How Gökçeada Became Turkish

Posted by dianamuir on August 31, 2012
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Gökçeada, a small island  at the mouth of the Dardanelles where Turkish firefighters are struggling to put out a forest fire today, was not always Turkish.   Under the  Ottoman Empire it was an ethnically Greek island called Imbros, supporting itself by farming and fishing.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, recognized the awkward status of Imbros and neighboring  Tenedos.   Because they were populated by Greeks, they ought  to have been made part of Greece,  but because of their strategic position at the mouth of the Dardanelles, Turkey retained them after guaranteeing that the  almost entirely Greek population could govern itself autonomously in local affairs.

In 1960  military government that took power in Turkey.  It abrogated Turkey’s obligations under the Treaty of Lausanne.  The schools on both Imbros and Tenedos, taught in Greek under treaty guarantees, were   closed in 1964.  In 1965 the first mosque with the highly charged name Fatih Camisi (the Conqueror’s Mosque) was built on land confiscated from the Greek Orthodox vakif (waqf).   Fishing was banned on the pretext of creating an underwater marine reserve.   Almost all arable land was expropriated to build  a large military base and to build an “open prison”, the inmates of which would support themselves by living on and working the expropriated Greek land.   The inmates preyed on the Greek community of farmers and fishermen, who, with no schools, the criminal threat, nowhere to fish and no land, left.[1]
Ethnic cleansing by other means.

Turkish settlers were moved onto the  islands and they were eventually  given new, Turkish names.  It was all done in flagrant violation of Turkey’s obligations under the Treaty of Lausanne, but, really, who cares?  Who even remembers?

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Crude Turkish Blood Libel

Posted by dianamuir on August 01, 2012
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İğneli Fıçı, is an anti-Semitic Turkish book published in 1958 featuring a  Jew who kidnaps Muslim children and extracts their blood for use in baking matza with an İğneli Fıçı, a “pin barrel” or “needled barrel”,  a barrel studded on the inside with sharp spikes.



This vicious blood libel was invented by one Cevat Rıfat Atilhan, long one of Turkey’s leading anti-Semites.   It is apparently still in print.

Özen Karaca published a clear-eyed doctoral dissertation on Atilhan, The Theme of Jewish Conspiracy in Turkish Nationalism: The Case of Cevat Rıfat Atilhan in 2008.  It is available online.

Karaka is a useful source on Turkish antisemitism, a topic not easily accessible to those of us who do not know Turkish.  I take the liberty of reprinting most of the brief section on Passover and Blood Libel:


“Atilhan asserts that for the Jewish festival, Passover, unleavened bread
is cooked from the blood of Muslim and Christian children through a pin barrel;
this is a Jewish tradition for the satisfaction of greed and grudge towards the non-
Jews (Atilhan, 1958: 7). In the foreword of Igneli Fıçı, Atilhan discusses the
authenticity of the killing stories:

“‘Some say that these stories are inventions, false accusations or merely myths; yet, can there
be any smoke without fire?‘ (Atilhan, 1958: 5).

“This shows that Atilhan thinks the sharp reaction of the Jews is related to the fact
that they performed such cruel killings. The killing stories display in his view “the
horrible conspiracy by the Jews aimed at destroying Islam and Christianity”
(Atilhan, 1958: 117). His emphasis that such atrocity cannot be carried out by
human beings has a provocative character which not only has a mobilizing but
also a justifying effect to attack the Jews. In this way, very similar to fascist
discourse, violence against the Jews becomes legitimate.”


The phrase İğneli Fıçı appears to have become something of a trope among Turkish anti-Semites, a shorthand for vicious anti-Semitic slanders.


İsrail Öldürmeye Devam Ediyor, Israel continues to kill


And here:

Cem Garipoğlu'nu İsrail'in Mossad'ı saklamış (Yahudinin kanlı böreği, iğneli fıçı ve Münevver Karabulut cinayeti)

A Turkish website posts an image dripping bloody anti-Antisemitism, in an accusation about the tragic the murder of Münevver Khan, a pretty, Istanbul 17-year-old  brutally murdered in 2009.  The accusation here is that she was killed in a “pin- barrel” and that the murderer escaped on a flight to Tel Aviv arranged by the Mossad.


Here’s the jacket of another  Atilhan title:

TARİH BOYUNCA YAHUDİ MEZALİMİ, Atrocities of the Jews appears to include İğneli Fıçı.

To the credit of the Turkish reading public, this Atilhan title is  apparently out of print.


