Monthly Archives: July 2012

Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Posted by dianamuir on July 27, 2012
American nationhood, Nationhood / Comments Off on Peoples drift apart, Singapore and the Chinese, North and South Korea,

Long-time Singaporeans resent new immigrants form China despite the fact that Singapore’s carefully controlled immigration policies insures that most immigrants are ethnic Chinese (i.e., not ethnic Malay or ethnic Tamil; the government favors immigration of Straits Chinese).

The fact is that peoples drift apart, most Americans have an ancestor from somewhere in the British Isles, and Uncle Sam is an English-speaking grandson of John Bull.  But we are very different from the equally English-speaking people of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.  David Hackett Fisher’s new book Fairness and Freedom is a deeply insightful look at how and why the British colonies in American and New Zealand evolved into such very different nations.

The most dramatic examples of how rapidly peoples can drift apart are Germany and Korea.   East and West Germany were divided for a mere three decades; but the substantive differences between the German governments on the eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain produced significant cultural differences.  The reunion was  smoothed by the economic boom.

North Korea has been far more successful in cutting off contact with the outside world than East Germany ever was.    South Korea’s highly educated, prosperous  population, with its strong Buddhist traditions and one of the world’s most dynamic  Christian communities is light year’s away from the impoverished farmers and laborers kept in ignorance  world by the elite, totalitarian  rulers of  North Korean Communism.    Whether the peoples of these two now very different countries choose to unite as a single nation some day is an interesting question, but they certainly demonstrate how rapidly circumstances can produce dramatic cultural change.

Singaporeans, even the majority of the native-born population that has Chinese ancestry, understandably finds the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese unsettling.   Many Singaporeans do not speak Chinese as a native language, and many are from Straits Chinese families that left the mother country generations and even centuries ago.   Singapore was  a prosperous, British colony for over a century and has been one of the worlds’ most prosperous polities for the last generation.   Singapore’s combination of efficient government and lack of democracy is unique, and it has produced something of a unique local culture.

British rule and the remarkable regime run by the Lees, père et fils, has produced a culture that is different form Britain, different from China, one with a greater sense of trust, as one recent Chinese immigrant told the New York Times, “it is great to live in a country where you can trust people and trust the government.”

Singapore ranks # 5 in  Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.  China ranks #75.

That, and the fact that Singaporeans think that spitting on the sidewalk is gross, are among  the more glaring reasons why Singaporeans are less than enthusiastic about the huge influx of immigrants from the mainland.

Resentment of immigration is not necessarily bigotry.




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Tinghir-Jerusalem, Echoes from the Mellah: The Rediscovery of a Judeo-Berber Culture

Posted by dianamuir on July 23, 2012
Morocco, Uncategorized / 2 Comments

A French-born, Muslim Berber filmmaker helps us understand why Morroco was the world’s most complex Jewish community, and perhaps the most paradigmatic.

How old is the community?  We don’t really know, although a Moroccan  archaeological museum preserves an oil lamb impressed with a menorah discovered in the Roman city of Volubilis.    The Jews may have stayed after the Romans left, living among   the Berber people who lived in Morocco before and after the Romans, speaking  languages whose Berber descendent tongues are still spoken in the mountains of southern Morocco.

Kamal Hachkar, the young French high school teacher who brought his first film to the New York Sephardic Film Festival this spring, grew up speaking Arabic, French and Berber, especially on visits to his grandparents in Tinghir, a Berber oasis city east of the Atlas Mountains.   As a young adult, he was surprised to learn that his grandparent’s Berber Muslim town once had a substantial Jewish community.

Tattooed Jewish Berber girl c. 1930 courtesy of   Juifs Berberes


His film, Tinghir-Jerusalem, Echoes from the Mellah: The Rediscovery of a Judeo-Berber Culture shows Hachkar walking through Tinghir with his grandfather, they pause and Hachkar asks if this is where the synagogue was.  Of course, the grandfather responds, but there is only a pile of rubble where the adobe building once stood, vacant lots in the old Jewish quarters of this and other towns, and erstwhile Jewish stores in the plaza, now owned by Muslims.

