Front Page Magazine
Dec 3 2004

What's Right With Turkey
By Mustafa Akyol | December 3, 2004

In its Nov. 22nd issue, Frontpage Magazine posted an article by
Gamaliel Isaac, entitled "Turkey's Dark Past." Mr. Isaac's piece was
basically an attempt to rebut of one of my previous articles,
"European Muslims and The Quest For the Soul of Islam." I have argued
there that, among many other things, Turkey has had an Islamic
heritage free of anti-Westernism and anti-Semitism and has now an
atmosphere quite favorable to open society. Further, I suggested that
the West should certainly support Turkey's entry into the European
Union, noting that this would blur the "civilizational" boundaries
and create a model for other Muslim nations.

Mr. Isaac did not agree with these points and presented several
quotes and comments about Turkey's alleged "dark past." This past,
according to Isaac, was rife with anti-Christian and anti-Jewish

I believe that Mr. Isaac is deeply mistaken about this. But I am glad
that he brought up such criticism, because it will help me to unveil
some myths and biases about Turkey and Islam in general. The "dark
past" in question is "dark" because of those myths and biases. To
illuminate it, we have to revisit Mr. Isaac's article.

The Turks and the Armenians

Mr. Isaac's article starts with a long quote from Srdja ("Sergei")
Trifkovic, a Serbian nationalist and author of the anti-Islamic
polemic The Sword and the Prophet. Later in this article I will take
a closer look at Trifkovic himself, including his links with Serbian
war criminals, but first of all let's focus on his arguments.

The first paragraph Mr. Isaac quotes from Trifkovic is about "the
history of the Turkish oppression of the Armenian Christians." Since
Armenians lived peacefully and flourished under Turkish (Ottoman)
rule for many centuries until the late 1800's, that "history" would
at worst refer to a short period in Ottoman experience. Moreover, it
is not a "history of oppression" but the history of a clash between
Armenians and Turks, a clash in which both, but especially the
former, were inspired by nationalism, which was a new phenomenon in
Ottoman lands.

To call the Armenian-Turkish clash "oppression" or a "genocide" of
Armenians would be to see only side of reality. In his book, Death
and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922,
historian Justin McCarthy tells us about that much-neglected side,
too. He also tells about the emergence of mutual hatred between
Ottoman Muslims and Armenians. According to McCarthy:

The period that led up to World War I was one of increased
polarization in the east. The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 resulted
in further additions to the de facto population exchange of Muslims
to Anatolia and Armenians to the Caucasus. The wartime aid given the
Ottomans by Caucasian Muslims and aid given the Russians by Anatolian
Armenians reinforced the primacy of ethnic and religious affiliation
over loyalty to governments. In Anatolia, Armenian revolutionary
agitation and Kurdish raids both exacerbated the hatred and divisions
between Armenians and Muslims. In the Caucasus, the same hatred and
divisions surfaced in a bloody fashion during the Revolution of

The "Armenian revolutionary agitation" is deliberately neglected by
those who argue that Armenians experienced a Holocaust under Ottoman
rule. They truly suffered, especially in 1915, and I am in no way
willing to minimize or trivialize that tragedy. But that was not a
"holocaust." In the real Holocaust, Nazis exterminated 6,000,000 Jews
simply out of an unprovoked, sadistic hatred of the Jews. What
happened in 1915, and beforehand, was mutual killing in which the
Armenian loss was greater than that of the Muslims (Turks and Kurds),
but in which the brutality was pretty similar on both sides. In the
words of Bernard Lewis, a most authoritative commentator on the
Middle East, "the suffering of the Armenians was limited both in time
and space to the Ottoman Empire and, even there, only to the last two
decades of Ottoman history. More important, it was a struggle,
however unequal, about real issues; it was never associated with
either the demonic beliefs or the almost physical hatred which
inspired and directed anti-Semitism in Europe and sometimes

Justin McCarthy sums up the nature of the struggle between Armenians
and Turks:

"In 1895 in Anatolia and in 1905 in the Caucasus, inter-communal
warfare broke out. Prior to that time, Muslims and Armenians had
supported either the Russian or the Ottoman empires. Now the Muslims
and Armenians had set about killing each other in their villages and
cities. This war was not a thing of armies, but of peoples. It had
been building for almost a century, brought about by Russian
invasion, Armenian nationalism, and Ottoman weakness. By 1910, the
polarization that was soon to result in mutual disaster was probably
inevitable. Blood had been shed and revenge was expected and desired.
Whatever their individual intentions, Muslims knew they were at risk
from the Armenians, and Armenians knew they were at risk from the
Muslims. Once World War I began, each side naturally assumed the
worst of the other, and acted accordingly."[3]

Thus when we deal with the fate of Armenians of the Ottoman Empire,
we should see both sides of the tragedy in question.

What Trifkovic -- Mr. Isaac's trusted source on Ottoman history --
does is to strip events of their true historical contexts, present
inter-communal conflicts as unilateral aggressions, and show
exceptional cases of violence as the norm.

