Chaotic Consequences: Now & Then

Islamic State militias rampage through parts of Syria and Iraq in recent months, staking claims to this section of land or that town. The militias say they act in God’s name.

Chaos ensues. The refugees run or paddle to places where families can live without the constant threat of rape, starvation, or death. Hordes of Syrians and others caught in the conflict have attempted to flee through Turkey or across the Mediterranean Sea. Many have drowned in their attempt to escape. Meanwhile, smugglers squeeze profit off the desperate and destitute.

But remember all this suffering was caused in God’s name. Really? Does God have anything to do with the actions of the Islamic State? Maybe the chaos is the consequence of efforts to line the pockets of the proponents of a particular segment of the followers of Islam.

We, in North America, recognize this motivation. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with mankind’s prominent sin, greed.

Chaos as a consequence of misaligned motivations is nothing new. In the late fall of 1914, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire, chose to pick a fight with Russia in the Caucasus Mountains. Since the proposed line of battle was hundreds of miles from a rail line, adequate roads, or completed bridges, Enver conscripted thousands of Armenians from all over the Empire to function as porters, transporting supplies for his army (See my February 22, 2013 posting, Dreams of an Empire Lost in Snow: Armenians the Scape Goats.). Enver re-conscripted Armenian men who had previously served in the army. Enver stripped Armenian colleges and universities of their young men, effectively closing them.

Lugging huge loads, the Armenian ‘donkeys’ were treated worse than the Turkish officers’ mounts. Some never reached the ultimate destination, dying en route. Bivouacked in the open, without winter clothing or adequate food supplies, many of the Armenian porters froze, starved, or died from typhus.

In early December of 1914, snow buried the Caucasus Mountains. Yet Enver chose to engage the Russian army. He claimed that a victory would return the Ottoman Empire to its former glory. Hmm. Greed again? Misaligned nationalism? In any case the result was that Enver lost the battle and 85% of his army. Consequence? Chaos. It was every man, soldier, or porter, for himself. No organized retreat. One by one those who survived trickled home. For some, it took a month to get there.

Yet Enver survived–and who did he blame for the lost battle and ensuing chaos? Himself? Oh, no. His Armenian porters, insisting he and Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, had adequate excuse for the 1915 genocide of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire that he and Talaat had been planning for over a year.

 

Fatal Rationale

Masses of people are fleeing the onslaught of the Islamic State. The news in Europe and North America reverberate with the plight of these hordes. People (who believe they are better Muslims than any other group) harass, attack, and murder (often in grizzly ways) people the Islamic State leaders view as unworthy.

In essence, the Islamic State is simply repeating the actions of the Ottoman Empire of a century ago.

As I continue to turn over numerous pebbles on the beach of history, I run across historical records that astound me with their similarity with current events. Mankind seems to learn little as the decades and centuries pass.

In a book I discovered last summer, I ran across the English translation of the “1915 Ottoman Fatwa” or Muslim cleric’s edict issued in early 1915. This Fatwa used the word “war” thirty-five times and  some version of “massacre/kill/slay/exterminate” twelve times. Followers of Islam were told to kill ‘unbelievers’ (anyone not Muslim).

What interested me most was the reason for doing so. “The slaying of one unbeliever [non-Muslim]…in public or private shall be called an additional life for Islamism, and will be well recompensed by God. Let every Mussulman know that his reward for so doing shall be doubled by our God who created heaven and earth. It will be accounted him as a great precept, and his recompense will be greater than fasting on ‘Ramadan’.” (p. 221, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic holy war and the fate of non-Muslims.)

Hmm. The cleric appears to be promising one sinner (a Muslim), God’s forgiveness for sin if that sinner kills another sinner (a non-Muslim). How is that even logical? God is righteous and His heaven has no room for sin. This cleric’s promise sounds more like a rationale for war and plunder.

More to the point, the 1915 Ottoman Fatwa urged the Turks to conduct an all-out war against their Christian population, the Armenians. Armed Turks and Kurds descended on their unarmed neighbors the spring and summer of 1915, killing 1.5 million of them.

