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What Is Genocide? The Armenian Case

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Shortly after the World War II, genocide was legally defined by the U.N. Genocide Convention as “any… acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such

.”[1] The key word from the perspective of this article is “intent.” For while nobody can deny the disaster wrought on the Armenians by the 1915 deportations and massacres, the question is whether or not it can be defined as genocide—arguably the most heinous crime imaginable.

The Ambiguity of Genocide

The strict international law definition of genocide has not prevented its application to virtually every conflict involving a large number of civilian deaths from the Athenian massacre of the inhabitants of Milos in 416 B.C.E., to the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in 1258, to the fate of the native North American Indians, to Stalin’s induced famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s, to the recent conflicts in Bosnia, Burundi, Chechnya, Colombia, Guatemala, Iraq, Sudan, and Rwanda, which is not to deny that some of these cases do indeed qualify as genocide.

The liberal use of the term has naturally stirred numerous controversies and debates. Israel Charny offers little help by arguing that any massacre constitutes genocide, even the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown.[2] At the other end of the spectrum, Stephen Katz views the Holocaust as the only true genocide in history.[3] In between these two polar definitions, Ton Zwaan has attempted to distinguish between “total” and “complete” genocide and “partial” genocides.[4]

Even the U.N. definition suffers from some ambiguities owing to being a compromise among all signatories. Thus, the convention legally protects only “national, racial, ethnic, and religious groups,” not those defined politically, economically, or culturally, giving rise to varying interpretations of its intentions. For example, while the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted seven Bosnian Serbs of genocide for their role in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims,[5] the International Court of Justice, in its judgment in Bosnia vs. Serbia, focused on Serbia’s “intent” rather than “outcome” regarding the murder of Bosnian Muslims, absolving it of the charge of genocide.[6] Clearly, these contradictory decisions have added to the confusion of what genocide legally constitutes.

Likewise, the debate whether the Darfur events constituted genocide continues apace. U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell characterized Darfur as a case of genocide based on a U.S. government-funded study, which had surveyed 1,136 Darfur refugees in neighboring Chad.[7] By contrast, a study commissioned by U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan concluded that, while the Darfur events should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, they did not amount to genocide.[8] Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also declined to characterize the violence in Darfur as genocide while the Arab League and the African Union took a similar position, emphasizing instead the civil war aspect of the conflict. For their part EU, British, Canadian, and Chinese officials, among others, have shied away from calling it genocide. Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize winning study on genocide, favored the term ethnic cleansing to describe what was occurring.[9]

When in July 2008, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo accused Sudanese president Omar Bashir of genocide and asked the court to issue an arrest warrant, many in the Arab League and the African Union criticized the genocide charge as biased against their region.[10] It remains to be seen how wise the ICC has been in bringing genocide charges in this case. Clearly, there was a lack of agreement on what did or did not constitute genocide in Darfur. Such a situation illustrates the ambiguity surrounding the concept of genocide.

In an attempt to alleviate these problems, scholars have offered such additional detailed concepts as “politicide” to refer to mass murders of a political nature, “democide” to describe government-perpetrated mass murders of at least one million people, ethnocide, Judeocide, ecocide, feminicide, libricide (for the destruction of libraries), urbicide, elitocide, linguicide, and culturicide, among others.[11] In addition we now have such concepts as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing.

Why this semantic disarray? Henry Huttenbach has argued, “Too often has the accusation of genocide been made simply for the emotional effect or to make a political point, with the result that more and more events have been claimed to be genocide to the point that the term has lost its original meaning.”[12] Jacques Semelin has similarly explained: “Whether use of the word ‘genocide’ is justified or not, the term aims to strike our imagination, awaken our moral conscience and mobilise public opinion on behalf of the victims.” He adds: “Under these circumstances, anyone daring to suggest that what is going on is not ‘really’ genocide is immediately accused of weakness or sympathizing with the aggressors.” Thus,

The term genocide can be used as a propaganda tool by becoming the hinge for a venomous rhetoric against a sworn enemy. Given the powerful emotional charge the word genocide generates, it can be used and re-used in all sorts of hate talk to heap international opprobrium on whoever is accused of genocidal intent. … The obvious conclusion: The word is used as much as a symbolic shield to claim victim status for one’s people, as a sword raised against one’s deadly enemy.[13]

Intent or premeditation is all important in defining genocide “because it removes from consideration not only natural disasters but also those man-made disasters that took place without explicit planning. Many of the epidemics of communicable diseases that reached genocidal proportions, for example were caused by unwitting human actions.”[14] Although some would disagree, the fate of the North American indigenous people is a case in point as they died largely from disease, not intent. Therefore, a large loss of life is not in itself proof of genocide. Ignoring intent creates a distorted scenario and may lead to incorrect conclusions as to what really occurred.

The Armenians

What then of the Armenian case? Unfortunately, as the well-known journalist and scholar Gwynne Dyer concluded more than thirty-five years ago, most Turkish and Armenian scholars are unable to be objective on this issue resulting in a situation of “Turkish falsifiers and Armenian deceivers.”[15]

The main purpose of this discussion, therefore, is not to deny that Turks killed and expelled Armenians on a large scale; indeed what happened might in today’s vocabulary be called war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or even crimes against humanity. To prove genocide, however, intent or premeditation must be demonstrated, and in the Armenian case it has not. It must also be borne in mind that what occurred was not a unilateral Turkish action but part of a long-term process in which some Armenians were guilty of killing as many Turks as they could in their attempt to rebel. Christopher de Ballaigue argues that “what is needed is a vaguer designation for the events of 1915, avoiding the G-word but clearly connoting criminal acts of slaughter, to which reasonable scholars can subscribe.”[16]

Arnold Toynbee, the renowned historian who coedited the Blue Book compilation of Turkish atrocities during World War I,[17] later wrote: “In the redistribution of Near and Middle Eastern Territories, the atrocities which have accompanied it from the beginning have been revealed in their true light, as crimes incidental to an abnormal process, which all parties have committed in turn, and not as the peculiar practice of one denomination or nationality.”[18] Indeed, in his final statement on the subject, Toynbee declared: “Armenian political aspirations had not been legitimate. … Their aspirations did not merely threaten to break up the Turkish Empire; they could not be fulfilled without doing grave injustice to the Turkish people itself.”[19] In addition, Adm. Mark Bristol, U.S. high commissioner and then-ambassador to Turkey after World War I, wrote in a long cable to the State Department in 1920: “While the Turks were all that people said they were, the other side of the coin was obscured by the flood of Greek and Armenian propaganda painting the Turks as completely inhuman and undeserving of any consideration while suppressing all facts in favor of the Turks and against the minorities.”[20]

More recently, Edward J. Erickson, a military historian, concluded after a careful examination: “Nothing can justify the massacres of the Armenians nor can a case be made that the entire Armenian population of the six Anatolian provinces was an active and hostile threat to Ottoman national security.” This said, Erickson added: “However, a case can be made that the Ottomans judged the Armenians to be a great threat to the 3rd and 4th [Ottoman] Armies and that genuine intelligence and security concerns drove that decision. It may also be stated that the Ottoman reaction was escalatory and responsive rather than premeditated and pre-planned.”[21]