Hachker learned what the children of Muslim immigrants in French apparently learn if they ask about the vanished Jews, that the Jews did not want to leave their Moroccan villages, that they were forced to leave by something called the Jewish Agency, that they left with tears.

He follows the story to Israel.  Learns Hebrew.  Tracks down the elderly Jews who left Tanghris,  and the tears flow.   They were torn from the homes of their childhood, from their friends, their language, they sing the old Berber songs and reminisce.   The refugees from Tinghris have not had easy lives in Israel.  But do they regret leaving?

No, and not merely because, as one Israeli-born daughter reminds her mother, in Morocco, she had to do the laundry by hand in the river.   The Jews left because they had to leave.   There was no longer a place for them in Moroccan society.

A few thousand Jews remain in Morocco, mostly in the business hub of Casablanca, but by the 1950’s Morocco was unwilling to tolerate a community of significant size.

Only a small percentage of Morocco’s Jews were Berber-speakers.   In a telling scene, the filmmaker meanders through the ruins of the abandoned Jewish quarter of a small, Berber town, as an elderly man tells him about the close friendships between the Jews and Muslims, tells him how,  during the endless tribal wars that continued into the twentieth century, Jewish members of the tribe would take up arms and fight alongside Muslims to defend their territory.   But when asked if it were possible for a Jewish and Muslim boy and girl to fall in love and marry, the old man  recoils in shock.  Such a marriage was simply unthinkable.

You can see traces of Berber influence today in the geometric, humanoid carvings of the gravestones in the old Jewish cemetery of Mogador, modern Essaouria.  Berber Jews have long intrigued French ethnologists, who photographed the Jewish Berber women with their distinctive tribal jewelry, embroidered robes and tattooed faces.

Undated photo of Jewish Berber girls

Larger Jewish communities lived in Fes, and Marrakech and other cities,  speaking Jewish versions of the distinctive Arabic dialects of the regions in which they lived.   After 1492 they were joined by a large community of Jews expelled from Spain. The two communities maintained their distinctive identities; Sephardim spoke Ladino and attended Sephardi synagogues.

It is easy to get nostalgic about Jewish life in Morocco.   The picturesque towns, the wonderful food and, more substantively, the fact that Jews have citizenship, Jewish tourists are welcome and the government has a moderate attitude towards Israel.

But this year is the centennial of the Fez Pogrom of 1912, a useful reminder that the history of the Jews of Morocco was very like the history of Jews in other Christian and Muslim countries.   Most of the time, Jewish life in Morocco was peaceful, with the understanding that the status of Jews was inferior and that they lived at the sufferance of Muslims.  Sometimes there was violence.

In Morocco as in other Muslim lands,  while it was unthinkable for a Muslim girl to marry a Jewish boy, the taking of Jewish girls as secondary wives by powerful Muslim men was a recurring problem.  There was no recourse; nothing the family could do.   Once a girl was taken and converted to Islam, she could not be returned to her family or her community.  A memorial in the old Jewish cemetery at Fez marks the grave of a girl who died in such an incident.   The cemetery is enormous, but this grave stands but because of the number of candles that continue to be lit in her memory by Jews who remember, perhaps not this individual girl, but the pain of that particular, recurring grief.

The cemetery is adjacent to the mellah, the Jewish quarter, which, like the ghettos of Christian cities, defined a separate and inferior Jewish space.  It is not that Jews could not rise to great wealth and even power in Moroccan society, they could and did.  But, ultimately, they had no rights, only such privileges as the Muslim society and sultans chose to grant them.   For centuries, they put up with what their neighbors dished out: the petty humiliations, heavy taxation, and occasional violence.  Or they moved to a city where the prince offered better terms.

