ISIS overruns Iraq’s second largest city, Western media suddenly concerned that Qaeda flags flying over Iraq, but OK with AQ in Syria

2014 photo posted on ISIS media account, Syria watchers say the weapon is a Croatian RBG-6 grenade launcher, a weapon supplied to the Syrian rebels through the Saudi and CIA effort to transfer Balkan weapons to Syrian jihadists

From coverage:

The fight for Mosul was a heavy defeat in Baghdad’s battle against a widening insurgency by a breakaway al Qaeda group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has been trying – with some success – to seize territory both in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Earlier this year, the group captured another Iraqi city, Fallujah, in the west of the country, and government forces have been unable to take it back after months of fighting. The far larger Mosul is an even more strategic prize. The city and surrounding Ninevah province are a major export route for Iraqi oil and a gateway to Syria.

Regaining Mosul poses a daunting challenge for al-Maliki. The city has a Sunni Muslim majority and many in the community are already deeply embittered against his Shiite-led government. During the nearly nine-year American presence in the country, Mosul was a major stronghold for al Qaeda and U.S. and Iraqi forces carried out repeated offensives there, regaining a semblance of control but never routing the insurgents entirely.

Islamic militants and Iraqi troops have been fighting for days in Mosul. But Monday night and into early Tuesday, the government forces in the city appeared to collapse.

Insurgents overran the Ninevah provincial government building in the city – a key symbol of state control – in the evening, and security forces fled many of their posts. The fighters stormed police stations, bases and prisons, capturing weapons and freeing prisoners.

ISIS (or alternately ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) gained its immense strength fighting in Syria, where it enjoyed the benefits of being allied with those awash in American/Qatari/Saudi cash and weapons. I’ve watched some of their propaganda videos and can’t help but notice how professional they are in terms of their gear, technology, online media presence, and general bearing and appearance. ISIS has all the marks of outside state sponsorship -likely Saudi intelligence with remote help from CIA, as both entities are part of the same network of training/funding for the Syrian insurgency.

Though ISIS has been chiefly battling Nusra and FSA groups over the past year, it also has a history of fighting alongside so-called “moderate” Syrian groups depending on geography and circumstance. See Oxford scholar and Middle East analyst Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi:

Another prominent FSA battalion in the Aleppo area with which ISIS generally maintains cordial relations is Liwa al-Tawhid, whose ideological orientation is in line with that of the Ikhwan.[59] In July 2013, rumors began circulating–in origin from pro-Supreme Military Command circles (affiliated with General Salim Idriss)–that the rebel icon from Jarabulus, Abu Furat, had been killed by “Islamists” (i.e., JN/ISIS). However, Liwa al-Tawhid soon issued a statement denying that this was so, describing such rumors as an attempt by Western powers to stir up fitna(discord) in rebel ranks through the Arabic news channel al-Arabiya.[60] More recently, an image was put out showing a member of Liwa al-Tawhid in Aleppo engaging in a friendly arm-wrestling match with an ISIS fighter (Appendix, Figure 10).

Like the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Syrian battlefield has seen constant shifting rebel alliances. See this report:

Cooperation between the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, continues even as the FSA tries to obtain more American arms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, an FSA element, has teamed up with Jabhat al-Nusra in recent weeks in attempts to capture strategic hilltops in Syria’s southwestern Quneitra province overlooking the Israel-held Golan Heights.

“The FSA and Nusra Front are cooperating on the front line,” Abu Omar Golani, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front’s media coordinator, told the Journal.

The idea that the various Al-Qaeda groups among the Syrian insurgents are somehow distinct from a supposedly secular and moderate FSA is a myth promoted in Western propaganda. The US government is now openly admitting to funding, training, and weaponizing the Syrian rebels; simply put, the US government is providing material support to Al-Qaeda and its allies.

But what’s funny is that with the ISIS takeover of Fallujah and Mosul, Western politicians and media are expressing outrage that the AQ flag could be flying over Iraqi cities. Yet it was NATO supported AQ fighters who were the first in history to fly the AQ flag over the Mediterranean during the Kessab offensive (the Armenian Christian town in the news a few months ago).

The day was March 29, 2014 – US/NATO backed Qaeda death squads, after cleansing Kessab of its Christian and civilian population, posed for a shot over the Mediterranean. There was not a peep about this historic photo, which was posted on jihadi websites and circulated widely among professional Syria analysts:


Professor As’ad Abukhalil (of Angry Arab News Service) stated the obvious in January …don’t expect the mainstream media to present such clear and obvious commentary:

In Iraq, the US is arming the government against the rebels.  In Syria, the US is arming the rebels against the government.  But here is the irony: the rebels in Iraq are allies of the rebels in Syria, while the Iraqi government is aligned with the government of Syria.  Figure it out.


