The Non-people – Let’s say that they are dead

I wrote this back in 2003. I wasn’t writing a blog in those days, so it didn’t get much circulation. I’m posting it now in response to three items that crossed my screen this morning:

  • A reply to my post about Turkey’s human rights record – expressing deep sadness and frustration at the writer’s powerlessness in the face of US aggression and lies;
  • A clip my sister sent me with a Scottish woman singing/reciting a beautiful song/poem about Donald Trump;
  • Another reply from a woman who lost a child to the injustices of the US health system.

“It doesn’t snow that often in Istanbul, so it’s a novelty, especially for an ex-pat Aucklander. I love looking out of the window at the flying flakes, the trees with their branches laden and bent, the lawn white, and the Bosphorus beyond looking infinite, the Asian shore lost in mist.

When I got up this morning, the world was white, and the house was cold. My heating hadn’t come on. I had to go downstairs and bleed some air out of the heat pump. Now I’m comfortable behind double-glazed windows, radiators warming every room, enjoying the framed pictures on every wall, unreal, like old greeting cards of northern winters celebrating a southern Christmas.

I had to go out. My weekend morning routine is a leisurely breakfast with plenty of freshly brewed coffee, and it’s not complete without a warm-from-the-oven baguette from the bakery in Sarıyer, and a local paper. It’s ok though – once you don overcoat, scarf, gloves, woollen beanie, boots . . . snow adds a new dimension to the short walk to the village. Wish I’d got up earlier, though. It’s less picturesque after a few hours of traffic have churned the virginal white to brown slush.

No sign of my local charities today. There’s an old chap with a set of scales who bases himself all day on the esplanade near the supermarket. Too proud to simply beg, he accepts offerings from passers-by in return for reading their weight with doubtful accuracy. I always make a show of putting down my shopping bags, and getting him to read the kilos, in return for which I slip him one Turkish Lira. He shakes my hand and thanks me effusively. But I haven’t seen him for a few weeks. Wonder where he goes in winter?

Outside the bakery sits a woman in late middle-age. She makes little nest for herself with flattened cardboard cartons. On a good day, she may score a wooden fruit box from the grocer across the road. “Allah razi olsun,” she says, in return for my greeting and my lira; “God bless you.” But she wasn’t there today either. Too cold, I suppose.

So I got home, with my loaf and my ‘Milliyet’. The house felt marvellously warm as the radiators began to do their job. I fiddled around in the kitchen preparing a plate of olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, scrambled egg . . . a glass of fresh orange juice (with coffee to follow), then settled down with newspaper spread out on the table.

Arab childI’d noticed, as soon as I took it from the newsagent that this morning’s paper looked different. Half of the front page was filled with the photograph of a doe-eyed Arab girl, about five years old, hair covered with a black embroidered headscarf, but her face open and innocent. “Ölü çocukların sessiz çığlıkları” read the restrained headline – little more than a caption, in fact: “The silent cries of the dead children.” It’s the title of a brief poem printed beside the photo:

‘Shall it be said of them that they are dead

Their hearts have long since stopped

Shall it be said of them that they are dead

The pupils of their eyes show no sign of life

Then let’s say they are dead

Like mighty ships at anchor

In great harbours

No sign of life in the pupils of their eyes

Shall it be said of them that they are dead?’

‘When the photograph of this little girl arrived at the reporters’ department of ‘Milliyet’ yesterday afternoon we were in a meeting.

It was taken in Baghdad yesterday during Friday prayers by Reuters correspondent Shuayib Salem . . .

The little girl’s name was not attached. Maybe it’s Ayshe, Fatma perhaps, or Emine . . . No one knows her name; in my opinion, no one wants to know.

Because, for the movers and shakers sitting in warm rooms in the great capitals of the world, whose names we read in newspapers, whose faces we see on television, it’s necessary that she should have no name, no identity. It’s necessary that she should remain a statistic . . .

In that way, it’s easier to accept the suffering . . .’

