Killings in Berlin Explain the Middle East

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No, this commentary is not in reference to the terrible terrorist attack on Dec. 19 in Berlin, in which an Islamic fanatic drove a truck into a crowd, killing 12 and injuring 50.

Rather, it’s in reference to killings that happened in Berlin in 1921 and 1922—killings that help to explain why the Middle East is such a dangerous, volatile region today and why the West is victim to attacks by Islamists.

Unfortunately, American leaders, as well as the indoctrinated American media with their delusional and dangerous belief that diversity has no downside, have ignored Santayana’s warning about not learning from history.  They don’t know about the killings 95 years ago and how they are related to today’s issues in the Middle East.  As a result, American leaders have interjected the USA into the region without understanding its complex racial, ethnic and religious history and dynamics.

This appalling ignorance crosses party lines and includes Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry, and no doubt, president-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State.  But you can bet that Middle Easterners know the history and pass it from one generation to another, just as we pass on our history.

The killings that took place in 1921 and 1922 were actually three assassinations.  The assassins were Armenians from Turkey, and the assassinated were three Young Turks, which was the name of the Muslim leaders of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

The three Young Turks had been given asylum in Germany after the war when it came to light that they had sanctioned the Armenian genocide, a genocide that had resulted in the deaths of between 700,000 and one million Armenians.

It’s telling and tragic that Americans know a lot about the Holocaust but know little about the Armenian genocide.  Maybe if Armenians were dominant in the arts and Hollywood, it would be a different story.  (Americans know even less about a genocide that was far worse than the Holocaust in terms of numbers killed:  the genocide against African natives in the Belgian Congo, by the Belgian government.)

Prior to the 1921-1922 assassinations, the Ottoman Empire had controlled much of the Middle East for over three centuries, maintaining a relative peace among its diverse subjects, who hated diversity and wanted to cut the throats of people who were different from them, as humans of all races and religions have done throughout history, contrary to the baloney that only whites are evil, as taught in public schools and universities and believed by Barack Obama.  The Empire was conquered and dissolved in the First World War by the Entente powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, and late in the war, the United States.  The Ottoman Empire had reluctantly joined the Central powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the war, out of a justifiable fear that czarist Russia was lusting over Ottoman territory.   (When the Bolsheviks overturned the czar in 1917, they took Russia out of the war and declared that they had no “imperial” designs on Ottoman territory.)

At first it was thought that Arabs were responsible for the assassinations.  After all, Arabs had good reason to be angry.  Some Arabs had joined the Entente powers in fighting the Ottomans and the other Central powers, while other Arabs had fought on the side of the Ottomans and the other Central powers against the Entente powers.  Throughout the war, Germany had tried to convince Muslims to declare a jihad against Great Britain and France, as a way of getting Arabs to stop their infighting and join together in fighting these two nations, which the Arabs had good reason to believe had imperialistic designs on Arab lands.

Ironically, Germany is now a target of jihad.

Leaders of the Arab movement for self-determination were angry at the Young Turks for signing the Paris Peace Accords at the end of the war.  The accords gave Great Britain and France free rein to carve up Syria, Transjordan, and Mesopotamia (Iraq), thus reneging on their promise to grant Arabs the right of self-determination in their historic lands.

As part of the imperialistic deal, France got Lebanon and Syria, and Great Britain got Palestine and Iraq.  Decades later, Americans got death, debt and blowback when they blundered into the Middle East, stepping into the mess left behind by Great Britain and France instead of calling for Britain and France to lose blood and treasure in addressing a problem of their doing, or at least reminding them of their culpability.

As an aside, Ho Chi Minh also was snubbed at the Paris Peace Conference, when he tried without success to meet with Woodrow Wilson and the America delegation to convince them to help the Vietnamese in achieving self-determination by advocating for the removal of the shackles of French colonialism.  This drove him to embrace radical communism, which, nearly a half-century later, drove the United States to send 50,000 Americans to their needless death in the Vietnam War, a war that more than anything else is responsible for the cultural and political divide in America today.

The Paris Peace Conference got one thing right:  that autonomous regions should be carved out of Turkey for the Kurds and for the Armenians.  That never happened, however, due to Mustafa Kemal leading a rebellion against the accords and against the post-war occupation of Turkey by the victors in the war.  He would later become a national hero by founding the Turkish Republic.  Today, the Kurds are in rebellion and engaging in terrorism against the Turkish government, which is a member of NATO.

At about the same time as the Paris Peace Conference, Arabs found out the whole truth about the earlier secret Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France, as well as the Balfour Declaration issued by Britain.  They realized that as Britain and France were promising self-determination for Arabs, they were actually plotting the opposite.  Not only that, but Britain had cleared the way for Zionists to establish a homeland in Palestine, as if Palestine were a suburb of London in which Britain could dictate who lived there and how they were to be governed.  The four wars since then between Arabs and Jews have not resolved the issue.

To digress, only a fool would take one side over the other side in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as both sides have the blood of history on their hands.  But this fool will suggest that Americans might have a more balanced view of the history of the conflict if the Arab perspective had been told in American movies, literature and media as much as the Jewish perspective.   Those two sentences alone will be enough to enrage some people enough to call me anti-Semite, as if saying anything negative about Zionism is synonymous with hating Jews—and as if Jews are the only Semites, which is an insult to Assyrians, who are Semites and go back to the Assyrian Empire of the seventh century BC and still live in present-day Syria.

With this history in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the new Islamic State (aka ISIS) had tweeted to its followers in 2014 that it was “smashing Sykes-Picot.”   Of course Sykes-Picot is not a justification for ISIS barbarism, but this shows that Middle Easterners have a different understanding of their history than Americans do.

And what a history it is.  Present day Syria has been ruled, by among others, by the Medes, the Achaemenid Empire, the Seleucid Empire, the Parthian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Sasanian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.  Oh, let’s not forget the French Empire.

Today we cringe at the destruction of Aleppo and the heartbreaking exodus of suffering refugees.  But in historical context, this is nothing new.  The cities of Damascus and Aleppo were destroyed and occupied by invading armies many times over the millennia.

Americans stand up at sporting events for the singing of the National Anthem, or the “Star-Spangled Banner,” which honors the courage of Americans when the British bombarded Fort McHenry in the battle for Baltimore in the War of 1812.  But compared with the history of Syria or the larger Middle East, this event is just a drop of blood in a barrel of blood.

Until our leaders understand this, they will continue to make foolish and dangerous decisions regarding the Middle East.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan