The sorrow of Batman

Istanbul, Turkey, 10 September 2016

In Istanbul, extraordinary experiences are found around every corner.

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Here, dervishes whirl, müezzins call from minarets and people move between continents multiple times a day.

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Istanbul is home to millenia-old monuments and cutting edge art galleries – sometimes on the same block.

It is an utterly beguiling city full of sumptous palaces, domes and minarets, cobblestone streets and old wooden houses, squalid concrete apartment blocks and graceful Art Nouveau apartments, international fashion shops cheek and jowl next to bazaars and beggars, street vendors and stray dogs and wild cats, the beauty of the Bosphorus and the promising spell of the Orient.

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Vast labyrinths of narrow covered passageways and wide boulevards lined with superb fin-de-siecle architecture, the breathtaking interior of the Blue Mosque, the smells and sounds of the markets, tiny boats vying with huge tankers for a piece of the waterfront, street hustlers and people bum-to-bum striving to navigate alleyway and passage…

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This is the Istanbul I fell in love with, the Istanbul that remains with me as poignant as one´s memories of former intimates.

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Istanbul attracts millions of tourists every year but as well it draws into itself many who have come in search of work, of a new life, for a chance to thrive here where fortune is denied elsewhere.

It is my last day in Istanbul and my heart feels as sad as the inevitable farewell that must be said to a loved one leaving whose return is uncertain.

I am in the Sultanahmet district where tourists congregate and the locals bend over backwards to accommodate to their every whim no matter how unreasonable these whims might be.

This is a neighbourhood where one stands beneath magnificent domes or inside opulent palaces, where history is experienced by all one´s senses, where one can explore the watery damp depths of the Basilica Cistern then surrender to the steam of a hamam.

Wander through the produce markets, then join the locals in smoking nargiles, drinking tea and playing backgammon.

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I stand outside the Metropolis Hostel, on a quiet side street awaiting my shuttle bus to the airport and talk quietly to one of the co-owners of this very friendly, very comfortable, very clean, home away from home.

He is a Kurd and he talks about his life in Istanbul and what transpired to lead him to this city so very distant from his home in Batman in faraway southeastern Turkey.

A view of city center in Batman.

Above: City centre, Batman, Turkey

I have no political feelings towards either the Kurds or the Turks, except sadness that neither side sees a possibility of peace and cooperation with one another.

He speaks of battlefields where Kurd has fought ISIS warrior and Turk has bombed Kurd despite their common enemy.

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He speaks of devastation and death, of friends and family forever affected by loss and injury.

There are no words of comfort I can give him, for I am an ignorant foreigner, on a mini-visit to Istanbul before attending a friend´s wedding in Antalya the very next day.

He speaks of how the Syrian civil war has driven many Syrians into Turkey competing for the same jobs as those already resident here.

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Above: Map of the Syrian Civil War

He tells me of how bombings and attacks of ISIS upon Turkey and Kurd upon Turk and Turk upon Kurd have drastically reduced tourism in Istanbul to a third of what it once was.

I leave Istanbul and this Kurd with much of his pain unspoken and distract myself with the Antalya events that await me.

But it is nonetheless an uneasy departure filled with helplessness and sadness.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 January 2017

I often wish I were a wiser man, more knowledgeable in the ways of politics and psychology.

I find myself uncertain of whether I should hate those who have caused  indescribable sorrow, for the Turks I have met both within and outside Turkey have always been friendly towards me, as have the few Kurds I have met as well.

I am rational enough to know that those who murder in the name of Allah are not true followers of Muhammed or Islam, so the gullible who have followed the infidels of ISIS have done so either out of ignorance or hope that those governments that failed them will be supplanted by a new order, albeit a dark order, that offers some sort of security through fear and intimidation.

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

I refuse to hate all the individuals caught up in forces unleashed by those that wield power without compassion, but instead find fault with those who claim to serve their fellow man yet use their fellow man for power, gain and profit.

Now, it is a fair question for any reader to ask:

Why should I care?

And why the history lessons?

We are all human beings, a few saints and monsters amongst us, but most of us are decent basic human beings in the pursuit of happiness.

I think we tend to forget this.

We are all so focused on what makes us different and in our fear use these differences to do unspeakable acts towards one another.

But I firmly believe that there is more that connects us than divides us.

We are bound by love and compassion, by conscience and will, by strength and weakness, by morality and mortality.

In looking at the complexities and tragedies of the ongoing saga of Turkey, or any other part of the world for that matter, I hope to understand the mindsets of both sides of this conflict and hope, in my own humble and naive fashion, to offer a possible idea that might help.

We are all interconnected and what happens in faraway places eventually find its way –  by sometimes subtle, sometimes powerful means – to our own doorsteps.

I explore history, because by trying to understand what leads people to where they are now, why they think and act the way they do, helps to comprehend who they are and, perhaps, as well, avoid some of the mistakes people make in this ongoing, neverending process of life and time.

In part 1 of this blog post I wrote of events in Kurdish / Turkish history – from ancient times until the Sixties – including the 9 January bombing in Izmir –  that compelled me to discuss the problems that plague a country I love.

Prior to the Sixties, the record shows again and again brutal violence towards and suppression of the Kurdish people by the Turks, responded to by armed Kurdish rebellion when it appeared that all attempts at negotiation were impossible:

“Thousands of Kurds, including women and children, were slain.

Others, mostly children, were thrown into the Euphrates, while thousands of others in less hostile areas, who had first been deprived of their cattle and other belongings, were deported to provinces in central Anatolia.

It is now stated that the Kurdish question no longer exists in Turkey.” (British Council, 1938)

In Part One, we examined the Kurdish perspective.

But what has led the Turkish people, especially its governments, to respond to the Kurds in the manner in which they have?

Why has President Recep Erdogan reacted to events both domestic and international in the manner that he has?

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To understand His Excellency, to understand the Turkish point-of-view, (not always the same) we need to travel back in time once more:

27 May 1960:

A coup d’ état is staged by a group of 38 young Turkish military officers.

It is a time of socio-political turmoil and economic hardship as US aid from the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan is running out.

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes plans a visit to Moscow in the hope of establishing alternative lines of credit.

Above: Adnan Menderes (1899 – 1961), 9th Prime Minister of Turkey (1950 – 1960)

Colonel Alparslan Türkes orchestrates the plot and declares the coup over radio to announce “the end of one period in Turkish history and usher in a new one.”

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Above: Alparslan Turkes (1917 – 1997)

The Great Turkish Nation:

Starting at 3 am on 27 May, the Turkish armed forces have taken over administration throughout the entire country.

This operation, thanks to the close cooperation of all our citizens and security forces, has succeeded without loss of life.

Until further notice, a curfew has been imposed, exmept only to members of the armed forces.

We request our citizens to facilitate the duty of our armed forces and assist in reestablishing the nationally desired democratic regime.”

In a press conference held on the following day, General Cemal Gürsel emphasizes that the “purpose and the aim of the coup is to bring the country with all speed to a fair, clean and solid democracy.”

Above: Cemal Gursel (1895 – 1966), 4th President of Turkey (1960 – 1966)

I want to transfer power and the administration of the nation to the free choice of the people.”

The coup removes a democratically elected government while expressing the intent to install a democratically elected government.

235 generals and more than 3,000 commissioned officers are forced to retire.

More than 500 judges and 1,400 university faculty members lose their jobs.

The chief of the General Staff, the President, the Prime Minister and other members of the administration are arrested.

General Gürsel is appointed provisional head of state, Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense.

Minister of the Interior Namik Gedik commits suicide while he is detained in the Turkish Military Academy.

President Celal Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and several other members of the administration are put on trial before a court appointed by the ruling junta on the island of Yassuda in the Sea of Marmara.

The politicians are charged with high treason, misuse of public funds and abrogation of the Turkish constitution.

16 September 1961:

Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fatin Rüstü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan are executed on Imrali Island.

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(Imrali Island Prison is known as the place where American Billy Hayes was incarcerated later telling his story in Midnight Express and where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999.)

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Above: Poster of the film adaptation (1978)

A month later, administrative authority is returned to civilians.

In the first free election after the coup, Süleyman Demirel is elected in 1965.

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Above: Suleyman Demirel (1924 – 2015), 9th President of Turkey (1993 – 2000)

As the 1960s wear on, violence and instability plague Turkey.

Economic recession sparks a wave of social unrest marked by student demonstrations, labour strikes and political assassinations.

On the left, worker and student movements are formed.

On the right, Islamist and militant nationalist groups counter them.

The Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey (DEV-GENC) is founded in 1965 and it will inspire various other organisations, including Devrimci Yol, the Revolutionary Workers and Peasants Party of Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers´ Party.

DEV-GENC members set US Ambassador Robert Komer´s car on fire in 1969 while he is visiting an Ankara campus, participate in the protests against the US 6th Fleet anchoring in Turkey from June 1967 to February 1969, and also play an active role in the workers´ actions on 15 – 16 June 1970.

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Above: Robert Komer (1922 – 2000) (left) in meeting with US President Lyndon Johnson

CIA agent Aldrich Ames is able to unveil the identity of a large number of members.

Above: Aldrich Ames (b. 1941), CIA – KGB double agent, presently incarcerated in Allenwood Penitentiary

The Grey Wolves, a Turkish nationalist paramilitary youth organisation, often described by its critics as an ultra-nationalist or neo-fascist death squad, are responsible for matching and surpassing the left´s violent activities, engaging in urban guerilla warfare with left-wing activists and militants.

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On the political front, Prime Minister Demirel´s center-right Justice Party government is experiencing trouble.

Various factions within the Party defect to form groups of their own, gradually reducing the Party´s parliamentary majority and bringing the legislative process to a halt.

By January 1971, Turkey is in a state of chaos.

Universities have ceased to function.

Students rob banks and kidnap US servicemen and attack American targets.

University professors critical of the government have their homes bombed by neo-fascist militants.

Factories are on strike and many workdays are lost.

The Islamist movement becomes more aggressive and openly rejects Atatürk and Kemalism, thus infuriating the armed forces.

The government, weakened by defections, seems paralysed, powerless to curb campus and street violence and unable to pass any serious legislation on social and financial reform.

12 March 1971:

The Chief of the General Staff Memduh Tagmac hands the Prime Minister a Memorandum – an ultimatum by the armed forces – demanding “the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government, which will neutralise the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk´s views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution”, putting an end to the “anarchy, fratricidal strife, and social and economic unrest.”

If the demands are not met, the army would “exercise its constitutional duty” and take over power itself.

Demeril resigns after a three-hour meeting with his cabinet.

The coup doesn´t surprise most Turks, but what direction will the coup take the country?

Who is in charge?

The “restoration of law and order” is given priority.

The left is to be suppressed in an attempt to curb trade union militancy and the demands for higher wages and better working conditions.

The public prosecutor opens a case against the Workers’ Party of Turkey for carrying out Communist propaganda and supporting Kurdish separatism.

All youth organisations affliated with DEV-GENC are to be closed, as they are blamed for the left-wing youth violence and university and urban unrest plaguing the country.

Police searches in offices of teachers’ unions and university clubs are carried out.

Such actions encourage the right who target provincial teachers and Workers’ Party supporters.

The commanders who have seized power are reluctant to exercise it directly, so the regime rests on an unstable balance of power between civilian politicians and the military.

It is neither a normal elected government nor an outright military dictatorship which can entirely ignore parliamentary opposition.

In April, a new wave of terror begins, carried out by the Turkish People’s Liberation Army, in the form of kidnappings and bank robberies.

27 April 1971:

Martial law is declared in 11 of Turkey´s 67 provinces, especially in major urban areas and Kurdish regions.

Youth organisations are banned, union meetings are prohibited, leftists publications are forbidden, and strikes are declared illegal.

After the Israeli consul is abducted on 17 May, hundreds of students, young academics, writers, trade unionists and Workers’ Party activists as well as people with liberal-progressive sympathies are detained and tortured.

The consul is shot four days later.

For the next two years, repression continues, with martial law renewed every two months.

Constitutional reforms repeal the essential liberal fragments of the constitution.

The National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) uses the Ziverbey Villa as a torture centre, employing physical and psychological coercion.

Interrogations, directed by CIA-trained specialists, result in hundreds of deaths or permanent injuries.

Among their victims is journalist Ugur Mumcu, arrested shortly after the coup, later writes that his torturers informed him that not even the President could touch them.

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Above: Journalist Ugur Mumcu (1942 – 1993), assassinated 24 January 1993 in a car bomb outside his Ankara home (Cumhuriyet, 24 January 2003)

By the summer of 1973, the military-backed regime has achieved most of its political aims.

