Cross-Purposes for Jihad

Recent incidents in the midwestern part of the U.S. have prompted discussions about a home owner’s right to self-defence. If two teenagers break into an elderly man’s home with the intention of stealing, does the home owner have the right to shoot and kill the would-be robbers? What does the law say? Under what circumstances should a self-defence law be applied?

Then, there are many North Americans who view war as a necessary activity against aggression. The main idea behind participation in a fight is self-defence or in the defence of allies. The Western nations who joined the fight during Word War II provide a case in point. Young men in the U.S. willingly answered the governmental call to join the military in order to defend U.S. territory that had been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Canadians had signed up even earlier to defend their ally England because its cities were being bombed by German planes.

In North American eyes, war is about the defence of one’s home or one’s friends. To most North Americans, jihad makes no sense. It isn’t war for the purposes of self-defence nor is it war for the purpose of defending a friend. It is blatant aggression against fellow citizens because that group of people has chosen a different religious belief and doesn’t wish to change. Yet Muslims call jihad a holy war. Most North Americans think of war as anything but holy. It appears to be more like hell. What makes jihad holy? Jihad is dubbed a war against infidels. Who is an infidel? According one of the definitions in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, an infidel is “one who acknowledges no religious belief.” Jews and Christians do not match that description. Yet most Muslims view anyone who is NOT a Muslim as an infidel.

That was certainly the definition that the government maintained in Ottoman Turkey.

On 4th January 1914, when the Young Turks took over the Ottoman government, Enver Pasha set himself up as Minister of War and Mehmet Talaat as Minister of the Interior (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). As the Young Turks rose to power, they promised equal rights for all. In reality, this group held a super nationalistic view–Turkey would only be for Turks, no one else.

  That was a non-reality in 1914. The Ottoman Empire at the time had a population from a variety of ethnicities, languages, and religions–Rumelians who had been expelled from Thrace and resettled in Anatolia; Greeks who had lived within the borders of the Empire for centuries; Armenians whose land the Turks had invaded and now administered; and Kurds who inhabited portions of the eastern provinces of Ottoman Turkey, just to name a few.

To accomplish their super nationalistic ends, the Minister of War Enver and the Minister of the Interior Talaat had several threads of recent history they could pull. Mob violence against the largest non-Turkish population, the Armenians, had already occurred in 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1909 (A Peace to End All Peace). Enver and Talaat were well-aware of the disdain with which most Turks regarded their Armenian neighbors.

Plus Enver and Talaat could easily beat the religious drum of jihad to rouse the Turkish population into cooperating with Talaat’s telegraphed orders to the provincial governors.

But Enver and Talaat didn’t just rely on the undercurrent of Turkish attitudes or use the Koranic encouragement toward jihad to foment hatred and justify mass murder.To accomplish “Turkey is only for Turks,” the two men spent an entire year drawing a variety of Muslim populations in Ottoman Turkey into well-armed and trained militias to wage the 1915 jihad against a group of Ottoman Empire citizens, the Armenians (A Peace to End All Peace; 1998, Lords of the Horizons; 2006, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility).


Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #7)

When thirteen-year-old Annie accepts Petros’ proposal of marriage, his family requests a picture of his betrothed. Annie’s Uncle Dikran insists on a professional photo. To obtain such, both her uncle’s family and hers must travel to a town that has an Armenian photography shop. The closest town that has one is Chemeshgadzk, five miles away. Since this is Annie’s first experience away from her home area, several incidents in that town alarm her. 

“Our selected day of travel in late June proved to be dusty, hot, and uncomfortable. Even the picnic in the shade of a poplar grove along a stream didn’t help much. I entered the strange town with a sense of foreboding.

It had been market day. Since we arrived after the midafternoon ezan, vendors of the bazaar were taking down their displays and folding up their awnings. Most of the shops facing the town’s Centrum had already closed their doors. A group of Turkish boys hung around the fountain. As we passed, I heard hissing. When I turned to look, one boy threw a cucumber and another an egg. They shouted at us. “Gavurs, dirty gavurs!”

I looked at Uncle Dikran and Hyrig. Both men drove our carts on, completely ignoring the boys. I turned my head away, shame rushing up my neck and over my face. My brothers frowned, but walked on, not reacting at all, either. How could those hooligans treat us that way? I thought. What have we ever done to any of them?

After Uncle Dikran locates the photography shop, Vartan, the shopkeeper, gives Annie time and a private place to change her clothes and fix her hair. With his camera on a tripod and flash powder on his pan, he takes many photos of Annie as she stands in front of a painted scene.

“When Vartan had finished, he said, “I can have both the negatives and the photos ready for you by noon tomorrow. Where had you planned to spend the night?”

“At the inn,” my uncle said.

Vartan stroked his beard. “Better not take your donkeys and carts to the inn’s stable. Put your animals with mine. I’ll feed them and put the cost of their fodder on your bill.”

“Fair enough. Thank you for your kindness. See you tomorrow.”

Later that evening, there was knock on the door of our room in the inn. When Hyrig opened it, Uncle Dikran and his whole family came in. “It’s stifling in these rooms. Let’s sleep on your roof,” he suggested.

When Hyrig worried out loud about Mayrig being too pregnant to climb ladders, she reassured him. “I’ll be careful. You come up behind me. I should be all right.”

After we had all spread out our sleeping mats on the flat roof above our room, Uncle Dikran locked our bedroom door and put out the lamp. He climbed up the ladder, pulled it quietly up after him, and replaced the roof hatch.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to voices speaking Turkish. Peering over the short wall around the roof, I saw a light flickering through the windows below us.

“They’ve all gone,” one voice said. “How did they sneak out?”

“Missed our chance to rob them!” another said.

Clapping my hand over my mouth, I stopped my scream. I lay shaking, wondering if any of the rest of my family had heard. But all slept on. Had Uncle sensed a threat and taken steps to protect us without us even being aware of what he was doing?”

On the heels of this scare, Annie has a dream that warns of things to come–that are much, much worse. Although she doesn’t understand what it means, she shares the vision with her family and her best friend Nazli.

In her diary, Nazli describes her shock at seeing the fulfillment of Annie’s dream during the summer of 1915.