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"Tradition of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians must not be destroyed!" (Press release)

Kurdish military protecting civilian facilities of Christians in North Iraq. Photo: Kamal Sido/STP

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has condemned a call by Iraqi Arab-Sunni Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al Sumaidaie, who stated that Muslims should not be allowed to participate in Christian celebrations of Christmas and the New Year. "The tradition of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians must not be destroyed by radical Muslim preachers," stated Kamal Sido, the STP's Iraq expert, in Göttingen on Thursday. "There have been attacks by fanatical Muslims against Christians, but Muslims in Iraq and many other Islamic countries have participated in Christian celebrations for centuries."

"Religious dignitaries should promote tolerance, equality, and peaceful coexistence – not hatred and intolerance," Sido emphasized. A few days after the Iraqi government's decision to make December 25 an official national holiday like in Iraqi Kurdistan, Al Sumaidaie had stated (in Baghdad) that Muslims were not allowed to celebrate the New Year or congratulate each other on the occasion of Christian festivals. Al Sumaidaie had stated that Muslims who took part in Christian festivities were stating to believe in Christian teachings. With this statement, Al Sumaidaie had triggered a wave of indignation in Iraq. Many Iraqis demanded him to be dismissed as Grand Mufti, emphasizing that he was trying to spread a radical Islamist ideology and, thus, supporting the destructive ideology of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).

In Iraq, the number of Christians has fallen from 275,000 to about 150,000 since 2015. Today, most of these Christians are living in Iraqi Kurdistan in the north of the country. As in many states in the Middle East, the Christian Assyrians/Aramaeans/Chaldeans in Iraq are suffering from the worldwide conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. They live in constant fear of attacks by radical Sunni Islamists.

Header image: Kamal Sido/GfbV







ANN ARBOR, Mich. — “The fire hurts where it hits,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, said last year on the eve of an anniversary that he and his government would prefer to forget. Mr. Erdogan was using a popular saying to refer obliquely to the mass deportations and massacres of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Assyrians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

In Turkey, the debate over what most scholars acknowledge as a genocide remains a festering concern for Mr. Erdogan, now Turkey’s president. His government’s policy is to deny it.

According to the official Turkish view, maintaining national security and a loyal population during World War I required harsh measures — including ethnic cleansing, forced assimilation and brutal reprisals against rebellious Armenians.

 Mr. Erdogan has offered his condolences to the descendants of those massacred, thus shifting the state’s narrative from condemnation of treacherous rebels to sorrow for victims of war, both Christian and Muslim. “The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain,” he said last year, without distinguishing between battle deaths and those deliberately murdered by the Ottoman government and its agents.

Mr. Erdogan’s small but significant shift lags far behind the progressive forces in Turkey who speak openly about the mass killings that accompanied the end of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the millions of Kurdish citizens of Turkey, some of whom are descendants of perpetrators of anti-Armenian violence, have apologized for the genocide in which their forefathers participated. The Kurds have themselves been victims of Turkish state violence in the last century and now tell Armenians, “They had you for breakfast and will have us for dinner.”

Turkey, like many other nations, celebrates its founding moments as a heroic struggle against internal and external enemies. The perpetrators of atrocities imagine themselves instead to be victims.

  After Pope Francis reminded the world that the centenary of the greatest atrocity of World War I was approaching and the European Parliament condemned Turkey’s continued efforts to conceal, distort and evade the facts, Mr. Erdogan responded by claiming that the Turks had experienced “far more suffering than what the Armenians went through,” while his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accused European lawmakers of anti-Turkish racism.

Such obstinate refusal to come to terms with history’s darker chapters is not unique to Turkey. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has refused to acknowledge and apologize for what Imperial Japan did during its colonial annexation of Korea or in China in the 1930s and during World War II. Russians agonize over but repeatedly temper their assessments of Stalin’s crimes; Poles and Ukrainians turn away from the brutalities of the anti-Semitic pogroms before and during World War II.

Americans, Australians and Israelis shy away from confronting the foundational crimes that were committed against those living on the territory that they coveted but which they wanted emptied of indigenous people. It is often forgotten that former victims can easily become perpetrators in their drive to make a nation.

 There are examples of straightforward recognition and public repentance. After the Holocaust and much soul-searching, a democratic Germany acknowledged what the Nazis had done. The record of fascist atrocities is now taught in schools and memorialized throughout the country without relativizing the horrors by referring to what Germany’s enemies did.

As Pope Francis put it, “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it.” Courageous Turkish and Kurdish historians have long realized this, and they have defied the government by challenging the traditional nationalist account that blames Armenians for their own destruction.

These historians have sought to reconstruct what happened in 1915 and examine why the Young Turks convinced themselves that Armenians were an existential threat to the future of their empire. Their thankless but necessary task is to lay the groundwork for honest scholarship that involves the uncovering of the pain that governments would prefer to bury forever.

