Friday, October 24, 2014

Sassounian: Why the UN Rejected Turkey’s Bid for a Security Council Seat

The Turkish government got a big slap in the face last week when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to turn down its application for a Security Council seat. In effect, the international community was rejecting Turkey’s hostile policies both at home and abroad.
Turkey’s new Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had arrogantly predicted securing the prestigious seat for their country. The night before the vote, Cavusoglu hosted a posh party for UN ambassadors at the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.
After spending several days in New York to personally lobby the UN delegates, Cavusoglu optimistically told the media, “We think all our nice efforts will, with the grace of God, be reflected onto the ballot tomorrow. Of course, this is a vote and all kinds of results may come out. But, we believe, God permitting, that we will get the result of the work we put in.”
Davutoglu was equally optimistic that Turkey would score a “historic victory.” Just two days before the UN vote, he proudly announced, “If we are elected, and we believe it’s a great possibility, we will be the first country in the world to be elected for a second time, after a five-year break. This shows Turkey’s importance.”
Unfortunately for the Turkish leaders, their expectations did not come true. Despite Cavusoglu’s intensive lobbying efforts and earnest wish for divine intervention, only 60 out of 193 UN General Assembly member states voted for Turkey, while its rival, Spain, received 132 votes, winning a 2-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
Why did Turkey lose in 2014 more than half the 151 votes it received in its successful bid for a Security Council seat in 2008? Here are the key reasons for Turkey’s failure to get elected this time around:
– The vigorous campaign by a large number of countries against Turkey’s membership: Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others.
– President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ongoing acrimonious feud with powerful Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, resulting in loss of General Assembly votes for Turkey from several African countries, where Gulen’s followers have an extensive presence. This is a major shift from 2008, when Gulen supporters secured a large number of votes for Turkey.
– Turkish leaders’ poor judgment of deciding to reapply so soon after getting elected to the Security Council in 2009-10. Turkey’s reelection would have deprived other countries from serving in that august UN body.
– Davutoglu’s self-aggrandizing neo-Ottoman yearnings antagonized most Middle Eastern countries, turning his policy of “zero problems with neighbors” into zero neighbors without problems! A survey from the Pew Research Center confirms that Turkey’s dismal standing throughout the Middle East has sunk to an all-time low.
– Erdogan’s autocratic rule at home, including the bloody quelling of protests at the Gezi Park in Istanbul, jailing journalists, and blocking Twitter and Facebook. His dismissive words, “I don’t care what the international community will say,” alienated countless people around the world. The vote against Turkey was UN members’ rebuke of Erdogan. Most delegates walked out of the hall during Erdogan’s pompous speech at the UN General Assembly in September.
– Tense relations with the United States and Western Europe over Turkey’s refusal to support the war against ISIS, and not defending Kurdish civilians who are being massacred by foreign jihadists at a stone’s throw from the Turkish border. As a result, influential commentators have called for Turkey’s expulsion from NATO and the rejection of its application for membership in the European Union.
– Displeased with Turkey’s antagonistic stand, President Obama sent a lowly charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to attend Erdogan’s presidential inauguration on Aug. 28.
By ignoring all these legitimate reasons for Turkey’s failure to win the Security Council seat, Cavusoglu falsely attributed his country’s defeat to its reluctance to abandon “its values for the sake of getting more votes.” This ridiculous statement is made by the foreign minister of a country that has been pouring millions of dollars into the coffers of tiny island states around the world and poor African countries to buy their UN General Assembly votes.
The failure to gain a Security Council seat limits Turkey’s ability to exploit the powerful UN body to undermine the worldwide commemorative events next year on the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

The Lessons of Late Ottoman Genocides for Contemporary Iraq and Syria

This article will appear in the Armenian Weekly’s upcoming magazine on Ottoman genocides, co-edited by Khatchig Mouradian (coordinator, Armenian Genocide Program, CGHR, Rutgers University) and Sabri Atman (director, Seyfo Center–the Assyrian Genocide Research Center).
Scholars of genocide studies have begun to explore the constitutional and political causes of genocide. After many years in which theories of evil intention prevailed, structuralist and functionalist theories have gained ground. For example, Rene Lemarchand’s studies in the comparative dynamics of genocide suggest that the colonial and precolonial context of an entire region may make genocide attractive at either the national or the local level.[1] He argues that “social structure” may lead to genocide where groups are “ranked” in terms of access to social goods such as wealth or education, enjoyment of human rights, or power.[2] Adam Jones looks to Cambodia as a “subaltern genocide” in which rebels who fought the UN-recognized government for some time took over and began mass executions of those seen as “traitorous” to the new Khmer Rouge system, and starved many others by misrule.[3] Jones observes that the Khmer Rouge served a functional role in the world system, serving as “protégés” to the United States and China in their efforts to limit Vietnam’s growing power.[4]
Civil strife and refugee flight operate as accelerators to genocidal events. German and Hutu elites sought to preempt what they saw as “annihilation.” Tutsi forces in Burundi and eastern Congo perpetrated mass violence against Hutus for similar reasons.[5] In several cases of genocide, refugee flows have been used as a weapon, as with the case of the German “refugees” from the “free city” of Danzig in 1939, the internally-displaced Hutus of northern Rwanda targeted by Tutsi rebels in 1993-94, the Hutu refugees in eastern Congo in 1994-2014, and the remnant of the Khmer Rouge who acted as cross-border terrorists after 1979.[6] The Arab League states used Palestinians as a “refugee weapon” against Israel, and Ronald Reagan used Cambodian refugees as a weapon against Vietnam.
This essay attempts to draw on some of these insights. The aim is apply the lessons of late Ottoman genocides against Christians to the present-day humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria. Both crises present some similarities with the geopolitical context of the late Ottoman Empire: a strategy of limiting Russian influence in the eastern Mediterranean, destabilizing refugee flows in the region in the years leading up to the crisis, a transition from an oppressive dictator/monarch to a coalition promising a more liberal and democratic era, the formation of death squads and their support networks on all sides, and rising religious and racial extremism setting the stage for ending the era of pluralism and creating total chaos. A new Khmer Rouge is rising in Iraq and Syria, extremist rebels who may destroy pluralism.
Late Ottoman Genocides: False Hopes and Plans for Vengeance
False promises of a more pluralistic era go back centuries in the Middle East. Crowds in London in the era of the Crimean War held up posters showing the Ottoman Sultan, Napoleon Bonaparte III, and Queen Victoria as the “three saviours of civilization.”[7] Viscount Palmerston maintained that the “integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire are necessary to the maintenance of the tranquility, the liberty, and the balance of power” of the world.[8] The newspapers said that Britain was fighting against Russia as “the personification of Despotism,” and that “God wills the liberty and happiness of mankind,” so Britain was “doing God’s work in fighting for liberty….”[9] Freedom for all was at hand.
Historians of the late Ottoman Empire describe a dynamic of catastrophe, in which attempts to limit Ottoman conquests resulted in massacres of local civilians, countermassacres of Ottoman settlers and occupation forces, threatened humanitarian interventions, paper promises of equality among Ottoman subjects in the future, and renewed conflict years later.[10] The Russians did not believe in the Ottoman pledge to protect the rights of Orthodox Christians, which had been trampled consistently. In the Crimean War, the British and Austro-Hungarians supported the Ottomans against the Russians, with the result that “Russia was compelled to demolish her fortresses on the Black Sea” and to keep her warships out of the seas adjoining the western Ottoman coasts, while “Turkey made promises (on paper) that Christians should be admitted to equal rights with Mussulmans in her European dominions.”[11] Britain insisted on the “independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire,” eventually signing a pact to defend it against Russian attempts to liberate the Ottoman Christians.[12] The British heavily financed the late Ottoman military machine.[13]
In the twentieth century, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) collaborated with the Committee of Union and Progress or “Young Turks” on plans for a more democratic era in Ottoman history, one in which Armenians and Turks could be treated as equals.[14] According to historian Gerard Libaridian of the University of Michigan, the ARF looked to the Balkan revolutionaries and Russian socialists as models.[15] He implies that its cooperation with the Young Turks only helped reinforce the new regime’s authority, with disastrous consequences. The Balkan wars and the manipulation of the Armenian issue confirmed the worst instincts of some members of the Young Turks. The resulting Young Turk regime reinforced the Ottoman state with Turkism, one-party rule, and a modernizing national socialism.[16]
Revenge on Native Christians for British and Slavic Victories
The Young Turks and the Constitution of 1908 pledged a new era of democratic pluralism.[17] Secretly, the Young Turks planned to avenge the human-rights violations against Turks in the Balkans, the Russian Empire, and other places. The plan was to deport Christians from their homes and use brigands or irregulars (çetes) or Kurds to perpetretrate massacres.[18] The German consul in Erzurum reported that the “non-Muslim and non-Turkish inhabitants” of the Ottoman Empire would be “attacked and exterminated by Kurdish and Turkish brigands.”[19] The extermination operations were often perpetrated by the “brigand cadres” of convicts released from prison to serve in the Ottoman Special Organization, joined by Kurdish tribes, Turkish gendarmes or police, and Muslim refugees from the Balkans or the Russian Empire.[20] The refugees sought revenge on the Orthodox Christians and Slavs for their suffering in the Balkan Wars and the expansion of Russia’s empire.[21] One of the leaders of the Young Turks, Enver Pasha, remarked that after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, “our anger is strengthening: revenge, revenge, revenge; there is no other word.”[22] In 1914, the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies prophesied a “day of revenge” against the “Muscovites” and their “allies” for all the “martyrs they have trampled underfoot.”[23] With the start of World War I, the German ambassador predicted that if British forces landed on the Turkish coast, all bets would be off when it came to the massacre of the Armenians.[24] In July 1915, a German diplomat described how the Muslim refugees brought “tales of suffering” to Turkey, which led to “exceptional measures against the Armenians.”[25] Historian Taner Akçam observes that “[a] nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesistate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.”[26]
With respect to this plan, some of their German allies encouraged the Young Turks. The German-Turkish League, with the German Foreign Office standing behind it, developed a geopolitics of pitting Germans and Turks against Russians and Armenians. Advocates of this type of geopolitics proposed removing the Armenians from the Ottoman-Russian border area so as to change the racial balance of forces, and to preempt further Russian victories. Arab populations would be deported to the Ottoman north, to be replaced by Armenians who could work the German railway in Mesopotamia, a project that promised agricultural and oil wealth.[27]
After reviewing the German diplomatic cables published by Johannes Lepsius in 1918, German scholar Gabriele Yonan has argued that the Kaiser, the German Intelligence Service for the Orient, and the German Embassy in Constantinople had helped bring about an Armenian and Assyrian “Holocaust,” by aiding and abetting plans of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph for a “holy war” against the Christian allies of Britain and Russia.[28] According to the German diplomatic traffic, the Ottoman Minister of Interior, Talât Pasha, told a German embassy official in mid-1915 that the Turkish government “is intent on taking advantage of the World War in order to [make a] clean sweep of internal enemies—the indigenous Christians—without being hindered in doing so by diplomatic intervention from other countries.”[29] The diplomatic archives indicated that German officials believed that the Ottoman government “resolved . . . to eliminate the indigenous Christians.”[30] This was consistent with reports that the Young Turks decided in 1910-1911 that the “‘nations that remain from the old times in our [Ottoman] empire are akin to foreign and harmful weeds that must be uprooted.’”[31]
The native Christians, for their part, sought to escape annihilation by flight, appeals for justice, and spotty resistance. In July 1915, the German ambassador to Turkey wrote that under the guise of “relocations,” the Ottomans carried out the “goal of annihilating the Armenian race in Turkey.”[32] The Armenian patriarchate claimed that 200 churches and about as many other places of worship or religious education were stolen or destroyed.[33] In early 1916, the Assyrian patriarch warned the Russians that Turkish and Kurdish forces “had determined to kill all of us [Assyrians],” so that he led his people to flee their homeland.[34] The German imperial chancellor was told that the Assyrians of eastern Turkey had been “exterminated.”[35] Paul Shimmon, on behalf of the Assyrian patriarch, complained that 70 Assyrian towns and villages had been looted and ruined by Ottoman troops and Kurdish militias.[36] The Greek Foreign Minister spoke of the deaths of more than 300,000 Anatolian Greeks along the Black Sea coast.[37] The U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire condemned the murder of two million Christians in Turkey by 1918, including Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks.[38] Genocide scholar R.J. Rummel, surveying a variety of sources, has identified two periods of killing, involving 300,000 to 1.4 million Armenians in 1914-1918, nearly 200,000 Assyrian and Greek Christians in 1914-1918, nearly 50,000 Assyrians in Persia in 1914-1918, and 800,000 Armenians and Greeks in 1919-1925.[39]
Facing military defeat, the Ottoman Sultan signed a forward-looking treaty with the Western powers. The treaty adopted many of the tools later utilized by the United Nations to reduce the incidence of mass atrocities: ethnic autonomy, human rights for religious minorities, and nonaggression pacts.[40] In response, Mustafa Kemal and Rauf Orbay waged a national “holy war” (cihad-ı milliye) against the remaining Armenians and Greeks.[41] Raphael Lemkin’s notes for a study of Greek-Turkish relations after 1918 stated that after massacres of Turks by Armenians or Greeks, “wave[s] of genocide” reached the Armenians of Cilicia and Yerevan, while at Smyrna some Greek massacres of Turks were followed by attacks by the çetes on Greek villages, designed to “end in the elimination of the rival nationality from that particular area.”[42] The Kemalist irregulars (chéttes or bashibozuks in Lemkin’s sources) murdered villagers, raped women, “cut down” children, and burned the villages.[43] In June 1921, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs described the killing of 60,000 Christians in Soviet Armenia and the environs.[44] Later in 1921, Stanley Hopkins of the aid organization Near East Relief confirmed that the “Greeks of Anatolia are suffering the same or worse fate than did the Armenians in the massacres of the Great War.”[45] He described the Kemalists’ intention as “to destroy all Greeks….”[46] A quarter of a million Armenians and Greeks persished in the Kemalists’ reoccupation of Smyrna, mostly of drowing, burning, and hunger.[47] By late 1922, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George condemned how the Kemalists had “slaughtered in cold blood … five hundred thousand Greeks….”[48] In December 1922, the British foreign minister concluded that “a million Greeks have been killed, deported or have died.”[49] A million or more Ottoman Christians may have been slain after 1918, based on census records and the reports of various diplomats and scholars.
The subsequent Treaty of Lausanne promised to achieve what even the Ottoman Empire could not, that is, to seal “the extinction of Christianity” in Turkey. The Europeans and Russians offered moral and material support to Kemal and Orbay, while they rarely helped the Christians north of the Iraqi border.[50] The Assyrians asked to receive the benefits of treatment as an “independent nation,” failing which they feared “their future existence as a nation [was] doomed,” but the British Empire refused.[51] The Ottomans had issued an order to exterminate the Assyrian and Armenian Christians of Mosul during the war, which the German consul Walter Holstein resisted, prevailing due to an “immense strength of will.”[52]
The Turkish state created in Ankara claims to be the “legitimate successor of the Ottoman State.”[53] The pillars of modern Turkey are threefold: nationalistic intolerance (Turkification), religious intolerance (Sunnification), and political intolerance (the strangulation of dissent). The Turkish criminal code enforces each of these three pillars of modern Turkish society, with Article 301 codifying the immunity of the Turkish race and its history from criticism, Article 125(b) the immunity of the dominant religion from criticism, and Article 125(a) the immunity of specific Turkish officials from criticism.
The War in Iraq: Imitating the Turkish Model
In 1990, neoconservatives such as Bernard Lewis and the Brookings Institution’s experts suggested that an “international order” of peace and security would follow a war on the side of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait against Iraq.[54] Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Martin Indyk of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute became boosters for Saudi Arabia’s role in promoting a peaceful Middle East in the 1990s.[55] On the other hand, Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, in his first Senate speech, accurately predicted that the 1990-1991 war would inflict “tremendous destructive power” and “unleash forces of fanaticism in the Middle East and [make] a chronically unstable region … even more unstable….” Senator Strom Thurmond and other Republicans and Democrats disagreed, arguing: “A vote in support of the President [authorizing war against Iraq] is a vote for peace.”[56] Their voices prevailed, and the royal families of the Persian Gulf, including those of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, became hotbeds of the terror fundraising and incitement that led to 9/11. They had been saved from secular republican politics by the war to eject Iraq from Kuwait and the border area with Saudi Arabia.[57]
George W. Bush formed a “strategic partnership” with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the purpose of which was “restructuring Iraq.”[58] Journalists and neoconservatives saw few drawbacks and several potential benefits of invading Iraq. Because they saw Saudi Arabia and Turkey as helpful allies, they thought that the transition to a moderate democracy in Baghdad would be cheap and would not take long.[59] After all, if ibn Saud and Mustafa Kemal could bloodlessly build moderate societies under British and French tutelage in the 1930s (as the myths handed down say), why couldn’t Tariq al-Hashemi or Iyad Allawi do the same thing in Iraq? In terms of other benefits, Russia’s contracts to drill for oil could be expropriated.[60] Analogous beneficial results had been obtained for the anti-Russian alliance through subversion and financing extremists in 1950s Iran and 1960s Iraq.[61]
In 2003, Bernard Lewis was a strong supporter of invading Iraq, arguing that a successful democracy like Germany or Japan would be created.[62] In 2012, he welcomed the Arab Spring as cause for optimism that a Turkish-style democracy would emerge in the Arab states, led by “religious organizations,” “craft guilds,” and the “increasing participation of women.” CNN and other corporate media praise Lewis as the “world’s greatest historian of the Middle East.” Foreign domination of the Middle East was brief and ended decades before 2011, he said in 2012. Liberal democracy is “suitable for the English-speaking peoples,” whereas Middle Eastern societies have democracies like that of Turkey, where authority comes from religious organizations, guilds, and other apolitical associations. The Justice and Development party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in a free and fair election, and Turkey in the 1950s conducted the first genuinely free and fair elections in the Middle East, Lewis claimed.[63] Turkey enjoyed the “best prospects” for a “compromise” between freedom and fundamentalism, he argued. Despite some “difficulties,” it had a “parliamentary democracy” for “more than half a century.”[64] In fact, restrictive rules disqualifying advocates of liberty or equality from forming political parties in Turkey, along with a series of military coups, have shaped this “democracy.”[65]
Having forgotten or suppressed the actual history of the Middle East, the neoconservatives and so-called liberal interventionists projected a delusional future if their policies were adopted. In 1992, the second edition of Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations, the book by liberal interventionist Michael Walzer that is often read by students of politics and military ethics, argued that humanitarian intervention and preemptive war could promote peace by protecting the “political independence” of nations, while “uphold[ing] the values of individual life of which sovereignty is merely an expression.”[66] In 2002, President George W. Bush declared that by preemptive war, he would guarantee American security and lives while protecting liberty.[67] In his 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush posed as a guardian of liberty at home while promoting democracy around the world.[68]
Since 2003, Americans enjoyed deteriorating national security, increasing loss of life, and ever-declining liberty as a result of Bush’s policies. The number of terrorist attacks tripled from 2003 to 2004.[69] More Americans died in Iraq than in all terror attacks under presidents Clinton and Bush prior to the war.[70] The American Civil Liberties Union reported in 2004 that Americans were trapped in a “surveillance society.”[71] In 2006, the ACLU condemned the “Orwellian doublespeak” that prevented legislative or judicial oversight of how many people had lost their civil freedoms, and for what reasons.[72]
The idea of an alliance to protect freedom, led by Bush and aided by the Saudis and Turkey, could only make sense to those who systematically distorted the English language. For example, the Brookings Institution and Washington Institute for Near East Policy called Turkey “secular” even though it “has created a tradition of ‘state Islam’ whereby the government builds and staffs mosques….”[73] Bush aide Paul Wolfowitz went to the absurd extent of saying that Turkey was “committed to the values of separation of religion and government that underlie this modern secular democracy.”[74] Noah Feldman, an aide who helped draft a constitution for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, argued that because Turkey had no official religion, there could be a successful democracy in Iraq in which minorities and women were treated equally, there was no “breeding ground” for terrorism, and there was a rule of law.[75] This argument began with a false premise and ended with a delusional prediction. Feldman implied that the fact that many 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia was a reason why Iraq had to have an official religion along with a democratic system.[76] It was an argument that began with a non-sequitur and ended with a contradiction in terms. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution proposed war with Iraq but only a “hard discussion” with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the places where the 9/11 hijackers were raised.[77]