“Humanitarian Intervention” and the Continuing Shadow War: Benghazi, the CIA, and the War in Libya

                                                                                                                                          NEW EASTERN OUTLOOK, by Eric Draitser – The unfolding violence and chaos in Libya’s second city of Benghazi should be understood as a power struggle between competing factions, each struggling to assert its own authority over the critical commercial center. However, what is purposely omitted from the Western media narrative is the fact that both groups – one a military command led by Libyan General Hifter, the other an Islamist terror group called Ansar al-Sharia – are proxies of the United States, each having received US support through a variety of channels in recent years. Seen in this way, the unrest in Libya must be understood as a continuation of the war waged against that country by the US-NATO forces.

As firefights, explosions, and air strikes become the norm in Benghazi and the surrounding areas, the nature of the conflict remains somewhat murky. On the one hand is Army General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar (also spelled Hifter), a longtime military commander under Gaddafi who fled Libya for the United States where he became a principal asset for the CIA until his return to Libya at the height of the US-NATO assault on that country. On the other hand is the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia organization, led by Ahmed Abu Khattala, which has been implicated in the September 11, 2012 attack on the US-CIA compound in Benghazi which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens. In examining both the conflict and connections between these two individuals and the factions they lead, the fingerprints of US intelligence could not be more apparent.

However, the situation in Benghazi, and the Cyrenaica region more generally, is far more complex than simply these two factions. There are other important militias which have played a significant role in bringing the region to the brink of total war. From blockading Benghazi and Cyrenaica’s oil ports to internecine conflicts within the militia movements/coalitions, these militias have made the possibility of reconciliation almost unthinkable. And so, despite the fact that the combat phase of the US-NATO war in Libya ended nearly three years ago, the country is still undeniably a war zone.

The War for Benghazi

The news coming from Benghazi is growing steadily more troubling. On Monday June 2nd, nearly one hundred Libyans, many of them being civilians, were killed or wounded in the coastal metropolis and surrounding towns when the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia attacked a camp occupied by forces loyal to Army General Hifter. Hifter’s men, equipped with modest but effective air power including the use of combat helicopters, responded to the attack, driving off many of the Ansar al-Sharia militants. In the process however, residents of Benghazi were forced to flee or take refuge in their homes, with many businesses and schools remaining closed due to the sporadic gunfire and other fighting.

Though the clash was modest in scope in comparison to the horrors of the US-NATO war on Libya in 2011, it is a stark reminder of the sad reality that is modern Libya – a once proud nation reduced to a patchwork of competing militias, clans, and tribes, with no central authority ruling the country, no reliable social services, and a complete absence of the rule of law. It is within this maelstrom of political and social conflict that we must examine the nature of the conflict in Benghazi.

The city has been rocked by fighting and political posturing since the overthrow and assassination of Gaddafi in 2011. While a provisional government in Tripoli was established by the so called National Transitional Council (NTC), real power on the streets was exercised by competing militias loyal to their tribal and/or clan affiliations, and usually restricted to one major town or city. Although there are a number of Islamist militias operating in or around Benghazi, the two most powerful and well organized are the February 17 Martyrs Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia. While both organizations are nominally independent, each has outwardly expressed either a direct or indirect affiliation with the terror brand known as Al Qaeda.

Opposing both 17 February and Ansar al-Sharia is the so called Libyan National Army, a collection of militias and smaller units loyal to General Hifter. Having recently gained notoriety for declaring a quasi-coup against the Tripoli government in February 2014, the Libyan National Army has been waging a low-intensity war against the Islamist militias in hopes of gaining control over Benghazi and the Cyrenaica region. Naturally, General Hifter’s plans extend well beyond Benghazi, as he intends to use the conflict there as the pretext by which he hopes he’ll bring the country under his leadership. While there are some who see this as an unlikely scenario, it is nevertheless an important part of the strategic calculus.

Finally, there is the lingering question of other militias which have, at various times, controlled critical oil terminals and port facilities in Benghazi and the East generally. Of particular note is the militia surrounding Ibrahim al-Jathran, a young tribal leader who has called for regional autonomy for Cyrenaica from the central government in Tripoli. Jathran and his men have numerous times blockaded key oil facilities as a means of leveraging their demands. Though as yet they have succeeded only in causing a political and diplomatic problem for Tripoli, al-Jathran’s militia, and others like it, only further complicate the endlessly complex politics of the Libyan street.

