Integrity: Character Requirement for Leadership

“The ability to own mistakes is a key component of integrity” (from “The Least and the Greatest,” December,2014/January,2015, Thriving Family). One basic model for leadership, that has been rightly established, can be found at times in a family. When parents “keep up a front of perfection” because they think “admitting mistakes would diminish them” in the eyes of their family, those parents miss the opportunity to lead. “In reality, when we say to our kids, ‘I was wrong, please forgive me,’ their respect for us increases” (Dec.,2014/Jan.2015, Thriving Family).

Integrity is as necessary for leadership in a nation or for the leadership of a nation among nations. The governments of the countries of North America are aware of the need for integrity.

Among the national parks in the United States, for example, there are “places of historical significance like Sand Creek in Colorado, where U.S. troops massacred a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho” (“The National Park System,” May 31, 2015, Parade). (Cheyenne and Arapaho are two of the many First Nations that were in North America before Europeans came.)

The article about the national parks continues. “We [citizens of the U.S.] have been unafraid of not only sharing with the world the glories of our natural wonders and our inspiring past, but also culpability for some things which have not gone particularly well.” Burns says, “That’s how a great nation goes forward” (05/31/2015, Parade). Integrity requires a willingness to admit mistakes.

The opposite attitude, however, has been Turkey’s choice. Although Turkey had desired for centuries to be a leader among nations, that much-coveted position has eluded her because she lacks the necessary character quality for leadership–integrity.

A recent article in a local newspaper registered Turkey’s current prime minister’s objection to “descriptions of the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as genocide” (04/16/2015, Associated Press).

The article further states that Turkey continues to insist that the Armenians killed “were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide” (04/16/2015, Associated Press).

As I read the newspaper article, memories of photos I had seen flashed through my mind. It took me a while to revisit the sources of the research I did in 2010. When I viewed the photos again, those photos taken in 1915 and 1916 plainly told a very different story. They showed Armenian men being marched out-of-town under armed guard. Who had the guns? The Turks. What were the Armenians carrying? Shovels (2003, The Burning Tigris). What were the shovels for? Those men were never seen again. The photos showed Armenian men being hung from tripods in a public square of an Ottoman Empire town (2003, The Burning Tigris). Again, may I ask–who had the guns? Who had the power? The photos also showed numerous skeletal corpses of naked Armenian women and children and orphaned children dressed in rags and obviously starving to death (2003, The Burning Tigris). Who took these photos? A German on business in a central Ottoman Empire town, a second-lieutenant in the German Army stationed in the Ottoman Empire, and a number of Near East Relief workers. The photos testify that the Turks are denying the truth.

Modern day Turks continue to grip with all their might “… a brittle identity unable to risk questioning the story it clung to” (2014, There Was and there Was Not). When a people refuses to own up to a wrong they have done, their lack of integrity paints them with shame and sham. Without integrity, Turkey’s dream of being a leader among nations will remain in the dust.

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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.


Whose Responsibility? The Perpetrator or the Victim?

Let’s say a man forces a donkey to carry him up a treacherous mountain slope. When the man falls off and plummets down, as he surely will, is the man right to blame the donkey? The man was the one who chose the path.

A woman in India is raped and brutalized by a gang of men. The men have the gall to refuse to take responsibility for their crime. Society insists that someone take responsibility. Society doesn’t much care who does. So the society assigns the responsibility to the victim, the woman.

Huh? Say what? Is the human race a colossal bunch of idiots?

Yet this ignoramus mind-set perpetuates itself down through the centuries.

In December of 1914, the Ottoman Empire’s Minister of War, Enver, set the scene for a major disaster. He sent his army up the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, in summer uniforms, without tents, to bivouac in snow, and fight against the Russian army at the beginning of World War I. The encounter proved to be an enormous mistake. Enver lost 86% of his army (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). Did he take responsibility? Oh, no. He had the gall to blame his ‘donkey’, the Armenians that Enver himself had conscripted ( i.e., forced) to serve as porters for the Ottoman Empire’s army. It was the Turkish saying all over again: “It is not only the fault of the axe, but of the tree as well.”

Yep. Ottoman Turks, in general, and Enver and his counterpart Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, proved to be a special band of idiots.

Just goes to show you that if a lie is repeated often enough, society as a whole will eventually view the lie as the truth.

Perpetuating the lie about who was responsible for the disaster, the Ottoman Empire Turks rounded up their able-bodied Armenian men, escorted them under armed guards away from towns, had the Armenians dig their own graves, and then knifed them, burying the dead Armenians under shallow covers of dirt in the spring of 1915 (2006, Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.) [ See my posting for March 11, 2013, “The March Madness of 1915.] Yet the Ottoman Turkish government had the gall to cast the responsibility for the crime on the Armenians. And Turks still do.

Huh? Say what? Is the human race still a bunch of idiots an entire century later?

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #12)

Annie’s friend Nazli is in a unique position. As the daughter of the government-appointed mayor of their small town, Nazli has ready access to the political intrigue flowing from Constantinople.

