The Memory of Lebanon—Also Our Own

Not so long ago, when “The State” and the banks appropriated the savings of thousands of Lebanese families, the French press was all abuzz about Lebanon. And then, the Lebanese and their bankrupt country were forgotten.

Between 1915 and 1918, Mount Lebanon was hit by a terrible famine that took away almost a third of its population and left in the Lebanese memory the certainty of the overwhelming responsibility of the Ottoman authorities in the organization and unleashing of what they considered a genocide. For many Lebanese, there is still no doubt that the famine of 1915-1918 was deliberately organized by the Ottoman authorities.

Lebanon has been distinguished from the neighboring provinces of Damascus and Beirut by a long tradition of autonomy. For three centuries, local emirs governed this Ottoman province. Between 1842 and 1860, taking advantage of “dissensions” within the population, the Sublime Porte tried to reinforce its control—without success. In 1860, the Muslim Druze massacred hundreds of Christians. In spite of a muted diplomatic resistance from England, France obtained permission from the European powers to send an expeditionary force to come to the aid of the victims and to restore order. The confessional massacres of the time led to the military intervention of Napoleon III’s troops and to the re-establishment of Lebanese autonomy guaranteed by the five powers, with the establishment of a specific administrative regime—Mount Lebanon would henceforth be directed by a compulsorily Catholic governor, appointed by the Sublime Porte after European agreement.

From 1913, following the coup d’état of Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Empire was governed by a triumvirate of which he was the dominant figure. In April 1915, in the midst of the war, he authorized his Minister of the Interior, Talaat Pasha (the “Turkish Hitler”) to organize the massacre of the Christian peoples of the empire: Assyrians, Pontic Greeks and Armenians. Wikipedia forgets the Lebanese in this sinister list.

For them, the matter was delegated to Jamal Pasha. But the objectives were the same.

“Enver Pasha then delegated Jamal Pasha who was given the job of exterminating Christians in the empire. From then on, he bore the nickname of Jamal Pasha al-Saffah. For this clever and Machiavellian man, there was no question of repeating the mistake of 1860. The sword used in the Armenian, Syriac or Assyrian-Chaldean regions could not be used in Lebanon without taking the risk of a new French landing” (Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar, President of the Syriac Maronite Union, Tur Levnon).

The Armenian precedent leaves little room for doubt as to the real intentions of the Turks. The mass deportation of Armenians from Anatolia coincided with the time when the blockade and repression of Mount Lebanon intensified (March 1915). The same chronology, the same motivations of the executioners—like the regions of eastern Anatolia, the Syrian coast and Mount Lebanon seemed like weak points for the Ottoman defense. Hence the objective of “creating a desert” in these two regions.

The Young Turk leaders had the necessary motive. They were suspicious of these Arabs who were much too Europeanized for their taste. Unlike Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia, Lebanon was closely connected to Europe. It was necessary to isolate it diplomatically and in the media before imposing the food blockade. Jamal Pasha immediately instituted general censorship. Once all communications with the outside world had been cut off, it was time to start.

It began in 1914, with the abolition of the capitulations signed between the Christian powers and the Sublime Porte which guaranteed the security of the Christians of the empire: the autonomy of Mount Lebanon was abolished. Persecutions multiplied: military occupation of the Mountain (November 1914); de facto suppression of its privileges (March 1915); forced appointment of administrators known for their harshness: Jamal Pasha, military governor of Beirut and Mount Lebanon from December 1914, and Ali Munif Bey who replaced Ohannes Pasha. Ali Munif Bey had distinguished himself by his relentless persecution of the Armenians of Adana, his home town. In his Memoirs, (Revue d’Histoire arménienne contemporaine, Tome V, le Liban. Mémoire d’un Gouverneur, 1913-1915, Ohannes Pasha Kouyoumdjian, 2003), Ohannes Pasha denounced Ali Munif Bey’s tactics—in 1915, he formed a Lebanese Red Crescent Committee. Officially, it was to help the Lebanese; in reality it was only a machine to extort donations from them. And then there was the violent repression of the Lebanese elites: in 1915-1916, several notables were sentenced to death for treason and hanged, and two hundred others deported to Anatolia.

The Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war against the Entente powers at the end of October was followed by a blockade of Entente ships on the western side. Set up in November 1914, this ruthless blockade not only in the Mediterranean but also in the Red Sea, (which continued until the autumn of 1918 when the outcome of the war was no longer in doubt) stopped the grain trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

On the eastern side, the land blockade was ordered by Jamal Pasha. Mount Lebanon was very dependent on the surrounding regions for food because of the scarcity of its agricultural land and the density of its population: 100 inhabitants/km2, i.e., ten times more than in the neighboring vilayet of Damascus, which was well provided with arable land (Ohannes Pasha, Memoirs). But in 1914, the food situation in Syria and Lebanon was favorable: the summer harvests had made it possible to build up large stocks.

From November 1914, the price of flour soared. The Lebanese sold their silk cocoons at a low price, then had to mortgage their goods to rich merchants in Beirut or Tripoli. The interest rate on loans soared to 400% the following year.

Visiting Lebanon in February 1916, Enver Pasha was quoted as saying: “We destroyed the Armenians with iron. We will destroy the Lebanese with hunger.”

Which was well on its way.

Practicing a scorched earth policy, the Turks destroyed most of the depots and railway equipment. In 1916, fearing for the army’s supplies, Jamal Pasha requisitioned all wheat, kerosene, beasts of burden, poultry and cattle, wood, and building materials. In 1916, the Ottoman soldiery even attacked the plantations, orchards and forests. The hills of Lebanon were completely stripped under the pretext of supplying coal to the trains. Jamal Pasha forbade the peasants to thresh the wheat before the arrival of a government agent. With the rains, the crops rotted. Many peasants fled to areas beyond the control of the government, so that the authorities were forced to ask soldiers to plow the fields around Damascus.

The Christians, starving and having already sold their furniture and clothes, ended up selling the beams of their houses. The roofs collapsed and families were left homeless with nothing on their bodies. To those who, from Constantinople, pointed out to him that the exclusive use of the means of transport for the benefit of the army risked starving the capital, Enver Pasha replied: “I do not care… about the supply for the population; it will look after itself as best it can. During the Balkan war, the civilians were full while the army was starving. Now it is their turn to fast: I am only concerned about my soldiers.”

The means of transport were thus lacking: the transport of grain through Port Said was not easier. In mid-October 1916, British General Allenby opposed the establishment of a French naval base in Beirut and refused to lift the blockade entirely, prohibiting the outflow of wheat to Lebanon.

The peak of the crisis was reached in 1917-1918. The desperate search for food led to social regression. In March 1918, near Tripoli, two women were arrested for kidnapping and devouring eight girls.

“Living skeletons wandered here and there in the mud and snow. One could hardly tell the living from the dead. The carts dumped in mass graves about a hundred bodies a day in the city of Beirut alone. In these conditions of cold, malnutrition, non-nutrition and absolute lack of hygiene, epidemics took their toll. Typhus, cholera, plague and other diseases of another age added to the misfortunes of the Lebanese. This is where the Ottoman genius proved itself. Pharmacies were robbed, medicines of all kinds were requisitioned, always for the needs of the army. The Sublime Porte needed doctors to treat its soldiers on the front, so they mobilized doctors from all the towns and villages. The cruelty of the invader had no limit. Ottoman-style corruption was in full swing. Even some Christians participated in it. The governor of Lebanon, Ohannes Kouyoumjian, who was far too honest and honest, was replaced by Ali Mounif. The latter arrived in Lebanon “penniless and left with two million gold francs” (Amine Jules Iskandar).

The shortage of wheat during the spring of 1916 was also due to the sending of grain to Arabia in order to keep the allegiance of the Bedouin tribes of the Hejaz, as the Arab revolt of Sharif Hussein began. The famine did not spare Syria, starting with Damascus, although it was close to the rich agricultural lands of the Hauran. There, as in Lebanon, the local population was sacrificed to the Turkish army and civil servants, the only beneficiaries of rationing. They were immolated on the altar of the strategic objectives of the Ottoman Empire.

The window still open to Europe, specific to Lebanon, was the Church: the Catholic missionaries, their monasteries and their schools. All their properties and places were requisitioned, transformed into barracks or military depots. Expelled, the missionaries could no longer serve as witnesses and observers. What remained were the Maronite bishops, but also the Romanian (Greek Orthodox) and Melkite bishops. The most active of them were then exiled; some Maronite bishops were even court-martialed and hanged. Lazarists, Jesuits, Daughters of Charity were still present in Lebanon in 1914. In November, most of them were expelled and their places ransacked. Inside the Mountain, the Lebanese members of the Catholic congregations managed to keep some missions open to relieve the suffering of the population. These had to be abandoned under pressure from the Turks in 1916.