Libya’s “Revolution” and US Intelligence

From the outset of the war against Libya, the United States and its NATO allies utilized a variety of terror groups and other intelligence assets to topple the Gaddafi government. While some had been directly linked to the CIA, others were pulled from the stable of terror organizations utilized at various times by the US as mujahideen in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and elsewhere. Essentially then, the US developed a loose network of proxies, some of which were ideologically opposed to the US and to one another, that it unleashed on Libya to do Washington’s dirty work.

One key group allied with US intelligence is Hifter’s Libyan National Army. The organization was founded by Hifter after his defection (or expulsion) from Libya in the early 1980s. From there, Hifter became a significant asset for the CIA in its quest to topple Gaddafi. Using Hifter’s forces in Chad during the Libya-Chad war of the early 1980s, the CIA attempted the first of many regime change efforts in Libya. As the New York Times reported in 1991:

The secret paramilitary operation, set in motion in the final months of the Reagan Administration, provided military aid and training to about 600 Libyan soldiers who were among those captured during border fighting between Libya and Chad in 1988…They were trained by American intelligence officials in sabotage and other guerrilla skills, officials said, at a base near Ndjamena, the Chadian capital. The plan to use the exiles fit neatly into the Reagan Administration’s eagerness to topple Colonel Qaddafi.

As the above cited Times article noted, the regime change efforts failed and Hifter and his associates were then given safe passage and residence in the US. A State Department spokesman at the time explained that the men would have “access to normal resettlement assistance, including English-language and vocational training and, if necessary, financial and medical assistance.” Indeed, Hifter spent nearly two decades living comfortably in a suburban Virginia home, just a short drive from CIA headquarters at Langley. He became known as the CIA’s “Libya point man,” having taken part in numerous regime change efforts, including the aborted attempt to overthrow Gaddafi in 1996.

And so, when Hifter conveniently showed back up in Libya to take part in the 2011 regime change operation, many political observers noted that this meant that the hand of the CIA was intimately involved in the uprising. Indeed, as the war evolved and more became known about the deeply rooted connection between US intelligence and the so called “rebels,” the truth about Hifter became impossible to conceal. However, Hifter was certainly not alone in being a willing puppet of NATO and the CIA.

Read the rest here…

Has America Lost its Proxy War on Syria? What Now?

by Dr. Ismail Salami, Global Research May 10, 2014

Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Iran and Russia, Syria is gradually recuperating a callous crisis wrought by Washington and its regional Arab puppets.

According to an agreement brokered by the UN, Russia and Iran, foreign-backed militants left the Syrian city of Homs on Thursday and the city is now fully under the full control of government forces.

“Old Homs is totally clean of armed terrorist groups,” a banner on Syrian TV read.

“What has been achieved was a result of efforts that lasted for months starting through evacuating hundreds of civilians from the Old City and settling the cases of nearly 820 gunmen who have given up and handed over their weapons to authorities,” said the provincial governor, Talal al-Barazi.

A country hitherto reduced to desperation and dereliction, Syria has sustained wounds which will take years to heal. Barely is there now any hope whatsoever for removing President Bashar al-Assad from power and installing a US-friendly regime instead in the country.

That is a fact we can’t deny and nor can Washington.

The naked truth is that Washington has by now relinquished all hopes for putting this pernicious plot into a practical shape. In fact, the foreign-backed militants fighting in Syria will soon have to leave the country with their tails between their legs.

 Interestingly, there is a mounting fear that the homegrown brainwashed European Takfiris in Syria many of whom hailed from Britain and France may now return to their countries with their overblown ambitions for inspiring terror and atrocity in their own lands. In other words, there is a great angst that chickens come home to roost.

In an Op-ed for the New York Post, John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN, implicitly confessed to the manifest debacle of the West in handling the situation in Syria, their political ineptitude and gargantuan miscalculations on a systematic paradigm of regime change followed by Washington in different parts of the world.

An amusing character whose knowledge of events is chiefly culled from the figments of his imagination rather than from the realities on the ground, Bolton has blatantly accused Syria of trying to use chemical weapons for a second time.

 By now, the entire world knows that the use of chemical weapons by Damascus is a threadbare lie and even the UN report pointed with all force to the absurdity of this claim by the West. However, Mr. Bolton does not bother to read or watch news and relies instead on his truncated perceptions. Or maybe he prefers to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the realities like his American compeers.

 He states that

“chaos is growing, with increased fighting among the opposition groups … and fresh evidence that Bashar al-Assad is again using chemical weapons. But the chaos of US Syria policy is growing too, with the news that the administration is now supplying the rebels advanced weapons.”

 In the end, Bolton who has come to a similar conclusion concerning Syria, comes up with a genius idea: i.e. Washington should focus on “the real threats, neither minimizing nor dismissing them, and not be distracted by Syria’s conflict… Iran’s unrelenting pursuit of nuclear weapons may yet awaken our president from dreamland.”

