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Archive for the ‘G-Word’ Category

C.A.R. or Genocidal Expectations

In dramatic language, CNN’s very own global brand Amapour plugs the photographs of the IRC’s Peter Birro, not forgetting to invoke the spectre of Ruanda . . .

For its part, Human Rights Watch posted this on its website: “Government authorities in [the] Central African Republic and international peacekeepers should allow Muslim residents to seek protection in neighboring countries. Many Muslim residents living in a few heavily guarded areas endure unsustainable, life-threatening conditions and say they want to leave. The majority of the Muslims remaining in the western part of the country are ethnic Peuhl nomads living in small enclaves – such as in Boda, Carnot, and Yaloké – that are heavily guarded by African Union (MISCA) peacekeepers and French (Sangaris) troops. Because of persistent threats against the Peuhl, peacekeepers drastically restrict the residents’ movements”.[1] So, what is happening there in the heart of Africa???

Writing on the digital forum of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Kujenga Amani (Swahili for “building peace”) and providing some context and historical insight, Dr Angela Meyer says that “[o]n January 10, 2014, former rebel leader Michel Djotodia officially stepped down after ten months as interim president of the Central African Republic (CAR) following his March 2013 putsch against François Bozizé. This development hopefully marks the end of the series of turbulent and violent events that have put the CAR through one of its biggest crises since it gained its independence in 1960. Djotodia was the head of a coalition of rebel movements, which, under the name of Séléka, marched on the CAR’s capital of Bangui in December 2012. Although, initially, the holding of a conference in Libreville in January 2013 held prospects of averting the threat, the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the rebels under the aegis of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) brought only a temporary and relative calming of the tensions. In February 2013, frustration over some of the agreement’s provisions and reluctance to respect them, as well as a split developing within the Séléka coalition between those taking part in and supporting the new transition government and those who felt left out, led to a new series of attacks by Séléka rebels and, eventually, the seizing of the capital and the toppling of Bozizé. On March 25, Séléka leader Djotodia proclaimed himself the new president of the CAR and in April [2013] was confirmed in this position, as the sole candidate, by the newly established National Transition Council. The country nevertheless remained caught in an escalating spiral of violence. While the largely heterogeneous Séléka coalition disintegrated and splintered under the heavy weight of internal power struggles, a self-defense militia emerged within the country. Mostly formed by Christians openly opposed to the predominantly Muslim ex-Séléka combatants, clashes between these groups drove the country deeper into chaos. In the CAR’s history, tensions between religious groups have so far never played a major role. However, in recent years, the politicization of religion in the wider region has become a critical challenge and fuel for the growing fragmentation of the CAR society. As Djotodia—a Muslim himself—proved unable to control and stabilize the country and violence against the population by ex-Séléka members continued, religion rapidly became a central issue in the conflict. This trend has been particularly strong among the population in and around the capital. Séléka has increasingly been perceived as a foreign, mainly Muslim element, including soldiers and combatants of Sudanese and Chadian origin. On December 5, 2013, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2127, calling for the deployment of a support mission led by the African Union (AU) and backed by French forces, to ensure the implementation of the Libreville Agreement and promote the restoration of security and stability in the country. At an extraordinary summit of heads of ECCAS member states, Djotodia and his prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, finally agreed to resign from their posts, opening the way for yet another transitional phase in the country’s history—led, for the first time, by a woman, Catherine Samba Panza”.[2]

The news agency Agence France-Presse or AFP, a few days ago, reported that a “recent surge in violence in the Central African capital of Bangui was caused by ‘agitators’ trying to ‘manipulate the youth for purely political reasons’, President Catherine Samba Panza said on Sunday [, 1 June 2014]. The leader made the comments after a visit to a local hospital where victims were recovering from a deadly attack on a church earlier in the week that sparked mass protests. A total of 17 people were killed in the attack on Notre-Dame de Fatima church, which the president has previously described as a ‘terrorist act’. Samba Panza said recent improvements in the security situation ‘do not please everybody. They are agitators who underhandedly try to manipulate, to use the youth for purely political reasons’, she said. [Adding that] ‘investigations are underway. As soon as we have proven facts, I will be able to speak in a more precise manner’. Her comments mirrored those of her prime minister, Andre Nzapayeke, who said on Thursday [, 29 May 2014] that recent attacks were part of ‘a planned conspiracy’ by ‘politicians very close to power’, including people close to his own cabinet and the presidential office”.[3]

 

[1] “Central African Republic: Let Muslims Seek Safety” Human Rights Watch (05 June 2014). http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/05/central-african-republic-let-muslims-seek-safety.

