Tag Archives: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Great Macron photo, EU and Turkey

12 Dec

I wish I were as smugly happy about EU decisions on Turkish sanctions.

See: Al Jazeera, “Europe’s stance on Turkey toughens with sanctions, weapons talk.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said by slapping sanctions on Turkey, Europe has shown its ‘capacity to stand firm’ on Ankara [Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters]

If this is what Erdie came away with from the European Union meeting on Turkish sanctions, I don’t think there’s much to be happy about: EU must discard pressure from Greece, Greek Cypriots, says Erdoğan

Maybe he’ll be a bigger jerk over next few months and Europe can then take a more serious position on slapping his irresistibly slappable mug.

Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

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“No picnic over others’ pain” — Turkish Cypriots protest Erdoğan’s planned trip to Cyprus

14 Nov

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to make an official visit to Turkish occupied northern Cyprus tomorrow. He has announced that he will “picnic” in the city of Famagusta/Amochostos/Αμμόχωστος, which has remained a unoccupied no man’s zone between Greeks and Turks since the 1974 invasion. Turkey has refrained from settling Turks from Anatolia in this part of Cyprus and it has — since the invasion — been seen as a sort of potential bargaining chip between the island’s two communities. Erdoğan’s visit is a clear symbolic statement that that will no longer be the case.

The protest is a sign of hope (though yes, the second video below contains a lot of Turkish gloating). It’s also an indication of the moderately nationalist and genuinely secular and modern identity of Turkish Cypriots. It was a real mistake on Greek Cypriots’ part to harass them as they did in the 50s and 60s, alienating and painting them into a corner.

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Pompeo heads to C-town, and makes a bee-line to the Greek Patriarchate

11 Nov
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and wife Susan

Pompeo is apparently — finally! — going to Turkey after visiting several neighboring countries, including Greece, so far this autumn and blowing Turkey off. But the US administration says that during his visit Pompeo will only meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in the Phanar and not with any member of the Turkish government. And to discuss religious freedom in Turkey and around the world at that!

A major χυλόπιττα (wet “noodle” in Greek, meaning major dis or slap upside the head) for Erdoğan and Erdoğan’s Turkey generally.

Yes, too bad it’s Pompeo and the Trump administration. But the Talmud says that even the actions of the worst-intentioned individual can have positive consequences.

Apparently Pompeo’s wife Susan is Orthodox, and “…impressed everyone with her knowledge about the Divine Liturgy…” during their visit to Greece last year.

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Why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World — Alan Mikhail

5 Sep
Selim I

By Alan Mikhail September 3, 2020 7:00 AM EDT Mikhail is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Yale University. His new book is GOD’S SHADOW: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Co.)

At the end of August, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the Islamic New Year with aplomb. Fresh off his conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque, he converted another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures. The day after that he announced the largest ever natural gas depository in the Black Sea. This followed another recent discovery of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Both of these areas are hotly contested zones of international competition between the powers around these seas. Later that week he welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, where he expressed support for Palestinians in the wake of the recent announcement of an agreement between Israel and the UAE.

All of these moves project Erdogan’s vision of Islamist strength into the world. Standing up for Islam at home goes hand in hand with securing natural resources and imposing Turkey’s power abroad. It also goes hand in hand with domestic repression. The Islamic New Year saw Erdogan further tighten his grip on social media freedom and consider pulling Turkey out of what is known, now farcically, as the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits countries to protecting women from domestic violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Middle East, and around the world should worry.

Much has been written about Erdogan’s attempts to “resurrect” the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan. There is truth here. But to understand Erdogan’s political agenda and horizon we must be specific about which Ottoman sultan Erdogan strives to be. It is the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I.

Selim died 500 years ago in 1520. It was during his lifetime that the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire. For Erdogan, this sultan from half a millennium ago serves his contemporary needs. Selim in many ways functions as Erdogan’s Andrew Jackson, a figure from the past of symbolic use in the present. Selim offers a template for Turkey to become a global political and economic power, with influence from Washington to Beijing, crushing foreign and domestic challengers alike. He helps Erdogan too to make his case for Islam as a cultural and political reservoir of strength, a vital component of the glories of the Ottoman past, which he seeks to emulate in contemporary Turkey against the dominant elite secularism that has reigned since its founding.

We should be wary of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary vision of Turkish political power. It represents a historical example of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the attempted annihilation of religious minorities, and the monopolization of global economic resources. In addition to his attempts to monopolize natural gas reserves around Turkey, today this takes the form of Erdogan’s foreign military ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At home, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite community, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, women, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his own Sunni religiosity to position Islam at the center of Turkey’s domestic agenda, with the church conversions the most potent recent symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competition that pits Turkey against Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the region and over claims of global Islamic leadership.

