups and others about what he said were his experiences at Auschwitz now says he was never a prisoner at the German death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.’ The admission came after a New York high school history teacher made inquiries when his suspicions were aroused. Joseph Hirt had apparently gone to the extent of having a false prisoner identification number tattooed on his arm.

So, Pope Francis – I am suspicious of your motives.


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

George Clooney, The Aurora Prize And Hope In Armenia – Hate masquerading as peace

I want to pass this on to you. It is the most articulate response I have read to the barrage of attacks mounted against the people of Turkey in Western media over something that happened over a hundred years ago.


Without the shades, you might see some of the world’s real problems

I can’t tell you who wrote it. It was submitted as a comment on the Forbes website to an emotive article about the Hollywood actor George Clooney’s recent visit to Armenia.

Please. You are not Kim Kardashian or George Clooney. You are a journalist. Do some research on both sides before you write some piece to “feel all the feels”.

What is conveniently not mentioned in these “feel all the feels” articles is this: Guess which country has had the most diplomats and ambassadors murdered? Turkey. All of them, by Armenian terrorists. And you don’t have to go back 100 years to research it. And it all took place in Western countries. You know why you never heard of it? Because Western media bows down to special interest Armenian lobbying and censors the news. You know what else? All those murderers have already been released and are free and walking the streets.


Armenian terrorist holds hostage at gunpoint

Did you know that in the 1980s, an Armenian priest in Turkey burned himself publicly to protest and to stop his own people from murdering Turkish diplomats? No? Because the Western media suppressed that bit of news also. Did you know that there are more than 60 Armenian schools in Turkey for Armenian citizens to send their children to, if they’d rather their children go there? Do you know there are numerous famous Armenian writers, musicians, actors, and artists in Turkey? Do you know Turkey allows its own Armenian citizens living in Turkey, who have been influenced by Armenians in Western countries, to freely meet and post on social media all their vengeful feelings about 100 years ago?

Turkey takes the higher road and doesn’t get into the lies and the sensationalism so you end up with misguided celebrities feeding the fire. Did Armenians join with the world to help relieve the refugee crisis? Did the Clooneys or Kim Kardashian do a single thing to help a single refugee? Did they ever say anything about the more recent Rwandan or Serbian genocide? Did they ever stop their vengeful navel gazing to help anyone else in the world? Do you know how many refugees Turkey took in? Millions and millions. And Turkey did it while being harassed nonstop by these bullies giving in to the sensationalized lobbying. In Western countries currently, there is a great amount of harassment, bullying, bigotry, and discrimination towards Turkish citizens perpetuated by Armenians. 


Well known historians, Kim and Khloe on their photo-op in Armenia

Don’t fool yourselves. American and Western universities, schools, workplaces are not places of Equal Opportunity. You only hear about the racial and religious discrimination because those are eventually unearthed. This other type of nationalistic discrimination by Armenians toward those with Turkish origins goes on and on every single day and is never even brought to light. Why would you even say Turkish people are denying it? Like Turkish people were alive and in their 20s and 30s in 1915 and they all happened to be right there wherever this battle / march / genocide happened and they witnessed it or outright took part in it and then they all miraculously lived to be 120 and 130 years old and deny it? I personally did not hear a single word about it growing up in Turkey and I was caught off-guard by all the harassment and bullying I experienced once I came to the U.S.

Just the way police coerce people into false confessions, Armenians won’t rest till they use their hysteria, sensationalism, and special interest lobbying to get the whole world pressuring Turkey to make a false confession. How about the world telling Armenians to stop rehashing World War I nonstop for a zillion years?

Why would you be stuck in what an empire, that the Turkish Republic put an end to itself, did more than 100 years ago? Why would you bring it to a level where you have this unquenchable personal vengeance toward people who had nothing to do with what happened 100 years ago? All of a sudden, the whole world is on this vengeance and hatred bandwagon with Armenians against Turkish people who have done nothing. Why would you not choose peace? Why would you perpetuate vengeance and hatred? Even our grandparents were not even born in 1915. If the world wants to have an enemy because they just can’t be peaceful, they should find some real perpetrators because this whole thing is the single most obnoxious thing I have ever seen. You all continue to swing your sword at the windmills like Don Quixote. You are conducting the Salem witch trials all over again. Why can’t you say, “Peace begins with me,” instead of creating hatred and vengeance?

recently renovated Vordvots Vorotman Armenian Church in Istanbul

Recently renovated Vordvots Vorotman Armenian Church, Istanbul

There are numerous Western historians who have studied events around that time in that region of the world and unequivocally said, “I will not call this genocide.” If you want anecdotes just like the Armenian anecdotes, there are numerous anecdotes of Turkish families being tortured and murdered at the hands of Armenians who joined with the Russian forces. But of course, in our topsy-turvy world where Western media is censored by lobbying bullies, you rarely hear the truth. Please satisfy the requirements of objective journalism before you write a piece to fan the flames of vengeance.


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

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

2015 Anzac dawn service, Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

Politics - Winston Churchill and Kaiser Wilhelm II

Winston Churchill with German Kaiser Wilhelm, 1909

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Armenian cemetery 2

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

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

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

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

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


Other posts on this issue:

Who killed the Armenians?

Armenian Massacres and the Nationalism of Hate

In Search of Solutions

History at 10,000 metres

Reality buttocks, papal infallibility and the Armenian issue

Selective Amnesia

Who hijacked the left?

France’s Highest Court Upholds Law Criminalizing Holocaust Denial

Well, I didn’t see it reported elsewhere – and a quick Google search didn’t turn up many other results, so I’m grateful to the Turkish Coalition of America for drawing it to my attention.

Given that France is one of the countries most supportive of Armenian genocide claims, it is surely significant that their courts are making a clear distinction between the proven extermination programme implemented by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and the actions of the Imperial Ottoman government around the turn of the 20th century.

It’s also interesting to see the lengths to which Armenian groups will go to achieve their purpose:

“The French Constitutional Council, France’s Highest Court, has upheld the Gayssot Act, a law criminalizing Holocaust denial, rejecting claims that Holocaust denial should be protected free speech. Allying themselves with a known Holocaust denier, French Armenian groups had joined a challenge to the law, maintaining that since the French Court had previously ruled that questioning the Armenian allegation of genocide was a proper exercise of free speech, so should be questioning the Holocaust. In the alternative, the Armenian groups argued that the Holocaust and the alleged Armenian genocide were historical equivalents and, therefore, that denial of both ought to be criminalized.

“The French Constitutional Council disagreed with the Armenian groups on both counts. The Court emphasized that since the international law had established the Holocaust as a genocide, its denial can be punished. This is in stark contrast to the Armenian allegation, which has never been upheld by a court. The Court enunciated a sensible rule: that an event cannot be considered a genocide unless it is established as such by a court of law and that parliaments or governments cannot declare an event a genocide. This is in keeping with the United Nations Genocide Convention, which renders all accusations of genocide subject to a thorough trial of the evidence before a neutral judicial body.”

Right to deny Armenian genocide upheld by European court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a Turkish politician had the right to deny that a massacre of Armenians during the Ottoman empire’s rule in 1915 was a genocide.

The court said that when Dogu Perincek said the “Armenian genocide is a great international lie”, he should not have been found guilty of racial discrimination in Switzerland.

The ECHR judges said that denying the genocide was not an attack on the dignity of individuals in the Armenian community, overruling an Armenian appeal presented in January by Amal Clooney.

Doğu Perinçek, chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party, made his comments about the genocide of up to 1.5 million Armenians – a fact Turkey disputes as well as the number of those killed – in Switzerland in 2005.

Switzerland-Armenia, a lobby group, soon after filed a criminal complaint against him in July as it is against Swiss law to deny the genocide as part of the country’s anti-racism laws.

Mr Perinçek was found guilty of racial discrimination in 2007 in Switzerland because “his motives were of a racist tendency”, according to a later description of the case in an ECHR press release in 2013.

Read the article in The Daily Telegraph

Sultan Abdül Hamid – Hero or villain?

THe tomb of Abdül Hamid II in Istanbul

The tomb of Abdül Hamid II in Istanbul

Who is your favourite Ottoman Sultan? It’s a question addressed more to my Turkish readers. Visitors to Istanbul probably figure that there must have been a Sultan Ahmet (in fact there were three); some may have heard of Suleiman the Magnificent or Mehmet the Conqueror. Turkish people themselves are most likely to favour a pre-1600 Padishah. After all, those were the glory days of empire – and anyway, there were 36 Ottoman rulers during the dynasty’s span of 620 years. Who can remember all of them?

