Islam in Albania

Albania is a very interesting nation, and, like Turkey, one that has tended to get a bad press in the media of wealthier countries. I was lucky enough to visit and be shown around by locals in 2010, and I haven’t forgotten the friendly people, the warm hospitality, the spectacular nature and the surprisingly (for me) modern lifestyle in the three cities I had a brief look at.

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Tirana sits on the slopes of Mt Dajtı

I have met two young Albanians in Turkey, both of them impressively multilingual, broad-minded, outward-looking citizens of the world. I asked one of them, Dritan, for his thoughts on the practice of Islam in his homeland – and I’d like to share his response:

Guest post

Muslim Albanians have always tended to be more liberal and relaxed in following Islam. Generally speaking, Albanians tend to emphasize more their ethnicity; something they take more seriously than their religion. 

Muslims in Albania are mostly either Sunni (Hanafi) or Sufi (Bektashi). Bektashism is viewed as a different type of Islam – some say a branch of Shia Islam, some say Sufi, some say a unique brand of Albanian Sufism. 

Most Albanian Muslims are quite secular in their outlook. They are not fundamentalist in religion, usually being more nationalist than religious. Albanians are predominantly Muslim (60%) but with a Christian (Catholic and Orthodox) presence as well, although religion was never a dividing factor for Albanians.

Bektashis seem to be more patriarchal and loyal to their Sheikhs. Even in their Tekke (meeting place) drinking alcohol is common, something which is prohibited in Islam.

In short, Islam in Albania is more cultural than religious, although Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia are slightly different. The Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans and occupied it for half a millennium. They managed to convert most Albanians to Islam, though all the other nations in the area remained Christian. The reason for this remains unclear. What is agreed is that the conversion primarily occurred late in the period of Ottoman rule: Catholic Albanians mostly converted in the 17th century, and Orthodox Albanians mostly followed in the following century.

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Mosaic mural in Skanderbeg Square, Tirana

An important characteristic of Albanians is that they are the only nation in the Balkans who managed to have a national identity transcending religion, which means that the term “Albanian” covers all Albanians of Muslim, Orthodox or Catholic faiths.

This is not the case in other countries in the region, and differs from the traditional citizenship system in the Ottoman Empire. Officially in the empire there was not a system based on ethnicity as was the case in almost all of Europe. Instead, religion was the determining factor for identity (ethnic separation is forbidden by Islam) For example, the term “Turkish” was not used. All Muslims of the empire, independent of their ethnicity or native language, were classified according to their religion. The term “Turk” was not commonly used, but even if it was, it was synonymous with Muslim.

The same applied for Christians. All followers of the Greek Orthodox Church, irrespective of whether they were Greek, Armenian, Bulgarian, Slavic or even Turkish, were classified officially as “Greeks”.

From this tradition, the national identities of modern Balkan states developed in parallel with their religious identities.

Muslim Bulgarians were not called (or accepted as) Bulgarians, but Pomaks. Muslim Slavs were not called Serbians (which only referred to Orthodox Slavs), but only Muslims (and later Bosniacs). Muslim Greeks were not called (or accepted as) Greeks, and these in massive numbers were exported to Turkey after the population exchange between the two states in the 1920s.

During and after the Balkan Wars, all Muslims of the region, irrespective of their ethnic identities, were seen as targets, and most of these were killed or forced to immigrate to Turkey. Out of millions of immigrants to Turkey, a small minority spoke Turkish. The remaining Muslim populations in the Balkans are very small in number.

Albania managed to transfer from a religious identity into a national identity, which no other nation in the region was able to do. Only Tito’s Yugoslavia managed to keep such an identity for some time, by calling people of the same ethnic background Yugoslavians instead of Serbian, Croatian or Bosniac, in accordance with their religions. But this ended with the fall of Yugoslavia and the tragic ethnic disasters that followed.

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Statue of Scanderbeg beside the Albanian flag

The conversion process in Albania lasted for hundreds of years. After the death of Scanderbeg, charismatic leader of Albanian resistance, Albanian lands came totally under Ottoman rule. Probably at first, in some parts of the country, force was used to convert people to Islam.