[2] Angela Meyer, “The Recent Conflict in the Central African Republic: Which Way Out of the Crisis?” Kujenga Amani (31 Jan 2014). http://forums.ssrc.org/kujenga-amani/2014/01/31/the-recent-conflict-in-the-central-african-republic-which-way-out-of-the-crisis/#.U5BXIpNrP4g.

[3] “Central African president sees political conspiracy in attacks” AFP (01 June 2014). http://news.yahoo.com/central-african-president-sees-political-conspiracy-attacks-173202645.html.

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Turkish Tidbits: Genocide Bill and Palestinian Statehood

In another great leap for human rights after proclaiming full head covering illegal, the state of France under Sarko is planning to make saying the wrong thing equally illegal within its borders: ‘French parliament has assured that the bill on criminalizing the denial of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey will be put to the vote as planned on December 22, despite Ankara’s pressure. The bill envisages one year prison term and a fine of 45,000 euros for anyone who denies the fact that Ottoman Turks committed genocide against Armenians in Anatolia a century ago. Turkey has threatened to recall its ambassador and freeze ties with Paris if French lawmakers approve the bill. This is the second time the French parliament is attempting to pass a bill on criminalizing the denial of the genocide. French MP and author of the bill, Valerie Boyer, represents the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. According to Boyer, the bill in 2006 was failed because it had some conflicts with the French constitution, but the new version is in line with the country’s constitutions and EU norms. Armenians say up to 1.5 million of their people were killed during World War I by forces belonging to Turkey’s past Ottoman Empire. France, which has a large population of Armenian descent, has recognized the event as genocide since 2001. Turkey refuses to call the 1915-16 killings a genocide and says 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians, and at least as many Turks, died when Armenians rose up and sided with invading Russian forces’.[1]

The phrase refers to a policy of ethnic cleansing enacted by the Ottoman government during the Great War, which subsequently became known as the First World War (1914-18). At the time, the Ottoman heartland, Anatolia, had a population which was an uneven mix of many religious groups, with the Muslim section being in the majority. These Muslims were however not all Turks, even though they constituted a slim majority. Anatolian Muslims consisted of Kurds, Arabs, Lazes, Muslim Georgians, Greek-speaking Muslims, Albanians, Macedonian Muslims, Pomaks, Serbian Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Tatars, Circassians, Abkhazes, and Daghestanis among others. In the course of the ongoing war, possibly as a result of a perceived security threat, or, maybe to construct a more homegeneously Islamic population composition, the Ottoman authorities decided to forcibly relocate the ‘entire Armenian population of the war zone to Zor [Deir-ez-Zor or Dayr-az-Zawr] in the heart of the Syrian desert’ (E.J. Zürcher). As a result, the government issued a ‘Temporary Law of Deportation’ (Tehcir Kanunu) on 29 May 1915, which remained in effect till 8 February 1916. In the course of the execution of this officially-approved exercise in ethnic cleansing, many Armenian Ottomans perished, the historian Erik J. Zürcher estimates that “[b]etween 600,000 and 800,000” individuals died, a number he calls “most likely”. Problems arise now when people try to apply the term ‘genocide’ to these events. The United Nations’ Convention against Genocide, adopted in December 1948 and put into effect in January 1951, defines genocide as follows: ‘[t]his convention bans acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’. It seems to me that the government of the Republic of Turkey will never ‘recognise’ the Armenian genocide as a result of the inclusion of these four words – ‘with the intent to’. In addition to a whole host of other issues that would make the Turkish authorities most uneasy.

