The Turks are getting very annoyed about all this talk of the Armenian Genocide, with the centenary coming up next week. Toys may soon be thrown out of prams. From the Times [£]:
The ancient cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul could be reopened as a mosque in response to the Pope’s comments on the century-old massacres of Armenians, a senior government cleric said yesterday.
The Grand Mufti of Ankara, Professor Mefail Hizli, warned of repercussions from remarks on Sunday by Francis, who labelled the killings of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 as genocide.
“Frankly, I believe that the Pope’s remarks will only accelerate the process for Hagia Sophia to be reopened for [Muslim] worship,” Professor Hizli said in a written statement.
He described the Pope’s comment as a “modern reflection of the crusader wars launched in these lands for centuries”, claiming that Turkey’s position as a “standard bearer” for the Muslim world invited attack from outsiders.
The Pope’s words, days before the April 24 centenary of the first killings of what became the Armenian genocide, caused fury in Turkey. Ankara withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican and President Erdogan declared: “The stain of genocide on our nation is out of the question.”
The obligatory "crusader" reference is telling. The grievance culture, that so much current Muslim rhetoric has come to rely on, finds it impossible to admit that the first genocide of the modern age was perpetrated by Muslims against Christians.
Released 50 years ago this week:
The Byrds' attempt to join Dylan's lyrical genius to a Beatles-style sound. Or the beginnings of Country Rock. Pretty damn successful either way. With Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and the great Gene Clark reduced to banging on a tambourine.
McGuinn was the only Byrd to actually feature on the original single; the rest of the instrumentation was provided by the Wrecking Crew, the famous bunch of West Coast session musicians. It was early days. In a few months the rest of the band were competent enough to play live.
Here's Dylan with Mr Tambourine Man at Newport in 1964 introduced by Pete Seeger, who'd swallowed Dylan's tales of a mythical past, where he'd "run away from home 17 times and got brought back 16". Next year, Newport 1965, things weren't quite so cosy, with Seeger attacking the cables with an axe as Dylan went electric. At the start, when he's tuning up - round 1.04 - Dylan comes up with the bass line which the Byrds later used for their version of the song. So there you go. Am I the first to spot this vital piece of musical historiography?
Erdogan's Turkey takes another step into the dark side. From MEMRI:
Since October 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has regularly referred to the concept of a "Mastermind" (ust akil, "supra-intellect," in Turkish) that, he says, is plotting against Turkey. This concept has been applauded by the Islamist pro-AKP media. Erdogan's December 12, 2014 speech, which focused on this "mastermind" concept, inspired the production of a two-hour "documentary" by one of the leading Turkish television channels, the pro-AKP A Haber. The film, titled "The Mastermind," first aired on March 15, 2015 and has been broadcast repeatedly since then; in addition, the Turkish Islamist pro-AKP media are circulating the film on their own websites.
According to this film, Jewish "domination of the world" goes back 3,500 years, to the days of Moses. The film presents three Jewish historical figures who, it claims, shaped the Jews' hunger for power: the medieval Spanish philosopher and Torah scholar Moses Maimonides, Charles Darwin (who was not in fact a Jew), and German-American philosopher Leo Strauss.
A breakdown of the film:
"The Mastermind" opens with images of the Star of David, and images of a replica of the Temple in Jerusalem, and then an excerpt of President Erdogan's December 12, 2014 speech is shown, with him saying: "I am emphasizing this: Do not think that these are operations that target me personally. Do not think that these operations are against our government or any [political] party. My friends, the target of these operations and initiatives is Turkey, Turkey's existence, her unity, peace, and stability. They are especially against Turkey's economy and its independence. As I have said before, behind all these there is a Mastermind, which has now become part of our national conversation. Some ask me, 'Who is this mastermind?' and I say, 'It is for you to research this. And you do know what it is, you know who it is.'"
The narrator then begins: "The Mastermind, whose roots go back thousands of years, who rules, burns, destroys, starves the world, creates wars, organizes revolutions and coups, establishes states within states – this 'intellect' is not only Turkey's curse, but the curse of the entire world. Who is this mastermind? The answer is hidden inside truths and facts that can never be called conspiracy theories.
