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Sunday, 18 November 2018

Serena Shim Identifies Her Killers


In late December 2012, Lebanese American journalist Serena Shim filed a report for Iran’s Press TV, ‘Turkey’s Pivotal Role in Syria’s Insurgency’. However by that time, US complicity in channelling weapons via Turkey into the hands of Syria-bound al-CIAda terrorists had already been publicised by the New York Times, no less. In June 2012, Eric Schmitt explicitly stated that

“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey. …weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funnelled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”[1]

Shim therefore was only providing a more detailed picture of an already well-documented situation when she informed her audience:

“The American air base located inside Turkey, Incirlik, has enabled the Turkish government to facilitate the movement of arms without facing public scrutiny. The base is located eight kilometres east of the Turkish city of Adana. Sources say when weaponry arrives it is given to two American and one Mexican man, who either distribute them among refugee camps, or across the border into Syria. Turkish military officials ensure the weapons are transferred swiftly and discreetly to Syria. […] the funds have been provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Syria’s foreign ministry in a letter to the United Nations blamed Turkey along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia for sponsoring terrorists inside Syria.”

Even so, Shim's focus on the role of the Turkish government is likely to have incensed then Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his MIT (National Intelligence Organisation) henchmen; especially alongside her exposure of the use of World Food Programme trucks to ferry jihadists (nationals from a variety of Middle Eastern and North African countries) into Syria. In May 2015 upmarket daily Cumhuriyet published pictures of a January 2014 interception by the Turkish gendarmerie of a convoy of MIT-loaded trucks headed for Syria, containing arms and ammunition. Telling editor-in-chief Can Dundar he would “pay a heavy price”, Erdoğan accused both him and journalist Erdem Gul of “espionage”.[2] In December of that year, when MP Eren Erdem produced documentation showing Ankara had turned a blind eye to the transfer from Turkey to Syria of materials to make sarin gas, the “treason” accusations levelled at him were very similar.[3]

This helps to explain how it came to be that on 17 October 2014, having returned to Turkey earlier in the month, Serena Shim disclosed in a Press TV interview that she too stood accused of being a spy, by MIT.[4] Although she expressed her fear of arrest and imprisonment, it’s now clear Ankara had issued a fatwa, condemning her to death at the first available opportunity. So with their wealth of experience, MIT’s ‘road safety experts’ set to work; but automobiles are blunt instruments, making it difficult to contrive a fatal crash without detailed long-term preparation. It appears that neither Shim nor the driver of their rental car, her cousin and camera operator Judy Irish, were critically injured after an impact with a truck[5] on 19 October. Irish was treated at a nearby hospital and survived. Shim however was murdered, either at the crash-site or more likely at the medical facility she was taken to (reportedly in Turkey’s Hatay province nearly three hours drive away). There may be a precedent for this. In the aftermath of the undisputed pre-planned car crash at Susurluk[6] on 3rd November 1996, the three people who died were said to be still alive until MIT's secret traffic police finished them off.

In 2016 Serena Shim’s mother clarified:

“There is no doubt in my mind that my daughter did not die in a car accident. There was not one single scratch on her there was no blood absolutely anywhere.”

Meanwhile the US government has never called for Serena Shim’s death to be properly investigated; and the next part of her mother’s testimony is a further indictment of their attitude:

“I have tried to contact the American Embassy in Turkey with the cell phone numbers they gave me originally when I was going to get my daughter. Absolutely no response from the American Embassy in Turkey, including via personal cell phones.”[7]