The constitution has been amended so as to strengthen the state against civil society.

Special courts are in place to deal with all forms of dissent quickly and ruthlessly.

Universities, their autonomy ended, have been made to curb the radicalism of students and faculty.

Radio, TV and newspapers are curtailed.

The National Security Council is much more powerful.

In October 1973 Bülent Ecevit wins the election and the problems that plagued the pre-coup government return.

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Above: Mustafa Bulent Ecevit (1925 – 2006), 16th Prime Minister of Turkey (1974, 1977, 1978 – 1979, 1999 – 2002)

As the 1970s progress, the economy deteriorates, violence by the Grey Wolves escalates and intensifies, and left-wing groups as well commit acts aimed at causing chaos and demoralisation.

In 1975 Suleyman Demeril succeeds Ecevit as Prime Minister.

Demeril´s Justice Party forms a coalition with the Nationalist Front, the Islamist National Salvation Party and the Nationalist Movement Party.

There is no clear winner in the elections of 1977.

Demeril continues the coalition.

Ecevit returns to power in 1978, but Demeril regains it the following year.

By the end of the Seventies, Turkey is in turmoil, with unsolved economic and social problems, facing strike actions and political paralysis.

Since 1969, the proportional representational system has made it difficult to find any parliamentary majority.

Politicians are unable to combat the growing violence in the country.

The overall death toll of the Seventies is estimated at 5,000, with nearly ten assassinations per day.

16 March 1977, Istanbul

The University of Istanbul is attacked with a bomb and gunfire.

7 die, 41 injured.

1 May 1977, Istanbul

Labour Day has been celebrated in Istanbul since 1912.

500,000 people gather on Taksim Square.

Shots are heard coming from the building of the water supply company Sular Idaresi and the Marmara Hotel (in 1977, the tallest building in Istanbul).

Security forces intervene with armoured vehicles making much noise with their sirens and explosives.

They hose the crowd with pressurized water.

Many casualities are caused by the panic that this intervention creates.

42 people killed, 220 injured, most crushed.

None of the perpetrators are caught or brought to justice.

The CIA is suspected of involvement.

9 October 1978, Ankara

7 university students, members of the Turkish Workers’ Party, are assassinated by ultra-nationalists.

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27 November 1978, Diyarbakir

The left-wing organisation is mostly made up of students led by Abdullah Ocalan in Ankara and focused on helping the large oppressed Kurdish population in southeast Turkey.

The violence of the times, especially the attacks on the University of Istanbul, the Taksim Square massacre and the assassinations in Ankara, compel the group, meeting here inside a teahouse, to adopt the name Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a Marxist ideology to counter violence with violence.

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19 – 26 December 1978, Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras is a city in the Mediterranean region of southern Turkey close to the Syrian border.

Above: The minaret of the Grand Mosque of Kahramanmaras

Kahramanmaras lies on a plain at the foot of Ahir Mountain and is best known for its production of salep (a flour made from dried orchids) and its distinctive ice cream.

It all starts with a noise bomb thrown into a cinema popular with right-wingers.

Rumours spread that left-wingers had thrown the bomb.

So, the next day a bomb is thrown into a coffee shop frequently visited by left-wingers.

The following evening known left-winger teachers Haci Colak and Mustafa Yuzbasioglu are killed on their way home.

While a crowd of over 5,000 people prepares for Colak’s and Yuzbasioglu’s funeral, right-wing groups stir up emotions saying that the Communists are going to bomb the mosque and massacre many Muslims.

On 23 December, things turn ugly.

Crowds storm the quarters where left-wingers live, destroying houses and shops.

The offices of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, the Teachers’ Association of Turkey, the Association of Police Officers and the Republican People’s Party are destroyed.

Over 100 people are killed and more than 200 houses and 100 shops destroyed.

“They started in the morning, burning all the houses, and continued into the afternoon.

A child was burned in a boiler.

They sacked everything.

We were in the water in the cellar, above us were wooden boards.

The boards were burning and falling on top of us.

My house was reduced to ashes.

We were with 8 people in the cellar.

They did not see us and left.” (Meryem Polat, one of the victims)

Martial law was declared across Turkey the following day.

Court cases, opened at military courts, lasted until 1991.

A total of 804 defendants, mostly right-wingers, were put on trial.

The courts passed 29 death penalties and sentenced 328 people to prison.

11 September 1979

General Kenan Evren orders a hand-written report on whether a coup is in order or the government merely needs a stern warning.

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Above: Kenan Evren (1917 – 2015), 7th President of Turkey (1980 – 1989)

21 December 1979

The War Academy generals convene to decide a course of action.

The pretext for a coup is to put to an end the social conflicts plaguing the country as well as the political instability.

12 September 1980

The Turkish economy is on the verge of collapse with triple digit inflation, large scale unemployment and a chronic foreign trade deficit.

The National Security Council, headed by Evren, declares a coup d’etat, extending martial law throughout the country, abolishing the government and Parliament, suspending the Constitution and banning all political parties and trade unions.

The Council invokes the Kemalist tradition of state secularism and in national unity, presenting themselves as opposed to communism, facism, separatism and religious sectarianism.

The Council aims to unite Turkey with the global economy and give companies the ability to market products and services worldwide.

“A feeling of hope is evident among international bankers that Turkey’s military coup may have opened the way to greater political stability as an essential prerequisite for the revitalisation of the Turkish economy.” (International Banking Review, October 1980)

During 1980 – 1983, the foreign exchange rate was allowed to float freely, foreign investment encouraged, land reform projects promoted, export vigourously driven and wages frozen.

The Council rounded up members of both the right and left for trial by military tribunals.

  • 650,000 people were under arrest.
  • 1,683,000 people were blacklisted.
  • 230,000 people were tried in 210,000 lawsuits.
  • 7,000 people were recommended for the death penalty.
  • 517 persons were sentenced to death.
  • 50 of those given the death penalty were executed (26 political prisoners, 23 criminal offenders and 1 ASALA militant).
  • The files of 259 people, which had been recommended for the death penalty, were sent to the National Assembly.
  • 71,000 people were tried by articles 141, 142 and 163 of Turkish Penal Code.
  • 98,404 people were tried on charges of being members of a leftist, a rightist, a nationalist, a conservative, etc. organization.
  • 388,000 people were denied a passport.
  • 30,000 people were dismissed from their firms because they were suspects.
  • 14,000 people had their citizenship revoked.
  • 30,000 people went abroad as political refugees.
  • 300 people died in a suspicious manner.
  • 171 people died by reason of torture.
  • 937 films were banned because they were found objectionable.
  • 23,677 associations had their activities stopped.
  • 3,854 teachers, 120 lecturers and 47 judges were dismissed.
  • 400 journalists were recommended a total of 4,000 years imprisonment.
  • Journalists were sentenced 3,315 years and 6 months imprisonment.
  • 31 journalists went to jail.
  • 300 journalists were attacked.
  • 3 journalists were shot dead.
  • 300 days in which newspapers were not published.
  • 13 major newspapers brought to trial
  • 39 tonnes of newspapers and magazines destroyed
  • 299 people lost their lives in prison.

The Council begins a program of forced assimilation of its Kurdish population.

The words “Kurds”, “Kurdistan” or “Kurdish” are officially banned.

The Kurdish language is prohibited in both public and private life.

People who speak, publish or sing in Kurdish are arrested and imprisoned.

(Even now in 2017, Kurds are still not allowed to get a primary education in their mother tongue and still don´t have a right to self-determination.

Above: Kurdish boys in Diyarbakir

Even now, there is ongoing discrimination against Kurds in Turkish society.)

The Council pushes the PKK to another stage…

PKK members have been executed, imprisoned and forced to flee to Syria (including Abdullah Ocalan).

10 November 1980, Strasbourg, France

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

The Turkish Consulate is bombed causing significant material damage but no injuries.

In a telephone call to the office of Agence France Presse, a spokesman said the blast was a joint operation and marked the start of a “fruitful collaboration” between the ASALA (Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia) and the PKK.

(Armenia has been officially independent since 1991.)

After the Council’s approval of the new Turkish Constitution in June 1982, General Evren organizes nationwide general elections, to be held on 6 November 1983.

This results in the one-party government of Turgut Ozal’s Motherland Party.

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Above: Turgat Özal (1927 – 1993), 8th President of Turkey (1989 – 1993)

The Özal government empowers the police force with intelligence capabilites.

Beginning in 1984, the PKK initiates a guerilla offensive with a series of attacks on Turkish military and police targets.

Since 1984, 37,000 people have been killed.

The three coups of 1960, 1971 and 1980 revolutionized modern Turkey.

So, His Excellency Recep Erdogan´s instinct to (over)react to the 2016 attempted coup becomes somewhat understandable, for soldiers can overthrow governments.

(More about this later…)

Yesterday, Turkey´s Parliament in Ankara adopted a package of 18 amendments placing all executive powers in His Excellency’s hands.

His Excellency believes he has learned from these coups and his administration has revved up nationalist rheotric to justify a mounting crackdown against the Kurds, socialists and the press.

I believe His Excellency is mistaken.

Violence creates violence.

Rebellion incites suppression and suppression incites rebellion.

Revolution encourages revolution.

There is much that I see about Turkey that saddens me.

Like anyone not resident in Turkey I am limited to what I receive second-hand so I try to find as many sources of information as I can and hope through the complexity to find and share as unbiased and complete a picture as I can.

I am left with a few questions I will try and address in the third part of this essay on Turkey and the Kurds:

Is change possible without bloodshed?

How can change without bloodshed be realisable?

Surprisingly, hope will begin with the Özal government…

(To be continued…)

Flag of Turkey

Sources: The Economist, 21 – 27 January 2017 / Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know

 

 

 

 

 

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The sons of Karbala

St. Gallen, Switzerland, 9 January 2017

“Turkey seems to be falling to pieces, the fall will be a great misfortune.

It is very important that England and Russia should come to a perfectly good understanding… and that neither should take any decisive step of which the other is not apprized.” 

“We have a sick man on our hands, a man gravely ill, it will be a great misfortune if one of these days he slips through our hands, especially before the necessary arrangements are made.” 

(Russian Czar Nicholas I, Interview, 9 January 1853)

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Above: Russian Czar Nicholas I (1796 – 1855)

This handsome devil below is my good friend and Starbucks co-worker, Volkan – a talented musician, a good husband and father and a credit to his employer and his homeland of Turkey.

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I asked Volkan once:

“Do you still love your homeland?”

I have never forgotten his answer.

“If you had a child who became sick, would you stop loving it?”

How must it be to simultaneously miss your home and the people you left behind, while feeling glad you are removed from the problems your homeland is in the middle of?

Volkan is a good man.

Volkan is saddened when he reads the news.

 

An ISIS disciple kills 39 New Year´s revelers at an Istanbul nightclub.

A gunman with a police badge assassinates Russia´s ambassador at an Ankara reception.

Kurdish separatist bombers kill 14 soldiers on a bus in central Turkey and dozens of police at an Istanbul soccer match.

Those assaults were just in the last few weeks, which made a car bombing on Thursday in the city of Izmir, where at least two people were killed, seem relatively minor.

 

Izmir, Turkey, 5 January 2017

From top to bottom, left to right: Konak in İzmir, Historical Elevator in Karataş, Pasaport Wharf in İzmir, Gündoğdu Square, İzmir Clock Tower in Konak Square, A view of the city from Historical Elevator, Karşıyaka.

Izmir is a big place, far to the west of Anatolia and the third most populous city in Turkey, after Istanbul and Ankara. (Population: nearly 3 million).

Biblical scholars and fans of Indiana Jones might know Izmir better by its former Greek name, Smyrna.

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Izmir has almost 4,000 years of recorded urban history, and it has seen conquerors come and conquerors go, empires rise and fall: the Hittite Empire, the Lydian Empire, the Persian Empire, the empire of Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Selcuks, the Ottomans and finally modern Turkey.

It has seen conquerors come and conquerors go and has survived earthquakes, plagues and great fires.

Above: The Great Fire of Smyrna, 14 September 1922

Terrorist attacks, though unpleasant, these too Izmir has survived and will survive.

Suspected Kurdish militants clashed with police and detonated a car bomb in western Turkey on Thursday after their vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint, killing a police officer and a court employee, officials said.

The explosion and gunfire outside the main courthouse in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, highlighted the country’s deteriorating security after a gunman killed 39 people in a New Year’s Day mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub.

“Based on the preparation, the weapons, the bombs and ammunition seized, it is understood that a big atrocity was being planned,” Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak told reporters.