That was the front page. I don’t usually read every word – my Turkish is still a bit slow. I brewed my coffee and savoured the taste and the aroma as I flipped through the rest of the paper: movie reviews, apartments to rent, cartoons, football . . . On page 16, news that eighty thousand Turkish troops will be going to Iraq[1], along with fifty thousand from the US; three hundred US aircraft will be based on Turkish soil.

And it occurred to me that I don’t know the name of the old chap with the scales; nor the woman outside the bakery in her cardboard nest – the man and woman who weren’t there. For sure it’s easier that way.”


[1] In the end, those Turkish troops weren’t sent.


French MPs Can’t Rule on Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meskhetian Turks commemorate 72 years of exile

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

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


Protest in front of the White House

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

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

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


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.

‘The War I Experienced’ – A Palestinian teenager’s vivid memory

My university classes are quite cosmopolitan these days. The Ottoman Empire was characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, but its successor, the modern Republic of Turkey became, at least ostensibly, more homogeneous. In recent years, however, migrants, students and refugees from Middle Eastern neighbours and some African countries have been altering the ethnic mix. My classes include young people from Libya, Jordan, Malta, Syria and Iran.

One young man, Yaser, a recent arrival from Palestine, wrote this short piece when asked to share a vivid memory. I want to share it with you:

palestine-rubble_1‘It was about two years ago. I was living in Gaza when the war came. I was 15 years old and the war started with twenty killings by the Israeli ‘terrorist’ army. I was very angry about that and afraid at the same time – not for myself but for my family and the people I love.  

‘The war lasted three months. One day I was watching a movie with my family to forget the war a little bit. While we were watching the movie outside in the garden, Israeli planes bombed the house of a family near ours. They fired rockets. I remember the sound of it, it was so loud! I couldn’t hear anything else at that time. I ran to help my mom and my little brothers go into the house. There were rocks flying and people crying for their children. There was a lot of dust and flames reaching up to the sky; smoke and the smell of burning people. It was really a terrifying day.  

‘We lived our lives like we would die tomorrow. One day we will free Palestine. I feel so angry about the things that happened in my country. They killed peaceful people, children and old people – and the Israelis say we are the terrorists! Can someone be a terrorist in his own country?  

‘When the war ended after three months there were 2,500 killed by Israel’s army, and more than 10,000 injured.’


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?


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?

The 1955 Istanbul Riots – Democracy in the good old days

One of the big changes I’ve noticed during my time in Turkey is the freedom that now exists to speak about topics that were once taboo. The government may not have apologised for whatever happened to the Armenians back in 1915; Kurdish citizens may not be 100% happy with their lot; Alevis have some reservations about the government’s good intentions – but at least the issues are open for discussion, without which no solution could ever be found.

Aftermath of the 1955 Istanbul riots

Aftermath of the 1955 Istanbul riots

Obviously complex situations that have developed over centuries of history are not going to be unravelled overnight. Syria’s bloody civil war has been going on for four years with no peaceful end in sight. The Basque minority in Spain, or at least a significant part of it, seem keen on establishing an independent state: Russia’s interests in Ukraine, Crimea and the Caucasus require constant attention and continue to threaten violence. New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people pose ongoing political dilemmas. Racial tensions in the United States seem always close to eruption – reducing their own native population to a state of virtual invisibility. Even their white citizens don’t seem altogether happy – if the frequent mass shootings of innocent children in schools is any indication.

So I am still hopeful that, in spite of renewed violence in the southeast of Turkey, a peaceful solution here is not beyond the bounds of possibility. From my own experience in New Zealand, I know that there are extremists among the Maori people who will not be happy until all descendants of the invading white race have returned to Scotland, or wherever we came from. There are others who want to assimilate into the globalised world and have no wish to identify with the traditional language and culture; and between these two polar opposites there is a spectrum of opinion such that generalising about the wishes of the native people as a whole is impossible. I suspect the same is true of Kurds in Turkey. Complicating these situations everywhere is the existence of provocateurs inciting the gullible to violence to advance their own aspirations to power, or out of mere cussedness.