In the spring of 1916, French diplomats estimated the number of victims in the mountains and on the coast at more than 80,000 (more than 50,000 in the mountains alone).

The Lebanese emigration mobilized; and in June of the same year, in New York, a Committee of support for the Syrian Mount Lebanon was formed. The poet Khalil Gibran joined it. He dedicated two poems to the Lebanese people: “Dead are mt People.” Of course, there has been much discussion about this committed poetry. However, the text remains quite vague in its poetic evocation of the “invisible snakes” responsible for this “tragedy beyond words.” The snakes were quite visible and the poet did not risk much in New York.

The Jesuits denounced the crime as coming “on the heels of the Armenian genocide.” The French ambassador in Cairo, Jules-Albert Defrance, who was close to the Lebanese community in Egypt, wrote to Aristide Briand at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter then shared the information and alarming news with Camille Barrère, his ambassador in Rome, and also with the Holy See, with Washington (on May 16, 1916) and with the very Christian king of Spain. The atrocities are described in all these letters. All came to the same conclusion: a military intervention in the Levant would be fatal for the Christians of Lebanon. It would push the Ottomans to speed up their work and, perhaps, to put them to the sword. As for the food aid, it was systematically confiscated and diverted by the Ottomans.

On the Perseus website, there is an edifying article by Yann Bouyrat, “Une crise alimentaire provoquée? La famine au Liban (1915-1918).” The author is an associate professor and doctor of history, a researcher at the CEMMC in Bordeaux, and a lecturer at the Université Catholique de l’Ouest. “The article was validated by the reading committee of the CTHS in the context of the publication of the proceedings of the 139th National Congress of Historical and Scientific Societies, a symposium held in Rennes in 2013.”

The main thrust of the article is to mitigate the responsibility of the Turks and to minimize the role of France. Thus, the testimonies against the Turks are contradicted by other sources. First, the Spanish consul, who never believed in any “genocide by hunger” of the Lebanese population; a text from the Patriarch of the Maronites, found in the military archives, which clearly defends Jamal Pasha and underlines “his eager courtesy” and “the salutary effects of his generosity in providing food for the poor.” Meager evidence all. In the diplomats’ reports, Enver Pasha is presented as a criminal.

As for Ohannes Pasha, he was Armenian, which makes him “subjective.”

For Mr. Bouyrat, the ban on the export of cereals from Aleppo and Damascus to the mountains and the coast should be seen as a security measure to avoid the building up of cereal stocks on the coast, which could have served a possible invading army. And it could also be explained by the speculative madness of a certain number of unscrupulous local grain merchants. Monopolizing the grain market, the Aleppo merchants drove up prices, preventing the Beirut traders from recouping their expenses. This is undoubtedly true. But how does this diminish the responsibility of the Ottomans?

For this “specialist” in humanitarian intervention, “the human toll of the famine is difficult to establish with certainty.”

Really? For the Mountain alone, the losses reached at least 120,000 people—that is to say a third of the population. According to Dr. Jules Iskandar, out of a Lebanese population of 450,000 people, about 220,000 died. And half of the survivors went into exile. “We are,” he says, “the descendants of the remaining small quarter.”

The government in Paris, sensitive to the fate of the Syrian-Lebanese population, had considered on several occasions a partial lifting of the blockade. It had to give up in the face of London’s veto. Warned of the seriousness of the situation in the Mountain by Mgr Joseph Darian, Archbishop of Alexandria and spokesman for the Maronite Patriarch, Aristide Briand, then President of the Council, had successively asked two neutral powers (the United States in June, then Spain in July 1916), to intervene with the Porte so that it would authorize the sending of international humanitarian aid to Lebanon. In exchange, France agreed to allow the passage of ships chartered for relief. Here again, the intransigence of England forbade it. As well as the bad faith of the Turkish government, which did everything to hinder the action of the American and Spanish action committees.

The rescue of Lebanon began in 1918-1919; and the action was considerably amplified after the arrival of the French army in Beirut. When the first detachments landed in the city on October 7, 1918, the situation was catastrophic. The only aid brought to the population came from the British navy and remained insignificant: 100 tons of cereals, 50 tons at the disposal of the city of Beirut and 50 for the Mountain. At the same time, the monthly needs of Lebanon and the coast were estimated at over 2,000 tons.

At the end of October, Clemenceau’s intervention enabled France to obtain an end to the obstacles to the circulation of cereals. The arrival of all this aid in November quickly had positive effects: it brought down the price of foodstuffs and forced speculators to sell their stocks.

What is taught in Lebanese schools today?

Lebanese children are taught that the famine that decimated a third to half of their people at the time was due to the unfortunate coincidence of disparate factors: the Allied sea blockade, the Ottoman land blockade and the locust invasion.

But even more serious, according to Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar: two hundred thousand disarmed victims whose only crime was to be Christian—and not a museum, not a monument, not a public square, not a national day, not a mention in the history books. Greater Lebanon preferred them to the forty martyrs of the Place des Canons that now bears their name: their multi-faith origins better satisfied the image sought by the young state.

Ancient Lebanon had such respect for its martyrs that it dedicated to them the highest peak in the country: Qornet Sodé (in Syriac: the Summit of the Martyrs). The name has now become the meaningless Arabic, Qornet al-Sawda (Black Summit). In order to build this Greater Lebanon, now in ruins, the historical Lebanon was sacrificed, which should have been the soul of the new state and not considered a hindrance.

Was it necessary to abandon its Syriac language and the ancient Christian cultural base that was supported by it? Was it necessary to conceal the blood of the martyrs by erasing the black page of this famine, if not planned, at least wanted and organized?

We must leave the historian Yann Bouyrat to his academic ambitions and privilege the testimony of those who carry in their living memory the infinite grief of the survivors and their frightening lucidity:

“We are the descendants of the quarter that survived and remained in Lebanon. And from this group, three quarters also emigrated. So, we are only one quarter of the quarter. Let us be conscious and modest in the face of all this legacy for which we are responsible today. The genocide of the Christians of the East, “Tsekhaspanutyan” Ցեղասպանություն (genocide) for the Armenians, “The Sayfo” (the sword) for the Christians of Upper Mesopotamia and “The Kafno” (famine) for the Christians of Lebanon, is a duty of memory. One cannot murder a people twice; first by death, then by silence and oblivion. It is a national duty to be taken into account at the level of state, religious and cultural institutions.”

He is right.

And his testimony weighs more heavily in the balance of responsibility than Mr. Bouyrat’s work on questions of humanitarian interference. The millions of victims weigh more in the scales of justice than diplomatic issues. The honor of France, which was involved in this drama, was saved by all those who behaved with courage and humanity:

“The Syrian island of Arwad (ouad in French) was in the hands of the French, under the command of Albert Trabaud. The aid from the Lebanese diaspora was then brought to the island and transported by night to the Lebanese coast. The first part of the journey was done by boat, while the second part was completed by swimming. The gold was handed over to the envoys of the patriarch of the Maronites. The sums collected in Bkerke were then used to buy quantities of food to be distributed to the people in order to limit the carnage as much as possible…. Albert Trabaud contributed to the survival of our ancestors, there is still a street in Achrafieh named after him? For how long?” (Jules Iskandar)

A people without memory is a people without a future. Today’s Lebanon is a country in ruins that survives only thanks to a Christian diaspora assimilated wherever it exists, industrious and with a high degree of education. It knows that on it depends the survival of this small country with an ancient history that gave the alphabet to the European world and inaugurated the history of the Mediterranean and its civilization.

And today?

Today, the world history of infamy continues through the scandal of the Latchine corridor: 150,000 Armenians deprived of everything by the Azeris in defiance of international rights.

But can anyone tell us when an Islamic state has respected such rights?

In a few years, eminent academics with titles will write about the question of humanitarian interference in Nagorno-Karabakh, wondering about the number of victims and the difficulty of establishing the number with certainty.

In the meantime, men, women and children are dying. Christians.

In French schools, grade five students are taught that there were “contacts” between Islam and Christianity in the Mediterranean and that Islam was a brilliant Arab-Muslim civilization to which we owe the transfer of all Greek science.

We believe in order to dream.

Marion Duvauchel is a historian of religions and holds a PhD in philosophy. She has published widely, and has taught in various places, including France, Morocco, Qatar, and Cambodia. She is the founder of the Pteah Barang, in Cambodia.

Featured: Starving family in Mount Lebanon, ca. 1915-1918.

What Next for Türkiye?