The question is: when the West in cahoots with the Arab puppet regimes participated in a dangerous game in Syria, destroyed the infrastructure of the country, demolished the dreams of a nation, and caused the deaths of over 150,000 people including innocent women and children, were they fundamentally propelling a popular uprising in Syria?

It is now more than naïve to presume that Washington entertains humanitarian objectives in Syria. Basically, the country was viewed as a definitive road to Tehran and a subsequent empowerment of Tel Aviv in the region much to the chagrin of resistance movements such as Hezbollah.

As for Iran there is almost a general consensus that the country’s ‘nuclear weapons program’ is a lie invented by the US government to foment Iranophobia on the one hand and vindicate an eventual invasion of the country in the eyes of the international community on the other hand.

This farcical notion has been recently rejected even by the Israelis. In a recent interview with Israel’s Ynet, Israeli Brigadier General Uzi Eilam berated Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies on Iran, saying he and “other politicians have inspired terrible and unnecessary fear into the hearts of the Israeli public.”

Eilam who headed the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) from 1976-1985 said, “The Iranian nuclear program will only be operational in another 10 years… Netanyahu is using the Iranian threat to achieve a variety of political objectives” and that he was pursuing his personal goals.

After all, Iran does not need an Israeli to prove that it is pursuing a civilian nuclear program and that it does not have the least intention of using the achieved nuclear technology to produce nuclear weapons as the idea runs counter to the very principles upon which the Islamic Republic has been built. Besides, it violates the binding fatwa issued by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei against the production and proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Any Syria-style conceived plot by Washington against Iran is sure to end in failure– a more mortifying debacle indeed.

In the final analysis, Iran is apparently seen as a geopolitical thorn in Washington’s side and any desperate attempt to remove this thorn will only intensify the pain. 

New Eastern Outlook: “The West’s War on Middle East Christians” by Ulson Gunnar

New Eastern Outlook (4/27/14) – TIME Magazine’s article, “Christians and Tyrants: Why the Middle East’s Persecuted Minority is Making Unholy Choices,” is an attempt to explain to impressionable Western audiences why Christians (and other minorities) have stalwartly backed both the military-led government in Egypt and the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria for now over 3 years.

TIME implies in title alone, that they’ve erred or compromised themselves by doing so. But as we will soon see, nothing could be further from the truth, and the support these minorities exhibit for their respective protectors now is a result of protection offered to them by secular leaders against foreign-backed sectarian extremists for decades.

TIME’s Tall Tale 

TIME begins by describing the overrunning of the Syrian town of Raqqa. It claims that the Islamic State of Iaq and Greater Syria (ISIS aka Al Qaeda in Iraq ‘AQI,’ a US designated terrorist organization) overpowered “more moderate rebel brigades,” and subsequently subjected Christians to persecution under their rule.

Some 3,000 Christians fled, leaving only small number behind to be beheaded, flogged, and otherwise abused, tortured, and systematically exterminated. TIME claims Al Qaeda has even disavowed ISIS for its extreme violence, perhaps hoping readers don’t realize ISIS is in fact Al Qaeda, and that Al Qaeda’s other brands in Syria, including the al-Nusra front, is similarly abusing other minorities across Syria, including most recently in Kessab in the north, with NATO backing.

TIME then goes on to expand its deceptive narrative to include Christians across the Middle East, admitting that under Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, despite “nightmarish human-rights abuses” they “tended to protect Christian minorities and kept much of the region relatively stable.” The deception here is obvious. The so-called “human rights abuses” TIME refers to was in fact the long struggle Iraq, Egypt, and many other nations across the Middle East and North Africa fought against sectarian extremists, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood and the proto-Al Qaeda militant groups it spawned.

TIME claims that while most Christians have fled in the wake of Western meddling and the resulting chaos, those that have remained are “supporting authoritarian regimes in exchange for protection.”

In regards to this TIME claims, “…the Coptic Pope has tactically supported military dictatorship for decades and recently backed the leader of last year’s coup, former field marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, for May’s presidential election. In Syria church leaders have tolerated 40 years of Assad family rule for fear of an Islamist alternative. Such self-preservation puts Christian leaders in the camp of strongmen who frequently use violence against their own people. In backing these authoritarian regimes, those leaders and their supporters have failed to help their countries develop into states where justice, the rule of law and tolerance are applied evenly, not just to the ruling sect and its allies.”

Deconstructing the West’s Assault on Christians and other Minorities 

“Strongmen who frequently use violence against their own people…” TIME claims.

Which people? Surely not the Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze, Coptics, Jews, or secular communities. So who? And why?