Since Muslim clerics have and still do demand the extermination of non-Muslims, how in the world can Muslims call their religion peaceful?

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #13)

The tenor of life in the towns and villages across the Anatolian Plains of Ottoman Turkey took a sharp turn for the worse in the early months of 1915. Turkish and Kurdish harassment against their Armenian neighbors became serious and intense. Orders from Constantinople included stripping Armenian gendarmes of their guns and the re-conscription of Armenian men into labor battalions, supposedly to do road construction.

In my book Lavash, Uncle Dikran shows up at Annie’s house to complain about being fired from his town post as a gendarme. After spouting off, he suddenly remembers a message he is supposed to pass on to his brother, Annie’s hyrig.

“Oh, I almost forgot. The town crier passed our house early this morning.” Looking at Hyrig, Uncle said, “Minister of War, Enver, has called up all former conscripts of Armenian army units to serve on labor battalions this spring. That includes you, I believe.”

“It does. Labor battalions?” Hyrig asked. “What kind of labor? It doesn’t mean serving as porters for the army again, does it?”

“No. This time it’s for road construction. Next Friday morning, you are to report to the Centrum in Kemahcelli. Bring food for a week, several lengths of rope, and a shovel.”

That Friday, as Annie says goodbye to her father, she tells him she has a bad feeling about this departure. Her premonition is that the goodbye isn’t temporary. It is really forever.

Two days later, Annie, her mother, and siblings attend church for Easter Sunday services.

She relates, “Only when we were leaving the building did the absence of our men strike me. The church was full of women and children. I could count on one hand the number of men with their families.”

Annie never sees her beloved hyrig again.

What Annie doesn’t know is that armed Turks escort the re-conscripted, unarmed Armenian labor battalions some distance from their towns of origin and summarily ‘deport’ their laborers permanently that spring of 1915, leaving the remaining Armenian population of women, children, and elderly defenseless.


Choices

North American teens often have more choices in life than they can reasonably handle–given their rather short exposure to being on the face of the earth. Most of the time, they can freely choose hair styles and color. Imagine my shock the day I discovered one blond niece with pink-tipped hair or the afternoon I realized the black hair of a  normally blond nephew was courtesy of the efforts of his younger brother. Then freedom of choice in body-jewelry and baggy or holey jeans must be tolerated or approved somehow. Choices in friends and daily habits come next. North American teens’ choices seem to be endless.

I often wonder what a North American teenager would do if he or she were transported by a time machine back to the days of the Ottoman Turks. Girls in particular would be scandalized by what they would experience.

From childhood, a Turkish girl would be kept at home. She would likely be denied an education. The women in the household would train the girl in the keeping of the home, in cooking to please her father and brothers, and in the performing the daily washing and prayer rituals expected of the followers of Islam. A Turkish girl would be allowed to go to two places–the hammam or the local bathhouse at specified times, and the mesjid or local mosque on some Fridays. Whenever she left her home or whenever any men or boys came into her home, she had to cover herself completely. By the time, the girl reached the age of twelve or so, she was considered marriageable and often had to cover her face as well.

So one day, a matronly visitor shows up at the girl’s home. The girl’s mother understands the significance of the visit and hustles her daughter off to change into her finest clothes. When the girl and the household’s most elaborate tea service are ready, the girl must enter the sitting room and, with downcast eyes, serve tea to the visitor. While the visitor sips her tea, she examines the girl from head to toe. When the visitor puts her cup back, the girl must quietly withdraw.

After the matronly visitor leaves, the girl and her mother wait to see if the visitor has chosen the girl as a bride for the visitor’s son. If the girl isn’t chosen, she and her mother wait for another such visitor. If the visitor does choose the girl, the girl’s mother checks into “the prospects of the potential groom.” When the criteria of both mothers have been met, the girl’s father and brothers make the arrangements for the wedding contract, dowry amount, ceremony, etc.

And the Turkish girl? She has NO choice (1971. Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey.) (Also see the August 30, 2013 posting of this blog.) It is my guess that every Turkish parent taught his or her daughter to meekly accept ‘her fate.’