After Iraq’s democratic government and official religion came on the scene in 2005, the results have been disastrous. Death squads were formed on religious and sectarian lines, such as al Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Badr Bridges, the Fury Brigade, the Wolf Brigade, the Mahdi Army, and others.[78] A prosecutor for U.N.-backed Multi-National Force Iraq in cases before the Central Criminal Court of Iraq concluded in 2006 that some Iraqi judges follow “Sunni clerics, who have glorified the insurgency; … [while] others have called for the murder of Americans, and have commanded lenient treatment for captured terrorists.”[79] Due to the country’s “official religion,” the Iraqi courts and “Iraqi positive law support[] this religious discrimination in favor of Islamic insurgents.”[80] This result may have been expected by those who endorsed a theory explained by Richard Falkenrath at the Brookings Institution in 2005: religious violence in Iraq was good for the United States because it operated as a type of “flypaper” trap for “Sunni terrorists” and “Shiites.”[81]
Refugee movements, regime change, and militia formation are “accelerators” for genocide.[82] The United Nations and antiwar activists like Martin Sheen predicted two to three million Iraqi refugees, and refugee groups have in the past been a breeding-ground for violence.[83] About 100,000 excess deaths happened in Iraq by September 2004, 600 car bombs went off in civilian areas by 2006, and half the Christian population fled the country.[84] The median per capita income fell to less than a dollar a day, as food prices surged.[85] Iraqi politicians began complaining of genocide as early as 2005.[86] About 600,000 excess violent deaths took place by the fall of 2006, with gunfire and car bombs being important causes of death.[87]
As in the late Ottoman Empire, the Assyrian and Armenian communities were decimated in Iraq. By 2010, Assyrians lost three-quarters of a population of 800,000 to religious cleansing, poverty, and premature death, and Armenians lost half of a prewar population of 20,000.[88] While a census of Mosul in 1920 estimated that the city was about one-seventh Assyrian Christian,[89] the city was by 2010 most likely only 1% Assyrian or less.[90]
A coalition of Iraqi nongovernmental organizations called in 2007 for a series of measures to deescalate the cycle of crimes against humanity in the country. They proposed “transparent inquiries into all allegations of international humanitarian law violations, “inquiries into human rights violations by all parties,” and “ending the state of impunity through adequate judicial mechanisms,” but little interest was shown in such a comprehensive inquiry.[91] As Iraq and other countries warned the U.S. State Department that Saudi Arabia was financing al Qaeda, the Taliban, anti-Hindu extremists in Pakistan, and other terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia was not subjected to the sort of economic sanctions directed at Iraq and Syria.[92]
The Iraq War Comes to Syria, Courtesy of the Neighbors
Nations like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey stand to benefit from a terrorist victory in Syria when their allies gain control over a gas pipeline from the Persian Gulf through Syria to Turkey and Europe.[93] They seem to be happy to sacrifice pluralism and stability for this aim. In their own countries, the percentage of Christians is 1% or less, rather than the 10% of 1980s Iraq or 1990s Syria.[94] These countries also financially or rhetorically supported the Bosnian and Chechen wars, in which the leaders of the Syrian rebels gained experience before heading to Iraq or elsewhere.[95] The Bosnian civil war, which Turkey strongly supported along with Pakistan, reduced the Serbian Christian population of Bosnia and Herzegovina by almost 300,000 persons from 1991 to 1997.[96]
In 2011 and early 2012, Saudi Arabia armed the jihadists in Syria through Iraq and Lebanon.[97] It was obvious that the arms flow from the Saudis would also benefit al Qaeda, placing the entire world in danger of extremism.[98] Russia condemned the “foreign governments [who] were arming ‘militants and extremists’ in Syria,” and argued that U.N. economic sanctions were being used to strangle entire economies, and promote war.[99] Its diplomats estimated that 15,000 foreign terrorists had entered Syria and were killing civilians using those foreign-supplied armaments.[100] The foreign ministries of China, India, Brazil and South Africa agreed that “external interference in Syria’s affairs” should end.[101] The European Union, Turkey, the United States, and the Arab League advocated a “political transition” to a “plural” democracy, as the United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom had promised in Iraq.[102] The United States called on Russia to deny weapons to the Syrian government,[103] even though Syria alleged that 2,000 government officials had been killed by rebels and infiltrators.[104] U.N. figures suggested a death toll of 5,400 by early 2012.[105]
As in the lead up to the Armenian-Assyrian-Greek genocide, Turkey manipulated destabilizing refugee flows during the crisis. In 1911-1915, the focus was on inciting refugees from the Balkans and Russia to seek revenge on the Allies and Ottoman Christians. In 2012, the rebel chant became “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves.”[106] The leader of the most powerful so-called moderate rebels in Syria called for the religious cleansing of all Alawites and Shiites in Syria.[107] Just as the Committee of Union and Progress promised democracy and worked with Armenian revolutionaries, the Syrian National Council worked with Christian revolutionaries in Syria.[108] As the Ottoman Sultan was supposed to be replaced by a multiethnic, Western-looking, parliamentary democracy under the Committee of Union and Progress, the Syrian National Council promised to replace the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad with a more liberal and democratic era.[109] One might also compare these promises to the transition from the Shah of Iran to the Islamic Republic, and from Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia to the “Democratic Kampuchea” promised by the Khmer Rouge.[110]
Human Rights Watch has concluded that rebels who committed the crimes of hostage taking, massacres, and terrorism in Syria had brought in their “weapons …[,] money and other supplies” from Turkey.[111] The International Crisis Grou, a think-tank partially financed by contributions from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, recommended in spring 2013 that Turkey reduce “border crossings by Syrian opposition fighters; do not allow them to use refugee camps as rear bases; ensure there is no pressure on young camp residents to join opposition militias; and establish new refugee camps well away from the border.”[112] Turkey apparently rejected this recommendation.
