Archive for the 'Politics, Political Point of Views' Category

Armenian Genocide by Turkish Muslims against Christians

The world turned its head while a nation was being exterminated!

Before the Nazi slaughtered 6 million Jews, before the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million of their fellow Cambodians, before Rwandan Hutus killed 800,000 ethnic Tutsis, the Armenians of Turkey endured mass slaughter at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.  The centuries of Turkish rule reduced Asia Minor, the epicenter of western civilization and Christendom, into a bloody Islamic cesspool which culminated in a genocide by Turks against Armenian and Greek populations. The Armenian Genocide, occurred when 2 million Armenians living in Turkey were eliminated from their historic homeland through forced deportation and massacres by the Turks. 

As Turkish authorities forced them out of eastern Turkey, Armenians say they lost 1.5 million people in 1915-23, during and after World War I. Turkey says the death count is inflated and that the deaths were a result of civil unrest.  To this day Turkey denies the Armenian genocide, but history cannot be hidden or rewritten.

Even Adolf Hitler cited the killing of the Armenians as a precedent for his own slaughter of the Jews two decades later. “Kill without mercy!” the Nazi leader told his military on the eve of the Holocaust.

Who today remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?

For three thousand years, a thriving Armenian community had existed inside the vast region of the Middle East bordered by the Black, Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. The area, known as Asia Minor, stands at the crossroads of three continents; Europe, Asia and Africa. Great powers rose and fell over the many centuries and the Armenian homeland was at various times ruled by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols. 

Following the advent of Christianity, Armenia became the very first nation to accept it as the state religion. A golden era of peace and prosperity followed which saw the invention of a distinct alphabet, a flourishing of literature, art, commerce, and a unique style of architecture. By the 10th century, Armenians had established a new capital at Ani, affectionately called the “city of a thousand and one churches.” 

In the eleventh century, the first Turkish invasion of the Armenian homeland occurred. This began several hundred years of rule by Muslim Turks. By the sixteenth century, Armenia had been absorbed into the vast and mighty Ottoman Empire. At its peak, this Turkish empire included much of Southeast Europe, North Africa, and almost all of the Middle East.

But by the 1800s the once powerful Ottoman Empire was in serious decline. For centuries, it had spurned technological and economic progress, while the nations of Europe had embraced innovation and became industrial giants. Turkish armies had once been virtually invincible. Now, they lost battle after battle to modern European armies.As the Ottomon empire gradually disintegrated, formerly subject peoples including the Greeks, Serbs and Romanians achieved their long-awaited independence.

Only the Armenians and the Arabs of the Middle East remained stuck in the backward and nearly bankrupt empire, now under the autocratic rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Ottoman misrule had made the Armenians, a prosperous minority despite its political disadvantages, sympathetic to Russia.  Between 1894 and 1896 over 100,000 inhabitants of Armenian villages were massacred during widespread pogroms conducted by the Sultan’s special regiments. 

Sultan Abdul-Hamid II known in history as the “Red Sultan” carried out a series of massacres of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. The worst of the massacres occurred in 1895, resulting in the death of 100,000 to 300,000 civilians, and leaving tens of thousands destitute. 

 Most of those killed were men. In many towns, the central marketplace and other Armenian-owned businesses were destroyed, usually by conflagration.The Young Turks were the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. The Young Turk Movement emerged in reaction to the absolutist rule of Sultan Abdul-Hamid (Abdulhamit) II (1876-1909). With the 1878 suspension of the Ottoman Constitution, reform-minded Ottomans resorted to organizing overseas or underground. The backbone of the movement was formed by young military officers who were especially disturbed by the continuing decline of Ottoman power and attributed the crisis to the absence of an environment for change and progress.

At the center of the Young Turk Revolution stood the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) formed in 1895. Its members came to be known as Ittihadists or Unionists. The most ideologically committed party in the entire movement, the CUP espoused a form of Turkish nationalism which was xenophobic and exclusionary in its thinking.  The CUP seized power in a coup d’etat in January 1913. Armenians in Turkey were delighted with this sudden turn of events and its prospects for a brighter future.

Both Turks and Armenians held jubilant public rallies attended with banners held high calling for freedom, equality and justice.  But things were not as they seemed to those jubilant Armenians. 

Along with the Young Turk’s newfound “Turanism” there was a dramatic rise in Islamic fundamentalist agitation throughout Turkey. Christian Armenians, who had always been one of the best-educated and wealthy communities within the old Turkish Empire were once again branded as infidels (non-believers in Islam). Young Islamic extremists, staged anti-Armenian demonstrations which often led to violence. During one such outbreak in 1909, two hundred villages were plundered and over 30,000 persons massacred in the Cilicia district on the Mediterranean coast.

Throughout Turkey, sporadic local attacks against Armenians continued unchecked over the next several years.To consolidate Turkish rule in the remaining territories of the Ottoman Empire and to expand the state into the so-called Turanian lands in the east, most held by Iran and Russia, the CUP devised in secret a program for the extermination of the Armenian population. From the viewpoint of its ideology and its new and ambitious foreign policy, the Armenians represented a completely vulnerable population straddling an area of major strategic value for its Pan-Turanian goals. 

The traditional historic homeland of Armenia lay right in the path of their plans to expand eastward. And on that land was a large population of Christian Armenians totaling some two million persons, making up about 10 percent of Turkey’s overall population. 

Somewhat surprisingly to many, Armenians and Turks lived in relative harmony in the Ottoman empire for centuries.  Armenians were known as the “loyal millet”. During these times, although Armenians were not equal and had to put up with certain special hardships, they were pretty well accepted and there was relatively little violent conflict.During World War I, the Ottoman Turks, were allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary, and an enemy of czarist Russia. 

The Armenians fought with the Russians, and both the Germans and Ottomans considered Turkey’s Armenian citizens as “the enemy within”.   When the world’s attention fixed upon the battlegrounds of France and Belgium, the Turks decided it was time to solve their “Armenian Problem” by exterminating them. The cover the Islamic Turks used was the lie that during the war that Armenians had been, for their own safety, evacuated to strategic hamlets so they would not be caught between Turkey and Russia.

Echoes of the Jewish Holocaust

The remarkable thing about the following events is the virtually complete cooperation of the Armenians. For a number of reasons the Armenians did not know what was planned for them and went along with “their” government’s plan to “relocate them for their own good”.

The Turks began by disarming the entire Armenian population under the pretext that the people were naturally sympathetic toward Christian Russia who Turkey was at war with. First the Armenians were asked to turn in hunting weapons for the war effort.  Every last rifle and pistol was forcibly seized, with severe penalties for anyone who failed to turn in a weapon.    Mass deportations of the the civilian Armenian population was carried out in the spring and summer of 1915 and were completed by the fall, the systematic slaughter of the Armenians had started earlier with the murder of the 40,000 able-bodied males already drafted into the Ottoman armed forces. 

These able bodied Armenian men were then drafted and told it was to help Turkey’s wartime effort. In the fall and winter of 1914, all of the Armenian soldiers had their weapons taken from them before they were put into slave labor battalions, building roads. Under the brutal work conditions they suffered a very high death rate. Those soldiers who survived were shot outright. 