The birth of the Jewish state offered Jews an opportunity to leave the lands where they lived on sufferance, and the Jews of Tinghir seized the chance to move to a land of their own.



See also “The Last Berber Jews”  on Jewish Ideas Daily and in the Jerusalem Post.


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Time for Population Separation in Syria

Posted by dianamuir on July 20, 2012
Nationhood / 7 Comments

If the international community wants to do something useful in Syria, it could assist an orderly population separation into ethnic nation states.

A massive population separation is already underway; Kurds are fencing off their northeastern corner of the (erstwhile?)  Syrian state,  Alawites are fleeing to their historic coastal province, Armenians are fleeing to Armenia, the Druze have a refuge in Jabal Druze, but Syria’s one and a half million Christians are caught between a rock and a hard place.  The rock is the grim prospects for Christian life under either a Sunni or an Islamist regime.  The hard place is Lebanon.

Armenians are the most interesting case.  Some Armenians have lived in what is now Syria since time immemorial, but most are descended from refugees who fled the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks in 1915; they are finding refuge in Armenia, a poverty-stricken, resource-poor  country created on a patch of territory between the Caspian and the Black Sea and not on very good terms with the neighbors.  Syrian Armenians are fleeing to Armenia not because it is an attractive place to go, but because, if, as Robert Frost has told us, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there. They have to take you in.”

Armenia recognizes a Right of Return for Armenians because it anticipated situations like the Syria civil war.   The Armenian refugees from Syria will have citizenship, but they will have little else.   Syria in 2012 is a minor ethnic refugee crisis compared to millions of ethnic refugees created by the 1948 partition of India, to name just one example   But, like almost all earlier victims of ethnic cleansing, the Christians fleeing Syria will get no compensation for the homes, farms, and businesses they will be forced to leave behind.

The Armenians are fortunate; they will have some assistance from the ethnic kin state of Armenia, and they will have citizenship.

Lebanon, the closest approximation  to an ethnic kin state that the Arabic Speaking Christians of Syria have, is a much harder place.   A colossal French error of judgment combined with Maronite hubris resulted in the creation of a Lebanese state without a secure Christian majority; now is the moment to correct that error.

The peoples of the former French colony of Syria could be given justice, citizenship, and an opportunity to create the kind of state that enjoys the rule of law and even economic opportunity if the international community seized this moment to support the creation of a series of ethnic nation states, a small Alawite state, a Christian, Arabic speaking Lebanon, Kurdistan, and a Sunni dominated Syria.  Each of these fledgling states would have a demos, a people with sufficient cultural unity to have a chance at producing decent government.

The Twelver Shia who created the Iranian-backed rogue state of Hezbollah in south Lebanon could be exchanged for the Christians who have already been expelled from Iraq.   This would replicate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne in which over a million Greeks who had already been expelled from the new Turkish state were given a measure of rough justice by the League of Nations when a few hundred thousand Muslims were legally required to leave Greece (and the remnant of the Greek Christians to leave Anatolia).

The idea was that the Greek Christians who had been brutally “cleansed” from their ancient Anatolian homeland could at least have the homes and farms of Muslims.   The poverty and human suffering was appalling, and Greece has not made a particularly good job of self-government.

But, and this is an important but, except in Cyprus (exempted from the population exchange because it was a British naval base) the Greek-Turkish population exchange meant that for the first time in over half a millennium Turks stopped massacring Greek Christians.   Nor has there been a Greco-Turkish war since 1923.

The United Nations could do better this time.   It could compensate the exchangees with a fair market price for their homes, lands and businesses.  (I suggest sending the bill to France on the you-broke-it-you-pay-for-it principle.)

Population separation; because it’s time  to think about a solution capable of producing peace.



Detailed French Mandate map:

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Language of Difference – without derogation

Posted by dianamuir on July 18, 2012
Language of Difference / Comments Off on Language of Difference – without derogation

It is possible to use language in a way that establishes firm borders between in-group and other without implying inferiority, or assuming superiority.   Philologos,  language columnist for old Socialist newspaper The Forward, has an interesting column on the topic.