TIME never says, but the answer is painfully clear. These “strongmen” are using violence against sectarian extremists, heavily armed, well funded, and backed by the enemies of the states’ over which these “strongmen” rule. TIME’s obtuse narrative represents a larger pattern of deceit executed across the entirety of the West’s political landscape. They create violent opposition groups to infiltrate and destabilize nations they seek regime-change within, then spin the predictable and inevitable security operations launched to confront them as “violence used against their own people.” Such tactics were used in Libya, Syria, and now being spun end-over-end in Ukraine.

TIME, through quoting an “anonymous Christian” who left his sect because of its “support for Assad,” claims that, “if Syrian’s Christians had sided with the revolution in the fist place, standing , like Jesus, in solidarity with all those oppressed by the regime I don’t think we would be in this situation today.”

This is, however, factually absurd. It was decided, long before the “revolution” began, that sectarian extremists would be the armed “fist” leading regime-change engineered not by the Syrian people, but by the enemies of the Syrian state, namely the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Israel. This was revealed by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh in a prophetic and quite lengthy 2007 report titled, “The Redirection” published by the New Yorker.

That TIME even admits in their most recent article that “the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria,” “seized Raqqa in May 2013 from more moderate rebel brigades,” tells readers that despite the United States and its allies funding and arming these “more moderate rebel brigades” with billions of dollars over the last three years, somehow ISIS is being paid and armed even better by “someone else.” Who is that, if the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and many others are busy funding and arming “moderates?”

The answer exposes both the lies of TIME Magazine and the larger lies regarding the narrative and agenda TIME is contributing toward.

Read the complete article here…

Media Blackout of New Syria Revelations

My article, originally published yesterday for The Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) is an independent research and media organization based in Montreal.

(Photo credit: Institute for Policy Studies, Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo credit: Institute for Policy Studies, Wiki Commons)

Today (4/6/14), London Review of Books published in its online journal Seymour Hersh’s “The Red Line and the Rat Line.” Hersh continues to expose details surrounding the staged August 21 chemical attack incident in Syria, which apparently pretty much everyone in Washington’s intelligence bureaucracy suspected was carried out by the rebels as soon as it happened.

Seymour Hersh is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist whose 40+ years career includes the exposing of the My Lai Massacre  and its cover-up, as well as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. His December 19 report, “Whose Sarin?” -was his first report to expose the Syria chemical attack hoax. While “Whose Sarin” was originally prepared for the Washington Post, the newspaper rejected it and a media blackout followed in American press. Currently, Hersh’s newest investigative findings are going unacknowledged in mainstream US media.

Hersh’s report confirms the following:

  • Obama’s push for attack on Syria was halted last minute when evidence that the Syrian government had nothing to do with the August 21 chemical attack became too overwhelming
  • It had been well known to US government officials throughout the summer of 2013 that Turkish PM Erdogan was supporting al-Nusra Front in attempts to manufacture Sarin
  • US military knew of Turkish and Saudi program for bulk Sarin production inside Syria from the spring of 2013
  • UN inspectors knew the rebels were using chemical weapons on the battlefield since the spring of 2013
  • As a result of the staged chemical incident, the White House ordered readiness for a “monster strike” on Syria, which included “two B-22 air wings and two thousand pound bombs” -and a target list which included military and civilian infrastructure targets (note: most of these are in densely populated civilian areas)
  • Full military strike was set for September 2
  • UK defense officials relayed to their American counterparts in the lead up to planned attack: “We’re being set up here.”
  • CIA, MI6, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey set up a “rat line” back in 2012 to run Libyan weapons into Syria via Turkey, including MANPADS; the Benghazi consulate was headquarters for the operation
  • Obama OK’ed Turkish-Iranian gold export scam (that went from March 2012 to July 2013) which erupted in a Turkish scandal that nearly brought down the Erdogan government
  • US Intelligence community had immediate doubts about Syrian regime responsibility for Aug. 21 attack, yet “reluctant to contradict the president”
  • US government will not expose continued Turkey support of terrorism simply because “they’re a NATO ally”

In addition, last Thursday freelance Middle East journalist Sara Elizabeth Williams broke the story of a CIA/US Military run training camp for Syrian rebels in the Jordanian desert. VICE UK ran her story, “I Learned to Fight Like an American at the FSA Training Camp in Jordan,” yet it too failed to make it across the Atlantic into American reporting. International Syria experts thought her story hugely significant, but it got little attention. Top Syria expert in the US, Joshua Landis, announced on his Twitter account Thursday: “Sara Williams gets the scoop on the top secret FSA Training Camp in Jordan.” This courageous young freelancer revealed, with photos, the ins and outs of this secretive facility -yet the mainstream carefully shielded Americans from knowledge of the explosive report.

In email conversation this weekend, Williams told me: “The access was tough to get, but I think it was worth the effort: to my mind, it’s important that people know what their government is doing in their name, with their tax dollars.”

According to her investigative report:

  • Confirmed: “US-run training camp” for Syrian rebels in Northern Jordan
  • Rebel recruits go “off the grid” while in secretive training camp
  • Rebel fighter: “The Americans who taught us wore military uniforms I did not recognize. We called them by their first names and they spoke English to us.”
  • Camp awash with “American food and American dollars”: recruits eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and live in temporary “pre-fabricated housing” units
  • Recruits sent through intense 40 day program, which includes exercise, training in anti-tank missiles, and boot camp style atmosphere with orders given by US military instructors
  • Upon graduation, US trained insurgents slip back across Syria’s southern border
  • Experts say there are more camps like this one
  • American trained rebel insurgent says: “America is benefiting from the destruction and the killing in order to weaken both sides.”


Which Way Turkey? — A Personal Reflection

Istanbul 2007(2) 207Turkey is somewhat in the news these days–and not in a good way. A recent New York Review of Books article considers three books on the current state of affairs, and particularly the fraying relationship between the Gulen movement and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I have only the most superficial understanding of the Gulen movement and the intricacies of this struggle for leadership among Turkey’s Islamists. Plots and conspiracies abound within this whirlwind, aided in large part by a complicit judiciary on one side and a police community on the other, each willing to do the bidding of their particular faction. And in probably the most important story that you didn’t read in this last week’s news cycle, a video caught high-ranking Turkish government officials planning a false flag attack on Northern Syria. Add to that the fact that the Turkish economic miracle may be fading. And of course, many still recall the demonstrations in Taksim Square from last summer.

I am a great lover of Turkey and recall my first exposure with great fondness, stumbling into the country in 2003, almost as by accident. On a whim, I decided to interrupt an exploration of Bulgaria and take the Balkan Express to Istanbul for a few days. (This was also the occasion of perhaps my personal best as a traveler–making my reservations for a sleeper in mangled French–the only language common to me and the clerk in Sofia.) I first sat foot on Turkish soil at Kapipule, at 2:00 in the morning, as we piled out of the train and made our way, bleary-eyed, across the tracks to the dumpy little border crossing. The train was about to leave by the time I figured out that I must purchase a visa in one building before having my passport stamped in another. In my confusion and haste, I actually boarded the wrong train. But after a momentary panic, I retraced my steps and found my car. The following morning, I disembarked at Istanbul’s Sirkeci station–quite literally the end of the line in Europe. If someone at age 48 could still be described as wide-eyed, then that was my reaction to the city. The bustle of Sultanahmet–and the East–beckoned me in the same way it has captivated other Western travelers through the centuries.

I returned time and again, in and out of Turkey six or seven times by 2011. In the course of these travels, I visited most every major region of the country, save for the southern coastline around to Antakya. For someone with an appreciation of history, the Anatolian countryside yields new discoveries around every corner. And along the way, I came to love the open hospitality of the Turks themselves. To educate myself further, I read Orhan Pamuk, and followed the commentary of Mustafa Akyol. Louis de Bernierres’ Birds Without Wings remains one of my favorite novels (an incredibly powerful narrative of the tragedy–for it is that–of modern Turkey).

Back home, I become an enthusiastic advocate, if not apologist, for Turkey. In 2003, the atmosphere here could only be described as feverish. We had just shocked and awed Iraq, and Turkey’s refusal to allow our bombers to fly-over still rankled in people’s minds. At least in my uninformed part of the country, the Turks were simply part of the unintelligible Muslim other, no different than any other over there. And so, I talked a lot about Turkey, even to the point of joining the crackpots who wrote letters to the local newspaper. I would explain–with mixed success–the all-important differences between Turk and Arab and Kurd and Persian, and that the Sufi-influenced Islam of Anatolia had perhaps always been more moderate than elsewhere.

I often related the anecdote from an acquaintance in Izmir. He told me of wealthy Saudi tourists arriving at the Izmir airport, destined for the Aegean beach resorts. The women would shed their head-coverings in the airport lobby and toss them in the nearest trash bin as soon as possible. So you see, I pleaded, Turkey was different. The most common question I would receive had to do with whether I was “safe” over there. This is, of course, laughable to anyone who has traveled in the region. I assured them that I never once worried about safety until my plane touched down in Texas.