Daughters of Turkish families in the Ottoman Empire were not the only ones without choices. The summer of 1915, all choices ended for the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey. But the selection process for every Turkish mother of a son continued with little interruption for decades.

Bridal Shower: Ottoman Turkish Style

A bridal shower is a common, North American custom that provides a bride-to-be with a chance to celebrate with the women and girls among her family and friends. Such parties are usually held in someone’s home before the date of the bride’s wedding. During such a party, the guests play games, eat sweet treats, and present the bride with gifts that are either personal or for the bride’s new home. The intention of such festivities is to rejoice with her and to wish her the best in her new life.

For centuries now, women and girls in the Middle East have held henna parties for a similar purpose. A friend or family member of the bride-to-be organizes the party, invites the bride’s family and friends, and hires women henna artists. At the party, guests enjoy delicious food and drink and noisy gossip.

But the highlight of the event would be the decorating of the bride-to-be with the reddish henna paste. Applying it with sticks onto the young woman’s skin, the artists draw on her hands and forearms and sometimes her collar-bone and throat swirling henna designs. When the drawing is complete and the henna paste has dried, the granule-like remains are brushed off, leaving the reddish decorations on the bride’s skin. Some of the guests also ask to be decorated with small designs, rewarding the artists with small tips.

A henna party has been the Middle Eastern version of a bridal shower. It’s intent has been to wish the young woman health and beauty.

If a henna party were ever to include both Turks and Armenians during the era of the Ottoman Empire, the location for such a party was a great difficulty. Turks disdained Armenians and were reluctant to enter their homes. And Armenians were seldom welcome in a Turk’s home. Although Turks and Armenians lived side by side in towns and cities in Ottoman Turkey, there were few places of neutral space. The two spaces of shared territory were the weekly bazaars, or open markets, and the town or neighborhood’s hammam, or Turkish bath.

Yet even these common spaces had rules that relegated separation. Women weren’t permitted to do the shopping in the bazaar. A woman’s husband or brother did it for her. If she ever did any shopping, a man of her family had to accompany her.

The rules for the use of the town’s hammam were even stricter. Each gender was assigned the use of the bath on a specific day once a week (1971. Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey). And Armenians were required to use the hammam on entirely different days. There was no mixing of genders or people groups.

Even then, the hammam functioned in Ottoman Turkish towns as the space closest to a modern-day community center. Such a neutral space was most likely to have served as the location for a henna party if such an event included both Turkish and Armenian women prior to 1915.

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).

Civil Rights?

North Americans often assume that people will or at least should function as if their behavior is governed by Judeo/Christian-based laws or ethics. A teacher colleague of mine discovered to her shock that isn’t always the case.

Even here in the north central part of North America, many immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are our neighbors these days. Just because these newcomers have come to the “land of the free” doesn’t mean they have shed any of their assumptions, prejudices, or culturally engrained ways of handling relationships. When my colleague objected to the way a neighbor had treated her, the neighbor replied, “You’re an infidel (not a Muslim). So I can treat you any way I like.” Remember now, this incident occurred in North America in the twenty-first century!

Evidently, a Muslim’s understanding of Sharia (Islam-governed law) holds that Muslim accountable for how he or she treats another Muslim. (And punishments for disobedience can be quite severe.) Apparently, any activity or attitude of a Muslim is permissible toward a non-Muslim.

That expectation evidently hasn’t changed since twelve hundred A.D. after the Seljuk Turks took over Armenian territory to establish the Ottoman Empire. By 1915, the Empire’s Armenian population had already endured centuries of subjugation as second class citizens (See “Segregation Device: Shoes by Firman,” December 7, 2012 posting). Whenever an Ottoman Turk had a mind to harass, beat up, steal from, rape, or even kill an Armenian, the Turk could do it with impunity. The Armenian had no recourse. Any attempt at a protest usually resulted in more mistreatment.

Justice and civil rights existed only for Muslim Turks in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.