Illustrating both the new spirit of openness in Turkey, and the difficulty or arriving at the truth of historical events, is an anniversary that attracted some media attention earlier this month. The 6th and 7th of September 2015 marked the passing of 60 years since a tragic event known variously as the Istanbul Riots, the Istanbul Pogrom or Septemvriana.

Scenes of destruction the day after

Scenes of destruction the day after

Briefly, what happened was that mobs of Turks went on a rampage of violence lasting for 9 hours on the night of 6 September 1955. In the course of the violence, more than four thousand houses, one thousand workplaces, 73 churches, one synagogue, 26 schools and 5,000 other premises were attacked. Most of these places belonged to non-Muslim citizens, the majority of them of the Greek Orthodox religion. Fifteen people died, hundreds were injured including, it was claimed, some men forcibly circumcised and many women raped. Damage was estimated at around $US 54 million (480 million in today’s dollars). Eyewitnesses claimed that police not only failed to intervene to prevent the rampage, in some cases they actively encouraged the rioters. Few individuals were ever brought to justice for offences committed, and the government of the day reneged on promises to compensate victims. A state of emergency lasting for six months was declared and the National Assembly temporarily closed down. In the aftermath of the riots there was increased emigration of religious minority groups from Turkey.

Of course there is some variation in actual figures depending on which source you look at, but no apparent denial that the event actually took place. What surprised me was that this year was the first time I had seen any reference to the riots in any Turkish newspaper. Well, maybe one might say a diamond jubilee makes an event more newsworthy – but it seems to me that a lid had been lifted off a pot that had been well covered in this country for more than half a century. This feeling was borne out by the protestations of ignorance that met informal inquiries I made of Turkish friends and colleagues. The event doesn’t seem to have warranted much attention in school history courses.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of information to be found online. A more recent and related event I should have been aware of but wasn’t, was the organised disruption of a photographic exhibition held in Istanbul to mark the 50th anniversary of the riots in 2005. The photographs had been in the possession of the military prosecutor at the time, who entrusted them to the Turkish Historical Society with instructions to exhibit them 25 years after his death! A clear indication that powerful forces might not want them to see the light of day. Sure enough, a mob of militant nationalists raided the venue chanting slogans and damaged many of the photographs. Interestingly, two of the instigators were later taken into custody in the course of the Ergenekon investigation which dealt with an alleged plot to overthrow the democratically elected government. One of them was an ultra-nationalist lawyer ‘famous for filing complaints against more than forty Turkish journalists and authors’, among them, Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk.

Also interesting is that the government of Turkey is generally assumed by foreign commentators to be pursuing prosecutions against writers under Section 301 of the country’s penal code. While it is true that this law was enacted by the present government, it is also true that it replaced an earlier, more draconian Section 8 of the Anti-Terror law; that article 301 was subsequently amended; most of the prosecutions have been brought by private citizens (particularly the above-mentioned lawyer) and, according to Wikipedia, most prosecutions resulted in acquittal.

The Wikipedia entry goes on to suggest that the ‘nationalist old-guard’ in Turkey have been making deliberate use of article 301, contrary to the spirit of the legislation – and that would seem to be borne out by the fact that the only actual conviction they have found was when two sons of murdered journalist Hrant Dink were given one-year suspended sentences ‘for printing Dink’s words that the killings of Armenians in 1915 was a genocide’. Certainly, you have to be careful about that one in Turkey.

PM Adnan Menderes on the cover of Time - and the background is interesting

PM Adnan Menderes on the cover of Time – and the background is interesting

Well, I read and hear a lot of criticism by opponents of the present government, local and foreign, that democracy no longer exists in Turkey, and the county is becoming a dictatorship. So I would like to summarise briefly for you what I have been reading about those unpleasant events back in September 1955. Most of the articles I read more or less corroborate the following statement I am quoting from an article by Dilek Güven in the European Journal of Turkish Studies: ‘The events of 6/7 September were planned by the Democratic Party (DP) government of the period, and were accomplished with the participation of the Secret Service, the DP’s local administrations and organisations guided by the state such as student unions, youth associations, syndicates and the “Association of Turkish Cyprus” (KTC).’