The weekly interruption of the constant activity in her baba’s office provides Nazli with substantial opportunity to satisfy her curiosity. Every Friday, all the Turkish men in town go to the masjid for prayers. It is the one time each week the mayor’s office is devoid of men. Nazli’s main chore each week, then, is to clean the office when no one else is around. She takes advantage of this and invites Annie to come over every Friday at noon. Since Annie is perfectly willing to help Nazli with her weekly chore, Nazli looks forward to Annie’s visits. While the two girls work together, they snoop through the telegrams on the mayor’s desk.

Nazli’s baba knows that she is no star pupil. So he doesn’t expect her to be able to decipher any of the messages scattered around his office.

What the mayor hasn’t reckoned with is Annie and her ability to read anything and everything in two languages–Armenian and Turkish. Nazli capitalizes on her friend’s abilities and willingness to help out.

There is an even more readily available source of information that can satisfy Nazli’s curiosity. Her baba has a steady stream of visitors to the reception hall in their home. Since Nazli is often called upon to serve food and drink to the visitors, she makes the most of any opportunity to eavesdrop. There is a saying in English: Curiosity killed the cat. Hopefully, Nazli’s curiosity doesn’t contribute to her demise.

In one of her diary entries, Nazli writes about something she overhears.

“16 November, 1914

Baba and my older brother Yunus had some strange visitors….The visitors spoke a heavily-accented Turkish and talked of Constantinople–and militias. The men were the Rumelians who disappeared from town a month ago.

One growled loud enough for me to hear. ‘Now we can pay back the Christians for murdering us Rumelians and kicking us off our land on the other side of the Bosporus.”

Reader, do keep in mind that in 1915 the Ottoman government aimed its militias, even those formed from Rumelian refugees, against a Christian population who  1) were the original inhabitants of the Anatolian Plains and  2) had NOTHING to do with the displacement of the Rumelians from their territory.

Ripple Effects and Rumelians

When a rounded stone (such as those displayed in this blog’s photo) plunges through the surface of a lake, is that the end of its action? Hardly. Ripples spread out in all directions from the stone’s entry point in the water. Some time later, a section of the ripples reaches a distant shore.

With the New Year of 2015 arriving shortly, it seems natural to take stock of the year 2014. But what I wonder is how the decisions and events of 2012 and 2013 contributed to what is today. Ripples effect lives, not just lakes.

The same was true in the days of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912-1913, European armies killed and pushed Muslim populations out of the Balkans and Thrace, forcing the displaced across the Bosporus (1989. A Peace to End All Peace). This flood of refugees included groups of Rumelians who resettled on the Anatolian Plain of central Ottoman Turkey.

Among the men of that defeated section of the Ottoman army was one, Mehmet Talaat. On January 4, 1914, Talaat and two of his cohorts took over the government of the Ottoman Empire. Talaat set himself up as the Minister of the Interior, giving him unlimited power to seek revenge for what the armies of Europe had done to him and the Rumelians when the European armies intervened on behalf of the Christian minorities in the Balkans and Thrace.

On October 15, 1914, the government in Constantinople issued telegrams across the Ottoman Empire for the recruitment of the Rumelian refugee men for military training. These were armed and formed into militias (p. 136. 2006. A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility).

The Rumelian militias were only one kind of group that Talaat used against a Christian population. But, instead of going after the armies that had tried to protect Christian minorities in Europe, Talaat aimed these revenging Rumelian militias at Christians who had nothing to do with the Balkan and Thrace defeats, the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire. The ripples from the 1912-1913 events hit the Anatolian Plain in 1915.

Now I ask, does punishing one group for what another did make any sense to you?

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #11)

Nazli has been able to persuade her mother to help host a henna party for Nazli’s friend Annie. In her discussion with her mother after the party, Nazli is flabbergasted by her mother’s real reason for going along with her headstrong daughter’s wishes.

The following is an excerpt from Nazli’s diary that is included in the book Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it.

Chapter 7

Iyi arkadashim, 23rd July, 1914

My good friend, the henna party for Annie was a great success! Everyone had a good time. Mam made such tasty saffron rice with chicken. To drink, she made sherbet sweetened with grape sugar. Annie’s mother and aunt brought almond cakes and grapes. The hammam attendant made Turkish coffee. Delicious.

Annie looked like a Turkish bride wrapped in her white cotton towel and blessed with our henna marks of health and beauty. When we got home that afternoon, I was bubbling over with excitement, of course. But Mam’s reaction to the event surprised me.

“What are you so happy about?” she demanded with a scowl. “That should have been a party for you, not some dirty gavur!”

I stood with my head down for some time. Then I sucked in a deep breath before I said, “Dirty gavur? How can you say that? Annie and all of the women and girls in her family bathed right beside us.”

“Nazli, you know I don’t like Armenians. Never have. Never will. I agreed to host that party for one reason only. I hoped at least one of the Turkish women there might select you as a bride for her son.”

My mouth dropped open. “Mam, how could you?”

Quaking with anger and fear, I tore for my bedroom. To think that my mam viewed the henna party for Annie as nothing more than a baited hunt for a husband for me. As I write this, dear friend, I wish with all my heart that her ploy will catch nothing.

Nazli has not seen the end of underhanded reasons for the actions of both her mam and her mayoral baba. During the months leading up to June of 1915, Nazli struggles to understand and at times circumvent the decisions that her parents and the other Turkish leaders of her town make against her friend Annie, Annie’s relatives, and the other Armenians in and around their town in central Ottoman Turkey.  

 

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.