Reaching out to the Muslims

Well, it seems like al-Qaeda have resurfaced after a period out of our headlines. Maybe people were getting bored with ISIS – or were just plain confused about who they actually were, given all the acronyms that seemed to refer to the same shadowy outfit: ISID, ISIL, DAESH etc. Then there are YPG and SDF . . . And that’s just in Syria! It’s all a bit much, really. Let’s just get back to basics and bomb the sh** out of al-Qaeda. At least we knew who those guys were . . . Didn’t we?

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Got those mothers!

So it seems that’s what we’re doing. By “we”, of course, I mean the Western alliance; the Christian, democratic, freedom-loving Western alliance. That’s us, right? Me and you?

And it’s with some satisfaction we note that the United States military is back to doing what it does best – taking out al-Qaeda operatives threatening Homeland, USA, just a short 9,220 km hop, step and a jump away from Washington DC, in Syria (that’s 5,763 miles for those of you who still insist on using those medieval measurements).

Colonel John Thomas (no connection with the male appendage of the gardener in “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”), spokesman for US Central Command, apparently told Reuters: “’US forces conducted an airstrike on an Al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.’ He later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the village mosque in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Washington DC to Aleppo

There’s DC – there’s Aleppo. You can see why we’re nervous, right?

‘We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,’ he added, when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 42 people had died, most of them civilians.”

Several news sources, however, including the BBC, reported that the al-Jineh mosque “had been packed with worshippers for evening prayers. Forty-two people, mostly civilians, died in an air strike. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the raid by unidentified planes was in al-Jineh, Aleppo province.”

Back to Colonel Thomas: “We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target – which was where the meeting [of militants] took place – is about 50ft (15metres) from a mosque that is still standing.”

Now, I have to tell you, I’m a little confused about how the Colonel can be so sure the mosque is “still standing” when he admits that “the precise location of the strike was unclear.” Nevertheless, I’m sure the families of the dead worshippers will be comforted to hear that the US military is going to “look into the allegations”.

Christians slain in execution-style killing.

article-ohio-0422At least eight people were killed in “execution-style” shootings in southern Ohio on Friday, authorities said. As many as four young children were found alive at multiple scenes of the shooting, officials added.

“It was a mother, her former husband, their grown children and some grandchildren, too. They all used to attend our church,” said Phil Fulton, pastor of the nearby Union Hill Community Church.

In response to the killings, Washington has announced plans for a military invasion of Ohio. President Obama says, “No civilised country can tolerate this outrage. We will be doing whatever is necessary to bring the perpetrators to justice.” The President has not ruled out the possibility of targeted drone strikes on a trailer park in Pike County.

What’s Wrong with the World? Let me remind you!

Browsing around the online news today, I came across this headline:

These three people created more wealth than 99% of the world

Well, that’s great, I thought. I wonder who these altruistic magicians are that are actually creating wealth. No doubt it’ll make the world a better place, as it trickles down to the rest of us.

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So, where do you fit in?

Turned out, however, that it was just the usual three guys – and they’re not actually creating wealth – just hogging vast mega-tankerloads of the world’s limited supply for themselves and their families:

“Warren Buffett is the third richest person in the world and is valued at over 72 billion dollars. Buffett is now worth billions and is a testament to the concept that anyone could be rich if they put their mind to it.

Carlos Slim Helu is worth over 77 billion dollars and shares most of that wealth with his family. Slim is a very private man though is rumored to be very kind. He shares his wealth and net worth with his family and makes meaningful uses of it all. Slim is a testament to the importance of keeping trustworthy family values in tow and remembering that it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re savvy enough – you can be a billionaire.

Bill Gates is currently the richest man in the world and is valued at 79.2 billion dollars.

These men show the rest of us that even with limited resources, we have what it takes to be billionaires. So go out there and take chances!”

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And guess who’s got ten times as many as the rest of the world put together?

