Tag Archives: Assad

P.S. Armenians & Kurds — “Atoning for a Genocide”

30 Oct

150105_r25970 armenian churchEaster Mass in Sourp Giragos in Diyarbakır, 2014. Because the church still has no priest assigned to it, a priest flies in from Istanbul. Pari Dukovic

From A Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath.:

“As the villagers fled to Diyarbakir from the surrounding areas, it became a Kurdish city. In time, the Diyarbakir Kurds began to recognize that their role in the genocide was a kind of original sin in their modern political history. “I remember this one Armenian priest,” Demirbaş told me. “A Kurd was insulting him, and this priest told him, ‘We were the breakfast for them, you will be the lunch. Don’t forget.’ And that was important for me.'””  [My emphasis]

While we’re on Armenians, at a time when Syria plunges more deeply into hell than we had ever thought possible, when the West abandons the Kurds to Erdoğan and Assad, proving again that the U.S. is Turkey’s hamali, or that Turkey’s tail wags the dog, if you prefer, a historical reality check might be called for.

The American and almost every other media might be too superficial or too impatient to dig so deep historically because they’d lose their audience, but there is one, and one big thing that disproves Donald Trump’s assertion that Turks and Kurds have been fighting each other for centuries and are “natural enemies (see video below).  And that is the fact that perhaps the greater portion of the massacres of Armenians and other Christians in eastern Anatolia during the last decades of the 19th c. and first two and a half decades of the 20th c. were conducted by Kurds.* Not by the Ottoman military, but by Kurdish para/irregular forces or just Kurdish tribal chieftains craving more land and authority and wealth, and conducting/justifying their campaigns of mass murder with the rippling green banner of Islam, under which Turks and Kurds were just brothers in defense of the faith.  Only when the forces of modern nationalism started displacing the older bonds of religion and empire, did Kurds arguably start to feel themselves a separate entity from Turkish Muslims, and did the power of clan loyalties shift from semi-feudal to Kurdish nationalist ones; it’s even arguable that Republican Turkey’s anti-ağa, anti-religious and Turkification campaigns stoked the fires of the new Kurdish nationalism more than anything else.  (Somewhat of a similar process occurs between the Ottomans and Muslim Albanians in the early 20th c., and Orthodox Greeks and Orthodox non-Greeks: Bulgarians, Macedonians, Vlachs, Albanian Christians — as the latter groups discovered/invented new identities to replace the old religious-institutional bonds.)

Armenian_woman_and_her_children_from_Geghi,_1899_(edit).jpgAn Armenian woman and her children who were refugees of the massacres and sought help from missionaries by walking far distances.  Photo unknown provenance.

So I’m sorry that couldn’t counter Trump’s claims of eternal Turkish-Kurdish enmity with something pretty about how — on the contrary — eternally well they have gotten along but rather by implicating both parties in coordinated mass murder.  And forgive me the occasional snicker at Greek pro-Kurdish poses and the general sanctification of Kurds that we’ve witnessed in the past couple of decades.

Armenia22hamidianArmenian victims of the massacres being buried in a mass grave at Erzerum cemetery.  Photo unknown provenance.

* From Wiki:

(“In 1890-91, at a time when the empire was either too weak and disorganized or reluctant to halt them, Sultan Abdul Hamid gave semi-official status to the Kurdish bandits. Made up mainly of Kurdish tribes, but also of Turks, Yöruk, Arabs, Turkmens and Circassians, and armed by the state, they came to be called the Hamidiye Alaylari (“Hamidian Regiments“).[16] The Hamidiye and Kurdish brigands were given free rein to attack Armenians, confiscating stores of grain, foodstuffs, and driving off livestock, and confident of escaping punishment as they were subjects of military courts only.) [my emphasis]

And not just eastern Anatolia.  Istanbul’s Kurdish population played a major role in the 1896 Hamidian Armenian massacres in the City, where hundreds were killed right there in Pera, in ab-fab Beyoğlu, in the middle of the elegant, Beaux Arts, now garish and overlit Istiklâl.  Referred to this before and to how brilliantly these events are handled in the “Duck with Okra” chapter in Maria Iordanidou’s Loxandra.

Only fair, however, that I include a reference to this 2015 article from The New YorkerA Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath. by Raffi Khatchadourian, in which the then mayors of Diyarbakır and the separate municipality of the Old City, Osman Baydemir and Abdullah Demirbaş respectively, apologize for the Kurdish role in the Armenian massacres and rebuild and restore the city’s main Armenian church, Sourp Giragos (Hagios Kyriakos in Greek) and allow it to function (see photo above) for the handful of Armenians left in the city.   Khatchadourian‘s article has some beautiful photos too by Pari Dukovic.