Syrian extremists grew powerful through “direct access to Gulf [i.e. Saudi and Qatari]-based funding”[113] and received “everything they needed” in Turkey.[114] In July 2012, the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) and al-Qaeda types occupied the Syrian-Turkish border area and declared an Islamic state on YouTube.[115] The FSA’s communications strategy includes often “posting [jihadi] propaganda online.”[116] The FSA declared a holy war in Syria after May 2012, if not earlier,[117] and at least 500 Turks joined this war.[118] The rebel groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and [Greater] Syria (ISIS) used similar extremist videos.[119] In early 2014, a Turkish official admitted that the former FSA leaders were not a factor on the ground, instead emphasizing the reality of an “Islamic Front” that included Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid.[120] According to a joint report of Turkish members of parliament, lawyers, and journalists, the Islamic Front involves the cooperation with ISIS of a number of FSA brigades, including Ahrar al-Sham.[121] As these new fronts and states formed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that is looked to by the United States due to its pro-FSA orientation reported that deaths in Syria rose from 9,000 in 2012 to 100,000 in late 2013.[122]
The Saudi-backed forces that destroyed churches in Baghdad and Mosul from 2004 through 2011, massacring the Christians inside them as well as thousands of Shi’a, subsequently spread to Syria and acted similarly there.[123] Their leaders traveled from Iraq to Syria and there declared a “holy war” in January 2012.[124] With a core of 15,000-20,000 foreigners, there were 150,000 rebels in Syria in late 2013.[125] In 2012, Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the leader of Libyan extremists that al Qaeda’s number two viewed as part of his organization, traveled to Istanbul to meet the FSA, reportedly taking arms and fighters with him.[126]
During the civil war, out of a death toll of 162,000 estimated by pro-opposition sources, the ratio of Syrian rebels to Syrian regime forces killed from 2011 to 2013 was about 1-to-1.5, meaning that more government officials died than rebels and terrorists, 61,100 to 42,700.[127] By way of comparison, in Turkey’s war on “terrorism,” the government reported that five members of pro-Kurdish forces were killed for every member of the Turkish government’s forces, 13,878 to 2,917.[128] In the U.N.-authorized coalition war against Iraq in 1990-1991, the ratio of coalition to Iraqi deaths was almost 100 to one using the minimum figure for violent Iraqi war deaths, or 343 to 30,000, and almost 800 to one including indirect deaths from the health effects of the bombardment and sanctions on Iraq, and the civil strife in 1991, or 343 to 278,000.[129]
The economic sanctions that the United States and European Union adopted inevitably deepened and widened the conflict in Syria. After sanctions cut off Syria’s oil exports, its unemployment rate hit 36% and probably exceeded 50% in 2013-2014.[130] Syrian money lost its value. As one expert said about Iraq in 2006, “[a]fter three years of unemployment in excess of 50 percent, there are no people in the world that wouldn’t be undergoing violence and militias.”[131] A top U.S. commander in Iraq observed that a relatively small rise in umemployment can “have a very serious effect” on sectarian violence in a place like Iraq.[132]
Veteran war correspondent Patrick Cockburn of Britain’s The Independent observes that in northwestern Iraq, the Sunni “leadership has been ceded to a pathologically bloodthirsty and intolerant movement, a sort of Islamic Khmer Rouge, which has no aim but war without end.”[133] One might say the same about the Sunni leadership adjoining the Turkish border, in Aleppo and Homs, and in eastern Syria. It has built very little and plundered a great deal.[134] While the vast majority of Sunnis falling under Iraqi or Syrian government control have not been killed, being outed “as Shia or a related sect, such as the Alawites, in Sunni rebel-held parts of Iraq and Syria today, has become as dangerous as being a Jew was in Nazi-controlled parts of Europe in 1940.”[135] As in Cambodia or Somalia, diversity will be destroyed, pluralism will end, and a formerly functioning society will be devastated.[136]
In April 2014, the Washington Post reported that on March 21, the attack on the Armenian community of Kessab, Syria “was launched from Turkish soil,” with shelling and machine-gun fire coming from Turkish-based “jihadist rebel groups, which included the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the [FSA’s] Ahrar al-Sham.”[137] Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island drew attention to this attack by “al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists out of Turkey [on] the peaceful Christian-Armenian community in a town that has served as a place of refuge for those trying desperately to escape the bloodshed of the past three years.”[138] Christian refugees from Aleppo and Homs told journalist Nuri Kino that they fled because rebel brigades “were trying to kill [them] … because [they] are Christian….”[139] The Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and Chaldean Catholic Church have reported that extremists have burned or plundered 30 percent of churches in Syria” and “driven out virtually all the population from the Christian towns of Maaloula and Kessab.”[140] These churches’ leaders warn that: “Turkey offers an example of what the future may hold for the region as a whole: the Christian population constitutes a mere 0.15 percent of that country’s 79 million people, down from almost a quarter of the population a century ago.”[141]
The crimes of the insurgents and foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria would already have been recognized as a genocide had their targets not been Shi’as and Christians. In 1974, the Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called the civil strife in Cyprus a “genocide” because one Turkish woman was sexually assaulted, hundreds of Turkish Cypriots became displaced, and “the Turkish Cypriot villages are still under siege.” Turkey’s foreign ministry continues to make this charge today, based on reports that 200 to 300 Turkish Cypriots went missing in 1963-1964, and that dozens of Turkish Cypriot men and one Turkish Cypriot teenage girl may have been killed by Greek Cypriots in 1974.[142] In 1986, the Turkish foreign ministry told the United Nations that Bulgaria was committing “cultural genocide” by demolishing mosques, changing Turkish names to Bulgarian ones, restricting the speaking of Turkish, and “dream[ing] of a ‘greater Bulgaria.’”[143] In 2002, Turkey called Israeli raids into the West Bank in search of suicide bomb factories and men on Israel’s wanted list a genocide, after reports of a massacre in Jenin.[144] In 2009, Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that there was a genocide in China when 148 people died in ethnic clashes between Han Chinese and the Turkic Uighur Muslims of East Turkestan.[145]
Censorship, ignorance, and indifference about Turkey’s history and the nature of its government contributed to policies that may destroy Iraq and Syria. Poorly-planned interventionism, chaotic regime change, alliances with bad actors, and the weaponization of refugee camps have magnified localized strife into religious genocides. Politicians should study the lessons of how the British Empire broke its paper promises to the Ottoman Christians after the Crimean War, after which Ottoman Christian communities were lost. New promises of a pluralistic and democratic Iraq and Syria ring hollow in light of history.

With Armenian Orphan Rug, Obama Stumbles Again on Genocide

Armenian Orphan Rug Photo Credit: Dr. Hagop Martin Deranian
( After nearly a year of protests, the Obama administration has finally agreed to permit a rug connected to the Armenian genocide to be publicly displayed. The long ordeal of the Armenian Orphan Rug, held hostage to fears of angering Turkey, has finally ended.
Or has it?
The controversy began in the autumn of 2013, when the Smithsonian Institution announced it would hold an event featuring a new book, “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” by Hagop Martin Deranian.
The 18-foot long rug was woven 1925 by 400 Armenian orphan girls living in exile in Lebanon. They were survivors of the Turkish slaughter of approximately 1 million Armenians. The girls sent the rug to President Calvin Coolidge as a gesture of appreciation for America’s assistance to survivors of the genocide. Coolidge pledged that it would have “a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”
Instead, it has become a daily symbol of politics taking precedence over combating genocide.
The White House refused to loan the rug to the Smithsonian. Neither the White House nor the State Department would give an explanation as to why they were keeping the rug locked up. The only plausible explanation is pressure from the Turkish government, which to this day denies the genocide occurred.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, then-Senator Obama said, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide.” Yet the statements that President Obama has issued each April on Armenian Remembrance Day have never included the G-word. Instead, he has used an Armenian expression—“Meds Yeghern,” meaning “the great calamity.” Fear of displeasing the Turks appears to be the only plausible motive for that rhetorical evasiveness.
Armenian-Americans are not the only ones who should be outraged. American Jews should be up in arms, too. Not only because of the sympathy that all victims of genocide naturally share—but also because if the White House can permit political considerations to take precedence over recognition of the Armenian genocide, there is a danger that memorialization of the Holocaust could one day suffer a similar fate.
Indeed, Adolf Hitler reportedly once assured his subordinates that their atrocities would not be remembered since “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Last week, after numerous protests, the Obama administration announced that it will permit the rug to be displayed for six days in November—kind of a week-long furlough from its imprisonment in a White House closet.
