Tag Archives: Turkish Republic

A YEAR OF CHANGES

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has repeatedly warned the European Union to stick by a promise of visa free travel for Turks © AFP/File Adem Altan
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has repeatedly warned the European Union to stick by a promise of visa free travel for Turks.     © AFP/File Adem Altan

For centuries the Ottoman Empire posed a serious threat to Europe.   The powerful caliphate ruled from Istanbul was only halted at the gates of Vienna by Catholic forces that did not want to be conquered by Islam.

In the nineteenth century, the Europeans were able to push the Ottomans back, freeing countries in south-east Europe that had been ruled for centuries by the Ottoman Sultan. At the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, after more than six centuries, collapsed and was replaced by the Turkish Republic.

Now Europe is granting visa-free travel to the 80 million citizens of Turkey, meaning that the descendants of the Ottoman conquerors will be allowed into Europe whenever and wherever they want.

Another interesting development at the other end of Europe is the election of the first Muslim mayor of a major European capital.   In London, Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, is taking over from conservative Boris Johnson, presiding over one of the world’s greatest financial centers.

By the looks of things, Europe is not going to put up a fight against the latest Muslim invasion.

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At the same time, the London Stock Exchange is coming under German control.   Even if the UK votes to leave the EU, that won’t change – the country will still lose a great deal of its independence.

David Cameron, the British prime minister, in calling for Britain to remain in the EU, expressed the opinion today that whenever Britain withdraws from Europe, it leads to war.   This is a perverse interpretation of British history.   As one commentator put it on the BBC World Service this morning, “He’s got it the wrong way round.”

Britain maintained its distance from Europe after the country broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century.   The country chose the open sea over the neighboring continental land-mass and only got involved in European affairs when a dictator arose trying to conquer the continent.  Wars were fought against Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler.

It wasn’t until 1973 that this policy changed, when the country entered what became the EU and turned its back on the Commonwealth it had built up over centuries.

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Meanwhile, on the mainland, changes are taking place.

The Austrian Chancellor (prime minister) resigned today, as he no longer enjoyed the support of his party, the Social Democrats.

His resignation follows on the partial victory of the right-wing Freedom Party’s candidate for the role of president, largely a ceremonial role.   There is to be a second round of voting which is expected to assure his assuming office.

Austria, like a number of European countries, is in a state of turmoil following the arrival of well over a million “refugees” from Syria and other countries.   There is a growing fear of Islamization.   Extremist parties are gaining momentum, promising to do something to stop the invasion and to ensure the preservation of their national way of life.

It’s definitely a year of change for Europe.

A Brexit (British exit from the EU) could trigger off changes across the continent.  The EU itself may fall apart;  the unity of the United Kingdom could be threatened; David Cameron would likely have to resign; other countries might want to vote on withdrawing from the European Union.

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A final amusing note comes from Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the Governor-General (Queen Elizabeth’s representative in the country) to disband parliament before an election in two months.   Two months of campaigning will be a record for Australia – and people are complaining.

They should take note that their American allies have been going through an election for almost a year now and still have six months to go.

Australia anybody?

 

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HOMAGE TO AUSTRALIA

 

Australian soldiers at Galipoli
Australian soldiers at Gallipoli

The Woman in Gold is a movie that’s showing in cinemas right now.   It tells the true story of an elderly American Jewish lady who takes the Austrian government to court to reclaim a family painting that was stolen by the Nazis during the 1938 Anschluss, when the vast majority of Austrians welcomed Adolf Hitler’s annexation of his home country.

The movie stars Helen Mirren as the elderly lady and Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer.

In one scene, Reynolds is sending a package to the Austrian government from somewhere in Los Angeles.   The man behind the desk commented on how he had always wanted to go to Austria.   His daughter, he added, loves kangaroos!

He’s not the only person who is ignorant of Australia.   Americans, in particular, have difficulty telling the difference between an Australian and a British accent.   I’ve often had people ask me which part of Australia I come from. Unlike many of my compatriots, this does not upset me – I consider it a great honor to be taken as an Aussie.   If I were 24, instead of 64, I would move there.   Australia has an American lifestyle without the frenetic pace that makes life in the US so stressful.

Tomorrow, April 25th, is Australia’s special day – ANZAC Day, a commemoration of Australia’s losses in the wars of the last century. ANZAC stands for the “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.”

It’s exactly a hundred years since the great battle that was a defining moment for the new countries.   Australia became a Dominion of the British Empire in 1901; New Zealand in 1905. Dominion status meant they were independent but still a part of the Empire, which was transforming into a Commonwealth, united in a common loyalty to the Crown, fulfilling the biblical prophecy of “a multitude of nations” (Genesis 48:19), descended from the patriarch Joseph’s son, Ephraim.

When the British went to war in August 1914, these two dominions, together with the other dominions and colonies of the Empire, went to war as well.   The Australians quickly took over German territories in the Pacific.   But it’s the Battle of Gallipoli, which is remembered most and commemorated on this day, the day the conflict started.   It was to last over eight months.