Yep, go ahead, do it, and see where it gets you. The headline might have more truthfully read: These three graspers control more wealth than 99% of the world

Anyway, while on the subject, I thought I’d check around and see if I could confirm just how enormous the wealth gap is. Howstuffworks.com told me this:

“According to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans control 35.6 percent of the total wealth of the country. Even more incredible is that the richest 10 percent of Americans control 75 percent of the wealth, leaving only 25 percent to the other 90 percent of Americans.”

And that’s just Americans. Factor in the rest of the world and see how it pans out!

In addition to that, Inequality.org presented this nice little bunch of stats:

  • The 400 wealthiest individuals on the Forbes 400 list have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
  • In 2010, 25 of the 100 largest U.S. companies paid their CEO more than they paid in U.S. taxes. This is largely because corporations in the global 1 percent use off shore tax havens to dodge their U.S. taxes.
  • Between 1983 and 2009, over 40 percent of all wealth gains flowed to the 1 percent and 82 percent of wealth gains went to the top 5 percent. The bottom 60 percent lost wealth over this same period.
  • The world’s 1 percent, almost entirely billionaires, own $42.7 trillion dollars, more than the bottom 3 billion residents of earth.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, the United States borrowed over $1 trillion to give wealthy taxpayers with incomes over $250,000 substantial tax breaks, including the 2001 Bush era tax cuts.
  • The 99 percent has seen their national share of income decline from 91 percent in 1976 to 79 percent in 2010. The share of wealth owned by the bottom 90 percent declined from 19.1 percent in 1962 to 12.8 percent in 2009.
  • The median net worth of white households in 2009 was $113,149, over 20 times the median net worth of African American households ($5,677) and 18 times that of Hispanic households ($6,325).
  • In 2010, average CEO pay for an S&P 500 company was $10.8 million, a 27 percent increase over 2009. The gap between CEO and average U.S. worker pay is 325 to 1, up from 42 to 1 in 1980.
  • The corporate 1 percent dominates the lobbying for federal and state policies. In the last 30 years, the ranks of official lobbyists have exploded. In 1970, there were 5 registered lobbyists for every one of the 535 members of Congress. Today there are 22 lobbyists for every member.”

The UK’s Guardian, as you might expect, had a more global outlook:

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Be patient, folks – it’s trickling down

“Global inequality is growing, with half the world’s wealth now in the hands of just 1% of the population, according to a new report by Credit Suisse.

383 million adults – 8% of the population – have wealth of more than $100,000. This number includes about 34 million US dollar millionaires. About 123,800 individuals of these have more than $50 million, and nearly 45,000 have more than $100 million.

The Credit Suisse report said: “Wealth inequality has continued to increase since 2008, with the top percentile of wealth holders now owning 50.4% of all household wealth.”

At the start of 2015, Oxfam had warned that 1% of the world’s population would own more wealth than the other 99% by next year. Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, said: “The fact it has happened a year early – just weeks after world leaders agreed a global goal to reduce inequality – shows just how urgently world leaders need to tackle this problem.”

The only consolation I got from all this was that page about the three “wealth-creators” was full of ads for prostitutes and treatments for “penile dysfunction” – so it seems those guys still have their problems.

Urban Renewal in Istanbul – Tilting at windmills

Kült mkz

Former St Euphemia School and Eglise N.D. du Rosaire

Dilek and I went to a concert of classical music last night. The setting was a small but beautifully restored Roman Catholic church in the Istanbul district of Rasimpaşa. There was a chamber orchestra and a talented young pianist, Nilüfer Kıyıcılardan, playing a programme of Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart.

We arrived twenty minutes early and were fortunate to find two of the last unclaimed seats – somewhat surprising, given that the venue is not on any well-beaten social track, and the event had received little publicity. I had stumbled upon it accidentally during the week while researching for this post.

These days Istanbul resembles what I imagine New York City to have been during the late 19th and early 20th centuries – a vast construction site. Tunnels are driving under, and bridges over the Bosporus and the Gulf of Izmit; subterranean Metro lines burrow in all directions beneath the city; vast commercial and residential projects rise to the winter sky; hectares of run-down inner city blocks are giving way to new up-market apartments; and domed monumental mosques springing up to occupy landmark sites; all presided over by multitudes of arachnoid construction cranes.

