Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 2, 2019

How class mattered in the Ukrainian and Turkish elections

Filed under: Turkey,Ukraine — louisproyect @ 4:05 pm

Volodymyr Zelensky: the Jewish comedian likely to be Ukraine’s next President

In the 1930s, when fascism was on the march everywhere, it was fueled by both nationalism and medieval-like religious fanaticism. Germany and Italy obviously represented the first trend while Spain and Portugal’s mixture of fascism and Catholicism the second. Now, 80 years later, we are seeing the same kind of toxic brew. All across Europe, nationalism has fueled the rise of fascist-like regimes while as you head eastward, it is political Islam that has helped prop up reactionary rulers. While elections are not generally an reliable barometer of mass consciousness, those that took place this week in Ukraine and Turkey indicate that nationalism and religion will not suffice in keeping the working class quiescent.

For the past couple of years, I have seen constant references to Ukraine being the closest thing we have today to a fascist regime. We are continuously reminded that the government has officially recognized Stephen Bandera as a national hero and that the military is riddled with neo-Nazi Azov Battalion members. To a large extent, this narrative has gained traction on the left because of the tireless efforts of websites like Consortium News, Grayzone and what Jeff St. Clair calls the Sputnik Left.

If anti-Semitism is the hallmark of neo-Nazism today, it certainly did not figure in the calculations of Ukrainians who cast twice as many votes for the Jewish comedian Volodymyr Zelensky then they did for the incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the first round of Presidential elections. Since neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a second round on April 21. With Zelensky receiving 30 percent of the vote over Poroshenko’s 16 percent, it seems likely that he will be the next president.

Zelensky played Ukraine’s president in a hugely popular TV series in 2015 titled “Servant of the People”. Kiev political strategist Olexiy Golobutskiy said: “People imagine what they want in Zelensky. Liberals think he is a liberal, patriots think he is a patriot, leftists think he is a leftist. This amorphousness is really helping him at this point.” In other words, he sounds like a typical politician. There’s not much information on “Servant of the People” online but a Foreign Policy article describes a show that can hardly sit well with Bandera admirers:

In the third season, crazed Ukrainian nationalists (with the slogan “Freedom, Surname, Country”) stage a coup that leads to his arrest. As one of the usurpers says while asking prison inmates to reveal their last names (and, hence, their nationality), “Ukraine is not for everybody”—so much so, apparently, that even “Ukrainian prisons will only hold patriots.”

The Foreign Policy article was written by Alexander J. Motyl, a Rutgers historian who feels that “Servant of the People” was insufficiently critical of the Russians. Zelensky probably yearns for an end to the war that a politician like Poroshenko kept going because it helped to unite the people around his nationalist agenda. Accusations that Zelensky is a secret Kremlin asset fail to engage with his political practice. Wikipedia states: “After the Ukrainian media had reported that during the War in Donbass Zelensky’s Kvartal 95 [his comedy troupe] had donated 1 million hryvnias to the Ukrainian army, Russian politicians and artists petitioned for a ban on his works in Russia. Unlike them, Zelensky spoke out against the intention of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture to ban Russian artists from Ukraine.”

My expectations for Zelensky are minimal. Probably the best thing that can be said about him is his distance from the Ukrainian oligarchic business class. Poroshenko is worth close to a billion dollars while the Donbass rebels have close ties to the bourgeoisie whose wealth is derived from mining and manufacturing companies in the east. If nothing else, Zelensky’s presidency is about as close to the original promise of Euromaidan that is possible right now. That is certainly a step forward.

On Sunday, my wife and her sister were glued to online TV reporting from Turkey. By mid-afternoon, it had become apparent that the municipal elections had resulted in a clear repudiation of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP (The Justice and Development Party; in Turkish Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). The capital city Ankara voted for the opposition Kemalist candidate as did Izmir. While the votes had not been finalized in Istanbul, the Kemalist lead was insurmountable.

The loss of Istanbul would be especially painful for Erdoğan since his initial electoral success was becoming its mayor in 1994. The AKP is similar to Christian Democratic parties in Europe except that its ideological base is drawn from Islam rather than Christianity. It had ties to a rising bourgeoisie in Anatolia, especially in the textile industry, that did not share the secularism of the traditional Kemalist bourgeoisie and its bureaucratic and military officialdom.

In the early years of AKP rule, it was able to win over many Kemalist voters because it benefited from a relatively flourishing economy and its generous social measures, especially in health care. It also seemed willing to bury the hatchet with the Kurdish population and to move toward integration with the EU, just as was the case in Ukraine.

On January 6, 2017, CounterPunch published an article of mine titled “What Turkey Has Become” that might be a useful introduction to AKP rule. I wrote, in part:

By the 1950s, the progressive aspects of Kemalism had long disappeared. Except for the Kurds and the beleaguered socialist groups in Turkey, there was not much resistance until the Islamists began to emerge as a bourgeois power with its own agenda. Largely based in the Anatolian region and in the textile industry, they began asserting themselves in the 1980s.

For many Turks who had little sympathy for Islamism as an ideology, the AKP was a welcome alternative to decades of Kemalist misrule. In the early 2000s, I took Turkish language classes with Etem Erol at Columbia University, who died much too young exactly a year ago from a heart attack. Like many progressive-minded Turks, Erol voted for the AKP in the 2002 elections and again in 2007. For him, the charitable work of the Islamists and their seeming willingness to bring the Kurds in out of the cold was reason enough to vote for the party.

Now a ferocious critic of the AKP that he would now have you believe is responsible for much of Syria’s miseries, Stephen Kinzer was of a different mind in 2006 when he praised Turkey’s bid to join the EU and the government’s relaxation of tensions with the Kurds. In a New York Review of Books article dated January 12th, Kinzer quoted a Kurdish writer named Lutfi Baski: “Before, we were afraid to speak out. The government was insisting that there were no Kurds, that there was no Kurdish language or culture. They arrested us and closed our organizations. Now, so much has changed, especially in the last few months. Our problems haven’t been solved, not at all, but at least we can talk about them honestly. It’s a huge difference.”

Not only did much of the left admire Erdoğan for a more enlightened stance toward the Kurds, he appeared to be on our side when it came to the Palestinians. In 2010 the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was an important initiative that had the full support of the AKP. That was the same year as the infamous “low sofa” interview he gave to Israeli television, one in which he was seated far below his interviewer—a sign of disrespect.

