As promised, I’m going to spend this week’s blog post weighing in on “When Turkey Destroyed It’s Christians“, an infuriating article written by two academics, Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, and published by the Wall Street Journal this past May…
In 1915, the Young Turk government that was losing World War I for the Ottoman Empire embarked on a program of genocide against its Armenian minority. Outside of Turkey you won’t find anyone who disputes that, and you certainly won’t find anyone to dispute that here. The Armenian Genocide happened, full stop. Bludgeoning the Turks with this fact until they admit it is a fair thing to do.
That’s not what this Wall Street Journal article does. It attempts something much more sweeping and sinister. With the US-Turkish relationship more fraught than it has been since at least the 1970s, we should be trying to understand Turkey better. Instead, the two authors offer us a highly prejudiced and incomplete essay damning Turkey in irresponsibly sweeping terms over its history with its Christian minority. The Wall Street Journal has given these arguments credibility they do not deserve by publishing them. The article, and the book it is based on, argues that across four decades and three completely different governments, the loss of territory on three continents, and the immolation of a 600 year old empire, the Turks engaged in a conscious multi-decade program of anti-Christian genocide that is directly comparable to the Final Solution cooked up by the Nazis. The authors actually say that in the closing paragraph of their article. By doing so they manage to cheapen the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and commit a pretty horrific slur against the Turkish people. To my mind it’s quite similar to saying that the pre-Nazi Weimar German government of the 1920s and 1930s and the post World War II West German government are just as guilty of Genocide as the Nazis are, implying that there is something naturally evil about the Turks. These authors seem to be motivated by exactly the same sorts of blind nationalist disrespect for history that Armenian Genocide deniers are. The lead “historian” on this is Benny Morris, an Israeli scholar who distinguished himself in his youth by pointing out that the foundation of Israel involved more ethnic cleansing of Arabs than is usually admitted. He has spent his career since writing about why ethnic cleansing to found the Israeli state was actually a good thing. He’s a figure associated with justifying the political projects of his own country, and not an expert on this era. Dror Ze-evi, the second author, does appear to be an Ottomanist, but he’s either not a good one, or he knows he’s being dishonest.
If you’re familiar with the history, you’re already aware of how deeply insulting it is to tar Ataturk and the Ottoman sultans with the crimes of the Young Turk Genocidaires, but let’s run through this a bit. It takes a lot for me to defend the late Ottoman Sultans, but the outright Nazi comparison does the trick. The fundamental historical point that the WSJ article never mentions is that across the 19th century, the Ottoman empire was losing territory. As they lost territory, their central lands in Anatolia filled up with ethnically cleansed Muslims from across Europe. If you walk through central Athens, you will find multiple former mosques or burnt out relics of them. Well over 100,000 Turks were kicked out of Greek territory after Greece’s independence in 1830. There are churches in Istanbul today, but there are no mosques in Athens. The Russians repeatedly invaded Ottoman territory, usually forced back more by pressure from the other European powers rather than Ottoman strength. Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian independence happened in stages of mixed sovereignty and self determination. As these territories became more self-governed, atrocities against Muslims, some of whom had been there for 600 years, became more frequent. To its eternal shame the Ottomans engaged in atrocities as well. Interestingly the WSJ article does not mention the Bulgarian massacres, which were some of the worst anti-Christian massacres carried out by the Ottoman government. This is because mentioning those atrocities would require acknowledging the other side of the story, decaying Ottoman control in Europe and the accompanying ethnic cleansing of Muslims. It’s kind of hard to write a hit piece alleging one-sided Turkish ethnic cleansing if you mention actions that were carried out by Muslim populations that no longer exist. The late Ottoman sultanate was a brutal, vicious, failure, losing miserably and committing great atrocities. But were they Nazis? No. Were they even as bad as the Russians, Belgians and Americans of the time? No. They just failed where the Russians, Belgians and Americans succeeded, so their atrocities are harder to wave away.
The Young Turk government that took power from the Sultan in 1908 initially included a lot of propaganda about a new understanding between Turks and minorities. Some of its leaders may even have believed that propaganda. Under the pressures of losing World War I, they carried out a genocide against the Armenians in 1915. Nothing to defend here. Though I would argue that the writers of the WSJ article ARE defending the Young Turks, by pretending that their horrific actions were part of some over-arching Turkish plot, not their own unique responsibility.
