The “February Revolution” is so-called because Russia at the time was on the Julian (Old Style (O.S.)) calendar. By the Gregorian (New Style (N.S.)) calendar, which Russia adopted in February 1918, these events take place in March 1917. And momentous events they were, leading to the abdication of the last Tsar, the end of a monarchy and an entire system of power and authority that dated back more than 350 years. For eight months in 1917, Russia struggled to extend the constitutionalist reforms that had begun under the Tsardom within a more liberal framework. The liberals never did gain the upper hand over the radicals, not even after the September 1917 de facto return to autocracy. In November 1917, a coup by the most extreme Leftist faction, the Bolsheviks, terminated the experiment, burying for seven decades even the aspirations in Russia for liberalism and democracy. Continue reading
The final key event on the road to the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in November 1917 was the “Kornilov Affair” that took place about two months earlier. Alexander Kerensky had become Prime Minister of the Provisional Government in July 1917 and around the same time General Lavr Kornilov had become Commander-in-Chief. A lot of accounts portray the “Kornilov Affair” as a “reactionary” coup attempt by Kornilov against Kerensky. The reality is very nearly the exact opposite. As historian Robert Pipes summarises: “All the available evidence, rather, points to a ‘Kerensky plot’ engineered to discredit the general as the ringleader of an imaginary but widely anticipated counterrevolution, the suppression of which would elevate the Prime Minister to a position of unrivaled popularity and power, enabling him to meet the growing threat from the Bolsheviks.” Continue reading
The rise of far-Right extremism in the West, in the United States in particular, has been one of the major media stories since at least 2016. Think tanks have gotten in on the action, and in due course official institutions followed the lead. There has been a significant element of moral panic about this, a result of a search for explanation by liberal ruling classes hit with disorientating political developments, above all in the Anglo-American world, with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as President. Christian Picciolini’s book, Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism (2020), is very much a product of this mood of doom among Western liberals. Continue reading
Five years on from the military coup d’etat in Egypt that brought to power Abdel Fattah el Sisi, the problems of the country—political, economic, demographic, security—remain as intractable as ever. Indeed, in many cases, the problems are worse than before. Among the problems that are noticeably worse now than in 2013 is security, specifically the Islamic State (Daesh) insurgency in the Sinai. Continue reading
The American-led Coalition’s partner against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), presents itself, ideologically and in terms of the governance structure it controls, in universalistic liberal and democratic terms, emphasizing ecological and feminist themes. The reality is that the SDF is under the politico-military control of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization that has run a four-decade-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK has brought some measure of stability to the areas it controls, but it continues to struggle for legitimacy and without locally-legitimate government IS and other jihadi-Salafists will find political room to operate. The PKK’s continued monopolization of power and abusive governance practices undermine the chances for the “Rojava” system to evolve into a long-term solution to the jihadist terrorists that have used Syrian territory to threaten the region and the wider world. Continue reading
This is the complete review. It has previously been posted in three parts: Part 1 on the question of whether the 1915-17 massacres constitute genocide; Part 2 on the post-war trials and the Nationalist Movement; and Part 3 gives some conclusions on what went wrong in the Allied efforts to prosecute the war criminals and the implications for the present time, with Turkey’s ongoing denial of the genocide and the exodus of Christians from the Middle East.
A Question of Genocide
The controversy over the 1915-17 massacres of Armenian Christians by the Ottoman Empire is whether these acts constitute genocide. Those who say they don’t are not the equivalent of Holocaust-deniers in that while some minimize the figures of the slain, they do not deny that the massacres happened; what they deny is that the massacres reach the legal definition of genocide. Their case is based on three interlinked arguments:
- Unlike the Nazi Holocaust when a defenceless population was murdered only for its identity, the Armenians were engaged in a massive armed revolt, and this is why the Ottoman government decided to deport them.
- The intent of the Ottomans was not massacre but the removal of the Armenians, who had sided with one foreign invading power (Russia) and who were showing signs of collaborating with another (Britain), from the militarily sensitive areas as Turkey suffered a two-front invasion in early 1915.
- While terrible massacres, plus starvation and the cold, took maybe a million lives during the deportations, when the Armenians reached their destinations in Syria and Iraq, which were also part of the Ottoman Empire, they were well-treated and allowed to rebuild their lives, which would not have been the case had the Ottomans intended their destruction.
Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility presents evidence to undermine every one of these arguments. Continue reading
The last foreign troops left Istanbul on October 2, 1923. On October 6, Turkish troops re-occupied Istanbul, and on October 13 the Turkish capital was moved to Ankara. The independence struggle won, the focus now turned to the form independence would take.
Having already abolished the Sultanate—that is the executive post held by the House of Ottoman—Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) abolished the Caliphate on March 3, 1924. Atatürk also scrapped the office of Şeyh-ül İslam, banished the House of Ottoman (packing Sultan Abdülmecid onto the Orient Express), and closed the separate religious schools on the same day. The ulema had given much ground during the reforms of the nineteenth century but they had also frustrated and defeated many reformers; Atatürk would not be one of them. The promulgation of the Republican Constitution on April 20, 1924, confirmed parliamentary supremacy over the shari’a, secular law over theocracy.
In the late 1920s, further reforms were made. The fez, which “had become the last symbol of Muslim identification,” was banned. Atatürk had said the fez was “an emblem of ignorance … and hatred of progress”. Turks would wear the costume “common to the civilized nations of the world,” which is to say Europe. Atatürk adopted the Swiss legal code, which removed the Holy Law from personal status—abolishing polygamy, making both parties to a marriage equal, allowing divorce, and allowing people to change their religion. Islam was disestablished as the State religion, and as the final step the Arabic script was changed to Roman. The connection with the East was broken, and Turkey was firmly oriented West. Continue reading
“The Paedophile Hunter,” which aired on Wednesday (October 1), is still trending on Twitter. The heart of the program is the moral dilemma over vigilantism—think Dexter, but in this case the crime it is the foulest of all: child rape.
Having pre-judged it by the response on social media, I have to concede that the methods of the “hunters” are fairer than I had imagined. Continue reading