On May 14, 2023, the citizens of Türkiye will head to the polls in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, which promise to be the most critical and contentious since the country’s first free and fair elections in 1950. The outcome of possible change will shape the country domestic and foreign policies for the coming years, in a turmoiled international landscape.
Polls show a very close run between two main blocs: Erdogan’s People’s Alliance—which include his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) (conservative), the allied ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and a number of smaller, mostly far-right parties—and the National Alliance, the six-party opposition, led by the leftist, social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its long-time leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the legacy of the Kemalist parties.

In the coalition, together with CHP, there is the centrist Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the center-right Democrat Party (DP), the nationalist, center-right Good Party (IYI)—the only other major faction besides the CHP— and two small groups, the conservative Future Party (Gelecek; GP), and the political Islamist Felicity Party (Saadet; FP). Also known as the “Table of Six,” the Nation’s Alliance poses the greatest challenge to Erdogan in nationwide vote since his AKP triumphed in November 2002 (and in the ongoing elections).

A third electoral bloc, led by the liberal, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)—and accompanied by an array of leftist and far-leftist parties—is informally backing Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race, though competing for seats in the parliamentarian vote.
This clear political landscape changed with the recent entry of the former Republican People’s Party (CHP) high ranking Muharrem Ince as the third candidate for the presidency could further boost the incumbent and reduce the margin of victory for Kilicdaroglu. While the coalition supporting Erdogan will struggle to break the 45 percent barrier, let alone the 50 percent necessary to win the presidential seat in the first round on May 14th, Ince’s rise could block Kilicdaroglu primary victory, forcing him to a second electoral vote on May 28th.

At the center of the political, but also institutional, economic, cultural aspects of the challenge is the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his model which has impacted the country since the beginning of the 1980s, when he first entered political life.

The main aim of the National Alliance (and associates) is to dismantle the institutional architecture and the related aspects progressively installed by Erdogan. They look to use the next presidential and parliamentarian mandate as transition time, and to re-build the Kemalist (as well as post-Kemalist) outlook for Türkiye—namely, political leadership for the prime minister; reduction of the role of the president; re-establishment of the prominence of parliament in the legislative mechanism; laicization of the laws and society, reintegration of the country in the international system; reassessment of the country relations with its allies and partners, prominence of generally accepted principles of law in the justice system, with the banning of opinion crimes; protection of individual liberties; rights of minorities and groups. What appear to have vanished from their project of Turkish society is the guarantor role of the country’s secularism played by the armed forces, already progressively erased in Erdogan’s tenure. So, in case of victory the National Alliance will work to bring an old/new architecture and posture for the country.

But Erdogan is an experimented and determined political leader and will fight to the least breath to remain the undisputed leader of the country and, for the electoral campaign, without bringing new elements, he will emphasize some of the institutional points of his policy. However, some external factors will pose a severe challenge. The most visible being the economic recession (with inflation reaching as high as 85%) and the disastrous earthquake which hit Türkiye in February (causing around 50.000 deaths) and which affected his image because of the alleged ties between some of the controversial real estate business and the President’s party. Also, the inefficiencies of the rescue operations and rebuilding activities have hurt him (this is unavoidable considering the extent and gravity of the earthquake).
Erdogan’s strategy, as mentioned, is based on three pillars, and he later added a fourth, after the February earthquake.

The first pillar is the use of foreign policy to boost domestic popularity. In pursuit of this goal, Erdogan, for a couple of years now, normalized the relations with his Arab neighbourhood, affected by the impact of the Syrian war and the related changes of Ankara’s stance; and, thus, early this year, brought a large inflow of financial resources, estimated at 20 billion of dollars from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries. As well, despite a controversial history of relations with Moscow, Erdogan successfully secured a much-needed cash injection from Russia, amounting to nearly $10 billion, through the Akkuyu nuclear power plant construction project (till now Russia was very prudent in sharing her nuclear technology with third countries and even with a long-standing ally, like Algeria, an agreement on this issue has not been reached). This approach allowed Ankara to keep a control over the health of the local currency, limiting the negative impact of the economic fluctuation.

The second pillar is related to Syria, involved in a bloody civil war since 2001. Thanks to Russian mediation, starting in August 2022, Erdogan has been working on returning as soon as possible the four million Syrian refugees, a source of growing discontent among the Turkish people.

In this light, and to promote national pride, came the launch, in April, of the first locally made Turkish aircraft carrier (though of Spanish design). The Anadolou will have the capacity to carry the naval version of the US/international built fighter F-35 Lightning II, in its array of deadly UAVs of domestic manufacture. There are plans to build a second such carrier, the Traki. These vessels counter the embargo slapped on by the US to punish Ankara for its purchase of the Russian-made SAM system S-400 Triumph.
The third pillar, related to the recent cash in-flow, is the increase in wages and social benefits for the population, affected, not only by the economic crisis, but after February also by the earthquake (economic growth and the increase of purchasing power of each household has long been a dogma of the Erdogan doctrine, one at times contested by various economists who pointed to the intrinsic fragility of the projects. as well with a massive recruitment campaign in the enlarged public services sector. In this regard, Erdogan (and his party, the AKP) encourage every initiative that promotes a national endeavour in the economy, science, R&D, and tourism.

As mentioned, the earthquake is a tragic new element in the country’s political landscape, and this introduced the fourth pillar in the campaign of the President’s party, which is now focused on recalling the achievements of the past, not only the past economic growth but also the profile that the country obtained in the international and regional scene with the firm, influential and assertive stance of Erdogan in dealing with crises and countries (e.g., in Ukraine, the unique stance with Russia and the grain agreement with UN), NATO (for the addition of Sweden and Finland to the Alliance), Greece (for the delimitation of border waters and aerospace, the Cyprus issue, the exploitation of hydrocarbon in the Mediterranean basin), EU (the management of migrants), US (the refurbishment and modernization of the current fleet of F-16s).

But for Erdogan’s coalition (and for the opposition even more), there is the pending unresolved issue, which has run through the country’s history since the foundation of the republic (and as well before), and that is the management of the Kurdish issue, which is not only an identity and domestic question but also a serious regional and international one, given the co-presence of divergent interests, such as the support of Washington of the Syrian-Kurdish forces, which Ankara consider allied to the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), labelled as a terrorist movement and responsible for a tough armed and popular resistance in the Turkish eastern regions. Now, the Kurdish presence, though not formally, in the anti-Erdogan coalition of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is a serious political problem, given the hostility of the vast percentage of the electorate against the idea of concession of any sort of autonomy (cultural and even less administrative) for those areas. According to the polls, such concession would be crucial in defeating the Erdogan’ coalition, and this is an easy win for Erdogan who simply have to reject concession. Certainly, this will mean that they will not get the Kurdish vote, but there are also no strong reasons to actually given concessions.

According to plans of the National Alliance, the return to a Turkish parliamentary system would go more smoothly if they won the presidency as well as the parliament with a three-fifths majority—a prerequisite for a constitutional amendment necessary to restore the country’s former political system. However, the most recent election law changes make such a scenario difficult to achieve it.
Two scenarios could therefore emerge in May. First, given the wide executive powers of the presidency under Turkey’s new political architecture, Erdogan’s loss of position would be a huge blow for his party and its popular base. Hence, Erdogan could negotiate an agreement to divide leadership for personal and political guarantees. In case of defeat, Erdogan could be planning to build a powerful opposition exploiting an unstable governing alliance facing not only institutional changes but also the heavy legacy of economic reconstruction and earthquake-related struggles. Also, it should be noted that the opposition could lose both races (presidential and parliamentarian) thus assuring the grip of the AKP on Turkish society.

It is interesting to observe that in neighbouring Greece, the elections are planned one week after the Turkish ones, and inevitably their outcome will influence the vote in the country. But it is clear that Türkiye remains a pivotal country in the Euro-Atlantic security system, not only for the addition of Sweden and Finland (the latter is now added, while the former, it is widely believed, will be finalized after the election and before the NATO Summit of Vilnius, planned for July 11-12, 2023, along with policies for the neighbouring countries, given the fragile situations in Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbajian (and the Nagorno-Karabach conflict).

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a retired UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations). This paper was presented at the 53rd Conference of the Consortium of the Revolutionary Era, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, 2-4 February 2023.

Armenia, A Historical Betrayal

This history should never be forgotten. Its roots go back to myths, in it we find Noah, the universal flood, the beginnings of civilization and human culture, Urartu. Many pages of the Bible refer to all of this. Indeed, the southern mountains of the Western Caucasus were the ancestral home of the Armenian people, and very specifically the valleys and mountains where the so-called Artsakh or Upper Karabakh is located today. It is no coincidence that the Shusha Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Ghazanchetsots, was erected by Simon Ter Hakobyan on the remains of an ancient Armenian chapel. Artsakh is not just any region, it is the place where the founding father of the Armenian people, Hayk, decided that his people should settle forever. The mountains of Artsakh are the symbol of the faith of a people who believe in their destiny.