My more informed acquaintances questioned the Islamist faction of the new ruling AKP Party. I reassured them by making a comparison to our own Republican Party. Just as the GOP contains social conservatives, or Movement Conservatives as they are called now, as well as traditional business interest Republicans, so the AKP contains both conservative Islamists and the rising entrepreneurial middle class, both long frustrated by the Kemalist stranglehold on power. In each situation, the two factions have their own particular agendas, which may very well conflict with the other at times.

Certainly some of my Turkish acquaintances fell into this latter category–young, ambitious, educated, western-oriented and not particularly religious. But Istanbul is not really Turkey in the same way that New York City is not really America (and I write this as someone who loves both cities). A foreign visitor to our largest city can be forgiven for not comprehending that a more representative sampling of this country might be found, for example, at the truck stop I recently patronized on Interstate Highway 40 between Memphis and Nashville. And so, even at the first, I sensed that my cool friends in their nice cars might not be the full story of this new Turkey. At Topkapi Palace (not my favorite Istanbul “must-see”), we foreign visitors were probably outnumbered by Turkish tourists from the conservative hinterlands of Anatolia. These sturdy Turkish women, heavy and broad, identically dressed in thick, drab, monochrome gray overcoats and scarves, quite literally elbowed and man-handled me away from a display case in the museum. It seems I lingered too long examining some hairs from the beard of Mohammed.

To my Orthodox Christian co-religionists, I suggested that the AKP, in their supposed piety, might actually be loosening the noose ever so slightly on the Greek church there. Some signs indicated that the continuing persecution of the Church came more from the entrenched judiciary than from the Islamist faction of the AKP. I encouraged friends to travel to Turkey. I developed travel itineraries with tips to make the most of their time there, while avoiding the usual scams.

Even from the first, however, some aspects of the Turkish mindset irritated me to no end. I bristled at their pervasive Turkocentrism–smug and unquestioning. Perhaps this is merely their variation of our own equally unrealistic American Exceptionalism. If so, it is equally unappealing. The Turks have a mythic view of themselves, as we all do, I suppose. Theirs, however, often seems more detached from real history. In all things, we would do well to understand that they consider themselves Turks first, Muslims second, and Sunnis last.

Beyond this, one often finds an indifferent attitude to their past, dismissive and obtusely ignorant of the civilizations that preceded them in Anatolia, or recognizing that Turkish culture itself is greatly derivative of that which went before (my good friend Turan being a notable exception to this). History begins with the Seljuks (if not the Ottomans), and nothing much matters before then. I have found Turks to be notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to criticism of their past. This unquestioning of history is not unique to the Turkish nation, but the skepticism which many Americans have come to view our own past seems largely absent in Turkey. On the other hand, they seem unusually susceptible to the wildest of conspiracy theories.

Turks can display a deft ability to ignore or deny real history. The Armenian Genocide is, of course, the best example of this mindset. In 2006, I endured a tour of the Museum of the Turkish Genocide in Igdir. The Turks have concocted an alternative history in which the poor Turkish peasants were the genocidal victims of the Armenians, not the other way around. The museum and monument is visible from the Armenian border, replete with lurid, cartoonish murals depicting crazed, gun-toting priests leading the Armenians against the noble Turks. So there is that.

None of these concerns prevent me from returning to Turkey, however. In fact, I will be in the far eastern reaches of the country in May of 2014. But my enthusiasm for all things Turkish has waned. My defense of the AKP has come to an end. Broadly speaking, the ruling party displays the same authoritarian bent as the former regime. The judiciary seems no less corrupt. In countless sundry ways, the particular religiosity of the AKP base is making its presence known. The recent ban on the sale of alcohol after 10:00 PM, for example, will be noticeable to even the casual Istanbul tourist.

Hopes of resolving long-standing issues with the Greek Orthodox Church have withered. The cat-and-mouse game between the Patriarchate and the Turkish government regarding the return of Halki Seminary has turned out to be just that, a game. In the 1990s, the government looked the other way while Kurds undertook the ethnic cleansing of the Suriani Orthodox Christians in the Tur Abdin. And there seems no outcry within Turkey today as their judiciary completes that operation, confiscating the 1,400 year old Mor Gabriel Monastery, one of the last Christian enclaves in the region (visited by this writer in 2006).

For political reasons, the exquisite Hagia Sophia Church–the jewel of the Trapezuntine kingdom–has now been converted into a mosque though Trabzon hardly lacks for Muslim worship venues. And this brings us to the current discussion of doing the same with the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. In the past, this would have been unimaginable, and I would have dismissed such as wild conspiracy talk. In the new political realities of Turkey, such an outcome looks more like a distinct possibility. Robert Ousterhout, the respected Byzantine scholar, calls this the “litmus test” of conservative members of the ruling party. We know how such litmus tests proceed in this country, and so the slow strangulation of any non-Turkish element in society continues apace. Indeed, the cosmopolitan air of old Constantinople has been largely just a memory for a long time now. For better or worse, Istanbul will be–must be, apparently–a thoroughly Turkish city.