Another major reason for conversion to Islam was a way of saving their ethnicity, since they were surrounded by Slavs. Many orthodox Albanians in present-day Macedonia, Greece or Serbia lost their ethnic identity while Albanian Muslims didn’t. Nowadays there are many cases of people identifying themselves as Albanians even though they don’t speak their mother tongue.

Another reason for conversion was the advantages offered to Muslims under Ottoman rule, such as: tax exemptions, and better opportunities for a military or political career. According to historic sources there were about 48 Albanian Grand Viziers during the years of the Empire.

Before the arrival of the Turks, a tiny percentage of Albanians did embrace Islam through traders bringing in the religion. There are a few mosques that exist in Albanian lands that have a plaque on them declaring that they are NOT Ottoman-era mosques but rather from an era that preceded them. Furthermore, it is true the Turks singled out Albanians more than other nationalities because of their ruggedness and warrior-like culture and honour as well as the loyalty that is heavily ingrained in their culture. 

However, those are not the only reasons for their becoming Muslim. Many little boys kidnapped by the Ottomans were forced to become Muslim after they were stolen from their families. They were raised to become soldiers then sent back to fight their own people, or sent out to conquer other countries as well. Although the exact reason is not known for the majority becoming Muslim, we can guess at a few perhaps. The main one may have to do with being in harmony with the powers-that-be and adopting their way of life so that they might prosper with land, titles of nobility, and be accepted.

By the late 18th century, the Balkans were at a crossroads. The menacing Slavs, of course, were in ascendancy, first under Austria-Hungary, and much later, under “Yugoslavia”. The Albanians were reluctant to join them, a wise decision, given late 20th century struggles between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats.

To the south lay the Orthodox Greeks who would free themselves from the Turks at the beginning of the 19th century, with whom the “Albanians” could not make common cause. (The Greeks were pushing north, threatening to encroach on Albanian territory). Given the 18th century rise of both Russia and Austria-Hungary, even the Slavs that remained under Turkish rule (e.g. Bulgarians) could look forward to eventual “liberation.”

The Albanians decided that their best bet was to remain with the Ottoman Empire. Having come to this conclusion as a group, it made sense for many of them to convert to Islam to reduce their taxes, and to enjoy other privileges available to practitioners of the dominant faith.

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Boundaries of “Ethnic” Albania. Q: What do Albanians call “Albania”?

This paid off in the 1870’s when the Albanians formed the Albanian Defense League (this is a translation) against its Christian neighbours, with the initial approval of the Turks. Early in the 20th century, the Turks withdrew this approval, but by 1912, the Albanians were ready to declare independence, given the impending collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This met with the support and approval of the Great Powers, who wanted to keep the coastal country away from the expansionist but land-locked Serbia.

Albanians are predominantly Muslim (85%). In Kosovo and Macedonia, Albanians practice Islam more than Muslims in Albania mainly because of the bloody history against Orthodox enemy (Serbia). They were stating their religion proudly against the enemy. In Albania, there are many Muslims that they truly don’t know anything about Islam. Some of them have an identity problem: “Why we are Muslim’’?

Albanian Catholics seem to be not religious at all – but the most common thing they share with Muslims is nationalism. Muslims and Catholics are nationalist more than religious, and neither of them curses the other.

Orthodox Albanians are different story. They are quietly religious, not nationalist at all. Since they share the same religion with enemy neighbours, sometimes there are prejudices against them. Mostly the attitude of the Autochephalic Church of Albania against Serbs and Greeks makes them out of nationalism. So, in the whole Albanian community, Orthodox Albanians seem to be little pressured and are sometimes called Greeks.

Albania was strictly atheist under the Stalinist regime that was in place during the second half of the 20th century. When communism collapsed, overseas Islamic charities came, largely from the Arab peninsula and north-eastern Africa, to assist the Muslim community.

These foreign Islamic groups were the main financial backers for the resurgent MCA, the official organisation that runs Islamic affairs in the country. Albania’s Islamic community had been starved of funds and was poorly organised, as public worship had been outlawed under communism.

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1) Well documented article:

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/albanian-muslims-grapple-with-religious-identity

2) Interesting Article:

https://www.equaltimes.org/is-albania-the-last-beacon-of?lang=en#.WifBxVWnF6t

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Quotes we all need to read!