[1] Eric Schmitt, ‘C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition’, New York Times, 21-06-2012
[2] ‘Turkish president Erdoğan wants editor jailed for espionage in video row’, Reuters, 03-06-2015
Besides being jailed, Dundar survived an assassination attempt in the following year.
[3]Sarin gas materials sent to Isis from Turkey, claims MP Eren Erdem’, Befast Telegraph, 14-12-2015
See also: Coleen Rowley, ‘Calling (Again) for Proof: 2013 Sarin Attack at Ghouta’, Huffington Post, 26-12-2015
“Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.””
[4] Serena Shim’s sister Fatmeh later explained that she saw this television appearance in terms of a lesson their Lebanese father had taught them as children:
“He always said, ‘If you’re being attacked, scream.’ Because if you don’t scream, you die for any reason. But when you do scream, people are going to find out why you died. If she didn’t go on air, my sister would [just] have been “killed in a car accident”.”
Mark Mondalek, ‘Remember American Journalist Killed in Suspicious Car Crash in Turkey After Entering Erdoğan’s Crosshairs’, Mint Press News, 05-08-2016.
[5] The authorities subsequently put out a pre-fabricated story about a head-on collision with a cement-mixer.
[6] The scandal which erupted in the wake of the Susurluk incident was perhaps greater and more far-reaching than that which surfaced as a result of the Watergate break-in in the US.
[7] Eva Bartlett, ‘Killed in Turkey: No investigation two years after suspicious death of American journalist Serena Shim’, The Duran, 20-10-2016

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Bulgaria [excerpt]

With a powerbase comprising the historical Byzantine ‘themes’ (provinces) of Nicopolis/Epirus and Thessalonica, Theodore Komnenos Doukas pushed aggressively into Thrace. Having been crowned Emperor of Byzantium, in early 1230 he was confident of recapturing the capital from the Latins, who had controlled it since the disastrous Sack of Constantinople in 1204. The Bulgarian victory at Klokotnitsa however put an end to these ambitions; Greek claims to Byzantine rule passed to Nicaea in Asia Minor. The battle took place on 9th March 1230, locally the feast of the 40 Holy Martyrs, in whose honour King Ivan Aspen built a church at his capital Veliko Tarnovo.      

[European] Turkey: Alaeddin’s Caveman

On the feast-day of St Bernadette Soubirous, leaving Bulgaria I was confronted with a building like a huge pristine airport terminal[1], clearly intended to promote a sense of having arrived in ‘the West’. A little further on however, looking back I saw the setting sun delineate the contours of a giant mosque – a scene as it were brimming with oriental mystique. This must be Turkey.

…Irrespective of the fact that the word ‘Europe’ may well originate from an ancient Semitic word erebu meaning “to go down, set” re the sun.[2] One might be forgiven for thinking it was appropriate, next day, to see a Eurasian hobby[3] winging its way across the gently rolling hills familiar in that region. However the reason it was not especially apt, is that there’s nothing ‘Eurasian’ about the broccoli-shaped peninsular which is our theme. East Thrace is appreciably bigger than Wales, and no less European. Indeed, as distinct from ‘Anatolia’ (a Greek word conveying incidentally a more definite meaning of ‘sunrise’), ‘Europe’ appears from the first to have been applied to lands with shorelines along the Aegean Sea, north and west of the Bosphorus. What’s more, among these, East Thrace corresponds quite closely to the Roman province of Europa. Today it is part of an expanding list of European territories (c.f. Albania, Kosovo and much of Bosnia) which identify strictly as ‘Muslim’.

Having pressed on for a few country miles, when it started to rain I called into a half open-looking restaurant, where a trio of young Turks invited me to sit down for tea. In serviceable English they quizzed me about various things to do with history and religion, including a faintly mischievous inquiry about whether I knew the name of Mehmet Ali Agca.[4] At the end of our discussion I was offered an opportunity to wash, which I gratefully accepted. Soon after, arrangements were made for me to sleep on a bunk bed in a container on their premises. Turkish hospitality was in a class of its own.

On Saturday 17 April, when the Church remembers great reforming Abbot of Cîteaux St Stephen Harding (d.1134), the BP[5]-chartered Deepwater Horizon oil rig completed its task of drilling a well 5,500 metres beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, into the ‘Macondo’ oil field. To paraphrase Richard Sears, chief scientific advisor on the US Commission investigating subsequent events:

“What could possibly go wrong?”[6]