Erdogan likes Selim because he made Turkish global political power possible. From 1517 through the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire maintained the geographic shape Selim won for it, dominating the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1517, the Ottomans defeated their major rival in the region, the Mamluk Empire based in Cairo, capturing all of its territory in the Middle East and North Africa. This more than doubled the empire’s size. This explosion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East turned it into the region’s foremost military and political power and one of the world’s largest states. The Ottomans now controlled the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean and thus dominated the globe’s most important trade routes overland between Europe and Asia and by sea through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Turkish Republic inherited much of that power after the empire’s demise and the republic’s rise in 1923.

While every modern Turkish ruler has distanced himself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and Islam, to attempt to project a more “western,” “secular,” and “modern” face for the republic, Erdogan is the first who has actively embraced the Ottoman past and the empire’s Islamic heritage. Here too Selim proves key to Erdogan’s image of his rule. Selim’s defeat of the Mamluks made the Ottoman Empire a majority Muslim state for the first time in its history, after over two hundred years of being a state whose population was mostly Greek Orthodox. [my emphasis] With this victory, Selim became the first Ottoman sultan to rule Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, thus earning the title of caliph and cementing the empire’s global Islamic credentials. If Selim was the first Ottoman to be both sultan and caliph, Erdogan is the first republican leader to profess to possessing both titles.

Like President Donald Trump’s purposeful deployment of the symbols of Andrew Jackson—prominently displaying his portrait in the Oval Office and defending his statues—Erdogan has trafficked publicly and specifically in the symbolic politics of Selim in Turkey. His most striking act was to name the recently constructed third bridge over the famous Bosphorus Strait after Selim. Erdogan has also lavished enormous resources on Selim’s tomb and other memorials to his rule. After winning a 2017 constitutional referendum that greatly expanded his powers—a process marred by irregularities—Erdogan made his first public appearance at Selim’s tomb. Staged as a kind of pilgrimage, there Erdogan returned to the long-dead sovereign his kaftan and turban that had been stolen years before. This far-from-subtle first act after winning a referendum that gave him near-limitless power made clear who Erdogan’s role model is.

Erdogan and his Islamist party colleagues regularly describe themselves as the “grandchildren” of the Ottomans. In this very pointed genealogy, Erdogan purposefully skips a generation—that of Turkey’s republican fathers since 1923—to leapfrog back in time to when the Ottomans ruled the globe with their particular brand of Turkish Sunni politics, to Selim’s day when wars and domestic repression led to wealth and territorial power. Recreating a political program akin to Selim’s is a dangerous prospect for Turkey and the Middle East and indeed the world. To make Turkey Ottoman again requires the kind of violence, censorship, and vitriol that Erdogan has indeed shown himself ready to use. The universal lesson here is that calls for returns to perceived greatness, whether in Turkey or in United States, selectively embrace controversial historical figures, mangle their history, and elevate hatred and division.

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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.”

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NYT: Armenian Genocide — “For too long, Turkey bullied America into silence. Not anymore.” — Samantha Power

30 Oct

Not 100% sure how I feel about this; see “Screamers: Genocide: what is it and why do we need the term?.  I voice my major apprehensions there.

But “bully” is such an apt term for the Turkish Republic and the Turkish body politic (“thug” also comes to mind), that I think anything that puts Turkey in its place is a positive development.

29Power-sub-superJumboCredit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Power’s money quotes:

Although Turkish officials may see the vote as retaliation for Turkey’s recent forced displacement of Syrian Kurds, that operation — as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s sweeping human rights crackdown in Turkey and his purchase (over American and NATO protests) of a Russian air defense system — simply reduced the impact of Turkish blackmail.

……..

First, as a baseline rule, for the sake of overall American credibility and for that of our diplomats, Washington officials must be empowered to tell the truth.

Over many years, because of the fear of alienating Turkey, diplomats have been told to avoid mentioning the well-documented genocide. In 2005, when John Evans, the American ambassador to Armenia, said that “the Armenian genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century,” he was recalled and forced into early retirement. Stating the truth was seen as an act of subordination.

When I became ambassador to the United Nations in 2013, I worried that I would be asked about the Armenian genocide and that when I affirmed the historical facts, I could cause a diplomatic rupture.