But let us descend from myths and legends to the harsh reality that the Armenian people are experiencing as they see how their precious cradle is being manipulated in a clear attempt to annihilate historical reality. How could it happen that an essential part of Armenia ended up in the hands of Azerbaijan? What were the motivations and circumstances that, after the Bolshevik revolution, led an ancestral Armenian territory to become an integral part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, and to remain part of that country today? Why did a territory that was Christian to the core, an area where Christianity was established from time immemorial—more than three centuries before the appearance of Islam—come to be dominated by Shiite Muslims? What strange events allowed such a thing to happen? Let us analyze the process.

Nagorno-Karabakh (Credit: The Economist).

From the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution, the relationship of the Supreme Soviet with the Islamic peoples of what had been Tsarist Greater Russia was uneasy, difficult to manage, since the Bolshevik propaganda, Marxist and atheist, seemed to produce any results; not even the creation of the new republics seemed to satisfy the national claims of the various Muslim peoples and their particularities. Communism and Islam have never gotten along, Marxism and Koran are antithetical. Atheism is a declared enemy of Islam, because it denies its own existence. But it was not only the profound differences between the Bolshevik government and the different Muslim peoples of the new USSR. For example, some of the Tatar minorities were Shiites, others were not; while the Chechens were radical Sunnis, the Muslims of the upper Volga were not, and therefore their claims were very different.

But let us analyze the process: in 1918 a committee for the Muslim nationalities existing in Soviet Russia was created, a committee that naturally depended on the Narkomnats, and by a series of circumstances Stalin accepted that the majority of that committee would be in the hands of the Tatars, which would mark his future. Obsessed with securing his power, and as was asserting his will, Stalin tried to manipulate the sub-commissioners, not wanting the internal problem of both sides allying against him.

On the other hand, in those very days, the Armenians had just survived the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Turks, so they were very weakened from all points of view, including politically, since even within Lenin’s own circle, it was believed that Armenians would be incapable of carrying on the existence of their own Armenian homeland. It should be pointed out that the recently re-founded Armenian state was economically ruined, defenseless, without an army to defend it, unable to feed its own people, abandoned by the advanced nations, and for all these reasons it was an easy prey for Turkey which sought to put an end to “the Armenian problem” once and for all. It should also be made clear that Kemal Atatürk did not modify Ottoman policy one iota, and although he assured Europe that he wanted a modern and secular Turkey, he also wanted it to be free of Christians and above all of Armenians.

The Democratic Republic of Armenia, independent from the Ottoman Empire since 1918, was by force of circumstances transformed on November 29, 1920 into the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, and from that very moment it did not have the slightest autonomous capacity to carry out a process of regulation of its borders based on its historical reality, but became -as all the other Soviet socialist republics- a bargaining chip for the selfish interests of the Soviet protagonists of the revolution, Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky and the other general secretaries, who, as mentioned above, were carrying out their particular strategy for power, while the socialist utopia remained in the background. Lenin asserted that without power, socialist reality could not be built, which was obvious. Stalin, who at that time was a parvenu without a curriculum vitae, was ready to take the plunge. It is more than demonstrated that he used the Commissariat for the Nationalities as a mere lever to achieve his political ends, and that there was not the least coherence in his decision making, although it was the circumstances that finally made him General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, unbelievably against the resounding will of Lenin, of course also of Trotsky and of the majority of the remaining leaders who at a given moment were coerced and had no alternative but to submit to Stalin, and for that reason almost all of them ended up paying for their indecision or their cowardice with their lives.

Let us see what Trotsky has to say about this, it in his biography of Stalin:

“On November 27, 1919, the 11th Congress of Muslim Communist Organizations of All-Russia and the Peoples of the East was held in Moscow. The Congress was opened by Stalin on behalf of the Central Committee of the Party. Four honorary members were elected: Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Stalin. The chairman of the Congress, Sultan-Galiev, proposed that the Congress salute Stalin as “one of those fighters who burn with a flame of hatred against international imperialism.” But it is very characteristic for the gradation of the leaders at that time, that even at this Congress the Sultan-Galiev Report on political revolution in general ended with the salutation: “Long live the Russian Communist Party! Long live its leaders, comrades Lenin and Trotsky!” Even this Congress of the Peoples of the East, held under the immediate leadership of Stalin, did not think it necessary to include Stalin among the leaders of the Party. Stalin was People’s Commissariat of Nationalities from the time of the Revolution until the dissolution of the Commissariat in 1923, when the Soviet Union and the Council of Nationalities of the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.S.R. were created. It can be considered firmly established that, at least until May 1919, Stalin did not have much to do with the affairs of the Commissariat. At first, Stalin did not write the editorials of The Life of the Nationalities [Zhizn Natsionalnostei, a weekly newspaper and then a magazine, published from 1918 to 1924]. Then, when the paper began to be published in magazine format, Stalin’s editorials began to appear one issue after another. But Stalin’s literary productivity was not great, and it decreased from year to year. In 1920-1921 we find only two or three articles by him. In 1922, not a single one. By then Stalin had gone over entirely to machine politics.”

In other words, Stalin used the post as Commissar of Nationalities to guarantee his future within the politburo, knowing that until Lenin disappeared nothing was assured. Trotsky dissects in detail Stalin’s personality in that exciting and dramatic stage.

On August 10, 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed in Sèvres, France, in the presence of the Turkish representatives. It was the logical consequence of the Treaty of Versailles, in which the Ottoman Empire, still ruled by Sultan Mehmed VI, accepted the de facto situation, and lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Arabia, Iraq, while Asia Minor was cut up according to the demanding criteria of the victors. Armenia, in that treaty, put together as Wilsonian Armenia, became a viable state again with the eastern part of Turkey, recomposing in part—and only in part—the historical Armenia. Naturally Atatürk assured his generals that the treaty would not be carried out, and that they would have to fight to the death to change things. He was a pragmatic man and referred exclusively to Asia Minor, to Turkey itself, knowing that its own existence as a country was at stake.

Immediately the Turkish army attacked the territories under French, Italian and Greek influence, as well as those assigned to Armenia. France did not wish to lose more men or invest more resources in a distant war. Italy could not continue either, and Greece even less. The Turks focused on expelling the Armenians from their cities, until the situation became impossible for the Armenian government, with no funds, no credit, hardly any soldiers, no weapons, although it is true that the British gave some military aid.

Atatürk, who was a good strategist, had made a pact with the SSR of Azerbaijan, which he considered Turkish, and for that reason in June 1920 the Democratic Republic of Armenia was forced to declare a costly truce with the Azeris, since the Turkish army was besieging them and driving them to exhaustion, becoming at that time the SSR of Armenia. It was the overwhelming situation which forced the Armenian government to sign peace with the Azeris, having to cede Zangezur and Nagorno-Karabakh to them, besides recognizing their dominion in Nakhchivan.

But Atatürk’s Turks kept up the war pressure on a practically exhausted Armenia, unarmed, without ammunition, without resources, without a real army that could defend its borders. It simply had no one to turn to. There were no resources, much less financial; no provisions, not for the weak Armenian army, not even for the starving and impoverished civilians. Armenian children continued to die of starvation, without hospitals, without medicine. That is why the Turks took advantage of the situation, the extreme state of the Armenian state, and entered Alexandroupolis, forcing peace.

Let us analyze the circumstances. A few days later, in fact four days later, on December 2, 1920, the Treaty of Alexandropol was signed between the recently created Armenian SSR and Turkey and what is today Gyumri, the beautiful city that during Tsarist Russia had been christened as Alexandropol. Supposedly this treaty was an agreement to end the Turkish-Armenian war, and it dismantled the Treaty of Sèvres, since Turkey demanded Armenia’s renunciation of all the territory that before the Great War had belonged to the Ottoman Empire, besides forcing it to recognize the independence of Nakhchivan.