"This story begins in the very old days, 3,500 years ago, when Moses brought his people out of Egypt to Jerusalem. The only guide he had was the Ten Commandments. This is what was placed inside a wooden Ark which was later brought into the Temple of Solomon.
"This is not myth but fact. And we have to look for the mastermind in Jerusalem where the sons of Israel live."
Islamist pro-AKP political history professor Ramazan Kurtoglu says in the film that as they destroy the entire world, the Jews are searching for this Ark of Covenant that they lost. He ties the Iraq War to Jewish aspirations to find the Ark, and claims that the first thing that the Americans did when they entered Baghdad was to go Abu Ghuraib, at that time a museum and not yet a prison, and collect all the ancient stone tablets and papyri of ancient times.
The film's narration says that the Jewish faith is a political philosophy rather than a religion, and mentions three figures that "the Jews look up to and follow" – naming "Rabbi Ben-Maimon (Maimonides), considered the greatest of all Bible commentators, who lived in the Middle Ages" who he says believed that "the Jews are the Masters, and all other people are to be their slaves." The second, Charles Darwin, is "a Jew [sic], a biologist [and] a scientist who is the architect of the theory of evolution. The third is a German Jew, Leo Strauss, the father of American neo-conservatism." Prof. Kurtoglu states, "Maimonides envisioned a new world order in which the world would be ruled by the Children of Israel, God's chosen people."
Also appearing in the film is another pro-AKP academic, Ebubekir Sofuoglu, who says that the Jews believe that they, the descendants of Isaac, consider themselves the masters, and that "all of us," the descendants of Ishmael, are created to serve the Jews. Sofuoglu also claims that the Jews used the Jew Darwin's theory to assert their religious belief that God created the Jews while everyone else evolved from apes....
It'd be funny if it wasn't so serious.
Jane Corbin's documentary, Kill the Christians, aired on BBC2 last night. It was a predictably grim catalogue of Islamist violence against the dwindling Christian minority in the Arab Middle East. There are some uncomfortable ironies though, which perhaps she could have explored in more depth:
In St Ilyas church, Erbil, I met Father Douglas Bazi - a Catholic priest who is caring for 135 families in tents in the gardens of the church.
"We are Christian, so we are used to having our luggage always prepared," said Father Douglas. "We always have to run away - escape from place to place."
This wave of persecution began not with IS but when Britain and America invaded Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein. Under his rule, Christians were free to worship and played a full role in this society.
"Saddam's era was the golden age for Christians," said Father Douglas, although he adds that he did not personally agree with Saddam's rule.
As the Western coalition failed to provide security for Iraq, it descended into chaos and Christians became victims of the ugly sectarian power struggle unleashed between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
"They looked at the West as infidels and as Christians we were seen in the same way," Father Douglas explained. The priest's church in Baghdad was bombed and he was taken hostage by a militia and held until the Church paid a ransom.
Father Douglas shows me the blood-stained shirt he was captured in and described how his captors broke his back with a hammer, then his teeth - one by one.
As I recall from the program, his torturers told him there was no hurry - "the night is long, and you have many teeth".
"If you look at history, we are the same group who lose every time," he continued. "They push us to lose our faith, our people, our role, our positions, our job, now we have lost our homes - so what next?"
A million people, two-thirds of Iraq's Christians, fled in the decade following the fall of Saddam.
The same story is being repeated across the Middle East, where the Arab Spring unleashed forces that turned against Christians and the authoritarian leaders who once protected them.
If like me you read the works of Kanan Makiya - The Republic of Fear and Cruelty and Silence - then it's quite a jolt to hear Saddam's nightmare rule described as a golden age. Such, I suppose, are the paradoxes of the Middle East. The monstrous psychopathy of the Ba'ath regime allowed no space for religious hatred - or rather, for religious hatred unsponsored by the Ba'athists themselves - so yes, for Christians at the time who stayed clear of Saddam's vast and multi-layered police and security forces, it may well have seemed like a golden age compared to what came after. Similarly the Christians interviewed by Corbin in Syria now were unanimous in their support of Bashar Assad. Indeed the blood-soaked former opthalmologist has shown himself only too keen to play on his perceived role as defender of the Christian community and force for moderation aganist the Islamic extremists, having himself filmed touring the ravaged Christian community of Maaloula.