Between the time of the article’s publication and today, Turkey’s economy has gone into a steep decline. My friend Ahmet Tonak, who I have interviewed twice on Turkish political developments, had an article “The Turkish economy: worse than a recession” published on MR Online just a couple of weeks ago that confirms that the Turkish voters were in such economic distress that their Islamic beliefs were not deep enough to keep the wedded to the Islamic party. One hopes that this pattern might be repeated in other MENA states as the contradictions that produced the Arab Spring continue to mount.

During the final quarter of 2018, consumption fell by 8.9%. How significant is this? A comparison with corresponding figures reported for the United States during the economic crisis of 2007–2008 is quite revealing. At its worst, American household consumption declined by 3% and 3.7%, respectively, during the third and fourth quarters of 2008. In Turkey, by contrast, the drop during the fourth quarter of 2018 alone was nearly three times as bad as each quarter in the U.S., and more significant than even the two quarters combined. This testifies to the depth of the crisis in Turkey, and the tangible ways in which ordinary people are affected by it. The situation is fast becoming intolerable.

The situation is becoming intolerable? Except for what Bernie Sanders calls the billionaire class, that is true for most of humanity. Hold on to your hats, comrades. The ride will be rocky.

March 18, 2019

Making kosher half-sour dill pickles

Filed under: food,Jewish question,Kevin Coogan,Turkey — louisproyect @ 10:25 pm

In the 50s and 60s, my father had a fruit store in Woodridge, NY that was famous for the kosher half-sour dill pickles made in the back of the store. By the time I was 14 years old, I began making them using his time-honored recipe. It consisted of the standard spices that he bought wholesale, garlic, dill and vinegar. You put about 25 pounds of Kirby cucumbers into a huge barrel, mixed in the other ingredients, put the lid of a peach basket on top of all this, and topped it off with a heavy stone to keep everything compacted together with the pickling ingredients. People used to come from miles around to buy his pickles.

The kind of barrel I used, about four feet tall.

In recent years, I have gotten into the habit of buying what my Turkish relatives call turşu, which is pronounced turshu. There was a great store that sold turşu on 85th and First but like so many small businesses became a casualty of extortionist rental leases.

We then started buying kosher dill pickles from Fairway, even though they didn’t sell the entire range of turşu products, which in addition to pickles can include mixed vegetables. Since Fairway is owned by Blackstone, a company I really hate for personal reasons, I decided to look into making them myself. It turned out to be a roaring success.

If you have access to a Whole Food store, you can buy Kirby cucumbers there. Then, you order the Ball spicing mix  from Amazon (or buy it from Whole Food or your local supermarket, even though I think you’ll have to end up ordering it online since it is not an everyday product.)

Kirby cucumbers

If you are making two quarts of pickles, as the Ball instructions indicate, make sure to use 2 ½ pounds of pickles rather than the 3 ½ it calls for since that would require a third quart jar. But still use the same amount of pickling ingredients. Don’t bother buying fancy gourmet vinegar. Heinz works just fine. This is what you’ll end up with after a week in the fridge. Trust me, they taste great. I say that as a bona fide expert on kosher pickles learned as an apprentice to my master pickle-maker Jack Proyect.

The next step is to make turşu with the other ingredients, a mixture of cauliflower, long green peppers, carrots and cabbage. Goes great with barbunya pilaki and kuru fasulye.

February 27, 2018

Polluting Paradise

Filed under: Ecology,Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 8:41 pm

Like fellow German filmmaker Werner Herzog, Fatih Akin, who was born to Turkish parents in Germany 44 years ago, is equally adept at making narrative and documentary films. Also, like Herzog, he has a deeply humanistic sensibility so sadly lacking in commercial films today. My introduction to his work was the 2005 “Crossing the Bridge”, a fantastic survey of Turkish music ranging from Arabesque to heavy metal available on Youtube and the most recent being “In the Fade”, a narrative film about neo-Nazis in Germany that was voted best foreign-language film of 2017 by NYFCO.

Thanks to the good people at Strand Releasing, a film distribution company dedicated to offbeat films, you can now see his 2012 documentary “Polluting Paradise” that is based on the struggle of the villagers of Çamburnu to remove a garbage landfill just a quarter-mile from the place that one, an elderly woman, described as a paradise.

Çamburnu sits on top of the hills overlooking the Black Sea in Trabzon Province of Turkey’s northeast. Most of the villagers appear to be small-scale tea producers and typical of the Turkish countryside: religiously observant and tradition-bound. For my urbane relatives in Istanbul,  life in Çamburnu  is as remote from theirs as it is from mine. Despite that, as soon as they discovered that a landfill was going to be foisted on them by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bureaucrats, they demonstrated a willingness to struggle that you might have associated with small town residents of Vermont learning that a nuclear power plant was being built in their midst. Seeing mostly elderly women in scarves confronting the engineer supervising the construction project will remind you why Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule rests on shaky grounds.

If you’ve seen “Kedi”, the inspiring story of how Turks look after street cats in Istanbul, you’ll be motivated to watch “Polluting Paradise” (VOD/DVD information is here) as it allows ordinary people to make extraordinary statements about their way of life. Turks, whether illiterate or PhD’s, have a way of expressing themselves eloquently. In “Kedi”, they spoke from their heart about why caring street cats made them feel both human and closer to God. In “Polluting Paradise”, they talk about their love of village life that is under threat from capitalist development everywhere in the world. Throughout China, villages are being sacrificed to the needs of the country’s rapacious productive forces while Çamburnu was a sacrificial lamb to Turkey’s consumerism. When Trabzon’s governor was looking for a place to dump the province’s household trash, Çamburnu appeared an easy mark. However, the film demonstrates how rural folk can fight like tigers when their way of life is threatened.

In the press notes, Akin describes how the idea for “Polluting Paradise” originated:

In 2005 I was looking for a new idea for a film. I was working on The Edge of Heaven, but was still at the beginning. At the time I had just seen Martin Scorsese’s film about Bob Dylan, No Direction Home. I was so inspired by the phenomenon of Dylan that I then read his biography “Chronicles”. And that’s when I found out that Dylan’s grandmother had originally come from Trabzon. My paternal grandparents also originally came from Trabzon, but were forced to leave the place. My grandmother’s parents were against her marriage to my grandfather so the two eloped and settled down 1000 km away further west. I really wanted to see this place and so in 2005 I traveled with my father to Çamburnu. The beauty of this place blew me away. It was a hot and humid summer and everything was so lush and green. You could immediately see that Turkey is an Asian country, the place looked like some- where in Cambodia or Vietnam. I kept walking around saying: “This place is paradise!” But then the villagers said to me: “Not for much longer. They’re building a waste landfill here soon.” They showed me the site, which had once been an abandoned copper mine, and this immediately triggered my sense of justice. No, no landfill is going to be built here; let’s all try and prevent it together! People had protested long before I came there for the first time but this small village had no lobby. I then organized demonstrations and brought TV press to Çamburnu. And because I loved the nature and landscape so much, I integrated it into the ending of The Edge of Heaven. In the same year we began working on the documentary about the waste landfill.