By stealing the movable and immovable wealth of the Armenians, the CUP looked upon its policy of genocide as a means for enriching its coffers and rewarding its cohorts. Pasha’s Mehmed Talaat, Ismail Enver and Ahmed Djemal, were responsible for these policies.  These three formed the governing triumvirate which had concentrated dictatorial powers in their own hands after the January 1913 coup. They divided the governance of the Ottoman Empire among themselves.

Enver was a young 26 year old military hero who married into the Ottoman dynasty.  He provided the most public face of the CUP. As Minister of War he coordinated the buildup of the Turkish armed forces with German financial, logistical, and planning support. In an ill-conceived plan of attack, he precipitated land warfare against Russia in the Caucasus in the dead of winter. His December 1914 campaign cost an entire army lost in a period of four weeks. In his capacity as the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Enver exercised ultimate control over the Ottoman armies which carried out major atrocities, first in 1915 and then with renewed vigor when Turkish forces broke the Russian line in 1918 and invaded the Caucasus.

The forces under the command of Enver’s brother, Nuri, and uncle, Halil, spread devastation through Russian Armenia and carried out massacres of Armenians all the way to Baku. Talaat was the Minister of the Interior in Istanbul who ran the government for a figurehead grand vizier.  Talaat was the mastermind of the Armenian Genocide and coordinated the various agencies of the Ottoman government required for the deportation, expropriation, and extermination of the Armenians.

The decision of Genocide: The decision to annihilate the entire Armenian population came directly from the ruling triumvirate of ultra-nationalist Young Turks. The actual extermination orders were transmitted in coded telegrams to all provincial governors throughout Turkey. Armed roundups began on the evening of April 24, 1915, as 300 Armenian political leaders, educators, writers, clergy and dignitaries in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) were taken from their homes, briefly jailed and tortured, then hanged or shot.  In May of 1915  claiming that the Armenians were untrustworthy, the Minister of Internal Affairs (Talaat) ordered their deportation to relocation centers in the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. Next, there were mass arrests of Armenian adult men and teenagers throughout the country by Turkish soldiers, police agents and bands of Turkish volunteers.

The men were tied together with ropes in small groups then taken to the outskirts of their town and shot dead or bayoneted by death squads. Local Turks and Kurds armed with knives and sticks often joined in on the killing.

Then it was the turn of Armenian women, children, and the elderly. On very short notice, they were ordered to pack a few belongings and be ready to leave home, under the pretext that they were being relocated to a non-military zone for their own safety. They were actually being taken on death marches heading south toward the Syrian Desert. 

The death marches would lead across Anatolia and the purpose was clear. The Armenians were being raped, starved, dehydrated, murdered and kidnapped along the way.  Those who miraculously survived the march would arrive to this bleak desert only to be killed upon arrival or to somehow survive until a way to escape the empire was found.  Countless survivors and refugees scattered throughout the Arab provinces and Transcaucasia were to die of starvation, epidemic, and exposure.

Even the memory of the Armenian nation was intended for obliteration; churches, and monuments were desecrated, and small children snatched from their parents, were renamed and farmed out to be raised by Turks. Many girls and younger women were seized from their families and taken as slave-brides. Muslim Turks who assumed instant ownership of everything quickly occupied most of the homes and villages left behind by the rousted Armenians. In many cases, local Turks who took them from their families spared young Armenian children from deportation.

The children were coerced into denouncing Christianity and becoming Muslims, and were then given new Turkish names. For Armenian boys the forced conversion meant they each had to endure painful circumcision as required by Islamic custom. Turkish gendarmes escorted individual caravans consisting of thousands of deported Armenians. These guards allowed roving government units of hardened criminals known as the “Special Organization” to attack the defenseless people, killing anyone they pleased.

They also encouraged Kurdish bandits to raid the caravans and steal anything they wanted. In addition, an extraordinary amount of sexual abuse and rape of girls and young women occurred at the hands of the Special Organization and Kurdish bandits. Most of the attractive young females were kidnapped for a life of involuntary servitude. The death marches during the Armenian Genocide, involving over a million Armenians, covered hundreds of miles and lasted months.

Indirect routes through mountains and wilderness areas were deliberately chosen in order to prolong the ordeal and to keep the caravans away from Turkish villages. Food supplies being carried by the people quickly ran out and they were usually denied further food or water. Anyone stopping to rest or lagging behind the caravan was mercilessly beaten until they rejoined the march. If they couldn’t continue they were shot.

A common practice was to force all of the people in the caravan to remove every stitch of clothing and have them resume the march in the nude under the scorching sun until they dropped dead by the roadside from exhaustion and dehydration. An estimated 75 percent of the Armenians on these marches perished, especially children and the elderly. Those who survived the ordeal were herded into the desert without a drop of water.

Being thrown off cliffs, burned alive, or drowned in rivers. During the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish countryside became littered with decomposing corpses. At one point, Mehmed Talaat responded to the problem by sending a coded message to all provincial leaders: “I have been advised that in certain areas unburied corpses are still to be seen. I ask you to issue the strictest instructions so that the corpses and their debris in your vilayet are buried.” But his instructions were generally ignored.

Those involved in the mass murder showed little interest in stopping to dig graves. The roadside corpses and emaciated deportees were a shocking sight to foreigners working in Turkey. Eyewitnesses included German government liaisons, American missionaries, and U.S. diplomats stationed in the country. During the Armenian Genocide, the Christian missionaries were often threatened with death and were unable to help the people. Diplomats from the still neutral United States communicated their blunt assessments of the ongoing government actions. U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, reported to Washington: “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race…”

 The Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia) responded to news of the massacres by issuing a warning to Turkey: “…the Allied governments announce publicly…that they will hold all the members of the Ottoman Government, as well as such of their agents as are implicated, personally responsible for such matters.” The warning had no effect. Newspapers in the West including the New York Times published reports of the continuing deportations with the headlines: Armenians Are Sent to Perish in the Desert – Turks Accused of Plan to Exterminate Whole Population (August 18, 1915) – Million Armenians Killed or in Exile – American Committee on Relief Says Victims of Turks Are Steadily Increasing – Policy of Extermination (December 15, 1915).

In 1918, the Armenians managed to acquire weapons and they fought back, finally repelling the Turkish invasion at the battle of Sardarabad, thus saving the remaining population from total extermination with no help from the outside world. Following that victory, Armenian leaders declared the establishment of the independent Republic of Armenia.

Turkey’s Continuous Denial: The Turkish denial in the past several decades of this evil Genocide is interesting, yet not unexpected since Islam itself is a religion of denial and lies.  The Turks forget that they themselves have confessed in earlier times.

Turkish Prime Minister Damat Ferid Pasha placed the blame squarely on the Young Turk Party. Mustafa Kemal Pasha {Ataturk} said {in a 1926 interview with a Swiss reporter that} the Young Turks “should be made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse from their homes and massacred. . . .

The Armenian Genocide was witnessed by hundreds of American missionaries in the Ottoman Empire but especially in Anatolia, which was the traditional Armenian homeland.  These missionaries worked among the Armenians and have testified to their destruction by the Ottoman government.