On the way to Edirne/Adrianople I enjoyed free food and drink and encountered some genial men-at-arms. Not that soldiers have always been very friendly to each other in this part of the world. Among the sixteen major battles and sieges punctuating the history of Adrianople since its re-founding by Hadrian in ca.125, the crushing defeat of Eastern premier Licinius in 324 at the hands of his rival and brother-in-law Constantine is reckoned to have cost 34,000 lives. Two generations later, the 378 Battle of Adrianople at which Emperor Valens was slain marked the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire. Only after he took possession of Adrianople in 1227 could Theodore Komnenos Doukas of Thessalonica project himself with authority as a Byzantine Emperor-in-waiting (until he met his Waterloo at Klokotnitsa in 1230). Similarly, Murad I’s ca.1369 absorption of Edirne into the Ottoman Empire cast him and his successors in the role they played so convincingly for the next several centuries, of Islamic conquerors of Europe. It was the unshakeable grip they exercised on their Thracian forward operating bases which enabled them to keep their ‘predestined’ appointment with Constantinople.[7] Also worth noting; the roughly ninety year period when Edirne served as Ottoman capital is likely to have seen the establishment of the revolting Devshirme system, underpinning the existence of the Janissaries.[8]



[1] After months of delays amid “security concerns”, it happened that on 16 April 2010 a commercial flight to London was due to take off from Baghdad for the first time since UK-Iraq relations were plunged into turmoil by the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. With a general election fast approaching, and specifically a televised foreign policy debate with other candidates scheduled for 22 April, it was almost as if under-the-cosh PM Gordon Brown may have sought to make political capital out of this development. If so however, he was thwarted by the vast cloud of ash spewed into the atmosphere by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano, which caused the flight to be grounded for nine more days.
[2] From Akkadian (extinct since the first centuries AD). See also Phoenician ‘ereb “evening,” hence “west” (Online Etymology Dictionary).
[3] Remarkably, hobbies (from Old French ‘hobé’ meaning falcon) are capable of catching swallows and even swifts in flight.
[4] In the same way that Gavril Princip is a household name in Serbia, most people in Turkey have heard of Agca, the would-be assassin of St John Paul the Great in St Peter’s Square on the feast-day of Our Lady of Fatima, 13 May 1981. And rather as the name of Princip’s ‘Black Hand’ network has an airport fiction-like quality, so the ‘Grey Wolves’ with whom Agca was associated, sound almost trite. Yet the paramilitary wing of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (partly modelled on pan-Slavic secret societies like the Black Hand) remains to this day a deadly serious organisation.
In January 2010 Agca walked free, having spent nearly 29 years in Italian and Turkish prisons for the papal assassination attempt and the 1979 killing of Turkish newspaper editor Abdi İpekçi. His version of the events surrounding the 1981 shooting went through numerous metamorphoses over the years, but an early confession led to the arrest and trial of Sergei Antonov, an official from Bulgaria’s state airline in Rome. In spite of the acquittals of Antonov and two other Bulgarians for lack of evidence in 1986, angry denials of Bulgarian (and therefore Soviet) complicity are not helped by three things especially:
1) Agca is known to have made several trips to Sofia in the months prior to May 1981.
2) Italian prosecutors established that on 13 May, in a departure from normal protocol, a truck carrying diplomatic post was sealed by customs officials on the grounds of the Bulgarian embassy (instead of on the street outside), and left about an hour after the shooting. This corroborated Agca’s claim that both he and an accomplice, Oral Celik (who made good his escape), were supposed to be on board.
3) Heroin smuggling (i.e. directly from Turkey into the hands of the Bulgarian ‘DS’ secret police, and via Bulgaria to western Europe) is known to have been an important source of revenue for both the Grey Wolves and the Bulgarian government. In other words, the Grey Wolves and Bulgarian secret services were long-established partners in crime. See Misha Glenny, ‘McMafia’, Vintage 2009, p.16 
[5] Formerly ‘British Petroleum’ until the company’s 2001 facelift, when it began to market itself as a great beacon of environmental responsibility. The name became simply ‘BP’, with the tagline Beyond Petroleum, and its ‘shield’ logo was swapped for a stylised green and yellow sunflower.
[6] National Geographic documentary ‘Seconds from Disaster – The Deepwater Horizon’, aired 15-04-2012. Sears’ actual question was “What could possibly have gone wrong?”
[7] “The Prophet Muhammad’s well-known hadiths (prophetic tradition) symbolize this ideal: “Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!” and “The first army that goes on expedition to Constantinople will be forgiven.””
Ekrem Buğra Ekinci, ‘The Conquest of Constantinople: The heralding in a new era’, Daily Sabah, 28-05-2015
[8] The grotesquely evil nature of the Devshirme ‘blood tax’, by which a quota of Christian boys aged eight and over were taken from their families, forced to become Muslim as part of a comprehensive brainwashing process and (in the overwhelming majority of cases) trained to become Jannisary soldiers, should not be played down. Historians who do so tend not only to be equally adept at trivialising the abduction and sexual enslavement of both girls and boys (another little Ottoman peccadillo), but almost invariably also turn out to be deniers of the Armenian genocide.