But there is a catch. A big one.
The rug will not be part of a display concerning the Armenian genocide. Instead, it is being mushed together with other foreign gifts to the White House, in a display called “Thank You to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad.”
The genocide rug will be sandwiched in between a Sevres vase presented by France to the United States after World War One, and a piece of artwork called “Flowering Branches in Lucite” sent by Japan after the 2010 tsunami.
Grouping victims of genocide together with those who drowned in a tsunami or were left homeless by World War One disguises what happened to the Armenians. It blurs the distinction between something that was inevitable and something that was not. Weather-related disasters and damage caused by wars are inevitable. But the Armenian genocide was different: it was an act of mass murder, systematically planned and implemented by evil men driven by religious and ethnic hatred.
The Armenian Orphan Rug is a work of great beauty. But the point of displaying it is not for the sake of its aesthetic value. Its power is its message. Its significance is as a symbol. It is a reminder of the genocide that the Turks perpetrated against the Armenians. Six days in an exhibit about gifts to the White House is no victory. On the contrary—it is a defeat for everyone who cares about historical truth and everyone who seeks to learn the lessons of the past so that they will not be repeated.===================
Here is a closer look at the rug....


Friday, October 17, 2014

Kurt: Bardakçı’s Chest as a Cognovit

Special for the Armenian Weekly
In Kanunların Ruhu: Emval-i Metruke Kanunlarında Soykırımın İzini Sürmek (The Spirit of the Laws: Pursuing the Trace of Genocide on the Abandoned Property Laws), Taner Akçam and I exposed the ways in which the moveable and unmovable properties of the Armenians who were displaced and eliminated in 1915 were obtained and distributed, using all the vehicles provided by the “law,” first by the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), and later the Republican regime with the Abandoned Property Laws (Emval-i Metruke Kanunları) that the government inherited.1
Murat Bardakçı’s İttihatçı’nın Sandığı (The Unionist’s Chest)
Murat Bardakçı’s İttihatçı’nın Sandığı (The Unionist’s Chest)
Although all of the laws issued within the scope of the Abandoned Property Laws noted the Armenians’ entitlement to their property and assets, and stated that at the very least their value should be handed over to them, the process was obstructed in many ways. As a result, the Armenians’ material foundations were eliminated and their physical annihilation was complete. The measure of existence “granted” to the Armenians by these laws was reduced to nothingness.
The promise of Lausanne
The goods that were known to be the property of the Armenians and termed “abandoned” were first distributed by the Treasury and the Finance Ministry to migrants coming from the Balkans and Caucasus, to local notables and minor gentry; in the CUP era, to a variety of state organizations and the army; and again in the Republican era to various organizations and people providing services to the government. Through various means, including the citizenship and passport laws, the same republic that promised in Lausanne to restore the Armenians’ goods, instead of returning to Turkey the Ottoman citizen Armenians left outside the country, sold the goods obtained through the Abandoned Property Laws at a profit, recording the income for this in the 1928 budget as revenue. At the same time, the CUP issued property rights to those already in possession of Armenian immovable properties.2
No wonder, then, that of those actively involved in the seizure of goods and assets during the deportation and annihilation of the Armenians, many were members of the CUP central committee, and many Unionist civil servants and officials benefitted from this “remedy.” Following the signing of the Armistice of Moudros in October 1918, many CUP members who had not left the country were tried for crimes committed during the deportation process at the courts martial established in Istanbul. Among the important CUP names who fled Turkey for Europe immediately after the war, Talat Paşa, Said Halim Paşa, and Cemal Paşa, and Dr. Bahaeddin Şakir Bey and Cemal Azmi Bey, were all killed between June 1920 and July 1922 through “Operation Nemesis,” embarked upon by the Armenians.
With the rulings made in Istanbul, Kemal Bey, the district governor of Boğazliyan and provincial deputy governor of Yozgat, and Nusret Bey, the provincial governor of Urfa, were executed, along with Hafız Abdullah Avni, an Erzincan hotelier and gendarmerie bureau clerk. Interestingly, they were later, in a special law issued by the Turkish Parliament in June 1926, given the title of “national martyr,” and their families were given income and various goods from the “abandoned properties” of the Armenians.
Two hundred and twenty documents
This has been a lengthy preamble, I know. Let us come to the book that is the focus of this long introduction. Coming six years after his book Talat Paşa’nın Evrak-ı Metrukesi (The Abandoned Paper of Talat Paşa), Murat Bardakçı’s İttihatçı’nın Sandığı (The Unionist’s Chest) has now been published, and contains documents and letters of considerable importance that only he was able to access, by entering the personal archives of the Unionist leaders.
Published by İş Bankası Yayınları, the book also includes 19 documents from the Prime Ministry’s Republican Archives relating to the goods of the deported Armenian that were given to the above-mentioned Unionist members and civil servants recognized as “national martyrs” by parliamentary decree. In this book based on 220 documents, 198—in addition to archive documents—are from Bardakçı’s private archives, some of them provided by Unionist families.
The writings in the second section of the book leave the door open for works of the upmost importance in the coming period, and include those of Treasury Minister Cavid Bey (here the correspondence between Halide Edip and Cavid Bey contains particularly interesting information on Edip’s services to the Ayn Tura Orphanage), in addition to the letters of Kürt Şerif Paşa; the documents of Bahriye Nazırı Paşa and İzmir Governor Rahmi Bey; the Malta letters of CUP Secretary-General Midhat Şükrü; and a striking CUP members photo album.
The author’s response
Now let’s come to the book’s purpose: In his introduction, Murat Bardakçı responds to the rightful criticism frequently directed at him—that “To be an historian it is not enough simply to publish documents; those documents must also be commented upon.” As far as Bardakçı is concerned, the criticism comes from those unable to access the documents of the architects of the events of 1915, and are the product of jealousy at being unaware of the documents’ existence and being unable to access them.
Yes, it is true that in terms of access to the documents of the architects of what in the modern understanding was the first great genocide and displacement of the 20th century, and of the decisions that shaped the fate of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the 19th century and during the first quarter of the 20th—it seems it must have been easy for Bardakçı. For, on his own television programs he has said countless times that he is a Unionist, and has professed his admiration for Unionism, and clearly used his close relationships to access vitally important personal archives and writings.
From an historian’s perspective, what is important here is what sort of evaluation these first-hand documents have been subjected to within the historical framework of the period. Otherwise, we could simply peruse second-hand bookstores, find whatever there was from that period, and publish “The Chest of This” or “The Cupboard of That.” The essence and the key point in this matter are the historical conditions and the flow of events within which these documents and writings were produced. How sad, then, that Bardakçı has shown neither the inclination nor efforts with regards to these factors indispensable to historians.