As so often in these reports, it was the Kurds who came out best. The Kurds are the ones protecting the Christians of Nineveh from ISIS:
The Peshmerga (Muslim Kurdish fighters) took me to their front line with IS, a few miles from the monastery where they are holding back the advance of the Islamic militants who have killed many Muslims.
The Kurds do not agree with the extreme form of Islam that IS espouses and the Peshmerga general assured me they would protect the Christians. "We lived here for many years as brothers - there is no difference between Kurds, Muslims and Christians different religions in Kurdistan," said General Hameed Afandi.
In Erbil in Kurdistan, thousands of displaced Christians are crammed into a half-built shopping mall. I met Leila and Imad Aziz preparing food for a Christian festival with their two little girls. They fled from Mosul last summer when IS occupied the city, giving Christians the choice of converting to Islam, leaving the city or paying the jizya - the heavy tax imposed on Christian subjects by Muslim rulers centuries ago.
"We can't go back to Mosul for fear of being killed, kidnapped or robbed," Imad told me. "I believe that in four to five years, very few Christians will remain. They will be pointing fingers at them saying: 'He's a Christian.'"
Ask the Kurds about Saddam's golden age.
When April comes around, with its sweet showers ending the drought of March, then people get the urge to go on pilgrimages. (I paraphrase somewhat). Here we are in Spain, on the Camino Frances (the French Way), one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela:
A few changes since the early days, I imagine.
The late Lou Reed was by all accounts a difficult man. This brief memoir by his younger sister - an attempt to "set the record straight about his childhood" - is quite revealing in that respect; especially in the period leading up to his ECT treatment:
At 17, the decision was made that Lou would attend New York University. My parents sent him off with pride and possible trepidation. They were about to encounter some very difficult issues with their son and the “help” they received from the medical community set into motion the dissolution of my family of origin for the rest of our lives.
Within the Hippocratic Oath lies the promise that doctors will “do no harm and avoid injustice” to patients. We trust and hope that those in the medical profession will use their knowledge and skill to save our loved ones. Yet the 1960s were marked with psychiatric theories that would ultimately harm families and do irreparable damage — for example, by blaming mothers for being “refrigerator mothers” who “caused” autism or schizophrenia. Families at a loss for how to deal with their loved ones’ genetically-based mental illness were treated as perpetrators by the psychiatric establishment. They were blamed for poor parenting, left feeling hopeless and guilty.
Sometime during his freshman year at NYU, when I was 12, my parents went to the city and returned with Lou, limp and unresponsive. I was terrified and uncomprehending. They said he had a “nervous breakdown.” The family secret was tightly kept and the entire matter was concealed from relatives and from friends. It was our private and unspoken burden. Even at 12 I knew to keep silent, and I did.
My parents finally sought professional help for Lou. I heard only the superficial pieces of what was going on. My mother came into my room and told me that they thought he might have schizophrenia. She said that the doctors told her it was because she had not picked him up enough as an infant, but had let him cry in his room. She sobbed. “The pediatrician told me to do that! He said that’s how you teach a baby to go to sleep.” It was a belief and a burden she took to her grave.
Lou was not able to function at that time. He was depressed, anxious, and socially unresponsive. If people came into our home, he hid in his room. He might sit with us, but he looked dead eyed, non-communicative. I remember one evening when all of us were sitting in our den, watching television together. Out of nowhere Lou began laughing maniacally. We all sat frozen in place. My parents did nothing, said nothing, and ignored it as if it was not taking place.
He did not improve. Despite their misgivings, my parents took a deep breath and brought Lou to a psychiatrist. Who knows what happened in the therapy setting? I only know that the treating psychiatrist recommended electroshock therapy. Did that doctor take into account the possibility of the impact of Lou’s substance abuse or any familial context? Did any sort of family therapy get offered to process what was happening?
My parents were like lambs being led to the slaughter — confused, terrified, and conditioned to follow the advice of doctors. They never even got a second opinion. Told by doctors that they were to blame and that their son suffered from severe mental illness, they thought they had no choice....