On the other hand, Taner Akçam, a Turkish sociologist who has prominently broken with his country’s official narrative, concluded after compiling weighty evidence that the “Ottoman authorities’ genocidal intent becomes clear.”[22] This conclusion was challenged by Turkish researcher Erman Sahin who accused Akçam of “dishonesty—which manifests itself in the form of numerous deliberate alterations and distortions, misleading quotations and doctoring of data—casts doubt on the accuracy of his claims as well as his conclusions.”[23] In a later critique of Akçam’s subsequent work, Sahin concluded: “These are substantive matters that raise serious concerns as to the author’s theses, which appear to be based on a selective and distorted presentation of Ottoman archival materials and other sources. … Such errors seriously undermine the author’s and the book’s credibility.”[24]

More recently, Akçam claimed that despite Turkish attempts to “hide the evidence” through systematic “loss” and destruction of documents, his new work in the Ottoman archives “clearly points in the direction of a deliberate Ottoman government policy to annihilate its Armenian population.”[25] Maybe, but maybe not. Equally likely is that any destruction of documents at the end of World War I was simply designed to protect military secrets from falling into enemy hands, something any government would want to do. More to the point, Akçam also states that “the clearest statement that the aim of the [Ottoman] government’s policies toward the Armenians was annihilation is found in a cable of 29 August 1915 from interior minister Talat Pasha” in which he asserted that the “Armenian question in the eastern provinces has been resolved. … There’s no need to sully the nation and the government[‘s honor] with further atrocities.”[26] This document, however, does not prove genocidal intent except to those determined to find it. Rather, Talat’s statement might simply mean precisely what it states: The Armenian deportations, although resulting in many atrocities and deaths, have solved the issue.

In a carefully nuanced study, historian Donald Bloxham concluded that what happened was premeditated and therefore genocide.[27] Though stating in an earlier article “that there was no a priori blueprint for genocide, and that it emerged from a series of more limited regional measures in a process of cumulative policy radicalization,”[28] he, nevertheless, used the term genocide because of the magnitude of what happened and because “nowhere else during the First World War was revolutionary nationalism answered with total murder. That is the crux of the issue.”[29] At the same time, he wondered “whether recognition [of genocide] is really going to open the door to healing wounds and reconciliation, as we are often told, or whether it is a means of redressing nationalist grievances. Is it an issue of historical truth, morality and responsibility, or of unresolved political and material claims?”[30]

Finally, it should be noted that the Armenian claims of genocide are encumbered by intrinsic legal and philosophical problems. This is due to the fact that any finding under international law of genocide in the Armenian case at this late date would constitute a legally untenable ex-post-facto proclamation, namely: Make a crime of an action which, when originally committed, was not a crime. The concept of genocide did not even exist until it was formulated during World War II by Raphael Lemkin, while the genocide convention only entered into force in 1951.

The Manifesto of Hovhannes Katchaznouni

Hovhannes Katchaznouni was the first prime minister (1918-19) of the short-lived Armenian state following World War I. It is useful to turn to his April 1923 address to the Armenian revolutionary and nationalist Dashnak party congress, held in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. While not gainsaying “this unspeakable crime … the deportations and mass exiles and massacres which took place during the Summer and Autumn of 1915,”[31] Katchaznouni’s speech constitutes a remarkable self-criticism by a top Armenian leader. No wonder that many Armenians have done their best to remove this telling document from libraries around the world. It is, therefore, useful to cite what Katchaznouni had to say at some length:

In the Fall of 1914, Armenian volunteer bands organized themselves and fought against the Turks because they could not refrain themselves from fighting. This was an inevitable result of psychology on which the Armenian people had nourished itself during an entire generation. … It is important to register only the evidence that we did participate in that volunteer movement to the largest extent. …

We had embraced Russia wholeheartedly without any compunction. Without any positive basis of fact, we believed that the Tsarist government would grant us a more or less broad self-government in the Caucasus and in the Armenian vilayets liberated from Turkey as a reward for our loyalty, our efforts, and assistance.

We overestimated the ability of the Armenian people, its political and military power, and overestimated the extent and importance of the services our people rendered to the Russians. And by overestimating our very modest worth and merit was where we naturally exaggerated our hopes and expectations. …

The proof is, however—and this is essential—that the struggle began decades ago against the Turkish government [which] brought about the deportation or extermination of the Armenian people in Turkey and the desolation of Turkish Armenia. This was the terrible fact![32]

K.S. Papazian’s Patriotism Perverted

A decade after the publication of Katchaznouni’s speech, but still much closer to the events of World War I than now, Kapriel Serope Papazian produced a most revealing critique of the Dashnaks’ perfidy, terrorism, and disastrous policies that had helped lead to the events in question. Written by an Armenian who bore no love for the Turks, but hushed up, ignored, and virtually forgotten by many because its self-critical revelations do not mesh with the received Armenian thesis of innocent victimization, Papazian’s analysis[33] calls for close scrutiny.

Authored just after the notorious Dashnak murder of Armenian archbishop Leon Tourian in New York City on Christmas Eve 1933,[34] Papazian began by expressing disdain for the group’s “predatory inclinations” before examining the “terrorism in the Dashnaks’ early [1892] program,” which sought “to fight, and to subject to terrorism the government officials, the traitors, the betrayers, the usurers, and the exploiters of all description.” Having analyzed the movement’s ideological and operational history, Papazian explored what actually transpired during World War I:

The fact remains, however, that the leaders of the Turkish-Armenian section of the Dashnagtzoutune did not carry out their promise of loyalty to the Turkish cause when the Turks entered the war. … Prudence was thrown to the winds … and a call was sent for Armenian volunteers to fight the Turks on the Caucasian front.

Thousands of Armenians from all over the world flocked to the standards of such famous fighters as Antranik, Kery, Dro, etc. The Armenian volunteer regiments rendered valuable services to the Russian Army in the years of 1914-15-16.

On the other hand, the methods used by the Dashnagtzoutune in recruiting these regiments were so open and flagrant that it could not escape the attention of the Turkish authorities … Many Armenians believe that the fate of two million of their co-nationals in Turkey might not have proved so disastrous if more prudence had been used by the Dashnag leaders during the war. In one instance, one Dashnag leader, Armen Garo, who was also a member of the Turkish parliament, had fled to the Caucasus and had taken active part in the organization of volunteer regiments to fight the Turks. His picture, in uniform, was widely circulated in the Dashnag papers, and it was used by Talat Paha, the arch assassin of the Armenians, as an excuse for his policy of extermination.[35]

What then should be made of Papazian’s Patriotism Perverted? Without denying that the Turks played a murderous role in the events analyzed, his long-ignored and even suppressed revelations indicate that the Armenians were far from innocent victims in what ensued. Indeed, Papazian’s text makes it clear that incompetent but treacherous Armenians themselves were also to blame for what had befallen their cause. It is unfair to fix unique blame upon the Turks.

Guenter Lewy’s Critic

A major contribution to the debate over the Armenian atrocities, Guenter Lewy’s The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey,[36] rejects the claim of a premeditated genocide as well as the apologist narrative of an unfortunate wartime excess, concluding that “both sides have used heavy-handed tactics to advance their cause and silence a full and impartial discussion of the issues in dispute.” In his view, “the key issue in this quarrel is not the extent of Armenian suffering, but rather the question of premeditation: that is, whether the Young Turk regime during the First World War intentionally organized the massacres that took place.”