Halide Edip’s letter
As an example, let us look at a letter from the section of Bardakçı’s book that contains the correspondence between Cavid Bey and Halide Edip. In this letter, sent from Beirut by Edip, she writes: “In particular the Armenians; only here do a number of these unfortunate Armenians find the right to live, swearing on the blessed head of Cemal Paşa and by Allah… With stomachs swollen from eating grass out in the desert, some mothers, some fathers, many of them come here after losing their children… I am occupied with the children and women. We have opened a classroom for the little ones, and are teaching them there… In the garden there is another tragedy! An unfortunate struck mute after his son was killed right next to him, with no idea where his other son and family have ended up. Barefoot, with sorrowful eyes, screaming unremittingly of his tragedy. Sometimes in the night, like a woman with a dead child he sobs and wails with his head in his hands…”
In this letter, Edip refers to the Armenian children orphaned and the Armenian women widowed by the deportations and genocide. The description of the services that she provided in the Ayn Tura Orphanage in Beirut presents us with a cross-section of the Armenian Genocide. Such writings gain their meaning through a historically contextualized reading. The point we do not find, and will not find, in Murat Bardakçı’s book is this.
Let us come, then, to the decision that granted the distribution of the Armenians’ remaining goods and assets to those with “national martyr” status. First, let me say this: Anyone who wishes can go to the Republican Archives in Ankara and, within about half an hour, access the 19 documents that were translated from the Ottoman and published there. These documents are a confession of how the assets of the Armenians, in particular their properties, were appropriated by the state via its legal mechanisms and blatantly distributed to the agents of their destruction.
Another striking point highlighted by these documents, and by Bardakçı’s emphasis of the importance of Mustafa Kemal, is how the transfer and seizure of the Armenians’ assets were transferred from the CUP to the Republican regime—leading, in this way, to the continuation and perpetuity of the same mindset. This is because from the moment the Republican regime was founded, just as a silkworm spins its cocoon, the laws it created—replicating and thoroughly consolidating the Abandoned Property Laws constructed by the CUP—provided their perpetuity and prevented the return of goods to Armenian hands.
Perpetuity in the state
In this sense, Bardakçı has made a crucial point. By referencing these documents, it can be proven that Mustafa Kemal was not opposed to the deportations; did not hate the Unionists who gave and applied the decision for deportation; gave roles in the state to people involved in this business; did not see the deported Armenians as wronged; and did not use harsh expressions against those responsible for the deportations. In this respect, Bardakçı must be given his due credit, because many bureaucrats involved in the departments responsible for the Armenian deportations and genocide were promoted to key positions in the state during the years of Kemal’s presidency. Perpetuity was, indeed, embraced in the state.
Murat Bardakçı’s The Unionist’s Chest is presented as a story of destruction and loss, but what emerges from the chest is more like a “bulging” confession. The documents contained in this book are the recognition of the destruction and depredation hurled upon the Armenians. Since the writer was content to simply publish these documents, let the judgment fall to us.
[1] Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt, Kanunların Ruhu: Emval-i Metruke Kanunlarında Soykırımın İzini Sürmek, İletişim Yayınları 2012, Istanbul.
2 For a detailed analysis of the entire so-called legal system behind the expropriation of the movable and immovable properties of the deported Armenians, see Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt, Kanunların Ruhu: Emval-i Metruke Kanunlarında Soykırımın İzini Sürmek, İletişim Yayınları 2012, Istanbul. The English translation of this book will come out in May 2015: Taner Akçam and Ümit Kurt, The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide, Berghahn Books, May 2015.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Kristof: Erdogan Said 1915 not Genocide ‘to My Face’

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (A.W.)—Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told Michael Krasny, host of KQED radio’s Forum program, that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told him in no uncertain terms that he did not believe what happened to the Armenians was genocide, during the show’s Oct. 7 broadcast.
Answering a question from a caller about the Armenian genocide, Krasny said, “It’s worse than denial—I had the Turkish ambassador on and he said there was no genocide, literally. Not only there was no genocide, it was trumped up, it was conspiratorial.”
Kristof, in turn, said, “President Erdogan has told me that to my face, invited me to look through Ottoman archives. The sense of denial is extraordinary.”
Kristof, who is also the co-author of A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunities, is partly of Armenian descent (his father was an Armenian from Romania), and has written on the topic of the Armenian Genocide in the past.
In 2010, in a column titled “Speaking Not as an Armenian,” Kristof wrote: “…I do think the evidence is clear that genocide is the right word for what happened, and that’s why I always refer to it as the Armenian genocide. It’s also true that Turkey has a problem acknowledging its brutality toward both Armenians and Kurds, although it has also gotten much better about this in the last decade. I’ve discussed the issue with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan a couple of times, and he is light years ahead of his predecessors (and still a few light years behind what is needed).”
Kristof’s aforementioned column argued against Congress passing resolutions on the Armenian Genocide, suggesting that instead, “We should be trying to nurture Turkey further along its path of conciliation toward Armenians and the Kurds. Smacking them—even for real historical sins—isn’t a great way to do that. Anybody who thinks that diplomacy is about telling the truth doesn’t know diplomacy.”
In his columns, Kristof focuses on human rights abuses and ongoing atrocities around the world, hoping to mobilize international, and particularly U.S. efforts to stop them. His advocacy surrounding the Darfur Genocide is especially noteworthy. He has cited the Armenian case, and the world’s inaction in the face of those atrocities, in his calls for action.

The World Never Really Faced Kobani

Special for the Armenian Weekly
Some stories are here to stay, and I suspect the story of the 3,000 fighters defending Kobani will be retold for generations to come. Shamefully, the world’s indifference will also be remembered, as will Turkey’s complicity.
Three-thousand Kurdish men and women—members of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—are fighting a bloody battle against 10,000 Islamic State fighters bent on establishing a caliphate that expands from Syria to Iraq, and possibly beyond. Neither the Kurdish YPG fighters’ manpower nor weaponry is a match to those of the Islamist militants. In fact, the Kurds are slowly running out of ammunition and options. Reinforcements are unable to reach them from the tightly controlled Turkish border. On the other hand, truckloads of crude oil are reportedly making their way to the black markets of Turkey to fund the jihadi efforts. Reports of ISIS fighters transiting through Turkey’s borders aren’t infrequent either.
The story of the 3,000 fighters defending Kobani will be retold for generations to come.
The story of the 3,000 fighters defending Kobani will be retold for generations to come.
“The world has turned its back on Kobani,” lamented one resident, named Mahmoud, to The Guardian. But has the world ever really faced Kobani?
Around 160,000 residents have reportedly evacuated Kobani and its surrounding area, and have crossed the border into Turkey. The town is said to be almost entirely empty of civilians—though the line between civilian and fighter are blurred in this life and death fight for survival, so perhaps we should say the town is almost entirely empty of unarmed civilians. Those who have crossed the border now have front row seats to the destruction of their town.
The coalition of the willing—the cartoonish band of unwilling parties under the leadership of the United States—has failed to take any meaningful action. Team U.S.A. includes Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, France, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and others.
Oh, and Turkey—in name so far.
Some critics are left scratching their heads over the involvement of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey because of their alleged moral, financial, and logistical support of ISIS. Others have criticized the continued efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, pointing out that such efforts will only strengthen ISIS and other terrorist groups who will thrive in the vacuum created by a further weakened or ousted Assad.