One of the articles I found, published by the International Association of Genocide Scholars, claimed that ‘The Istanbul pogrom was a phase in the Ottoman/Turkish policy of eliminating Greek communities from their 3,000 year-old homelands in Asia Minor, Thrace, the Aegean and Constantinople itself.’ Well, I don’t want to go down that road. I’ve looked at this issue before, and I have to tell you, I don’t have much respect for the academic objectivity of genocide scholars as a class.

A more objective piece appeared in a journal of the arts, Red Thread. Discussing the attack on the exhibition referred to above, the author writes that ‘people involved in the organization and execution of the incidents of September 6-7 included the then-president Celal Bayar, prime minister Adnan Menderes and other members of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), secret service operatives, and members of KTC, student organizations and labour unions instructed by governmental and state actors. In the trials held in İstanbul, no members of the government or the secret service were prosecuted in relation to the attacks, and KTC members suspected of involvement were acquitted. However, the Yassıada Tribunals, held after the 1960 military coup, convicted Bayar, Menderes and Foreign Affairs Minister Zorlu of instigating the events, in addition to other crimes.’

Brits take over Cyprus from the Ottomans, 1878

Brits take over Cyprus from the Ottomans, 1878

This last reference to the 1960 military coup interested me because I had been feeling sorry for PM Menderes, executed by hanging after being convicted by those tribunals. The unfortunate man was subsequently vindicated to the extent that at least one major airport in Turkey was named after him. Now I’m wondering if the soldiers were right in calling him to account. Nevertheless, overthrowing of democratically elected governments by force is not generally considered the done thing in civilized societies, and hanging is a rather final solution when the crime may be open to some debate.

Dilek Güven, author of a book on the subject, makes an interesting case for linking the 1955 riots to the Cyprus issue. In 1955 the island was part of the British Empire and a key location for military bases in the eastern Mediterranean to protect the Suez Canal, the route to India and Middle East oil. In that year EOKA was founded, an organization of Greek Cypriots aiming to achieve union with mainland Greece through armed struggle. Other sources agree that the British adopted their normal policy of ‘divide and rule’ and they encouraged Britons and others in Cyprus and elsewhere to stir up Turks in order to combat and neutralize Greek agitation.

The trigger for the actual violence seems to have been a news article widely circulated in Turkey that Greeks had bombed the house in Thessaloniki where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, revered founder of the Republic of Turkey was born. It subsequently turned out that a bomb had been set off by a staff member of the Turkish Consulate, but the actual house suffered no damage. Nevertheless, the spark was sufficient to ignite the fuel that had already been prepared.

To what extent were British agents involved in the plot? Who can say? The Wikipedia entry on the Istanbul pogrom insists that ‘The riots were orchestrated by the Tactical Mobilization Group, the seat of Operation Gladio’s Turkish branch; the Counter-Guerrilla, and National Security Service, the precursor of today’s National Intelligence Organization’. This in turn suggests the involvement of the United States government and the CIA, since they are considered to have been behind the Gladio stay-behind operations throughout Western Europe.

Gladio - NATO's secret armies

Gladio – NATO’s secret armies

You ask, why would they? The purpose of the Gladio operation was to prevent the spread of Soviet-led communism in Western Europe during the Cold War years. Its activities were directed at left wing political parties and organisations, and one of its methods was carrying out acts of terrorism (false flag attacks) which were then blamed on communists, thereby stirring up public fear and hatred, and justifying arrests and suppression. Coincidentally, the first response of the Menderes government to the riots was to blame communists. Interestingly, two later Turkish prime ministers, Bülent Ecevit and Turgut Ozal, publicly acknowledged the existence of Gadio, and both narrowly survived assassination attempts.

Once again, how can we know the truth? Such claims are difficult to substantiate, since, if they are true, the perpetrators are, by definition, professionals, expert at covering their tracks. I’m just happy that it is now possible to discuss issues like this in today’s Turkey. I suspect the motives of anyone who claims that this country was more democratic in the past; and I take comfort that national military forces seem to be more occupied these days in preserving Turkey’s security against outside threats than in overthrowing elected governments and silencing popular dissent.


An interesting blog on the subject can be found here