1453

‘1453’ – a new conquest of Istanbul by megalomaniac developers

Not everyone is happy, of course. I wrote a piece some years ago on a conflict between local residents and guests at an art gallery opening that made international news at the time. Many of us prefer shopping in local traditional small businesses to the homogeneity of climate-controlled malls; and have questions about the wisdom of allowing the national economy to be dominated by a bloated and parasitic financial sector. Local residents whose families may have lived in a neighbourhood for generations are resentful of being pushed out by the new urban yuppie class – some of the latter even mourn the loss of traditional colour that inevitably accompanies such development. Lovers of the atmospheric decay that characterised old Istanbul in recent memory have issues with way restoration is carried out on world heritage buildings. And then there are the megalomaniac property developers who seem to ride roughshod with impunity over zoning and town-planning regulations.

Yeldeğirmeni (1)

Abdülhamit I’s windmills

Me? I’m ambivalent, I guess. I’m appalled when I look out a window on our university campus and see the abomination of the Ağaoğlu ‘1453’ development blighting what was once a forested landscape. On the other hand, I love the Marmaray Metro, and feel sorry for those who refuse to ride it for fear that the waters of the Bosporus will pour in upon them while their train is half way through. I’m a fatalist when it comes to such matters. But I want to tell you about my recent discovery – the Yeldeğirmeni neighbourhood of Kadıköy.

One thing I learned is that the neighbourhood goes by two names. Until recently it was known by its official one, Rasimpaşa, after a small mosque dedicated to a relatively minor Ottoman official who served as mayor of Istanbul for a couple of months in 1878. Tradition says that Rasim’s loving wife, Ikbal Hanim, had the mosque built on the site of an earlier ruin. Be that as it may, more picturesque, and arguably more significant is the district’s earlier history.

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Italian Valpreda Apartment Building

Tourist brochures about Istanbul often mention that Khalkedon (Kadıköy) was originally a larger city than Byzantium/Constantinople across the water. The name is translated as ‘City of the Blind’ in tribute, apparently, to the failure of its inhabitants to recognise the obvious superiority of the other site. Dating from 675 BCE, its defensive walls are believed to have extended as far as Rasimpaşa.

The Asian city’s importance waned after the foundation of Constantinople as capital of the eastern Roman Empire. Following its conquest by the Ottomans, its environs became a popular location for the city’s elite to build summer mansions on the banks of the Haydarpaşa Stream that once flowed there. There were also barracks and a training ground for imperial cavalry and infantry. The Marmaray Metro line currently terminates at a station in front of the modern Tepe Nautilus shopping mall. The station is called Ayrılık Çeşmesi, and the eponymous fountain was the gathering point for Ottoman armies departing on campaigns to the east, and caravans of pilgrims setting out for Mecca. As an interesting aside, the fountain is said to have been commissioned by Kızlarağası Gazanfer Ağa – whose title refers to his responsibility for the ladies of the imperial harem. Nice work if you can get it! In the late 18th century, Sultan Abdülhamit I had several windmills erected to supply the needs of the military and local residents – and from the Turkish word for windmill (yel değirmeni) comes the name that is supplanting the memory of that short-lived city mayor.

Synogogue

5659 in the Jewish calendar = 1898 C.E.

From the mid-19th century Rasimpaşa began to take on a more residential character. The present pattern of streets was laid out, and Istanbul’s first post office opened there. The city had always been prone to disastrous fires, and after a particularly bad one that devastated the Kuzguncuk district, Jewish families moved in and established Istanbul’s first apartment buildings. The Hemdat Israel Synagogue, one of the oldest surviving in Istanbul, entered service in 1899 after Sultan Abdülhamit II stepped in personally to moderate in a violent quarrel between the Jews and the Orthodox and Armenian communities. It seems Christians objected to the construction of a synagogue in the district. It is said that the Jewish community named the synagogue in a way that recognised their gratitude to the sultan for his assistance – the Hebrew consonants for ‘Hemdat’ can also be read as ‘Hamid’. Anyway, in the interests of natural justice, the Orthodox lot were allowed to erect their own place of worship, the church of Ayia Yeorgios, a few years later in 1906. Both buildings are still standing, though their congregations have been sadly depleted over the years.