July 20, 2017

Midnight Return

Filed under: Film,Turkey — louisproyect @ 11:00 pm

Opening at the Laemmle theater in Los Angeles tomorrow, “Midnight Return” is a documentary about the narrative film “Midnight Express” that came out in 1978 and which was based on the actual escape from a Turkish prison by Billy Hayes, a hash smuggler. I saw the film that year and was shocked by the brutality of prison life, the sadism of everybody involved in the judicial and penal system, and walked out of the theater persuaded—like most people—that the Turks were monsters.

Writer-director has a lengthy background in soap operas, something that might have habituated her to extract the maximum amount of melodrama in tale that needs none. It is a remarkable tale of how an American hippie from Long Island was arrested in the Istanbul airport with 4.4 pounds of hashish taped to his midsection in October, 1970. At the time, Istanbul, like Kabul, was a magnet for many people my age who were looking to elevate themselves spiritually either with or without drugs. Most people left Istanbul with a gram or two of hashish but Billy Hayes clearly hoped to make a living out of drug dealing for the time being. What he didn’t anticipate was stepped up security for terrorism, which was triggered by the PLFP’s hijacking of a jumbo jet a month earlier. When he was being patted down by airport security, they immediately concluded that he was packing explosives rather than hashish.

Hayes was sentenced to four years in prison but three weeks before his release, the high court in Ankara reviewed his case and decided to re-sentence the 27-year old kid to life in prison. Even before his escape, Hayes had become a cause célèbre internationally with the NY Times publishing a lengthy article about the need to be wary of repressive drug laws overseas.

Once he learned that he would have to spend the rest of his life in prison, Hayes began plotting his escape from an island prison that was as isolated as Alcatraz. In a daring “midnight express”, he commandeered a rowboat and fled to safety across the border into Greece.

Once back in the USA, he was approached by publishers to tell his story but they considered such a blockbuster that the contract stipulated a 3-month schedule. It was clear that they saw a movie deal in the works. They were correct. Just after they were finished, they were approached by British producer David Puttnam of “Chariots of Fire” fame and fellow British director Alan Parker, who had a previous career in advertising.

They hired an American named Oliver Stone to write the script, his first major job that led to an academy award and the launching of his career in Hollywood. While his screenplay was intensely dramatic, it was also a racist hatchet job on the Turks that will remind you of how Arabs have been portrayed in more recent films. Besides making every single Turk look like a fat, sadistic misanthrope, Stone introduced fictional elements that made an already sensational story go into orbit. Instead of writing a climax that portrayed Hayes’s quite dramatic escape on a rowboat, he had him killing a guard and running off unnoticed. It seems that the producer was okay with this since his budget would not accommodate filming on the open waters. One of the signature moments of the film has Hayes denouncing the Turks after the life sentence had been handed down. Played by Brad Davis, his character calls the Turkish nation a bunch of pigs.

Stone, who certainly knows how to write starkly dramatic confrontations between good and evil in films such as “Platoon”, never thought much about the consequences of his script. Interviewed for the film, he says he regrets the consequences on Turkish society (tourism went into steep decline after the film was released) but—shrugging his shoulders—said it “was only a movie”.

That didn’t sit right with the real William Hayes who felt guilty about the demonization of the Turks and sought ways to become reconciled. Eventually, he made it back to Turkey and tried to set things right—thus the title of the film “Midnight Return”.

There are some problems with the film as might be expected from a first-time director but the story itself compensates for that. Angelenos, put this one down on your calendar.


January 6, 2017

What Turkey has become

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 3:24 pm

What Turkey Has Become

Almost every week lately, there is another incident that can be tied to ISIS whether or not it actually takes “credit”. On New Year’s Eve, we were at her brother-in-law Mehmet’s apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan sitting down for dinner with Prosecco, the poor man’s Champagne, when the news broke about the terrorist attack on the Reina nightclub in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul. When I first met Mehmet on a visit to Istanbul in 2003, he anticipated that this sort of thing would eventually begin to take place in Turkey. He thought that the war in Iraq could spill over into Turkey and that it would be best for his family to relocate to the USA. This is pretty much what has happened.

ISIS is a product of the invasion of Iraq, a war that Turkey opposed and whose decision was welcomed by the left. While most people might remember the AKP as key to voting down a resolution that would have permitted Turkey to be a staging ground for the invasion, the truth is that its opposition was based more on cash than principle. Like a mafia gang, it offered the USA a deal. A fifty-two-billion-dollar aid package would buy Turkey’s backing but when Bush refused to pay more than half of that, the AKP nixed the deal.

In fact, the baksheesh economy prevailed in Syria as well, the “anti-imperialist” country often depicted as the polar opposite of NATO member Turkey. Clifford Krause reported in the NY Times on January 2nd, 2003 that the Bush administration was “surprised and gratified by Syria’s recent vote in the United Nations Security Council in favor of the resolution demanding Iraq allow weapons inspectors to return or face possible military action.”

Read full article

February 25, 2016

Etem Erol 1955-2016

Filed under: Turkey — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 5.35.36 PM

This afternoon I was at a memorial meeting for Etem Erol who taught Turkish language classes at Columbia University. I took classes with him in 2006 and 2007 that were a real delight. Not long after I took these classes, he took a job at Yale where he taught until his death in January 2016. This is from the Yale Herald, a student newspaper:

When I walked into my Elementary Turkish class last Friday, no one was dressed in all black. There were no flowers, and no one was crying. Instead, there was birthday cake and a bottle of Sprite and cheerful echoes of Nasılsın? Iyiyim, teşekkürler. Death had slipped unnoticed into our tiny classroom—we just didn’t know it yet.

When Meriç, our TF, told us that she had learned of Etem’s whereabouts, I expected a story of how the fishing that week was too good for him to pass up, or of how Alpha Delta Pizza had needed a line cook on short notice, and, knowing that we would be alright without him for a few days, Etem had volunteered. I pictured him grilling freshly-caught sea bass or enjoying a full Turkish breakfast at home, complete with honeyed kaymak spread and spicy, cured pastırma. I wondered if he was chortling his full-belly laugh and playing backgammon with his friends.