Image: http://www.izquotes.com {Hat Tip to Information Clearinghouse} The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles. Mohandas K. Gandhi: “The person that loses their conscience has nothing left worth keeping.” Izaak Walton: “Every outcry against the oppression of some […]

via Even More Quotes #9 — An Outsider’s Sojourn II (The Journey Continues)

Learn another language, become another person

There is an interesting Turkish saying: “One language, one person; two languages, two people.”

I think it’s true. I spend a lot of time speaking Turkish, and I’ve absorbed a host of common everyday phrases that oil the machinery of social intercourse in this country.

There’s the phrase you say to your fellow diners when you sit down to a meal, and when you rise from the table;

Tayyip from God

Follower of a 21st century prophet

There’s one you address to someone who’s been to the hairdresser, or is emerging squeaky clean from a bath or shower;

There’s a friendly wish you express when you enter an office or other workplace where others are working; a standard expression of condolence to people who have lost a loved one; an utterance of admiration for the beauty or handsomeness of a new baby; a polite phrase that passes responsibility for future uncertainty to the Almighty . . .

In Turkish, you need never be at a loss for the right phrase to employ in one of the many human interactions that transcend cultural boundaries – but which tax our creative conversational powers in English-speaking countries. When I go back to New Zealand I sometimes find myself tongue-tied, with a Turkish phrase dying on my lips.

And then there is the reverse situation. Turkish people are generally sociable, and especially keen to interrogate a new acquaintance. Questions like, “How old are you?” and “How much is your salary?” tend to crop up rather earlier in a relationship than we Westerners are accustomed to. I used to struggle with the well-meaning inquiry, “Why did you come to Turkey?” In fact, it’s a rather long story, as you can imagine – and not one I am ready to share with everyone on short acquaintance.

Recently I’ve come up with a brief formula that seems to work. “It was fate,” I say. “God took me by the hand and led me here.” In New Zealand, such an answer uttered with straight face would probably be considered an indication of borderline insanity. In Turkey, my new friend will very likely nod wisely and consider the matter satisfactorily explained.

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In former times, a long white beard seems to have been a key indicator of prophet-hood – but times change

So I wasn’t at all surprised when I read in this morning’s newspaper that the chairperson of a local women’s branch of the AK Party in Ankara had said that Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was sent by God. In fact, what she actually said (translating from the Turkish, of course) was something like, “Our president is a person so divine, he is a human being sent by Allah and a hope for the global Muslim community. Is there any way other than to follow him, to serve him on his path?”

Now, ok, I have friends in New Zealand (well, one friend, actually) who used to express great admiration for former Prime Minister and unabashed capitalist finance big shot, John Key; and clearly Donald Trump couldn’t have got himself elected president of the world’s greatest democracy if he didn’t have a few enthusiastic fans. Even Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe for thirty years, probably had a few sycophantic hangers-on willing to say nice things about him for the favours he might bestow.

But “sent by God”? “Divine”? “Serve him on his path”? I don’t think so. That’s a Turkish thing. Something definitely gets lost in translation when you try to say it in English. But the interesting thing is, a lot of people here will be nodding their heads in agreement.

Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe — The Most Revolutionary Act

When the Moors Rules in Europe Bettany Hughes (2011) Film Review When the Moors Ruled in Europe corrects many common misconceptions about Muslim rule in Spain between 711 and 1492 AD. Historical and archeological evidence contradicts the prevailing belief that this 700 year rule represented a violent military occupation. At the time Muslim Berbers from […]

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via Hidden History: When Muslims Ruled in Europe — The Most Revolutionary Act

https://turkeyfile.com/2014/11/28/cultural-amnesia-islamic-contributions-to-modern-science-and-technology/

Church, Mosque – or what? A taste of Istanbul’s complex history

CollageWorth a visit if you happen to be in Istanbul, the mosque of Molla Zeyrek, formerly the Byzantine monastery church of Christ Pantokrator, has recently undergone a complete restoration. Next door, a tasteful café and restaurant located on a terrace overlooking the Golden Horn offers magnificent panoramic views of Pera district, the entrance to the Bosporus, the imperial mosques of Sultanahmet and Suleiman the Magnificent, with glimpses of the Asian shore behind. The café also features an excellent bookshop selling memorabilia for the tourist who prefers something a little classier than what is to be found in the more frequented attractions.