This type of distortion is also evident in Trifkovic's following

"The bloodshed of 1915-1922 finally destroyed ancient Christian
communities and cultures that had survived since Roman times --
groups like the Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Nestorians (Iraqi
Orthodox), and Chaldaeans (Iraqi Catholic)..."

One might wonder how those Christian communities and cultures
survived in the first place "since Roman times." The answer is what
some people can't bear to hear nowadays: Islamic tolerance. The
Christians in question had been under the rule of Arab and then
Turkish governance for the preceding thirteen centuries, and they did
pretty well in light of pre-modern standards.

What happened, we should ask, between 1915-1922? The answer is quite
clear: Turkey and its Muslim peoples (Turk, Kurds, and other ethnic
Muslim groups) were engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the
Great Powers of Europe. Turkey joined WWI as an ally of Germany in
1915, and fought many bloody battles with the invading British,
French, Russian, Italian and Greek forces. When the war ended in
1918, the destruction of Turkey began and Anatolia, the historical
homeland of Turks, was invaded and carved up by these allies. This
was followed by the Turkish War of Liberation, which secured the
borders of modern Turkey.

During these long years of war, some of the Christian communities in
Turkey aligned themselves with the invaders. As a result, they became
targets of Turkish war effort in some cases. These were not
justifiable phenomena, but they are were understandable. They were
not examples of a Turkish onslaught against Christians, but rather of
bitter inter-communal conflict in a time of severe crisis and

A better example to illustrate the historical truth in question and
the way it is distorted by Trifkovic would be the bloodshed in Smyrna
in 1922.

The Bloodshed in Smyrna -- With the Truth Behind

In Mr. Isaac's article, we read the following quote from Trifkovic:

"The burning of the Greek city of Smyrna and the massacre and
scattering of its three hundred thousand Christian inhabitants is one
of the most poignant - if not, after the vast outrages of the 20th
century, the bloodiest - crimes in all history. It marked the end of
the Greek community in Asia Minor. On the eve of its destruction,
Smyrna was a bustling port and commercial center. It was a genuinely
civilized, in the old-world sense, place. An American consul-general
later remembered a busy social life that included teas, dances,
musical afternoons, games of tennis and bridge, and soirees given in
the salons of the highly cultured Armenian and Greek bourgeoisie. Sic
gloria transit: sporadic killings of Christians, mostly Armenians,
started as soon as the Turks overran it on September 9, 1922."

And the quote goes on with the details of "Turkish violence" against
the Greeks in the city.

If a reader doesn't know much about the history of Turkey, what will
he picture from this? A civilized Greek city invaded and destroyed by
the savage Turkish hordes, right? Yes.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that Smyrna
(known as Izmir in Turkish) was an Ottoman city that included a Greek
quarter, and the Turks were not invading Smyrna, they were liberating
the city from the occupying Greek army. This army had started its
invasion of Smyrna three and a half years before and then had
occupied much of Western Anatolia.

During this occupation, local Greeks in Smyrna, who were Ottoman
citizens, welcomed the invading Greek Army and aligned themselves
with the intruders in nationalist zealotry. The intruders were
incredibly brutal to the Muslim population of Anatolia. Many cases of
the slaughter, rape and torture of Turkish Muslims are known. These,
as one could expect, aroused a Turkish rage against the Greeks. The
bloodshed in Smyrna in September, 1922 was an act of vengeance.

Ernest Hemingway is one of the Westerners who wrote in detail about
what happened in Smyrna at the time. He was, like many others, highly
critical of the Turks. Yet, again like many others, he neglected the
other side of the truth. In a recent article in The Hemingway Review,
author Matthew Stewart, Associate Professor of Humanities at Boston
University, acknowledges:

" ... it should also be stated that Greek forces had engaged in
unnecessary brutality during the Greek occupation of the Anatolian
regions in question, first, upon their entry into Smyrna, and more
particularly during their hasty retreat towards Smyrna in the final,
losing stages of the war some three and a half years later. Arnold
Toynbee, serving on the ground in an official oversight capacity,
provides a noteworthy voice of contemporary protest against Greek
misconduct (by present standards quite possibly amounting to war
crimes). Indeed, the cycle of outrage and reprisal had unfortunately
been woven into the history of the area long before the conflicts of
1919-22. In his fiction and reportage, Hemingway notes instances of
cruelty originated by both sides, and perhaps, on the whole, comes
down harder on the Greeks than the Turks."[4]

Of course this does not justify the bloodshed in Smyrna, but it helps
us to see that what Trifkovic shows us as Turkish cruelty was simply
the cruelty of war itself.

The distortion Trifkovic evinces here is indeed one that needs
attention. Now imagine: What would you think if you saw someone who
talks about the evil Americans, Russians, British, and French who
destroyed the civilized German cities in 1945, without even bothering
to mention that Nazi Germany invaded and tortured nearly the whole of
Europe and Russia before that? You would suspect that this
"revisionist historian" is a Nazi sympathizer, right? Or, a Nazi

Well, you can suspect something similar in Trifkovic's case. And the
reasons are abundant.