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Simits with a touch of history

Development became more rapid in the early 20th century with the building of the Haydarpaşa train station as a key link on the Berlin-Baghdad railway line. Italian stonemasons came to work on the project, as well as German architects, engineers and builders. The edifice that currently serves as Orhangazi Primary School was also built around this time to provide education for the children of the German professionals. Among the more noteworthy apartment blocks from this time are the five-storey Italian (Valpreda), Demirciyan and Kehribarcı buildings.

Underlining the multicultural character of the district, and the tolerant attitude of the Muslim Ottoman government, Roman Catholics even managed to get a big foot in the door. A gaggle of nuns calling themselves the Oblates[1] of the Assumption established a school in the name of St Euphemia in 1895. RC education continued here until some kind of dispute took place with the Republican government in 1934. As a result, the nuns departed and the school was taken over by the Turkish Ministry of Education, eventually assuming its present role as Kemal Ataturk Anatolian High School. Next door to the school is the small (now deconsecrated) church dedicated to Our Lady of the Most Sacred Rosary, where Dilek and I were privileged to hear last night’s delightful concert.

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Mural-İst street art

A recent article in the Kadikoy Life magazine contains an interesting quote by a former resident of the district:

“The bakers, sweets and helva-sellers were Turkish; the grocers and restaurateurs, Greek; the greengrocers and chemists, Jewish; the butchers, Armenian, and the dairymen, Bulgarian. People from every religion and ethnic background lived happily together. Our neighbours to the right were Greek, the ones on the left were Turks; directly opposite were Armenians, next to them another Greek family, and on the far side, they were Jewish. Neighbourly relations were excellent; we all respected each other’s special days.”

Sadly, the tide of history brought cataclysmic events on to the world stage that destroyed the harmony of those halcyon days – waves of violent nationalism, the slaughter of the First World War, the Greek invasion of Anatolia, and the Turkish War of Liberation. The world would never be the same, and Istanbul suffered as much as anywhere.

Kamarad cafe

Cem and İnci brewing coffee for connoisseurs

I was motivated to explore the neighbourhood after visiting a café recently, run by the daughter of a friend. Trendy cafés are sprouting there like truffles in a Piedmont autumn, and Kamarad is one of the latest. İnci and Cem are catering to the true coffee connoisseur, importing beans from various sources in Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia) and South America (Honduras, Costa Rica, Columbia), roasting and grinding them on site, and offering delicious brews produced by the method of your choice: the familiar espresso machine and French press, or more esoteric techniques, chemex and V60. They are also supplying beans to other businesses nearby.

One of the more striking features of the new Kadıköy is the proliferation of enormous surrealistic outdoor murals that confront you unexpectedly as you stroll around the narrow back streets. Kadıköy Municipal Council has sponsored an annual street art festival, Mural-İst, for the last four years. Seven local and nine foreign artists have turned their talents to the enlivening of the neighbourhood, with impressive results.

The old days will never return, of course, but the new/old district of Yeldeğirmeni may be showing the way to a better future.

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[1] Oblates, it seems, are one step down in the holy orders, following less stringent rules than is usual for monastic orders.

US women not voting for Hillary Clinton to burn in Hell

Criticism of Turkey’s government in United States media often begin with the words ‘Turkey’s Islamic-rooted government . . .’

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78 year-old religious nut appeals to young women of America

So what are we to make of the report that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, speaking at a rally in support of Hillary Clinton’s nomination, threatened young American women with the fires of Hell if they failed to support that woman’s candidacy for President? Ms Albright’s actual words, apparently, were ‘Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’

Frankly, I don’t care personally who becomes President of the USA in November this year – although I wouldn’t be surprised if God decided to punish them for their Godless hypocrisy by giving them Mrs Clinton or Donald Trump.