“We Kurds, in the name of our ancestors, apologize for the massacres and deportations of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915. We will continue our struggle to secure atonement and compensation for them.”


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Can Hezbollah Survive the Fall of Assad?

31 Aug

Did this opinion piece in The New York Times, Hezzbollah Survive the Fall of Assad?“make sense to anybody?  Does Ghaddar really think that a phenomenon like Hezbollah is going to be mortally wounded in some way soon or that it will go away some time very soon?  And do we want it too?

“Something fundamental has changed: the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, long Syria’s powerful proxy in Lebanon [a sweeping simplification of the Hezb phenomenon], has become a wounded beast. And it is walking a very thin line between protecting its assets and aiding a crumbling regime next door.”

A “wounded beast” ?  Really?



Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Syria, the end of Assad, and Alawites

27 Jul

The New York Times recently published a piece in its “Opinionator” blog section by Frank Jacobs, ” A Syrian Stalemate,” which makes the very interesting, but highly improbable, if not probably completely implausible, suggestion that one answer to the Syrian civil war is for Assad to retreat to his Alawite mountain homeland on the Mediterranean coast and form an independent statelet there:

Ah, a Lebanon, you mean?  What an unparalleled success story that was — let’s try that again.  At least he accepts the comparison.  Oh, and I see his got a little Hawran homeland for Druze too.

The breath-taking stupidity of this argument is not all that stupid really as it is completely a-historical and uninformed.  The victorious Free Syrian Army — whose victory this layman thinks is only a matter of when, not if — will never accept the secession or loss of the last piece of Syria’s coastline (Lebanon; then Alexandretta), and the only thing something like that might lead to is an exponential escalation of violence and a massacre of Alawites, not to mention other minorities, of a scale that’ll take us back to the ugliest events of the early twentieth century.

But if that’s ancient history for any of us, let’s just go back to the 90s and Yugoslavia.  Aside from the cynical geopolitical interests that were the catalyst for that nightmare (you know; I never thought I’d catch myself saying what I had previously considered a dumb cliche, like that the current Eurozone crisis is the third time in less than a century that Germany has destroyed Europe — Germany and Draghi — but actually this may be the fourth time; Yugoslavia was the third), there were two basic populist “reasons” that explained the support in the West given to the unnecessary, vicious dissection of that country: a confused muddle of remnant eighteenth-and-nineteenth century romantic ideas about the “self-determination of peoples” mixed up with the whole deluded late twentieth-century ideology which we’ll just put under the umbrella of “multiculturalism” for now.  “Why don’t Bosnians deserve their own country (the former)?”, Upper West Side Sontagians cried and wrang their hands, and “Why can’t everyone in that most fascinating, multicultural part of Europe get along (the latter)?”

Cutting places up into little countries doesn’t work; there’ll always be some bunch that want their own littler country.  Hopefully, nobody will ever, ever take this proposal seriously, though Jacobs says that there’s an actual escape plan for just that in Assad vaults somewhere.

But this is the point that Jacobs gets around to that I found almost as upsetting:

“Although officially a Shiite sect, with reputed syncretist elements borrowed from Christianity and other confessions, persecution by mainstream Islam as heretical has made Alawis wary of declaring their innermost beliefs. Ironically, decades of dominance may have further weakened the communal identity; Assad père et fils have always striven to narrow the perceived difference between Alawism and mainstream Islam as a way of legitimizing their regime. This enforced “Sunnification” may have effectively erased much of the theological differences with other Syrians.”

My Muslim inclinations are generally Shi’ia — forgive me the presumption of having any Muslim inclinations at all, obviously.  But I love the blood and the mystery; the Persian lack of, or better, resistance to, Arab image-phobia; ta’ziyeh; the Christ-like martyrdom of Hussein and the Virgin-like laments of Zeynep; Asure is my favorite holiday; and generally I think faith should be about passion and emotion and sacrifice and not moralism or the Law.  So anything that chips away at the monolith of any of our Great Abrahamic Religions of Peace, I’m for.

Like I’ve said before here and here.   The Donmeh-like “Sunnification” of Alawites in Syria; Alevis in Turkey, whom centuries of violence and Sunni persecution (centuries? like until the late twentieth…) have made such staunch secularists that one doesn’t even know what they practice anymore if anything; it’d be a shame to lose such fascinating, heterodox groups and their rites and cosmologies out of indifference or because hiding has had to become such second-nature for them.

And also like I said before, I don’t know how “officially a Shiite sect” either consider themselves.  In the Syrian case, at least, Iran could just be cynically using the Alawites as a Levantine power-base and vice-versa.

As for the Bektashis, who were once a Sufi order, they got tired of the Turkish Republic’s hospitality and moved their headquarters to Tirane at some point and recently, I think the 1990s, declared themselves a branch of Islam separate from both Sunnism and Shi’ism.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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