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Showing posts from 2014

Can 51% of the Turkish voters save President Erdogan from his incredible mistakes?

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President Erdogan had 51% of the popular vote in the last election. In celebration of his election as president, he has opened a presidential palace that cost between $500,000 and $1,000,000. 
He has attacked and alienated the Alewi Muslims (15%) of the population. He played the PKK card and angered the Army. He is backing away from that card and alienating Kurds in Turkey, perhaps 20% of the population. He has gutted the police and the courts. He has accused the parliamentary oppositions (Social Democrats and Nationalists) of near treason. He attacked the secular groups that oppose him as being the monkey's paw of Israel. His former partners, the Gulen Muslims are furious at his shutting down their hundreds of schools. In other words, in trying to control dissent by these attacks and shutting down the free press, he has actually created a rather formidable opposition. That 51% may not help much if the Kurdish revolt starts up again in the east, and he has to rely on a weakened but…

The Shades of Istanbul: a meeting of skepticism, Christianity, and Islam across the centuries

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These are the opening chapters of a metaphysical novel in which men and women from very different backgrounds struggle to find the meaning of the struggle of good and evil in this world.


The Shades of Istanbul By Livingston Merchant


Job in the Hebrew Scriptures Eyub in the Koran
Joy & Woe are woven fine, A Clothing for the Soul divine; Under every grief & pine Runs a joy with silken twine.
William Blake


A story was told almost three thousand years ago about  God-fearing man by the name of Job. He had wives and children and slaves. He was rich in lands and supremely happy.Then, because of a dispute between God and Satan, God allows Satan to take everything from him: wives, children, slaves, lands, and even his health.Job sits on a pile of ashes and asks why this would happen to him when he was completely innocent of sin or rebellion against God.Job gets no answer, but his question is the central theme of this story.
Empires and centuries converge in the great city of Istanbul, once  Consta…

Hey! There's another genocide on TV!

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If you missed the earlier seasons, tune in now to what is happening to the Syrian Kurds. Hundreds of thousands of them fleeing a very devout group of Muslim gentlemen. Looks a little like Armenians a hundred years ago - but of course the Ottoman armies had really good reasons to eradicate this huge Christian population. And then the Jews, homosexuals, and Gypsies: the Germans were just trying to clean up their blood lines. Understandable. And perhaps the greatest "cleansing" of all: the massacre of millions upon millions of Native Americans in the United States and the uprooting, enslavement, and murder of millions of Africans during the slave trade.

If you missed all of that, it is happening again. Watch the new season episodes. An enterprising little company named ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic State will provide you with entertainment for the entire viewing season. Why? Because as in all the earlier episodes, THE WORLD DOES NOTHING. So sit back and watch CNN, BBC, AlJazeera, …

When our interests and those of our friends are violently attacked, we cannot just vote for no war.

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It appears that the world is headed towards Iraq War 3. It will not go away. We can either fight it smart or fight it stupid. We can either learn from mistakes made in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or again Iraq or we can just show how dumb Americans and Europeans can be. Rather than repeat "Fire, Ready, Aim", it is time to consider the following.

1. Identify the threats in the various theaters under attack (Iraq, Syria, home fronts).


2. Identify a possible objective. (Sending ISIS to the gates of hell may be difficult - rather like applying a mass cure for the Ebola epidemic. ISIS is a movement that reproduces itself with an ever-shifting DNA.) Perhaps shattering their fighting force and sending the remnants to Somalia and Sudan would be more doable.

3. Do not try to occupy a foreign country. It sucks up resources to little advantage and annoys the hell out of the inhabitants.

4. Identify allies, neutrals, and covert friends. Ambrose Bierce, the American satirist, wro…

A Unified Kurdistan: Solution to an Age-old Problem or Recipe for Disaster?

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The President of the Middle East Forum, Dr. Daniel Pipes, has written a provocative article on the future of the Kurds:  The Case for a Unified Kurdistan :: Daniel Pipeswww.danielpipes.org/14935/unified-kurdistan.
It is Dr. Pipes' belief that the Kurdish territories in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey can eventually be united in a single nation and that this can be done peacefully. My own experience with Turks and  Kurds makes me skeptical, though the optimism of this article is refreshing.
When I became headmaster of Robert College in Istanbul in 2001, I visited the staff room of the Turkish language and history teachers. It was a friendly visit until I used the word "Kurdistan" - quite innocently believing that this was where the Kurds lived as Baluchistan is where the Baluchis lived. The roof fell on my head. Angry remarks from my new staff not only soured the visit, but it was a long time before relations with some of the more patriotic teachers were mended.

Naturally, I beca…

We have met the enemy and he is us; how bumbling created ISIS

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Air Force General Curtis LeMay, whose successful leadership in the World War II air war against Japan and Germany, made him an iconic figure in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. He has been often been quoted as having said, “We should bomb Vietnam back into the stone age”. The general later denied having said this, but nevertheless  it represents an attitude in modern American military thought that wars can be won through air power without ground troops.  One problem was that Vietnam was more or less in the stone age already.
If the US feels it can win a struggle with ISIS primarily with air-power, it should consider the lessons of Vietnam (even with troops on the ground and a major air campaign, the war can be lost against an indigenous and highly motivated enemy) and more recently the record of air war in Libya (you can pound them all you want from the air and still end up with a complete mess).
The ground keeps shifting under the feet of the United States in the Middle East. They kn…

Mosul and Gaza: Genocide is the continuation of politics by other means.

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Carl von Clauswitz was a 19th century Prussian strategist and theorist of warfare. He stated that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Now in the 20th and 21st centuries the line between warfare and genocide has been blurred, but it is clear that the wholesale use of terror and murder to gain the goals of a political movement or a state have generally been seen as beyond the pale of civilized behavior.



ISIS, or the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria, has used wholesale murder of Shiites, Alewites, Yazidis, and Christians, as well as anyone that opposed its aims to gain territory and power over resident populations. It has just turned its genocidal tactics against Kurds in the vicinity of Mosul and is posed to unleash floods of water on Iraqi cities below the critical dam it has just captured. The reputation of the Peshmerga, the formidable armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan has been tarnished by defeats by ISIS.

Israel also, seems to have allowed the distinction between milita…

The mining disaster in Turkey: does Turkey have the government it deserves?

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President Park of South Korea responded with tears and apologies for the faults of the South Korean government, particularly the Coast Guard, which helped lead to the appalling loss of life when a ferry went down with hundreds of school children aboard. She has subsequently vowed to disband the Coast Guard, which bungled the rescue efforts.

The beloved leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un,  is not given to expressions of sorrow even when friends, lovers, and relatives are executed at his command. However when an apartment building in Pongyang collapsed killing many residents, he said he stayed up all night in agony. One assumes that some members of the construction industry may lose their heads.





The deeply religious, conservative, and ambitious PM of Turkey is planning to be Turkey's next president with powers augmented by placing the secret security organs under and the courts under his control. When over 300 miners lost their life in Turkey's worst mining disaster, he brushed it…

The Sickness in Turkey

Watching democracy die in Turkey is like watching a friend who has come down with terminal cancer