But when Meriç started to cry, we slowly lowered our half-raised forks of double fudge supermarket cake and tried to believe what she was saying: that Etem Erol, our Etem Erol, would not return to us, would not fish again, would never down another peach-flavored shot of rakı. A heavy, tired silence draped itself over everyone. We could barely move ourselves to swallow our cake and continue reviewing prepositions.

The tragedy was confirmed a few days later via an email that began as follows:

“Dear all,

I am writing to confirm what you probably already know or have heard rumored: the terrible news that our well-liked Turkish lector, Etem Erol, passed away after a heart attack in early January, while on vacation in Bulgaria. The funeral was in Turkey, and he was buried in his birthplace, as he wished.”

But even in the email, there was so much already missing, so much already on its way to being forgotten. In a few years, no one here will remember that Etem’s birthplace is an idyllic Mediterranean seaside town a stone’s throw across the straits from the Greek island Lesbos. No one will know that he was in Bulgaria furnishing the summer home he planned to retire to, or that he died in his brother’s arms. No one will know that he had a fondness for seftalı, or Turkish peaches, which he claimed to be an entirely different species than the faulty specimens we are subjected to in this country. People will forget that he could read coffee grounds, and that he believed that buying a lottery ticket was like buying yourself imagination for a week. No one will know that when faced with an impossible question in class, our default answer was “Etem çok yakışıklı,” or “Etem is very handsome.”

Etem has only been gone for a week, and already I feel him slipping away, piece by piece, until all that’s left of him is what we hold onto for safekeeping. Few among us will even care. And I don’t hold onto pretensions of special closeness with Etem; he was my professor, and I liked and respected him. I call him Etem only because he asked us to. But I don’t want to forget him. Not now and not ever. In fact, I’m afraid to forget him—if I do, what will that say about me? What will that say about our world and the place of death in our consciousness? Most of all, I’m afraid that I’m going to learn a cold truth: that these days, there is no space for death of the everyday, individual variety. We have no place for it anymore.

full article

This is from my 2006 article on learning Turkish:

For most of the first semester of elementary Turkish I just completed, I felt like I was barely treading water and in over my head. Learning a new language at the age of 61 is tough enough as it is, but studying it at an Ivy League institution like Columbia University is even more daunting. Twice I came this close (picture a thumb 1/8th of an inch away from a forefinger) from dropping it, but just received my grade: an A-!

Learning a language in some ways is like rehearsing for a play. You have to memorize your lines. In my final exam, I remembered most of the words I was expected to use in an essay question about a father taking his daughter to the playground (a sandbox is a ‘kum havuzu’; a pail and shovel are ‘kova’ and ‘kurek’), but drew a blank when I tried to remember how to say ‘for 3 days’ (uc gundur).

My main problem is that my brain doesn’t work the way it did when I was the age of my classmates. It used to be like a camera, now it is like a sieve. Five days after I learn how to use a verb ending, the memory becomes faded. Oddly enough, the Spanish I learned in high school 46 years ago adheres better.

Despite the difficulties and despite my deep aversion to taking tests and being graded, I have found learning Turkish to be a deeply rewarding experience. Being finally able to converse with my wife’s friends and relatives in Istanbul and Izmir would make my trips there much more pleasurable. Since we would eventually like to have a summer place in Izmir, this makes learning the language a necessity.

Perhaps the main reason I stuck with the class was the teacher Etem Erol, who is without doubt one of the finest I have studied with ever. Erol brings an enormous amount of patience, enthusiasm and good humor to the subject that shows up even when the class is going through the most tedious of drills. Additionally, he is passionate about Turkish culture and history and leavens each class with comments about a wide range of topics, from the Kurdish question to Turkish cuisine. It is impossible to imagine a more qualified and more dedicated professor.

Since my understanding of Turkish culture and history are about as rudimentary as my understanding of the language, I treasured observations the professor made during the course of the semester. To begin with, I suppose that most people understand that the Turkish language is a relatively modern invention. After Mustafa Kemal led a successful revolution that led to the creation of the modern Turkish state in 1923, he instituted a number of reforms that were intended to modernize the country along the lines of certain Enlightenment ideals. One of them was to replace the Ottoman alphabet (a mixture of Arabic and Persian letters; words are read from right to left) with Roman letters. (There are additional letters in the Turkish alphabet that are distinguished by the presence of an accent or a symbol. For example, an i without the dot is pronounced “uh”; with it, it is pronounced more like the i in “in”.)


December 17, 2015

Slavoj Zizek’s shameful bid to tarnish Turkey’s image

Filed under: Syria,Turkey,Zizek — louisproyect @ 9:03 pm

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 4.01.40 PM

Slavoj Zizek’s Dec. 9 article in the UK’s New Statesman amounts to little more than anti-Turkey propaganda

ISTANBUL – Slavoj Zizek’s most recent article, published on Dec. 9 in the U.K.’s New Statesman magazine, has been described by some as little more than propaganda unbecoming of an intellectual or an academic.

Ihsan Gursoy, editor of the In-Depth News Analysis Department at Anadolu Agency, responded to Zizek’s article by making the following observations:

Many Turkish readers were surprised by Slavoj Zizek’s Dec. 9 article in the New Statesman.

Unable to forget Zizek’s interesting analysis of German, French and American society based on their respective toilets, many Turkish readers were excited when Zizek said, “We need to talk about Turkey” – expecting to hear a similar psychoanalysis of Turkish society within the context of “Alla Turca” toilets.

Instead, however, Turkey was directly accused by Zizek of collaborating with a terrorist group.

Since the article in question amounted to little more than propaganda – containing a level of impoliteness unbecoming of an intellectual or an academic – we won’t engage in content-based criticism.

Rather, we will discuss the issue only in terms of ethics: editorial ethics and the ethics of accurate citation.

Zizek stated his conclusion at the outset of his article – a conclusion based entirely, with one exception, on quotes that he claimed to have obtained from an Anadolu Agency interview with Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

However, Anadolu Agency never conducted or published such an interview, nor had Fidan uttered the words – anywhere – attributed to him by Zizek.

The fabricated quotes attributed to Zizek – and officially refuted by Anadolu Agency on Oct. 20 – were, however, published on Oct. 18 on AWDnews.com, a “news” website of unknown origin.

Writing an article based on arguments from a fabricated news piece – not covered in any reliable news outlet with the exception of a website with no credibility (and which was probably set up with the purpose of producing disinformation) – would be shameful if done by an unscrupulous university student, let alone a highly-respected professor.

No less unethical is the claim – one that could have serious consequences – that a legitimate country is in cahoots with terrorist organizations.

If our imagined student was to submit such an article as a research paper, he would come in for harsh criticism – first for his misuse of sources, then for his credulousness; for considering all information online as true without cross-checking it with other sources.