Historical truths are complex and difficult to conceal. Memory persists — in lost monuments, ruined landscapes and the stories that survivors tell. And reality eventually bites back. Untended wounds often have pathological consequences, which can include vicious acts of retaliation, like the Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish targets during the 1970s and 1980s, or the murder of those who have raised their voices in protest — like the heroic Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was assassinated by a young Turkish nationalist in 2007.


President Barack Obama, who acknowledged the genocide before his election and has made it clear that his opinion has not changed, has nevertheless refused to use the inflammatory “G” word as a matter of policy. He prefers “meds yeghern,” the Armenian for “great crime” or “catastrophe,” which is akin to using the Hebrew word “shoah,” to describe the Holocaust.

Realpolitik usually trumps historical truth and morality — and this case is no different. The United States government has simply made a strategic choice to appease a needed partner. Language is being used to conceal what is inconvenient to state openly.

But governments that fail to accept and confront the harsh consequences of historical truth are giving comfort to ultranationalist and anti-democratic forces that threaten liberty and democracy in Turkey.

The Armenian issue has become the symbol around which the most enlightened and democratic forces in Turkey have rallied in recent years while also resisting a growing storm of authoritarianism and repression. The grand cover-up of 1915 allows Turkey’s security apparatus, or “deep state,” to continue its violence against dissenting groups in the country — from the Gezi Park demonstrators of 2013, to journalists exposing governmental corruption, to the Kurds of the southeast who demand basic rights and a degree of political autonomy.

It is well known that each nation feels its own pain and has difficulty feeling that of others. Yet reconciliation of Armenians, Kurds and Turks — who are fated to live next to each other — will require both an acceptance of their shared history and mutual suffering and a hard look backward in order to move forward.

Acknowledging who set the fire and directed it against the most vulnerable population must be part of the healing.

Ronald Grigor Suny is a professor of history and political science at the University of Michigan, and the author of “They Can Live in the Desert but Nowhere Else: A History of the Armenian Genocide.”




Sahin Alpay, Today’s Zaman, January 19, 2015

It is true that while the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey labels itself “conservative democratic," most, if not all, of its opponents call it Islamist. That label has been used with varying qualifications. Those I have come across include “hidden, mild, soft, radical, neo- or post-” Islamist, and some fanatical opponents call it “Islamofascist.” I believe a better understanding of the AKP's character is required if analyses about it are to make sense.


What really is the character of the AKP? In order to respond to that question, its evolution since its founding needs to be considered. The AKP is undoubtedly a product of the more or less democratic, multi-party regime, which has, with interruptions, existed in Turkey for nearly 70 years. It takes its roots from the National Vision movement (Milli Görüş), which was led by the late Necmettin Erbakan. That movement could rightly be qualified as Islamist because it staunchly opposed integration with the European Union, advocated withdrawal from NATO, championed the unity of Muslim nations and even flirted with the idea of at least partial implementation of Shariah law the event it achieved power.

That movement has, however, gone through a transformation that began in the 1990s with the rivalry between the traditionalist and renewalist factions within the Welfare Party (RP) and continued with U-turns Erbakan made during his brief time in office as prime minister, the founding of the Virtue Party (FP) upon the closure of the RP and the banning of Erbakan from politics for 10 years.


At the root of this transformation lies the realization by politicians belonging to the renewalist faction in the RP that, in a country where people demanded both welfare and freedom and where the reins of power were in the hands of the Kemalist military, it was not possible to achieve power on an Islamist platform. With the founding of the AKP in 2001, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared he had “taken off the Islamist shirt,” and the party he led put forward the most liberal political and economic party program ever in the history of the Republic of Turkey.


Thanks to the worst financial crisis in the history of the country caused by the coalition government composed of Kemalist parties and the 10 percent threshold, the AKP was able to come to power with just 34 percent of the national vote in the elections held in 2002. In its first term in power the AKP government focused on EU-inspired reforms, pursued inclusive policies and collected 47 percent of the votes in the 2007 election.


During its second term, the AKP government, after defeating coup plots against it by the military and the judiciary, continued until 2010 with liberal reforms that helped consolidate its power. Upon garnering half of the votes in the election of 2011, Erdoğan concluded that he could now rule as he wished, having neutralized the Kemalist military and achieved strong backing from the people. The period of Erdoğan I came to an end, and that of Erdoğan II opened.


How did the transition from Erdoğan I to II take place? There are various theories. According to Kemalists, Erdoğan's assumption of arbitrary and authoritarian rule was inevitable because this was his “hidden agenda." The liberal-minded tend to explain this with the “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” syndrome. Others turn to individual-level, psychological analyses to account for the change in the nature of the AKP's policies.

There is no doubt that the AKP, like all organisms, has through the years gone through an evolution. Where the AKP finds itself now, it is very difficult to talk about an ideology that defines its character. If it is necessary to do so, it may be said that the AKP displays Kemalist colors in its authoritarianism and its intolerance for civil society, utilizes Islamic populism to boost its support base and aspires to Putinism in Erdoğan's drive for one-man, one-party rule.


In practical terms, what defines the AKP currently is that it is nothing more than a machine using every and all possible means to prolong the power of a political and business clique -- nothing but an opportunistic, one-man (Erdoğan) party.