The Genocide was also witnessed by American and European consular officials, stationed in the areas inhabited by the Armenians, who reported it to the ambassadors in Istanbul. Also, there were indeed with many European military advisers with important posts in the Turkish army at the time.

The American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, Sr., confronted the Young Turk leaders, and then he telegraphed the American Secretary of State calling the Turkish action an attempt at “racial extermination.”The Armenian Genocide was well-reported in the American press, and the U.S. Senate held hearing which affirmed its reality.President Woodrow Wilson agreed to draw the boundaries of a free Armenia and sent a message to Congress asking for permission to establish a U.S. mandate over the new state.[I ask this] “Not only because it [the mandate] embodied my own convictions and feeling with regard to Armenia and its people, but also, and more particularly, because it seemed to me to be the voice of the American people expressing their deep sympathies.

At their hearts, this great and generous people [the Americans] have made the case of Armenia their own.The American people raised millions of dollars to aid the victims of the Genocide. Our older citizens will remember aid to the “starving Armenians.”President Herbert Hoover wrote in his Memoirs:

Probably Armenian was known to the American school child in 1919 only a little less than England … of the staunch Christians who were massacred periodically by the Mohammedian Turk, and the Sunday School collections of over fifty years for alleviating their miseries. . . .

The Hellenic & Armenian Genocide was the systematic torture, massacre and ethnic cleansing of several millions Hellenes (Greeks) and Armenians perpetrated by the Turks in Asia Minor, Constantinople (called Istanbul by the Turks), Eastern Thrace, Imvros, Tenedos, Macedonia, Cappadocia and Pontos between the beginning of the 1890’s and the end of the 1950’s.Millions of children, men and women were tortured and massacred or expelled from their homes only for being Hellenes. In the same places and often at the same time, were also massacred millions of Armenians and Assyrians.The only “sin” of those millions of persons was to live where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years before the Turkish invasions. The Turkish rulers carried out with unimaginable cruelty their plan to create a “Turkey for the Turks.”

The fall of Abdul Hamid had been made possible by the cooperation and aid of the Christians. But the latter — Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs — were soon cruelly disillusioned. A general persecution was started, the details of which were reported to their various governments by all the consuls of the city. This persecution first displayed itself in the form of sporadic murders of alarming frequency all over Macedonia, the victims being, in the beginning, notables of the various Christian communities. A favorite place for shooting these people was at their doorsteps at the moment of their return home.

It became evident that the Turkish Government, in order to gain control of the territory, was bent upon the extermination of the non-Mussulman leaders. Many of those murdered had been prominent in the anti-Abdul movement.

U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau’s says;  

Turkey unlike Armenia, is a relatively primitive nation with an Islamic Turkish heritage and a bloody past, Turkey has serious geo-political problems with virtually everyone of its neighbors. Turkey has serious territorial disputes with Armenians, Greeks, Cypriots, Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians and its own Kurdish population.

Beatrice Kaplanian in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. 2005

A 100-year-old survivor of the Armenian expulsion from Turkey recalls the horrors she survived!

Among Beatrice Kaplanian’s sharpest memories from the death march of 1915 is thirst. “We would cry for water,” she says. She remembers seeing her father die. “He was so weak. We covered him and they took him to the valley. They didn’t bury him, they just left him there with the others.” She saw a lot of Armenians on the march die from thirst and fatigue. “Somebody would faint, and he wouldn’t get up.”

Sitting outside in her gray-brick, 17th-century rooftop apartment in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, Kaplanian, whose memories of the killings put her age at roughly 100, is Israel’s last living survivor of the Armenian genocide. Between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenian civilians were killed in 1915-16 by the troops and mobs of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, mainly on forced marches from Turkey to Syria. Another 500,000 to one million Armenians survived and became permanent refugees.

The journey featured widespread rape, as well as mass murders by burning, drowning, axing and beating with blunt instruments – this last “to save shell and powder,” in the words of then-US ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau. In this way, live ammunition was saved for the Ottoman armies fighting World War I.

Countless other Armenians died of epidemics in the gigantic concentration camps set up along the route.

Kaplanian is small and somewhat bent over and her hands tremble, but she’s remarkably mobile and alert and still has a headful of thick, straight, blondish-white hair. She moves plastic chairs and a clothesline out of the way for the interview, and poses according to the photographer’s requests.

Translating my questions into her native Turkish is George Hintlian, Israel’s leading Armenian historian, a lifelong resident of the Armenian Quarter who “discovered” Kaplanian only a few years ago. Born Filomena before being renamed Beatrice by her British adoptive parents, she is one of some 800 survivors he says he has interviewed.

The living memory of the genocide is “like a sinking ship, and you have to salvage whatever you can,” says Hintlian, 58.

As a little girl in her mountain village, Filomena and her sister Christina used to play with the Turkish neighbors’ girls. Then one day the town crier went from house to house among the Armenians telling them that they would all have to leave the next day. Neither the two girls, their older brother or their parents understood what was going on, the old woman says.

They took cheese and bread, threw a mattress and saddle over their donkey – a relative luxury on the march, only for the well-to-do – and the two sisters sat in the saddle while the rest of the family walked. They weren’t told their destination, but they were being led to Aleppo, Syria, some 700 km. away.

One night one of the “escorts” on the march – who were often violent criminals released by the Ottomans especially for this murderous duty – snatched one of the pretty Armenian girls in an instant. “We heard her shriek,” recalls Kaplanian, and the girl was not seen again.

Twice the old woman cried in the interview. The first time was while recalling how she and her sister refused their mother’s request to sit in the saddle for a few hours to rest her feet, telling her that their feet hurt too. The second time was when Kaplanian remembered how a Turkish official took her back to Turkey to be his and his wife’s daughter; she never saw or heard from her family after that.

The postwar British occupation of Turkey removed Filomena from the Turkish couple’s home, bringing her to a British orphanage in Beirut, where she was adopted and later brought to Jerusalem. There she married a shoemaker from her family’s village named Kaplanian who died some 20 years ago, and they had a son who is now in late-middle age.

A devout Christian whose only book at home is the Bible, she says she has “no hard feelings” toward the Turks – or the Kurds, Circassians or Chechens, who also took part in the slaughter – over what happened 90 years ago. “They are human beings too,” she says. “My heart is at peace.” Based on what he knows of other survivors, Hintlian says Kaplanian’s longevity is tied to her extraordinarily forgiving attitude. “The survivors who were filled with hatred usually didn’t live long lives,” he says.

We met at Jaffa Gate as it was filled with Jews coming for the Pessah birkat hakohanim, or “priestly blessing.” In the adjacent Armenian Quarter walls were pasted with posters for the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

As with millions of Armenians above a certain age, Hintlian grew up on family memories of the genocide. His father was on the death march, and he would tell stories about how his father was axed to death, and how his baby brother died from acute diarrhea a few days after their despairing mother, unable to still the boy’s endless cries for water that they didn’t have, gave him muddy water from the ground to drink.

By contrast, the stories Hintlian heard from his mother taught him “that there were good Turks, too,” he says. The mayor of his mother’s village in Turkey, a man named Jellal, who had already been removed by the Ottomans from his post as governor of Aleppo for refusing to cooperate in the genocide, refused again as mayor of the village, costing him that position, too. Jellal won the village’s Armenians crucial months to prepare for their eventual expulsion, says Hintlian.