A little of the building’s history:

Whole monastery

Prior to restoration

Shortly after Constantinople fell to the invading Ottoman armies in 1453, the twelfth-century Church of the Monastery of Christ Pantokrator was converted into the Zeyrek mosque. Named after Molla Zeyrek, a well-known scholar who lived during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, Zeyrek Camii served not only as a religious center but also as a hub for Islamic enlightenment. The church-turned-mosque is one of the finest examples of religious architecture from the Byzantine era in Istanbul and the second-largest surviving Byzantine religious structure in the city after Hagia Sophia. The church and monastery were built by Emperor John II Komnenos to honor his wife’s wishes to house the “poor, sick, and suffering souls.” The north and south churches, dedicated to Christ Pantokrator and the Archangel St. Michael, are connected by an imperial chapel that was used as a mausoleum for the Komnenos and Palaiologos dynasties. This masterpiece of the middle period of Byzantine architecture consists of extraordinary domes capping the north and south churches and the imperial chapel, with complimentary interiors formed by elegant vaults and arches. Today, the monastery has completely disappeared except for the cistern, some structural elements, and timber houses that served as residences during Ottoman rule, encircling the Zeyrek Camii. Source.

Tiled floor

Interior tiled floor

The Monastery of Christ the Almighty (Pantokrator) was founded by Ioannes II Komnenos (1118-1143) and his wife Eirene, a born princess of Hungary, and built between 1118 and 1137. The south church was built first, then the north church was added, and finally a grave chapel with two oval domes was constructed in the space between both churches after their outer halls in this area had been demolished. This monumental ensemble is the greatest church building in Istanbul after the time of Justinian I, and it is the only one from the later time where we know the name of the architect, Nikephoros. The monastery is known in detail from the surviving foundation document where its buildings, the life of the monks there and the hospital connected to it are described. In the grave chapel, a number of emperors were buried including Ioannes and Eirene themselves, Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) and Manuel II Palaeologos (1391-1425).

The Zeryek Camii complex served as both an important Christian religious and education center and later as a mosque established to educate Muslim students. Zeyrek Camii shares similarities with its not-too-distant neighbor, Hagia Sofia. Both have housed two religions under their majestic domed roofs and have functioned as dominant architectural symbols of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Source.

Molla Zeyrek

The monastery church with the mosque of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror behind

The complex of Monastery of the Pantokrator (Ruler of all), was dedicated to Christ and stood on a hill overlooking the ancient aqueduct of Valens near the geographical center of the city. There are three interconnected churches. The first building was constructed by the Empress Irene between 1118 – 1124. This was the largest church and it was richly decorated with mosaics and rare marbles. Shortly thereafter a large church was built alongside the first one to the south and it was dedicated it to the Vigin Eleosa – “Mercy”. Finally, a wide space between the two churches was vaulted over by two domes and transformed into an Imperial mausoleum dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel.

The south church is one of the largest churches built during the Middle Ages in Constantinople with a nave 16 metres square and a dome 7 metres across. The survival of so many huge cathedrals in the capital, like Hagia Sophia and Holy Apostles, made the further construction of big churches unnecessary. The pietism of the time and the preference for smaller, community monastic churches also dictated a more intimate size.

View from caf

View from the terrace

The splendid interiors of all three churches were remarked upon in the Middle Ages. The Comnenian Emperors and their wives lavished money and gifts on the monastery, which was covered in golden mosaic tiles, rich marble veneer, precious metals and semi-precious stones. Even the floor was inlaid with a fantastic opus sectile rinceau carpet of carved, colored marbles depicting mythological scenes, hunters and animals. Fragments of stained glass set in lead found in the church indicate the windows of the apse were set with figures of Christ, the Virgin and possibly other saints.

The mausoleum church contained many relics, including the stone upon which, it was claimed, Christ had been anointed after his crucifixion. This mausoleum was filled with the marble tombs of Emperors and Empresses and its iconostasis was said to have been encrusted with gold enamel and gems.