Historically, the word ‘march’ always referred to a national boundary or frontier zone – along or through which armies or army units ‘marched’. From time immemorial these marches have tended to be outside central government control, and have attracted outlaws, fugitives, mercenaries and adventurers (cowboys on the Wild West frontier being a classic example). According to a fabled Arabic mosque inscription dated 1337 in the Anatolian city of Bursa, various titles were ascribed to early Ottoman ruler Urhan I. One of these was translated into English by Prof Douglas A. Howard as “warden of the borderlands”[1]. However, if someone in the Middle Ages was to see ‘warden of the borderlands’ as a crossword clue, they’d probably check to see if they could fit ‘marcher lord’ in the space, or else they might try the German equivalent ‘margrave’ or French ‘marquis’. In 1938, Dr Paul Wittek must have been thinking along these lines when he opted for the term “marquis of the horizons”.[2]

Although many details are legendary, it seems clear that the founder of the Ottoman dynasty was Urhan’s father, robber-marquis Osman[3] al-Ghazi, who died in or around the year 1324. In that era, when the Turk’s chief preoccupation was dismembering and looting Byzantium’s outlying provinces, the significance of the Arabic designation ‘ghazi’ cannot be overstated. Meaning approximately ‘raider’ but with strong religious connotations, it also shares with the term ‘Mujahid’[4] an implication of ‘struggle’. In the Bursa mosque inscription, Urhan is seen to have inherited both titles:

“He is the Great Emir, the Exalted, the Mujahid in the way of God, Sultan of the Ghazis, the Ghazi, the son of the Ghazi, dauntless in sovereignty and spirituality, warden of the borderlands[sic], hero of the age, [U]rhan son of Osman, may God prolong his life.”[5]

We have revered Moroccan voyager Ibn Battuta to thank, for a first-hand description of Urhan and his rule:

“…the greatest of the kings of the Turkmens and the richest in wealth, lands and military forces. Of fortresses he possesses nearly a hundred, and for most of his time he is continually engaged in making the round of them, staying in each fortress for some days to put it in order and examine its condition. It is said that he had never stayed for a whole month in any one town. He also fights with the infidels continually and keeps them under siege.”[6] (emphasis added)

And writing in the early 15th century, Ottoman poet Ahmedi helpfully described ghazis as…

“…instruments of God’s religion; a servant of God who cleanses the earth from the filth of polytheism[7].”

That the subjugation of Christians was the sine qua non and central aim of all Ottoman aggrandisement is also witnessed by the bellicose pomp surrounding the installation of a new sultan – above all the defining moment, when he was girt with the Sword of Osman. Tradition holds that this most essential item of ghazi kit was given to Osman as a Christmas present by his father-in-law, Sheikh Edebali. Accentuating the militant-Islamic ethos of Ottoman rule still further, from the late fifteenth century the girding took place in the Eyüp Sultan mosque, built by Mehmet II just outside the walls of Constantinople. This mosque incorporates the mausoleum of Abu Ayyub (i.e. Eyüp=‘Job’) al-Ansari, standard-bearer and companion of the Prophet Mohammed. Eyüp died during the first Arab siege of Constantinople, 674-678[8], and although he is said to have succumbed to illness, his reputation as a sort of ghazi patron saint derives from his always having ‘lived by the sword’. No less pointedly, a pious belief that Osman’s blade was once wielded by the Prophet himself must have been fostered by accumulated victories over the Christian foe:

“Mother, in my hand is the sword of Islam, without this hardship I should not deserve the name of ghazi, and today and tomorrow I should have to cover my face in shame before Allah.”[9]

Less attractively though, Mehmet II also legitimised fratricide as a way of avoiding succession crises:

“Any of my sons ascend the throne, it [is] acceptable for him to kill his brothers for the common benefit of the people (nizam-i alem). The majority of the ulama (Muslim scholars) have approved this; let action be taken accordingly.”[10]

Such callous indifference to the fate of one’s own offspring was no doubt produced by a harem mentality.