The local governor said the arms included Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Izmir police shot dead two of the attackers and were hunting a third, a police source and the state-run Anadolu agency said.

“Our heroic police officer martyred in this attack, Fethi Sekin, prevented a much bigger disaster happening, sacrificing his own life without a thought for it,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a statement, condemning the “heinous” attack.

Two people, believed to have sold the vehicle used in the attack to the assailants, were subsequently detained, security sources said.

CCTV footage obtained by Reuters showed a passerby fleeing as the vehicle exploded in a fire ball.

Initial findings suggested that Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were behind the attack, Izmir governor Erol Ayyildiz said.

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Dozens of people rushed to the scene of the blast and chanted “God damn the PKK” and other slogans against the militant group.

Volkan told me that his Turkish relatives in Izmir were very close to where the bomb exploded.

A helicopter was seen flying overhead.

Ayyildiz said a second vehicle had been detonated in a controlled explosion.

Anadolu said police suspected the attackers had planned to escape in this vehicle.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and is also battling an insurgency by the PKK in the largely Kurdish southeast.

It regularly bombs PKK camps in northern Iraq and its military operations in Syria also aim to stop Kurdish militias it sees as an extension of the PKK from gaining territory there.

“Turkey will be instrumental in its region. These (attacks) will never prevent us from being present in areas like Iraq and Syria, which produce terrorists like viruses,” Kaynak said.

Ayyildiz said the clash outside Izmir’s main Bayrakli courthouse erupted after police officers tried to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint and that the attackers detonated the car bomb while trying to escape.

The PKK – deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union – and its affiliates have been carrying out increasingly deadly attacks over the past year and a half, ever further from the largely Kurdish southeast, where they have fought an insurgency for more than three decades.

A PKK offshoot claimed responsibility for twin bombings that killed 44 people, most of them police officers, and wounded more than 150 outside an Istanbul soccer stadium on 10 December.

A car bomb a week later killed 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it tore through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri, in an attack President Tayyip Erdogan also blamed on Kurdish militants.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Izmir, a liberal coastal city which had largely escaped the violence that has plagued Istanbul and the capital Ankara in recent months.

Ayyildiz said the attackers were carrying two automatic rifles, rocket launchers and eight hand grenades.

The attack occurred near a courthouse in Izmir’s Bayrakli district, close to an entrance used by judges, prosecutors and other employees.

Ayyildiz said “six or seven” people were also wounded in the attack, adding that police vigilance had foiled a possible more serious attack.

Police detained 20 suspected Islamic State militants thought to be of Central Asian and North African origin in Izmir on Wednesday, in raids Turkish media said were linked to the Istanbul nightclub attack.

Now, here is where things begin to get confusing and muddled…

Where life gets…complicated.

 

The Kurds are estimated to number, worldwide, around 32 million with the majority living in West Asia.

Turkey´s Kurdish minority is estimated at more than 15 million people.

Sparsely populated southeastern Anatolia is home to perhaps eight million Kurds, while seven million more live elsewhere in the country, largely integrated into mainstream Turkish society.

Istanbul is the largest Kurdish city in the world, in the way that New York City is home to the largest number of Jews.

The majority of Turkish Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

The city of Diyarbakir serves as the unofficial capital of the Kurdish region.

Top left: Ali Pasha Mosque, Top right: Nebi Mosque, 2nd: Seyrangeha Park, 3rd left: Dört Ayakli Minare Mosque, 3rd upper right: Deriyê Çiyê, 3rd lower right: On Gözlü Bridge (or Silvan Bridge), over Tigris River, Bottom left: Diyarbakır City Wall, Bottom right: Gazi Köşkü (Veterans Pavilion)

There has been over centuries a diaspora of Kurdish communities to the cities of western Europe and in coastal Turkish cities like Adana and Izmir.

In western Europe, Germany has the greatest number of Kurdish people: 800,000.

Britain has 50,000, Switzerland has 35,000, the US – over 15,000, Canada – over 12,000.

The Kurds are an ancient people, mentioned as far back as 4,000 BC when they are mentioned on Sumerian clay tablets.

Many Kurds consider themselves descended from the Medes, an ancient Iranian people and some even use a calendar dating from 612 BC when the Assyrian capital of Nineveh was conquered by the Medes.

This claim is reflected in the words of the Kurdish “national” anthem:

“We are the children of the Medes and Kai Khosrow.”

(Kai Khosrow was a legendary king of the Kayanian dynasty and a character in the Persina epic book Shahnameh.

The Cup of Kai Khosrow was a cup of prophecy and divination which was said to be filled with the Elixir of Immortality, and some suggest might be the origin of the ideas we have of crystal balls, reading tea leaves, the Fountain of Youth and the Holy Grail.

The Kayanians were the heroes of the Avesta – the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.

Atar (fire)

Zoroastrianism was already one of the world´s oldest religions when it was first recorded and is said to have strongly influenced Judaism, gnosticisim (monks and hermits), Christianity and Islam with the concepts of a Messiah, Heaven, Hell, free will and the universal struggle between Good and Evil.)

Persian King Ardashir I the Unifier (180 – 242), was depicted as having battled the Kurds and their leader Madig.

ArdashirIGoldCoinHistoryofIran.jpg

In a letter Ardashir I received from his foe Ardavan V, Ardashir himself is referred to being a Kurd himself:

“You´ve bitten off more than you can chew and you have brought death to yourself.

O son of a Kurd, raised in the tents of the Kurds, who gave you permission to put a crown on your head?”

In 360, Sassanid King Shapur II marched into the Roman province Zabdicene to conquer its chief city of Bezabde (present day Cizre) to find the city heavily fortified and guarded by three Roman legions and a large body of Kurdish warriors.

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In 639, Sassanian General Hormuzan battled Islamic invaders in Khuzestan and called upon the Kurds to aid him in battle.

Hormuzan lost and the Kurds were brought under Islamic rule.

Many dynasties would rise and fall and the Kurds were either used in great military campaigns throughout recorded history or they would be considered a problem by those who had conquered Kurdish territory.

Under the leadership of Saladin, Kurds would be instrumental in the recapture of Jerusalem from the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin (4 July 1187).

Above: Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub (or Saladin)

Kurds would revolt several times against their rulers and rulers would put down these rebellions and punish the Kurds by forcing them to move away from their territories, be forcibly and massively deported and enslaved.

The Ottoman Empire had historically and successfully inteegrated (but not assimilated) the Kurds by repressing Kurdish independence movements.

The Russo-Turkish War (1877 – 1878) devastated Kurdish territory and left therein a political vacuum.

Sheik Ubeydullah, a powerful landowner, filled the role and demanded recognition from the Ottoman Emire for an independent Kurdish state.

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“The Kurdish nation, consisting of more than 500,000 families is a people apart.

Their religion is different and their laws and customs distinct.

We are a nation apart.

We want our affairs to be in our hands, so that…we may be strong and independent and have privileges like other nations.

This is our objective.

Otherwise, the whole of Kurdistan will take matters into their own hands as they are unable to put up with these continual evil deeds and the oppression, which they suffer at the hands of the Persian and Ottoman governments.”

Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid responded with a campaign of integration by co-opting prominent Kurdish opponents with offers of prestigious positions in his government.

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Above: Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842 – 1918)

This strategy appears to have worked given the loyalty displayed by the Kurdish Hamidiye regiments during World War I.

The Young Turks, a political reform movement that consisted of Ottoman exiles, students, civil servants and army officers, favoured the replacement of the Ottoman Empire´s absolute monarchy with a constitutional government and led a rebellion against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908.

With this revolution, the Young Turks helped to establish an era of multi-party democracy for the first time in Turkey´s history.

After 1908, the Young Turks’ political party, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) began a series of modernizing military and political reforms across the Ottoman Empire.

By 1913, the CUP-led government was headed by Interior Minister and Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, War Minister Enver Pasha and Naval Minister Djemal Pasha.

The “Three Pashas” exercised absolute control over the Ottoman Empire from 1913 to 1918, bringing the country closer to Germany, signing the Ottoman-German Alliance to enter the Empire into World War I on the side of the Central Powers and carrying out the Armenian Genocide (1914 – 1917).

Jakob Künzler, of Hundwil, Appenzell, Switzerland, the head of a missionary hospital in Urfa, documented the large scale ethnic cleansing of both Armenians and Kurds by the Young Turks.

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Above: Jakob Künzler (8 March 1871 – 15 January 1949)

The Kurds were perceived to be subversive elements that would take the Russian side in the War.

The Young Turks embarked on a large scale deportation of Kurds, aiming to weaken the political influence of the Kurds by deporting them from their ancestral lands and dispersing them in small pockets of exiled communities.

By the end of World War I, up to 700,000 Kurds had been forcibly deported and almost half of the displaced perished.

On 10 August 1920, in the exhibition room of a porcelain factory in Sevres, France, the Manufacture nationale de Sevres, four representatives of the Ottoman Empire and representatives of the Allied Powers (the UK, France and Italy) met to discuss the partition of the Ottoman Empire.

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Much to the world´s shock the Ottoman Empire was allowed to continue to exist but with much of its territory assigned to various Allied powers.

This Treaty would ultimately lead to the creation of Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Armenia.

It would also lead to two wars: the Greek – Turkish War (1919 – 1922) and the Turkish War of Independence (1919 – 1923).

Above: The Turkish Army enters Izmir (9 September 1922).

Izmir is both the beginning and end location of the Turkish War of Independence.

On 15 May 1919, armed Turkish civilians first resisted the occupation of Turkey by the Allies following the Treaty of Sevres.

The end of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the nation of Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, made the Kurdish people feel threatened, as radical secularisation which the strongly Muslim Kurds abhorred and the centralisation of authority and rampant Turkish nationalism marginalised Kurdish autonomy.

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Above: Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938)

Some Kurdish groups sought self-determination and the confirmation of Kurdish autonomy as established in the Treaty of Sevres, but Kemal Atatürk prevented such a result.

On 6 March 1921, 6,000 members of the Kocgiri tribe rebelled.

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The commander of the Central Army Nureddin Pasha said:

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Above: Nureddin Pasha (1873 – 1932)

“In Turkey, we cleaned up people who speak Armenian.

I´m going to clean up people who speak Kurdish.”

The brutality of his repression made the National Assembly decide to put Pasha on trial.

Although Pasha was dismissed from his position and recalled to Ankara, Atatürk intervened and prevented a trial.

In 1925 Sheikh Said and a group of former Ottoman soldiers known as the Hamidiye, led the Kurdish groups the Zaza and the Kurmanj in rebellion against the Turkish state.

Above: Sheikh Said (bottom right)

Various elements of Turkish society were (and still are) unhappy that Atatürk had abolished the Islamic Caliphate system.

Apart from inevitable Kurdish cultural demands and complaints of Turkish maltreatment, the rebels were also afraid of imminent mass deportations.

They were also annoyed that the name “Kurdistan” did not appear on maps, at restrictions on the Kurdish language and education, and they objected to the Turks’ economic exploitation of Kurdish areas at the expense of the Kurds.

“Certain among you have taken as a pretext for revolt the governmental administration.

Some others have invoked the defence of the Caliphate.” (Military tribunal President, 28 June 1925)

Sheikh Said appealed to all Muslims of Turkey to join in the rebellion.

15,000 men did.

In the night / early morning of 6 – 7 March the forces of Sheikh Said laid siege to the city of Diyarbakir with a force of 10,000 men, attacking the city at all four of its gates simultaneously.

All of the rebel attacks were repelled by the Turkish garrison’s use of machine gunfire and mortar grenades.

When the rebels retreated, the area around the city was full of dead bodies.

By the end of March, most of the major battles of the Sheikh Said rebellion were over as the Turkish authorities crushed the rebellion with continual aerial bombardments and a massive concentration of forces.

Sheikh Said was captured and executed by hanging.

In the east of Turkey in Agri Province, during a wave of rebellion among Kurds led by General Ihsan Nuri Pasha, a self-proclaimed Kurdish state arose in 1927 called the Republic of Ararat and Kurdava, a village near Mount Ararat, was designated as its capital.

Ararat made appeals to the Great Powers and the League of Nations and sent messages for assistance from Kurds in Iraq and Syria, but to no avail.

On 12 July 1930 in the Zilan valley located to the north of the town of Ercis in Van Province, 1,500 armed Turkish soldiers destroyed 220 Kurdish villages and massacred 5,000 women, children and elderly Kurds.

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Above: Headline of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, 13 July 1930:

“Cleaning started, the ones at Zilan valley were completely annihilated. 

None of them survived.

Operations at Ararat are continuing.”