Trifkovic -- The Devil's Advocate?

Srdja Trifkovic is not a Nazi, but rather an advocate of a more
recent fascism: aggressive Serbian nationalism, which was responsible
for the ethnic cleansing and the related war crimes committed against
the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina during 1992-95.

Actually this is not much of a secret. A quick search on the internet
will reveal to you that Srdja Trifkovic was one of the leaders of the
Bosnian Serbs during the years of ethnic cleansing. Unsurprisingly,
he has an online article titled "The Hague Tribunal: Bad Justice,
Worse Politics," in which he argues that there was no ethnic
cleansing at all against Bosnian Muslims by Serbs. His subtitle reads
"The Myth of the Bosnian Holocaust," and to support his eccentric
case he repeatedly accuses the U.S. authorities of distorting or
covering up "facts" about Bosnia to accuse Serbs unjustly. His
anti-Islamism seems to produce, as a by-product, some
anti-Americanism, too.

No wonder that the website that presents Trifkovic's mentioned
article includes slogans like "Free Milosevic - Hands Off Yugoslavia
- Now!" and, instead of Milosevic, presents Bill Clinton, Tony Blair
and Madeline Albright as "wanted war criminals."

In the same article, Trifkovic openly supports Bosnian Serb wartime
leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic and
argues for their innocence. These two have been indicted by the U.N.
Tribunal on sixteen counts of genocide and war crimes regarding the
Bosnian war of 1992-1995 and are still fugitives.

Trifkovic's sympathy for these mass murderers is evident in his
writing, but his link to Slobodan Milosevic, the architect and
mastermind of the Bosnian genocide, was recently debated. Stephen
Schwartz, an authoritative commentator on Islam, world politics and
Balkan affairs, revealed Trifkovic's links to Milosevic and his ilk
in a Frontpage article. In his reply, Trifkovic repeatedly denied any
link to Milosevic. Yet, there is some undiscussed information that
seems to render his denials unpersuasive.

That information comes directly from The Hague Tribunal on
Yugoslavia. In March, 2003, Trifkovic appeared as a defense witness
in the trial of Milomir Stakic in this court. On July 13, 2003,
Stakic was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty on
the following counts:

Count 4: Extermination, a Crime against Humanity

Count 5: Murder, a Violation of the Laws and Customs of War

Count 6: Persecutions, Crimes against Humanity, incorporating

Count 3: Murder, a Crime against Humanity, and

Count 7: Deportation, a Crime against Humanity.

The entire Judgment of the Tribunal in the Stakic case may be found

The Stakic case is of great importance in the overall context of the
Bosnian war and The Hague Tribunal, because it centers on the
expulsion of non-Serbs from the area of Prijedor in northern
Bosnia-Herzegovina, in which the notorious concentration camps of
Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje were located. Stakic himself stated
on television that the camps of Omarska, Keraterm, and Trnopolje were
`a necessity in the given moment.' The Stakic trial is among the most
important proceedings at The Hague.

And Trifkovic was at The Hague to defend the crimes of Stakic. The
expert testimony of Srdja Trifkovic, as he identifies himself in the
record, appears at this link:

There are some illuminating points at Trifkovic's testimony. At page
13757, Trifkovic admits that he served as `representative of the
Republika Srpska between 9 November, 1993 and July, 1994, in London,'
a fact that he had omitted from the C.V. he submitted to the
Tribunal. The Republika Srpska [R.S.] was the Serbian occupation
zone in Bosnia-Herzegovina created on the orders and under the
direction of Slobodan Milosevic.

At page 13806 Counsel Korner confronts Trifkovic with the following
question: `Dr. Trifkovic, isn't it in fact the case that far from
being an objective observer of these events and their aftermath, you
are in fact a strongly committed Serb nationalist?'

On March 19, 2003, Judge Wolfgang Schomburg comments on the character
of Trifkovic's testimony, which he describes as showing `the clear
lack of tolerance, the poor basis of facts relying on secondary
instead of primary sources. And not going into details, we discussed
some examples yesterday. This is clear. But as I said yesterday, this
has nothing to do with Dr. Stakic being the accused here in this

That is, the Judge states that the opinions of Trifkovic should not
be attributed to the defendant Stakic. The opinions of Trifkovic were
so extreme they should be excluded so as not to prejudice the defense
of a man who finally was given the first LIFE SENTENCE for his crimes
against Bosnian Muslims!

So you can understand why Trifkovic's "book", The Sword of The
Prophet, is full of distortions and biased presentations of history,
as I have demonstrated above, in just a few examples about Turkish

I hope Mr. Isaac will be much more cautious about the distortions of
this "strongly committed Serb nationalist," who is an advocate of the
criminals that planned and executed the Bosnian genocide. The Psalms
declare, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the
wicked" (1:1), and I think Mr. Isaac might need to reconsider his
sources in order to deserve that blessing.