Turkey is now foaming at the mouth at French impudence, people are calling for a general boycott of all things French and for retaliatory measures, for instance, placing the spotlight on French atrocities in Algeria . . . The pro-AKP Today’s Zaman reports that ‘Ankara has warned France of the “irreparable damage” that could ensue should France’s latest move to criminalize denying that an alleged Armenian genocide took place in Turkey in 1915 be passed next week in the French parliament. “Turkish efforts and contact [with French officials] are ongoing at the moment,” Turkish officials told Today’s Zaman on Monday, [12 December] as they recalled statements from Ankara that urge France not to politicize a historical matter that is very sensitive for both Turks and Armenians. “The French administration is well aware of the sensitivity of this issue [of the Armenian genocide] for our country. We hope that no steps that could cause irreparable damage will be taken at a time when Turkey and France have entered a stable phase that could increase opportunities of cooperation at bilateral and international levels,” a statement released by the Foreign Ministry said on Friday, [9 December] as Ankara repeated once more that it regarded such attempts as “reoccurring events” ahead of elections in France. Turkey’s reaction to the move has been revived as the French parliament readies to vote a legislation that could make denying the 1915 events that took place in Turkey as genocide punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros, the Anatolia news agency reported on Monday. The voting, however, is not the first time France has mulled over criminalizing the denial of the events as genocide, as the French National Assembly adopted a bill in 2006, proposing that anyone who denied the “Armenian genocide,” would be punished, but the bill was dropped the same year before coming to the senate. Since France officially recognized the genocide in 2001, stirring up heated but short-lived tension between France and Turkey, French governments have attempted to introduce penalties for denying the alleged Armenian genocide several times, all of which were turned down before gaining full force’.[2]

At the same time, Ankara is now hosting the leader of another persecuted nation: on Monday, 19 December, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited the Anatolian city of Konya where the Reform Monitoring Group (RMG) held a meeting. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu took the opportunity to say something: “Turkey supports the right of its Palestinian brothers to establish a state . . . We will stand by our Palestinian brothers, and we support the Palestinians in their struggle”.[3]  Abbas next went to Ankara to meet President Gül and PM Erdoğan. On Monday, the Hamas leader İsmail Haniyeh announced his intention to visit Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar and Tunisia in the near future.[4]


[1] “France to ban Armenian genocide denial” Press TV (19 December 2011). http://www.presstv.ir/detail/216605.html.

[2] “Ankara warns Paris of ‘irreparable damage’ if genocide bill approved” Today’s Zaman (19 December 2011). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-265521-ankara-warns-paris-of-irreparable-damage-if-genocide-bill-approved.html.

[3] “Turkish FM says Turkey supports Palestinian cause” Xinhua (20 December 2011). http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90777/7682090.html.

[4] “Ismail Haniyeh announces visit to Turkey as Abbas arrives” Today’s Zaman (19 December 2011). http://www.todayszaman.com/news-266153-ismail-haniyeh-announces-visit-to-turkey-as-abbas-arrives.html.

Milošević, Karadžić, Mladić and the Rape of Bosnia

  

Over the years, the recent wars in the Balkans have been all but forgotten. Still, positions remain as polarised as ever, with leftist apologists accusing the West of having demonised the now defunct Serb President Slobodan Milošević to serve its own aims and others bemoaning the fact that Serb atrocities have gone unpunished and were all but rewarded in the Dayton Peace Agreement. Some time ago, Karadžić was caught hiding in plain sight, while now his erstwhile buddy General Ratko Mladić has also been captured. It seems that Serb authorities eventually decided that more cordial relations with the EU are better than hiding a man, demonised by most yet also loved by many if not all Serbs as a hero who served the fatherland. Were the wars in former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia the result of Serb aggression cunningly exploited by Slobodan Milošević or was it really a case of age-old ethnic and religious hatreds and rivalries resurfacing after the death of Tito??? John Pilger offers this piece of insight: “Yugoslavia was a uniquely independent and multi-ethnic, if imperfect, federation that stood as a political and economic bridge in the Cold War. This was not acceptable to the expanding European Community, especially newly united Germany, which had begun a drive east to dominate its “natural market” in the Yugoslav provinces of Croatia and Slovenia. By the time the Europeans met at Maastricht in 1991, a secret deal had been struck; Germany recognised Croatia, and Yugoslavia was doomed. In Washington, the US ensured that the struggling Yugoslav economy was denied World Bank loans and the defunct Nato was reinvented as an enforcer”.[1]  A newly recognised independent Croatia was a danger to Serbia, the once-dominant part of the Yugoslav federation, which duly reacted in force. Prior to the Croatian move, Slovenia had already declared independence after having had to fight some minor battles (“Ten-Day War”). But the conflict between Croatia and Serbia was to lead to more unrest and effectively spelled the end of Bosnia as a multi-ethnic nation where “ethnically Muslim” inhabitants formed a slight majority. In a Yugoslav context, the term Muslim denoted an ethnic identity similar to the nouns Slovene, Croat, Serb, or Macedonian. The requisite Wikipedia entry tells us that ‘the Croatian War of Independence, began when Serbs in Croatia who were opposed to Croatian independence announced their secession from Croatia. Fighting in this region had actually begun weeks prior to the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. The move was triggered by a provision in the new Croatian Constitution that replaced the explicit reference to Serbs in Croatia as a “constituent nation” with a generic reference to all other nations, and was interpreted by Serbs as being reclassified as a “national minority”. The Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) was ideologically unitarian, though at this stage predominantly staffed by Serbs in its officer corps, thus it also opposed Croatian independence, siding with the Croatian Serb rebels. Since the JNA had disarmed the Territorial Units of the two northernmost republics, the fledgling Croatian state had to form its military from scratch . . . and was further hindered by an arms embargo imposed by the U.N. on the whole of Yugoslavia. The Croatian Serb rebels were unaffected by said embargo as they had the support of and access to supplies of the JNA. The border regions faced direct attacks from forces within Serbia and Montenegro, and saw the shelling of UNESCO world heritage site Dubrovnik, where the international press was criticised for focusing on the city’s architectural heritage, instead of reporting the destruction of Vukovar, a pivotal battle involving many civilian deaths’.[2]  And then, in ‘March 1991, the Karađorđevo agreement took place between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević. The two presidents tried to reach an agreement on the disintegration process of Yugoslavia, but their main concern was Bosnia, or more precisely its partition’.[3] 