By the summer of 1930, the Turkish Air Force was bombing Kurdish positions, demoralising the Kurds and leading to their surrender and Turkey resuming control over the territory.

Mount Ararat and the Araratian plain (cropped).jpg

Most of the former Ottoman Empire’s eastern regions had been administered by feudal lords, tribal chieftains and dignitaries, but as the Republic of Turkey grew in power and confidence the Dersim region tribes objected to losing their authority and refused to pay taxes.

Complaints kept coming from the governors, so by 1926 the Atatürk government considered it necessary to use force against the people of Dersim.

Dersim had a reputation for being rebellious, having been the scene of 11 separate periods of armed conflict over the previous 40 years.

Ankara began to pass laws to “Turkify” the eastern provinces:

1934: Law on Resettlement: forced relocation of people within the country, to promote cultural homogeneity

1935: The Tunceli Law renaming Dersim “Tunceli”

On 1 November 1936, during a speech in Parliament, Atatürk acknowledged the situation in Dersim as Turkey´s most important internal problem.

The Turkish government built military observation posts in the centres of Kurdish districts.

Following public meetings in January 1937, a letter of protest against the Tunceli Law was written to be sent to the local governor.

“The government has tried to assimilate the Kurdish people for years, oppressing them, banning publications in Kurdish, persecuting those who speak Kurdish, forcibly deporting people from fertile parts of Kurdistan for uncultivated areas of Anatolia where many have perished.

The prisons are full of non-combatants, intellectuals are shot, hanged or exiled to remote places.

Three million Kurds demand to live in freedom and peace in their own country.” (Nuri Desimi)

The emissaries of the letter were arrested and executed.

In response, a group of local Kurds ambushed a police convoy in May.

The Dersim Rebellion had begun.

“The rebellion was clearly caused by provocation.

It caused the most violent tortures that were ever seen in a rebellion in the Republican years.

Those that didn´t take part in the rebellion and the families of the rebels were also tortured.” (Huseyin Aygun, Dersim 1938 and Obligatory Settlement)

In September 1937, a Kurdish leader Seyit Riza came to the government building of Erzincan Province for peace talks and was immediately arrested.

Riza was tried and sentenced after a show trial.

Riza and his companions were not informed of their rights nor the details of their case.

No lawyer was provided for them.

They were not able to understand the language of the trial in Turkish since they spoke only Kurdish.

No interpreter was provided.

Seyit Riza was almost 78 years old, making it impossible to hang him.

The court accepted he was only 54.

 

Riza was transferred to the headquarters of the General Inspectorate at Elazig.

Riza did not understand the meaning of the judgement until he saw the gallows.

“You will hang me.”, he said.

Then he turned to me and asked:

“Did you come from Ankara to hang me?”

We exchanged glances.

It was the first time I faced a man who was going to be hanged.

He flashed a smile at me.

The prosecutor asked whether he wanted to pray.

He didn´t want it.

We asked his last words.

“I have 40 liras and a watch.

You will give them to my son.”

We brought him to the square.

It was cold and there was nobody around.

However, Seyit Riza addressed the silence and emptiness as if the square was full of people.

“We are the sons of Karbala. (the land which will cause many agonies (karb) and afflictions (balā) )

We are blameless.

It is shame.

It is cruel.

It is murder.”

I had goose bumps.

This old man swept to the gallows, strung the rope around his own neck, kicked the chair and executed himself.” (Minister of Foreign Affairs Ihsan Sabri Caglayangil)

Six of his companions would also hang that evening.

 

Turkish planes flew numerous sorties against the Dersim rebels, bombing the district with poisonous gas.

Over 70,000 Kurdish civilians were killed by the Turkish Army and over 11,000 taken into exile.

Many tribesmen were shot dead after surrendering.

Women and children were locked into haysheds which were then set on fire.

Around 3,000 Kurds were forcibly deported from Dersim.

Southeast Anatolia was put under martial law.

In addition to more destruction of villages and massive deportations, the Turkish government encouraged Albanians and Assyrians to settle in Kurdish areas to change the ethnic composition of the region.

People were put in barns and caves and burned alive.

Forests were surrounded and set ablaze to exterminate those who had taken refuge there.

Many Kurdish females committed collective suicide and threw themselves into rivers.

More than 1.5 million Kurds were deported and massacred.

The area remained under permanent military siege until 1950.

In order to prevent the events from having a negative impact on Turkey´s international image and reputation, foreigners were not allowed to the visit the entire area east of Euphrates until 1965.

The Kurdish language was banned and the words “Kurds” and “Kurdistan” were removed from dictionaries and Kurds only referred to as “Mountain Turks”.

“The Turks, who had been fighting for their own freedom, crushed the Kurds, who sought theirs.

It is strange how a defensive nationalism develops into an aggressive one, and a fight for freedom becomes one for dominion over others.” (Jawaharial Nehru, Glimpses of World History, 1942)

Might the Kurds hold a grudge?

(To be continued)

Sources: Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Wikipedia

Flag of Turkey

The Assassin´s Resolution

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 2 January 2017

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.“(Mahatma Gandhi)(1869 – 1948)

The face of Gandhi in old age—smiling, wearing glasses, and with a white sash over his right shoulder

“Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)(1749 – 1832)

Goethe (Stieler 1828).jpg

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”(Alan Kay)

These are the sorts of affirmations one reads at the start of every New Year as the beginning of the Common Era calendar year is traditionally a time for looking forward, when we resolve to make a fresh start, do better, try harder, live up to expectations, but too often these resolutions evaporate by the time we have cleared up the remains of the day.

And nothing seems to change in the world around us.

"The Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by the Apollo 17 mission. The Arabian peninsula, Africa and Madagascar lie in the upper half of the disc, whereas Antarctica is at the bottom.

The same old problems – war, famine, injustice, torture, poverty, disease – are reported in the news day after day after day.

What´s the point of making New Year´s Resolutions?

Rio New Year Fireworks.jpg

Why try to lose those extra pounds or give up bad habits?

So instead we watch the world go by, wracked by guilt and paralysed by indecision and doubt.

Everyone has their own ideas about what´s wrong with the world, but we all agree that things could be better than they are and that something really does need to be done.

But then what?

Do we just leave it to governments and international institutions?

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Or is there power within each one of us to make a difference?

The issues that confront us are so huge, so complicated, so difficult to deal with that it is hard to believe that anything that we can do will have a meaningful impact.

But there are a lot of us, billions of us.

Imagine a lot of people doing a lot of little things…

Could have a large impact…

By doing something, we can demonstrate that lots of people really do care.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.“(Confucius)(551 – 470 BCE)

Confucius Tang Dynasty.jpg

Taking the first step is important.

Once you´ve got started, everything seems to feel easier.

Whatever it is you want to do, the first thing you need is a plan of action.

Set targets for what you want to achieve.

Be ambitious…

But make sure your plan is achievable.

Regularly review your progress, to know whether you achieved your goals, to learn from your experience, to plan what to do next.

For many people, this record is like a reproach, a perpetual reminder of our lack of discipline, our inability to apply ourselves, a weakness of resolve.

Sometimes resolutions remain quietly within, unspoken, unshared, for fear of failure, for fear of censure or ridicule.

London, England, 1 January 1660

Sam had a secret.

And for a century after his death his secret remained hidden.

On this day, Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) began a diary.

Samuel Pepys.jpg

For nine years and five months, Samuel Pepys kept his diary, and only stopped keeping it when poor eyesight forced him to desist.

In some ways, Pepys was an ordinary man chronicling the everyday of a humdrum life.

During his life Pepys was known for being an administrator, a hard worker yet bon vivant in the King´s Naval Office.

Pepys was recognised for his intelligence and for being the owner of a remarkable library, but during his lifetime he would never become famous.

The first real diarist, Samuel Pepys did not patent the diary but he was the first to develop the diary into an art form of and in itself.

Sam did not keep a diary in the hopes of attaining fame through it, but kept his diary private and for his own enjoyment.

Within its pages Sam recorded the journeys of his soul, planned for his future, confessed the sins of his flesh, not to lecture the world after his demise, but rather to not only record his life but to create his life in a world wherein he could fully live.

Life, unvarnished and uncensored, is what makes Pepys´s diary both a delight for the reader as well as for Pepys himself.

Granted Pepys lived in remarkable times in a remarkable city.

His diary would bear witness to the Restoration (the monarchy returned after Oliver Cromwell had died), war with the Netherlands, the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London.

Above: King Charles II (1630 – 1685), the first monarch to rule England after the Restoration

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Above: The Dutch raid on the Medway, June 1667

A painting showing the great fire of London, 4 September 1666, as seen from a boat in vicinity of Tower Wharf

Above: The Great Fire of London, 4 September 1666

Sam served as an excellent eyewitness to history, but yet it is his record of his personal life, his socialising and amorous entanglements, his leisure and his work, all expressed in frankness, high spirits and sharp observation that make his Diary endure the test of time and remain one of the classics of literature.

The Scottish poet William Soutar (1898 – 1943), bedridden by disease and trapped in a small room with only a diary as a constant companion, wrote just a month before he died:

“The true diary is one, therefore, in which the diarist is, in the main, communing with himself, conversing openly and without pose, so that trifles will not be absent, nor the intimate and little confessions and resolutions which, if voiced at all, must be voiced in such a private confessional as this.”

“A diary tempts us to betray our fellows…becoming an alter ego sharing with us the denigrations which we would be ashamed of voicing aloud…an assassin´s cloak which we wear when we stab a comrade in the back with a pen…”

But all this contributes to the mosaic of Life.

When we express how we really feel and analyse those feelings for their validity…

When we dare to dream, without fear of embarrassment or criticism…

When we find the courage to resolve to change our world and record our progress and no matter how successful or not, try again, fail again, fail better…

When we record who we are, if only for ourselves, then we begin to discover the much underestimated power of one, as we invent ourselves and our future.

Sources: Wikipedia / Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World/ Irene and Alan Taylor, The Assassin´s Cloak: An Anthology of the World´s Greatest Diarists/ Samuel Pepys, The Diary

Above: The original diary of Anne Frank (1929 – 1945) on display

That which survives 2a: Teachers´ Travels 1 – Welcome

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 December 2016

They are beloved by everyone from misunderstood teens and fools for love to the serious-minded middle-aged and those of a critical bent.

Now the Bronte sisters are taking centre stage again as the bicentary of Charlotte´s birth (born 21 April 1814) brings a host of events at their Yorkshire home and elsewhere…

Above: Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, painted by their brother Branwell, 1834.

So why exactly do the Bronte sisters, these rural Curate´s daughters with only a handful of novels between them, continue to fascinate us?

From the moment Jane Eyre was published in 1847, the Bronte sisters have exerted an almost hynotic pull.

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Above: Poster for Jane Eyre (2011)

Where other literary sensations flash bright then fade to earth, the Brontes endure, their stories adapted again and again for both stage and screen.

“I think a lot of it is that we´re fascinated by the idea that these women living in a cold, cramped house in Yorkshire wrote about the most intense human experiences.

There´s something very appealing about the idea that they pushed back against the limits of their world.

There are lots of neater, better planned books, but the Brontes novels work because they´re open-ended.

We don´t know what Anne, Emily and Charlotte really wanted us to think and that means we take away something new each time….

It´s not just women who respond to their work.

I know lots of men who love the Brontes.

Yet whoever is reading them, they will always have one sister they think of as “theirs” definitely.

You are either Charlotte, Emily or Anne and you can tell a lot by which book someone claims as their own….

And that´s how it should be.

Your passions are your own.“(Samantha Ellis, author / playwright)

(Observer, 27 March 2016)

My favourite sister of the Brontes is Anne, for she seems to rally more against her situation and seems more determined to speak and act her mind than her siblings.

But what follows here is not her story, but rather Charlotte´s.

Charlotte´s story is herein combined with my own, for there are parallels which I cannot ignore.

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Above: Charlotte Bronte, 1850

The Chronicles of Charlotte (1)

In 1831, 14-year-old Charlotte was enrolled at Miss Wooler´s school in Roe Head.

Curate Patrick could have sent his daughter to a less costly school in Keighley nearer Haworth, but the Wooler sisters had a good reputation.

Patrick´s choice of school was excellent.

Charlotte was happy there and studied well, making many lifelong friends.

Charlotte left Roe Head in 1832, but three years later, Miss Wooler offered Charlotte a position as her assistant.

Charlotte taught and wrote about her students without much sympathy.

Through her father´s influence and her own intellectual curiosity, Charlotte was able to benefit from an education that placed her among knowledgeable people, but her options remained modest.