“None of my mother’s family died on the march,” he says. “They were wealthy, they traveled in a carriage, and they bribed escorts and officials along the way.” Many of the Armenian survivors owed their lives to such bribery, he notes, while others were aided by sympathetic Turks and Kurds, and still others, like his father, survived by resourcefulness and simple “Darwinian” stamina.

His father eventually came to Jerusalem to work as an assistant to the Armenian Patriarch, and George later followed him in the post, which he held for 25 years. During that time he became a historian, publishing eight books on 19th-century Jerusalem and the 1,500-year history of the city’s Armenians.

He decided to research the Armenian genocide at age 19 after hearing a lecture by the pioneer historian of that cataclysm, Vahakn Dadrian, an Armenian-American.

Yet despite having interviewed hundreds of survivors, both local residents and foreigners coming on pilgrimage, and even though he has pored over accounts of the genocide left by American, German, Austrian and Scandinavian officials in Turkey at the time, Hintlian says he has not written a book on the subject and has no plans to do so.

“When Dadrian used to come to the library in the Patriarchate to do research, we had to remind him to eat lunch, he just became so overwhelmed by the cruelty of the stories,” says Hintlian, sitting in an Armenian cafe for tourists at Jaffa Gate.

“Sometimes I go to Yad Vashem and I see scholars coming out looking depressed. I don’t think I have the nerves and willpower to live in that world.

It’s a hell,” he says. “I can read only one week at a time (about the Armenian genocide), then I want to stop. I’m not suited for this work.” Still, he is drawn to the old people he interviews. “I start off asking them about their blood pressure, their simple human needs. Once they feel you care, they’ll tell you anything,” he says with a gentle smile.

“But sometimes I’m very worried about interviewing them,” he continues. Hintlian fears that he may have actually brought on the deaths of three aged interviewees by leading them to recount their childhood memories from the death march. “Three people died very soon after I interviewed them. One died four hours after, another two days after,” he says.

He is in touch with Israeli writers who’ve taken a deep interest in the Armenian genocide, above all Yehuda Bauer, the dean of Holocaust historians in this country. Others include novelists Amos Oz and Haim Guri, politicians Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin, broadcast journalist Ya’acov Ahimeir and historians Amos Elon, Tom Segev and Yair Oron.

Another reason Hintlian doesn’t want to write a book about the Armenian genocide is because of the gaps in its history left by Turkey’s refusal to open its archives from that period. “German archives from the Holocaust have been opened to Jewish researchers, but the Turkish archives from the genocide are either closed or they’ve been purged,” he says. “So we are in the dark about so many details – who [among Ottoman officials] made a particular decision, and when. We have to grope our way and try to make sense of it.” Ultimately, though, Hintlian says he cannot make sense of the Armenian genocide, and this is yet another reason why he feels unable to write a book about it. He is baffled as to how people could carry out an atrocity of such magnitude. “It’s an endless mystery,” he says.

It’s also a mystery to Beatrice Kaplanian, but she doesn’t dwell on it. Putting her balcony chairs away, she is asked how the God she worships could allow such evil. “It is a sin to interfere in the ways of God,” she replies. “Whatever God wills to happen, happens.”

22 September

A Turkish court has ruled that a controversial conference on the mass killing of Armenians living under the Ottoman Empire should be suspended.The conference of academics and intellectuals was to offer a critical look at the official approach to the events of 1915.Armenians want the killings classified as genocide, but Turkey refuses, pointing to casualties on both sides. It is the second time the conference has been called off. The cancellation comes before Turkey is due to begin accession talks for membership of the European Union.

 Taboo

This was no ordinary academic conference. The delegates were set to discuss the fate of the Ottoman Armenians 90 years ago, one of the most sensitive subjects in Turkey. The first attempt to stage the debate, in May, was abandoned after Turkey’s Justice Minister accused organisers of stabbing Turkey in the back. This time a group of nationalist lawyers petitioned a court at the last minute and once again the conference is off. The alleged massacre of more than one million Armenians in 1915 has long been a taboo subject in Turkey. It was illegal even to discuss the issue until a very recent reform inspired by Turkey’s bid for membership of the European Union.

No appeal

Just 10 days before EU accession talks are due to begin, this court ruling is likely to embarrass the authorities. The prime minister, though, has already voiced his concern, calling the decision undemocratic. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that although you may not approve of a point of view, that does not mean you should prevent others from expressing it.

The university does have the right of appeal, but lawyers here say there is now little to no chance the ground-breaking debate can go ahead as planned on Friday.

Pope urges religious tolerance in Turkey

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Pope Benedict XVI began his pilgrimage among Turkey’s tiny Christian communities Wednesday by paying homage to an Italian priest slain during Islamic protests and expressing sympathy for the pressures facing religious minorities in the Muslim world.

The messages — made at one of the holiest Christian sites in Turkey — could set the tone for the remainder of Benedict’s first papal trip to a Muslim nation as he tries to strengthen bonds with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.

The pope is expected to sharpen his calls for what the Vatican calls “reciprocity” — that Muslim demands for greater respect in the West must be matched by increased tolerance and freedom for Christians in Islamic nations.

But too much pressure by the Roman Catholic pontiff could risk new friction with Muslims after broad gestures of goodwill in the opening hours of the trip Tuesday that sought to ease simmering Muslim anger over the pope’s remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad.Iraq denounced the pope’s visit as part of a “crusader campaign” against Islam and an attempt to “extinguish the burning ember of Islam” in Turkey. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the declaration — posted on several Islamic militant Web sites — shows the need for faiths to fight “violence in the name of God.”

He said “neither the pope nor his entourage are worried.”

Still Turkish authorities took massive security precautions for the Istanbul stop, with thousands of police on the street and roads cleared of all traffic for the papal motorcade.

The pope’s deepening ties with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I — called the “first among equals” of the Orthodox leaders — also is watched with suspicion in Turkey as a possible challenge to state-imposed limits on Christian minorities and others. Benedict has declared a “fundamental” commitment to try to heal rifts between the two ancient branches of Christianity, which split nearly 1,000 years ago over disputes including papal authority.

At Bartholemew’s walled compound in Istanbul, the pope stood amid black-robbed Orthodox clerics and urged both sides “to work for full unity of Catholics and Orthodox.”

The pope began the day at the ruins of a small stone home at the end of a dirt road near the Aegean Sea — the site where the Virgin Mary is thought to have spent her last years.

At an outdoor Mass attended by 250 invited guests, the pope noted the challenges facing the “little flock” of Christians in Turkey.

“I have wanted to convey my personal love and spiritual closeness, together with that of the universal church, to the Christian community here in Turkey, a small minority which faces many challenges and difficulties daily,” the pope said.

At times, he smiled and showed flashes of the pastoral flair of his predecessor, John Paul II, in one of the most intimate papal gatherings since John Paul’s trip to remote Mount Sinai during a trip to Egypt in 2000.

Benedict went on to honor the memory of a Catholic priest who was slain in Turkey amid Muslim anger over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of Muhammad.