He may even be accused of plagiarism – since he failed to use quotation marks for sentences taken directly from his “source” – and could ultimately be expelled.

So what, we wonder, would drive a prominent academic like Zizek – who could not but be aware of these basic principles – to write such an article?

Once the arguments obtained from the fabricated quotes found on AWDnews.com are dispensed with, only one of Zizek’s sources remains: David Graeber’s article in the U.K.’s The Guardian newspaper, entitled: “Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it?”

But Zizek wasn’t satisfied with merely sourcing an article rife with baseless claims. By pretending to quote Graeber indirectly (he does not use quotation marks), Zizek manages to insert his own claims – claims not made by Graeber – into his own article while making them sound as if they came from Graeber.

Graeber, for example, mentions neither Turkey’s alleged facilitating role in Daesh’s oil exports, nor the wounded Daesh terrorists allegedly being treated in Turkey – claims that are made in Zizek’s article.

Zizek could have written a separate paragraph making these claims on his own authority, but why did he feel the need to quote The Guardian’s Graeber?

Setting aside the issue of intellectual honesty for a moment, why didn’t he, as an academic, comply with the basic rules of citation?

As soon as it became clear – on the very same day that the article was published – that the source of the arguments on which the article was based was a fabricated interview, the New Statesman removed these parts of the article and added a note, stating: “This article originally included a statement that was falsely attributed to the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization. This has now been removed.”

Now the question begs itself: does the removal of the inaccurate parts of the article – and the subsequent addition of the explanatory note by the New Statesman – comply with basic editorial ethics?

The answer is no. On the contrary, the mere removal of blatant inaccuracies in such a controversial article serves to hamper healthy discussion of the issues involved.

Simple editorial ethics demand that the writer’s dishonesty be pointed out to the reader, by, for example, adding a note stating something to the effect of “These assertions have been proven false”.

Rather, the magazine merely attempted to cover up the article’s deceptions once they had been exposed, making the New Statesman itself complicit in the editorial dishonesty.

The New Statesman should have kept the article on its site while pointing out its flaws – in the manner we have described above – due to the extreme sensitivity of the assertions made by the author.

What’s more, the magazine should have published an apology to its readers for running the article in the first place.

So we ask the New Statesman directly:

How could you publish an article – on such a sensitive subject – without first subjecting it to a modicum of editorial scrutiny? Without verifying, by merely clicking on a couple of links, whether the sources therein were even remotely credible?

How can such a well-established publication – and such a prominent intellectual, such as Zizek – so easily risk its dignity and reputation?

December 3, 2015

Turkey and ISIS: separating fact from fiction

Filed under: Jihadists,Syria,Turkey — louisproyect @ 4:11 pm

Showing his characteristic indifference to the facts, John Wight wrote on RT.com (where else?) that Columbia University professor David L. Phillips had revealed that the Turkish government had been “involved in helping ISIS with recruitment, training, and has provided it with intelligence and safe havens and sanctuary.”

However, if you go to the report, which was published on Huffington Post under the title “Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey List”, you need to read the fine print that indicates it was only a list of allegations, something Wight apparently did not do. For example, I can compile a list of allegations that global warming is a hoax but that does not mean that I have proved that it is. Right?

It is just as possible, however, that he read it and decided to sweep it under the rug in order to turn the research paper (more of an aggregation of links)  into some kind of smoking gun proving that Turkey and ISIS were in cahoots. The article, published with the imprimatur of Columbia University’s “Institute for the Study of Human Rights”, clearly says that it is providing a list of allegations. Let me repeat that with emphasis. It is a list of allegations. Also, at the very end of the report it says: Author’s Note: Information presented in this paper is offered without bias or endorsement. (Emphasis in the original.)

One can certainly understand why RT.com would allow a semi-literate propagandist like John Wight to turn “allegations” into proof. As most people in touch with reality understand, Russia Today is a kind of Fox News for the “anti-imperialist” left, providing red meat with the kind of mad abandon found in a typical Bill O’Reilly show.

As a prime example, look at this screenshot from an 11/25/2015 RT.com article titled “Ankara’s oil business with ISIS”. And in particular note that it states “an alleged ISIS leader”. By stipulating “alleged”, one gathers that this item might have easily qualified for Professor Phillips’s list.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 10.25.52 AM

However, the allegation has about as much substance as a Donald Trump speech on Mexican immigrants. It turns out that the bearded guys were owners of a kebab restaurant in Turkey and had nothing to do with ISIS. I guess having a beard makes you eligible for racial profiling in the Russian media.

If there is one thing that Russia and Turkey have in common, it is a shady news media. Many of Phillips’s citations come from ODA TV, an ultranationalist outlet that is about as reliable as Russia Today. For example, as one of the “allegations” there is this video clip “allegedly showing ISIS militants riding a bus in Istanbul.” Other than their long hair and black shirts (but beardless?), there’s not much else to go by. For all practical purposes, they could have been Metallica fans.

When there is a link to a more reputable outlet such as Taraf, a liberal newspaper that has partnered with Wikileaks, it is once again an allegation rather than hard evidence. In one instance, the Taraf article cites Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, “a founder of the AKP”, who said that Turkey backs ISIS. But you need to dig a bit deeper to understand the nature of the allegation. The article is dated October 12, 2015, just two days after a terrorist bomb killed 100 people at a rally organized by the leftist/Kurdish HDP. While Firat was indeed a founder of the AKP, he had broken with the party and joined the HDP. As such it is not surprising that he would charge the AKP with being an accomplice to ISIS terror.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being a partisan of the Kurdish struggle. Indeed, David L. Phillips is one himself. His book “The Kurdish Spring: A New Map of the Middle East” was published this year with none other than Bernard Kouchner providing a forward.

The choice of Kouchner makes perfect sense in terms of Phillips’s self-description as a “U.S. official” involved with Kurdish affairs. To give you a clear idea of his orientation, this speaks volumes:

Toppling Saddam was a clear priority for President George W. Bush after 9/11. Ambassador William J. Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), encouraged me to get involved in Iraq’s political transition. Qubad Talabani, the PUK representative in Washington, arranged my visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2002. I flew to Qamishli, a Kurdish city in Northeast Syria. In a cinder-block building on the Tigris River, a Syrian official served me tea and checked my authorization to transit from Syria to Iraq. Sure enough, my name and passport number were handwritten in his registry. Qubad provided a four-digit code: 3462. The official checked to see if the code matched his registry and issued a letter of passage.