The church was founded as a hospital with many beds and there were nurses and doctors attached to the monastery. It was also a center of learning and art. The founding document for the monastery – its Typicon – survives and outlines all its social functions in detail.

The+Fourth+Crusade+1202-1204.+Original+goal+was+to+conquer+the+Muslim-controlled+parts+of+Jerusalem+by+invading+through+Egypt.In 1204 the city of Constantinople fell to the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade after a series of vast and horrible fires set by the Crusaders. These conflagrations levelled large swaths of the city and consumed art treasures and books created and gathered over 900 years by the Byzantines. These included some of the greatest works of antiquity and a vast trove of Western civilization went up in flames. Catholic looters spread throughout the city to snatch what was left and the booty was thought to be the greatest ever seen.

The soldiers from France, Italy, and all across Europe did not spare the churches of their brother Christians; they stripped them bare of their valuables. The Pantokrator was attacked and looted. The tombs of the Emperors and Empresses were opened and their bodies were stripped. Monks and nuns were murdered and raped. Tens of thousands perished.

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“Christian” crusaders loot and sack the cathedral church of Hagia Sophia, 1204

The Venetians claimed the Pantokrator as part of their booty and occupied the complex until the Latins were ousted from the city by the Byzantines in 1261. Towards the end – when it became apparent they could not hold on to Constantinople it is said the Venetians removed the enameled panels from the iconostasis of the Pantokrator and shipped them to Venice, where they became the centerpiece of the famous Pala d’Oro. Source.

[That’s Christians for you!]

 

More lies about Turkey!

Istanbul-Kadikoy-pubs

An evening out in Kadıköy

I had a meal and a drink in Kadıköy with a mate last Friday. Or was it a drink and a meal? Anyway. Kadıköy, once known as Chalcedon, has a long history of Christian settlement, and consequently a flourishing alcohol-fuelled entertainment economy. Despite loudly expressed fears that the AK Party government is dragging the country back to a medieval nightmare of Islamic fundamentalism, the labyrinthine streets of Kadıköy are packed most nights with revellers of all ages, knocking back beer, wine, rakı, or whatever beverage takes their fancy, unmolested by religious police. Even during the holy month of Ramadan.

Anyway. Gunther and I don’t see each other that often these days. We used to work together at one of Istanbul’s plethora of private universities (forty-one is the most recent figure I could find – FORTY-ONE!!). Our meetings inevitably descend into political argument, although I do try to steer towards other topics. My mate is an outspoken critic of Turkey’s AK Party government. Well, I can handle that. I’ve heard a thousand times all the arguments churned out ad nauseam proving that RTE* is the worst thing that’s happened to Turkey since Thanksgiving (sorry, that was a stupid joke – I could have said Winston Churchill).

hitler_bushIt also happens that Gunther, as you might guess, comes from German stock – and is intensely proud of the fact. To hear him tell it, Germany is indisputably the greatest country in the world, its economy driven by superior German brains and hard work, its industries second-to-none. Well, leaving aside the question of why he has chosen to make his home in Turkey rather than the Teutonic paradise of his birth, I found myself gagging over some of the outrageous claims he made to substantiate his thesis. Admittedly I have no formal background in the study of German history – which Gunther claims to have. Nevertheless I read, and take an interest, as one does. After our latest heated debate, I came home and checked the facts that I thought I knew, and which Gunther had vehemently contradicted:

  • Germany’s economy was in tatters after the First World War as a result of the huge punitive reparations demanded by the victorious allies, France and Britain.
  • The Weimar government was saved from imminent disaster by funding from the United States, enabling them to meet their obligations to those creditors.
  • When Wall Street crashed in 1929, the USA called in its foreign loans, throwing the German economy again into severe recession.
  • Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was funded by German and American bankers and industrialists to keep out the Communists who had become enormously popular with the working classes as a result of the Weimar government’s misguided austerity measures.
  • The Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements was founded in Basel in 1930, and, among other dodgy activities, laundered ill-gotten Nazi money during the Second World War.
  • In 1953 a conference in London agreed to cancel most of Germany’s debt and “reschedule” the rest. The United States, under the Marshall Plan, gave $1.3 billion in aid to assist in the rebuilding of Germany after the destruction of WW2.