As we have seen, the word ‘Europe’ may derive from erebu; ‘Eyüp’ is also transcribed Ayyub, and ‘Istanbul’ is known to be a Turkish rendering of the Greek phrase stim’ Poli, meaning ‘to the city’. The same B-P shiftiness is found in Armenian-Turkish etymologist Sevan Nișanyan’s claim, that the honorific title ‘Pasha’ given to Ottoman grandees derives from beşe, meaning ‘boy’ or ‘prince’. This tallies with the customary identification of Osman I’s eldest son Alaeddin Pasha as the first bearer of the title; a notable who didn’t inherit the family business, in spite of his seniority. On account of his bookish disposition, the sources say he was content to make way for his half-brother Urhan. Before looking at Alaeddin more closely though, it’s worth bearing in mind that the earliest chronicles were written many decades after his death and should be treated with caution. As American journalist, historian and Indiana Jones prototype Herbert Adams Gibbons wrote as long ago as 1916:

“The relation between Urhan and Alaeddin reminds one too strongly of Moses and Aaron to be accepted without reserve. One only has to turn to the twentieth [S]ura of the Koran to find the connexion and the suggestion:

“And Moses answered, Lord, give me a vizier [minister] of my family, Aaron, my brother. Gird up my loins by him, and make him my colleague in the business: that we may praise Thee greatly, and remember Thee often, for Thou regardest us.”[11]

Allowing for such ‘health warnings’ however, Alaeddin Pasha has been accorded a veneration to rival that of his more warlike sibling. It’s said that after congratulating Urhan on his capture of Nicomedia (modern-day Izmit) in ca.1330, the fabled Vizier told him about his three wishes vis-à-vis putting their racket on a more state-like footing. Alaeddin’s first suggestion favoured the establishment of a mint. Second, he wanted to see the adoption of an official dress-code, especially in the realm of headgear (modelled on Byzantine custom[12]). And third, he recommended a radical overhaul of the military, including provisions for a standing army. It’s said that this last proposal was initially shelved, but over time Urhan and his successors came to rely on Christians (slaves, vassals or mercenaries) to fill the ranks of a corps meeting Alaeddin’s specifications. Presumably it was when their numbers were depleted that, out of necessity, the Devshirme system and the Janissaries came into being.




[1] Douglas A. Howard, ‘A History of the Ottoman Empire’, Cambridge University Press, 2017
[2] Paul Wittek, Rise of Ottoman Empire, (1938) pp.14-15
[3] The word ‘Ottoman’ comes from variations of this name, e.g. Otman, Othman etc. Turks use ‘Osmanli’.
[4] One who wages jihad (holy war)
[5] Howard, p.30

[6] Ross E. Dunn, ‘The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century’, University of California Press (2004) p.152

[7] A reference to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
[8] This assault on Constantinople was the first of many in which the defenders used ‘Greek fire’ to great effect against enemy ships. The composition of this weapon was a closely guarded secret, but most historians now think it was based on either crude or refined petroleum. 
[9] Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (conqueror of Constantinople 1453), replying to a query about the energies he was investing in the capture of Trebizond in 1461. Quoted in Franz Babinger, ‘Mehmet the Conqueror and His Time’, Princeton University Press (1978) p.193
[10] Ekrem Buğra Ekinci, ‘The history of fratricide in the Ottoman Empire – Part 1’, Daily Sabah, 06-08-2015
[11] The Quran citation is 20:29-34. Herbert Adams Gibbons, ‘The Foundation of the Ottoman Empire: A History of the Osmanlis Up To the Death of Bayezid I: 1300–1403’, The Century Co. (1916)
[12] Historians believe that at least some aping of Byzantine convention did take place during Urhan’s reign, e.g. the practice of issuing decrees and announcing judgements from the ‘High Gate’ of the Sultan’s palace (from which we get the diplomatic shorthand for Ottoman central government, ‘Sublime Porte’).