One detects a strong sense of national insecurity in all this. Why must any remembrance of the pre-Ottoman past be extinguished? Why cannot their minorities be allowed to flourish? The new Turkey will be a duller, sadder, and even more melancholy place.

The 100-year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide rolls around next year. You can count on the official government’s response/repudiation/rejection to be rather ugly in tone. One can also depend on the unofficial reaction among Turks in general to be even uglier.

And now we have evidence of Turkey’s messy involvement in the Syrian Civil War, as well as their deep level of support for the insurgents. At first, these actions seemed incomprehensible to me. Turkey certainly managed to stay out of the Iraqi war on their border. If so inclined, they could do the same with Syria. But by stepping back a bit and taking the long historical view, their actions are more understandable. By the time we gained our own independence, the Ottoman Empire was already the “Sick Man of Europe,” and would remain so until its death in 1919. But they were not always sick. For some time now, Turkey has communicated its desire to take a larger–indeed, its historical–role in the region. Perhaps the best summation of their behavior in this matter is that they are simply Turks being Turks once again.

In examining my own growing disaffection with the new Turkey, I realize the problem lies more in our own expectations. We warmed to the western-oriented Istanbul, where supposedly casual Islam accommodated nicely with modernity. We were charmed by its exotica, and somehow expected its religion to be of the emasculated variety which would not jar our secular sensibilities. This now appears more wishful thinking than reality. As realists, we should face the Turkey that is, not the people we imagined them to be.han

TERRY COWAN is an East Texas businessman. He also teaches History at Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler. Terry travels extensively in the Balkans, the Levant and the Caucasus nations.


Historic Day: “Al-Qaida’s flag now flies on the Mediterranean Sea” with NATO member help

Dr. Joshua Landis, internationally recognized Syria expert and founder of Syria Comment, linked to the above photo on his Twitter account today (3/29). Landis commented: “Al-Qaida’s flag now flies on the Mediterranean Sea” -presumably in acknowledgement of the historic precedent this sets.

The Syrian rebels are in the midst of a new coastal offensive in Northwest Syria – a region that has historically been a stronghold of government support. This offensive has the full backing of Turkey and other NATO countries, including the United States.

The Kassab border crossing with Turkey, recently under rebel control, has become an open access point for Al-Nusra and other terrorists. Video footage has recently emerged, confirmed as authentic by multiple Syria experts, of Al-Qaida affiliate terrorists flowing freely into Syria from the Turkish side of the border.

It is not merely that the Turkish authorities have failed to seal off the border, but that Turkey is actively engaged in a rear support capacity for Al-Qaida operations in Syria. Last week, Dr. Landis also pointed to the following on his Twitter account: the below photo posted by Turkish journalist Ali Ornek with the caption, “Injured militants cross the border & taken to hospital with cars allegedly belongs to Turkish intelligence.”

According to last week’s leak of Turkish officials discussing Syria war plans, Turkey was set to potentially invade Syrian territory based on the pretext of fighting ISIS and other Al-Qaida groups. In short, Turkey would lay blame for a terrorist attack launched from Northern Syria on the very rebels it is currently letting flood through border crossings such as Kassab.

While the leaked discussion was acknowledged as authentic by the Erdogan government, and this open admission of a false flag planned attack is everywhere in Turkish and Middle East press, it got buried with remote reference at the end of a news week in the U.S. – most articles merely emphasized the YouTube ban enacted by Turkey a result of the leak.

The below photo is the beautiful Armenian Christian town of Kassab, recently “liberated” by Al-Qaida affiliated forces, with the backing NATO countries.

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Multiple reports and photos are circulating of beheadings, church desecrations, and the raising of Al-Qaida flags over churches and public buildings. Kassab residents are telling international reporters that initial heavy shelling, which kicked off the rebel operation, came from the Turkish side of the border.

The Armenian Christian residents also accuse Turkey of full collaboration with the rebels. The town has now been completely liquidated of its Christian inhabitants. MSN UK reports:

The clashes led most of Kassab’s estimated 2,000 residents to flee some 35 miles to Latakia city, emptying out a village that boasted a Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant church.

This is textbook genocide. The Armenian inhabitants of this region are not politically active – they are in a sense long-term refugees settled in Northern Syria as a result of the infamous 1915 Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks. Are we witnessing a renewed Armenian Genocide by proxy?

At the very least, this day, March 29, 2014, will go down in history as the day Al-Qaida waved its flag victorious on the Mediterranean Sea under NATO’s watch.