A few months later, in mid-March 1921, within the framework of the Treaty of Moscow, Lenin decided to reach an agreement with the Great National Assembly of Turkey, whose undisputed leader was now Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the victor of Gallipoli, the only Turkish leader who could face the victors of the Great War on equal terms. It must be emphasized that neither the USSR nor the Republic of Turkey yet existed. The “Turkey” of that time was that of the National Pact, according to the resolution adopted by the Ottoman parliament on January 28, 1920. It should be noted that the northeastern borders of Turkey and those of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were defined without the participation of Armenian and Georgian representatives, while the interests of Azerbaijan were well represented by Turkey, which considered the Azeris as Turkish allies in Atatürk’s Pan-Turkist policy. Therefore, in the Treaty of Moscow it was unilaterally decided that the Kars Oblast would be assigned to Turkey, and at the request of the Turkish leader the autonomous region of Nakhichevan was also created under the protection of Azerbaijan. In compensation, at the demand of Russia, supposedly at the will and discretion of Lenin, Turkey ceded Batumi and the adjacent area to Georgia, and in such a way that the Armenians lost an essential part of their territory, and above all they were deprived of the vital possibility of having an exit to the Black Sea, that is to say, a limited and dependent Armenia was left for strategic purposes, while the Turks guaranteed their relationship based on stability with the future USSR.

At the same time, the 10th Congress of the Communist Party was taking place, where decisions of great importance were taken:

“Every group, fraction or tendency within the Party was suppressed, tendencies that arose as a consequence of the post-war crisis. Everyone had to accept the official orthodoxy under penalty of being expelled. The aim was to achieve loyalty and uniformity. Authority was concentrated in the central organs of the Party. The idea was Lenin’s and was supported by the entire Bolshevik leadership.

“In order to achieve strict discipline within the Party and in all Soviet activity and to attain the highest degree of unity possible with the suppression of all factionalism, the Congress grants the Central Committee full powers in the case or cases of any breach produced in discipline by resurgence or toleration of factionalism, to apply all measures of Party sanction, including expulsion.”

Galiev and Stalin openly confronted each other during the congress. The false, impossible friendship between the two leaders was over, and both were well aware of it. Stalin branded as reactionary the proposal that the Islamic autonomous territories should be incorporated into the Soviet Union as independent republics—in fact the claim of the Muslims not to be linked to the USSR, since Galiev was in fact very suspicious about what the future would hold for the Soviet republics, and feared that Islam would be diluted in the Marxist atheism of the Bolsheviks. Time proved him right.

Recent history has not been consistent with historical reality. Barely three months later, on July 5, 1921, Stalin’s boundless ambition prevailed. It should be remembered that it was Stalin who, without any grounds or historical basis, unilaterally, capriciously, dictatorially, decided to create the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) and transfer it to the newly created Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic without any justification for his decision. Why did he carry out such an incoherent act? He was well aware of what could happen with that capricious and absurd decision.

It should be emphasized that at that time Stalin held the post of People’s Commissariat for Nationalities, (Narodny Komissariat po delam natsionálnostei, or Narkomnats). Researcher Stephen Blank maintains that this commissariat was created by the Bolsheviks to control the participation of those non-Russian ethnic groups, supposedly to give voice to the minorities, which were politically grouped in sub-commissariats for each of them: Jewish, Georgian, Armenian, Azeri or Tatar, Latvian, Polish, Buryat, Lithuanian, Estonian, and many others. In reality, what mattered to Stalin was how he could use his strategic position to climb politically and establish himself in power. For Levon Chorbajian, “the creation of Nagorno-Karabakh” was a challenge to history. Stalin, who knew very well the bitterness between Turks and Azeris on the one hand, and Armenians on the other, bet on the former “for political convenience,” that is to say within the context of Soviet-Turkish cooperation, trying to keep the influence of the Bolsheviks in the Caucasus.

Both Stalin and Kemal Atatürk were urged to resolve the burning issue of the South Caucasus, an open ulcer that bothered and harmed both sides, and which generated continuous frictions. For Stalin it was not an unknown or very distant issue; on the contrary, it was something close to him, something he had known well since his youth. No one had to explain to him about the Caucasus and its peculiarities, nor about what had just happened with the Armenians for whom he had never felt sympathy. In Georgia the Armenians had a reputation for being pragmatic people, ambitious, businessmen and good merchants; they were not empathetic with their hosts the Georgians. In Azerbaijan the same thing happened to them. In Baku they ran the main oil companies, import and export warehouses, financial institutions. They did not bother about being nice.

On the other hand, Atatürk had too many open fronts, including the very future of Turkey as a country; and Stalin was also playing for his political prestige—in short to be or not to be. It was evident to the unstable Bolshevik government that Lenin’s distrust of Stalin had already begun. Even so, Lenin allowed Stalin and Atatürk to reach an agreement and take the decision to modify and adjust the Treaty of Moscow in a new agreement to be concluded in one of the towns with the largest Armenian population eliminated during the genocide: the Treaty of Kars, to be signed on October 13, 1921, an agreement that would tie up and finalize all pending issues, especially the borders of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Not even three months had passed since the unexpected cession of Upper Karabakh to Azerbaijan, which the Armenian government hoped to reverse and return to the previous situation.

In the new Treaty of Kars, the Georgians were content with the port of Batumi, not because of political sense, nor because of the Bolsheviks’ responsibility towards Georgia, but because Stalin had his own commitments. To the Azeris, Stalin—it had been a personal decision because the commissar of nationalities did not agree on anything—had granted Upper Karabakh, and also Nakhichevan, so the Azeris had nothing to object to, and besides, it was the Turks who were pressing to sign such an agreement.

On the other hand, everyone was well aware that at that very moment razzias and pogroms were being carried out in Baku and all the eastern part of Azerbaijan to eliminate the Armenians and their strong interests in the oil market with Europe. It was not something concealed—that the Turks wanted to annihilate not only the Armenian population in Turkey itself, but also in those nearby countries where Turkish influence was decisive, as was the case of Azerbaijan. The relationship between Istanbul and Baku was already akin to colonialism. But at that time the British, who had troops stationed in the Caucasus, looked the other way, among other things because the Bolsheviks, led by Stalin, allowed all this. There were too many economic and political interests involved.

The situation needs to be told in detail. From the very moment Stalin awarded Upper Karabakh to the Azeris—to their surprise since they were not expecting the present size—the latter decided to carry out an ethnic and cultural cleansing of the oblast. The Armenians protested the decision as incoherent, unjust and sectarian. It was futile. At that time the strong relationship of common interests between the Tatar leader Mirza Sultan-Galiev and Joseph Stalin prevented the incomprehensible decision from being carried out. Both of them needed each other politically; their relationship was based on a false friendship. In reality they were two strong personalities who aspired to achieve their goals at any cost.

However, the pogroms against the Armenian population of Upper Karabakh, the destruction of churches, monasteries, khachkars, of any Armenian vestige existing in the ancestral settlement, were on-going. In spite of this, the stubborn reality of the facts could not be dismissed, since near ninety percent of the population settled in the valleys and mountains of the Upper Karabakh was of Armenian origin, all of them with deep roots that came from many centuries and millennia, in which the Armenians had modeled the hard landscape of what for them was their precious Artsakh. A harsh and difficult land; unkind, yet for them it signified the roots of their ancestral homeland, the place from which Hayk’s descendants came.

On the other hand, the Azerbaijani authorities found it unfeasible to move the Azerbaijani population there and force them to settle, although in certain places of Artsakh there were occasional Azeri settlements representing about 15 percent of the population. Among other reasons, the Azeris moved there considered it a punishment, because a deep knowledge based on hundreds of generations was necessary to survive and prosper in those harsh mountains of the southern Western Caucasus.

But the Armenians resisted pogroms and threats, political coercion, attempts at physical elimination, the destruction of their cultural references. If a hermitage or a monastery was demolished, the inhabitants raised it again, showing a strong will to remain. When the Azerbaijanis decided to destroy even the stones of the resulting ruins, the Armenians returned to the old quarries to carve the necessary stones. The elders remembered even the smallest ornamental and symbolic details of their monasteries and churches, and the skilled stonemasons patiently rebuilt what had been demolished and turned to dust, in an attempt to destroy and change the true history.

It should be remembered that the policy agreed to between Galiev and Stalin was one of selective application of anti-religious propaganda. For Galiev, in those days apparently a very close and loyal friend and protégé of Stalin, who cunningly used him in his service, the religion professed by the Armenians was only a demonstration against the interests of the Bolshevik party, while the Islam of the Tartars—their Islam—was nothing other than the expression of the will of Almighty God.

In the background, Galiev’s political ambition in those days was the creation of a great Tatar-Baskir republic in which Christian Armenia had no place. His secret, unspoken will was to finish what the Ottoman Turks had attempted: the definitive elimination, the disappearance, the expulsion of every last Armenian from the Armenia that had been allotted to them—in the end barely twenty percent of Wilsonian Armenia, of which neither Galiev, nor the administration of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, nor Stalin himself wanted to know anything about.