It’s the last bit of the WSJ article argument that is truly outrageous. After the Ottomans lost World War One, the victorious allies, chiefly Britain, offered a whole bunch of Turkish territory to Greece. This left out the inconvenient fact that the Turks still held that territory at the end of hostilities with the allies. The Greeks invaded, sweeping across Anatolia, carrying out all manner of atrocities against local Turks as they went. The Turks under Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic, rallied and pushed them out, committing atrocities against local Greeks as they went. At the end of the war, after the invading Greeks had been pushed out, a population transfer was agreed. 1.5 million Christians were moved to Greece, and Half a million Muslims were moved to Turkey. This imbalance is explained by the fact that as Greece expanded throughout the 19th century, they had ethnically cleansed all Muslims as they went, while the Ottomans didn’t get started on systematically extirpating Christians until 1915. The Population transfer was a horrible thing, and not something that the international community would accept today. At the time however, it was seen as an appropriate solution. What’s important to remember here, is that unlike the situation with the Armenians, the Greek government was equally at fault for what happened to the Greeks of Anatolia, if not vastly more culpable than the Turkish government. The WSJ article doesn’t mention any of this detail at all. It simply slots the end of Greek presence in Anatolia into its fairy tale of Turkish evil.
History is important. Harvard, the WSJ, and these “scholars” may not think so, but I do. The Wall Street Journal’s brand may be fading in the Murdoch era, but it still matters. People reflexively believe things that are printed there. Because I lived in Turkey for 6 years, multiple people have reached out to me to talk about this article. I see it pop up on twitter all the time, especially in light of the recent non-existent anti-Kurdish genocide in Northern Syria. Turkish history is not a topic that many in the US have really dived into. If the WSJ says something about it, it will believed. Many Americans now believe that the Turks had a four decade, concerted, out of nowhere plot to murder all of its Christians. That’s not true. The fact that this article exists is an example of the “Plot against Turkey” I talk about in today’s video.
Video Transcript after the jump…
The plot against Turkey, and why its failing.
Hey there. Today we are going to talk about the plot against Turkey, and why it is failing. I lived in Turkey for 6 years and I can tell you that the Turks are a super paranoid people. But after the past month it’s impossible to hold that against them. The plot against Turkey is very real.
On October 6th the US president gave Turkey the go ahead to invade Northern Syria, a mission that Turkish President Erdogan had been threatening for years. Due to an international outcry, their offensive stalled before it actually got to any of the historic centers of Kurdish life in Syria. On October 22nd a deal was signed between Russia and Turkey that should, in theory, work well for everyone. All the historically Kurdish areas will be run by the Russian and Syrian governments that the Kurds have been allied with throughout the war, and Turkey has blocked the formation of an independent Kurdish state on its Southern border. The whole thing has been wrapped up quite quickly, with nowhere near as much loss of life as Turkey’s incursion into Afrin in January of 2018. A couple hundred people have been killed, which is always tragic, but if you’re being honest its hard to distinguish from the daily churn of this savage 8 year war. A month later, Turkey has changed the dynamics of the war, but hasn’t taken any real cities or important Kurdish territories.
To be clear, I do not support this action, and, as I talked about last week, I think that the Turkish occupation of Northern Syria will end up being a disaster for Turkey in the long run. Turkish President Erdogan is invading to consolidate power, not because Turkey is in any real danger. But if the deal between Russia and Turkey holds it is a big step towards real peace in Syria, and it looks to me more like progress than a problem. That is not the story we are being told in the United States.
No, according to most US news outlets and politicians, what is going on in Syria is somewhere between the Rwandan Genocide and the second coming of Genghis Khan. Current and retired US officials are using terms like genocide and ethnic cleansing, and some of the usually more respectable arms merchants at the Council of Foreign Relations are calling for a coup Turkey. Wondering whether Turkey should be kicked out of NATO is now becoming a standard clever thing for media people who know nothing about the country or region to say. Again, this is all for an invasion that is largely over, has only killed a couple hundred civilians, has met its goals and hasn’t gotten close to the cities were large numbers of unarmed Kurdish people live.
Watching this absurd spectacle, it’s impossible to deny that there is a plot against Turkey. As regular viewers know, I hate to talk about this sort of thing, but yes, it does have something to do with Israel. Since at least 2009 Erdogan has made himself a rock star across the middle East by occasionally complaining about Israel’s shameful treatment of the Palestinians. This bad blood stepped up after Israeli soldiers killed a bunch of Turkish activists for trying to get humanitarian goods into Gaza in 2010.
Erdogan’s attitude towards Israel has not helped him in Washington DC. His transition from admired Muslim Democrat to leading candidate for the next Saddam Hussein started with his Israel views, but he has added a lot of fodder since, from the suppression of the Gezi park uprising in 2013 to the pointless arrest of an American missionary.
As I have pointed out before the right wing elements that run Israel right now are just employees of the US military Industrial Complex. In 2012, with the end of Obama’s Afghanistan surge, and withdrawal from Iraq, that weird mix of defense companies, the Pentagon and the journalists think tanks and congresspeople that work for them started looking for a new candidate to bomb. Turkey actually helped the Military Industrial Complex create their next lucrative enemy, the Islamic State, by creating a vast ungoverned territory for ISIS in Northern Syria. But the Military Industrial Complex is always looking for its next victim and despite his loyalty to the Get Assad project, Erdogan looked promising.