Gallipoli is a peninsula in North West Turkey.   It’s sometimes called the Dardenelles.   At the time, Turkey was called the Ottoman Empire. In November, 1914, it made the fatal mistake of allying itself with the two central European empires, Germany and Austria-Hungary, against Great Britain and its allies.   Less than ten years later, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and was replaced by the Turkish Republic.   The founder of the republic was Kemal Ataturk, who was one of the military commanders on the Ottoman side at Gallipoli.

The battle was a military disaster for the Allies. Australians, New Zealanders, the British and French all fought there and lost a great number of men, many on the first day when soldiers were landed on a thin strip of beach, looking up cliffs at Ottoman positions, cannon fodder for the enemy.   They fought valiantly.   Ataturk afterwards talked of their bravery.   Turkey’s president is hosting a commemoration today, a gathering of world leaders including Prince Charles and Prince Harry.   Harry is currently serving with the Australian military.   Commonwealth ties remain, even though they have been weakened in recent decades.   The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand laid wreaths.   The President of Ireland was also present, a reminder that Ireland was then a part of the United Kingdom and lost many of its native sons in this battle.

74,000 Anzac troops fought at Gallipoli. 10,000 died.   To understand the full impact of that loss, let’s remember these were troops from two new countries, that were thinly populated.   At the time, the United States had just over 100 million people, the UK 40 million. Australia’s population in 1915 was under five million.   New Zealand’s was a little over one million.   To compare the losses to the US, we need to multiply the figures by twenty.   The 10,000 dead was the equivalent of 200,000 American losses, or 80,000 British servicemen.

The British lost 25,000 at Gallipoli, out of a total of 350,000 men.   The French also suffered heavy losses, 10,000 out of 79,000 men.

On the other side, the Turks lost 86,000 out of 400,000 combatants.

The figures are staggering, far greater than losses suffered in recent conflicts.

And the sobering reality is that the war was so unnecessary.   Some wars were unavoidable – World War Two, for instance, when the Western powers had to defeat the evil of fascism.   Ironically, if World War One had not been fought, there would have been no World War Two.

If the Ottoman Empire had not been defeated, its constituent territories would not have been carved up, ultimately creating the modern Middle East.   The ripple effect of that first global conflict of the twentieth century continues to this day.   The wars we are fighting now all originated in World War One.

Australia, it should be noted, is the only country to have fought in all these conflicts from beginning to end.   Gallipoli was just the start (in fact, Australians had been fighting in the Empire’s wars even before independence).   Australia was always ready to fight alongside the British to preserve freedom in a dangerous world. After World War Two, when America became the pre-eminent power, Australians fought alongside Americans in all America’s wars.

The land down under is an under-appreciated country.   It’s time to publicly pay homage to a great nation that has done so much for the western world.

Let’s remember and give thanks for their many sacrifices on this ANZAC day.

POPE’S VISIT TO ISTANBUL

Pope in Turkey

What’s behind the Pope’s visit to Istanbul?

It should always be remembered that the Vatican is a country, with its own king, the Pope.   Historically, Vatican meddling in secular affairs has contributed greatly to human conflict. This is particularly true when it comes to the historic struggle between Islam and Christendom.   Popes have been instrumental in leading the West against Islam.

Pope Francis’ visit to Istanbul can hardly be described as pastoral, as there are only 35,000 Catholics in Turkey.   It’s therefore safe to assume the visit was political. What did the pope have in mind?

This visit was the fourth time a pope has visited Turkey. The first was Pope Paul VI in 1967. He caused quite an upset when he prayed in the Hagia Sophia, the sixth century church built by the Emperor Justinian. When Istanbul (then called Constantinople) fell to the Muslim Turks in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque. Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Repubic, turned it into a secular museum 80 years ago.   Pope Francis was careful not to pray in the 1,500-year-old building, not wishing to provoke Muslim sensibilities.

The visit was intended to improve relations, firstly between the primary leader of Christendom and his equal, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the 270th person to hold the title. Both churches go back a long way.   The historic schism between the two occurred almost a thousand years ago, in 1054.   Threatened by secularism and Islamic extremism, both leaders talk about unity, but, after a millennium, it’s not likely to happen.   This does not, however, mean they cannot work together.

The pope is also interested in establishing closer relationships with the Islamic world. Unlike the Orthodox Church, there is no primary leader in Islam, but the pope is concerned about the worsening situation in the Middle East. A century ago, most of the countries that are in turmoil today were ruled from Istanbul as regions of the Ottoman Empire, the same Turkish Empire that conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century. Istanbul was, therefore, a good place to start to reach some sort of rapprochement with Islam.

The pope called on Islamic countries to roundly condemn ISIS and to protect religious minorities in their midst. The whole region has witnessed a great deal of persecution of Christians in recent decades, after centuries of fairly peaceful relations between the two major religions.

With the persecutions in mind, the pope should have asked the religiously conservative leader of Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, what happened to the Christians after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The official answer is that their conqueror, Mehmed I, generously gave them the freedom to practice their religion, as evidenced by the presence of a small community today. Only 1% of the country now is Christian. One thousand years ago, almost all the people were Christians. I asked this question a number of times during a visit to Turkey but never got a truthful answer.   History shows that while some fled to Italy (and contributed to the Renaissance), most were killed, sold into slavery or forced to convert.

It’s what we can all expect if ISIS defeats the West.

Is the papacy once again going to lead the West against resurgent Islam?