We say here that the Wilsonian Armenia contained in the Treaty of Sèvres remains intact—intact, complete, no matter how much people try to throw dirt on it, no matter how much they try to erase it from memory, no matter how many intermediate treaties have been signed—for the simple reason that that process was closed falsely. The political representatives of the Armenian people did not sign the Treaty of Lausanne in which an attempt was made to hastily modify the previous Treaty of Sèvres, without the necessary valid agreements, which did include precisely everything agreed upon and signed, including by the authorized representatives of the State of Turkey.

As for the Armenian participation in the Treaty of Moscow, it was null and void; and in the Treaty of Kars, the Armenian representatives were coerced and forced to sign it. However, two years later, in 1923, Galiev was tried and convicted for nationalist deviationism, and although Stalin carried out a series of purges against the Bashkir and Tatar followers of Galiev, he did not want to change his decision to award Upper Karabakh to the Azeris. In 1940 Galiev’s drama ended when he was shot in Moscow on Stalin’s orders, like the vast majority of those who opposed him for whatever reason. However, an essential matter, such as the allocation of an essential part of the historical Armenian territory, such as the Upper Karabakh to Azerbaijan, was not annulled, in spite of energetic Armenian protests.

Many years later—an eternity for the great majority of the peoples subjugated under the USSR—in 1991, the USSR was dissolved and, like all the other republics that made it up, the Soviet Muslim republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were transformed into independent republics, as had been Galiev’s intention seventy years earlier. Within the current Russian Federation itself, we still find the Muslim republics of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, which had no other choice, or which for their own reasons preferred to remain linked to Russia. In spite of everything, Galiev was not wrong. However, against common sense and logic, producing terrible damage to two peoples who should bury their quarrels forever, Stalin’s spurious decision is still remains, defying historical justice, like a festering ulcer that will only heal definitively with determination and intelligence.

G.H. Guarch is one of the leading writers of historical novels in Spanish. He received the 1997 Blasco Ibáñez Narrative Award for his novel, Las puertas del paraíso [The Gates of Paradise], and in 2007, he received the prestigious AGBU Garbis Papazian Award, for his trilogy of novels about the Armenian genocide: El árbol armenio [The Armenian Tree], The Armenian Testament, and La montaña blanca [The White Mountain]. He has recently been awarded the Movses Khorenatsi Medal, the highest cultural distinction in Armenia. [This article appears through the kind courtesy of El Manifesto].

Featured: Church of Varazgom.

Armenia: A Threatened Destiny

After the war of 2020, Azerbaijan again militarily attacked Armenia last September amidst widespread international indifference, confirming disturbing ambitions.

“No one can give us an ultimatum and allow Armenians to place their hopes elsewhere. I will say it again—nothing and no one can stop us.” With this statement on September 22, the dictator controlling Azerbaijan in a clannish way, Ilham Aliyev, is exerting his ambitions. In 2020, after a 44-day war, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey, invaded a large part of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia had to accept a precarious cease-fire under the aegis of Russia. This was constantly violated by Azeri troops, and their incursions into Armenian territory. Aliyev was clear in his intentions. Shortly after the ceasefire he explained, “I said we would drive [the Armenians] out of our lands like dogs, and we did.” Under these conditions, the agreement that the civilian populations could return to their lands obviously remained a non-starter for the Armenian populations.

In order to understand the present-day anguish of the Armenians, a detour through history is necessary. When Tsarist Russia annexed the South Caucasus, it quickly adopted a policy that was unfavorable to the Armenians. This policy was taken over by the USSR, as the Bolshevik regime ceded Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh (or Artsakh with a clear Armenian majority) to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan and not to that of Armenia.

In the context of the collapse of the USSR, following pogroms of the Armenian population in Sumgait and Baku, and an Azerbaijani desire to “disarm” Artsakh through a racist and discriminatory policy, Artsakh proclaimed its self-determination. In a five-year war, the heroism of Armenian fighters led to the liberation of Artsakh and the establishment of a continuous territory between Artsakh and Armenia in 1994. However, during the fifteen years that followed, Azerbaijan’s position was strengthened by the oil from the Caspian Sea and a dynamic demography.

In this context, the Azeri offensive of September 2022—which killed more than 300 people—shows that Azeri ambitions do not stop at Artsakh. As Tigrane Yegavian lucidly puts it, the aim of Azerbaijan and Turkey is now to nibble away at Armenian territory in order to reduce Armenia to a rump state before making it disappear. Such an offensive has a genocidal purpose, the aim being to eliminate all Armenian presence in the Caucasus.

The fate of the Armenian heritage in Nakhichevan is a good indicator of the threat. The 89 medieval churches have been demolished, 5,480 khachkars (rectangular steles with the Armenian cross which, in Armenian tradition, are used to guide the dead when they rise on Judgment Day) and 22,700 graves have been destroyed by Azerbaijan. Reports from Armenian Heritage in occupied Artsakh are equally disturbing. Finally, the abuses committed by Azeri soldiers on the Armenian civilian population and on prisoners of war clearly show an Azeri desire to exterminate this population. During the last offensive, Anush Apetyan, a 36-year-old Armenian soldier and mother of three children, captured by Azeri soldiers, was raped, dismembered and executed. Her executioners, sure of their impunity, broadcast their crime themselves, which is part of a policy of structural Armenophobia on the part of the regime in Baku.

Such a threat to Armenia is clearly encouraged by Erdogan’s Turkey, which supports Azerbaijan because of Pan-Turkism and an ethno-religious mixture of Turkish nationalism and Islamism. Turkey’s expansionist ambitions are supported by omnipresent propaganda in its films and historical series (despite a few courageous exceptions that go against the grain, such as the series The Club) and by a policy of influence over the Turkish diaspora in Europe. This policy is also approved by Erdogan’s Kemalist opponents (the only opposing party being the HDP, a predominantly Kurdish party that brings together the Turkish electorate that rejects the Turkish-Islamist synthesis and Kemalism).

To speak about what is happening in Armenia, and not to forget it, is more necessary than ever. And to dedicate ourselves so that our leaders become aware of the Turkish threat and act accordingly. So, we can only welcome the publication, under the direction of Éric Denécé and Tigrane Yégavian, of Haut-Karabakh: Le livre noir (The Black Book of Nagorno-Karabakh) and the beginning of mobilization in the French political class, hoping that it will not be just a flash in the pan.

Rainer Leonhardt

The Goal is to Strangle Armenia

Interview with Tigrane Yégavian who has just co-edited Haut-Karabakh: Le livre noir (The Black Book of Nagorno-Karabakh)

Rainer Leonhardt (RL): How should we interpret the new Azeri offensive of September 2022?

Tigrane Yegavian (TY): Since the ceasefire of November 2020, Azerbaijan has been pursuing the war by other means because it is motivated by the desire to consolidate its military advantage at the political level. With the balance of power tipped in its favor and Armenia weaker than ever, the Azeri-Turkish tandem is also taking advantage of Russian setbacks in Ukraine to force Armenia to give in on the following points:

  • renunciation of a status for Nagorno-Karabakh, which means accepting its annexation by Azerbaijan and the certainty of ethnic cleansing
  • and the establishment of an extraterritorial corridor outside Armenia’s sovereignty in the south of its territory. An ultra-strategic corridor that would link Azerbaijan to Turkey and cut Armenia off from Iran; a new route of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border that would allow the Azeris to nibble away more Armenian territory, relying on the strategy of the fait accompli, given that they have been occupying a hundred square kilometers of Armenian territory since their successive offensives of May 2021 and especially September 2022.

In short, to devitalize Armenia, to make it a non-viable country, and in the long run to strangle it completely.

Tigrane Yegavian (Credit:

RL: What are the perspectives of Armenia? And is there any reason to hope via, for example, a rapprochement with the other countries targeted by Turkish expansionism like Greece?

TY: As far as I know, Armenia has no allies. It is on the “wrong side” unlike Ukraine, while its CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) partners, all of them despotic regimes, are clearly on the side of Azerbaijan. Russia acts more like a suzerain, sometimes protector, sometimes pimp, as long as its interests are at stake. While Cyprus and Greece have never failed to show solidarity with Armenia, which is threatened by Pan-Turkism, these two states do not have sufficient leverage within the EU and NATO. Outside the Russian orbit, the only country that can provide both political and military support in the region is not Iran, but India, which shares a common geostrategic vision with Armenia in relation to Pakistan’s alignment with Pan-Turkism and sees Armenia as a route for its competing project with China’s New Silk Roads.

RL: How should the actions of Russia and the USA be interpreted in relation to the Azeri offensives?