That’s why most casual news consumers in the US now think Turkey is doing a genocide. That’s why the New York Times can run a headline like this, even though the actual Turkey experts in the article agree that Turkey is not looking for the bomb. That’s why the US House of Representatives decided to consolidate Erdogan’s power last week by condemning the Armenian Genocide and getting any Turks who were mad at Erdogan mad at the US instead. That’s also why the Wall Street Journal can run an article like this, which came out in May and still pisses me off immensely.
This article combines some very serious historical truth, at least one outright lie, and mixes it with such profound historical ignorance that it blows my mind. The Armenian Genocide was very real, but the authors of this article have the same attitude towards history as those who deny that genocide. I think I will talk about this gob smackingly malicious article in detail on a blog post on the website to avoid derailing this video any further.
So the US Military Industrial Complex and all of its employees from the Israeli government, to the New York Times to Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham, are all participating in this massive plot against Turkey. The hope is to end the US Turkish relationship and turn the country into a candidate for lucrative bombing. Will they succeed? No. Turkey will stay in NATO, serious sanctions are not coming, and fantasies of Turkish regime change are going to stay in the fever swamps of the Council on Foreign Relations where they belong.
The US Military Industrial Complex is powerful, but it’s not as powerful as we pretend it is. I am as guilty of this as anybody else is. What the United States has done to Yemen and Syria over the past decade is horrible. But Raytheon and Boeing and the rest were allowed to destroy these places because Economically speaking, Yemen and Syria just aren’t all that important. Turkey is. Even after a rough few years Turkey’s economy is 20 times larger than Yemen’s or Syria’s were before their wars. Put simply Turkey is too big and rich to be sacrificed to the Military Industrial Complex.
Let’s say you are Raytheon a big US defense contractor who would love the excuse to bomb Istanbul, so you tell your congressmen to put Turkey under sanctions and start that process. But then McDonald’s, a much larger corporation than Raytheon starts complaining. They have over 250 franchises in Turkey and don’t want to screw that up. Raytheon is a more fundamentally corrupt organization, it doesn’t exist without its government relationships, so it’s more powerful on this issue in Congress. But there are only 3 or 4 Raytheon sized defense companies, and in a country like Turkey dozens of McDonalds sized US companies have interests. Boeing, the biggest defense contractor, is about the size of Mcdonalds, but it also sells a ton of civilian planes to Turkish airlines, and Turkish low cost carriers like Pegasus and Atlas global as well. The Boeing lobbyists don’t want to screw up a market Turkey’s size. Even the MIC is divided on this one.
This is why I am pretty sure the 2016 coup in Turkey was not a US plot by the way. There are plenty of idiots in Washington, DC who would have been happy to see it happen, but the folks who actually run the US economy and government are smarter than that. Obama did a lot of dumb shit that the Military Industrial Complex wanted, but he had advisors who would have told him not to go too far towards destabilizing the Turkish economy. Too many US companies are making too much money there.
You may be thinking of a couple counterexamples here. Venezuela and Iraq are two very obvious targets of the US military Industrial Complex, and they werent Turkey size but they were big economies before the MIC wheels started turning. But Venezuela and Iraq are prosperous because of their oil and gas resources. Turkey doesn’t have any, or at least not enough to keep them from being super reliant on outside sources.
That means that the big oil companies make money selling oil and gas to Turkey. Turning Turkey into a war zone would just kill a market, and disrupt important pipelines, it doesn’t give Exxon access to better deals for supply. So unlike Iraq and Venezuela, none of the oil companies have an interest in invading Turkey either. I haven’t even begun to talk about the Massive US and multinational banking sector that is owed billions of dollars for their financing of Turkish power plants shopping malls and other infrastructure. You think Goldman Sachs wants to see cities it owns chunks of get bombed?
You may think Russia is a counter example here but it’s really not. Russia is an official enemy of the US Military Industrial Complex, but that’s more to help both US and Russian companies sell weapons. Nobody really wants regime change there. If Vladimir Putin was voted out of office the CEO of Raytheon would probably have a heart attack.
Russia has supposedly been under these debilitating sanctions since 2014, but if you actually look at the list they are not all that impressive. The US is trying to strangle all economic activity in Iran. Outside of a few individuals and sectors, business as usual is largely proceeding with Russia, and it’s looking like Europe is now eager to ramp that business back up. The US Military Industrial Complex is powerful, but when they try to mess with countries with real economic weight it gets reigned in.
So yes, there is a plot against Turkey, and it’s pretty gross. But that plot is failing and will continue to fail. Netanyahu and Lindsey Graham can whine all they want, the US Turkish alliance isn’t going anywhere. Some things are bigger than the US defense industry’s thirst for death. The Turkish economy is one of those things.
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