“Yiddish has a whole set of binary terms for Jews and gentiles that, while they certainly reflect a Jewish sense of superiority, do not necessarily reflect animus…

“Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe did not call a church a beys-tifle unless they wished to be derogatory (the neutral terms kirkh and kloyster were far more common), and beys-tfile was not a frequent term for a synagogue, once in a church or synagogue, the words used for Jewish and Christian worship were not the same. When a Jew prayed, he “davened” (the word is of obscure origins, though many years ago, in these pages, I tried to trace it back to Hebrew); for Christians, the verb was molyen zikh, from Polish modlić się. The holiday the Jew prayed on was a yontif (from Hebrew yom tov, “good day”); the Christian celebrated a khoge (from Aramaic ḥ aga, “holiday”). A sermon in the church was a preydik (from German predigen, to preach); a sermon in the synagogue was a droshe (from Hebrew d’rashá). The lectern the Christian preacher stood at was a shtender; a shtender in a synagogue was a stand for a book, while a preacher’s lectern, also used by the prayer leader and the Torah reader, was the amud(from Hebrew again).

“The emphasis was on difference, not derogation.

“A saintly Jew was a tzaddik, from the Hebrew word for “righteous man”; a saintly Christian was a heyliker, from German heilig, “holy.” A scholarly Jew was a lamden, from Hebrew lamad, “learn, study”; a scholarly Christian, a gelernter. And once again: heyliker and gelernterwere respectful terms.

“Interfaith Insults”,  Published July 15, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012

Israel Museum

Posted by dianamuir on July 18, 2012
Museums of National History / Comments Off on Israel Museum

Edward Rothstein  reviews  the recent renovation of the Israel Museum and, as usual, hits the nail on the head.   The Museum is spacious, elegant, replete with beautiful and remarkable objects – it even has great restaurants, but the idea of a national museum is to enable everyone from schoolchildren to tourists to  walk through the exhibits and get some idea of what forces shaped the creation of this nation and how it sees itself.   Telling the story of the nation is job 1 and the new Israel Museum fails.

A visitor can carefully examine the magnificent archaeological galleries, minutely examine the Jewish Arts and Life wing and enjoy some of the world’s great art without being told how the Jewish people came to be.   This need not be a simplistic  narrative, it is perfectly possible to present confusing evidence fairly and admit that debate and uncertainty exist.   It is possible to tell parallel stories.   It is possible to tell the stories of the many peoples and empires that have passed through and lived in this land without forgetting that Israel was always connected to  the rest of the world.    But there is little point in calling this the Israel museum when the archaeological wing tells no story about Israel at all.   As Rothstein puts it, “we never really grasp the evolution of the Israelite religion or its transformations after exile”.  True, and  neither are we given any idea of how an Israelite kingdom rose, fell, and rose again, or of why the people of Israel yearned to return from exile.   Explanation without jingoism or triumphalism is possible.   In failing to explain where the Jewish nation came form, how it emerged, how it survived and what it represents, the Israel Museum fails dismally.

The Jewish Arts and Life wing is, if possible,  less enlightening than the archaeology wing.   Replete with diversity and artifacts to the point where it overwhelms the viewer – I challenge anyone to focus on that towering wall of menorahs – the wing gives us detail without insight,  like a dazzling pointillist display that fails to resolve into an image no matter how close up or far away you stand from the canvas.   The curator seems to be saying: there was art! there was life! there were Jews! without telling us how any of these things relates to the others.

Rothstein is a gentleman, he phrases his critique almost as praise, “There are not many other nations that so readily submerge self-celebration in homage to the universal or are so wary of the particular; it is difficult to imagine the Louvre or the British Museum taking on a comparably self-questioning perspective.”

On the upside, the building is magnificent and the collection is magnificent;  perhaps  someday it will have a curator who is capable of narrating the complex stories of Jewish life and history.