Second, when bullies feel their tactics are working, they generally bully more — a lesson worth bearing in mind in responding to threats from China and Saudi Arabia. The Turkish government devotes millions of dollars annually to lobbying American officials and lawmakers: more than $12 million during the Obama administration, and almost as much during the first two years of the Trump presidency. Turkish officials have threatened to respond to genocide recognition by suspending lucrative financial ties with American companies, reducing security cooperation and even preventing resupply of our troops in Iraq.

On Friday, the Turkish ambassador warned that passage of the “biased” House resolution would “poison” American-Turkish relations, and implied that it would jeopardize Turkish investment in the United States which provides jobs for a “considerable number of American citizens.”

It is easy to understand why any commander in chief would be leery of damaging ties with Turkey, an important ally in a turbulent neighborhood. But Turkey has far more to lose than the United States in the relationship. The United States helped build up Turkey’s military, brought it into NATO and led the coalition that defeated the Islamic State, which carried out dozens of attacks on Turkish soil. Over the past five years, American companies have invested some $20 billion in Turkey.

If Mr. Erdogan turns further away from a relationship that has been immensely beneficial for Turkey in favor of deepening ties with Russia or China, it will not be because the House voted to recognize the Armenian genocide. It will be because his own repressive tactics are coming to resemble those of the Russian and Chinese leaders. [my emphases]

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“…people in Washington who deal with Turkey regard it as a country whose elites have basically gone mad.”

24 Nov

Read Politico’s no-pulled-punches: Why Turkey Feels Burned By Trump.

Trump Erdogan static.politico.comBrendan Smialowski/Getty Images

From the Guardian: Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it? David Graeber

19 Nov

Turkey — or rather, Turks — could do a lot of things.  Why they don’t is a psychological issue, perhaps, more than anything else.  My take on the infuriating mood in post-elections Istanbul will come soon.  Meanwhile, great article from the Guardian, which, as usual, is not afraid to shove uncomfortable questions — and accusations — in our faces.

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G20 leaders with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Antalaya on 15 November. ‘It may seem outrageous to suggest that a Nato member would in any way support an organisation that murders western citizens in cold blood.’ Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Some quotes:

“In the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, we can expect western heads of state to do what they always do in such circumstances: declare total and unremitting war on those who brought it about. They don’t actually mean it. They’ve had the means to uproot and destroy Islamic State within their hands for over a year now. They’ve simply refused to make use of it. In fact, as the world watched leaders making statements of implacable resolve at the G20 summit in Antalaya, these same leaders are hobnobbing with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man whose tacit political, economic, and even military support contributed to Isis’s ability to perpetrate the atrocities in Paris, not to mention an endless stream of atrocities inside the Middle East….”

“How has Erdoğan got away with this? Mainly by claiming those fighting Isis are “terrorists” themselves. It is true that the PKK did fight a sometimes ugly guerilla war with Turkey in the 1990s, which resulted in it being placed on the international terror list. For the last 10 years, however, it has completely shifted strategy, renouncing separatism and adopting a strict policy of never harming civilians. The PKK was responsible for rescuing thousands of Yazidi civilians threatened with genocide by Isis in 2014, and its sister organisation, the YPG, of protecting Christian communities in Syria as well. Their strategy focuses on pursuing peace talks with the government, while encouraging local democratic autonomy in Kurdish areas under the aegis of the HDP, originally a nationalist political party, which has reinvented itself as a voice of a pan-Turkish democratic left…

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‘Bloody terrorist bombings inside Turkey seemed to target civilian activists associated with the HDP. Victims have repeatedly reported police preventing ambulances evacuating the wounded, or even opening fire on survivors with tear gas .’ Photograph: Murat Bay/AFP/Getty

“…In June, HDP success at the polls denied Erdoğan his parliamentary majority. Erdoğan’s response was ingenious. He called for new elections, declared he was “going to war” with Isis, made one token symbolic attack on them and then proceeded to unleash the full force of his military against PKK forces in Turkey and Iraq, while denouncing the HDP as “terrorist supporters” for their association with them.

There followed a series of increasingly bloody terrorist bombings inside Turkey – in the cities of Diyarbakir, Suruc, and, finally, Ankara – attacks attributed to Isis but which, for some mysterious reason, only ever seemed to target civilian activists associated with the HDP….”

