Dyspeptic commenters here at Gates of Vienna have occasionally pointed out that Dymphna and I are “preaching to the choir” — that is, we are addressing an audience that is already aware of the danger posed by Islam. Although there are occasional exceptions (I have received more than one email saying. “Your site opened my eyes!” or expressing similar sentiments), this is mostly true. New readers who find their way here are usually already aware of the nature of Islam.
In order to expand the pool of people who “get it”, it’s necessary to stick your neck out and talk to people who are not only ignorant about Islam, but may also be predisposed to resist anything you have to say. Since I live in a remote rural area, I rarely get the chance to do that sort of thing.
Yesterday was one of those rare occasions.
I have a like-minded friend, a conservative to whom it is safe to forward occasional “Islamophobic” emails. She has a daughter named Anna about the same age as the future Baron, who lives in Izmir with her Turkish husband and their small child. The husband is from a secular/atheist Turkish family, and has converted to Christianity. I’ve met them both; they’re decent people.
Her daughter’s residence in Turkey is a source of continuous worry for my friend — she knows the general trend of events in the region, and has urged Anna to get out of Turkey and come back to the USA before it becomes dangerous there. Her motherly concern has turned into a bone of contention between the two.
Yesterday I received an Armenian email newsletter detailing the recent expropriation by the Turkish government of private plots of land in eastern Turkey, including Armenian Catholic churches, Chaldean churches, and Assyrian churches. I knew this would be of interest to my friend, who is a staunch Christian. What happens in eastern Turkey today may well happen on the Mediterranean coast tomorrow or next week.
The newsletter added to her already high level of concern, and she forwarded my email to her daughter. Much to my surprise, I received this direct communication from Anna:
Mother forwarded me your e-mail. I appreciate your concern, but Turkey is a wonderful, secular, modern country and we are very happy here. The government is tolerant of all religions. I feel much safer and happier here than I did in the U.S., because people are more loving and hospitable. I have never felt religious pressure here. People don’t even talk about religion, it’s a very private, personal thing. Very few women wear the veil; most dress just like Europeans. There is complete equality between men and women. You should visit before you believe poorly informed propaganda written by people who have never even visited Turkey and are uneducated. Then you would see how it really is. I wouldn’t leave this wonderful place if you paid me.
By the way, asbarez.com is an Armenian-American website highly prejudiced against Turks. It’s not an objective news source. While conducting research, you should really investigate the reliability of your sources.
I could have just shrugged my shoulders and not bothered to reply. But this young lady may be in danger before too long, and her apostate husband even more so. I felt it was my duty to do the best I could, so I spent a long time composing this measured reply:
With all due respect, the material that crosses my desk is not “poorly informed propaganda”. It is made up of news stories from multiple sources in all parts of Turkey. The prospects for non-Muslims in Turkey over the medium-to-long term are not auspicious. For secular Muslims, they may be even worse — during the recurring bouts of Islamic fundamentalism that have swept the region over the past thousand years, the greatest anger of the zealots is usually reserved for Muslims who are insufficiently Islamic. In fact, those who fare the worst are apostates, i.e. people who have left Islam. Their crime is known as kufr, or unbelief, and they are called gavur in Turkish. During the massacre of September 1922, in Smyrna (Izmir), when the Armenians and the Assyrian Christians were killed en masse, the cry of “Gavur!” was often heard as the soldiers and mobs carried out the slaughter. In other words, the massacre was religious in nature, motivated by Islam.
I do not say these things idly, or without having studied them. I have been doing this work for twelve years now, and have been studying Islamic law and theology intensively for the past seven years. I’ve worked closely with Major Stephen Coughlin, the foremost non-Muslim expert on Islamic law in the United States. Until Muslims forced his removal, he worked in the Pentagon for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefing the generals on Islamic law. This was something that the Muslim Brotherhood — whose operatives also work in the Defense Department — did not want the Joint Chiefs to know. So Major Coughlin had to go.
His book is out now, and I highly recommend it: Catastrophic Failure: Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad:
I helped him write the first draft back in 2010, based on a nine-hour video of his full Pentagon briefing. Since then he has expanded it greatly. He understands what Islam is up to in the United States better than anyone else I know.