  

But rather than just another agreement between enemies, Milošević actively provoked the Serbs living in Bosnia by means of his henchman Arkan. The political scientist John Mueller expressed this fact most eloquently: “the violent conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia . . . were spawned not so much by the convulsive surging of ancient hatreds or by frenzies whipped up by demagogic politicians and the media as by the ministrations of small – sometimes very small – bands of opportunistic marauders recruited by political leaders and operating under their general guidance”.[4]  In case of the violence in Bosnia, Milošević recruited Željko Ražnatović, better known by his nom-de-guerre Arkan, to frighten Serbs living in Bosnia by means of staging raids supposedly carried out by Jihad-minded Muslims . . . Arkan’s Tigers, “recently empowered and unpoliced thugs”,[5] effectively turned the (ethnically) Muslim Bosnians into a Jihadist phalanx bent on “ethnically cleansing” their homeland. Bosnia’s population at the time consisted of 45% (“ethnic”) Muslims, 33% (Orthodox) Serbs and 18% (Catholic) Croats.[6]  This crazy idea that Bosnia was a place of Islamic radicalism in the heart of Yugoslavia also took root further afield as well. Evan Kohlmann’s 2004 book with the telling title Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network says it all.[7]  The book’s publisher describes this obvious work of fiction in these terms: ‘Terrorism analyst Evan F. Kohlmann unveils a new angle to the deadly international terrorist organization and reveals the root of its terror lies in the Bosnian War. He includes recently declassified American and European intelligence reports, secret Al-Qaida records and internal documents, and interviews with notorious figures such as London-based Bin Laden sympathizer Abu Hamza Al-Masri. This is the first book to uncover the secret history of how Europe was systematically infiltrated by the ranks of the most dangerous terrorist organization on earth, as told by the terrorists themselves and the daring investigators who have tirelessly tracked them over the past decade’.[8]  As I pointed out in an earlier entry: ‘Adam Curtis’ documentary The Power of Nightmares (2004) convincingly argues that the U.S. authorities fabricated a terrorist organisation named Al Qaeda based on the testimony of a former associate of Bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl’.[9]  In other words, the fabrication of one “myth” in the U.S. led to the construction of another conspiracy theory which was meant to further solidify the people’s fear of Muslims as people and Islam as a religion. This conspiracy theory was concocted by an ‘American terrorism consultant who has worked for the FBI and other governmental organizations. [Kohlmann] is a contributor to the Counterterrorism Blog, a senior investigator with The Nine Eleven Finding Answers Foundation, and a terrorism analyst for NBC News’,[10] which is an even more disturbing fact.