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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. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/ahr.114.4.930


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The Last Time Ankara and Damascus had a Stare-down

Posted by dianamuir on July 04, 2012
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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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The Ottoman Footprint

Posted by dianamuir on June 18, 2012
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The Ottoman Empire had a terrible and enduring impact on the lands it conquered.   Look at the map.  Start in Algiers and let your eye follow the footprint of Ottoman occupied land around the Mediterranean until you reach Sarajevo.  Country after country, all of them political and economic disasters, with only minor exceptions.  Turkey itself is not too badly off, but the lands the Osmanli Turks conquered and ruled are in bad condition.

It’s something about the Ottomans, and Morocco and Greece are the proof.   Morocco, never conquered by the Ottomans, is far from perfect, but it is more peaceful and better governed than most of former Ottoman lands. Greece has been an independent country since 1821, but twentieth century Greek political history is a litany of crises, coups, and wars.   Nobody pays their taxes and nothing gets done outside the patronage system.   Until it entered the European Union in 1981, the Greek economy consisted of olives, sheep, tourism, and shipping magnates.   Shipping was the great exception in a peasant economy.  All of this was very like the story of rest of the former Ottoman world, peasant economies from which huge numbers of people emigrate.

Since joining the European Union Greece has been on the dole.  Rivers of German money have poured in, building roads and luring young people off the farms.  By the 1990’s the impact of EU transfers was so great that people abandoned the  farms on the islands and in the mountains to move to the cities, and a forest began to grow on  mountains of the Peloponnese that had been pastures since the Homer was young.     But despite all the lovely EU money and an enormous tourism boom, no industries developed, nobody started paying taxes, and you still need patronage to get anything done.

Is there a former Ottoman colony that has done better?   You can make a case for Hungary.  Jordan, Tunisia and Cyprus are not  the world’s worst governed or poorest countries.   The Saudis, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait have oil.   Israel has both democratic government and one of the world’s most dynamic economies, but is under constant attack from badly governed neighbors.    Overall, the Ottoman lands are in terrible shape.   The Balkan  states may be beginning to recover from a decade of war, but almost all the countries from Iraq to Algeria have been political and economic disasters.

The footprint of Ottoman rule outlines a series of countries with bad – often brutal – governments and pathetic economies.


It’s not genetic.  Immigrants form the old Ottoman lands are often successful: the Syrian Christians who immigrated to South America are famous for their commercial success, the United States has large numbers of Arab immigrants who arrived as students and stayed to make successful careers, and Greeks appear to be able to become successful, even rich, everywhere except Greece.

The problem with the former Ottoman lands is that  cultural patters are very hard to change.   There was no security of property under the Ottomans, and taxation  was erratic and confiscatory; it trained people to cheat, hide their assets and bribe tax collectors.    In the former Ottoman lands today tax evasion is endemic.

The Ottoman government was routinely unable to keep its subjects safe.    The Aegean, Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf were overrun by pirates,  while large areas of fertile land lay abandoned because it was too unsafe to farm them.   Bedouin,  Kurds and other tribal groups lived largely by raiding farmers and caravans.   Everyone was armed, even Christians villagers in some regions were armed although for a Christian to carry a weapon was against the law.   Survival depended on having a group of people who you could trust to defend you: a tribe.   It was unwise to trust anyone  outside the family or  tribe.  Many people in the old Ottoman lands still do not.  No where except in Israel has a former Ottoman colony  been able to produce the kind of mutual trust that enables nations to achieve democratic governments and fair courts; the kind of government that citizens of nation-states like Denmark and the United States take for granted.   That kind of government is based on our ability to trust strangers: bank officers, government officials, judges and, in general, everyone we deal with to apply the same set of rules to each of us.   In the old Ottoman lands shopkeepers have different prices for different customers, clerks in the Department of Motor Vehicles  decide whether or not to give an applicant a  valuable commercial driver’s license, and  school officials decide  whether or not to register a child depending on what family the applicant is from and whether some powerful person is willing to speak in his favor.

The Ottoman footprint can be seen in the enormous trust deficit that stretches from Bagdhad, to Algiers to Belgrade.   When the World Values Survey tries to measure trust, Turkey shows up as one of the least trusting places on earth.

The Ottoman Empire  still holds the power to ruin lives, after all these years.



Addendum – Life Satisfaction

There are 36 countries in the OECD.  Here’s how the former Ottoman countries rank in the Life Satisfaction Index

Israel – 8

Greece – 32

Turkey – 33

Hungary – 36


Pretty dismal.  The rest of the former Ottoman lands aren’t even in the OECD.

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