What I find especially outrageous here, however, is a top-level Democrat invoking fundamentalist Christian theology for political purposes. Though I shouldn’t really be surprised. They all do it.

It is possible that some grass-roots AK Party supporters in Turkey have similar beliefs about what will happen to citizens who don’t support their hero Tayyip Erdoğan – but the difference is, you would never hear a cabinet minister or senior politician express such a view.

Still, Ms Albright possibly has better credentials than I do for knowing the mind of the Almighty. Her parents were originally Jews who fled Czechoslovakia in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution, converting to Roman Catholicism in 1941, perhaps disappointed that Jehovah hadn’t provided better protection. Madeleine herself subsequently transferred her loyalties to the Episcopalian church (the US version of the Church of England), again, possibly because of Papal ambivalence to the plight of European Jews. I guess you have to admire her persistence in searching for spiritual truth – but her certainty about hellfire and damnation might suggest her real sympathies lie closer to the Southern Baptists.

Left-leaning Democrats may be a little uncomfortable with Ms Albright’s financial portfolio. Wikipedia reports that she ‘is a co-investor with Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild and George Soros, in a $350 million investment vehicle called Helios Towers Africa, which intends to buy or build thousands of mobile phone towers in Africa.’ They might also remember that she is on record as having expressed a total lack of sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who died as a result of US bombing and economic sanctions.

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God save America – but I suspect He’s tired of trying

So anyway, we shouldn’t be surprised by her support for Mrs Clinton, the only First Lady to have been subpoenaed to testify before a Federal Grand Jury, during an investigation into her and Bill’s shady financial dealings. As a Senator, Hillary also supported US military action in Afghanistan in 2001, and voted in favour of George Dubya’s Iraq invasion in 2002. Demonstrating her political versatility, and probably her true political colours, she also supported the $700 billion bailout of US banks after the 2008 financial crisis.

The investigation into Madame Hillary’s use of personal email accounts when conducting official business while serving as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State is continuing – and probably it will find there is no proof that the good lady had any bad intentions.

But God is watching you, Mrs Clinton – and I really think Jesus may leave you behind when He raptures the rest of us.

Sebastian Martyrs and the Cult of Atatürk

October and November are big months in modern Turkey. Three important dates in the history of the Republic are commemorated:

  • 6 October – The liberation of Istanbul
  • 29 October – The foundation of the Republic
  • 10 November – The anniversary of the death of the founding president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

Mustafa Kemal and friends in Sivas, September 1919

I’ve been in this country long enough to have witnessed a few annual returns of these dates, and it seems to me that of late the celebrations have become somewhat muted. Possibly that’s understandable. The elitist old guard have taken a bit of a beating in recent years from the new political kid on the block, the Justice and Development Party. The AKP, to use its Turkish initials, ‘Islamic-rooted’ as the foreign press persistently tells us, has been governing the country since 2003. Despite vociferous opposition from the left, right and centre of the traditional political spectrum, the AKP has won majorities in five parliamentary elections, and succeeded in having its candidate elected president in the first general election ever held for that position.

The country’s military leaders, long-established protectors of the sanctity of the constitution (which they wrote), have been nudged back to the more conventional role of defending the state from outside threats. Middle-aged social mediaholics, prefacing their Facebook profile names with the initials TC (for Turkish Republic) are convinced that the country is plunging headlong into a dark medieval night of alcohol prohibition, judicial beheadings and compulsory black burqas for women. You can understand their despair, given their total inability to make an impact at the ballot box.

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Location of Sivas province

As for me, I’m an optimist. Foreign visitors to Turkey have long been puzzled by the seemingly idolatrous adulation accorded to statues, photographs and death masks of the nation’s founder. I, at least, have read enough about Atatürk’s achievements to sympathise with the veneration accorded him. In a nutshell, if it hadn’t been for Mustafa Kemal Pasha, no country remotely resembling the modern nation of Turkey would exist today.