Why am I telling you this? This is a blog about Turkey, isn’t it? The thing is, some people vociferously assert misinformation and even outright lies from behind a façade of superior authority (academic or otherwise), relying on the ignorance of their listeners or their own loud voices to carry their arguments.

I was reminded of this when reading an article about Turkey the other day. The piece, Why Turkey Chose Qatar, appeared on a website, The National Interest. For a start, the byline attributed it to two people with Turkish names, Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu , which you might immediately think gave them credibility. Moreover, Mr Erdemir was a member of Turkey’s National Assembly from 2011-2015, is a respected academic, and is now on the staff of the US-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). End of argument, you might think. Clearly this guy must know what he’s talking about. And in case he needed to check his facts, he had a helpful research assistant, Ms Tahiroğlu, backed by the no doubt exhaustive resources of the FDD.

Nothing daunted, I read the article, made a few notes, did a little research of my own, and here’s what I found.

First up, Aykan Erdemir was a representative of the CHP (Republican People’s Party), sworn enemies of Mr Erdoğan’s AK Party government, and frustrated losers of so many elections everyone’s lost count. Why did he leave political life after four short years in parliament? Who knows? Maybe he thought he could achieve his purpose better with American backing from abroad.

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What have the Yemenis done to Saudi Arabia or the USA?

Anyway. What were these two authoritative Turks writing about? Of course you are aware that the freedom-loving, democratic governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have imposed an embargo on Qatar on the grounds that their wealthy oil-rich neighbour is supporting terrorism. The “terrorists” in question are the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Iran – and the concerted Arab action was announced immediately after their governments had been visited by US President, Donald Trump. The Big DT didn’t actually mention that he had suggested the embargo, but he was proud to announce he had sign a deal with the Saudi royals for the supply of $110 billion worth of US military equipment, most of which is being used to terrorise the impoverished, starving people of Yemen.

Now some might argue, and indeed do, that the Muslim Brotherhood has been doing its best to work peacefully through the democratic process to bring change in Middle East countries. They actually won Egypt’s first truly democratic election in 2012, before being ousted by a military coup a year later. Turkey’s Prime Minister at the time, Mr Erdoğan, made no secret of his objections – which no doubt upset powerful interests in the USA and Israel. Some might also argue that someone needs to represent the interests of Palestinians suffering under the expansionist aggression of the Zionist Israeli government – and Hamas tries to do this. They might go further and suggest that US hawkishness towards Iran is driven by oil needs and their support for Israel, right or wrong.

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Mohammed Morsi – first democratically elected president of Egypt

But Aykan and Merve are not among those people. The main thrust of their argument is that Mr Erdoğan and the government of Turkey are acting purely from venal financial motives, largely aimed at increasing the personal fortunes of the Erdoğan family. I’m not going to dignify the argument by repeating it here. You can read the article for yourself if you’re interested.

More pertinent, I believe, is the way the writers seek to portray the Saudi coalition as the “good guys” in the current stand-off, and Turkey, Iran and Qatar as “cast[ing] their lot with Islamists”. Mr Aydemir’s paymasters, whoever is funding the FDD Defenders of Democracy, seem to have decided that the slave-based economies of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the oppressive military dictatorship of Egypt, are worthy of defending. The government of Israel is staying on the sideline, but if I were a betting man I’d put safe money on their being involved in the whole shady business.

Turkey is depicted as being in “a downward spiral of isolation due to its reckless foreign policy”, “estrang[ing itself] from the region’s Sunni camp, led by Saudi Arabia”. Well, Turkey’s people may be mostly Sunni Muslims, but their moderate brand of Islam bears no resemblance to the extremist Wahhabi hypocritical Shariah violence of the Sauds. Erdoğan is accused of nurturing some kind of “game plan” for Washington, trying to curry favour with President Trump after “ruining his relationship with Barack Obama”. Well he certainly seemed to hold his own in the macho hand-shaking competition, which you can still view on Youtube despite the fact that their administrators keep removing the clips.