 

Back to Yugoslavia. In 1999, the BBC reported that ‘[p]aramilitary groups [“recently empowered and unpoliced thugs”] played key roles in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia between 1991-95 and were noted for their ruthlessness and cruelty. On the Serbian side, the two most important paramilitaries were the Tigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic, generally known by his nom de guerre, Arkan, and Vojislav Seselj’s Chetniks’.[11]  And now, Ratko Mladić has finally been apprehended. The BBC described him as follows in 2008: ‘Ratko Mladić was Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s army chief throughout the Bosnian war. Along with Mr Karadzic, he came to symbolise the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims and is one of the most wanted suspects from the Bosnia conflict. He has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity – including the massacre of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica in 1995. Having lived freely in Belgrade for some time, Mr Mladić disappeared from view when former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001. Starting in October 2004, former aides to Mr Mladić began surrendering to the war crimes tribunal, as Belgrade came under intense international pressure to co-operate. They included Radivoje Miletić and Milan Gvero, both accused of involvement in ethnic cleansing. Speculation mounted that Mr Mladic would soon be arrested when Radovan Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008’.[12]  On Thursday, 26 May 2011, the BBC summarily stated that ‘Gen Mladić, 69, was found in a village in northern Serbia where had been living under an assumed name’.[13]  From Belgrade, the BBC’s Mark Lowen writes that it “is hard to overstate the importance of this arrest here in Serbia. Many people feel the destiny of their country was held hostage by Ratko Mladic. Their hopes of joining the EU were ruled out by Brussels while Mladic was at large. I asked President Tadic if it was a coincidence that he was arrested while the EU was considering Serbia’s bid to join the bloc. He said the country had never calculated its search for Mladic – it was always determined to catch him. There is still an ultra-nationalist fringe here who see Mladic as a hero – they say he only ever defended Serb interests. But the new, emerging generation in Serbia seem to be tired of the past and its wars – they want to leave that behind and move forward to the future”.[14] 

  


[1] John Pilger, “Don’t Forget Yugoslavia” Information Clearing House (03 February 2009). http://www.islamtimes.org/vdcakynu149no.gt4.html.

[2] “Yugoslav Wars” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars.

[3] “Yugoslav Wars”.

[4] J. Mueller, “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’” International Security, 25, 1 (Summer 2000), p. 42. http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/tclim/F06_courses/banality_ethnic_war.pdf.

[5] J. Mueller, “The Banality of ‘Ethnic War’”, p. 6.

[9] “Killing a Monster: OBL and the War on Terror” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (15 May 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/killing-a-monster-obl-and-the-war-on-terror/.

[10] “Evan Kohlmann” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evan_Kohlmann.

[11] “Arkan: Feared and ruthless” BBC News (31 March 1999). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1998/kosovo2/308071.stm.

[12] “Profile: Ratko Mladic” BBC News (31 July 2008). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1423551.stm.

[13] “Ratko Mladic arrested: Bosnia war crimes suspect held” BBC News (26 May 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13561407.

[14] Mark Lowen, “Analysis” BBC News (26 May 2011). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13561407.

The Arrest of Radko Mladic

Serbian President Boris Tadic says Europe’s most wanted war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic has been arrested. He said on Tuesday [, 24 May 2011]: On behalf of the Republic of Serbia we announce that Ratko Mladic has been arrested. His arrest has been sought by the UN War Crimes Tribunal For The Former Yugoslavia on suspicion of genocide. It was one of the conditions for Serbia joining the EU.

  

 

Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general wanted for alleged war crimes, including genocide, committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, has been arrested, Serbia has announced. He was first indicted in 1995 over the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in which around 10,000 people died. Rory Challands reports on mixed reactions among relatives of the massacres’ victims to Mladic’s arrest.

Monument to Humanity: Wanton Iconoclasm or a Sample of Nationalist Rhetoric?