Armenian Genocide Now Undeniable

Posted by dianamuir on July 08, 2012
Armenian genocide, Demographic engineering, Ottoman Footprint / 1 Comment

Is a law against denial really necessary?  Facts are facts, and the facts of genocide speak for themselves.

Armenian civilians, escorted by armed Ottoman soldiers, are marched through Kharpert to a prison in the nearby Mezireh district, April 1915

The founding crime of the Turkish nation was genocide.   A deliberate, and thoroughly effective genocide of Turkey’s indigenous Armenian Christians and  a genocidal ethnic cleansing of Syrian Christians was carried out in 1915.   The genocidal ethnic cleansing of Greek Christians peaked just after the First World War.   These were  genocides of forced marches, starvation, and Einsatzgruppen, not gas chambers.   But they were directed from the highest level of the government, carried out by military and civilian officials, and they were thoroughly effective.

Taner Akçam’s The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity; The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire is a landmark in genocide scholarship, and a fitting successor his two earlier books on the subject, his  2004 From Republic to Empire; Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, and his 2006  The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility .    Akçam’s goal in Crime Against Humanity is to refute the denialist claim that the only evidence of genocide comes from biased sources: Armenians and their Western supporters, and, therefore, that nothing has been proven.   Some scholars have assumed that Turkish concealment and destruction of government records makes countering this argument directly impossible.   Akçam used Ottoman files that do survive and are open to scholars to demonstrate that the deliberate and official nature of the “ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman Greeks and the genocidal policy against the Armenians can be demonstrated through these documents alone.”[1]   Case closed.

A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, (Oxford, 2011) is a different kind of book, the product of a ten-year series of meetings convened by historians from Turkish and Western universities to produce a shared understanding of the events of 1915.   Among Turkish scholars willing to attend and to contribute chapters, “There was no dispute that deportations and massacres had occurred, that the forced movement of the Armenians had been ordered by the Young Turk government, that the mass killing was the result of both government and party actions, and that while there were several moments of Armenian resistance (most notably at Van), there was no civil war. The two opposing nationalist narratives were replaced by a single shared account based on evidence.”[2]

These two books settle the debate over whether the events of 1915 were a deliberate, officially ordered genocide for everyone except politically inspired denialists and members of the Flat Earth Society.

[1] Akçam, Taner, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity; The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire,  Princeton University Press, 2010, p. xxv.

[2] Suny, Ronald Grigor, “Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians”, American Historical Review, vol. 4, no. 4, Oct. 2009.


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Demographic Engineering in Tibet

Posted by dianamuir on July 06, 2012
Demographic engineering, Uncategorized / 1 Comment

China is is building an enormous theme park in Tibet avowedly to “showcase Tibetan arts and medicine”.

Chinese imperialism operates  by offering material benefits to the peoples it has conquered if they  convert to Chineseness.   In China, the Tibetans who play along can send their children to schools where they will be remade into Chinese, and be eligible for good jobs and housing.  Tibet used to be one of the poorest places on earth; under Chinese rule it is becoming part of the modern world, with railroads, roads, electricity and jobs.  It comes with only one catch: Tibetans will cease to be Tibetans and become Chinese.   And there is no option.   Tibetans cannot possibly avoid becoming Chinese.    China  insures that Sinicization will take place  by swamping the peoples it conquers with large numbers of Chinese immigrants.   The indigenous culture shrivels up and, after a few centuries, dies.   In the case of Tibet, a bit of the ancient culture may survive for a while outside the motherland – like the Parsis of India – but, like the Parsis, the Tibetan diaspora will eventually assimilate and disappear.

The modern wrinkle is that while conquered peoples are being assimilated, they put them on display in a human zoo.   It allows China to look multicultural and tolerant, while boosting a Tibetan economy in which the good jobs go to Chinese, who can be moved to Tibet in larger numbers if more tourists come to enjoy the theme park.