Edirne’s myriad domes and minarets left quite a strong impression, though I confess not to have seen very much more of the city than I would have done if I’d passed through by train. On a visit to the barber’s my head was given a deluxe workout, and I saw an unperturbed little mousy-coloured owl, watching for hamsters on the outskirts.[1]

Around midnight I reached Havsa, and settled for the cabin of an abandoned truck in which to sleep. Next day a Romanian fellow gave me a loaf of bread, and I had a delicious meal, on the house, at a café restaurant. In Babaeski I was coaxed into staying at an affordable hotel, and was furnished with some free Turkish Delight by a shopkeeper in the morning. Walking on from there, it happened I’d worked myself up into a futile rage over Britain’s prevailing “culture of death”; so the plastic lid of a baby-care product, with a picture of a mother and child and the legend “Love Baby”, was a soothing ointment.

Compared with west European countries, pornography seldom seemed to rear its ugly head in Turkey (not for instance available over the counter with a sandwich and a packet of crisps at every filling station convenience store), and Islam clearly functioned as a bulwark in defence of certain basic moral standards and family life. On the other hand though, it also became clear that Turkey was not exactly a feminist nirvana. Confirmation of this can be found in the views of then-prime minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who in July 2010 hosted a meeting with female NGO representatives. In his reply to someone who asked why he kept addressing his audience as ‘mothers’, he clearly ran the risk of being labelled a Neanderthal:

“I do not believe in the equality of men and women. I believe in equal opportunities. Men and women are different and complementary.”

Having assumed the presidency in August 2014, at the Istanbul ‘Women and Justice Summit’ in November of that year one could envision him getting into even hotter water:

“Our religion has defined a position for women: motherhood. You cannot explain this to feminists because they don’t accept the concept of motherhood. You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different.”
The truth, however, is that bald hunter-gatherer logic of this kind often finds majority support in Muslim societies – which isn’t all bad news. By virtue of Erdoğan’s regular calls for families to have at least three children, Turkey’s population stays relatively young. And on the subject of abortion, he sees little need to tie himself into the moral knots familiar to so many western politicians, in their attempts to defend the indefensible:
You either kill a baby in the mother's womb or you kill it after birth. There is no difference.[2]
But it’s worth noting that there’s more to Erdoğan’s agenda than simply upholding the human rights of defenceless infants. His mask slipped in March 2017, when he enjoined families in Europe’s Turkish diaspora:
Make not three, but five children, because you are the future of Europe. That will be the best response to the injustices against you.”[3] (emphasis added)

These comments attracted virtually no attention in Britain; and indeed one of the few articles appearing in the US gave Erdoğan a slap on the wrist for ‘playing demographic games’[4]. Surely the point however, is that Turkey’s neo-Ottoman head of state is not ‘playing games’. Erdoğan Pasha has embarked on a long-term demographic offensive, whose stated aim is the replacement of Europe’s non-Muslim population. Kosovo, nowadays an important international hub for heroin and human-trafficking networks,[5] provides a template for takeovers elsewhere.

There is one fact in Kosovo that everyone accepts: Kosovars heavily outnumber Serbs. After the Second World War, the Yugoslav authorities’ attempts to improve the lot of the country’s Albanian-speaking population led to a sharp drop in child mortality without a correspondingly speedy reduction in family size.

“[…] [Kosovo independence claims] rely on a strikingly ruthless and un-European single-mindedness. Serbia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in 2000 told me how an elderly Albanian in southern Serbia had put it to him straight:

“Mr Covic, you have two children. I have six. I am prepared to sacrifice two of my children to the cause. How many of yours are you prepared to sacrifice?”

defendeh fhugely profitable forThis sort of thing is not what today’s European leaders supported by the foppish naifs who inhabit EU Working Groups are able to understand, let alone confront.”[6]

With nearly a quarter of a million combatants, the Battle of Luleburgaz was the biggest single action of the First Balkan War (1912-13) and a decisive victory for Bulgaria. In its wake, Ottoman society was scandalised by the loss of much of Thrace including (thanks partly to Serb forces) Edirne, paving the way for a coup d’état in January 1913. Not far past Luleburgaz I settled for an abandoned garage to sleep in, then on the next day met some delightful folks at a food factory, who gave me a splendid meal and provisions.