Was he suicidal? Impaired by drugs? Schizophrenic? Or a victim of psychiatric incompetence and misdiagnosis? Certainly no one was talking about the impact of depression, anxiety, self-medication with illegal drugs, and what all that could do to a developing teenage brain. Nor was there any family therapy, involving us in understanding him and his needs.
My father was attempting to solve a situation that was beyond him, but it came from a deep love for Lou. My mother was terrified and certain of her own implicit guilt since they had told her this was due to her poor mothering. Each of us suffered the loss of our dear sweet Lou in our own private hell, unhelped and undercut by the medical profession. The advent of family therapy unfortunately was not yet available to us. We were captured in a moment in time.
It has been suggested by some authors that ECT was approved by my parents because Lou had confessed to homosexual urges. How simplistic. He was depressed, weird, anxious, and avoidant. My parents were many things, but homophobic they were not. In fact, they were blazing liberals. They were caught in a bewildering web of guilt, fear, and poor psychiatric care. Did they make a mistake in not challenging the doctor’s recommendation for ECT? Absolutely. I have no doubt they regretted it until the day they died. But the family secret continued. We absolutely never spoke about the treatments, then or ever.
Lou never forgave his father. His sister, now a psychotherapist, has clearly, with some considerable justification, never forgiven the psychiatry profession for what they put her family through.
Iran, thanks to Obama, is now welcomed back into the world's warm embrace:
Senior Israeli officials warned on Monday evening that, over the last few weeks, Iran has considerably stepped up its operations to arm Hezbollah in order to prepare its terrorist proxy for a large-scale conflict with Israel.
According to the officials, cited by Israel’s Channel 2, new intelligence has revealed that Tehran has accelerated its proxy war with Israel on all fronts. Iranian delegations have been arriving in the Gaza Strip, and in recent months, the commander of Iran’s Basij paramilitary volunteer militia spoke of arming the residents of the West Bank to rise up against Israel. Iran has reportedly already begun arming members of Hamas in the West Bank.
Iran has also been attempting to establish a new front for Hezbollah with Israel on the Golan Heights, linking it to the existing one in southern Lebanon, according to the report.
Israeli officials have said that the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran, now under discussion in talks between world powers and the Islamic Republic, will release billions of dollars that Tehran will use to finance the arming of its terrorist proxies.
And let's not forget the Russians:
Russia has lifted a ban on supplying Iran with a sophisticated air defence missile system, the Kremlin has said.
Delivery of the S-300s was cancelled in 2010 after the UN imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
But the Russian president gave the go-ahead after Tehran struck an interim deal with world powers to curb nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
The US and Israel have criticised the news.
The US? But what did they expect?
The Russian defence ministry said it was now ready to supply the S-300 equipment "promptly", an official there said, quoted by Interfax.
Iran hailed the decision as a step towards "establishing stability and security in the region," the country's defence minister, Hossein Dehghan, was quoted as saying by state media.
The Axis of Evil revisited:
The terror group ISIS that is effectively in charge of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq is using North Korean-made tanks and portable missiles, the website NK News claimed Monday.
It cited intelligence sources as claiming tanks used by ISIS in an attack on a Kurdish region in northern Iraq in September were Soviet T-55 tanks upgraded in North Korea, and portable missiles used by militants are of a type manufactured in the North.
Earlier, German intelligence told lawmakers that ISIS has portable surface-to-air missiles that are capable of shooting down civilian aircraft. A photo of an ISIS militant brandishing the weapon was posted on Twitter.
At the time, German intelligence believed the weapon was Russian, Bulgarian or Chinese in origin.
But NK News said ISIS got its hands on North Korean-made weapons by capturing them from government forces in Syria. The two countries maintained close ties since the 1970s and the North exported various weapons to Syria, including the upgraded T-55 tanks and portable surface-to-air missiles.
The Washington Post reported that ISIS got its hands on portable surface-to-air missiles when it attacked a Syrian air force base in Raqqa in the northeastern part of the country in August.
"Whatever effect they may have on the ultimate course of the war, it is certain that even today the influence of [North Korea] on conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere is not to be underestimated."
It could be worse....a lot worse. In September 2007 Israel attacked and destroyed Syria's al-Kibar nuclear facility; built, almost certainly, with North Korean help. Ten North Koreans were reported to have died in the strike. The site is centrally located inside the territory now controlled by ISIS.
Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times (£) reviews two new books on the Armenian Genocide in this its centenary year:
Sometimes it is not the images of genocide that chill the blood, but the evidence of the perpetrators’ ordinary courtesies as they embark on mass murder. In Thomas de Waal’s Great Catastrophe, there is a copy of a handwritten letter sent by Talat Pasha, one of the three leaders of the so-called “Young Turks” government, gracefully accepting a dinner invitation that evening from the US Ambassador to Constantinople and offering compliments to “Madame Morgenthau”. The date of the letter (and the dinner) is April 24, 1915: the very day on which Talat’s “final solution to the Armenian problem” went into action, with the rounding up of Armenian civic and intellectual leaders, followed by their murder.
The letter comes from the Henry Morgenthau archive, as does a subsequent account of the response by Talat in August 2015, when the US envoy called on him to protest at the programme of deportation and murder of the Armenian population: “ ‘It is no use for you to argue,’ Talat answered. ‘We have already disposed of three-quarters of the Armenians; there are none at all left in Bitlis, Van and Erzerum. The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is now so intense that we have got to finish with them. If we don’t, they will plan their revenge.’ ”
With such a clear admission of guilt, one marvels at the level of bad faith with which the Turks have subsequently denied any responsibility. It's not as if there were any lack of other evidence. They haven't been called out on it by the West because Turkey has always been too important an ally to cross. US Presidents up to and including Obama have made the right noises to entice the Armenian vote pre-election, only to avoid the G-word once in office.
In truth, the Armenians have always been the victims of big-power politics. Ronald Suny’s They Can Live in the Desert But Nowhere Else puts the extermination of approximately 1.5m souls 100 years ago in exactly this context, but with a powerful personal introduction: “By the end of the war, 90% of the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire were gone, a culture and a civilisation wiped out never to return. Those who observed the killings, as well as the Allied powers engaged in a war against the Ottomans, repeatedly claimed that they had never witnessed anything like it. The word for what happened had not yet been invented. There was no concept to mark the state-targeted killing of a designated ethnoreligious people. At the time those who needed a word borrowed from the Bible and called it ‘holocaust’. My great-grandparents were among the victims.”
Despite this familial link, Suny is admirably dispassionate in explaining the particular circumstances that led the Ottoman government to embark on a policy of mass extermination — a mixture of outright slaughter of males and death marches of women and children into the desert. The Ottomans had suffered catastrophic defeat in the Balkan wars of 1912-13, with the result that millions of their Muslim compatriots had been displaced and fled eastwards. The “Young Turks” conceived of the Anatolian provinces as a new “homeland” — so it was necessary, in effect, to empty of Armenians the historic homeland of what was once an Armenian nation.
The other cause was their series of defeats at the hands of the vast tsarist army during the First World War. Not only was this a further shattering of the Ottoman Empire, but the Armenians were believed to be sympathetic to their Christian co-religionists. In fact it was remarkable how loyal Armenians were to their Ottoman rulers, even though they had been the victims of a series of massacres in the 1890s and in 1909. Like the Jews of Central Europe, the Christian Armenians had prospered in trade and finance: this had aroused resentment among the much larger Muslim population. Germany, in fact, is linked to both genocides: the “Young Turks” were in alliance with Berlin while they carried out their holocaust of the Armenians. German diplomats, horrified at what they were witnessing, were told to keep quiet by their government: and after the collapse of the Ottoman regime, the main perpetrators of the genocide (“The Three Pashas”) were allowed to settle in peaceful retirement in Germany.
The Pope has demonstrated rather more courage than most Western leaders can manage. In a special centenary mass today he actually cited the mass slaughter of the Armenians as the first genocide of the 20th Century.
The Turks, of course, have protested - summoning the Vatican ambassador to note their "disappointment". No doubt there's more to come. But at least the issue has now, to some extent at least, hit the news.
And let's not forget Kim Kardashian: the best-known Armenian in history. She's now in Yerevan with husband Kanye and, according to her Instagram account, can't wait to sample some "yummy food". There's some (very faint) hope that she might use the time in her ancestral homeland to say something about the genocide in this the centenary year. At the moment she's just famous for being famous. Maybe she could start to earn the fame.