TY: The United States is taking advantage of the Russians’ position of weakness to advance its interests in the Caucasus. For the time being, they are putting pressure on Azerbaijan not to invade Armenian territory, without offering military assistance to Yerevan. The Trump administration was not interested in any of this. Today the deal is not the same because we are witnessing the return of the geopolitics of empires: Russians and Turks share areas of influence in their competitive cooperation, Armenia is only a bargaining chip, a pawn on a chessboard that extends from Libya to Central Asia through Syria.

RL: Does the rapprochement between the EU and Azerbaijan over gas leave Aliyev’s hands free?

TY: After demonizing the master of the Kremlin, a de-Christianized Europe without a compass has chosen to sell its soul to a bloodthirsty dictator who has made Armenophobia his raison d’être. Aliyev understands well that he can play this card, and above all that his past, present and future crimes will remain unpunished. If France has tried to help the Armenians, it has been blocked by Germany within the EU, and by the United Kingdom within NATO, which maintains extremely close relations with the regime in Baku. We are living through yet another chapter of the great game, and the Armenians are struggling to negotiate their survival in an environment that is increasingly hostile to them, while the Europeans have no intention of curbing the appetites of the Aliyev-Erdogan tag-team.

Featured: “Battle of Vardanank,” by Grigor Khanjyan; painted 1995-1998. [This interview appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef].

The Fate of Christians in Turkey

There is a political will to eradicate the Christians of Turkey, who were present long before the Turks, this region being one of the cradles of Christianity. Even today, they suffer persecution and humiliation in this country to a general international indifference.

When one travels through Turkey with the New Testament in hand, one reality becomes clear—this immense territory, formerly called Asia Minor, gradually conquered by the Turkmen who came from Central Asia from the 11th century onwards, is one of the main cradles of Christianity. This is evidenced by the multitude of archaeological sites and religious buildings: Antioch on the Orontes, the first apostolic seat established by St. Peter; Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul; Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary stayed after Pentecost and where the third ecumenical council took place in 431, during which she was proclaimed Theotokos (“Mother of God” in Greek).

The present territory of Turkey hosted six councils in all, the first in the history of the Church: Nicaea (325 and 787), Constantinople (381 and 680) and Chalcedon (451). There the first dogmatic definitions were fixed, especially those concerning the Trinity and Christology.

From Asia Minor also came Fathers and Doctors of the Church (Saints Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and Irenaeus). St. Basil of Caesarea organized a flourishing monasticism there, especially in Cappadocia. Martyrs, such as St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, offered their lives there out of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Finally, the seven churches of the book of Revelation are located in Anatolia.

It is therefore undeniable that Asia Minor played a decisive role in the consolidation of Eastern Christianity and in its universal influence. But what remains today of this flourishing past? The figures speak for themselves. According to the researcher Joseph Yacoub, the presence of Christians in Turkey, estimated at around 20% at the beginning of the 20th century, is now less than 0.2%, or 100,000 out of 84 million inhabitants.

The status of the Christian communities is generally presented, as established by the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), an international act of recognition of post-Ottoman Turkey. This document contains provisions relating to the rights of “non-Muslim” minorities, described as “protected.” It guarantees them “equality before the law and the same treatment as that which applies to Muslim nationals in the matter of civil, political, cultural and religious rights.” It also recommends “protection for churches, synagogues, cemeteries and other religious establishments of non-Muslim minorities.” And it guarantees that “all facilities and authorizations shall be given to the pious foundations and to the religious and charitable establishments of the minorities” (art. 37 to 44).

Christians Discriminated Against

But since these minorities are not named in the text, the Turkish state has decided unilaterally to confer the benefit only on the Apostolic Armenians (non-Catholics) and the Greeks of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The former were under the authority of Patriarch Sahak II Machalian, the latter under that of Bartholomew I, both residing in Istanbul. In 1923, the Armenian and Greek populations, although decimated by the genocide and massacres committed by Kemalist troops during the war of independence, were still quite large—but today the Armenians number 60,000 faithful; as for the Greeks, only 2,000 remain.

With regard to them, the Turkish authorities have adopted a restrictive interpretation of the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne. Their institutions are subject to a 1935 law, which required the churches concerned to draw up an inventory of their property and to declare it, which they did. However, in the absence of implementing decrees, the state inflicted serious discrimination or spoliation on them, resorting to police orders.

For example, in 1970, the Armenian Holy Cross Seminary in Istanbul was arbitrarily closed. The following year, a similar measure was taken against the theological institute of the Orthodox Patriarchate on the island of Halki in the Sea of Marmara. Neither has been returned to its owners. These closures make it impossible to ensure the succession of local clergy and could eventually lead to the disappearance of both patriarchates. According to a rule set by the state, the incumbents must be Turkish and elected by metropolitans (bishops) of Turkish nationality.

Despite the primacy—of honor and/or jurisdiction—of the Orthodox patriarch over some 250 million faithful worldwide, Ankara does not recognize his ecumenical title. For Turkish authorities, he is only the manager of a local cult. In 1994, the establishment of an official representation of the Patriarchate at the European institutions in Brussels was protested by the Turkish government on the grounds that “the Patriarchate has no legal existence.” In fact, none of the Constitutions of the Turkish Republic (from 1928 to 2016) mentions the recognition of these churches.

Even their charitable work is hindered, since they are subject to corporate tax. In 1974, a decision of the Court of Cassation prohibited the sale of real estate to Christian minorities on the grounds that it would harm the national interest. It also required the seizure of some of their orphanages, hospitals and schools on the grounds that they had become owners after 1936. Small consolation—on December 16, 2019, President Erdogan signed a decree allowing the Armenian patriarch to wear his religious habit outside his places of worship. In the name of secularism, Atatürk had indeed abolished religious dress for all rites.

Among the other Christian denominations present on Turkish territory, two groups must be distinguished. First, there are the Churches of Syriac culture, which are divided between Catholics (Chaldean, Syriac and Maronite) and non-Catholics (Assyrian)—about 15,000 faithful in all. The Turkish state has always refused to apply to these “Orientals” the clauses of the Treaty of Lausanne relating to minorities, even though they meet the criteria, since they have ecclesiastical structures in the country, notably dioceses and parishes. But only individuals are taken into account, and as such they are granted a certain tolerance for the practice of worship. Their churches have no legal status and can therefore neither own nor manage their own educational and social institutions or seminaries, nor build churches. This prohibition also applies to the transmission of their language and culture. The Greek Catholic Church, of the Byzantine rite, is subject to the same treatment.

As for the “Westerners” (Latins and Protestants, 25,000 in all), they only justify the legitimacy of their presence in the country on the basis of the letters that the Turkish government addressed to the French, Italian and British authorities as an adjunct to the Treaty of Lausanne, guaranteeing the maintenance in the country of their educational and hospitable works founded several centuries earlier by European missionaries. However, deprived of any legal personality, they are only managers and cannot acquire real estate, by purchase or inheritance, nor employ personnel, go to court, etc. For such transactions, they had to resort to a lawyer. For such undertakings, they have to rely on individual lay faithful who then act in their personal capacity.

In 1906, during the reign of Sultan-Caliph Abdülhamid II, the last church was built in Istanbul. There is no church in Ankara, the capital of the country. Some sanctuaries (St. Paul in Tarsus, the House of Mary in Ephesus) were transformed into paying museums under Atatürk.

The celebration of masses is subject to authorization from the administration In 2011 and 2013, two former Greek Orthodox churches dedicated to Saint Sophia, one in Trebizond, the other in Nicaea, which had been converted into mosques under the Ottomans and then into museums under Atatürk, were reopened to Muslim worship.

“We exist and at the same time we do not exist,” said Bishop Luigi Padovese, Vicar Apostolic of Alexandria, in 2010 shortly before his assassination. None of the steps taken by the popes since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Turkey (1960) have made it possible to repair these injustices.

In a context where Islamism is combined with exacerbated nationalism, how can we be surprised by the development of an anti-Christian climate that has been expressed in a series of humiliations, lootings, aggressions and assassinations, including against priests and pastors, during the first decade of the twenty-first century?

Annie Laurent is specialist in the Middle East, Eastern Christians and Islam. She is the founder of the association Clarifier and is the author of L’Islam, pour tous ceux qui veulent en parler (mais ne le connaissent pas encore), L’islam peut-il rendre l’homme heureux, and Les chrétiens d’Orient vont-ils disparaître? This article appears through the kind courtesy of La Nef.

Featured: Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, Istanbul, 11th-14th centuries.

Apologia pro Erdoğan

Turkey’s President Erdoğan is often badly misunderstood, maligned, and castigated by the Western press and its leaders. With the Finno-Swedish accession talks underway, it is worth stepping back from the current downward spiral and reinvesting in a long-term, rock-solid, good relationship before it’s too late to restore good relations between the U.S. and Turkey. This isn’t rocket science, just good policy and plain common sense. It is something sorely needed today in preserving good relations between all the allies.

