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What's Wrong with Turkey? By: Gamaliel Isaac
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 12, 2005

In my previous article, Turkey's Dark Past I exposed the falseness of the claims of Mustafa Akyol that “Turkey has had an Islamic heritage free of anti-Westernism and anti-Semitism  Mr. Akyol wrote a rebuttal, What’s Right With Turkey,  in which he argued that the Turks have a great record when it comes to the Jews and that when the Jews were expelled from Spain, they were welcomed by the Sultan.  In addition he writes that Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France by Charles VI in September 1394, and from Sicily early in the 15th century found refuge in the Ottoman Empire.  Mustapha Akyol points out that the blood libel and other such standard anti-Semitic nonsense was unknown in Muslim lands until the 19th century and that these were introduced to the Middle East by the "westernized" elite, who had been infected by the anti-Semitic plague from its ultimate source: Europe.  He points out that Mr. Salahattin Ulkumen, Consul General at Rhodes in 1943-1944, was recognized by the Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile "Hassid Umot ha'Olam" in June 1990 for his efforts to save Jews and how Marseilles vice-consul Necdet Kent, boarded a railway car full of Jews bound for Auschwitz, risking his own life in an attempt to persuade the Germans to send them back to France. 


How can we reconcile the refuge provided by Turkey for the Jews of Europe and the heroic efforts made by Turkish politicians such as Mr. Ulkumen and Mr. Kent with the atrocities committed by the Turks against the Armenians and against the Jews of Palestine which I described in my article, "Turkey's Dark Past?" 


Akyol’s explanation is that what the West sees as an unjust massacre of the Armenians was simply fighting between Turks and Armenians.  In his article "What’s Right With Turkey" he wrote:  “What happened in 1915, and beforehand, was mutual killing in which the Armenian loss was greater than that of the Muslims (Turks and Kurds), but in which the brutality was pretty similar on both sides.”  Another rationale for the Turkish “fighting” provided by Mr. Akyol was that of Armenian revolutionary agitation and aid given the invading Russians by Anatolian Armenians. 


In my article "Turkey's Dark Past" I quote passages from Serge Trifkovic’s book, The Sword of the Prophet, which convincingly demonstrate that what happened at Smyrna was a massacre. Akyol argues that Dr. Trifkovic is an unreliable source and that what happened at Smyrna was simply fighting between the two sides.  Mr. Akyol also writes that Smyrna was an Ottoman city that was liberated by the Turks from the occupying Greek army.


Akyol addressed my arguments about the role of Islam in the massacre of the Armenians by referring the reader to two articles he has written, two articles which do shed light on the massacres of the Armenians but not in the way he intended.


In this article I will point out the errors in Akyol’s arguments and provide an alternative explanation for the paradox of Turkish tolerance to the Jews of Europe and cruelty to the Armenian Christians.  In addition I will discuss the paradox of the refuge given the European Jews by the Turks in Anatolia in the context of the intolerance of the Turks towards the Jews of Palestine.  Finally I will discuss the relevance of Turkish history to the question of whether or not Turkey should be accepted into the European Union.


Smyrna, A Greek or an Ottoman City?


Akyol wrote that “The truth is that Smyrna (known as Izmir in Turkish) was an Ottoman city that included a Greek quarter, and the Turks were not invading Smyrna, they were liberating the city from the occupying Greek army.”


Akyol’s argument that Smyrna was an Ottoman and not a Greek city ignores over a thousand years of history.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online:


“Greek settlement is first clearly attested by the presence of pottery dating from about 1000 BC. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greek city was founded by Aeolians but soon was seized by Ionians. From modest beginnings, it grew into a stately city in the 7th Century, with massive fortifications and blocks of two-storied houses. Captured by Alyattes of Lydia about 600 BC, it ceased to exist as a city for about 300 years until it was refounded by either Alexander the Great or his lieutenants in the 4th century BC at a new site on and around Mount Pagus. It soon emerged as one of the principal cities of Asia Minor and was later the centre of a civil diocese in the Roman province of Asia, vying with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “first city of Asia.” Roman emperors visited there, and it was celebrated for its wealth, beauty, library, school of medicine, and rhetorical tradition. The stream of Meles is associated in local tradition with Homer, who is reputed to have been born by its banks. Smyrna was one of the early seats of Christianity.