[1] Possibly a Little Owl, Athene noctua. ‘The Owl’s Watchsong’ by J.A. Cuddon is an excellent study of Istanbul (first published by Barrie and Rockliff, 1960), taking its title from the lines of Persian poet Saadi (d.ca. 1292) cited by Edirne-born Sultan Mehmet II after his conquest of Constantinople in 1453:
“The spider spins his web in the Palace of the Caesars,
And the owl sings her watchsong on the Towers of Afrasiab.”
[2] ‘Abortion is ‘murder,’ says Turkey’s PM’, Hurriyet Daily News, 26-05-2012.
[3] Russell Goldman, ‘‘You Are the Future of Europe’, Erdogan Tells Turks’, New York Times, 17-03-2017
[4] Michael Rubin, ‘Turkey’s Demographic Games in Europe’, Commentary Magazine, 17-03-2017
[5] UN Office on Drugs and Crime, ‘CRIME AND ITS IMPACT ON THE BALKANS and affected countries’, March 2008
[6] Charles Crawford, ‘Homelands: Who Gets To Say What Counts As A Country?’ Aeon, 05-09-2013

On 20 April, feast-day of Dominican peacemaker and wonder-worker St Agnes of Montepulciano (d.1317), a specialist oilfield services team touched down on the heliport of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, expecting to conduct a diagnostic test on the cement used to plug its recently finished well. BP officials however, occupied with handing out crew safety awards (you couldn’t make it up), decided for the sake of some oil-industry loose change to send the trouble-shooters back where they came from. That evening, the failure of the cement is believed to have been the primary cause of the well’s “blow out”, which in turn triggered a major explosion on the rig, killing eleven crew members and injuring seventeen. Over the following weeks and months, besides wreaking apocalyptic environmental devastation on the Gulf of Mexico, an estimated 3.19 million barrels of spilled oil[1] also seriously affected the health of cleanup workers and shoreline residents, and cost an estimated 250,000 jobs associated with fishing and tourism. Although neither Halliburton (providers of the cement) nor Transocean (owners of the rig) were entirely cleared of wrongdoing, BP managers were found to have taken the lion’s share of lamentable corner- and cost-cutting decisions leading up to the tragedy. The following observation from MIT scientist Richard Sears may be unduly mild:

“Take any one of these decisions in isolation, and ‘OK, that’s reasonable’. It’s when you put all these decisions together that Macondo was allowed to happen”.[2]

On the morning of 20 April, the decision to dismiss the specialist team contracted to test the cement plug was described by an independent expert in testimony to the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce as “horribly negligent”.[3]

In Corlu I stowed away in the basement of another block of flats, but had an uncomfortable feeling I might be discovered, à la Goldilocks, early in the morning, so I resolved to be more wary of inhabited buildings.

On 21st April, dedicated to theological genius and longsuffering Archbishop of Canterbury St Anselm of Bec (d.1109), I was cheered by more free hot drinks as I made my way to Silivri, where I spent a coldish night in a derelict two-bedroom semi. The next day’s walk took me through the coastal resort town of Selimpaşa, formerly Byzantine Epivates and 10th century birthplace of St Parascheva of the Balkans, aka Sveti Petka (‘Holy Friday’). In the evening I reached Buyukcekmece on the Sea of Marmara, where I splashed out on a delicious meal in a restaurant, accompanied by impressive and authentically Turkish live music. Divine providence is the defining characteristic of pilgrimage, and the graces which constitute this providence are administered by angels. Some words from the first song sounded like “Angel, Angel”, so I was inspired to thank my Guardian Angel for everything he had done to bring me safe thus far.

I spent that night in someone's dusty and hopefully unfrequented shed; then at lunchtime on St George's Day I learned from some students in a café about a match, a few seasons before, in which Liverpool had beaten one of Istanbul’s teams, Besiktas, 8-0. “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, Liverpool fans’ favourite anthem, was at the top of my playlist most of the way through Turkey, largely because of their momentous victory over AC Milan in Istanbul in the 2005 Champions League final. I’m not a Liverpool fan as such, but clearly no other English club has a realistic claim to be the best in the world.