That’s the way it was for decades, and it’s the way it should be for decades to come. The consequences of deterioration in the relationship are just too great for each side.

More than a generation ago, the acclaimed motivational speaker Dale Carnegie penned a best seller titled, How to Win Friends and Influence People. You have ever heard of it? Read it?

It was chock-full of good advice that any leader could readily utilize. Do not be overly critical. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Get the other person’s point of view. Show genuine interest. Smile. Be a good listener. And make the other party feel wanted and important.

It is worth stepping back from the current downward spiral and reinvesting in a long-term, rock-solid, good relationship before it’s too late to restore good relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

The U.S. appears to be doing precisely the opposite of what Carnegie suggested and is literally losing Turkey as a good friend and ally. Together both countries should work to turn that around and make sure it does not happen.

Perhaps the greatest exponent of Blobby opposition to Ankara’s designs is neo-con pundit Michael Rubin: Erdoğan turned away from the West, he says. With some chutzpah—for an AEI egghead, certainly—he accuses defenders of the President of a NATO ally of being on his payroll. There are some matters of substance behind the mutually felt frosty caution from Ankara towards official Washington. Let’s unravel the truth.

Turkey’s modern association with the United States began already in 1947 when the United States Congress designated Turkey, under the provisions of the Truman Doctrine, as the recipient of special economic and military assistance intended to help it resist threats from the Soviet Union.

A mutual interest in containing Soviet expansion provided the foundation of U.S.–Turkish relations for the next four decades. As a result of Soviet threats and U.S. assistance against them, Turkey moved away from a single-party government towards democracy; in fact, holding the first democratic elections in 1950.

Turkey contributed personnel to the United Nations forces in the Korean War from1950–53, joined NATO in 1952, became a founding member of the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) collective defence pact established in 1955 and dissolved after the Iranian Revolution, Turkey was a keystone state for the 1957 Eisenhower doctrine, stitching together the collective security aims of the Free World from the Mediterranean through the Hindu Kush.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Turkey generally co-operated with other United States allies in the Middle East to contain the influence of those countries regarded as Soviet clients. Throughout the Cold War, Turkey was the bulwark of NATO’s south eastern flank, directly bordering Warsaw Pact countries and risking nuclear war on its soil during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Turkey is a large, modern secular-Muslim country of over 80 million people, with a sizeable economy ($2.7 trillion GDP), very significant military force (Second only to the US within NATO) that straddles Europe and Asia. It occupies a strategic space and has been a stalwart ally to the United States from late in the Second World War through the Cold War up until recently. What has shifted?

The Turks played a starring role in Post-9/11 American foreign policy and can claim accolades like being on the founding list of five countries that were already spending 2% of GDP on defense when the Obama administration codified that norm into NATO at Wales. Compare their treatment in cognoscenti rags to Germany’s, for example, and recall that while Turkey is now assuming the security obligations of allied priorities (Kabul Airport, to name but one) Merkel and her “Defense” minister (who failed upwards as the Head of Government of the EU) packed up their military presence and turned their participation into a big development aid project long ago.

The exceptionally harsh treatment of Erdoğan’s allyship to Washington doesn’t stop above board. The fate of 4-Star DIA General Michael Flynn, for example – defenestrated among other reasons for a lack of sympathy toward the putschist Turkish cleric who resides in Pennsylvania – was a very clear signal from the Beltway that they wished Erdoğan had been felled in the coup d’état attempt against his government. To put it bluntly, old Recep has every right to take personally an attempt on his life. In fact, that January revolt against Turkey’s President, which killed hundreds, was organized and executed by the CIA and its proxies on the ground. Their man, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, was escorted in 1999 on a private plane to a safe retreat in the Pocono Mountains by the Clintons—after he donated some $14 million to the Clinton Foundation. It is nice to have, as they say, “friends in high places.”

Is it the policy of the deep state and its agents who work to thwart everything Trump attempted in foreign policy? The dirty money Gülen and his FETÖ network has paid for years in exchange for support and cover in the U.S. might provide a clue. Seen through the lens of Ankara’s objection towards Stockholm’s receipt of leftist Kurdish radicals, a picture comes into focus.

That so-called “spiritual network,” which is a known terrorist Islamic threat, has funded congressional campaigns and made sizable donations in the millions USD to the Clinton Foundation. Such political favors have bought influence and safety in Pennsylvania—where Gülen maintains his nerve center, undisturbed. Exposing the history of such doings and payments would further question the deep state.

The State Department certainly has no interest in fixing relations and is decidedly anti-Erdoğan. They have gone out of their way to humiliate and demean his regime—at considerable cost to the nation.

But it’s not us it’s him, insists Rubin. S-400 Surface to Air missiles can’t go to a NATO country without implied treason. The US could have given more assurances along with the keys to their defense options. Of course, if Erdoğan didn’t have to worry about the loyalty of his own Air Force, he might not think he needed the only gear that runs any risk of shooting down his own aircraft. We should have every faith that the extensive purge of that and all other branches was thorough enough, but the fact remains. Fussy old business, that, and a direct consequence of the Clinton/Kerry/Biden State Department, without even touching the rest of the “Arab Spring” (Green Revolution, anyone? How are those gas prices doing, Libya?)

Turkey is a friend, a trading partner and a close military and intelligence partner. This in spite of the fact that the U.S. has failed to meet a reasonable demand of Turkey, its dear friend and ally.

What demand is that? Namely, the return and extradition of Fethullah Gülen, known terrorist operator who it is established played a lead role in the attempted coup of President Erdoğan’s government.

Even when presented with reams of information and dossiers of evidence the U.S. State Department and the Justice Department were slow or remiss to act.

If the shoe were on the other foot, would it be so? Of course not.

Turkey has a treaty with the U.S. and has itself extradited numerous assailants to the U.S. over the years. If Turkey harbored an insurrectionist who tried to overthrow the legitimately elected government of the United States, would we demand his head? We’d get it, too.

Under normal circumstances, Joe Biden should call President Erdoğan urgently and revert to the late Dale Carnegie’s well-advised policy. But he won’t as his leftist foreign policy advisors won’t let him.

As the Council on Foreign Relations stated, among the most important developments in international affairs of the past decades is the emergence of Turkey as a rising regional and global power.

Insofar as Rubin is tempted to call Erdoğan, a “Colonizer” and “Imperialist,” it is important to remember that the AKP’s long tenure in Ankara will someday give way—democratically—to another party’s political facts on the ground. In the meantime, Ankara’s priorities are being skillfully pushed by a foreign office dusting off Ottoman protocols which objectively promote the strategic interests of a midsize Mediterranean power with significant land presence in the middle east.

It is a hard neighborhood—bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria, to name just a few. Insofar as Turkey’s own value as an ally, geographic: location location location is the order of the day. Again, contrast this reality with other NATO members of less distinguished plumage and Turkey will objectively come out favorably positioned by the comparison to any other possible pair. Do Turkey the disservice of comparing it to a non-NATO ally like Saudi Arabia, and much of the kvetching over human rights melts away: Ankara provided the international community with the intelligence to pin the Khashoggi murder on Riyadh, a net contribution to the enforcement of international norms like not murdering dissident journalists on diplomatic soil.

This is admittedly not without drawbacks on purely allied concerns: Treasury has already sanctioned Turkish-flagged actors over proxy forces in Syria, a force of professional fighters which seems to have other wars ahead of them as Turkish mercenaries á la Wagner group or Akademi. Libya is the most vivid example of this, though one wonders which theater they’ll be left high and dry in, or if their destiny is to export the revolution like the Stalinist cadres who lost the Spanish civil war.

Developing the capability to play at this cagey business is positive news for the alliance’s toolkit, and one which is already paying dividends in theatres important to the alliance. Turkey is, has been, and should remain, a bulwark of security and a core, critical ally to the United States in the coming years. Turkey is both a significant regional power and among the best partners we have.

And lastly, rebrand Turkey, not only as a new and modern, fascinating Ottoman polity, a strategic force for good and moderate Islam but as a country where everyone is welcome to visit, invest, and do business. It is this economic realm that needs broadcast because Turkey is a vibrant growing, large and increasingly prosperous middle-income country.

All this to say, to the hawkish neoliberals of the Biden White House and the Bush-Cheney warmonger neocon gadflies, like Rubin—Erdoğan is playing his own game. Don’t expect him to be a chess piece for you to move as you please.

Theodore Roosevelt Malloch, scholar-diplomat-strategist, is CEO of the thought leadership firm The Roosevelt Group.

Felipe Cuello is Professor of Public Policy at the Pontifical university in Santo Domingo.