Human zoos that used to be popular in Western cities.     Tourists flocked to see real, live, exotic Africans and wild Indians with their strange barbaric customs.   The last human zoo closed in 1958.

Americans who have visited  Tibet’s neighbors Yunnan and Sichuan have probably  been to a modern Chinese human zoo, a theme park, ethnic town or culture show where modern Bai    dress up in gaudy versions of their ancestor’s holiday clothes to dance, sing and work at ancient crafts for the amusement of tourists.  They advertise on Youtube.  It’s not the same as being a living culture, and nothing at all like having a future together as members of an ancient culture.   It’s just a way of earning a living while they and their children become Chinese.

This is how Chinese imperialism operates.



Below: Photos of a human zoo, the Xiagei Tibetan Culture Village.







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Salafis against historic preservation

Posted by dianamuir on July 04, 2012
Architecture of Identity / 2 Comments

There are universal values, but there are many fewer of them than you probably think.

I write this as I watch the  destruction of venerable mosques and tombs in Timbuktu with horror.   Iconic, historic buildings – gone.


Djinguereber Mosque

All that is left of some are photos.

But whether this is a crime or an act of piety is a matter of opinion.   In my opinion and probably in yours it is an appalling act of wanton destruction.   But in the eyes of the men (I use a sexist noun deliberately; I don’t think this particular group lets its women handle sledgehammers in public) these are acts of piety.

These vandals are pious Muslims and they are destroying venerable buildings lest someone venerate them.

Belief that historic buildings can become objects of veneration detracting from an understanding of the oneness of God is widespread in Islam, and is increasing with the rising popularity of Salafism.   While the world press is comparing this to the destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan, the closet comparison is actually to the destruction of historic and religious sites in Mecca, on a scale that boggles a Western mind, and many Muslim minds, but not the Salafi mind.

Muslims do not have an exclusive on iconoclasm.  Some of the nicest peoples we know have gone in for this sort of thing, there was a Dutch iconoclasm, an English iconoclasm, a Byzantine iconoclasm – all were motivated by piety and the objects they destroyed were as irreplaceable as the mosques of Timbuktu.

Yes, I am appalled, just as I would be appalled if they were burning books.   There is, by the by, a small, glass rondel from a church window at the Cloisters in Manhattan.  It shows Europeans throwing books into a bonfire and it was created as part of a series illustrating praiseworthy acts.  Cultures can change.  They do it all the time.  But rarely because they are scolded by UNESCO, which does have great photos of the buildings now being destroyed.

Back to my assertion that there are very few universal values.  Take incest, for example, marriage betwwen a brother and a sister.   Prohibition of sibling marriage is often taken to be a universal value.   Yet it was a normative practice in Roman Egypt. (Full Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt: Another Look quick viewSeymour ParkerCultural Anthropology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Aug., 1996), pp. 362-376)  The culture valued the preservation of family assets and the ability to pass them on to grandchildren.    Genetic diseases were not well understood.

Values are not part of human being, they are part of human culture.  They vary between one human group and another.  Some of these variations are minor.  Others are yawning chasms, like the cultural gap that separates the men from destroying the mosques in Timbuktu from the columnists writing about them.

The destruction in Timbuktu is not “an attack on our humanity“, nor is it “totally unjustified“, as Ban Ki-moon has asserted.   These iconoclasts are not hooligans in blue robes.  These men have ideological motivation for tearing down venerable mosques and tombs.   Their ideology horrifies me, but it is not irrational.

Ideas  have consequences, and one consequence of Salafism is an imperative to annihilate the venerable.





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Eilat to Haifa Railroad

Posted by dianamuir on July 04, 2012
Uncategorized / Comments Off on Eilat to Haifa Railroad

China does not want to be annoyed by, say, a blockade of the Straits of Tiran.   So it is building an Eilat to Haifa railroad (also Ashdod and Aqaba) to make sure shipments of iPhones get through to Europe even in the event of a new Suez crisis.