I have made the Islamization of Europe my area of specialty. What has happened recently in Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, and Cologne is the beginning of the “kinetic phase” of the Islamic hijra into Europe.
Turkey is pivotal in this process, since most of the Muslims entering Europe pass through Turkey as “refugees”. And now Turkey is also being attacked by the Islamic State, due to its secularity — which, despite President Erdogan’s efforts, is still largely in place in the major cities, including Ankara and Istanbul, and of course your own city Izmir.
The political situation in the region is complex. Fundamentalist Islam — both Sunni and Shi’ite — is in the ascendant at the moment. To simplify matters a bit, Mr. Erdogan and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, are rivals for the title of Caliph of the Muslims. The Ottoman Sultan had held that office for almost a millennium until it was abolished by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924, when Turkey was forcibly secularized. Recep Tayyip Erdogan obviously longs to recreate the Caliphate of the Ottomans, with himself or his son as Caliph. From his point of view al-Baghdadi is an upstart, a usurper.
However, he has found it expedient to work with the Islamic State, allowing material support to pass through Turkey to IS in Syria (and taking a cut of the profits). His family benefits from the black market oil trade that passes from IS’ refineries in Syria through Turkey to Mediterranean ports. The younger Erdogan runs the business that transships the oil.
Revelations about the corrupt relationship between the Erdogans and the Islamic State have been published in Turkey by, among others, the courageous editors of Cumhuriyet. As a result journalists have been arrested and imprisoned, and some have been killed under mysterious circumstances.
Despite their recent cooperation, in the long run there will be conflict between Erdogan and the Islamic State. IS has already launched the first skirmishes, at first just across the border from Syria, and then later in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there is a Kurdish insurgency in the southeast, which is moving towards a full-blown war. As the economic situation continues to deteriorate (exacerbated by Russian sanctions), a three-way civil war in multiple areas is likely to emerge in the next two to five years.
You are fortunate to live where you do. The Mediterranean coast of Anatolia and Turkish Thrace are, despite the massacres of the 1920s, still the most Europeanized regions of Turkey, where Christians can live more or less normal lives. The most dangerous and brutal events are occurring far to the east and north of you.
However, the signs for the long term are not good. The reason I forwarded that Armenian newsletter to your mother is that it is quite ominous for the future of Christians in Turkey. If the AKP government can expropriate church property in the eastern provinces, it can do so elsewhere — when the time is auspicious, and the revenue needed. Churches do not enjoy any permanent protection from such practices under Islamic law, which is what Mr. Erdogan intends to fully implement throughout Turkey as soon as he can manage it.
What happened to those Armenian and Assyrian churches is significant — not even the Ottoman Sultans attempted that kind of wholesale expropriation. As long as the Christians paid the jizyah — the annual poll tax that guaranteed them protection under the dhimma, or “pact” — they were allowed to practice their religion, provided they obeyed the strictures imposed by the sharia (they could not build new churches, they could not ring the bells, their houses must not be taller than Muslims’ houses, they were not allowed to be ostentatious in their display of wealth, they must wear distinctive clothing identifying them as gavur, etc.).
Yes, I understand that the Armenians are “prejudiced” against the Turks. They have every reason to be — between 800,000 and 1.5 million of them were murdered during the genocide of 1915. Their “prejudice” against the Turks is therefore very similar to the “prejudice” of the Jews against the Nazis.
Over the long term, Erdogan and the AKP plan to fully Islamize Turkey. Mr. Erdogan does not believe in “moderate” Islam. As he famously said, “There is no ‘moderate’ Islam — Islam is Islam, that’s it.”
President Erdogan’s moves against Christians are harsher than those of the Sultans — this does not bode well for Christians in Turkey.
The secular, liberal Turks are concentrated mainly in the urban areas and their adjacent suburbs. In the rural hinterlands, the fundamentalists are in the majority. And their numbers are growing all the time — they have more children than the city dwellers and suburbanites, so the future belongs to them. According to some surveys, they are now in the majority in the country as a whole. They are what keeps President Erdogan in power.
I understand that you love where you live, and would not lightly advise you to move. I suggest that you watch very carefully as events unfold over the next few years — with luck, you will get some advance warning of what is to come. Some of the earliest signs will be bombings or arson attacks against churches. Harassment of Christians on the street, especially women, is another sign. These will likely be accompanied by government pronouncements and propaganda about the necessity to observe Islamic law more strictly.