After a night on a sofa in a partially demolished house in a suburb, next morning I came to a café where a kind Macedonian gentleman bought me a great breakfast of sweet pastries to go with my tea. Soon afterwards the magnificent Theodosian walls were breached at what is now called the Silivri Gate, formerly the Gate of the Spring. Nearby is a famous Church of St Mary of the Spring, rebuilt several times after destruction by Muslims, most recently during the 1955 Istanbul pogrom.[4]

I arrived in Istanbul-proper on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day; 95 years after the decapitation strike of 24 April 1915 when around two hundred and fifty leading members of Constantinople’s Armenian community were rounded up and deported to prisons in Ankara. Many were executed without trial in the following days and weeks; others died later on death marches towards the Syrian desert.

At Sarikamish in the Allahuekber Mountains of far eastern Anatolia, Imperial Russian forces, Armenian volunteers and General Winter inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Ottoman Third Army, in the darkest, coldest days of 1914-1915. Eminent Turkish historian Taner Akçam has described the way this battle pushed the Ottoman ruling elite into implementing their ‘final solution’ to the Armenian question; but he also clarifies that the writing had already been on the wall for a while:

Kuşçubası Eşref, an active member of the Special Organisation,[5] recounted his conversation with defence minister Enver Pasha, a triumvir of the CUP,[6] on 23 February 1914. Painting a picture of national collapse, Enver Pasha claimed that the “non-Turkish elements” within the country (read: Christians) had already shown themselves to be opposed to the empire’s continued existence. The salvation of the state therefore depended on taking measures against them. In the words of Kuşçubası Eşref, the “non-Turkish elements” were an “internal tumour,” the “purging” of which was a “matter of national importance”.” [7]

Knowing they’d have to take pains to conceal their activities as far as possible, the Three Pashas set out to achieve “ethno-religious homogenisation” on the basis of Turkish-Muslim identity:

“…a demographic policy aimed at the radical restructuring of Anatolia’s population”.[8] (original emphasis)




[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, ‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlements: Where the money went’, 20-04-2017
[2] National Geographic documentary ‘Seconds from Disaster – The Deepwater Horizon’.
[3] Letter from House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry A. Waxman to BP CEO Tony Hayward, 14 June 2010.
[4] Also known as the Istanbul Riots or “The Great Riot of Istanbul” as per the headline of a Sunday Times article by eyewitness Ian Fleming, the Istanbul pogrom of 6-7 September 1955 saw Turkish mobs attack mostly Greek but also other non-Turkish places of worship, homes and businesses. More than a dozen people were killed or died of their injuries, with Greek Orthodox priests singled out for particularly barbaric treatment. The wave of violence has been seen as a continuation of the crypto-genocidal policies of the late Ottoman period, and even compared to Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany. In the context of rising tensions over the future of Cyprus, ostensibly it was a manifestation of popular resentment against relatively affluent Greeks, sparked by the bombing in Thessalonica of the house where Mustapha Kemal Pasha (Ataturk) was born. It has since been established however that this bombing was a ‘false flag’ stunt, carried out by an agent provocateur under orders from Turkey’s much-vaunted ‘deep state’ (rabid rightwing military coup merchants inside the security establishment, linked to the Grey Wolves). In 1991, elder deep statesman and four-star general Sabri Yirmibesoglu boasted that the pogrom was orchestrated “magnificently” by his special operations unit (see Dogu Ergil, ‘The dark side of nationalism: Sept. 6-7 incident’, Today’s Zaman, 23-11-2008).   
[5] Intelligence/paramilitary organisation founded by Enver Pasha which carried out the Armenian genocide.
[6] ‘Triumvir’ refers to the triumvirate of CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) leaders known as the ‘Three Pashas’ (Ismail Enver, Mehmed Talaat and Ahmed Djemal) who governed the empire during World War I.
[7] Taner Akçam, ‘The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity. The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire’, Princeton University Press (2012) pp. xiv-xv
[8] Ibid, p. xv