I do feel, however, that the time is right for authorities to lay aside the conventional blind adoration and work towards a realistic appraisal of Atatürk the man. While this may require some acceptance of his human failings, it will, I am convinced, result in a more profound appreciation of the mental and moral strength required to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against his people in those days.

I worked in a school for some years whose commitment to secular Kemalism would rank among the more dedicated. From the day they entered our doors, pupils were drilled in the minutest details of the great man’s life, the colour of his eyes (piercing blue), the names of his father, mother  and sister (Ali Rıza, Zübeyde and Makbule respectively), the colour of the family home in Salonika (pink); and encouraged to shed tears of grief at 9.05 am every 10th of November. By the time they reached high school, it was difficult to get them to attend school ceremonies on those most sacred days in the Republican calendar. Most of them had had enough. Which struck me as sad.

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

British troops in Karaköy, Istanbul, 1919

Another thing that struck me as sad – and somewhat surprising in view of the school’s dedication to the lore of secular republicanism, was how many of my students thought that the Liberation of Istanbul had something to do with the conquest of Byzantine Constantinople by the 15th century Sultan, Mehmet II. Very few seemed to be aware that, after leading the army of National Salvation to victory against the invading Greeks, and driving them out of Izmir, Mustafa Kemal turned his troops northwards towards Istanbul, faced down the threat of war with the mighty British Empire, and watched the invaders leave as they had come, without firing a shot. The disgrace to Great Britain actually led to the collapse of David Lloyd George’s government and Winston Churchill’s (temporary) exile to the political wilderness. Whether Kemal Pasha’s eyes were blue, brown or bloodshot red, you’d think that would be something worth telling kids about.

29 October was the date in 1923 when the newly established parliament of Turkey proclaimed the foundation of the Republic. It has enormous symbolic importance, and is celebrated annually as Turkey’s equivalent of America’s 4th, and France’s 14th of July. As an actual historical event, however, the proclamation was a formal acknowledgement of a situation that had already existed for over three years. The nation’s Republican parliament (Millet Meclisi) had been inaugurated on 23 April 1920, in the new capital city of Ankara. Nevertheless, Turkey without Istanbul would be inconceivable, and one might argue, therefore, that winning that city back from the armies of occupation was an event of unparalleled significance.

Undoubtedly the fledgling Republic of Turkey suffered a great loss when its first President passed away on 10 November 1938. On the other hand, they were lucky to get him at all. Few nations in the world have been blessed with a leader whose multi-faceted genius encompassed military victories against fearsome odds, constitutional revolution, and statesmanship on the international stage. And of course, no one lives forever. Have you ever paused to consider what might have happened to Christianity if Jesus Christ had been allowed to see out his three score years and ten, instead of being martyred in the prime of life at the age of 33? Atatürk made it to 57, and it could be argued that his best years were behind him. How would he have dealt with the traumas of the Second World War, and pressure to give his people the vote? Possibly it’s for the best that we didn’t have to find out.

Sivas's famous kangal dog

Sivas’s famous kangal dog

It does seem to me though, that the outpourings of grief on anniversaries of his death, sincere though they may be, militate against a genuine appreciation of Atatürk’s outstanding achievements. Certainly he lives on in true Turkish hearts, and in that sense, is not actually dead – but the reality is that he’s not coming back. The Republic needs to move on, and to do that, 10 November provides an opportunity to give thanks for his life, and to begin evaluating, with a vision unclouded by tears of mourning, exactly what relevance his legacy has for Turkey in the 21st century.

Strange to say, my inspiration for this post did not actually come from any of those dates listed above. Last week there was a festival held in our new park by the seaside at Maltepe. Entitled ‘Sivas Günleri’, it was a celebration of the cultural identity of a region in central Anatolia east of Ankara. Sivas, its citizens driving cars whose number plates are prefixed with ‘58’, is, in area, the second-largest of Turkey’s 81 provinces, and one of the most sparsely populated.