As a guide to what may lie ahead for Turkey, study up on Lebanon. Fifty years ago it was a secular, modern, tolerant multi-religious state. Now it is an Islamic pest-hole dominated by Hezbollah and subject to chronic, severe violence. This occurred because the Muslim population grew while the Christian population stagnated or declined.
When things really deteriorate, Christians and lapsed Muslims will be targeted. And the latter will be subject to the more severe penalties. This has always occurred throughout history whenever waves of Islamic fundamentalism become dominant in Muslim countries.
None of this is ill-informed propaganda. These are simple historical facts.
P.S. This news story hit the headlines while I was composing this email:
Her response arrived quickly — too quickly for her to have read more than a paragraph or two of what I wrote:
You are highly prejudiced against Islam, as Hitler was against Judaism. I have many Muslim friends. Hitler was a terrorist that happened to commit genocide in the name of Christianity. That doesn’t make Christianity evil. Islam is not evil, either. I have lived in Turkey for five years. I know much more than you do. I never felt more love or less judgement than from Turks. I’m sorry you’ll never know the truth. You’re too set in your prejudices.
We are all about love, not rejection. But when you insult Islam, you insult my dear friends. None of my Muslim friends would ever, ever talk badly of another religion or race the way you are, no matter what. They are too tolerant, loving and educated for that. Perhaps you’ve never been out of the country and experienced other cultures. It’s really not your fault though. You just didn’t have the fortune to be brought up in a secular tolerant culture like Turkey.
I drafted this reply:
I think it would be unwise for me to react to the ad-hominem parts of your email. I’ll just say this: What the Turks did to Christians in Smyrna in September 1922 is part of the historical record, well-attested by multiple sources. Photographs — and even rare film footage — of those events exist. And it all happened less than a century ago.
I’ll give a brief selection of writings on the atrocities, and then leave it at that.
First, an historical overview of the burning of Smyrna and the massacre of 1922, written by a Turkish scholar:
Biray Kolluoglu Kırlı
This article is on the role of collective memory in the construction of a nationalist narrative in Turkey. Through an analysis of how the Great Fire of Izmir that took place at the end of the Anatolian war in 1922 is remembered and/or forgotten, it attempts to understand the spatial and temporal rupture between what belonged to the Empire and what is imagined to be belonging to the nation. It is argued that this fire was not an accidental calamity, but a symbolic act of punishment, an act of chastising the ‘infidel Izmir’. The destruction of the city through fire is presented as an act of creative destruction, an attempt to build places of (counter)memory, to open up a hollow landscape upon which the new nation’s imprint, its Muslim and Turkish identity, could be carved. This analysis aims to fill a significant gap in terms of understanding the social and cultural consequences of this neglected event in Turkey’s history.
American missionaries and other non-Turks gave contemporary accounts of the burning of Smyrna. Some excerpts:
IT WAS after this complete gutting of the Armenian portion of the town that the Turkish soldiers applied the torch to numerous houses simultaneously. As has already been mentioned, they chose a moment when a strong wind was blowing directly away from the Mohammedan settlement. They started the conflagration directly behind the Intercollegiate Institute, one of the oldest and most thorough American schools in Turkey, in such a way that the building would be sure to fall an early prey to the flames. The pupils of that school have always been largely Armenian girls, and its buildings were, at that time, crowded with refugees. Miss Minnie Mills, its dean, a brave, competent and admirable lady, saw Turkish soldiers go into various Armenian houses with petroleum tins and in each instance after they came out, flames burst forth. In a conversation held with me on the thirtieth of January, 1925, on the occasion of the Missionary Convention that took place in the City of Washington, Miss Mills confirmed the above statements and added the following details:
“I could plainly see the Turks carrying the tins of petroleum into the houses, from which, in each instance, fire burst forth immediately afterward. There was not an Armenian in sight, the only persons visible being Turkish soldiers of the regular army in smart uniforms.”