Osman was the guy who got it all started at the end of the 13th century, and whose name, a little mangled in English, identifies the entire bloodline. Mehmet II, at the age of 21, led the final successful siege of Constantinople, putting an end to the Roman Empire, or that of the Byzantine Greeks, depending on how you look at it. Suleiman the Lawgiver, as he is known in Turkey, presided over the empire in its golden heyday, ruling for 45 years, and will probably be number one choice for most Turks. A local soap opera, Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century) has recently given that age mass popularity. Süleiman’s father, Selim I, has been the centre of some controversy in Turkey of late after authorities decided to name the new Bosporus bridge for him. He has fans and detractors in possibly equal measure.

So who’s my pick? I’ve written before about Beyazid II, who reigned from 1481 to 1512. Back in 1492, when ‘Christians’ were beginning the genocide of Native Americans, and ‘reconquering’ the Iberian Peninsula, in the process offering Muslims and Jews the alternatives of conversion or death, Beyazid sent the Ottoman navy to evacuate Jews looking for a third option. He is reputed to have complimented himself on enriching his own dominions while Fredrick and Isabella of Spain were impoverishing theirs. A fairly enlightened action for those days, wouldn’t you say? If he achieved nothing else during his 30-odd years on the throne, that alone should secure him a place in heaven.

An unflattering contemporary French caricature of Abdül Hamid

An unflattering contemporary French caricature of Abdül Hamid

The big problem here, though, is that Muslims, pretty much since they first appeared on the stage of history, have had a bad press in the ‘Christian’ West. For close to a thousand years, Western Europe lived in fear of being overrun, and suffering death or a fate worse than, at the hands of one Islamic empire or another. Even after they finally managed to gain military and technological superiority, the memory of those humiliating centuries persisted, encouraging the use of disparaging or demonising stereotypes that worked against an objective assessment of Muslim achievements during their years of ascendancy.

As a result, the few Ottoman sultans known by name in the West tend to have been matched with less-than-flattering epithets. Selim I, known to Turks as ‘Yavuz’ (the Indomitable), is Selim the Grim in English; his grandson, Sarı (Blond) Selim, is anglicised as ‘the Sot’. Even the great Suleiman, in a backhanded compliment, is celebrated for the opulence and magnificence of his court rather than his achievements in the field of jurisprudence. Such was the fear and hatred of Muslims and Turks (particularly in combination) that the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe chose to lionise the pagan Tamburlaine who, with his Mongolian hordes, invaded Anatolia and enslaved the Sultan Beyazid I in 1402.

By the 19th century, the days when European ambassadors were obliged to learn Ottoman Turkish, and crawl into the presence of the Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, were long gone. Facing threats of invasion from without and disintegration from within, its shrinking borders circled by the great neighbouring imperialist powers, the ‘Sick Man of Europe’ continued to survive only because those gathering vultures, like the two nuns in the old joke, were more intent on ensuring that the others wouldn’t get more than they did.

So, Abdül Hamid II ascended to the Sultanate in 1876 in inauspicious circumstances. He was actually installed in place of his brother Murat V, who was considered mentally unstable – and was expected by his supporters to continue the democratising reforms begun by his immediate predecessors. Well, to everything there is a season, as the Good Book says – and democracy is no exception to the rule. Shortly after commissioning a team of experts to draw up a constitution, Abdül Hamid suspended it, exiled its principal author, and ruled for the next thirty years as an absolute monarch. His Wikipedia entry sums up the case for the prosecution: He oversaw a period of decline in the power and extent of the Empire, including widespread pogroms and government-sanctioned massacres of Armenians’; he was overthrown in 1908 in a move ‘hailed by most Ottoman citizens’; ‘Often known as the Red Sultan or Abdul the Damned due to the atrocities committed against the Empire’s minorities under his rule and use of a secret police to silence dissent, Abdul Hamid became more reclusive toward the end of his reign, his worsening paranoia about perceived threats to his personal power and his life leading him to shun public appearances.’