Lewy questions the authenticity of certain documents alleged to contain proof of a premeditated genocide as well as the methods of Vakhakn N. Dadrian,[37] one of the foremost current Armenian scholar-advocates of the genocide thesis, whom he accuses of “selective use of sources … [which] do not always say what Dadrian alleges” and “manipulating the statements of contemporary observers.”

As for the argument that “the large number of Armenian deaths … [offers] proof that the massacres that took place must have been part of an overall plan to destroy the Armenian people,” Lewy counters that it “rests on a logical fallacy and ignores the huge loss of life among Turkish civilians, soldiers, and prisoners-of-war due to sheer incompetence, neglect, starvation, and disease. All of these groups also experienced a huge death toll that surely cannot be explained in terms of a Young Turk plan of annihilation.”

So how does Lewy explain what happened to the Armenians? “The momentous task of relocating several hundred thousand people in a short span of time and over a highly primitive system of transportation was simply beyond the ability of the Ottoman bureaucracy. … Under conditions of Ottoman misrule, it was possible for the country to suffer an incredibly high death toll without a premeditated plan of annihilation.”[38]

Lewy’s book was reviewed prominently and positively in two leading U.S. journals of Middle East studies. Edward J. Erickson noted the finding that “both camps have created a flawed supporting historiography by using sources selectively, quoting them out of context, and/or ignoring ‘inconvenient facts,'” concluding that “simply having a large number of advocates affirming that the genocide is a historical fact does not make it so.”[39] Robert Betts, while claiming that “for the Turkish government to deny Ottoman responsibility for the Armenian suffering makes no sense,” also stated that “what emerges from Lewy’s study is the dire state of the empire and its population in 1915 and its inability to protect and feed its own Muslim citizenry, let alone the Armenians.”[40] Moreover, such distinguished scholars of Ottoman history as Bernard Lewis,[41] Roderic Davison,[42] J. C. Hurewitz,[43] and Andrew Mango,[44] among others, have all rejected the appropriateness of the genocide label for what occurred. On May 19, 1985, sixty-nine prominent academics in Turkish Ottoman and Middle Eastern studies (including Lewis) published a large advertisement in The New York Times and The Washington Post criticizing the U.S. Congress for considering the passage of a resolution that would have singled out for special recognition “the one and one half million people of Armenian ancestry who were victims of genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923.” Instead, they argued that such questions should be left for the scholarly community to decide.

Indeed, the Armenian massacres of 1915 did not come out of the blue but followed decades of Armenian violence and revolutionary activity that elicited Turkish counter violence. There is a plethora of Turkish writings documenting these unfortunate events, just as there are numerous Armenian accounts.[45] The Armenians, of course, present themselves as freedom fighters in these earlier events, but it is possible to understand how the Ottomans saw them as treasonous subjects.

Moreover, throughout all these events, the Armenians were never more than a large minority even in their historic provinces.[46] Yet they exaggerated their numbers before World War I and their losses during the war. Had the Armenian fatality figures been correct, very few would have survived the war. Instead, the Armenians managed to fight another war against the nascent Turkish republic in the wake of World War I for mastery in eastern Anatolia. Having lost, many Armenians claimed that what transpired after World War I was a renewed genocide. As Christians, the Armenians found a sympathetic audience in the West whereas the Muslim Turks were the West’s historic enemy. Add to this the greater Armenian adroitness in foreign languages—hence their greater ability to present their case to the world—to understand why the Turks consider the genocide charge to be grossly unfair, especially since the Armenians have adamantly rejected any culpability on their part in this tragic event.

Conclusion

Without denying the tragic massacres and countless deaths the Armenians suffered during World War I, it is important to place them in their proper context. When this is done, the application of the term “genocide” to these events is inappropriate because the Turkish actions were neither unilateral nor premeditated. Rather, what transpired was part of a long-continuing process that in part started with the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, which triggered an influx of Balkan Muslims into Anatolia with the attendant deterioration of relations with the indigenous Christian Armenians.[47]

To make matters worse, Patriarch Nerses, an Ottoman subject and one of the leaders of the Armenian community, entered into negotiations with the victorious Russians with an eye to achieving Armenian autonomy or even independence. This was followed in coming decades by continued Armenian nationalist agitation, accompanied by the use of terror, aimed at provoking retaliation, which they hoped would be followed by European intervention. When World War I broke out, some Armenians supported the Russian enemy. Kurdish/Muslim-Armenian animosities also played a role in this process.[48]

As for the necessary attribute of premeditation to demonstrate genocide, there are no authentic documents to such effect. Although there are countless descriptions of the depravations suffered by the Armenians, they do not prove intent or premeditation. The so-called Andonian documents that purport to demonstrate premeditation are almost certainly a fabrication.[49] And in response to the Armenian contention that the huge loss of Armenian lives illustrates premeditation, what then should be said about the enormous loss of Turkish lives among civilians, soldiers, and prisoners-of-war? Were these Turkish deaths also genocide or rather due to sheer incompetence, neglect, starvation, and disease? And if the latter were true of the ethnic Turkish population, they were all the more so in respect to an ethnic group that had incurred upon itself suspicion of acting as a fifth column in a time of war.

Even so, Armenian communities in such large Western cities as Istanbul and Smyrna were largely spared deportation probably because they were not in a position to aid the invading Russians. Is it possible to imagine Hitler sparing any Jews in Berlin, Munich, or Cologne from his genocidal rampage for similar reasons? If, as the Armenians allege, the Turkish intent was to subject their Armenian victims to a premeditated forced march until they died of exhaustion, why was this tactic not imposed on all Armenians? Therefore, without denying outright murders and massacres that today might qualify as war crimes, it seems reasonable to question the validity of referring to the Armenian tragedy as genocide.

Michael M. Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University, was senior Fulbright lecturer at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey.