Turkey, on the other hand, begs to disagree. In fact, Assad’s removal from power is Erdogan’s top priority.
Turkey is refusing to budge in the face of the Kobani offensive, despite the fact that the town is a rock’s throw away from the Turkish border. What’s more, Turkish security forces are even preventing Syrian and local Kurds from crossing the border into Syria to rush to the aid of their compatriots in Kobani. According to reports security forces are using teargas and water cannon to hold back crowds that have flocked to the border. On Oct. 6, over 1,000 residents of the town of Suruc reportedly tried to march to Kobani to join the Kurdish fighters, but were stopped by Turkish security forces.
Any justification given—none that I even care to regurgitate—reveal the simple fact that sinister calculations trump the safety of an entire town. The bottom line is that in no shape, way, or form will Turkey aid in the reinforcement—or in this case, survival—of a Kurdish autonomous enclave close to the PKK on its borders. This policy has been confirmed by recent statements made by Erdogan likening the threat of ISIS to a threat from the existence of such an enclave. Simply put, there is nothing more worrisome to Turkey’s ruling elite than Kurdish self-determination.
But haven’t we seen this before? All across the world, and throughout history, politics outweighing human lives—some would even call that “good diplomacy.”
A handful of haphazard U.S. airstrikes later, ISIS is still advancing into Kobani. Reports claim IS fighters are confidently strolling through streets, without much care or caution, giving rise to rumors that the fighters might be using hard drugs. A couple of black ISIS flags are already waving above buildings.
The fate of the Kurds has once again turned out to be nothing more than a bargaining chip, and Erdogan is the first to demonstrate that.
Kobani is about to fall, he said on Oct. 7. A matter of fact statement—too matter of fact, coming from the president of a country whose largest minority are the Kurds. Erdogan then coolly listed his conditions for involvement: the establishment of no-fly zones over parts of northern Syria (a condition that pundits fear will only pave the way to increased anti-Kurdish activity by Turkey); deployment of ground troops; and training and arming the moderate opposition in Syria. In essence, Erdogan’s priority is ousting President Assad—to be replaced by an Islamist and Turkey-friendly opposition, they would hope.
So much for the great peace process with the Kurds.
But tensions are rising on the Turkish front as well, with demonstrations and riots taking place across the country in nearly 30 cities and towns against Turkey’s policy vis-à-vis Kobani and the ISIS threat. Some protests have ended in deaths. Kurds have also held protests across European cities, as well as in front of the White House.
Kobani will mark a turning point in the emerging Middle East. It will predetermine the course of Turkish-Kurdish relations, the fate of Syria, and the future of ISIS in the region. It will also reveal Turkey’s weight in regional and international politics. All while Kobani is engulfed in flames.
So I’ll come back to you, Mr. Mahmoud. You said “The world has turned its back on Kobani.”
Unfortunately, the world never really faced Kobani, Mr. Mahmoud. Despite your numbers, you have never really commanded much empathy in the international arena. Your enemies have been too powerful, too valuable.
The world knows how to talk a good talk—democracy, human rights, and the right to self-determination. But frankly, your life is expendable, Mr. Mahmoud. Think of Zilan. Think of Dersim. Think of Halabja. And I’ll think of Der Zor.
But you know all this too well, Mr. Mahmoud.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Scholars, Activists Condemn Turkish Textbooks Vilifying Armenians

ISTANBUL, Turkey (A.W.)—Turkish scholars, artists, and writers harshly condemned primary and middle school textbooks that are replete with anti-Armenian rhetoric in Turkey, and demanded that the books be pulled from circulation.
An image of page 23 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. The section deals with 1915, and alleges that Armenians committed massacres against innocent Turkish women and children, while Turkish men were fighting on the fronts. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
An image of page 23 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. The section deals with 1915, and alleges that Armenians committed massacres against innocent Turkish women and children, while Turkish men were fighting on the fronts. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
In a statement issued in late September, the signatories wrote, “After immediately pulling the ‘History’ and ‘History of the Turkish Revolution’ textbooks from circulation, apologies should be issued to all students, particularly to Armenian ones. As we approach 2015, the road to Turkish-Armenian peace that we long for passes through here.”
The textbooks portray Armenians as traitors who plotted with foreign enemies to tear apart the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and as mass murderers of innocent Turkish and Muslim women and children while Muslim men were waging a war of survival.
The textbooks, all published over the past few years and approved by a special commission of Turkey’s Ministry of Education, are also mandatory in Armenian schools in Turkey.
The cover page of Unit 2 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
The cover page of Unit 2 of the Middle School textbook on the history of the Turkish Revolution and Ataturk. (Photo: The Armenian Weekly)
Two newspapers in Turkey, Agos and Taraf, had published a series of articles by Taner Akçam on the anti-Armenian hate-filled rhetoric in Turkish textbooks earlier in September.
Here is the full list of signatories: Adalet Ağaoğlu, Ahmet Altan, Ahmet Hakan, Ahmet İnsel, Ali Bayramoğlu, Ali Nesin, Asaf Savaş Akat, Aydın Engin, Ayhan Aktar, Ayşe Günaysu, Ayşe Hür, Baskın Oran, Bekir Ağırdır, Betül Tanbay, Bülent Bilmez, Bülent Keneş, Cafer Solgun, Cemal Uşak, Cengiz Aktar, Daron Acemoğlu, Defne Asal, Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, Deniz Türkali, Edhem Eldem, Elçin Macar, Emel Kurma, Emine Uçak Erdoğan, Eren Keskin, Erol Katırcıoğlu, Fatih Akın, Ferhat Kentel, Fikret Adanır, Fuat Keyman, Gülten Kaya, Hadi Uluengin, Halil Berktay, Halil Ergün, Hasan Cemal, Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal, İbrahim Betil, İhsan Eliaçık, İhsan Yılmaz, İsmet Berkan, İştar Gözaydın, Kemal Burkay, Kenan Çayır, Kutluğ Ataman, Leyla Neyzi, Mehmet Altan, Murat Belge, Murat Morova, Nilüfer Göle, Niyazi Kızılyürek, Oktay Özel, Oral Çalışlar, Orhan Pamuk, Oya Baydar, Ömer Laçiner, Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, Ömer Madra, Perihan Mağden, Roni Margulies, Samim Akgönül, Saruhan Oluç, Savaş Genç, Selçuk Gültaşlı, Selim Deringil, Serra Yılmaz, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Seyfettin Gürsel, Sinan Çetin, Soli Özel, Şahin Alpay, Şanar Yurdatapan, Şebnem İşigüzel, Taner Akçam, Tarık Ziya Ekinci, Temel İskit, Tilbe Saran, Turgay Oğur, Ufuk Uras, Uğur Kömeçoğlu, Umut Özkırımlı, Ümit Kardaş, Ümit Kıvanç, Üstün Ergüder, Vedat Türkali, Yasemin Çongar, Yavuz Baydar, Zeynep Direk and Zeynep Tanbay.