Capital of the naval theme (province) of Samos under the Byzantine emperors, Smyrna was taken by the Turkmen Aydin principality in the early 14th Century AD. After being conquered in turn by the crusaders sponsored by Pope Clement VI and the Central Asian conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), it was annexed to the Ottoman Empire about 1425. Although severely damaged by earthquakes in 1688 and 1778, it remained a prosperous Ottoman port with a large European population.


Izmir [Smyrna] was occupied by Greek forces in May 1919 and recaptured by Turkish forces under Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk) on September 9, 1922. “


One problem with the encyclopedic summary above is that as a necessary consequence of its brevity we do not realize what the events described really entail.  Here is what Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, wrote about the first conquest of Smyrna in 1402 by Tamerlane and his Muslim army in her book The Smyrna Affair.

“In 1402 Tamerlaine butchered the inhabitants and razed the buildings in an orgy of cruelty that would become legendary.  While the inhabitants slept, his men stealthily undermined the city's wall and propped them up with timber smeared with pitch.  Then he applied the torch, the walls sank into ditches prepared to receive them, and the city lay open to the invader.  Smyrna's would be defenders, the Knights of Saint John, escaped to their ships by fighting their way through a mob of panic-stricken inhabitants.  They escaped just in time, for Tamerlaine ordered a thousand prisoners beheaded and used their skulls to raise a monument in his honor.  He did not linger over his victory - it was his custom to ravage and ride on.   He rode on to Ephesus, where the city's children were sent out to greet and appease him with song.  'What is this noise?' he roared, and ordered his horsemen to trample the children to death." 

Corroboration of Mr. Trifkovic


Akyol argues that Mr. Trifkovic is not a reliable source yet there are many independent sources that corroborate the excerpts of Mr. Trifkovic’s book that I included in my previous article.  I include a corroboration of his account about the attack on Archbishop Chrystostom in an appendix to this article.


Here are a few accounts not included by Mr. Trifkovic that corroborate his argument that what happened at Smyrna was not just fighting but rather a massacre of the infidel inhabitants of Smyrna and the burning of the city by the Turks. 

“Anita Chakerian, a young teacher at the [American Collegiate] Institute, saw the Turkish guards dragging into the building large sacks, which they deposited in various corners.  They were bringing rice and potatoes the men said, because they knew the people were hungry and would soon have nothing left to eat.  The sacks were not to be opened until the bread was exhausted.  Such unexpected generosity led one of the sailors to investigate; the bags held gunpowder and dynamite.  On Tuesday night, wagons bearing gasoline drums again moved through the deserted streets around the College…


"At 1:00 A.M. on Wednesday, Mabel Kalfa, a Greek nurse at the Collegiate Institute, saw three fires in the neighborhood.  At 4:00 A.M. fires in a small wooden hut adjoining the College wall and on a veranda near the school were put out by firemen.  At noon on Wednesday a sailor beckoned Mabel Kalfa and Miss Mills to the window in the dining room.  'Look there,' he said.  'The Turks are setting the fires!'  The women could see three Turkish officers silhouetted in the window of a photographer’s shop opposite the school.  Moments after the men emerged, flames poured from the roof and the windows…  Said Miss Mills: 'I could plainly see the Turks carrying tins of petroleum into the houses, from which, in each instance, fire burst forth immediately afterward.'

It was not long before all of Smyrna was on fire.  Ms. Housepian writes:

“The spectacle along the waterfront haunted Melvin Johnson for the rest of his life.  'When we left it was just getting dusk,' he remembers.  'As we were pulling out I’ll never forget the screams.  As far as we could go you could hear ‘em screaming and hollering, and the fire was going on… most pitiful thing you ever saw in your life.  In your life.  Could never hear nothing like it any other place in the world, I don’t think.  And the city was set in a – a kind of a hill, and the fire was on back coming this way toward the ship.  That was the only way the people could go, toward the waterfront.  A lot of ‘em were jumping in, committing suicide,  It was a sight all right.'"

Ms. Housepian wrote how:

 “On the Iron Duke, Major Arthur Maxwell of His Majesty’s Royal Marines, watching through binoculars, distinguished figures pouring out buckets of liquid among the refugees.  At first he took them to be firemen attempting to extinguish the flames, then he realized, to his horror, that every time they appeared there was a sudden burst of flames.  'My God! They’re trying to burn the refugees!' he exclaimed." 