Well, one can certainly understand why John Wight might lean on the authority of David L. Phillips. In an age when the “anti-imperialist” left is channeling Christopher Hitchens’s ghost, such an affinity makes perfect sense.

October 26, 2015

Seymour Hersh vindicated on sarin gas attack? Not really

Filed under: journalism,Syria,Turkey — louisproyect @ 6:44 pm

Fethullah Gülen: should we take his newspaper reports at face value?

As I pointed out in my article on “Baathist Truthers”, most members of the amen corner simply operate on a different basis than Marxism. Their method can be described as conspiracism and has a long history on the left. In its latest permutation, it boils down to a bastardized form of “investigative journalism” in which there is an almost obsessional need to find out the key piece of documentation—a Wikileaks cable, etc.—that will finally prove that the USA is responsible for everything bad that has happened in Syria rather than acknowledge it as the result of a bitter conflict over rival class interests. Syrian society? Don’t bother me with such irrelevancies, our conspiracists would maintain. The only thing that matters are CIA plots.

You get the same thing with Ukraine. From the minute the Euromaidan protests erupted, they were looking for the “proof” that the USA was behind the unrest. A phone call made by State Department Official Victoria Nuland was to blame, not corruption or police brutality. In such a schema, the Ukrainian or Syrian workers were marionettes sitting motionlessly on their behinds until the puppet-master began pulling their strings.

It should be mentioned that it is not just people on the left who have upheld conspiracy theories about Syria. Antiwar.com, a popular website run by Justin Raimondo who was the San Francisco coordinator of Proposition 187 that would have banned undocumented workers from using health care, public education, and other services in California, can usually be counted upon to spread the latest talking points of the conspiracist left.

As a key element of conspiracism, the false flag narrative crops up over and over. Early on, Global Research’s Tony Cartalucci was reporting that it was not Baathist snipers firing on peaceful protests but men recruited by the CIA or Saudi Arabia to make the progressive, tolerant and democratically elected Baathist state look bad.

Of course, the most infamous use of the “false flag” argument was that advanced on behalf of Bashar al-Assad immediately after the sarin gas attack in East Ghouta in August 2013. Ever since Assad surrendered his chemical weapons and began relying on impeccably clean conventional weapons to level apartment buildings and everybody who lived inside them, there hasn’t been much discussion about who was responsible.

But the topic reared its ugly head in the Oct. 23-25 weekend edition of CounterPunch with Peter Lee’s article “Hersh Vindicated? Turkish Whistleblowers Corroborate Story on False Flag Sarin Attack in Syria”. On most topics, Lee can be counted on to present logical arguments based on hard data but like most non-Marxists on the left, he makes a fool out of himself when it comes to Syria.

For example, his “proof” that Turkey mounted a false flag operation in cahoots with al-Nusra and ISIS relies on the testimony of sworn enemies of the ruling AKP:

I find the report credible, taking into full account the fact that the CHP (Erdogan’s center-left Kemalist rivals) and Today’s Zaman (whose editor-in-chief, Bulent Kenes was recently detained on live TV for insulting Erdogan in a tweet) are on the outs with Erdogan.

“On the outs”? That is like saying that Abe Lincoln was on the outs with Jefferson Davis. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been jailing Kemalist politicians and military men for years now. None other than chief conspiracist Eric Draitser considers Erdoğan to be the head of a “country that has given over to violence as a political tool, repression and censorship as standard government practice.” If you were a member of a party that was being hounded into submission by the Turkish ruling party, wouldn’t you be willing to make things up to embarrass Erdoğan or even to make him step down? This is especially true given the Kemalists’ own sleazy modus operandi. This is a party, after all, that backed one coup after another and that tortured and killed leftists and Kurds with a zeal that would make the typical Arab dictator green with envy.

Let’s assume that these sources are worth listening to for the moment. Do their reports make any sense? Lee offers up an article in “Today’s Zaman” in its entirety as evidence. This is the newspaper of the Gülen movement that has built charter schools in the USA to further its credibility with a wing of the ruling class whose favor it is attempting to curry. It shares the AKP’s goal of liquidating the Kemalist party. The relationship between the Kemalists, the AKP, and the Gülenists is quite byzantine. Prosecutors and judges sympathetic to Gülen were instrumental in railroading Kemalists to prison on behalf of the AKP. Now that the Kemalists have been tamed, the same prosecutors and judges are involved in cases being made against AKP leaders for corruption as the NY Times reported on February 26, 2014:

Many of the prosecutors and investigators in both cases — the corruption inquiry and the old military trials — are followers of Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. The adherents in his network were once partners in Mr. Erdogan’s governing coalition, but the government now considers them a “parallel state” to be rooted out through purges of the police and the judiciary.

A circular firing squad indeed and not conducive to impartial reports on sarin gas or much of anything else.

Basically, the Zaman report recapitulates the details of an arrest made in Adana, Turkey in May 2013, two months before the attack in Ghouta. In a nutshell, a group of 13 al-Nusra front members in Turkey had conspired with AKP officials to send sarin gas to Syria that would be used in a false flag operation meant to provoke the USA into a “regime change” invasion of Syria:

Taking the floor first, Erdem stated that the Adana Chief Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into allegations that sarin was sent to Syria from Turkey via several businessmen. An indictment followed regarding the accusations targeting the government.

“The MKE [Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation] is also an actor that is mentioned in the investigation file. Here is the indictment. All the details about how sarin was procured in Turkey and delivered to the terrorists, along with audio recordings, are inside the file,” Erdem said while waving the file.

Erdem also noted that the prosecutor’s office conducted detailed technical surveillance and found that an al-Qaeda militant, Hayyam Kasap, acquired sarin, adding: “Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism,” Erdem noted.

Over 1,300 people were killed in the sarin gas attack in Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus, with the West quickly blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia claiming it was a “false flag” operation aimed at making US military intervention in Syria possible.

For Lee, this reporting “supports Seymour Hersh’s reporting that the notorious sarin gas attack at Ghouta was a false flag orchestrated by Turkish intelligence in order to cross President Obama’s chemical weapons ‘red line’ and draw the United States into the Syria war to topple Assad.”

If you have access to Nexis, you can check out what other newspapers were saying at the time.

To start with, the cops who arrested the 13 men reported that the two kilograms of sarin gas were going to be used against government offices in Turkey, not targeted at Syria. “The reports claimed that the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects.” (Cihan News Agency, May 30, 2013) Things get even weirder as the same article indicates that the AKP blamed Syria for recent attacks by the terrorists. Now, there’s something you don’t see every day. Al-Assad using the al-Nusra Front in terrorist attacks on Turkey. Oh, by the way, the agency responsible for this rather incoherent article is also a Gülenist property, just like Zaman.