As a geographic location, the territories now occupied by the Republic of Turkey are no stranger to bouts of iconoclasm and wanton destruction of works of art. In the days before Turks ever tread on the soil of Anatolia and Islam had become the law of the land, the Byzantine Empire (to use that time-worn 19th-century coinage) went through a number of turbulent phases in its religious life. Phases in experiencing religiosity that were connected to the use and/or abuse of images, when believers were either iconodules or iconoclasts, loving or loathing icons or depictions of the deity and other holy figures. As such, in Byzantine history two bouts of image-breaking fervour occurred: the “First Iconoclasm”, lasting from approximately 730 till the year 787 and the “Second Iconoclasm”, between 814 and 842. The then-hotly debated issue was whether the worship of the deity through icons constituted idolatry or was a legitimate means of approaching the godhead. Of more recent memory and enjoying large international exposure is of course the Taliban demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in the course of March 2001, an act of gratuitous iconoclasm based on a strict interpretation of Islamic precepts practised by the Taliban and their Wahhabi sponsors. In fact, the Saudis themselves have also committed their share of wilful destruction of cultural heritage. Early in 2002, they destroyed an 18th-century Ottoman-era fortress, al-Ajyad, overlooking a mosque in Mecca for the sake of progress, in order to erect 11 high-rise towers, consisting of apartments, a twin-tower five-star hotel, restaurants and a sacrosanct shopping mall in the holy city (at a cost of $533m), the latter ensuring that pilgrims and local contribute to the city’s economy by means of worshipping consumerism. At the time, the Turkish government  “lodged a complaint with UNESCO, arguing that the Saudi move was a crime against humanity’s shared heritage and no different from the Taliban’s 2001 destruction of two massive Buddhist statues inAfghanistan”, as worded by the travel writer Michael Wise. Then-Turkish parliament speaker Murat Sökmenoğlu (member of the Turco-Islamist MHP), declared that a “Muslim country’s destruction of another Muslim country’s historic heritage on holy soil is a sinful behaviour in breach of the moral values of Islam, religious brotherhood and common sense”.

Now that Turkey is living in the grip of the AKP, one of the successors of the recently deceased Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi (RP), one would think that such Muslim sentiment reigns supreme. Currently, a symbolically-charged statue is being demolished as a result of Recep Tayyib Erdoğan’s statement in January 2011 that a “freak”  had been erected in the vicinity of the tomb of Hasan al-Haraqani (963-1033). The Prime Minister was referring to the gigantic and as yet incomplete ‘Monument to Humanity’ (İnsanlık Anıtı), set up in 2008 by the sculptor Mehmet Aksoy. At the time of Erdoğan’s effusion, the Wall Street Journal’s Marc Champion opined that these words signaled “the depth of a freeze in efforts to reopen the border and improve relations between the two neighbors” of Armenia and Turkey. And now, following another round of 24-April trepidations, destruction work has commenced at full force, with the hope that work will be finished in ten days.

But what did Mehmet Aksoy’s gigantic sculpture attempt to do?  It is a really huge human figure that is torn in two, with an equally enormous hand reaching out into the distance. The message seems rather obvious: Turks, or should we say Muslims?, and Armenians once lived side by side on these lands. They used to be one body. As a result of a brutal exercise of ethnic cleansing that once-unified social structure became ruptured. Yet, now as neighbour – the sovereign states of Turkey and Armenia– attempts should be made to overcome the legacy of the Great War (1914-18), hence the reaching out of an empty hand looking for friendship. But now, on account of government-sponsored iconoclasm, such feelings of solidarity and attempts at coming to term with one’s past no longer have a physical reminder in a region o f  Turkey once heavily populated by Armenians.

And what would the dead saint, ostensibly at the centre of this affair, Hasan al-Haraqani, have said about all these things? After all, his final resting place seems to have provided the pretext for the current bout of iconoclasm in the geographic location of the Republic of  Turkey. This saintly figure’s presence in Anatolia predated the Battle of Manazgirt (1077), which ushered in the Turkification and Islamification of Anatolia. Born in Khorasan, he left his home and came to Anatolia following the death of his Mürşid (spiritual teacher) Bâyazid Bistamî. Haraqani was known as a man who cared for the downtrodden and rejoiced in his love for God and mankind. His advice for reaching God was to practice generosity, and to be compassionate and contented. All in all, Hasan al-Haraqani would apparently not have approved of the wanton destruction of a symbol meant to bring people together and bring an end to a century of enmity. In fact, Turkey’s current favourite saint, Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumî, better knowns as just Rumi in the rest of  the world, also wrote favourably about him. As a mystic who saw himself as a conduit to God for ordinary people, Haraqani’s life and teachings could serve as a cautionary tale for today’s policy-makers and business-leaders in Turkey trying to come to grips with the annually recurring 24-April crisis and the growing Islamophobia in this post-9/11 world of ours.