“Let us sing joyfully, even when we’re tested by difficulties and dangers as we have learned from the fine witness given by the Rev. Andrea Santoro, whom I am pleased to recall in this celebration,” said Benedict, who later walked amid the crowd as they reached to touch his gold-and-white robes and cried “Viva il Papa” and “Benedetto,” his name in Italian.

In February, a Turkish teenager shot the Italian priest as he knelt in prayer in his church in the Black Sea port of Trabzon. The attack was believed to have been linked to outrage over the cartoons. Two other Catholic priests were attacked this year in Turkey, where Christians have often complained of discrimination and persecution.

On Tuesday, the pope urged religious leaders of all faiths to “utterly refuse” to support any form of violence in the name of faith. He also said religious freedom was an essential element of democratic values.

He sought a careful balance as he held out a hand of friendship and brotherhood to Muslims, and expressed support for measures that Turkey has taken in its campaign to join the European Union.

But winning over Turkish sentiments may be easy compared with the complexities ahead.

The legacy of Christianity in Turkey is a tangle of historical and religious sensitivities.

Turkish armies captured the Byzantine capital Constantinople — now Istanbul — in 1453 to begin a steady decline for Christians, who had maintained communities in Asia Minor since the time of the Apostles.

As the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the early 20th century, large numbers of Armenian Christians perished in mass expulsions and fighting. Turkey vehemently denies that it committed genocide against Armenians, though many nations have classified the World War I-era killings as such.

Later, in the 1920s, Turkey and Greece carried out a massive population exchange under the treaty that established modern Turkey, with hundreds of thousands of Greek Orthodox sent to Greece and smaller numbers of Muslims going the other way.

Bartholomew heads the remnants of the Greek community in Istanbul that now number no more than 2,000 among about 90,000 Christians in Turkey.

But they still represent a powerful symbolic presence for the world’s more than 250 million Orthodox, which often denounce Turkey for placing obstacles in the way of Bartholomew and his clerics.

Turkey refuses to acknowledge the “ecumenical,” or universal, title of the patriarch and instead considers him only the head of the local Greek Orthodox community. The Turkish worry is that granting wider status to the patriarch could undermine the idea of a single Turkish nationality — a pillar of the nation’s secular system — and inspire demands for special recognition by minorities including Kurds and Muslim groups such as Sufis and Alevis, considered a branch of Shiite Islam.

Now, Turkish officials are concerned the papal visit and support for Christian minorities could embolden Bartholomew to press Turkey for concessions, including return of confiscated property and the reopening of a Greek Orthodox seminary that closed more than two decades ago after authorities blocked new students. The EU has also pushed Turkey for greater religious openness to help its faltering bid for membership.

“Against the backdrop of universal peace, the yearning for full communion and concord between all Christians becomes even more profound and intense,” he said at the ancient Christian site.

Nestling on a mountain in woods between the ancient city of Ephesus and the town of Selcuk, near the Aegean coast, St. John the Apostle is believed to have brought the Virgin Mary to the house to care for her after Jesus’ death. Another belief maintains that the Virgin Mary died in Jerusalem.

The ruins of the house, whose earliest foundations date to the first century, have become a popular place of pilgrimage for both Muslims and Christians since the 1950s.

A chapel was built over the ruins, and some believe in the healing powers of both the chapel and waters flowing from a nearby spring.

Of Turkey’s 70 million people, some 65,000 are Armenian Orthodox Christians, 20,000 are Roman Catholic and 3,500 are Protestant, mostly converts from Islam. Another 23,000 are Jewish.

European Commission deals blow to Turkey’s EU ambitions

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Commission dealt a blow to Turkey’s EU membership ambitions, recommending a partial freezing of the talks process over Ankara’s hardline stance on Cyprus.

The commission urged that eight of the 35 policy chapters which all candidate nations must complete remain closed, a move which brought an angry reaction from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The decision of the commission is unacceptable,” Erdogan told journalists in Riga, where he was attending a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit.

However EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a press conference here that the measures were “firm but fair.”

“It is no train crash, no freeze, no hibernation, but yes it is a slowing down,” Rehn said after announcing the decision, which was unanimous among the 25 member states, but not before intense closed-door debate.

“Europe needs Turkey and Turkey needs Europe,” he added.

For months the EU had been threatening to recommend full or partial suspension of membership talks with Turkey over its refusal to open its ports to Cyprus under a customs agreement.

Ankara says the 25-nation bloc must first keep its 2004 promise to ease economic sanctions imposed on the island’s breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Turkey.

Cyprus expressed its unease over what it sees as a softly-softly approach by the European Union towards Turkey.

“For the Cyprus government the freezing of some chapters while Turkey, at the same time, continues its accession course as if nothing has happened, does not constitute a sanction,” government spokesman Christodoulos Pashardes told reporters in Nicosia.

The Commission recommended that the EU should “not open negotiations on chapters covering policy areas relevant to Turkey’s restrictions as regards the Republic of Cyprus, until the Commission confirms that Turkey has fulfilled its commitments.”

The EU’s executive arm also urged member states that while some of the chapters, such as those dealing with culture, education or monetary policy, could be opened soon, none should be formally closed until the Commission is happy with Turkey’s attitude to the divided island of Cyprus.

EU foreign ministers are expected to make a final decision on the matter, taking the Commission’s recommendations into account, when they meet here on December 11.

Otherwise the matter would fall into the lap of EU leaders at a summit on December 14-15. Most parties are keen to avoid a “Turkey summit,” as Rehn put it.

The difference of opinion among member states was instantly clear.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, also speaking in Latvia, warned that it would be a “serious mistake” to send a negative signal to Turkey over its EU membership.

“Just at the moment to send an adverse signal to Turkey I think would be a serious mistake,” he said.

However German chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the Commission’s recommendations.

“I think that the European Commission’s proposition is a strong signal,” Merkel told reporters in Riga.

Opponents of the Commission’s move argue that it will strengthen the hand of Turkish nationalists and fan the flames of growing anti-EU sentiment there.

All 35 policy areas, on the full gamut of subjects, must be satisfactorily dealt with before any candidate nation is considered for full EU membership. So far just one chapter has been opened and closed in Turkey’s case and there has been next to no movement in the process since June.

Finland, which is a supporter of Turkey’s EU membership, has been trying to resolve the stalemate since September with a proposal that included Turkey opening its ports and the EU trading directly with the self-proclaimed TRNC.

But Helsinki threw in the towel on Monday, saying there was no hope of an agreement during its EU presidency, which concludes on December 31.

The eight chapters which the EU’s executive arm is recommending be frozen are those on free movement of goods, the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, financial services, agriculture and rural development, fisheries, transport policy, customs union and external relations.

Turkey’s accession process is already expected to take at least a decade and no guarantees have been provided of its eventual success.

Pope to visit “Mary’s House” in Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) – Pope Benedict, pursuing a journey of fence-mending with Islam and Turkey, on Wednesday pays tribute to one of Christianity’s most revered sites before heading to Istanbul, city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.

During the first day of his delicate trip to the largely Muslim but officially secular country on Tuesday, Benedict quickly set to work trying to soothe still simmering rows over his positions on Islam and Turkey’s future role in Europe.

“It started beautifully: the Pope told the world from Ankara that Islam was a religion of peace,” top daily Hurriyet said.