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Well worth a look

Incidentally, I checked out “The National Interest” website. As you might expect, with a name like that, they unabashedly admit that their business “is not . . . about world affairs. It is about American interests . . . guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger.” THINKERS! Not war-mongers, you’ll notice. And according to the FDD website, their “distinguished advisors include Sen. Joe Lieberman, former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former State Department Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, Gen. P.X. Kelley (ret.), Francis “Bing” West, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, former CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Richard W. Carlson,  and Forbes CEO Steve Forbes.” Interesting company for our two Turkish academics to be keeping.

tellalieonceBut I’m saving the best till last. That article about Turkey and Qatar was chock full of links to other sites, suggesting that the material had been exhaustively researched, and was therefore beyond reproach. Just on a hunch, I decided to check one out at random. The final paragraph sums up the writer’s case and includes this statement: “For all these reasons, Turkey chose Qatar in the recent Gulf crisis. Indeed, it would have had little choice to discard such a lucrative partnership at a time of brewing economic crisis at home.” That link will take you an archived OECD report written in 2001, a year or so before the AK Party came to power, when Turkey had been plagued for decades with incompetent coalition governments, embedded hyper-inflation and regular military coups. The leaders it refers to are the Prime Minister and President at the time, Bülent Ecevit and Ahmet Necdet Sezer. OUT-RAGE-OUS! Check the other links if you have time. They are probably equally dishonest. Disinterested academics? Phooey!

I read a sad article in our local Hürriyet Daily News the other day, informing me that Over 8.5 million Turks received psychological treatment in 2016”. Statistics released by the health Ministry also showed that the use of antidepressants increased by 25.6 percent between 2011 and 2016” and “one out of every eight people . . . has applied to a hospital for mental and neurological disorders”. 

9aa63d24f038b03f13bdffdc7582c30dFor some reason, the newspaper chose to seek comment from Independent Member of Parliament, Aylin Nazlıaka, who expressed the opinion that “The solution is to remove the common perception and belief that the justice system is not objective and fair. The solution is getting rid of the pressure on people who have opposing views and thoughts. The solution is creating a Turkey whose people are hopeful about today and tomorrow, that produces [opportunity] and that has equality of opportunity. The solution is the normalization of Turkey by removing problems such as terror and unemployment.”

Well, Ms Nazlıaka could be right – and it may help if the CHP leader, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu finds the “justice” he is seeking on his current protest march from Ankara to Istanbul. On the other hand, some of those depressed citizens might try looking around to see the good things happening in their beautiful country instead of paying heed to the self-seeking and biased criticisms of foreign leaders and dishonest “academics”.

 

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  • Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The Mind of a Terrorist – Not that complicated really

First I want to talk about tourism. I’m not a big fan. I did feel sorry for Turkey last year when the Russian government got the pip and told their citizens to stay on local icy beaches for the summer. I know hotels have been closing because governments in Europe (and New Zealand) have been scaring their people off visiting Turkey. Falling visitor numbers impacts on the local economy, and innocent people find themselves out of work.

NZ walks

Getting away from it all in NZ

On the other hand, everything has a price – and floods of tourists undoubtedly have a negative effect on natural beauties and historical wonders. The ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey’s Aegean region suffers from the trampling feet of millions of visitors. New Zealand’s main attraction for tourists is its clean, green, unspoiled nature. Tourist numbers, however, are multiplying spectacularly, and now it seems, forest trails a tramper might once have trekked in peaceful solitude must now be shared with thousands of others.

So I have mixed feelings on the subject. It does, however, annoy me when I receive yet another email from our Foreign Affairs people at the embassy in Ankara warning me of the terrorism danger in Turkey, and advising me to avoid unnecessary visits to the capital or Istanbul (where I happen to live). I would be interested to know what proportion of visitors to Turkey have been killed or injured in recent years, and to compare it with similar figures for New Zealand.

yavuz-sultan-selim-koprusu-nde-ilk-olumlu-kaza

Truck driver killed taking selfie on bridge

I read an article recently citing statistics showing that more people died in the last year while taking a “selfie” than were killed by sharks. Just last year two old friends from New Zealand visited us and spent three weeks in the country. In the morning of 28 June we picked up a hire car from Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport – where that afternoon forty people died in a bomb attack. They flew out of the country on 14 July – the day before military officers staged an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow by force the elected government.