What lies behind the present destruction of the ‘Monument to Humanity’? Why did Erdoğan use the word “freak” (‘ucube’) in connection with Mehmet Aksoy’s sculpture?  The Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu added that the modernist (or is it post-modernist?) sculpture clashes with the Seljuk and Ottoman heritage of  the city of Kars, that it clashes with the architectural aesthetic present in the city. On the other hand, the upcoming elections should not be discounted either. Located on a spot that affords a view of the Republic of Armenia, removing the sculpture might send a message of Turkish determination in the face of Armenian desperation to have the G-word finally officially engraved on the history of 20th-century Turkey, from its Unionist beginnings, over its Kemalist heyday, and into its current post-Kemalist and pro-Islamic phase. Is the Prime Minister merely trying to have the AKP replace the MHP in the hearts and minds of  Turkish nationalists by means of removing a symbolic gesture towards Armenia and its on-going struggle to come to terms with the past?

 

İnsanlık Anıtı or ‘Monument to Humanity’ Demolished

The sculptor Mehmet Aksoy’s gigantic work, İnsanlık Anıtı or ‘Monument to Humanity’, is now being destroyed in a sample of officially authorised iconoclasm: ‘Workers began the demolition of Kars’ Monument to Humanity on Tuesday [, 26 April 2011], removing the 19-ton head of one of the figures following some technical difficulties. There will be no reversal of the contentious demolition, Özlem Öztürk, a press consultant for Kars Municipality, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, adding that the work should be completed within 10 days’.[1]  

 


[1] “Demolition begins on Monument to Humanity in eastern Turkey” Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review (26 April 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=monument-to-humanity-dismantled-piece-by-piece-2011-04-26.

Turkey, Afghanistan, France & Election Fever

Turns out that the Taliban will be setting up shop in Turkey shortly . . . . As reported by VOA: ‘Turkey says it is willing to host an office for the Taliban in order to support reconciliation efforts aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Monday [, 11 April] that Turkey will consider allowing the Taliban to open a representation office in the country if the Afghan government requests it. The move would enable members of the insurgent group to meet with Afghan officials in an “impartial” venue. Davutoglu and other Turkish officials say they are ready to do anything possible to contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Turkish officials met with the head of Afghanistan’s government-appointed peace council, Burhanuddin Rabbani. The council is tasked with finding a political solution to the Afghan war by encouraging Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and accept the constitution. Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim-majority member nation, has organized a series of talks on Afghanistan with U.S. and regional officials’.[1]  On Wednesday, 13 April, the Hürriyet Daily News, on the other hand, reported that the Turkish and Pakistani Presidents were “remaining vague about potential plans for a Taliban office in Turkey”.[2]  The ever-wily Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu piped in as “Turkey will do its best if such a demand is made”.[3]  The idea that Turkey, as the sole Muslim member of ISAF, currently occupying the Afghan mountainside, would play a significant role in bringing about peace in the Hindu Kush seems safe and sound. In fact, already on 25 December 2010, CNN reported that ‘Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said . . .  that he’d welcome a Taliban office opening in Turkey, that country’s state-run news agency reported, adding that such a development could help peace talks in his war-torn nation’.[4]  The TRT’s 2010 report on the Taliban office included the little notice that ‘an agreement was signed between TRT and Afghan State television’.[5]  But, if the Taliban were allowed to open an office in Turkey, to assume that this institution would be operating as anything but the Taliban’s foreign propaganda arm seems downright disingenuous.

 

The intrepid Syed Saleem Shahzad gives some more background information in the Asia Times Online: “All major anti-Taliban operations have been suspended in the southwestern Afghan provinces of Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland, as an international reconciliation process gathers pace, an Asia Times Online investigation has found. This was confirmed . . . by multiple sources, including the Afghan Ministry of Interior and Taliban commanders in Kandahar. A senior Talib also confirmed . . .  by telephone from Kandahar that under the same initiative, several senior Taliban in the custody of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were released on Wednesday, including Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, a commander of the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan”, adding that these moves come in expectation of “the next round of talks with the Taliban, possibly [to be held] as early as next month [in Turkey]”.[6] 

FM Ahmed Davutoğlu’s new pseudo-Ottomanist stance seems to be rearing its head again. An anonymous senior Taliban commander declared the following: “I cannot confirm whether the Taliban’s top leaders have agreed for talks or not, but yes, I have observed a visible change on the ground . . . As a field commander, I can confirm three prominent things. Every year before April, NATO carries out a grand operation in Kandahar, Helmand, Urzgan and Zabul against Taliban sanctuaries. They aim to clear the Taliban’s presence from around major highways and also intervene to disperse the Taliban. This year, NATO carried out no such operation, which surprised me . . . Secondly, only a few months ago there was considerable congestion on the Kandahar-Chaman highway because [of a steady stream of] NATO supplies, including fuel tankers, tanks and other war machines. In the last two months, there has been no activity on such a scale as it looks that NATO has stopped its shipments to Kandahar airfield . .  . I cannot confirm, but I have learnt from sources that Pakistan has also released eight top commanders of the Taliban, including Mansoor Dadullah [brother of slain Mullah Dadullah]. I don’t know what the Taliban high command is thinking, but certainly the enemy is desperately looking for a truce with the Taliban”.[7] 

