Bernard Lewis is dead. May the concept of “modern Turkey” that he popularised for so long in diplomatic world and public imagination follow him to the grave. Lewis’s 1961 book on Turkish history normalised the racist fascist dictatorship of Attaturk and made him a hero in the west.
The myth has it that 2600 or so years ago there lived on the outskirts of Zagros Mountains a people ruled by a cruel king named Dehaq. King Dehaq was a supernatural evil as evident in the two snakes that grew on his two shoulders; snakes that demanded special delicacy for food. Thus, two children would be plucked from among his subjects, and their brains fed to the snakes.
Below the darkness of the evil king’s castle lived an ironsmith named Kawa. Kawa had sacrificed all his children except one. Dehaq ordered for the last one too to be brought for his snakes. Kawa, with the help of the king’s cook, tricked him by offering a sheep’s brain instead. Thus, his child and other children were saved and were sent high up in the mountains where they lived free and grew into a small army.
When the time came, Kawa led the small army in revolt, broke into the king’s castle and smashed Dehaq’s head with his hammer. The people were freed and the news spread around the kingdom by fires lit on the mountaintops. A new day, Newroz, was declared. And those saved children who led the people to liberation became the ancestors of Kurds.
Happy Newroz! Newroz piroz be!
When I was in high school in Istanbul in the mid-1980s’ post-coup Turkey, we had a class named Milli Guvenlik (‘National Security’) and we had a retired colonel as a teacher for it. The subject itself was a form of military indoctrination in the line of ‘every Turk is born a soldier’.
It was also a set of instructions on the superiority of the so-called Turkish nation. There was a section in our textbook, for example, that described ‘Turkish character’ which included generosity, mercifulness, and humility. I kid you not.
As for the Ret. Colonel, the consensus among my fellow students was that he was a complete nutter, even though he did indoctrinate well like that US Marine trainer in Full Metal Jacket. I have about 10 schoolmates from those times on my FB friends’ list who can jump in to correct me if I’m wrong.
One of the favourite lines that this Ret. Col. repeated often -he taught the same subject in all other classes so he must have repeated that line dozens of times- was “zafer sungunun ucundadir”; that is, ‘victory is at the tip of the bayonet’. This meant that a state cannot win a war by destroying a target from the air or from the sea. The state must send in the infantry to destroy the enemy at bayonet point.
Another one of his lines -this one not oft-repeated but stuck with me for decades anyway- was that “you cannot win a war by taking enemy territory, you win wars by destroying the enemy army”. This line to me was always counter-intuitive. How is it that you do not achieve victory by taking territory?
It was only later in life, when I developed an interest in Roman history, that I understood what the Ret. Col. meant. During the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), also known as the war of Hannibal, the Roman army suffered successive devastating defeats against the Carthaginians in the Italian peninsula. Rome raised another new army and this time appointed Quintus Fabius as the new consul and general.
Quintus Fabius decided that he was not going to risk losing another army in battle, so he avoided a direct confrontation with Hannibal. Thus the two armies chased and harassed each other across the peninsula for 5 years until Hannibal’s army was worn down and he was ordered to retreat to Carthage. It was the ‘Fabian Tactic’ of preserving the army, not the direct confrontation, that eventually won the war for the Romans.
The moral of the story is that the Turkish-jihadi barbarians won territory in Afrin, yes, but they failed to destroy the lightly-armed YPG forces there. The YPG avoided a certain defeat by not engaging in a direct confrontation with the invaders. The pull out of thousands of fighters in battle conditions appears to have been smoother than Peshmerga’s chaotic retreat from Kirkuk.
The second moral of the story is that Afrin is largely intact, although the enemy’s bayonet has reached it. The city has not been destroyed along with thousands of civilians, not because of the invaders’ genius, but because of the defenders’ wisdom. The invading barbarians are now looting the city and are trashing the character of the Turk.
A few of my fellow Kurdish Australians raised objections to celebrating this day in terms of relations with indigenous communities.
History could have unfolded differently, for the better as well as for the worse for indigenous Australians, since 26 January 1788. No one can deny the history of violence, dispossession and racism towards the indigenous communities in Australia since the start of the European colonisation.
Should that be a sufficient reason to mark Australia Day with national grief instead of celebration? In my view it is not. That this great nation was built upon the sweat and toil of 1000 social outcasts sentenced to death, however, is a good reason to celebrate.