“The exact relationship between Erdoğan’s government and Isis may be subject to debate; but of some things we can be relatively certain. Had Turkey placed the same kind of absolute blockade on Isis territories as they did on Kurdish-held parts of Syria, let alone shown the same sort of “benign neglect” towards the PKK and YPG that they have been offering to Isis, that blood-stained “caliphate” would long since have collapsed – and arguably, the Paris attacks may never have happened. And if Turkey were to do the same today, Isis would probably collapse in a matter of months. Yet, has a single western leader called on Erdoğan to do this? [my emphases]

The next time you hear one of those politicians declaring the need to crack down on civil liberties or immigrant rights because of the need for absolute “war” against terrorism bear all this in mind. Their resolve is exactly as “absolute” as it is politically convenient. Turkey, after all, is a “strategic ally”. So after their declaration, they are likely to head off to share a friendly cup of tea with the very man who makes it possible for Isis to continue to exist.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

 

 

“Turkey Must Save the Kurds” — Aslı Aydıntaşbaş

3 Oct

A surprisingly strong-worded opinion piece from Milliyet’s Aslı Aydıntaşbaş in today’s Times:

Turkey Kurds03edaydintasbasart-superJumbo Turkish soldiers helping Kurdish families fleeing the fighting in Syria. Credit Bülent Kılıç/Associated Press (Click)

I was moved immensely by the courage shown in the closing paragraphs of the piece as well; it illustrated for me the kind of political maturity — something I can only call a “politics of compassion” — that so many parties or sectors of Turkish society, Turks and Kurds, religious and secular, have been moving towards in the past few decades, and on so many levels and issues and despite the inevitable set-backs.  But then, it’s only a mature soul that feels compassion, isn’t it?

“Doing so will require a huge paradigm shift for Turkey: It must abandon its nationalist legacy and reimagine itself as a joint Turkish-Kurdish entity. [Who in Turkey says these things?!] Turkish Kurds represent about 25 percent of the population, and the government has wisely been pursuing a peace process with the P.K.K. There are ups and downs in the talks between Turkish intelligence and the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan. But at the end of the day, both sides need each other.

It is therefore a mistake to assume that a weakened Kurdish presence means a stronger Turkey or that Turkey’s own peace process is disconnected from the fate of Kurds outside our borders. The Turkish government cannot sit on the sidelines because it fears an autonomous, P.K.K.-controlled Kurdish zone on the border more than the Islamic State’s gains. When I asked one government official why Turkey was not helping the Kurdish forces in Syria, he replied, “Why must we choose between the P.K.K. and ISIS?”

But we must. We must choose because the Kurds are our only reasonable allies in a region of turmoil. Embracing them — our fellow citizens — would also help to heal our own fractured souls.[My emphases]

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The model for the new democratic moderate Islam: “ISIS Draws Steady Stream of Recruits From Turkey”

16 Sep

16TURKEY-superJumbo

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, hand raised, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, to his right, in August, leaving the Haci Bayram Veli Mosque in Ankara, the capital, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is known to recruit new members. Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images (click)

From The New York TimesISIS Draws Steady Stream of Recruits From Turkey

Selections:

“Hundreds of foreign fighters, including some from Europe and the United States, have joined the ranks of ISIS in its self-proclaimed caliphate that sweeps over vast territories of Iraq and Syria. But one of the biggest source of recruits is neighboring Turkey, a NATO member with an undercurrent of Islamist discontent.”

“As many as 1,000 Turks have joined ISIS, according to Turkish news media reports and government officials here. Recruits cite the group’s ideological appeal to disaffected youths as well as the money it pays fighters from its flush coffers.”

“There are clearly recruitment centers being set up in Ankara and elsewhere in Turkey, but the government doesn’t seem to care,” said Aaron Stein, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank. “It seems their hatred for Bashar al-Assad and their overly nuanced view of what radical Islam is has led to a very short- and narrow-sighted policy that has serious implications.”

The Interior Ministry and National Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

On a recent afternoon in Ankara, Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Davutoglu came to pray at the historic Haci Bayram Veli Mosque, just over 100 yards away from an underground mosque used by a radical Salafi sect known to oversee ISIS recruits.

When news of their visit reached the neighborhood, several residents scurried down the steep hill hoping to catch an opportunity to raise the issue.

At the same time, a 10-year-old boy lingered in his family’s shop, laughing at the crowd rushing to get a glimpse of the two leaders. He had just listened to a long lecture from his father celebrating ISIS’ recent beheading of James Foley, an American journalist. “He was an agent and deserved to die,” the man told his son, half-smirking through his thick beard.

To which the boy replied, “Journalists, infidels of this country; we’ll kill them all.”

Well, ain’t that just a kick?  Wonder what all the Stephen Kinzers and Christopher de Bellaigues who have been crowing about the new Turkey for 20 years are now going to have to say — maybe have been saying.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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