What am I trying to say here? There are many ways to die, and most of them are less spectacular than a terrorist bombing. And whether it’s your day to go depends a lot on whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. A young woman from Turkey died in New Zealand’s Christchurch earthquake in 2010 – one of 185 people from twenty countries who were certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, tourists are flooding to New Zealand, and I never heard that Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was advising citizens to avoid my country. I have read several articles warning about the dangers of taking selfies – but people carry on regardless.

So I guess life will go on in Paris, Manchester and London. Locals will go to work and school, and tourists will still flock to the Louvre, Westminster Abbey and Etihad Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club). The big problems, in my opinion, are the chattering news media, and governments playing political games.

Ariana grande

Sorry, Mr Harkin – It’s not about her

After the Manchester nightclub attack, my hometown daily, The New Zealand Herald, published an opinion piece by one James Harkin, said to be director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism and a reporter on Syria and the rise of Islamic State. Well, the article was originally printed in the UK’s Daily Mail, so that possibly leaves room for doubt about his actual commitment to “investigative journalism”. After serious investigation, Mr Harkin apparently arrived at the insightful conclusion that the bombers were targeting Ariana Grande’s “revealing stage outfits, her stockings, pink bunny ears and unabashed sexual confidence”. From his work in Syria and his studies of the Koran, Harkin has decided that Islamic extremists have no problem with western governments – their target is “Godless Western decadence” and “the values we all live by.” Do they include pink bunny ears, I wonder?

Drone strikes

Creating terrorists

Well, I’m sorry, Mr Harkin, but you’re wrong. If you haven’t learned the term Asymmetric warfare it’s time you did. It is defined as “war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically a war between a standing, professional army and an insurgency or resistance movement.” In other words, George W Bush (and Margaret Thatcher before him) conclusively proved to all the world that confronting the military might of a technologically advanced Western power could only ever have one result. The Boers in South Africa, the Irish republicans, and a hundred other aggrieved, embattled but fiercely determined minority groups have shown that, in their desperation, they can inflict terrible damage. I don’t believe those Manchester bombers really wanted to “slaughter innocent little girls clutching pink balloons on a night out with their mothers at a pop concert”. They would prefer to hit the true war criminals who are hiding safely behind impenetrable layers of security. Unable to get at the political leaders, they commit random acts of terror with the aim of persuading ordinary citizens to pressure their own governments to stop the state terror they are inflicting on innocent people in faraway lands.

Which brings me to the question of cowardice. Another article in my beloved NZ Herald rightly took issue with British politicians calling the Manchester attack an act of cowardice. No one who condones the murdering of innocent civilians in distant countries using unmanned drones or mother-f**king MOABs can claim the moral high ground and call anyone else a coward. Where I part company with the writer is when she says, I don’t believe that’s an act of cowardice. It’s an utterly terrifying and fearless act of self-destruction fuelled by a desire to kill as many as possible, and all in the name of spreading this warped, brutal and extremist ideology.”

Pai marire

Taking on the British Empire, 1865 – What odds would you give?

Rachel the journalist just doesn’t get it. These people are not out to spread an ideology, though they must surely be fearless and desirous of killing as many as possible. They are fearless because they have lost hope. In the 1860s in New Zealand, a kind of religion emerged among Maori people on the East Coast. Known as Pai Marire, or sometimes Hauhauism, it was a mixture of Christian and traditional spiritual beliefs. Atrocities were certainly committed against white settlers by its adherents. When they ran into hopeless battle against government forces, warriors chanted a kind of prayer, Hapa, hapa, paimarire hau, which they believed gave them immunity from bullets.

Did they really believe that? Were they really fearless? Did they really want to eat the eyeballs of their victims, as some reportedly did? I suspect not. They had lost their land; they were losing their culture, their language and their pride. In their own minds, what was there to live for? But they were angry too, and wanted to vent that anger. So they would take as many others with them as possible when they journeyed to the next world.

Maori novelist Witi Ihımaera, in a short story exploring the issue of Maori pride and sense of loss, ended with the words “No wai te he?” “Who is to blame?” The old man in the story didn’t know the answer – but we, if we are honest, certainly do. More MOABs and drone strikes in the Middle East won’t end the terror.