It should be stressed that this same news agency never claimed that ISIS was supposed to be the beneficiary of sarin gas supplied by some conspiracists either inside or outside the Turkish government. Instead it claimed that it was Ahrar al-Sham. So what’s the big deal, some might ask. They are Islamists, after all. Well, maybe so but Ahrar al-Sham was a bitter rival of ISIS so much so that it was targeted by the latter in suicide bombings. Well, who cares about such petty details when you are trying to make a bigger point, even if it is mindless conspiracism?

Later on the authorities changed their story. There was no sarin gas but only the ingredients that go into its manufacture.

But even if there was, what possible connection could that have with the East Ghouta attack that left over a thousand Syrians dead? Unless you are Mint Press that wrote at the time that the sarin gas seeped out from a storage area under rebel control due to an accidental breakage of containers, you need to be able to weaponize the stuff. This means having the technical means to construct rockets, delivery systems and the quantity of sarin gas required to disperse over a wide area.

This does not even get into the question of why al-Nusra would be involved in a “false flag” operation to precipitate a massive US intervention. Unlike the FSA, this group could not count on a free-fly zone or any other supposed benefit of intervention. It was considered a far more deadly enemy than the Baathists and one that the US has already targeted in lethal raids. I suppose that because all of these groups are “rebels” in one sense or another, it was easy for Hersh and anybody else in the amen corner to paper over the differences. Such sloppiness is endemic to the conspiracy-minded.

In April 2014, Elliot Higgins and Dan Kazseta wrote a Comments are Free piece in the Guardian taking issue with Seymour Hersh’s LRB article that remains as current as ever.

After mustering a wealth of video evidence that Baathist Volcano rockets were the means of delivery, the authors pose seven issues that had to be addressed. It is a total shame that none of the conspiracists in Assad’s amen corner has the scruples or intelligence to deal with them. Instead they would rather circulate the incoherent Gülenist press or rely on Seymour Hersh’s unnamed sources in spookworld. You are asked to take his word even if one CounterPunch contributor had this to say about him: “When there are serious political repercussions in the Middle East from Hersh’s much-read pieces, it would help for him to know better what he’s talking about.”

Firstly, sarin is difficult to make. Anyone who claims otherwise is oblivious to both history and chemical engineering. Germany, the US and the former Soviet Union took years to perfect the process. Its production requires a number of complex steps and the ability to handle highly dangerous chemicals at very closely controlled high temperatures and pressures. There is no evidence anyone has come up with any sort of streamlined method to manipulate the molecules to make sarin.

Second, quantity. Perfecting the process isn’t enough – there is a difference between making a spoonful and enough for the August attacks, which would have needed about half a ton. This assumes a scale only reached by big state production programmes. To put it in perspective, the one verified example of non-state production of sarin was the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. Their many millions of dollars, very large purpose-built manufacturing facility and highly qualified staff got them the ability to make single batches of perhaps 8 litres of short shelf life Sarin. The alleged Aleppo plant wouldn’t need to be the size of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in the US, but it would have needed to be closer to that than the size of a house.

Third is the choice of weapon. Of the panoply of chemical warfare agents available to modern science and engineering, sarin is one of the hardest to make. So why was this one chosen? Even its nerve agent kin, Tabun and VX, are arguably easier to produce; mustard or lewisite are easier and use less technology. Numerous toxic industrial chemicals which might “fly under the radar” of non-proliferation regimes could be used as weapons. So why pick the hardest?

Fourth, economics. To make this operation work it is going to take a lot of highly trained people, raw materials, and specialised equipment, as well as a facility. It would cost many tens of millions of dollars. When the rebel factions are so stretched for resources, does it make any sense to spend, say, $50m on a weapon of limited utility? Lavish expenditure must raise a paper trail somewhere; there would be order books and receipts. Let’s see them.

Fifth is logistics. You don’t turn precursor material magically into sarin: you need about 9kg to end up with 1kg of sarin. This stuff has to come from somewhere, but where? Hersh omits these details, as do most of the alternative narratives. It is simply assumed that things like phosphorus trichloride and thionyl chloride just get summoned up in vast quantities without someone noticing. Most commentators on this issue have also forgotten about something called conservation of mass. If you use 9kg of material to synthesize 1kg of sarin you end up with 8kg of waste, rather a lot of which is very dangerous, smelly and corrosive. This waste stream has to go somewhere, and someone will notice. There are also the logistics of getting a lot of sarin into rockets and getting those rockets from Aleppo to Damascus.

Sixth, concealment. How do you hide all of this? The building, the supply chain, the people, the money, and the very smelly waste stream. Where are they? They need to be concealed not just from the Syrian regime but from other rebel factions, western intelligence agencies, the Russians, and perhaps even your own people who might desert, get captured or say silly things on YouTube videos. There is deathly silence from Aleppo and we only find out about it from Hersh?

Lastly is the specificity of the product. There are important physical clues found in the traces of sarin at the impact sites of the 21 August rocket attack. One of these is the presence of hexamine, a chemical with no history of use in nerve agent production. But hexamine can be used as an acid scavenger, and thus its presence could be explained due to its use as an additive to the sarin. This idea has been reinforced by both the admission of the Syrian regime that they used hexamine as part of their formula, and by Syria’s declaration to the OPCW of an inventory of 80 tonnes of hexamine, specifically as part of their chemical weapons program. Surely, as an uncontrolled substance, they could have omitted it from their declarations. But they didn’t. Hexamine in field samples plus hexamine in Syrian inventories, plus an admission that hexamine was in their recipe, seems a compelling case for tying the Sarin in the field to the Syrian regime. How would an Aleppo-based rebel factory somehow come up with the same exact idea?

Taken cumulatively, all these points add up to a very high degree of improbability. Isn’t it more probable that the Sarin came from the people who confessed to having a Sarin factory, fired from areas controlled by the government 2km away from the impact sites, in munitions the government had been using since 2012?

September 17, 2015

The Cut

Filed under: Armenians,Film,genocide,Turkey — louisproyect @ 7:40 pm

Opening today at Lincoln Plaza in New York is “The Cut”, a film by Turkish director Fatih Akin that uses the Armenian genocide as a backdrop for a family drama that is the director’s best work by far. It is notable for its unstinting depiction of Turkish bestiality and is particularly welcome at this point given the AKP’s eagerness to resort to ethnic cleansing once again on the most cruel and cynical basis, namely to corral votes from nationalistic minded Turks for the upcoming election.