Ms. Housepian included the account of reporter John Clayton who wrote:

“Except for the squalid Turkish quarter, Smyrna has ceased to exist.  The problem for the minorities is here solved for all time.  No doubt remains as to the origin of the fire…The torch was applied by Turkish regular soldiers.”

The Rebellion Excuse:


Akyol started his article by excusing the Armenian Genocide with the excuse that the Armenians rebelled against the Turks and helped the Russians. 


One reason that this is a poor excuse is that the Armenians had every reason to rebel against the Turks.  Marjorie Housepian, describes what Dhimmi life was like under the Turks.

"Beginning in the fifteenth century, Ottoman policy drove the  most unmanageable elements, such as the Kurds, into the six Armenian provinces in the isolated northeast.  Thereafter, the Armenians were not only subjected to the iniquitous tax-farming system (applicable to the Moslem peasants as well), the head tax, and the dubious privilege of the military exemption tax, but also to impositions that gave the semi barbarous tribes license to abuse them.   The hospitality tax, which entitled government officials 'and all who passed as such' to free lodging and food for three days a year in an Armenian home, was benign compared to the dreaded kishlak, or winter-quartering tax, whereby - in return for a fee pocketed by the vali - a Kurd was given the right to quarter himself and his cattle in Armenian homes during the long winter months, which often extended to half the year.   The fact that Armenian dwellings were none too spacious and the Kurdish way of life exceptionally crude proved the least of the burden.  Knowing that the unarmed Armenians had neither physical nor legal redress, a Kurd, armed to the teeth, could not only make free with his host's possessions but if the fancy struck him could rape and kidnap his women and girls as well."

In addition the Turks would abduct Christian boys at an early age, sequester them for military training and use them to quell unrest and to fight their battles for them.


Marjorie Housepian wrote about the Armenian “rebellions” as follows:

“After the Treaty of Berlin, Hamid defiantly gerrymandered the boundaries in the northern provinces, usurped  Armenian lands, moved in more Kurds, and increased the proportion of Moslems.  When the Armenians were driven to protest to Britain that the Porte [Turkish Government] was breaking the terms of the treaty, Hamid denounced them as traitors conspiring with foreigners to destroy the empire.  Yet it was not until 1887 that a number of Armenian leaders, despairing of every other means, organized the first of two Armenian revolutionary parties – the second was organized in 1890.  The Church discouraged revolutionary activity, fearing that it would lead to nothing more than intensified bloodshed, and the people were on the whole inclined to agree with their religious leaders.  Small bands of Armenian revolutionaries nonetheless staged a number of demonstrations during the 1890’s and gave Hamid exactly the pretext he sought.  Declaring that the only way to get rid of the Armenian question is to get rid of the Armenians, he proceeded to the task with every means at hand.  He sent masses of unhappy Circassians, who had themselves lately been driven from Europe, into Eastern Anatolia – where the Armenian population had already been reduced by massacre and migration – and encouraged them, along with the Kurds, to attack village after village.  He roused the tribesmen to the kill by having his agents spread rumors that the Armenians were about to attack them, then cited every instance of self-defense as proof of rebellion and as an excuse for further massacre.  He sent his special Hamidieh regiments to put down 'revolts' in such districts as Sassoun, where the Armenians were protesting that they were unable to pay their taxes to the government because the Kurds had left them nothing with which to pay…”

Marjorie Housepian explained that the Armenians went great efforts not to rebel.  She wrote:

“In order to prove the rebelliousness of the victims it was necessary first to provoke them into acts of self-defense, which could then be labeled 'Insurrectionary.'  A campaign of terror such as had been practiced earlier in the Balkans was already under way in Armenian towns and villages near the Russian border, and had been ever since Enver’s impetuous winter offensive against the Russians had turned into a disaster;  Turkish leaders had publicly ascribed the defeat to the perfidy of the Armenians on both sides of the Russo-Turkish frontier.  The Turkish Armenians, however, proved themselves incredibly forbearing in the face of provocation.  'The Armenian clergy and political leaders saw many evidences that the Turks … were [provoking rebellion] and they went among the people cautioning them to be quiet and bear all insults and even outrages patiently, so as not to give provocation,' wrote Henry Morgenthau, American Ambassador to Turkey.  ’Even though they burn a few of our villages,’ these leaders would say, ‘do not retaliate for it is better than a few be destroyed than that a whole nation be massacred.’”

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