The Bronte family´s finances did not flourish, so Charlotte and Anne could not hesitate in finding work.

From April 1839 to December 1841 the two sisters held several posts as governesses.

Not staying long with each family, their employment would last for some months or for a single season.

From May to July 1839 Charlotte was employed by the Sidgwick family at their summer residence, Stone Gappe, in Lothersdale.

One of her charges was John Benson Sidgwick (1835 – 1927), an unruly child who on one occasion threw a Bible at Charlotte, which incident inspired part of the opening chapter of Jane Eyre in which John Reed throws a book at the young Jane.

Charlotte had an idea that would place all the advantages on her side.

On advice from her father and friends, Charlotte thought that she and her sisters had the intellectual capacity to create a school in the parsonage where their Sunday school classes took place.

It was agreed to offer future pupils the opportunity of correctly learning modern languages.

Preparation was needed and was felt should be done abroad.

Among the possibilities Paris and Lille were considered, but were rejected due to aversion to the French as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had not been forgotten by the Tory spirited and deeply conservative girls.

On the recommendation of Pastor Jenkins of the Episcopat of Brussels, Belgium was chosen, where the girls could also study German and music.

Aunt Branwell provided the funds for the Brussels project.

Charlotte was 26, Emily was 22, when they travelled to Brussels in February 1842 to enrol at the boarding school run by Constantin Héger (1809 – 1896) and his wife Claire (1804 – 1887).

In return for board and tuition, Charlotte taught English and Emily taught music….

The Chronicles of Canada Slim (1)

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Like the Bronte sisters, Brussels had not been my first thought.

I had travelled extensively in both Canada and the States, but I had not yet had the pleasure nor privilege to visit Europe.

During my North American travels I had learned that my biological mother was American, her father English and her mother Irish, which knowledge persuaded me that finding my grandparents´ documents would allow me to work in Britain for a year through my grandfather and claim Irish / EU citizenship through my grandmother.

I had dreamed of Paris since I was a boy.

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I had pictures of Paris on my walls and it was those pictures that compelled me to choose Québec City (as old Europe – looking as a Canadian city can get) when it came time to pursue further education beyond high school.

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I bought an open-ended round-trip charter ticket, valid for a year, from Montréal to Paris.

Prior to my departure on Saturday 2 November 1996, I worked various jobs to finance my travels, the last being telemarketing for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

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Whilst there an Oxonian co-worker Jonathan suggested to me that should I ever find myself in Oxford that he would supply me with both a place to sleep and employment.

Prior to 11 September 1996, I was resident and part-time employee at the Ottawa International Hostel and though I would never win any prizes for my looks I found that hostels often led to romance.

Nicholas Street Gaol, Ottawa, Canada - 20050218.jpg

I met my ex-fiancée at a hostel in St. Louis.

I would later meet my wife at a hostel in Stratford upon Avon.

I met other girlfriends through the Ottawa, Kingston and Orillia hostels.

My last romantic hostel hook-up prior to Europe was with a Belgian girl whom we shall call “Zoé”.

Zoé was an extremely sensitive and intelligent Belgian girl, bilingual in both Flemish and French, who offered me bed and board and advice to finding work in Brussels.

Driven by the desire to first visit Paris, it wasn´t until 2200 hours on 5 November 1996 that I finally arrived in Brussels.

Though a year had passed since I had last seen Zoé back in Ottawa, our relationship had been intensely passionate and we had fond memories of the experience.

We were foolishly confident that upon my arrival in Brussels we could resume where we had left off and that I could build a new life in Brussels, perhaps never having to use the return-home portion of my flight ticket.

I imagined that I had the intellectual capacity and the courage to find work as an English-as-a-second-language teacher in Brussels.

We had both envisioned in our correspondence that love would conquer all difficulties and that problems were mere obstacles to be circumvented with relative ease.

We were wrong….

The Chronicles of Charlotte (2)

Brussels would dramatically change Charlotte´s life, where she would be forced to depart from the fantasy worlds of Gondal and Angria that she had created with her siblings using toy soldiers as the role players and face the harsh reality of the real world where one´s fondest wishes are not always realisable.

Charlotte was short of stature and red of face with many teeth gone.

(It is not that Charlotte did not look after her teeth but rather she like many folks of the 19th century had a tendency to take “the blue pill”.

“Blue pills” were prescribed for every ailment: minor and major, from syphilis to constipation.

Their active ingredient was: mercury.

There was, 19th century Britain and America, an epidemic of mercury poisoning as a result of this popular medication.

The long-term, overdose symptoms were depression, insomnia and fits of mental instability…and loose teeth.)

Charlotte also suffered from myopia (severe short-sightedness) and needed to wear spectacles otherwise she was bat-blind without them, but she didn´t like to be seen with her visual aids on.

Charlotte had folding tortoiseshell lorgnettes – easily put on and taken off – when she felt forced to use them.

And one of the features of the school environment was that spectacles were not considered disfiguring there, but rather indications of mental ability and academic distinction.

So in the classroom, Charlotte worn her glasses with pride.

Charlotte could not attract lines of male suitors, for nature and circumstance had left her somewhat ill-favoured in appearance and being the poor daughter of a poor Curate  she had no dowry to compensate for whatever abundance of beauty she lacked.

Constantin was the husband of the proprietress Claire of the Héger boarding school in Rue Isabelle, which catered for 100 girls in Brussels.

Charlotte and Emily had gone there, on very generous terms, to learn French and gain teaching experience.

Constantin Héger was born in Brussels in 1809 and moved to Paris in 1825 in search of employment.

For a period Héger worked as a legal secretary, but because of a shortage of funds he was unable to pursue a legal career himself.

In 1829, Constantin returned to Brussels, where he became a teacher of French and mathematics at the Athénée Royale.

In 1830, Constantin married his first wife, Marie-Josephine Noyer.

When the Belgian Revolution broke out in Brussels, Constantin fought on the barricades from 23 to 27 September 1830 on the side of the Belgian nationalists against the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Above: Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830, Wappers (1834)

In September 1833, Marie-Josephine died during a cholera epidemic.

Their son, Gustave, died in June 1834, only nine months old.

Constantin was appointed a teacher of languages, mathematics, geography and Belgian history at the veterinary college in Rue Terarken, while continuing to teach at the Athénée when it relocated to Rue des Douze Apôtres in 1839.

Constantin met Claire Parent, the directoress of the neighbouring girls´ school in Rue Isabelle, where he began teaching.

Claire and Constantin married in 1836 and would have six children.

Constantin was 33 years old when the Brontes arrived.

He was eight years younger than Claire and six years older than Charlotte.

According to Frederika Macdonald, another English Protestant pupil of the Hégers, Claire was a much more attractive woman than Charlotte in so far as her personal appearance was concerned.

According to Miss Wheelwright, another former pupil, Constantin had the intellect of a genius.

Constantin was passionate about his audiotorium, demanding many lectures, perspectives and structured analyses from his students.

He was a good looking man with masculine features, bushy hair, very black whiskers and wore an excited expression while sounding forth on great authors about whom he admired.

Charlotte´s instruction, especially Constantin´s lessons, were very much appreciated by Charlotte.

The Bronte sisters showed exceptional intelligence, but, unlike Charlotte, Emily didn´t like her teachers and was somewhat rebellious.

Emily learned German and to play the piano with natural brilliance and very quickly the Bronte sisters were writing literary and philosophical essays at an advanced level of French.

After six months of study Claire suggested the sisters stay at the boarding school free of charge in return for giving lessons.

After much hesitation, the sisters accepted.

Neither felt much attachment to their students.

The death of Aunt Branwell in October 1842 forced the sisters to return once more to Haworth.

Nevertheless the sisters were each asked to return to Brussels as they were regarded as competent and needed.

They were each offered teaching posts in the boarding school, but Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843.

Charlotte´s second stay was not a happy one.

Charlotte was lonely, homesick and deeply infatuated with Constantin…

The Chronicles of Canada Slim (2)

Brussels is a city with an undeserved reputation.

It is far more than just a dull, faceless centre of bureaucracy for the European Union.

Above: European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels is a thriving, pulsing cosmopolitan premiere city, with highly modern architecture and many superb museums, yet maintaining in a state of pristine condition a well-preserved late 17th-century centre.

Grand place brussels WQ3.jpg

Above: Grand Place, Brussels (City Hall on the left)

Restaurants seduce and the nightlife excites.

Brussels is raw, vital and irresistable and reminded me much of both Ottawa and Montréal, for its bilingualism (Ottawa) and its élan/style (Montréal).

Brussels, much like the EU over which it presides, is a divided, complicated community of communities.

Brussels has always been divided by classes – the rich live in the upper levels, the working class below (a kind of Upstairs Downstairs type city) – and linguistics: the Walloons (French-speaking) and the Flemish (Dutch-speaking).

Add to this a patchwork of people from all parts of the known world – the EU civil servants, the diplomats, and the immigrants…

Above: The official languages of the European Parliament

All living distinct, separate existences yet like sentient shards of coloured glass, they create an ever-changing kaleidoscopic pattern to rival any stained window within any majestic cathedral.

Saints-Michel-et-Gudule Luc Viatour.jpg

Above: The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Giudula, Brussels

Brussels is a Wonderland with surprising contrasts around every corner – from shopping mall to bazaar, slums to sleek luxuries –  all captures the poetry of a populace uniquely its own.

Eurolines bus from Paris to Gare Bruxelles – Nord and Zoé waiting for me at the station.

Eurolines Bova. AB 2009-5, Minsk, Belarus. ЕВРОЛАЙНС, Минск, Беларусь.jpg

The embrace is warm and welcoming and we speed through the streets like a storm-tossed gust of wind, into her apartment and into her chambers.

Zoé is much like Brussels herself – rarely boastful, plenty to fascinate, every part wonderful, a feeling of…Home.

To be continued…

Flag of Brussels

Above: The flag of Brussels

Sources: Wikipedia / John Sutherland, The Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte

 

 

The Ministry of Truth 2084

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 December 2016

“Those princes who do great things have considered keeping their word of little account and have known how to beguile men´s minds by shrewdness and cunning.” (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince)

Machiavelli Principe Cover Page.jpg

What is truth?

Above: Walter Seymour Allward´s Veritas (Truth) outside the Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa, Canada

What is fact?

There are moments when what I felt I knew as certainty proved to be not so sure.

“Politicians have always lied.

Does it matter if they leave the truth behind entirely?

Consider how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact.

Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped).jpg

He inhabits a fantastical realm where President Barack Obama´s birth certificate was faked, the President founded ISIS, the Clintons are killers and the father of a Republican rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot President John F. Kennedy….

And Trump is not alone.

Members of Poland´s government asserted that a previous president who died in a plane crash was assassinated by Russia.

Turkish politicians claim that the perpetrators of the failed coup were acting on orders issued by the CIA.” (The Economist, 10 September 2016)

We may argue, as Tom Cruise did in A Few Good Men, that we deserve the truth.

A Few Good Men poster.jpg

Only to have those above us counter that we can´t handle the truth.

“That politicians sometimes peddle lies is not news….

That truth is falsified is not news….

What is news is that the truth is of secondary importance…that feelings, not facts, are what matter…

It doesn´t matter whether the story bears any relation to reality, so long as they fire up the recipients.” (The Economist, 10 September 2016)

4 April 2084, Ministry of Truth transcript of guided tour of facilities

O’Brien: Hello and welcome to the Ministry of Truth or MiniTrue.

Please follow me closely as it is easy to become lost in the 600 levels, 300 above ground and 300 below ground that make up the MiniTrue complex.

My true name is unimportant, but you may call me “O´Brien”.

It is our sworn duty here in the Ministry of Truth, or MiniTrue, to supply the citizens of Oceania with every conceivable kind of information, instruction or entertainment, regardless of whether it be a rock carving, a statue or a slogan, a lyrical poem or a biological treatise, a children´s spelling book or a Newspeak dictionary.

MiniTrue is the one and only reliable source for every newspaper, film, textbook, TV program, play and novel, and we tirelessly work to ensure that everything and anything with any political or ideological significance that reaches the public is 100% accurate and consistent with the principles of International English Socialism (or IngSoc).

Please let me demonstrate how we function on a daily basis.

Let us enter one of the cubicles here in the Records Department Branch.

Mr. Smith is responsible for editing and writing for the New York Times.

Mr. Smith? If you will…

Winston is seated in front of a speakwrite, into which he dictates the necessary changes or modifications required by speaking directly into the microphone in the centre of the console before him.

Winston receives on his monitor a list of the back issues of the New York Times that require modification to ensure that the record of the past corresponds with the reality of the present.

