ISIS on the Border: Which Way Turkey?

Editor’s Note: With Turkey and Kurdish issues coming to a head in Kobani, we are re-posting LR writer Terry Cowan’s excellent “Which Way Turkey? — A Personal Reflection.”  Last week, The Daily Mail (UK) published a story based on leaked footage , “Oh what a lovely war! Remarkable video shows ISIS fighters strolling right up to Turkish border checkpoint for a relaxing chat with guards.” Turkey has, since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, been on a new and dangerous trajectory. How will Turkey respond to the encroaching crisis along its borders and within its territory (a crisis it created in pursuing regime change in Syria)?

Which Way Turkey? by Terry Cowan

hanTurkey 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.

Istanbul 2007(2) 207

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.

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.

Advertisements

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED? If Saddam were still alive, the US would beg him to return to power

A nice infographic from McClatchy DC.

Some analysts have asserted that ISIS had no comprehensive plan, but merely desired to sow death and destruction in Syria. For this reason, Western countries, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and NATO member Turkey, did not make too much of a fuss about ISIS. More shocking is that there is growing evidence that ISIS directly benefited from Western-Gulf aid to the Syrian rebels. Looking at the below map of recently acquired ISIS territory, it looks like they have a very clear plan for long-term financing.

Embedded image permalinkIt is well-known that NATO member Turkey has long kept an open border policy for Islamist insurgents, including Nusra Front and other Al-Qaeda aligned groups, to freely access Northern Syria.

The above image is currently being circulated among international Syria analysts. It purports to show ISIS commander Mazen Ebu Muhammed being treated in a hospital in Antakya, Turkey (Antioch) on April 16, 2014. This raises some serious questions about whether ISIS has outside state sponsorship.

Cui bono? ISIS has been the fiercest enemy of the Kurdish groups in Eastern Syria. The Syrian government has been content to leave the Kurds alone, seeing in them an ally against extremism. Christian militias have also linked up with the Kurds for the sake of mutual survival. This explains Turkey’s willingness to tolerate and help groups like ISIS, Nusra, and Islamic Front. Turkey has been using extremists to cleanse the borderlands of hated Kurds, Armenians, and Syriacs -leftovers from genocides of 1915 and 1990’s.

Saudi Arabia gains by having ISIS tear through Iraq. The Saudis are deeply resentful of Iraq’s pro-Shia, Iran aligned government. For Saudi Arabia, the consequences of the American led regime change in Iraq were disastrous, as it opened a corridor of Shia hegemony straight from Iran to the Mediterranean (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah). The Maliki dictatorship has been oppressive and intolerable for Iraq’s sizeable Sunni minority, hence the reports of Iraqi Army conscripts abandoning their weapons and uniforms as ISIS approached Mosul this past weekend.

All external actors of the Gulf-NATO-Israel alliance have been quite OK with ISIS and other extremists operating in Syria. Collectively the Syrian insurgency can be likened to a pit bull: train a dog up to kill and then let it off the leash… but there’s no telling if it’ll come back to bite you. Various states have unleashed their pit bulls on Syria for various motives -it’s primarily the Western powers that have underestimated the extent of the mess.

This week and next, American politicians and media pundits will be expressing their outrage that Bin Ladenite radicals have taken over much of Iraq. Yet these same voices have been cheerleading for the Syrian rebels over the past three years. The CIA and Saudi death squads have gotten loose, and it hasn’t been the first time in recent history.

But the constant and consistent failure of US foreign policy isn’t the real story here. The real story is the immense and unimaginable sufferings of common Iraqi and Syrian people as their states are destabilized through never-ending interventionism.

 

Media Blackout of New Syria Revelations

My article, originally published yesterday for GlobalResearch.org. 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.

 

Lucine Kasbarian’s DER ZOR DIARY: A Pilgrimage to the Killing Fields of the Armenian Genocide

Lucine Kasbarian is a second-generation American-born Armenian writer and political cartoonist. She is the author of “Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People” (Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster). An Armenian folk tale retold by her, “The Greedy Sparrow: An Armenian Tale,” was produced in 2011 by Marshall Cavendish publishers. Commenting on the current Syria crisis, she told Levant Report this past weekend:

“Decades from now, all over the world, younger generations will have no idea what jewels of civilization once existed.”

In September 2010, Foreign Policy Journal and multiple other outlets published Lucine’s account of pilgrimage to the killing fields of the Armenian Genocide in Northern Syria. Levant Report is pleased to also host this stirring and historically rich account of these beautiful people in a land that is soaked with the blood of martyrs.

The unfathomable suffering that Armenians thought was behind them has been renewed with the conflict in Syria. Even prior to the recent liquidation of the Armenian population of Kessab, persecution at the hands of opposition fighters in Syria was systematic; yet major media and politicians continue to ignore the reality.

For this reason, we must hear from those that have been to these places that are currently at the center of conflict. In Lucine Kasbarian, we have both a professional journalist and one who has direct experience of the people and places currently in the news. She has been telling the Truth for a long time now; sadly, we are seeing the consequences of world leaders ignoring such courageous voices. Her “Der Zor Diary” gives the essential historical context to a tragedy currently unfolding – it is a must read for the informed citizen.

Read the full account, republished with permission on LevantReport.com: Der Zor Diary: A Pilgrimage to the Killing Fields of the Armenian Genocide

Renewed Armenian Genocide?: Armenians in the Levant Make International Plea for Help

Cartoon by Lucine Kasbarian. Used with permission.

Decades from now, all over the world, younger generations will have no idea what jewels of civilization once existed.

Lucine Kasbarian, syndicated journalist, author, and political cartoonist

From the Cairo based AL-AHRAM WEEKLY:

A brutal three-day attack by Al-Qaeda’s Al-Nusra Front and Ansar Al-Sham started early Friday morning, 21 March, and took the lives of 80 people. Rebels crossed the Turkish border and attacked Armenians living in Kessab, looted and occupied their homes and stores. The majority of the population of Kessab was evacuated by community leaders to safer villages.

On Tuesday night, Armenians of Kessab made an appeal to Armenians across the world:

“This is a call to all Armenians. This is a call to humanity. The world needs to hear the truth. Erdogan and his government are war criminals. We need your help. We need you to take action. Our lives depend on the chance that you will do something to make sure we too don’t die. We were forced out of our homes and our town with nothing but the clothes we wear. If we stayed to gather even the bare necessities, we would have definitely died. Most of us cannot even escape because we don’t have our passports or documents of identification. Please, invoke the intervention of your governments, of the UN, of any other authority that you believe can help us. All we want to do is live. If you ignore this, we all will die a horrible death at the hands of these terrorists, by being butchered in cold blood like many other Armenians in Aleppo, Yacoubiyeh, Ghenemiyeh and around Syria. If Kessab people were not informed to leave their houses, the world would have silently witnessed yet another genocide and stood by while the media gave them yet another version of lies.”

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.

Embedded image permalink

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.