[1] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 U.N. Treaty Series (UNTS) 277, adopted by the General Assembly, Dec. 9, 1948, entered into force, Jan. 12, 1951.
[2] Israel W. Charny, “Towards a Generic Definition of Genocide,” in George J. Andreopoulos, ed., Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 64-94.
[3] Stephen Katz, The Holocaust in Historical Context, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
[4] Ton Zwaan, “On the Aetiology and Genesis of Genocides and Other Mass Crimes Targeting Specific Groups,” Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Amsterdam/Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Nov. 2003, p. 12.
[5] David Rhode, Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s Worst Massacre since World War II (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997), p. 167; Jacques Semelin, Purify and Destroy: The Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), pp. 34-5, 65-6, 138-9, 195-8, 213-20, 245-6; “Report of the Secretary General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35: The Fall of Srebrenica,” U.N. doc. no. A/54/549, Nov. 15, 1999.
[6] The Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro), case 91, International Court of Justice, The Hague, Feb. 26, 2007.
[7] “Documenting the Atrocities in Darfur,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., Sept. 2004.
[8] The Guardian (London), Feb. 1, 2005.
[9] Scott Straus, “Darfur and the Genocide Debate,” Foreign Affairs, Jan.-Feb. 2005, pp. 128, 130.
[10] Public Radio International, July 28, 2008; Voice of America, July 22, 2010.
[11] Semelin, Purify and Destroy, pp. 319-20.
[12] Henry R. Huttenbach “Locating the Holocaust under the Genocide Spectrum: Toward a Methodology of Definition and Categorization,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 3 (1988): 297.
[13] Semelin, Purify and Destroy, pp. 312-3.
[14] Kurt Jonassohn, “What Is Genocide?” in Helen Fein, ed., Genocide Watch (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 21.
[15] Gwynne Dyer, “Turkish ‘Falsifiers’ and Armenian ‘Deceivers’: Historiography and the Armenian Massacres,” Middle Eastern Studies, Jan. 1976, pp. 99-107.
[16] Christopher de Ballaigue, Rebel Land: Among Turkey’s Forgotten Peoples (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), p. 104; M. Hakan Yavuz, “Contours of Scholarship on Armenian-Turkish Relations,” Middle East Critique, Nov. 2011, pp. 231-51.
[17] James Bryce, compiler, “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16,” Parliamentary Papers Miscellaneous, Great Britain, no. 31 (London: Joseph Cavston, 1916).
[18] Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the Contact of Civilizations (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1922), pp. vii-viii.
[19] Arnold J. Toynbee, Acquaintances (London: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 241.
[20] Laurence Evans, United States Policy and the Partition of Turkey, 1914-1924 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. 272.
[21] Edward J. Erickson, “The Armenians and Ottoman Military Policy, 1915,” War in History, no. 2, 2008, p. 167.
[22] Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2006), p. 187.
[23] Erman Sahin, “Review Essay: A Scrutiny of Akçam’s Version of History and the Armenian Genocide,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Aug. 2008, p. 316.
[24] Erman Sahin, “Review Essay: The Armenian Question,” Middle East Policy, Spring 2010, p. 157.
[25] Taner Akçam, The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), pp. 19, 27.
[26] Ibid., p. 203.
[27] Donald Bloxham, The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Ronald Grigor Suny, “Truth in Telling: Reconciling Realities in the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians,” American Historical Review, Oct. 2009, pp. 930-46.
[28] Donald Bloxham, “The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916: Cumulative Radicalization and the Development of a Destruction Policy,” Past & Present, Nov. 2003, p. 143.
[29] Ibid., pp. 143, 186.
[30] Ibid., p. 232.
[31] Hovhannes Katchaznouni, “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing To Do Anymore,” Arthur A. Derounian, ed., Matthew A. Callender, trans. (New York: Armenian Information Service, 1955), p. 2.
[32] Ibid., pp. 2-3.
[33] Kapriel Serope Papazian, Patriotism Perverted: A Discussion of the Deeds and the Misdeeds of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the So-Called Dashnagtzoutune (Boston: Baikar Press, 1934).
[34] See Christopher Walker, Armenia: The Survival of a Nation (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), p. 354; Maggie Lewis, “Armenian-Americans,” The Christian Science Monitor (Boston), Nov. 18, 1980.
[35] Papazian, Patriotism Perverted, pp. 7, 13, 15, 21, 38-9.
[36] Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007.
[37] For examples of Guenter Lewy’s critiques of Dadrian’s writings, see “Revisiting the Armenian Genocide,” Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2005, pp. 3-12; idem, The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus (Providence and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995); idem, Warrant for Genocide: Key Elements of Turko-Armenian Conflict (New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1999).
[38] Lewy, The Armenian Massacres, pp. ix, 47, 51, 83-6, 250, 253, 258, 282.
[39] Edward J. Erickson, “Lewy’s ‘The Armenian Massacres,'” Middle East Journal, Spring 2006, p. 377.
[40] Robert Brenton Betts, “The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide/The Armenian Rebellion at Van,” Middle East Policy, Spring 2008, p. 177.
[41] See, for example, Bernard Lewis, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 356.
[42] The New York Times, May 19, 1985.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Andrew Mango, Atatürk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey (Woodstock and New York: The Overlook Press, 1999), p. 161.
[45] See, for example, Louise Nalbandian, The Armenian Revolutionary Movement: The Development of Armenian Political Parties through the Nineteenth Century (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963); Garegin Pasdermadjian (Armen Garo), Bank Ottoman: Memoirs of Armen Garo (Detroit: Armen Topouzian, 1990); James G. Mandalian, ed. and trans., Armenian Freedom Fighters: The Memoirs of Rouben der Minasian (Boston: Hairenik Association, 1963).
[46] See Justin McCarthy, Muslims and Minorities: The Population of Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire (New York: New York University Press, 1983), p. 115.
[47] M. Hakan Yavuz with Peter Sluglett, eds., War and Diplomacy: The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2011), pp. 1-13.
[48] See Janet Klein, The Margins of Empire: Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), pp. 50, 131, 183.
[49] Aram Andonian, ed., The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Turkish Official Documents Relating to the Deportations and Massacres of Armenians (London: 1920. Reprinted, Newtown Square, Pa.: Armenian Historical Research Association, 1964). For the case against the authenticity of these documents, see Sinasi Orel and Sureyya Yuca, The Talat Pasha Telegrams: Historical Fact or Armenian Fiction? (Nicosia: K. Rustem and Bros., 1986). For the counterclaim that newly found Ottoman archival source material vindicates the Adonian documents see, Akçam, The Young Turks’ Crime against Humanity, p. xviii, fn. 22.

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Middle East

War of rumors and Al Jazeera

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Authors: Mohamed Maher and Irina Tsukerman

The media plays an important role in educating the public, revealing facts and monitoring the various authorities in normal peace times, but it also plays a dangerous role in times of crises, wars, and epidemics, as it is incumbent on them to educate the public about the upcoming danger and how to prevent it.

It is assumed that the media’s loyalty to the truth, and the truth only, as it is supposed to have a moral and humanitarian responsibility towards peoples and societies in the first place.

However, Al Jazeera, the Qatari channel linked to the Doha government chose for it another path, and despite the depth of the current global crisis towards confronting the Coronavirus, this did not deter the Qatari channel from continuing its process of fabricating news and publishing false news for purely political purposes, to provoke the few and crises.

And just over the past few days, Al-Jazeera has published widely, an inaccurate and weak Canadian study indicating that the numbers of the cases in Egypt include 19,000, which is a very exaggerated number if we consider that the official figures at that time, when the study was published, did not was no more than 200, which prompted the Egyptian government to refute such allegations, also withdrew the accreditation of the British Guardian reporter, and issued a warning to the New York Times correspondent in Cairo, which made him latter apologize for his previous tweets on Twitter about the numbers of the cases in Egypt.

The British daily reported that its correspondent, Ruth Michaelson, left Egypt last week after Western diplomats informed her that Egyptian security services wanted her to leave “immediately”, the daily said.

Michaelson reported on unpublished research by Canadian infectious disease specialists estimating an outbreak size of more than 19,000 cases in Egypt. The scientists used data from early March when Egypt officially had only three confirmed cases, according to Michaelson’s report published on March 15.

The following day, Michaelson, along with a New York Times reporter who tweeted her story, was summoned by Egyptian officials and told they were accused of misreporting and spreading panic, The Guardian said.