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Prime Minister has been acting up a storm again. The news agency Reuters reports: ‘Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan accused France of violating the freedom of religion on Wednesday [, 13 April 2011] after Paris began enforcing a law barring Muslim women from wearing full face veils in public. He told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that Turkey was the only Muslim country that had copied the French law on secularism, or separating church and state. “It’s quite ironic to see that secularism is today under debate in Europe and is undermining certain freedoms,” he said. “Today in France, there is no respect for individual religious freedom,” he said. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe monitors human rights across the continent’.[8]  These events and words abroad take place against the backdrop of upcoming national elections in Turkey. Dr Jenny White, ‘author and scholar, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, specializing in contemporary Turkish culture, politics and society’, recently gave this assessment on her blogpage: Turkish politicak ‘parties have published their slates for the June [2011] national elections. In AKP, Erdogan has consolidated his cadre, pushing out the remaining National View (Islamist) voices in favor of younger, educated men who have demonstrated their loyalty. Two of them are former heads of the party’s youth branches. One-fifth of the AKP’s 550 candidates are legal experts, in line with the government’s upcoming push to rewrite the constitution according to what the news article . . .  called a more “libertarian” approach. Libertarian has a very specific connotation in the US, referring to a rather radical belief in individual liberty, small government, and minimal regulation that puts the citizen almost off the grid. Kind of back to a largely fictional era of self-reliance, the Wild West where government never interfered (even in regulating pornography) or assisted people with things like subsidized mortgages and Medicare. A totally hands-off government. Somehow I find that hard to imagine in Turkey. What was the Turkish word they translated as “libertarian”? It would be nice if the hard-working heads of the women’s branches were also rewarded with a seat at the table, but there are no women’s names on the list of central players . . .  No women were nominated for places where they had a chance to actually win. CHP nominated 20 percent women, AKP 14 percent, MHP 12 percent, with 12 women as independent candidates. The women’s names are placed toward the end of the lists where they have little chance of being elected. The best-case outcome if the women were all elected would be 20% women in parliament . . . And there are almost no minorities. Two Syriacs and two Jews will run for the legislature; no party chose to nominate an Armenian candidate, proving earlier predictions wrong. Only one of these candidates, according to the media, stands a chance of being elected . . . Non-Muslims are unhappy about this, needless to say. If Erdogan wishes to get rid of ethnic nationalist “red lines” in Turkey as he broadcast in a pre-election speech, he should start at home in his own party. The future for women wasn’t mentioned at all’.[9] 

  


[1] “Turkey Says Willing to Host Afghan Taliban Office” VOA (12 April 2011). http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2011/04/12/turkey-says-willing-to-host-afghan-taliban-office/.

[2] “Turkey vows to ‘use all capabilities’ to help win peace in Afghanistan” Hürriyet Daily News (13 April 2011). http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=turkey-will-be-involved-all-activities-for-peace-in-afghanistan-2011-04-13.

[3] “Turkey vows to ‘use all capabilities’ to help win peace in Afghanistan”.

[4] “Report: Karzai open to Taliban setting up office in Turkey” CNN (25 December 2011). http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/12/25/turkey.afghanistan.taliban/.

[5] “Karzai positive on idea of talking to Taliban in Turkey” TRT World (25 December 2011). http://www.trt.gov.tr/trtinternational/en/newsDetail.aspx?HaberKodu=c88df023-57f3-4c97-8c7f-78385756bce5.

[6] Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Peace gets a new chance in Afghanistan” Asia Times Online (08 April 2011). http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/MD08Df03.html.

[7] Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Peace gets a new chance in Afghanistan”.

[8] “Turkish PM raps France for face veil ban, militants online urge punishment for Paris” Reuters (13 April 2011). http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2011/04/13/turkish-pm-raps-france-for-face-veil-ban-militants-online-urge-punishment-for-paris/.

[9] “Election Slate: Only Muslim Men Need Apply” Kamil Pasha (12 April 2011). http://kamilpasha.com/?p=4485.