Benedict’s comments so far appeared to go a long way toward making up for a speech in Germany in September when he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was violent and irrational. The speech infuriated Muslims worldwide.

Fears of large protests were unfounded, with only two small and peaceful demonstrations in Ankara. About 3,000 police were out on patrol to keep order, with snipers on buildings and armored personnel vehicles stationed on main intersections.

Well-wishers were absent on the capital’s main streets, an indication of the lack of interest in Benedict’s visit in a country where many still view the Pope with suspicion.

Turkey’s top Muslim leader, Ali Bardakoglu, spoke out against growing Islamophobia and the idea that Islam encouraged violence.

Newspaper Sabah said his speech was like a lesson to the Pope, who had been accused of failing to understand Islam.

In his speech at the same event, Benedict said Christians and Muslims must continue an open dialogue because they believe in the same God and agree on the meaning and purpose of life.

Benedict also appeared to do an about-face from his previous opposition to Ankara’s bid to join the European Union.

“MARY’S HOUSE”

On Wednesday the Pope is due to fly west to the Aegean town of Ephesus, where legend says the mother of Jesus Christ lived out the last years of her life. The stone “Mary’s House” was found in the late 19th century by archaeologists who based their searches on writings of German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich.

The Pope will say mass at the small sanctuary, visited every year by tens of thousands of Christians and Muslims.

The Pope then goes to Istanbul, the modern name of the city once known as Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire for more than 1,000 years until it was conquered by Muslim forces in 1453 and became the Ottoman seat.

There, he will spend the last two days of the trip as the guest of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday that in a private meeting at the airport, Benedict had told him he backed Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

“A surprise from the Pope: Benedict, who had opposed Turkey’s EU membership, spoke differently in Ankara,” said left-leaning newspaper Cumhuriyet said.

Asked to explain the Vatican‘s precise position, spokesman Father Lombardi said it could not take any political stand but “encourages and views positively Turkey’s path of dialogue, rapprochement and participation in Europe based on common values and principles.”

Thousands protest Pope’s visit to Turkey

ISTANBUL (Reuters

More than 20,000 Muslims in Istanbul on Sunday staged the biggest protest so far against Pope Benedict’s trip to Turkey as Islamic opposition to this week’s controversial visit gathered momentum.

Benedict, due to begin his first official visit to a Muslim country next Tuesday, angered many Muslims in September with a speech they took as an insult to Islam.

Youths wearing headbands with Islamic scripts, beating drums and waving Turkish red and white flags chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) in the peaceful rally.

“I cannot remain silent when the Prophet Mohammad is insulted. I love him more than myself,” said Husamettin Aycan Alp, 25, a science student from Izmir in western Turkey.

He said Roman Catholic cardinals chose this pope last year “because he is against Islam and are concerned Islam is spreading in Europe.”

The four-day visit is billed as an opportunity to heal wounds with the Muslim world after the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor saying Islam was violent and irrational. He has said he did not share that view.

Speaking in the Vatican on Sunday, Benedict said he wanted the visit to show his “esteem and sincere friendship” for Turkey and its people.

A visit to Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque was added to the Pope’s itinerary at the last minute, a move seen as an attempt at further reconciliation with the Muslim world.

His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, made the first visit by a pontiff to a mosque during a trip to Damascus in 2001. Pope John Paul paid the last papal visit to Turkey in 1979.

PROTEST AGAINST CRUSADERS

The Islamist Felicity party organising the protest under the banner “against the crusader alliance” — a reference to the crusaders who crossed Anatolia 1,000 years ago on their way to Jerusalem — had expected an attendance of at least 75,000.

“Muslims don’t want the Pope in their lands. Look at the suffering which they spread in Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya. I link this to Christianity,” said Ferdi Borekci, a 28-year-old architect.

Before becoming Pope, Benedict annoyed Turks by speaking out against Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, saying it did not belong there because of its religion and culture.

Turkey’s ruling AK Party government has kept a low profile in preparations for this visit, with talks still ongoing as to whether Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, will meet him before heading off to a NATO summit in Riga.

With presidential and parliamentary elections due next year the AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, must balance a rise in nationalism as well as their support base among conservative Muslims.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, who will be absent during the Pope’s visit, played down the controversy.

“We hope this visit will help eliminate misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians,” Gul told a news conference.

“His message will be very important.”

Turkey plans tight security measures for the Pope, whose trip takes in the capital Ankara, Istanbul — formerly Constantinople — and the site where the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived and died near Izmir on the Aegean coast.

Finns in last ditch bid to resolve Cyprus Turkey row

BRUSSELS (Reuters/Reuters) – Finland launches a last-ditch drive this week to resolve a row between Turkey and Cyprus before a December deadline, but is warning it sees no speedy solution to the issue threatening Ankara’s EU entry bid.

were so slim he would not, offered a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough.

But Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said he did not see a quick solution to Turkey opening its ports to ships from Cyprus as required in its EU membership negotiations.

“I have to say I am not very optimistic we could find a solution soon which would open new possibilities and literally open harbours,” he told Finnish public television on Saturday.

Finland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and wants a deal before a European Commission meeting on December 6.

It plans separate meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Greek Cypriot George Lillikas on the sidelines of the gathering of European and Mediterranean ministers in Tampere.

Brussels has said it will recommend consequences if Turkey fails to open its ports in December, which could involve partial suspension of membership talks launched last year and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has previously warned of a “train crash” in Turkey’s accession bid if no deal is reached.

Tuomioja said he hoped there would not now be “a break” that would endanger Turkey’s bid, but added: “It is clear, however, if we make no progress, we cannot go on as if nothing happened.”

The Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus has represented the divided island since it joined the EU in 2004 and now has EU veto powers over its old Turkish foe.

MIDDLE EAST PLAN

Cyprus diplomacy could overshadow the Euro-Mediterranean meeting, although Spain is expected to outline a new Middle East peace initiative with France and Italy at a dinner with Arab and Israeli ministers on Monday.

Set up in 1995, the forum’s past efforts to foster Middle East peace have yielded meagre results, though a cease-fire that took effect on Sunday in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians raised the possibility of some life being breathed into peacemaking in that region.

Lillikas’s announcement he would not go to Tampere came as Greek media reported that Finland had ditched a key Greek Cypriot demand from its mediation plan under Turkish pressure.

Greece warned that dropping the demand for Ankara to cede the abandoned resort of Varosha to U.N. control and for its former Greek Cypriot residents to be allowed back in might derail the Finnish efforts.

Dropping the proposal would put pressure back onto the Greek Cypriots to show flexibility or risk being seen as spoiler of a plan that Finland has kept secret, not circulated in writing.

Ankara has argued that before Turkey opens its ports, the European Union should first lift trade restrictions against a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of Cyprus.

Commenting on Lillikas’s change of heart, Cyprus government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said on Friday: “There is a particular reason,” but he declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan affirmed on Friday Turkey’s support for a settlement benefiting all parties, including Greek Cypriots. “The object here is to achieve a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

Gul told Reuters on Thursday Ankara was hopeful a Cyprus solution could be found but said any move to suspend Turkey’s EU talks would be dangerous and cost the EU a key strategic and economic partner.