A day later, Egypt’s State Information Services, the government-body overseeing foreign correspondents, SIS demanded an apology from the Guardian for publishing the report that cited a Canadian medical doctor’s study claiming that infected people in the country may amount to more than 19,000. The official number stands at 196, with six deaths and 26 recovered cases at the time of writing.  revoked Michaelson’s press credentials and released a statement accusing her of citing a “misleading” study based on “false conclusions” and “speculation”.

Several days later, the French ambassador in Cairo publish a video message to the French community in Egypt, inviting them to sit in their homes in Egypt until the end of the crisis, but Al-Jazeera and a several of other channels close to the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood received the message to turn it into a warning to the French people in Egypt, before you difficult days, even though the ambassador spoke in general, which made the French embassy in Cairo issued an official statement indicating that the translation from French to Arabic was not accurate for some channels, and some of them distorted the ambassador’s statements in a manner inconsistent with the intended goal of the message in reference to translation.

The history of Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera’s role as instigator, obfuscator, and distorter of news long precedes the instant COVID19 pandemic crisis.

The recent four hour coverage dedicated to the largely debunked claims by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos regarding his phone. allegedly hacked by the Saudi Crown Prince from his personal Whatsapp account, is just one example of Al Jazeera seizing any manufactured scandal, and amplifying even issues of narrow interests until they appear larger than life. This episode, however, is only a minor illustration of the way Al Jazeera either fuels or takes advantage of existing social or political crises. Manufacturing an appearance of crisis when the issues is relatively minor is also part of the media conglomerate arsenal. Not so long ago, Al Jazeera and affiliate channels, and various European and Arabic-language outlets funded by Al Jazeera or Qatar have pushed the story of immense anti-government demonstrations allegedly taking place in Egypt. These stations have gone as far as to interview alleged participants and witnesses to these supposedly mass gatherings. Meanwhile, 24-hour cameras that were set up to transmit the developments in the hotspots in questions showed empty streets, occasionally interrupted by small crowds.  Eventually, Al Jazeera’s narrative made it out into major Western networks and newspapers. 

The Independent covered these protests as almost revolutionary in nature. Ultimately, Reuters revealed, that in reality, the gatherings were rather small, and no military force was used. The Sissi government was not particularly flummoxed either by the protests, or by the concerted attempt to make them appear like the second coming of the Arab Spring. This attempt to manufacture an appearance of crisis served two purposes: the first was to inspire a more massive revolt among those who found Al Jazeera more credible and “free” than Egyptian media or who simply did not like President Sissi.

The second was to send a propaganda message to the West, in the hopes that the mainstream press will rely on Western-style networks, often without verifying through independent coverage or through associations with local reporters.  The idea is that American or British journalists will consider local Egyptian press “biased” in favor of the government and automatically disregard those perspectives. Indeed, Al Jazeera partially succeeded having captured headlines in a number of Western national publications that played into the narrative of mass opposition to the Sissi government..

Neither of these modes of action have much to do with journalism, in the conventional understanding of the term. Instead, Al Jazeera strives to be the newsmaker and the narrative make at the same time, rather than merely breaking or analyzing the news based on best available evidence.  Al Jazeera has a long history of jumping on board with various uprisings and revolutionary movements and picking and choosing “winners” that receive disproportionate coverage, and thus, an inherent advantage of free media publicity. The 2019 Cairo protests followed Al Jazeera’s much more successful involvement in the Arab Spring in Egypt and other countries, where Al Jazeera’s coverage buoyed Morsi to victory even as the channel essentially ignored more secular-minded candidates and their supporters. 

Similarly, in Sudan, Al Jazeera gave space to young protesters to air grievances while shaping a version of the events which placed blame on the anti-protester violence on Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypti. The conglomerate’s presence in Libya has played a very similar role, and has likewise played up the violent anti-government riots popping up in Malawi following the disputed elections in 2019. The coverage of all these conflicts and crises is narrative driven, and often inaccurate, if not outright fabricated. The same trend can be observed in the coverage of the Khashoggi affair, where Al Jazeera aired the most preposterous claims without ever fully retracting any of them.

Far from being an objective observer of the investigation, Al Jazeera frequently allowed deeply personal and sensationalist attacks on Mohammed bin Salman, who was at the very start portrayed to be a cartoonish villain. And long before Khasoggi was ever on the radar of most of the Western public, Al Jazeera was on the ground in Afghanistan, apparently facilitatingTaliban and giving a welcoming space to Al Qaeda on air as well as via logistical support. Rather than merely covering the conflict, the media conglomerate was at the center of it and taking active part in calling shots through coordinating with the preferred parties. Likewise, in the United States and the United Kingdom, Al Jazeera worked to help shape public perception of Jewish organization and acceptance of old school anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through spy operations that were later turned into documentary narratives and leaked to left wing outlets. 

What do all of these incidents of political meddling, dispensation with journalistic objectivity, and outright fabrications have in common? Al Jazeera was engaged in these  narrrative-building exercises as a media and psychological warfare outfit for Qatar’s foreign policy. While many analysts have referred to Al Jazeera as a “mouthpiece” for Qatari agenda, that is not quite the right term, as in addition to airing preferred Qatar regime perspective, Al Jazeera specifically has been used to influence foreign policy as a lobbyist, propagandist, and employer of active measures. Despite Congressional push to designate the media conglomerate under Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Al Jazeera has been able to avoid scrutiny both throughlegal charades and by touting a strong relationship with the White House, with Jared Kushner making occasional appearances on the channel and welcoming it as a partner and an “important actor in the region” to the White House. The converse to this observation is Al Jazeera’s relative silence or positive coverage with regards to Qatar’s allies, such as various militias funded by the government in Libya and Syria, or for that matter, internal Qatari matters, such as the disputes within the al-Thani family or human rights abuses. To figure out how and why Al Jazeera chooses to focus on certain matters, one should only look for Qatar’s interests in the issue. Antagonizing the members of the Anti Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain) is always on the agenda. Wreaking havoc and undermining criticism of Qatar’s geopolitical agenda in Western countries is another. For that reason, it should come as no surprise, that despite Qatar’s attempts to cover up the rapid spread of the pandemic inside its own borders, rather than criticizing the policy shortcomings, such as open ended travel to Iran and Oman, Al Jazeera focused on searching for and creating problems externally, in part to divert attention from the problems in Qatar, and in part because any crisis can be exploited to sow the seeds of Qatar’s longer-term interests in exerting influence, preferably at the expense of others.

The views expressed within Modern Diplomacy are solely those of the authors in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of the Modern Diplomacy, its Advisory and Editorial Boards, Sponsors, Partners, or Affiliates.

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Turkey in Idlib

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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 What is the real strategic sense of Turkey’s very recent military operation in the Idlib region of North-Western Syria?

 We will analyse here, above all, the main strategic effects and the consequences within the entire Middle East region, as well as the counterpressures within the global geopolitical framework.

 The word Idlib comes from the Aramaic “Adad” (God) and “Lib” (centre).

 A very important geographical and military factor is that, to the West, Idlib is very close to Latakia, where the Russian base of Khmeimimim is located, with more than 1,000 stable operatives, who are now part of the Russian defence apparatus, together with those of the Tartus naval base, where – at the air base near Latakia – also an important unit of the Sixth Directorate of the Russian Military Secret Service (GRU) operates.