It was a very Turkish festival. Two large marquees had been erected in the vast public square of the new park. The larger of the two housed displays of Sivas’s various districts, displaying local handcrafts and traditional costumes, and serving tea and snacks to mustachioed middle-aged and elderly gentlemen, one assumes hailing from those parts. There was also a central auditorium with a stage from which various minor dignitaries were holding forth about whatever these kind of guys like to hold forth about – with a rather sparse audience exhibiting scant interest in what they had to say.

Help yourself

Mouth-watering Sivas cuisine

The adjacent marquee held more appeal, not only for me, but for the crowds in attendance. It contained a number of restaurants serving Sivas cuisine, and stalls purveying local produce: honey, fresh and dried fruit and vegetables, and a marvellous variety of peculiarly Turkish delicacies. I bought a doll in traditional costume for my granddaughter, Kiri, and a packet of sweets made from hazel nut paste, which were a taste sensation! Then, since it was around lunchtime, and my salivary glands were in a state of high excitement, I allowed myself to be enticed by the sight of lamb carcasses rotating on spits over hot coals, and sat down to a meal of sırık kebab. Words cannot describe . . .

But what has this got to do with the Turkish Republic and its revered founder, I hear you ask. Well, Sivas, in contrast to its current relative insignificance, has a very colourful history. My sources tell me there was a Hittite settlement in the area as early as 2,600 BCE, though little is known about the town until the Roman general and political luminary, Pompey, founded the city he named Megalopolis, which later became Sebaste. You may be interested to learn, as I was, that the name ‘Sebastian’ derives from the Latin adjective meaning a citizen of that city.

Apparently Sebaste was quite a hive of early Christianity, back in the days when the Roman Empire was trying to stamp it out – and consequently is remembered for a number of martyrs, by churches that go in for that sort of thing. One particularly memorable event involved forty soldiers back in the 4th century who, to demonstrate the error of their ways, were exposed naked overnight on a frozen lake in the middle of winter. Well, nights can get pretty chilly out there on the Anatolian steppe at an altitude of around 1,500 metres, and there weren’t many signs of life the next morning; but to make certain, local authorities had the bodies burned and the ashes cast into a nearby river.

Sivas's 4th century 40 martyrs

Sivas’s 4th century 40 martyrs

Continuing the tradition of misfortune, Sebaste’s location at the eastern reaches of the Byzantine Empire exposed it to the earliest depredations of Turkic invaders in the 11th century. By the 12th century it had become Turkish to the extent that it served as one of the capitals of the Seljuk Empire, and in 1408, was incorporated into the expanding Ottoman dominions. In spite of Muslim conquest, however, Armenian and Orthodox Christian communities survived, with their churches, into the 20th century.

The Republican connection dates from September 1919. British and French armies had occupied the Ottoman capital Istanbul at the end of the First World War, and their governments began the process of dismembering the empire according to plans they had been making in secret for some years. The last straw for Turkish patriots was when a Greek army, sponsored by the victorious allies, landed in Izmir, intent on re-claiming their once extensive Byzantine territories.

There is some debate about the circumstances surrounding Mustafa Kemal’s departure from Istanbul and arrival in the Black Sea port of Samsun on 19 May 1919. Nevertheless, that date is recognised in modern Turkey as the beginning of the War of Liberation (Kurtuluş Savaşı). He wasn’t alone, of course, but it was undoubtedly Kemal Pasha’s charisma that inspired his war-weary people to one further struggle. Two congresses were held, in Erzurum and Sivas, laying the groundwork for the forthcoming conflict, and these two cities are recognised as crucial in the foundation of the Republic.

Sivas has two other claims to fame. One is its status as the home of the kangal, a large breed of dog renowned as a guardian of livestock and villagers against wolves, bears and jackals.

The other, less honourable, is a shameful event that took place on 2 July, 1993. On that date, the city was the venue for a cultural festival attended by a gathering of artists, writers and intellectuals, many of whom were Alevi. A mob of religious extremists set fire to the Madımak Hotel where many of the visitors were staying, resulting in 35 deaths.