Past events have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories, so the past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon.

The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons:

  • The present becomes tolerable if there are no standards of comparison and contrast by which to examine the present.  Citizens must believe that today is a far better place than yesterday was and that life is gettting better and better every day.
  • There must be no doubt in a citizen´s mind of his need for the Party and no doubt in his mind that the Party is infallible.  If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.

Control of the past maintains the harmony of the present and the certainty of tomorrow.

Winston inputs the dates of the appropriate issues of the New York Times needing alteration.

The instructions Winston has already received on his monitor inform him what articles or news items which for one reason or another it is thought necessary to rectify.

In the walls of Winston´s cubicle are three slots:

On the left wall is the slot where Winston receives the material that requires alteration.

Winston uses the keyboard and monitor at his station to edit and examine the materials he must labour on.

When Winston is satisfied with the results of his efforts, he instructs his computer to both print a copy of his final draft while the vocal transcription of his work is automatically recorded.

In the middle wall, just below Winston´s microphone and monitor, is the slot where the altered material is deposited for examination before being stored into our historical data banks.

To Winston´s right the final of three wall slots, nicknamed a memory hole,  is for the disposal of the original materials requiring rectification which are devoured by flames erasing all memory of the original´s existence.

Next to Winston in the adjacent cubicle is Sandy.

Her job is to track down and delete from the media the names and images of people who the Party has deemed counterproductive to the needs of IngSoc (unpersons) and ensure that they never existed.

This Records Hall where Winston and Sandy work along with 50 other Party workers is only one subsection, a single cell within the huge bureaucracy of the Records Branch.

Beyond this cell on this floor and both above and below this level are swarms of other workers engaged in a multitude of jobs.

Here at MiniTrue there are huge printing shops and elaborately equipped studios, where photos are altered and skilled actors perform in honour of the Party.

Within MiniTrue are vast repositories where corrected documents are stored and huge hidden furnaces where original materials are destroyed.

And, of course, in the heart of the building lies the Directorate which coordinates the whole operations of MiniTrue and lays down the lines of policy which dictate what should be preserved, what should be altered and what should be obliterated out of memory and existence.

You, ummm Mr. Blair, Arthur, is it?

Arthur: How did MiniTrue come to be?

O´Brien: Much of our origins and the details that shaped the Party remain classified information, but what I am authorised to tell you is that our great leader Big Brother realised that democracy was dangerous for citizens to embrace, for individual thought and emotion, though useful for creative endeavours, was detrimental to the overall happiness of the citizenry.

Big Brother's face looms from giant telescreens in Victory Square

So it was decided that the policies enacted by the societies that existed before IngSoc were mostly invalid and required modification.

Big Brother realised that harmony within Oceania was only realisable when the emotions and thoughts of the populace were successfully manipulated.

Experiments prior to the Party´s ascension to power had been successful in showing that fear can drive people to act in ways desireable to the State.

If information was carefully selected and often repeated, and if efforts were taken to distract deep thought away from consideration of the  veracity of the information, then the common man, the proles, could be easily persuaded through their instinctive love of country.

For those with instincts to rise above irrational emotion and able to analyse and think beyond basic impulse, Big Brother realised that the way to control the intellectuals was to control the information they received.

Thus out of this necessity MiniTrue came into being.

Arthur: But, Mr. O´Brien, in the initial years of MiniTrue, wouldn´t this control of the independent thinker be difficult?

O´Brien: This is where the concept of doublethink came into play.

Mr. Smith, can you pull up for me a copy of The Guardian, dated 23 March 2016?

Now, watch, Arthur, how doublethink works in this example of a controversy that took place over a stone carving on the grounds of Tintagel Castle in England.

Now we all know how doublethink works, this power within each one of us to hold two contradictory beliefs in one´s mind simultaneously and accept both of them.

A MiniTrue worker knows memory must be altered.

He knows that this alteration plays tricks with reality.

But this alteration of reality has created a new truth.

This new truth becomes memory.

The old truth/memory is swept out of existence as if it had never been, by conscious effort and will to forget that which was once truth and reality.

Doublethink is the child of what was once called post truth.

Post truth in practice was quite simple…

Create a myth that appeals to the heart and a person´s best intentions, regardless of the facts and evidence that tell that person that the myth is a falsehood or untruth.

The person´s desire to want the myth to be true makes the myth a reality in that person´s heart and mind and naysaying facts and evidence to the contrary to be false because they are denied believability.

Post truth dictated that feelings were paramount over facts and reality an opinion that one felt to be true.

Doublethink took post truth and molded into the concept that if we eliminate comparison then we eliminate dissatisfaction and a need to question the validity of the reality our senses perceive.

By isolating the citizens within Oceania so they have nowhere to compare Oceania with and removing from them the ability to compare truthfully the past with the present and restricting them to only one source of information that is never contradictory, thus Oceania has achieved harmony.

Back in the Old Calendar Year 2016 AD (Age of Digital?), a group of 200 Cornish historians, unpersons, criticised plans by English Heritage (now part of MiniTrue of IngSoc) to turn Tintagel Castle into what they called a “fairytale theme park” based on the legend of King Arthur rather than highlighting its true past.

Upper mainland courtyard of Tintagel Castle, 2007.jpg

These unpersons, calling themselves the Cornwall Association of Local Historians, said they were appalled that the head of the wizard Merlin had already been carved into a rock face at the wind and wave battered site.

The CALH asked English Heritage to rethink other plans they had for Tintagel Castle, which included a larger-than-life sculpture partly inspired by King Arthur and a compass installation that would remind visitors of the Round Table.

In a statement the CALH said:

“We are appalled at what English Heritage is doing to Tintagel, one of Cornwall´s most historic sites. 

As an organisation of over 200 local Cornish historians, we view with alarm the plans to turn Tintagel into a fairytale theme park….

Focusing on the mythical fantasies that King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel guarantees the eclipsing of the real story of the site…

We accept that many people visit Tintagel because of the Arthurian legend, but it should not be the role of English Heritage to further the fantasy.

In fact, it should be the function of EH to help visitors learn the true history of this Cornish place, to begin to better understand what has gone before and to preserve that heritage.

The idea of carving even a small face of a mythical druid into one of the stones of Stonehenge or adding an 8-foot statue of a legend to the scene would be beyond any historian´s imagination.

Stonehenge, Condado de Wiltshire, Inglaterra, 2014-08-12, DD 09.JPG

If English Heritage wants to combine history and fantasy it should hand the site over to Disney.

TWDC Logo.svg

This is a historical site for Cornwall and we urge EH to look elsewhere to increase revenues.

St Piran's Flag of Cornwall

Above: Cornish flag

Don´t tamper with Cornish history.” (Guardian, 23 March 2016)

So, Arthur, what do you think we should do about this article?

(Transcript ends…failure in range to record full conversation in all MiniTrue locations)

Memorandum from the Directorate of the Ministry of Truth, 6 December 2084:

guardian 28.03.2016 (OC) reporting controversy Tintagel doubleplusungood refs unpersons doubleplusungood thoughtcrime untruth unconcepts rectify all

Eric Arthur Blair unperson thoughtcrime rectify all refs

A photo showing the head and shoulders of a middle-aged man with black hair and a slim moustache.

George O´Brien unperson thoughtcrime rectify all refs

Sources: Wikipedia / http://www.orwelltoday.com / The Economist, 10 September 2016 / The Guardian, 23 March 2016 / George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

1984first.jpg

 

 

 

 

Strange bedfellows?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 5 December 2016

The older one gets the more one realises that perception is everything.

And in every country´s elections it is perception that determines the rise and fall of a nation´s ruling elite.

Perception in American elections seems usually shaped by factors such as military records, marital status, religious adherance, place of origin, previous political experience, attractiveness, charisma….

Seal of the President of the United States.svg

Yet the last American elections seemed to defy all past certainties.

Donald Trump has no military service history, has been married three times, is religious only when it is convenient to be so, comes from New York and “new money” rather than from a well-established American dynasty, never held a single political office, is not particularly attractive nor does he possess a charisma beyond his wealth.

Donald Trump August 19, 2015 (cropped).jpg

Yet Mr. Trump has been chosen as America´s next President.

He convinced millions of Americans that he was the Great White Change America had been seeking, the champion of the working class.

But he fills the next Cabinet with the wealthiest folks in America, many of whom have been steadfast against the working class all their lives and some as unqualified and inexperienced in affairs of state as Mr. Trump himself.

Yet to be fair, the casual observer, seeing the trees from outside the dark menacing American forest, is not really surprised by the evolution of Mr. Trump´s decisions leading up to his Inauguration.

Convince the people you are their champion, but when push comes to shove you will hobnob with those you are most comfortable with.

Also it is no surprise that Republicans now rally around the leader many of them once claimed to despise, because they want to be present when the gravy train pulls into the station.

The world has been transformed from a state of utter shock to a cautious worldly weariness, for Mr. Trump is really nothing new under the sun.

I hesitate to draw comparisons between Mr. Trump and other historic figures, but a demagogue using fear and nationalism to seize power is something the planet has seen before.

In the lead-up to January´s Inauguration…

(And it will happen, unless a miracle occurs and the Electoral College turns against their chosen candidate, which knowing the volatile nature of America they won´t have the courage to do so.)

…not many of Mr. Trump´s Cabinet nominees really surprise me.

(Disappoint me, yes.

Surprise me, no.)

But there are two trees in Mr. Trump´s forest that catch my attention…

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney…

For Mrs. Palin to be considered by Mr. Trump for a Cabinet position is not totally a stretch of the imagination as she shares Mr. Trump´s affinity for demagoguery and the ability to get elected regardless of the lack of ability or experience.

Sarah Palin by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg

Had Republican Presidential nominee John McCain been competiting against anyone besides Senator Barack Obama in 2008 and had become President and had ill health struck him down, Sarah Palin might have become President in his stead.

Give the devil her due, Sarah Palin, like Donald Trump, knows how to survive and thrive even though Reason itself protests against her.

But Mitt Romney is a different sort of political animal.

Or is he?

Romney rose from businessman to Governor to Republican Presidential nominee, but he lost to President Barack Obama who convinced the American public that Romney cared more about getting elected than he did for the electorate.

Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney

The 2012 Presidential campaign was not Mr. Romney´s first attempt at the Presidency nor might it have been his last.

In 2008 Mr. Romney lost the Republican nomination against Senator McCain.

By early 2014, the lack of a clear mainstream Republican candidate for the 2016 Presidential election led many Republicans to suggest Romney stage a third run at the Presidency.

And Romney had been tempted, but his record of losses and the lack of commitment prompted many Republicans to reject him, so on 30 January 2015, Romney announced he would not run for President in 2016.

As the Republican presidential nomination race went into the primaries season, Romney had not endorsed anyone, but he was one of the Republican establishment figures who were becoming increasingly concerned about the front-runner status of Donald Trump.

Romney publicly criticised Trump for not releasing his taxes, saying there might be a bombshell in them.

Trump, never subtle, responded by calling Romney “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics”.

On 3 March 2016, in a speech at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Romney made a scathing attack on Trump´s personal life, his business performance, and his domestic and foreign policy stances, saying that Trump was “a phony, a fraud…playing members of the American public for suckers….If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.”

Romney´s speech was an unprecedented attack by a major US party´s most recent presidential nominee against the party´s current frontrunner for the nomination.

When by 3 May 2016 Trump had defeated all his opponents, Romney then announced that he would not support Trump in the general election:

“I am dismayed at where we are now. I wish we had better choices.”

After Trump won the election, Romney congratulated him.

On 19 November Romney met with Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, to discuss the position of Secretary of State.

Whether this position is an eventuality is questionable, but this does raise some interesting questions:

Would joining Team Trump be a violation of what Romney says he believes?

Could the opportunity to affect change within the Trump Administration be considered honourable, despite how odious and bleak this Administration is already beginning to look seven weeks before the Inauguration?

Romney is, like Trump, an extremely wealthy man and a shrewd businessman – as evidenced by his ability to take the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from a fiscal shortfall to a huge surplus.

2002 Winter Olympics logo.svg

So for Romney to serve in the Trump Administration is not such an unusual fit after all.

But what kind of a Secretary of State would Romney be?

Here lies the crux of the question behind this post…

Being Secretary of State means serving the Administration internationally, at a time in history where America isn´t loved worldwide.

Seal of the Secretary of State.svg

Now dealing with America means dealing with its dominant, often fundamentalist, Christian beliefs.

Principal symbol of Christianity

Trump has convinced many Americans that Islam is the enemy, despite that one out of every six humans on the planet is Muslim and many Americans practice the faith of Muhammed.