 As early as 2015, i.e. the outbreak of war in Syria, Idlib has been, at first, the centre of protests against Bashar al Assad by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni groups. Later Idlib was taken as a safe base by the various jihadist groups, including the remaining elements of the “Islamic State” of Raqqa that have now largely fled to the North-Western Syrian city, in close contact with the Turkish territories.

 Not to mention the over 100,000 ones, previously held by the Kurds, who are relatives, collaborators and mere militants of the so-called “Caliphate” that Turkey has no interest in keeping detained and is slowly releasing.

 Currently Idlib is not controlled by any majority jihadist group, but by an often vague balance among the many groups of the “holy war”, i.e. the Middle East and the other proxy wars, usually mediated by the Turkish Intelligence Services.

 Besides autonomous groups of jihadists coming from the Chinese Turkestan-Xinjiang, often weakened with lightning operations by the operatives of the Chinese Armed Forces, in the region. There are also Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Al Qa’eda faction that has been operating for many years in Syria and partly in Iraq, and the National Liberation Front, founded in May 2018 and openly supported by Turkey.

 It currently includes as many as 11 jihadist factions, but also nationalistic and mainly anti-Assad groups.

These groups often emerge from the Syrian Sunni majority, largely present in the North of the country.

 In agreement with Russia, however, as early as 2019 the Syrian government led by Assad has stated that “Syria’s first goal is to free Idlib”.

 A very harsh signal for Turkey which, just in that phase, was beginning to have as many as 1,300 soldiers around Idlib to monitor the ceasefire.

 In that case, Turkey’s primary goal was to avoid adding a further and probably incalculable mass of other migrants to the 3 million Syrians already present in the Turkish territory on the border with Syria – with EU money – but assigned by Germany alone to Turkey.

 That situation made the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, do his utmost to prevent a new offensive against Idlib from the South and from the East.

 Hence, Staffan de Mistura’s proposals were the usual talks to avoid military pressure and, above all, create a humanitarian corridor, mainly with a view to avoiding the rush of crowds of Syrian migrants to Idlib and, from there, to the “Balkan route”.

 European countries are full of migrants but, when thinking about geopolitics, they focus only on humanitarian aspects and, precisely, on how to avoid the arrival of other migrants.

 Cannot we call it a failure?

 In October 2018, in Sochi, the contacts between Putin and Erdogan led to an agreement.

 A “de-escalation zone” was created in Syria – just to use the terminology of the Astana talks, the real ones, not the semi-deserted talks in Geneva – and it was in that area that Turkey took up the role of maintaining public order.

 Shortly after the Sochi agreement, in an interview on the Russian TV, Bashar al Assad stated: “The Syrian military confrontation with Turkey is illogical”.

 The document signed in Sochi between the two leaders stated that: a) there was a commitment of both countries for Syria’s territorial integrity; b) there was a common commitment to the fight against “all terrorists”, as well as the beginning of a ceasefire regime in Idlib as from March 6, and the establishment of a ‘security corridor’ along the Syrian M-4 motorway, six kilometres to the right and six kilometres to the left of the road axis; c) finally, there was the introduction of joint Turkish-Russian patrols, again along the M-4 motorway, in Idlib, in the direction controlling the Latakia-Aleppo axis.

 Regardless of what happens to the Sochi agreement, the clash between Turkey and Russia is therefore very unlikely.

 Neither Turkey nor, even less, Russia want to open a Syrian front where they would inevitably enter de facto marginalized from Syria.

 A new war for hegemony in North-Western Syria between Russia and Turkey would be a very hard blow for both economies, which are now increasingly interconnected. By clashing with Turkey, the Russian Federation could lose an easy access to the Dardanelles and its own Syrian bases, as well as to the Bosphorus.

 Moreover, Russia does not want to upset a NATO country like Turkey, which is now a maverick in the Atlantic region. An incalculable advantage position for Russia.

 On its part, however, Turkey cannot do without specific support also from the United States, especially if obtained outside the North Atlantic Treaty region.

 This means Turkey’s future concessions to the United States in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Turkey’s involuntary delicate hand against the PKK and other Turkish organizations (all offspring of the PKK, however) that are still essential on the ground for the United States (and Israel). 

 Currently, however, many executives of CIA, the Pentagon and the vast U.S. intelligence community do not even hide the desire to put an end to Erdogan’s regime.

 Certainly the new Turkish Sultan is “scarcely democratic”, but if the United States were to test the approach of all its Middle East traditional allies in this regard, obviously the only democratic country would be Israel.

  It will not be easy for the United States to define its future regional alliances, but the situation of relations between Turkey and the United States is today increasingly ambiguous and, in any case, very tense.

 Only the most brilliant people within CIA are worried about not exasperating tempers, so as to avoid Turkey agreeing definitively with Russia irremediably against the United States.

The idea of some North American intelligence executives is also to push Turkey into reckless military adventures in Syria and, possibly, also in Libya – a distant area, but very much correlated with Syria – to eventually create a Turkish Vietnam and then leave Erdogan’s regime in the hands of the increasingly angry and impoverished Turkish crowds. A hope more than a strategic idea.

 A vast program- as De Gaulle would have said – but anything is possible, even the U.S. planners’ dreams, if you are in the Middle East.

 At this juncture, there is a key question. Can Assad alone control the stability of his Syria, after a victory which means, above all, the persistence of Russian protection over the old Ba’ath regime and also the inevitable support of the covert or non-covert military structures of Iran, which wants, above all, to create a stable terrestrial continuity towards the Lebanon and border with Israel, with its military and signal intelligence (SIGINT) stations?

 Currently – after having changed and made the strategic framework much more insecure, with an ineffective stability of the U.S. positions in Syria and Turkey’s definition of the agreement with Russia, as well as the strong permanence of the ever stabler Assad’s regime, in the rest of Syria – the Turkish forces have approximately 20,000 soldiers in the Idlib area.

 The deployment of Erdogan’s forces in Idlib includes his five special forces, which depend only on the Chief of Staff and not on the classic territorial chain of command of the Turkish Armed Forces. It also includes some armoured units, light infantry units, i.e. real commandos, and the 5th Brigade, specialized in paramilitary operations and mountain warfare.

 Hence nothing to do with a Military Police that deals with an agreement on the M-4 motorway line.

 The dozens of thousands Syrian or para-Syrian migrants, who want to push towards Europe, in the direction of Greece and then the “Balkan route”, are always supported by the Turkish Armed Forces themselves, who do not want civilians standing in the way between them, Assad’ Syria, Russia and the other players in the Syrian war, especially Iran.

 Clearly Turkey does not want even the United States. If anything, Erdogan wants the financial support of the E.U., which, as usual, is terrorized of the obvious result of a war it has recklessly supported.

 Hence, currently, the feeble agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in Sochi – which, indeed, served their most basic strategic interests – no longer holds, except for the wise malice of both statesmen.

 It has even been said that recently Russia has sought the support of the Emirates and of Saudi Arabia (currently it is more difficult, after the fall of OPEC+) so as to break the stalemate with Turkey, while it is known that none of the powerful countries of Jazeera, namely the Arabian Peninsula, likes the Turkish strategic behaviour.

 Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have begun to support, with money and weapons – the weapons that the new E.U. IRINI mission naively seeks at sea – the Libyan “rebels” of Cyrenaica, against the pro-Turk Tripolitanians, supported by the naivest part of the international community and, above all, by the Muslim Brotherhood that, instead, is not naive at all.

 Obviously, however, Syria’s final victory at Idlib would never be accepted by Turkey, which would probably react with a limited but very harsh counteroffensive, capable of turning the Idlib area not into a Turkish enclave, to be used as a bargaining chip with Syria, but into a real Turkish area.

 Furthermore, the Syrian economic crisis has not permitted an acceptable reconstruction in the areas of the Idlib region brought back to the Syrian regime or to Russia. This has also led to further revolts and provided induced support to the old jihadist networks that are fierce and still rich in liquidity.

 It is also possible that the great push of Syrian and para-Syrian migrants – of various ethnic origin and political nature – is not viewed too negatively by Russia, which could thus favour those ethnicist and right-wing forces which now permanently support Russian strategic goals in the now brain-dead Europe.

 Hence what should we do? Should we support the Idlib Strip as an area of permanence and support – with E.U. money – of the over three million additional migrants – something that is now physically impossible?

 Where could the E.U. money be found, in the midst of a COVID-19 financial emergency?

 Meanwhile, until the Idlib issue is solved, Assad’ Syrian regime is not stable and hence not capable of facing the great business of the country’s reconstruction, without the others’ strategic “teeth”.

Certainly – for what foreign policy agreements are worth – the Adana Agreement of 1998 still applies between Syria and Turkey. It dealt with the Province of Hatay, as well as the issue of water, essential for both countries, not to mention the Syrian recognition of the PKK as a “terrorist organization” and, therefore, the subsequent and immediate expulsion of the PKK leaders, especially Abdullah Ŏcalan, from Syria. 

This is something we Italians remember fairly well. Therefore, between 2004 and 2010, the relations between Turkey and Syria were excellent.

 The two countries also signed the beginning of a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council in September 2009, with an immediately subsequent free trade agreement between them.

 That agreement was immediately extended to the Lebanon and Jordan, besides the two first signatories – hence the old Levant Quartet. When the war, which had begun as the Syrian “Arab Spring”, became radicalized, and both global and regional elements entered Syria, Turkey changed its observation point, mainly with reference to the strong presence of Iranian and, in any case, Shi’ite forces organized by Iran.

 This was also connected to the proven substantial U.S. lack of interest in Syria, and above all its sole support for the various Kurdish political-military organizations – which, indeed, has never been the only one for the Kurds.

 Since the beginning of tensions in Syria in 2014 – especially thanks to the local organizations of the Muslim Brotherhood, often connected at the time to the U.S. networks, as in Egypt – Turkey had clear and very simple goals in mind: the management of the inevitable humanitarian crisis, in which it was directly and inevitably interested; the fall of Assad’s regime; a proxy war against Iran; the elimination of Daesh, competing with the Turkey-manipulated jihadist organizations on the ground, and the final marginalization of the entire Kurdish area.

 Currently there are approximately 4 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey’s goals are currently to stop further migrant flows, as well as to support those already there, and finally keep its very safe borders with Syria in view of avoiding further migrant flows.

 At that juncture, once the clash in Syria had started, Turkey saw both the Kurds and Daesh arrive at its borders.

 Later, in 2011, when the “Arab spring” broke out in Syria, Turkey explicitly advised Assad to start a radical reform of the Ba’athist regime in view of maintaining internal stability.

 Certainly, today, with the penetration of Russian and Iranian security apparata into Assad’s regime, the fall of Ba’ath and the Assad dynasty – a desire never hidden by Turkey – is much more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, Russia has an economic and oil agreement with Turkey that is worth the entire survival of the Turkish AKP regime.

 One of Turkey’s primary plan to topple Assad, and hence free Syria from Russia and Iran and turn it into a dépendance of Turkish geopolitics, was to try to unite all the forces opposing Assad into a single “front”.

 The Turkish support also applied to the Astana talks, where Turkey supported the opposition against Assad, including jihadists, and, above all, sought peace in Syria with a view to sending its 4 million migrants back to their Syrian homes and in the rest of the world.

From this viewpoint, we can better understand the Turkish operations Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch in 2018, both designed to avoid the Daesh penetration into Turkey and the Kurds’ arrival in Ayn-el-Arab and Afrin.

 As already seen, however, the real punctum dolens of Turkey’s regional geopolitics is the possible “Shiazation” of Syria, while Turkey would like to have the entire Syria or, at least, its Sunni-majority parts, hegemonized by Turkish interests.

 The Turkish Forces’ and Intelligence Services’ penetration into Idlib has also this meaning: at first, we take our area of influence, then we will decide to negotiate with Bashar al Assad, but from a position of strength.

 It should be recalled that the first aspect of the 1979 revolution in Iran was the expansion of Islamic radicalism, which immediately spread to both Sunni and Shi’ite countries.

 The second strategy, which is currently still pursued by Iran, was instead pan-Shi’ism.

 After the predictably unfortunate “Arab Springs” that the United States invented to defuse the sword jihad by reactivating the militancy, including the religious one, with a bottom-up and rank-and-file approach, with the results we could well imagine even before, Iran no longer uses pan-Islamism, but only pan-Shi’ism.

 Since 1980, however, Turkey has carved out its geo-informative role of defender of the West against pan-Islamism and, above all, against the great Shi’ite insurgency organized by Iran, which has also strengthened the never well clarified relations between the AKP, Erdogan’s party, and the Muslim Brotherhood which, at the beginning of the “Arab Springs”, was also the primary instrument of the U.S. operations in the framework of the great change regime planned by Langley in the Arab-Islamic world.

 Certainly Iran has its very strong Shi’ite identity, which mobilizes and strongly motivates all its proxies, in Syria as in the rest of the world. Also Turkey, however – especially after Operation Olive Branch, has created its myth: a “democratic and pluralistic” Syria, i.e. without the Assad dynasty in power, but still maintaining the political and territorial unity of the Syrian Republic.

 In other words, Turkey still envisages the silent division into zones of influence, possibly favouring Russia, which maintains the TurkStream project, the bilateral gas pipeline leaving from Anapa, in the Russian region of Krasnodar, crossing the Black Sea and arriving at the Turkish station of Kiyikoi.

 A clearly strategic pipeline since it strengthens Russian-Turkish ties and hence favours Turkey’s substantial moving away from NATO. It also avoids Russia’s transit through the dangerous and unstable Ukraine, which will hence become more a problem for the West, which has opposed Russian operations in the region, than for Russia.

 Let us, however, analyse the current Turkish military operations in Syria. The Turkish military action began on October 9, 2019, with attacks on the Kurdish area of Tall Abyad and Sere Kaniye, which were carried out also thanks to the help of some jihadist groups connected with the MIT, the Turkish secret service.

 Still today, it is an area of Turkish hegemony, obtained in a territory previously controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish initiative and involving Christian (Assyrian) and Arab (Sunni) troops.

 Well before the SDF, however, much of the territory occupied by Turkey was previously held by the so-called Caliphate of Raqqa.

 Another Turkish goal was to militarily separate the Syrian Kurds – who are often mostly on the Syrian-Turkish North-Western border – from their fellow countrymen in Iraq and, all the more so, in Turkey.