Turkey has called the December 6 deadline on Cyprus blackmail but has also made clear it would not walk way from the talks, uncertainty over which has undermined Turkish financial markets.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called for a balanced approach to overcoming difficulties over Turkey’s EU bid and said French President Jacques Chirac shared his view.

Confirmation that the Cypriot foreign minister would attend a regional forum in the Finnish city of Tampere starting on Monday, two days after saying the chances of progress .

were so slim he would not, offered a glimmer of hope for a breakthrough.

But Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said he did not see a quick solution to Turkey opening its ports to ships from Cyprus as required in its EU membership negotiations.

“I have to say I am not very optimistic we could find a solution soon which would open new possibilities and literally open harbours,” he told Finnish public television on Saturday.

Finland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and wants a deal before a European Commission meeting on December 6.

It plans separate meetings with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Greek Cypriot George Lillikas on the sidelines of the gathering of European and Mediterranean ministers in Tampere.

Brussels has said it will recommend consequences if Turkey fails to open its ports in December, which could involve partial suspension of membership talks launched last year and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has previously warned of a “train crash” in Turkey’s accession bid if no deal is reached.

Tuomioja said he hoped there would not now be “a break” that would endanger Turkey’s bid, but added: “It is clear, however, if we make no progress, we cannot go on as if nothing happened.”

The Greek Cypriot government of Cyprus has represented the divided island since it joined the EU in 2004 and now has EU veto powers over its old Turkish foe.

MIDDLE EAST PLAN

Cyprus diplomacy could overshadow the Euro-Mediterranean meeting, although Spain is expected to outline a new Middle East peace initiative with France and Italy at a dinner with Arab and Israeli ministers on Monday.

Set up in 1995, the forum’s past efforts to foster Middle East peace have yielded meagre results, though a cease-fire that took effect on Sunday in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians raised the possibility of some life being breathed into peacemaking in that region.

Lillikas’s announcement he would not go to Tampere came as Greek media reported that Finland had ditched a key Greek Cypriot demand from its mediation plan under Turkish pressure.

Greece warned that dropping the demand for Ankara to cede the abandoned resort of Varosha to U.N. control and for its former Greek Cypriot residents to be allowed back in might derail the Finnish efforts.

Dropping the proposal would put pressure back onto the Greek Cypriots to show flexibility or risk being seen as spoiler of a plan that Finland has kept secret, not circulated in writing.

Ankara has argued that before Turkey opens its ports, the European Union should first lift trade restrictions against a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of Cyprus.

Commenting on Lillikas’s change of heart, Cyprus government spokesman Christodoulos Pashiardis said on Friday: “There is a particular reason,” but he declined to elaborate.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan affirmed on Friday Turkey’s support for a settlement benefiting all parties, including Greek Cypriots. “The object here is to achieve a win-win situation for everyone,” he said.

Gul told Reuters on Thursday Ankara was hopeful a Cyprus solution could be found but said any move to suspend Turkey’s EU talks would be dangerous and cost the EU a key strategic and economic partner.

Turkey has called the December 6 deadline on Cyprus blackmail but has also made clear it would not walk way from the talks, uncertainty over which has undermined Turkish financial markets.

On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called for a balanced approach to overcoming difficulties over Turkey’s EU bid and said French President Jacques Chirac shared his view.

Azerbaijan, a historical Faux Pas?

Azerbaijan ; Azerbaijani: , officially the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Azrbaycan Respublikası), is a country in the South Caucasus. Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia, it is bounded by the Caspian Sea to the east, Russia to the north, Georgia to the northwest, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south. The Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (an exclave of Azerbaijan) borders Armenia to the north and east, Iran to the south and west, and Turkey to the northwest.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region in the southwest of Azerbaijan Proper declared itself independent from Azerbaijan in 1991, but it is not recognized by any nation.

Azerbaijan is a secular state, and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 2001. The Azerbaijani people (or simply Azeris) are the majority population, most of whom are traditionally adherents of Shi’a Islam. The country is formally an emerging democracy, however with strong authoritarian rule.

Etymology and Usage

There are several hypotheses regarding the origins of the name “Azerbaijan.” The most common theory is that Azerbaijan was eponymously named after Atropates, an Iranian Median satrap (governor), who ruled a region found in modern Iranian Azarbaijan called Atropatene. Atropates name is believed to be derived from the Old Persian roots meaning “protected by fire.”There are also alternative opinions that the term is a slight Turkification of Azarbaijan, in turn an Arabicized version of the original Persian name Âzarâbâdagân, made up of âzar+âbadag+ân (âzar=fire; âbâdag=cultivated area; ân=suffix of pluralization);that it traditionally means “the land of eternal flames” or “the land of fire”, which probably implies Zoroastrian fire temples in this land.Historically, the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan was never called Azerbaijan, which was historically the name of North West Iran, which still goes by the name.

With the collapse of Tsarist Russia in 1917, the Musavat (“Equality”) Turkic Federalist Party, which had pan Turkic elements within it, along with other groups, met in Tbilisi on May 27, 1918 to create their own state. The name they chose for their new nation was Azerbaijan, drawing protests by both Russian and Iranian scholars, citing that the name change was politically motivated and a way of claiming north western Iran. Yet such protests did not reflect the reality: the population of both North (Republic of) Azerbaijan and South (Iranian) Azerbaijan were the same ethnic group, which shares the common Azeri Turkic dialect, practices Shia version of Islam. People inhabitting both parts of Azerbaijan consider themselves Azerbaijanis (Azeris or Azeri Turks).

The Bolsheviks, who had taken power in Russia, re-conquered the Caucasus and kept the name Azerbaijan, in hopes of later adding north western Iran into the Soviet Union.

Mohammad Amin Rasulzade, the leader of Musavat party, later admitted a mistake in choosing the name Azerbaijan for the state, saying that Albania (referring to Caucasian Azerbaijan) was different than Azerbaijan (referring to Iranian Azerbaijan). Also, in an letter to Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, an important Iranian intellectual of the early 20th century, Rasulzade declared his eagerness to do “whatever is in his power to avoid any further discontent among Iranians.

History

The earliest known inhabitants of what is today Azerbaijan were the Caucasian Albanians, a Caucasian-speaking people who appear to have been in the region prior to the host of peoples who would eventually invade the Caucasus. Historically Azerbaijan has been inhabited by a variety of peoples, including Persians, Greeks, Romans, Armenians, Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Russians.