In the city of Mardin in 1915 a blacksmith named Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) lives with his wife and his twin daughters who are attending elementary school. At dinner, the Manoogians and their guests are anxious about reports of Armenians being rounded up but Nazaret assures them that they have nothing to worry about since they are no threats to the existing order.

A few days later Turkish soldiers pound on the door in the middle of the night demanding to be admitted in the name of the military. Seizing Nazaret, they claim that he and other Armenian men are being rounded up for the draft. This turns out to be a lie. Instead they have been dragooned into building roads in the desolate countryside of eastern Anatolia near the border with Syria. This period was integral to the formation of the modern state of Turkey that rested on the slavery and mass murder of Armenians. It was the tragic fate of the Armenians to be subject to both forms of oppression, combining forced labor of the kind that existed in the Deep South with Andrew Jackson’s forced march that cost the lives of countless Cherokees.

The Armenians spend their days breaking rocks under the desert sun just like convict labor in Jim Crow days. When weaker men fail to keep up with the backbreaking pace, Turkish overseers casually beat them to death. Relief from the hellish chain gang finally comes but at a terrible price. They are told that they will be spared if they become Muslims. While Akin probably wrote his script before the current madness began taking place in Iraq and Syria, you cannot help but be reminded of Daesh since those men who refuse conversion will find themselves taken out and executed, including Nazaret.

As the Turkish soldiers look on, a Turkish convict is ordered to cut the throats of the men one by one since they don’t want to waste a bullet on an Armenian. When he comes to Nazaret, he cuts his neck but not deeply enough to kill him. Later in the day, as Nazaret lies wounded among his dead comrades, the convict returns and gives him water and food. He explains that even though he is a thief, he is not a killer.

Although his life has been spared, the cut of the convict’s knife was deep enough to damage his vocal chords. From this point on in the film, Nazaret is rendered mute. Tahar Rahim delivers a stunning performance using his hands and facial muscles to convey a character whose suffering is oceanic. Rahim, an Algerian who grew up in France, starred most recently in “The Past”, a film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi that I considered the best in 2013. I would rank Rahim as one of the top five actors in the world and is at his best in Akin’s film.

The two men head toward Syria and finally part ways when the convict must return to his village. Once in Syria, Nazaret learns that his wife died in a Turkish concentration camp but not before she had a chance to turn her daughters over to Bedouins who would pass them off as their own children to protect them from the Turks. The kindness of many Syrians is stressed in “The Cut”, including the solidarity shown toward Nazaret by an Arab soap merchant who identifies with the Armenians despite having a different faith. There is a tension throughout the film between solidarity and ethnic cleavage.

Resisting the temptation to demonize Turks, Akin depicts the expulsion of ordinary citizens from Syria in early 1920s as the Ottoman Empire was unraveling. As they parade in silence through the main streets of Aleppo, Arabs pelt the Turks with stones. The expression on Nazaret’s face is one of disgust as he sees how the victims can so easily become victimizers.

Seeking assistance from an Armenian social service agency, he learns that his daughters are no longer with the Bedouins but are now in a foster home somewhere in Syria. Thus begins a search to find them that takes him into the Armenian diaspora with desperate trips to Cuba and the northern plains of the United States where his poverty and loss of speech make his task all the more difficult. Those who have seen John Ford’s “The Searchers” will see a clear resemblance even though this was probably not Akin’s intention.

Although Akin takes pains to differentiate his work from ones that are more narrowly focused on the social and political origins of the first genocide of the 20th century, there is little doubt that the audience will sympathize for the community’s demand to be compensated by the Turkish state for their suffering.

As I have pointed out in previous articles, it is to the everlasting shame of the Zionist state that it sided with the Turks in dismissing Armenian claims. In an article dated April 19, 2015 I referred to the work of an Israeli historian:

But the State of Israel has consistently refrained from acknowledging the genocide of the Armenian People. Government representatives do not participate in the memorial assemblies held every year on April 24 by the Armenians to commemorate the Armenian genocide. The public debate in the State of Israel about the attitude toward the Armenian genocide has focused on four prominent media events: in 1978 the screening of a film about the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem was canceled, In 1982, the Israeli Government intervened in plans for an inter-national conference on the subject of the Holocaust and genocide. In 1989, the Israeli Government was apparently involved in preventing the commemoration of the Armenian genocide by the American Congress in dedicating a memorial day in the American calendar. In 1990, the screening of an American television documentary film. “Journey to Armenia,” was canceled. In later years, a controversy also developed over teaching about the Armenian genocide, in general, in Israeli schools.

“The Cut” is the final installment in a trilogy that began in 2004 with “Head-On” and continued with “The Edge of Heaven” in 2007. He refers to the three films as “Love, Death and the Devil”. “Head-On” is a tale about a middle-aged Turkish man living “down and out” in Germany who hooks up with a much younger Turkish woman on the basis of a phony marriage that would allow her to leave her repressively conservative family life. Theirs is a grim sadomasochistic relation that will remind you of Sid Cox’s “Sid and Nancy”, about the Sex Pistol bassist and the girlfriend he killed. Although I regarded the film as pointless despite Akin’s profession that it was a statement about Turks being caught between German and Turkish identity, 90 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes thought it was “fresh”.

I reviewed “The Edge of Heaven” when it came out and dismissed it as a derivative attempt to cash in on a trend set by films such as “Babel” and “Crash” that I referred to as having a combination of far-fetched coincidence and liberal pieties that seem to be irresistible to film festival award panels.

None of this prepared me for the power of “The Cut” that left me just this close to sobbing in the final minute.

“The Cut” is a remarkable film on many levels. Technically, it is a demonstration of the lasting power of 35 mm film with Akin insisting on the use of Cinemascope. In the scenes shot in eastern Anatolia, mountains and the desert have an immediacy that would not be achieved using a digital camera.

It is also a work that gives you a feeling of being transported into a remote time and place as if you have traveled in a time machine. In the press notes, Akin reveals a dedication to “getting it right” that is virtually heroic:

I think I’ve read about 100 books on the topic, even the diary of an Armenian who emigrated to Cuba. Documents about orphanages, stories about the brothels in Aleppo. I also travelled to Armenia for the first time and visited the genocide memorial in Yerevan, where I met the memorial’s director, Hayk Demoyan. He told me that a lot of Armenians had emigrated to Cuba to reach North America. There are lots of Armenians who don’t even know this! So I incorporated that into the film.

This is a film of uncompromising integrity with a commitment to both a victimized people and to the higher calling of filmmaking. Look for it in your better theaters across the USA and elsewhere since it is of paramount importance particularly given the dynamics of a looming catastrophe in Turkey once again.


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