 In addition, Erdogan’s Turkey plans to relocate at least 2-3 million Syrian refugees or refugees coming from Syria (who are the largest share) already present in Turkey.

 A solution that has already caused two problems. All migrants come from North-Western Syria and, hence, they are not homogeneous with the Turkish stability projects in the region. There is also the danger of giving room and bases for action to Turkey’s traditional enemies: the Syrian Democratic Forces; some remnants of the “Caliphate”, that, especially in its last phases, had close relations with the Turkish Intelligence Services; some Kurdish areas well armed from their supply lines, which go mainly from South-Eastern Syria to the whole Northern border.

 Just think that, in 2013, there were also confidential talks between the Chief of MIT and the Turkish Foreign Ministry and the leaders of all the Kurdish forces, in view of reaching a stable agreement. Those negotiations, however, were harshly disrupted by Turkey.

 In the meantime, the E.U. is obtusely undertaking to paying Turkey to stop migrants at the beginning of the “Balkan route”, which is, however, largely used both by Syrian migrants and by the majority migrant flows passing through Syria.

 Indeed, the E.U. support for all the U.S. and Franco-British democratist follies, aimed at bringing free elections and secular democratic systems throughout the Middle East, has been a unique case of strategic masochism, i.e. paying the same Turks who destabilize North-Western Syria and then asking Europe to pay the bill for what they have done precisely to the designated victims, namely the powerless Europeans.

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Resisting Lockdowns: Bringing Ultra-conservatives into the fold

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The Coronavirus pandemic points a finger not only at the colossal global collapse of responsible public health policy but also the importance of balancing exclusionary religious practices and social cohesion.

While government negligence allowed an Evangelist prayer meeting to drive the spread of the virus in France, lagging social cohesion coupled with politicians’ politicking put ultra-conservative communities in Israel and Pakistan in the disease’s driver’s seat.

The resistance to public health policies of ultra-conservatives, who pay the price with high infection rates, takes debate about social cohesion beyond European efforts over the past two decades to restrict ultra-conservative Muslim and, to a lesser degree, Jewish practices in a bid to prevent the fringes of society turning into breeding grounds for militancy and political violence.

Various European governments have sought to impose social cohesion by banning women’s face covers, forcing people to shake the hand of someone of a different gender, restricting foreign funding for religious institutions and calls for outlawing Muslim and Jewish rituals for the slaughter of animals.

Post-Kemalist Turkey under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the only democracy to move in the opposite direction, was the exception that confirmed the rule. 

While European nations banned hijabs and niqabs, Mr. Erdogan, as part of his effort to Islamicize society, lifted the ban in universities and government offices, demolishing a pillar of French laicist-inspired Kemalism.

The issues of social cohesion and political violence took centre stage in February in a Dutch parliamentary inquiry that  investigated “unwanted influence of unfree countries.”

The parliamentary group grilled a controversial Salafi imam with questions that implied that the cleric was undermining social cohesion and enabling militancy with advice to his community to avoid intermingling with non-Muslim Dutchmen and to look the other way when walking past a church.

Critics charged that the inquiry by focussing exclusively on ultra-conservative Muslims and Turkish nationalist moves to control Dutch Turkish mosques was putting the Muslim community, that accounts for five percent of the Dutch population, on the defensive.

Israeli efforts to combat the coronavirus have highlighted similar social cohesion issues with ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a city near Tel Aviv, that are among the Jewish state’s foremost virus clusters. Authorities put Bnei Brak this week in lockdown.

Initial government reluctance to enforce the closure of schools and synagogues as well as social distancing among the ultra-orthodox, who account for 12 percent of Israel’s population of 8.6 million, was seemingly motivated by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s fear that he would alienate religious parties that support his effort to form a new post-election government.

Mr. Netanyahu has recently been twice in quarantine, once after having been in face-to-face contact with his ultra-orthodox advisor, Rivka Paluch, who tested positive, and a second time after his health minister, Yaakov Litzman, a prominent member of the ultra-orthodox community, contracted the disease.

It took the disease to persuade Mr. Litzman that harsher measures were needed.

Mr. Litzman, discussing the virus. insisted last month that “we are praying and hoping that Messiah will come by Passover, it’s the time of redemption. I am sure that the Messiah will come  just like he took us out of Egypt.”

Mr. Litzman and Ms. Paluch’s initial resistance to tough public health measures suggests that ultra-orthodox assertions that lack of information explained ultra-orthodox resistance was not the only reason for the failure of to comply with government policy.

To be sure, ultra-orthodox Jews frequently live in a world of their own that centres on prayer and religious learning. Many do not have television, access to the internet or listen to mainstream radio broadcasts. They rely on community news sheets.

Add to that the fact that proposed public health measures disrupt ultra-orthodox life.

Like Muslims, ultra-orthodox Jews congregate several times a day for prayers. Unlike Muslims, Jews require for certain prayers a quorum of at least ten adult men. The government’s closure of rituals baths, moreover, means that couples are banned from intimacy or sleeping in one bed.

Furthermore, ultra-orthodox interactions with more secular Jewish society are few and far between. Members of the community often speak Yiddish, rather than Hebrew, a language that in their view is reserved for prayer in the absence of the arrival of the Messiah.

Like recent ultra-orthodox funerals, recent mass gatherings in Pakistan, Malaysia and India of Tablighi Jamaat, a transnational ultra-conservative Muslim movement, have turned into hubs from which the coronavirus has spread.

Former Israeli justice and religious affairs minister Yossi Beilin could have been speaking about the Tablighi when he summed up the ultra-orthodox Jewish view as ‘keep praying together. Whatever you try doing will not change anything, because the disaster is a God-given phenomenon, and only begging God may change things for the better.’’’

An Evangelist pastor in Florida, Reverend Rodney Howard-Browne, who was arrested for organizing Sunday church services in defiance of emergency orders, echoed Mr. Beilin’s rendition of attitudes among some  ultra-conservatives.

“We are demonized because we believe that God heals, that the Lord sets people free, and they make us out to be some kook,” Mr. Howard-Browne said.

With governments across the globe having failed to prepare for or counter the coronavirus from day one, Israel and Pakistan are in good company So is France, where a week-long Evangelist gathering in the city of Mulhouse kickstarted the virus’ spread in the country.

Members of the congregation said they knew nothing about the virus’ threat. Indeed, the French government had at that point failed to issue proper warnings and take the kind of measures that potentially could have blunted the virus’ devastating impact.

The upshot of Israel’s travails, the Dutch inquiry that at times resembled an inquisition, Pakistani hesitancy to impose public health measures on an influential religious group, and French negligence constitute in essence government failures on two counts: The failure to read the writing on the wall with regard to the virus and the failure to work with ultra-conservatives to bring them into the fold.

Talking about the ultra-orthodox, Gilad Malach of the Israel Democracy Institute appeared to put the onus on ultra-conservatives.  “The main question towards the future is whether within the community there will be voices…that will say: ‘We want to protect our community, but we also belong to the state,’” Mr. Malach said.

If the emergence of ultra-conservative communities as virus clusters says anything, it is that waiting for ultra-conservatives to raise their voice isn’t good enough. The coronavirus demonstrates the price of not reaching out to ultra-conservative communities and establishing two-way channels of communication.

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