An actual photograph

An actual photograph

Continuing the list of his sins, the ‘Red Sultan’ curtailed the privileges of foreigners, obstructed the settlement of Jews in Palestine, got the Empire into ‘financial embarrassment’ and carried out a policy of Islamification, particularly through a series of educational reforms. Confirming him as a true representative of Ottoman depravity, ‘Abdül Hamid had thirteen wives and seventeen children.’ The one positive seems to be that he was responsible for some modest modernization’ mainly in the areas of telegraph and railway building – though even in the latter case his major motive seems to have been the facilitating of travel for Muslim pilgrims heading for the holy city of Mecca.

On the whole, not a good look; and another writer has remarked that Abdül Hamid II has justifiably not been treated kindly by the history books.’ She does, however, reduce his bevy of wives and brood of children to, respectively, eight and thirteen – so even in this department it seems there is room for debate. And perhaps a more important question arises: Whose history books?

History, it has been said, is written by the victors, and since around 1700, Western Christendom has been progressively asserting its dominance over the realms of Islam. As a result, if you want to find an alternative view of history, you need to overturn a stone or two. Under one such stone I found an interesting website, Lost Islamic History, and an article lauding our man Abdül Hamid as ‘The Last Great Caliph’. The Caliph, as you may know, was the Islamic equivalent of the Roman Emperor, combining spiritual and temporal power, and the first ones, of course, were Arabs. However, when the Ottomans established themselves as the dominant Muslim power at the beginning of the 16th century, it made sense, at least in the mind of the Indomitable Selim, to assume the mantle of leader and protector of his co-religionists. Thereafter ‘Caliph’ became one of the hereditary titles of the Ottoman Sultan.

A thought-provoking claim in that article is that ‘Throughout Ottoman history, Christians had been a major part of the population, at some times being about 80%’. Certainly the Ottomans conquered lands that had become predominantly Christian, yet they allowed their new subject peoples to continue speaking their languages, practising their religions, educating their children, even holding high positions in the empire and administering their own justice. Furthermore, as we noted above, they added to the native Jewish population by encouraging immigration from less enlightened lands to the West such as Spain.

As enlightenment struck the Great Powers of Europe towards the end of the 18th century, however, they began to realise that they could enlarge their own territories by picking fights with the increasingly vulnerable Ottomans. Picking fights with neighbours of course wasn’t quite in the true spirit of enlightenment, but if you could find a credible pretext, such as aiding fellow Christians escape intolerable oppression by an evil barbaric Muslim empire, you would not only have right on your side, but you would have allies causing trouble behind enemy lines, and a gratefully liberated populace running to your arms after victory was achieved.

Russia was the main exponent of this technique, although to be fair they probably got the idea from the Brits who encouraged and then supported militarily Greek nationalism leading to the establishment of the modern kingdom of Greece in 1832, with a real German king on the throne, King Otto I.

The tide of victory had begun to turn against the Ottomans towards the end of the 17th century, when their westward expansion was repulsed at the gates of Vienna. By the beginning of the 19th century defeat was becoming more the norm than the exception. Nationalist movements, encouraged by Western philosophers and politicians, were gaining strength. Christian-majority lands in Europe were forcibly ‘liberated’, often expelling their Muslim minorities. Imperial Russia was expanding southwards in search of warm water ports, pursuing a policy of Russification, which generally meant killing or driving out the Muslim inhabitants. For the Ottomans, the population balance was radically altered by the loss of Christians and a flood of Muslim refugees.

Surprisingly, San Stefano isn't in Italy - its a suburb of modern Istanbul

Surprisingly, San Stefano isn’t in Italy – its a suburb of modern Istanbul

In 1839 the Sultan Mahmut II began a process of reform and democratisation known in Turkish as Tanzimat. A major aim was to discourage the growth of nationalist movements by granting equal rights to all citizens. It was too late, however, and anyway, as we have seen, the encouragement of nationalism among Ottoman minorities was a means to an end for the Great Powers of Europe, who clearly had little sympathy for such movements within their own expanding empires.

Nevertheless, it seems Sultan Abdül Hamid II had intended to continue the process of administrative reform and modernisation when he was handed the top job in 1876. The fact that he actually had a constitution drawn up limiting the powers of the monarchy testifies to this. Within a year, however, he was caught up in a disastrous war with Russia who, pursuing its goal of access to the Mediterranean Sea, attacked from the west and the east, with the support of Orthodox Christians in the Balkans and Armenians in the east of Anatolia. With the Russian army set to enter Istanbul, the Ottoman government was obliged to make peace. The so-called Treaty of San Stefano amounted to virtual unconditional surrender: loss of most of its Balkan territories and several important districts in the east; opening of the Bosporus Straits to Russian shipping, and payment of a large war indemnity to Russia.

The British and the French, who had until recently been supporting the Ottomans against Russia, had turned against them. It must have been obvious to Abdül Hamid that the time for democratic liberalisation was not now. It was clear that non-Muslim minorities within the Empire were intent on going their own way, and that the Great (Christian) Powers of Europe would exploit these nationalist uprisings for their own advantage. It must also have struck him that the one chance of holding the remains of the Empire together was to appeal to Muslim solidarity. At that time many of the Sultan’s Muslim subjects were Arab, not Turk – and anyway, the Ottoman aristocracy did not consider themselves Turks.

So, according to Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, seeing himself as the inheritor of a sacred trust to preserve his 600-year-old Empire, Abdül Hamid suspended his newly written constitution and assumed the historical mantle of God-appointed sovereignty. Dusting off the hitherto largely symbolic title of Caliph, He took out the Prophet’s mantle from the Topkapi palace, declared the resistance to Russia a jihad, proclaimed himself a ghazi after the example of the early Ottoman Sultans and appealed to Muslims worldwide for support. This pattern of appeal to the global Muslim community was to be repeated, time and again, during [his] reign.

Istanbul High School - originally built by the Great Powers of Europe to administer the Ottoman debt

Istanbul High School – originally built by the Great Powers of Europe as an HQ to administer the Ottoman debt

The punitive terms of the San Stefano Treaty were moderated somewhat by the intervention of Britain and France, who feared the expansion of Russia into their spheres of interest. The Ottomans were permitted to maintain a foot in the Balkans, and their reparation payments were reduced. Nevertheless, there was a price to pay: the British proceeded to occupy the island of Cyprus, purchased French acceptance by allowing them to occupy Tunisia, and subsequently moved themselves into Egypt. Professor Nazeer says that ‘the war with Russia and the loss of Egypt and Tunisia had cost the Empire more than 60% of its population’ – becoming a largely Muslim entity in Anatolia and the Middle East.

Abdül Hamid’s move to become champion of the world’s Muslims was not purely pragmatic. In fact he had been a follower of Shadhili Sufism before ascending to the throne, so his donning of the Caliph’s mantle did not lack spiritual credibility. At the same time, however, it undoubtedly gave him a powerful card to play in negotiations with the Great Powers of Europe whose global expansion brought many Muslims into their imperial folds.

The Empire was disastrously in debt, however, and religion alone would not save it. Having centralised imperial power in the hands of his Vizier, Abdül Hamid was in a position to dictate a series of economic reforms: renegotiating the debt burden, encouraging the development of agriculture and industry, setting up a bank to provide low interest loans, encouraging foreign investment for building railroads, telegraph lines and building silk, tobacco and fabric processing factories, modernising the armed forces and upgrading standards of education.

The last Ottoman palace

The last Ottoman palace

Professor Nazeer concedes that ‘Abdul Hamid kept a close watch on all of his appointees, as well as on the extensive bureaucracy in the state, through an efficient system of police and spy network.’ On the other hand, he concludes that ‘In the face of aggression from without and sabotage from within, hammered by forces of nationalism and weakened by internal terrorism from some of the millets, he waged a valiant battle to preserve what was left of the once mighty empire. In this effort, he was partially successful, preserving its Islamic core for forty years and keeping the empire out of a major war for as long.’

So, to sum up the case for the defense:

  • Abdül Hamid did not set out to be an autocratic dictator – the role was forced upon him by a combination of lethal threats to his empire.
  • He used the Muslim religion also out of necessity as a cohesive force against external and internal dangers, just as later, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk fostered the development of Turkish nationalism.
  • It suited the goals of the so-called ‘Christian’ powers of Europe to ignore atrocities committed against Muslims (starting with the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars in 1783) and portray the killing of Christians as unwarranted acts of barbarity.
  • There were undoubtedly many within the empire and beyond its boundaries who did not wish the Sultan well. A certain measure of paranoia may have been justified.
  • The Ottoman Empire ended with a whimper in 1923. Without the efforts of Abdül Hamid II, it might well have ended forty years earlier.
  • Ironically, his educational reforms, in creating a new intellectual elite, may have led at last to his own overthrow.