Stop the killing - there are better things in life

Stop the killing – there are better things in life

Again there is some debate about the reasons for the attack. Some say it was targeting a gentleman by the name of Aziz Nesrin, who had angered orthodox Sunni Muslims by translating Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, into Turkish. Others say it was more generally directed at the Alevi community as a whole. It was asserted at the time that local police stood by and allowed the arsonists to do their work unmolested. That’s entirely possible – although the government of the day did seem to do its best to bring perpetrators to justice.

Well, the 1990s are not so long ago, when you think about it. Those were bad times in Turkey, as opponents of the present government should not forget. The history of Sivas has a lot to teach us, if we choose to listen.

Bliar Bliar Pants on Fire

Tony Blair 'could face war crimes charges' over Iraq War_1‘Tony Blair apologises over Iraq War’, read the headline. What war was that? I remember an unjustified invasion and large-scale destruction of a non-threatening country by the mighty United States and its poodle ally led by Brit Tony Blah. Turned out that was the one they were talking about.

Well, that quibble aside, did the guy actually apologise? Depends how you look at it. In an interview with CNN, the former war-monger-turned Roman Catholic is quoted as saying:

“I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong.” 

“I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”

Asked by host Fareed Zakaria if the Iraq War was “the principal cause” of the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), he was reported to have conceded: “I think there are elements of truth in that.”

BLAIR_dead_iraqis360_445647073So, there you have it. Twelve years on, one of the prime perpetrators of that dreadful outrage against humanity admits that the whole business was a f**k-up . . . except that he clings to the straw of belief that Saddam Hussein deserved to go.

Apart from that, how do understand those weasel words? ‘I apologise for the fact that (unspecified) underlings gave me incorrect information which I, in my innocence, accepted without question.’ He neglects to mention that the invasion was launched in spite of United Nations’ repeated assurances that they could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Whatever happened to ‘The buck stops here’? If not at the Prime Minister’s desk, then where?

And then, not only did we go to war on the basis of ‘wrong intelligence’, we also made mistakes in planning, including failure to seriously consider what would happen after Saddam was ‘removed’. For which I apologise!!!

And what, I wonder, are the ‘elements of truth’ in the proposition that the Iraq war/invasion was ‘the principal cause’ of the rise of ISIS? If you object to the word ‘principal’ here, Tone, why don’t you say so?

tony-blair-and-margaret-thatcher

See, that was your big mistake. As a LABOUR PM I could get away with anything 🙂

So what are the consequences for a leader of the free world who led his country into a war more than 5,000 km from its own shores on the basis of faulty intelligence? A war which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, shattered that country’s infra-structure, and created fertile ground for the growth of ISIS – a mysterious military force now being offered as excuse for further invasion of the region?

According to a report in the UK’s Telegraph, Tony Blair’s fortune now stands at ‘a staggering £60 million’, which includes ‘a property empire covering some ten homes across England and worth in excess of £25 million’.

Not surprisingly, he has plenty of unscrupulous followers who are prepared to pay the former Labour Party prime minister as much as £200,000 for a single speaking engagement in the hopes of learning the secret of his success.

Earlier this year, Britain’s Independent reported that ‘Blair pulled out of addressing The World Hunger Forum in Stockholm because his £330k price tag for turning up and talking just couldn’t be met.’ The World Hunger Forum!!

I couldn’t find more recent figures to confirm if he’s still getting it, but five years after stepping down as PM, in 2012, and in spite of his personal wealth, Blair was receiving income and expenses from the British tax-payer to the tune of £435,000 a year.

Clearly none of the foregoing counts as sin in the Roman Catholic Church, who accepted Blair into its fold in 2007. Apparently Blair saw common ground ‘in seeking this path of truth, lit by God’s love and paved by God’s grace’ – and no lightning bolt from the blue struck him dead on the spot!

That must be one of the most convincing arguments I’ve heard in support of atheism for a long time. Richard Dorkins, are you listening?