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

Mitt Romney is a Mormon.

In fact, Romney spent 30 months in France (1966 – 1968) as a Mormon missionary, and held several positions as a member of the Mormon clergy from 1981 to 1994.

During all of his political campaigns, Romney has avoided speaking publicly about Mormon doctrines, referring to the US Constitution´s prohibition of religious tests for public office.

But persistent questions about the role of religion in Romney´s life led to his 6 December 2007 “Faith in America” speech where he declared:

“I believe in my Mormon faith and endeavor to live by it.  My faith is the faith of my fathers.  I will be true to them and to my beliefs….I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law….Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.  Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Mormons identify themselves as Christians, though many Christians don´t identify Mormons the same way as some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity.

Above: Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle

Mormons believe in the Bible, as well as other books of scripture such as the Book of Mormon.

Mormon-book.jpg

Mormons believe that returning to God requires following the example of Jesus Christ and accepting his atonement through ordinances such as baptism.

Mormons believe that Christ´s church was restored through Joseph Smith and is guided by living prophets and apostles.

Portrait of Joseph Smith Jr.

Above: Joseph Smith (1805 – 1844)

They believe that God speaks to His children and answers their prayers.

Mormons have a strong sense of community and are very family-oriented with strong connections across generations, believing that families are sealed together beyond death.

Mormons have a strict health code prohibiting alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and other addictive substances.

Mormons have a strict law of chastity, requiring abstention from sex outside of heterosexual marriage and fidelity within marriage.

Upon examination of some of the tenets and practices of Islam there is some commonality between Mormons and Muslims.

But is harmonious coexistence between Mormons and Muslims possible?

Can a Mormon be true to his conscience and serve an Administration as blatantly xenophobic and anti-Islam as Trump´s?

Can a Mormon best represent America in a world where America is distrusted by many countries Muslim and non-Muslim?

Of late one reads of increased anti-Muslim violence across the United States and even in liberal-leaning Canada, where “obvious outsiders” feel threatened within their North American communities.

So, let´s look at a predominantly Mormon city and see how things are…

Welcome to Pocatello, Idaho, population just over 54,000, 75% of whom are Mormon.

Eastern Pocatello.jpg

Flag of Pacatello, Idaho

Pocatello is known for a number of things:

  • It is the 5th largest city in Idaho.
  • It is ranked #20 on the Forbes list of “Best Small Places for Business and Careers“.
  • It was founded as a stop along the route to the gold fields during the Idaho Gold Rush.
  • It is known as the “Smile Capital of America”.
    • In 1948, Pocatello Mayor George Phillips passed an ordinance making it illegal not to smile in Pocatello.  Meant as a tongue-in-cheek ordinance, it was passed as a result of an exceptionally severe winter which had dampened the spirits of city employees and citizens alike.  This ordinance was never repealed.  An event called Smile Days is held annually, including a smile contest and the “arrest” of non-smilers.
  • Its flag is considered by the North American Vexillological (flag lovers) Association as the worst city flag in North America.
  • It is home to the “Minidome” Holt Arena which hosts the Real Dairy Bowl (an annual junior college football bowl game) and the Simplot Games (America´s largest indoor high school track-and-field meet).
  • It is the birthplace of comedian actress Billie Bird (1908 – 2002), actress Gloria Dickson, lesbian librarian/author Celeste West, and vlogger Shay Carl.
  • Winters here are long and cold, summers hot and dry.

And it is in Pocatello one finds Idaho State University (ISU).

Idaho State University Seal.svg

And it is at ISU where cultures meet.

In February 2014, the Reverend Jim Jones, pastor of the Blazing Grace Church of Pocatello, approached the lectern at City Hall holding a copy of the Quran.

Jones told the Pocatello zoning panel that he felt uncomfortable with the plan of Middle East students at ISU to build a mosque within walking distance of the campus.

Jones claimed that the Quran commands followers to embrace intolerance, hate and violence.

(It doesn´t.)

“I get very fearful because I live close to this place.“, Jones told the panel.

The mosque was approved.

But Jones´ remarks and those of other opponents are evidence of the tensions that exist in Pocatello as ISU has become dependent on Saudi and Kuwati students to replace income lost from steep declines in local enrollment and state funding.

Payoff for ISU from foreign students is big:

More than $20,000 per student in annual tuition, nearly 300% more than local residents pay to attend ISU.

The first 17 Saudi students arrived in 2006 to study engineering.

Above: Flag of Saudi Arabia

Over time, the students began sending word back home about Pocatello´s attributes, particularly the low cost of living.

As more Saudi students came to ISU, Kuwati students began to arrive.

Above: Flag of Kuwait

As the number of Middle East students grew to 1,200 students, this meant an estimated $40 million for the local economy every year.

But these students have brought about a clash of cultures in this conservative Mormon town.

Critics of these students claim:

  • Free from the strict cultural mores of their home countries, some Saudi and Kuwaiti students have faced charges like drunk driving and stalking.
  • Many of these students are unfamiliar with English, are ill-prepared and frequently resort to cheating.
  • While acknowledging instances of discrimination, Pocatello officials and ISU professors say the students have done little to adapt to local customs and mores.

The students claim:

  • There are frequent episodes of discrimination on campus and in town.
  • While admitting that some Middle East students had cheated, many foreign students feel that ISU paints all of them with a broad brush.

Now some students are leaving.

For ISU, this has meant a loss of more than $2 million a year in tuition alone from 100 students who left in summer 2015.

More declines are expected. (New York Times, 22 March 2016)

For me, Pocatello is a microcosm of the planetwide problem that plagues us.

We cannot afford isolationism or xenophobia.

Assimilation is much harder work than hate, but the rewards are far greater.

Foreigners do need to be taught to follow the rules of the society in which they live, but they also need to be respected for the uniqueness they in turn offer to their adopted society.

Until we learn that there is unity in diversity and that this diversity of beliefs and cultures strengthens all of us, humanity will continue in its inevitable self-destruction.

Maybe the next stage in evolution might be smarter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam in the Abbey 3: The greater fool

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 – 20 September 2016

I have, up till recently, been an avid comic book reader and collector.

And, sorry, DC comics, generally I have made mine Marvel.

MarvelLogo.svg

For it has been Marvel that struck upon the notion of making their heroes with feet of clay, rather than just Super aliens or vengeful billionaire Batman types.

Spider-man was just a Sad Sack teenager whom everyone in his universe reviled.

The Hulk was a victim of repressed anger and overexposure to gamma radiation.

Iron Man was an alcoholic, Wolverine a victim of government experimentation, and Daredevil was blinded by radioactivity that enhanced all his other senses.

It took DC and other comic producers years to realise that what sells animated literature to humans is the humanity of the comic book characters.

Marvel killed off loved ones, had them divorce, die from tragic accidents or fatal diseases, go crazy and even quit their superheroics when the pressure got too much.

And the moments where Marvel writers truly excelled was when the lines they drew between good and evil became blurred.

Taking my nose out of the comic books, I have noticed that there has been a tendency in human history to paint ourselves with haloes and to demonise our opponents, for in doing so we justify questionable behaviour like wars and violence and injustice upon one another.

We are selectively fed information designed to elicit our emotions in favour of protecting the status quo of those who benefit by its continuance.

So regardless of how those we oppose love their children too, or that they too feel fear and sorrow and hurt and love and compassion and tenderness, their villainy must be dramatic and unquestionable, otherwise it is harder to make their children orphans, their villages uninhabitable and their graveyards full.

We also go to the opposite extreme to make saints out of mere mortals.

Mandela never defecated, Gandhi believed in equality for everyone including his wife and Mother Teresa never felt overwhelmed by the difficulties of tending to the poor of Calcutta.

I am reminded of comic books and the issue of opinion.

Daredevil is told a story by his mother of an encounter between a knight and a priest in the forest.

The knight mocks the priest and tells him that all the priest sacrifices – physical pleasures, material possessions, family – are for nothing as the priest cannot prove uncategorically that God exists.

The knight asks the priest: what will he do if when he dies and finds all of this sacrifice had been for naught?

The priest responds that he would be disappointed, but then he asks the knight: what will he do if the priest is right?

Who then, we must ask, is the greater fool?

In economics, the greater fool theory states that the price of an object is determined by, not its intrinsic value, but rather by belief and expectation, often unsupported by rationale, of the market participants.

The Canadian musical comedy group the Arrogant Worms suggests in one of their songs that:

Completely Canadian Compilation! cover art

“History is made by stupid people.

Clever people wouldn´t even try.

If you want a place in the history books…

Then do something dumb before you die.”

So when I consider the founding of New Norcia and recall the hardships endured to make it a reality…

I want to tell you a story about a great fool…

New Norcia, Western Australia, April 2014

New Norcia Benedictine Monastery.jpg

I had been to Singapore and I attended all the pomp and ceremony of my best friend`s wedding in Perth and I still had a few days to play with before I was required to fly back home.

Now we tend to forget as non-Australians that Australia is BIG, very BIG.

Australia is the world´s 6th largest country and the world´s largest island, an island so big it qualifies as a continent and the only continent that is also one nation (by the present geopolitical map).

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Western Australia (WA) covers 1/3 of the continent-country yet contains only a population of 2.3 million people, out of the national total of 22 million.

Map of Australia with Western Australia highlighted

Most of these 2.3 million live within a 200 km radius of Perth, Australia´s most isolated state capital city.

Once the visitor has visited the capital and its sister/rival city Fremantle and popped over to Rottnest Island (“Rotto”), there is not much left “in the ´hood” to see that doesn´t require many miles of travel and much careful planning to reach, and as I only had a few days to explore Australia before flying back to Switzerland via Singapore, the closest and easiest site seemed to be New Norcia.

Now if an alien civilisation ever landed in New Norcia they could be forgiven for thinking they had not landed in Australia, for at first glance this 19th century monastic community 130 km north of Perth appears to be Spanish.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that this unexpected collection of Benedictine buildings in the Australian bush looks Spanish, because the buildings were Spanish-inspired by an inspired Spainard with a dream, a mission, to bring Christianity to the indigenous population.

Now before one examines the extraordinary life of Rosendo Salvado and his legacy, one must never forget that Australia was and still remains a very dangerous place.

Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else in the world.

The world´s ten most poisonous snakes are Australian.

The five most lethal creatures in the world are Australian.

If you are not stung or pronged to death, you may be eaten by sharks or crocodiles or carried away by strong currents or bake outside in the Outback.

And the damned place is strange

No one can figure out how the indigeous peoples came to be there, its seasons are back to front, its constellations upside down, its water drainage flows counterclockwise, and its wildlife contains creatures that bounce, fish that climb trees, foxes that fly and crustaceans so big that a grown man could climb inside their shells.

80% of all that lives in Australia exists nowhere else and shouldn´t exist at all, as Australia is the driest, flattest, most desiccated, infertile, climatically aggressive, most hostile place on Earth, excepting Antarctica.

Welcome to Oz, mate.

Now for a moment imagine you are talking to your mum or your worrying wife.

Imagine for a moment that you are telling her you are going to leave home and travel to a faraway place where danger and death are more commonplace than is ever found where you live.

And the reason you are leaving is not because you are economically insecure or unpopular at home, but you are leaving because you have a dream to spread the Word of God to those who have not heard it before.

I believe that there are few folks who understand this impulse and fewer still that have this impulse themselves, for most folks do not lack for courage, but many men and women prefer the sanity of security rather than the uncertainty of adventure, the comforts of home and family and relationships rather than the isolation of faraway places with strange sounding names.

Now when I had told my long-suffering wife I was flying to Australia to attend my best friend´s wedding her only concern was whether I would spend too much money.

For it is common knowledge that most Australians of European descent have gathered themselves close to shore where conditions are less wild than further inland and have sanitised the place to keep the wilderness away and put up parking lots for your shopping convenience.

Then looking at the paved Paradise they have created, modelled on a country that rarely thinks about them, they wish to keep and secure it as it is and reluctantly accept change that might affect their ideas of Utopia.

In my short stay in Oz I felt that I was travelling in the southwestern United States, for there are similarities between these two distant points on the map.

Desert climate, a feel of modernity rising out of the frontier, even street grids and city layout, it all felt uncannily familiar to this traveller who had been to the American Southwest.

Like their American cousins, individual Australians are, as Bill Bryson describes them, “immensely likeable – cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted and unfailingly obliging”.

Black Swan, Bill Bryson, 2000, Down Under book cover.jpg

But collectively, Aussies, like Yanks, do have some questionable attitudes when it comes to dealing with their indigenous past or their intercultural present.