On the same occasion Mrs. King Birge, wife of an American missionary to Turkey, made the following statement:
“I went up into the tower of the American College at Paradise, and, with a pair of field-glasses, could plainly see Turkish soldiers setting fire to houses. I could see Turks lurking in the fields, shooting at Christians. When I drove down to Smyrna from Paradise to Athens, there were dead bodies all along the road.”
During the same conversation Miss Mills told me of a great throng of Christians crowded into a street the head of which was guarded by Turkish soldiers. The flames were approaching and the soldiers were forcing these people to go into the houses. An American automobile passed and the poor wretches stretched out their hands, crying: “Save us! The Turks are going to burn us alive.” Nothing could be done, of course, and the car passed on. Later two Catholic priests came up and said to the Turks, “This is a fiendish thing you are doing,” and they allowed an old woman to come out of one of the houses.
It will be seen that the situation was such that only the Turks were in position to light the flames. Now we have the testimony of eye-witnesses of the highest credibility, who actually saw them commit the act. I remember on various occasions in the past talking with Miss Mills concerning Turkish atrocities, which were continually occurring and the missionary policy of remaining silent for fear of endangering the lives of colleagues working in the interior of Asia Minor. “I believe,” said she, “that the time for that policy has passed and not even regard for the safety of our workers should prevent us from telling the truth.” She was right, of course, for a full understanding of what has been going on in Turkey by the civilized world might have caused such a development of Christian sentiment as might have led to the taking of measures to prevent the wholesale horrors that have been perpetrated.
That’s all I really have to say on the topic. It’s unfortunate if this offends you; it’s simple historical fact.
Her reply once again came very quickly — almost instantaneously:
I’m sorry Ned, my email was harsh and unwarranted. Your kind email didn’t deserve my sharp words. I’m just a bit sensitive about this subject. You are not prejudiced, I’m sorry I said that. You are informed and read a lot, I can tell. Many Turks including my friends are also critical of Erdogan. But things aren’t so bad as they seem in the press, I think.
You are very kind to be concerned. A million apologies and all my love. Sorry sorry sorry
I could tell she had not really read anything substantive that I had written or quoted; she had simply realized how rude she had been in her previous email.
I wrote her a brief note in response telling her that it was no problem, not to worry about it, and then dropped the subject. There was no point in continuing — I had done all I could.
The best we can hope for is that she will notice the advance signs of the coming troubles and get out before they hit.
And now I’ll continue preaching to the choir.
The fire and massacres in Smyrna were part of what is nowadays called “ethnic cleansing”. They were the prelude to a formal “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey. Such measures would be unthinkable here in the Modern Multicultural 21st Century.
Send Turks back to Turkey? What are you talking about?! You WAYCIST!!
Exchanging populations between Greece and Turkey was at least possible in 1923. It was not so simple with the Armenians — there was no Armenian nation then; no Armenia to send them to. Armenians were spread through eastern Turkey and Soviet Russia. Genocide was the only option open: somewhere between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians had been massacred during the Genocide of 1915, and many thousands more were massacred in 1922.
For the Turks, it was not quite a “final solution” to the Armenian problem. But then, they had not refined their techniques to the industrial level practiced by the Nazis two decades later. Nevertheless, with their own crude methods they managed to devastate the Armenian population of Anatolia.
These events occurred less than 94 years ago. There are almost certainly a few very old people who were small children at the time, and who remember what happened.
This is not ancient history. There is even contemporaneous newsreel footage of the burning of Smyrna and the fleeing of Christian survivors.
The Wikipedia entry on the burning of Smyrna is balanced, well-sourced, and accurate. Before 1922, Smyrna was truly multicultural, and a majority Christian city:
The Ottomans of that era referred to the city as Infidel Smyrna (Gavur Izmir) due to the numerous Greeks and the large non-Muslim population
After the massacres and the population exchanges, Smyrna became Izmir, an Islamic city:
İzmir once had large Greek and Armenian community, but after the end of the Greco-Turkish War, most of the Christians remaining in the city were transferred to Greece under the terms of the 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
Based on the photos Anna’s mother showed me, Izmir is indeed a beautiful and delightful place. If you had to live in Turkey, this is where you would want to be.
But it’s still Turkey. And it’s a Muslim country, with a fundamentalist Islamic government.
And the storm clouds are gathering.
The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.
— Louis MacNeice