(full disclosure, this train is French; but it looks fast)

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The Last Time Ankara and Damascus had a Stare-down

Posted by dianamuir on July 04, 2012
Ottoman Footprint / Comments Off on The Last Time Ankara and Damascus had a Stare-down

In 1936 Ataturk and the Kemalists had reasons to want to wag the dog.   To be fair, they also had genuine reason to worry about Mussolini’s Eastern ambitions; Italy had conquered the Ottoman-held Dodecanese islands in 1912, and Italian fascists felt that they had been cheated out of their rightful opportunity to acquire a large chunk of Anatolia  at the close of WWI.   Il Duce was hungry for Empire.   So when Italy began to fortify the Dodecanese islands in 1934, Turkish fears that this presaged an invasion were not unreasonable.   Whether  Turkish fears that Italy was about to grab part of Anatolia justified Turkey’s grabbing of the Sanjak of Alexandretta is a different question.

The piece of land that Turkey decided to grab is the bit that juts into Syria.   Iskenderun is the Turkified version of Alexandretta.   All of the Greek and Armenian place names were Turkified by the Kemalists.


File:Turkey map.svg
Here you can see where the Sanjak of Alexandretta  fit into the northwest corner of the French Mandate of Syria.

Which brings us back to Turkey’s fear of being invaded by Italy.   It provided a pretext for Turkish annexation of Alexandretta.   Especially after Mussolini invaded and annexed Ethiopia.

The population of the prosperous Sanjak included Greeks, Armenians, Assyrian Christians, Jews, Maronites, Kurds, Alawis, Arabs, Circassians and Turks.   Turks were  as much as 40% of the population.   More if you counted the Alawis and Circassians as Turks, a tactic that  Turkey found useful in presenting its case to the world.

The Turkish argument was that the Sanjak was a Turkish province that had mistakenly been placed outside the fatherland and that Turkey had a right, even a duty to reunite Alexandretta’s Turks with Turkey.

In May 1937 a  League of Nations  “Committee of Experts” disingenuously accepted a Statue and Fundamental Law of the Sanjak of Alexandretta recognizing the Sanjak as a majority Turkish region and declaring it autonomous.

With Italy creating alliances in the Balkans and a Civil War being fought in Spain, France pushed the deal though because it wanted to secure its dominion over Mandatory Syrian by appeasing Turkey.

The Germans stood up and cheered.  First the League of Nations had violated it’s own principles by failing to defend Ethiopia from invasion by fascist Italy.   Now it was willing to allow Turkey to grab an unwilling province.  This augured well for the Nazi intention to claim the “right” to reunite the ethnic Germans of the Sudetenland, Austria, Poland and other lands with the German fatherland.

Pierre Arnal, French Deputy Chief of Mission in Berlin, was appalled, “If Turkey obtains satisfaction in some way, what encouragement for the Reich!”   Arnal was a prophet without an audience.   A massive European peace movement demanded peace at any price, and got it.

The people of Alexandretta protested in every way they could, but they were facing daunting odds, not to mention Kemalist thugs.

France and Turkey came to a “private arrangement” to rig an election that would decide the future of the Sanjak.   Upon being informed of the details, the responsible official at Whitehall summarized the agreement, “Its substance was that the elections, somehow or other (presumably by fair means or foul), should result in a Turkish majority.”

The means used by Turkey were foul, thugs and troops were sent into the Sanjak, the fraudulent vote was held and counted,   and Alexdretta was handed over to Turkey and  renamed Hatay Province.  Many pious Muslims left, fearing the Kemalist program of secularization and Turkification; eighty percent of the Sanjak’s Christians fled.

And the regimes in Turkey and Germany were reinforced in their belief that might makes right.



The best source on the incident period is Fezzes in the River: Identity Politics and European Diplomacy in the Middle East on the Eve of World War II, Sarah D. Shields, Oxford University Press.



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