The first kingdom to emerge in the territory of present-day Republic of Azerbaijan was Mannae in the 9th century BC, lasting until 616 BC when it became part of the Median Empire, which later became part of the Persian Empire in 549 BC. The satrapies of Atropatene and Caucasian Albania were established in the 4th century BC and included the approximate territories of the present-day Azerbaijan nation-state and southern parts of Dagestan.Islam spread rapidly in Azerbaijan following the Arab conquests in the 7th8th centuries. After the power of the Arab Khalifate waned, several semi-independent states have been formed, the Shirvanshah kingdom being one of them. In the 11th century, the conquering Seljuk Turks became the dominant force in Azerbaijan and laid the ethnic foundation of contemporary Azerbaijanis. In the 1314th centuries, the country experienced MongolTatar invasions.Azerbaijan was part of the Safavid Persian Empire during the 15th18th centuries. It also underwent a brief period of feudal fragmentation in the mid-18th to early 19th centuries, and consisted of independent khanates. Following the two wars between Qajar Persian Empire, as well as the Ganja, Guba, Baku and other independent khanates, and the Russian Empire, Azerbaijan was acquired by Russia through the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, and the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, and several earlier treaties between the Russian tsar and the khans concluded in the first decade of the 19th century. In 1873, oil (“black gold”) was discovered in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan’s future capital. By the beginning of the 20th century almost half of the oil reserves in the world had been extracted in Baku.After the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Azerbaijan together with Armenia and Georgia became part of the short-lived Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. When the republic dissolved in May 1918, Azerbaijan declared independence as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. The ADR was the first Muslim republic in the world and lasted only two years, from 1918 to 1920, before the Soviet Red Army invaded Azerbaijan. In March 1922, Azerbaijan, along with Armenia and Georgia, became part of the Transcaucasian SFSR within the newly-formed Soviet Union. In 1936, the TSFSR was dissolved and Azerbaijan became constituent republic of the USSR as the Azerbaijan SSR.

During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The primarily objective of Adolf Hitler‘s Operation Edelweiss offensive was to capture Azerbaijan’s oil-rich capital of Baku. For the war effort, Soviet oil workers were obliged to work non-stop and citizens were to dig entrenchments and antitank obstacles into order to block a possible enemy invasion. However, Operation Edelweiss was unsuccessful. The German army was at first stalled in the mountains of Caucasus, then decisively defeated at the Battle of Stalingrad.

In 1990, Azeris gathered to protest Soviet rule and push for independence. The demonstrations were brutally suppressed by Soviet intervention in what Azeris today refer to as Black January. In 1991, however, Azerbaijan re-established its independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, the early years of its independence were overshadowed by a war with Armenia and separatist Armenians over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite a cease-fire in place since 1994, Azerbaijan has yet to resolve its conflict with Armenia over the predominantly ethnic Armenian territory. Since the end of the war, Azerbaijan lost control of 14 – 16% of its territory including Nagorno-Karabakh itself.  As a result of the conflict, both countries faced problems with refugees and internally displaced persons as well as economic hardships.

However, former Soviet Azeri leader Heydar Aliyev changed this pattern in Azerbaijan and sought to exploit its wealthy oil reserves in Baku, something that Azerbaijan has become famous for. Aliyev also cleaned up gambling and was able to cut down the country’s unemployment rate substantially. He also sought closer relations with Turkey while simultaneously making efforts to resolve the Karabakh conflict peacefully with Armenia. However, the political situation in Azerbaijan remains tense especially after Aliyev, upon his death, selected his son Ilham to assume the duties of president. Azeri opposition forces are not satisfied with this new dynastical succession and are pushing for a more democratic government.

Politics

Azerbaijan is a presidential republic. The head of state and head of government are separate from the country’s law-making body. The people elect the president for a five-year term of office. The president appoints all cabinet-level government administrators. A fifty-member national assembly makes the country’s laws. The people of Azerbaijan elect the National Assembly. Azerbaijan has universal suffrage above the age of eighteen.After the presidential elections of October 15, 2003, an official release of the Central Election Committee (CEC) gave İsa Qambar — leader of the largest opposition bloc, Bizim Azarbaycan (“Our Azerbaijan”) — 14% percent of the electorate and the second place in election. Third, with 3.6%, came Lala Şövkat, leader of the National Unity Movement, the first woman to run in presidential election in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, Human Rights Watch and other international organizations, as well as local independent political and NGOs voiced concern about observed vote rigging and a badly flawed counting process.Several independent local and international organizations that had been observing and monitoring the election directly or indirectly declared Isa Gambar winner in the 15 October election. Another view shared by many international organisations is that in reality a second tour of voting should have taken place between the two opposition candidates Isa Gambar and Lala Shevket.

  • Human Rights Watch commented on these elections: “Human Rights Watch research found that the government has heavily intervened in the campaigning process in favor of Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, son of current President Heidar Aliev. The government has stacked the Central Election Commission and local election commission with its supporters, and banned local non-governmental organizations from monitoring the vote. As the elections draw nearer, government officials have openly sided with the campaign of Ilham Aliev, constantly obstructing opposition rallies and attempting to limit public participation in opposition events. In some cases, local officials have closed all the roads into town during opposition rallies, or have extended working and school hours—on one occasion, even declaring Sunday a workday—to prevent participation in opposition rallies”.

Azerbaijan held parliamentary elections on Sunday, 6 November 2005.

U.S. President George W. Bush noted, that “Azerbaijan is a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens and understands that democracy is the wave of the future“.

Azerbaijan was elected as one the members of the newly established Human Rights Council (HRC) by the General Assembly on 9 May 2006. Term of office will begin on 19 June 2006.

Demographics

Azerbaijan has population of 8.5 million (data of UN), 90.6% of whom are ethnic Azerbaijani (also called Azeris; 1999 census figures). The second largest ethnic group are Russians, who now form roughly 1.8% of the population, most having emigrated since independence. Numerous ‘Dagestani’ peoples live around the border with Dagestan. The main peoples are the Lezgis, Avars and the Tsakhurs. Smaller groups include the Budukh, Udins, Kryts and Khinalug/Ketsh around the village of Xinalıq.

Azerbaijan also contains numerous smaller groups, such as Georgians, Kurds, Talysh, Tatars and Ukrainians. Some people argue that the number of Talysh is greater than officially recorded, as many of them are counted as Azerbaijanis. Around the town of Quba in the north live the Tats, also known as the Mountain Jews, who are also to be found in Dagestan. Many Tats have emigrated to Israel in recent years, though this trend has slowed and even reversed more recently. The country’s large Armenian population mostly emigrated to Armenia and to other countries with the beginning of the Armenian-Azeri conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. During the same period, Azerbaijan also received a large influx of Azerbaijanis fleeing Armenia and later Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent provinces occupied by the Armenians. Virtually all of Azerbaijan’s Armenians now live in the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan is 93.4% Muslim and most Azerbaijanis are Twelver Shia Muslim. They represent about 60–70% of the Muslim population. Other religions or beliefs that are followed by many in the country are Sunni Islam, the Armenian Apostolic Church (in Nagorno-Karabakh), the Russian Orthodox Church, and various other Christian and Muslim sects. Mountain Jews in Quba, as well as several thousand Ashkenazim Jews in Baku, follow Judaism. Adherence to religious dogmas is nominal for the majority of the population and attitudes are secular. Traditionally, villages around Baku and the Lenkoran region are considered stronghold of Shi‘ism, and in some northern regions populated by Sunni Dagestani people, the Salafi sect has gained a following. Folk Islam is widely practiced, but an organized Sufi movement is absent.

Culture

The official language of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani, a member of the Oguz subdivision of the Turkic language family, and is spoken by around 95% of the republic’s population, as well as about a quarter of the population of Iran. Its closest relatives in language are Turkish, Turkmen and Gagauzian. As a result of the language policy of the Soviet Union, Russian is also commonly spoken as a second language among the urbane.