(And, please note, that I, as a Canadian, must acknowledge that Canadians are also remiss at dealing with our own indigenous past or intercultural present/future.

Flag of Canada

The only difference between Canadians and Australians in this regard is that we have been quieter about voicing our wrong attitudes, but to pretend that there is no xenophobia or distrust in Canada would be to paint a reality that isn´t entirely true.)

When I look at the history of European expansion I am struck by how similar it is to modern tourism in terms of mentality.

Just as the modern tourist, with limited time and budget, wishes to be little disturbed by oddity and inconvenience and prefers to find much of the commonplace comforts of home wherever he travels, so the Europeans who dared to venture from their native shores transplanted their culture to alien lands, little caring, then and now, how this would affect the new worlds that they had foisted themselves upon.

The English would build a new England, regardless of how inappropriate or ill-fitting a new England would be in the “new” world.

So Europeans and their descendants in Australia did/do what Europeans and their descendants did/do in North and South America and Africa, what was/is unfamiliar was/is either eliminated or kept apart at arm´s length or forced to adapt to the conditions we impose(d) upon it.

Destroy, exile or convert.

In 1696 the Dutchman Willem de Vlamingh, after discovering Rottsnest Island, landed on the western shore of Australia as its first white visitor ever.

“Big Willie” didn´t stay.

After him, Antoine d´Entrecasteaux explored this region in 1792 with the idea of annexing it for France, but, mon Dieu, la France was in the middle of une guerre civile and in no position to stake their claims there.

Encastreaux.jpg

Tant pis, he left.

“Ah, hah!”, thought the English.

“This is our big chance!”

The English dispatched Captain James Stirling in 1828, who took a look around, liked what he saw, and had no difficulty in persuading his government to provide funds for the founding of a colony.

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The Swan River Colony was founded on 1 June 1829, but like their North American predecessors of Canada´s Anticosti Island or the Norse colonies in Newfoundland or America´s Jamestown colony, bitter weather conditions and the inevitable hardships of the early stages of building a civilisation where that civilisation had not been before, caused many of the new settlers to lose heart.

They claimed they had been deceived, but they had in fact been victims of their own imaginations, conjuring up visions of wealth and comfort which they thought were theirs simply for the asking.

In their disappointment, many turned their backs on Swan River, saying it was unhealthy, barren, useless, and they went off to Sydney or other places where their imagined goals might be found.

But the stout-hearted remained.

By 1845, the year that Rosendo Salvado first landed in Australia, the Colony had prospered.

There were over 4, 000 colonists, 2,000 horses, 10,000 cattle, 140,000 sheep, 2,000 pigs and 1,400 goats.

(It is unclear as to how many were permitted to vote!)

In The Salvado Memoirs, one of the few accounts available about this remarkable man, purchased at the New Norcia gift shop, Salvado diplomatically recounts the state of the Catholic Church´s presence in Australia:

18 years after Captain James Cook had taken possession of the eastern coast of Australia in the name of Great Britain, the first colony was founded there by Captain Philip, and with it the first town, Sydney.

In a short time, the Colony attained a high degree of prosperity in trade and agriculture, partly thanks to the activity of its governors and the enterprise of its European inhabitants, but with the growth of both population and wealth, this society, most of it male and many of its members under judicial sentence in their own country, rushed headlong into evil courses.

There was a great outbreak of crime which even the severest penalties – some of them quite dreadful – failed to prevent.

No appeal was made to religion, either for spiritual support or moral sanction, and it would seem the Almighty allowed things to go on this way for years, to bring home the lesson that, as far as the inner reformation of man is concerned, human means are worthless, unless they have a religious source and inspiration.

Through the workings of Providence, two Catholic priests, who had been sentenced to exile by English law, arrived in Sydney in 1800.

Fired by that religious zeal and concern for others which Christ left as a legacy for His disciples, and which had been the reason for their banishment, they took up their task anew.

Three years later they were recalled, and the Catholics of the Colony were left, like those who after a flash of lightning are, again in darkness.

Things were in this state when in 1817 an Irish priest, Father O´Flynn came out to Australia.

Unfortunately religious intolerance brought about his return, it being alleged that he had not obtained the government´s consent to come.

Before leaving his faithful Catholic followers, Father O´Flynn left behind the blessed Eucharist there for their consolation.

Many protests were made by the Catholics of New South Wales against O´Flynn´s enforced departure and as a result the Governor decided to bring out, at his own expense, two other priests, Father Connolly and Father Therry in 1820.

The good Fathers were quite surprised on arrival to find that the sacred writ left by Father O´Flynn two years before remained whole and incorrupt.

Though the Protestants were not happy to see the number of Catholics growing every day and prevailed upon the Governor to issue regulations to impede this development, Catholics even so became more numerous and fervent than ever.

64 years after Cook´s arrival and 46 years after the foundation of the Colony, the spiritual care of the vast land of Australia was confided by Pope Gregory XVI to the English Benedictine priest, John Bede Polding, who was consecrated Bishop for the task.

Bishop Polding arrived in Sydney in 1835.

Thanks to the strenous works of good priests, the Catholic Faith flourished and spread, but the increase in the number of Catholics, the enormous distances involved and the establishment of new settlements on the Australian continent, made it next to impossible for Bishop Polding to attend to the entire area of his jurisdiction, so at the end of 1840, the Bishop sailed for Rome, to inform the Holy See of the needs of his vicariate.

The Pope lent a ready ear, and by way of promoting spiritual good, divided the Diocese of Australia into a number of episcopal sees, giving Sydney primary status, with Polding as Archbishop.

Meanwhile, the Catholics of Swan River, who had been, from the foundation of the Colony in 1829, without church, altar or priest, communicated with Sydney asking for a priest to say Mass and administer the sacraments in a church they sought permission to build.

On the Archbishop´s arrival back in Sydney in 1843, he was informed of Perth´s wishes and sent the Reverend John Brady, Vicar General and Belgian priest John Joostens and Irish student Patrick O´Reilly to the Swan River Colony.

The Archbishop´s emissaries arrived in Western Australia on 24 November 1843 and shortly after landing asked Governor John Hutt for a plot of land to build a church in Perth.

While the church was being built, Father Brady visited parts of the Colony to get a better idea of the numbers of Catholics there were in the Colony and to reawaken fervour for their religious duties.

Brady then decided that he ought to go to Europe to acquaint the Holy See with the plight of these Catholics so out of touch with far-off Sydney 3,000 miles distant and in no position to receive spiritual assistance.

Brady left the Colony on 14 February 1844 and arrived in Rome that November.

…and thus begins the story of Rosendo Salvado.

Father Rosendo didn´t need to leave Italy, for he had already created for himself a life that was enviable and admirable.

The good Father was known for his genial and expansive nature, possessing a manner of ease and good humour that won him both esteem and friendship.

Salvado was a man of culture and scientific curiosity, a man of great positive energy and deep personal piety and he was physically tough.

Rosedo´s skill and sensitivity as an organist and composer had already brought him recognition in the most discriminating circles of the Benedictine Order in Europe.

Medalla San Benito.PNG

He was fluent in his native Spanish, Italian, Greek and Latin.

Yet this same man would plough the Australian mission fields with bare and bleeding feet and would carry a sick native girl on his shoulders to safety for days on end through many miles of bush.

He was popular wherever he went and had the ability to adapt to whatever environment he found himself in.

Salvado did not need to leave Italy, for he was well-loved and respected by the community and monastery of Cava (25 miles from Naples), even to the extent that the Abbot had organised the installation of a special organ for Salvado´s exclusive use.

Badia di Cava.JPG

Even after Salvado had begun his mission in Australia and would return periodically to Europe to raise funds for its continuance, the Abbot would still try to convince Salvado to return to Cava.

But Salvado and his fellow Benedictine, Father Joseph Serra, were determined to devote themselves to foreign missions and on 26 December 1844 they set out together to ask permission from the Church in Rome to be sent abroad to serve God to the best of their abilities.

Salvado would learn through Father Brady of the difficulties that awaited him and of how uncertain were the dangers that lay ahead.

Spainards Salvado and Serra, Austrian Father Angelo Confalonieri, Italian layman Nicola Caporelli and Irish Bishop Brady left Rome on the evening of 8 June 1845, and travelled to Paris, Amiens, London and the Downside Monastery (112 miles west of London) collecting eager followers as they went.

Downside abbey2-2.jpg

Above: Downside Abbey

What started as a fraternity of five became a six-nation troupe of 28, including a nurse, nuns and a novice.

They set out from England to Australia on 17 September 1845.

They had no idea of the trials and tribulations that awaited them.

Some would die before their time in ways unpleasant.

They arrived in Fremantle on 8 January 1846 and soon the Australian adventure was organised into three separate missions: Northern, Southern and Central.

The Southern Mission left Perth on foot on 6 February, headed for Albany on King George Sound, which it took them till the end of March to reach.

Almost perishing from hunger and thirst, the Southern Mission was abandoned and the surviving brethern made their way to Mauritius.

The Northern Mission left Fremantle bound for Sydney on 1 March and were shipwrecked in the dangerous Torres Strait, with only the Captain and Father Superior Angelo Confalonieri surviving.

Confalonieri would manage to reach the State of Victoria but would survive only until 9 June 1848.

Salvado´s Central Mission survived but not without difficulties.

Salvado and his companions would be abandoned in the wilderness without guides, encounter poisonous grass, suffer terribly from a lack of water, endure eye troubles and abdominal pains, and all manner of hardships.

The Central Mission had at first no territory.

Salvado lived in the wilderness, leading the same nomadic live as the indigenous people whom he had come to convert.

His food was of the most unpredictable character, consisting of wild roots dug out of the earth with spears, lizards, goannas, kangaroo and grubs.

Goanna head2.jpg

Above: a goanna

After three years of difficulties living amongst the local people, Salvado was convinced they could be converted to Christianity.

After returning to Rome for assistance and money to aid him in his work, Bishop Salvado returned to Australia on 15 August 1852.

The Benedictine Abbey of New Norcia, though founded on 1 March 1846 as a mere hut in the Bush, began to take the form by which it is known today.

Salvado and his willing workers cleared land for the plough and introduced the natives to habits of industry.

They built a large monastery, schools and orphanages for the young, cottages for the married and flour mills to grind wheat.

They created a town –  in which many natives were fed, clothed and converted to Christianity.

Ronald Berndt, Professor of Antropology at the University of Western Australia, has suggested that Salvado was both a man of and before his time.

Quite soon after his arrival, Salvado commenced learning the local language, as he realised the importance of undertaking this task if he were to communicate with the local people, and though this is an approach not unusual amongst missionaries it was rare amongst the colonists of that period.

(And I imagine still rare amongst the European-descended inhabitants of modern Australia…)

Salvado was rare in that he wanted to know more about the indigenous population – not simply because this was useful in terms of evangelisation, but because he was interested in them as people.

He recognized the need to intermingle with the people, to listen and to ask.

When the natives relaxed around their fires, talking among themselves, discussing daily events or plans for tomorrow, telling stories or singing, much could be learned.

Salvado, though first and foremost a missionary, appreciated native life and the people themselves, respectfully observing and enjoying his time with them despite the difficulties that adaptation to such an alien situation caused him.

On his last return to Europe to secure more funding and assistance, Abbot Salvado died in Rome on 29 December 1900, age 87, after 51 years of service to Australia for the Benedictine Order.

I, a non-Catholic, non-religious man, was moved by both Salvado´s legacy and by the lives of the monks that carry on his work never ceasing at New Norcia.

A dozen monks live in the monastery, ranging in age from 40 to 95.

They live as St. Benedict proscribed: sleeping in spartan cells; praying together seven times a day; working between dawn and dusk and devotion on producing quality bread, nutcake and biscotti, olive oil and wine, port and ale; providing accommodation and spiritual comfort to visitors who come from all over the world.

My room contained nothing more than a shower, a bed, a desk, a night table, a lamp, and an alarm clock.

I watched the monks at prayer in the Oratory or the Church at 0515, 0645, 0730, noon, 1430, 1830, and 2015.

I did not attend all seven gatherings every day, for my restless spirit compelled me to take the guided tour, eat in the guesthouse or at the roadhouse across from the monastery where the buses would stop once a day heading towards Perth or Geraldton, visit the museum and the art gallery and the gift shop, stroll over to the grand New Norcia Hotel and linger over a glass of wine made at the Abbey and follow the River Walk.

It is impossible to capture in words what beauty lies behind the doors of New Norcia, for its majesty is not only seen but it is also felt.

In the Oratory and the Church these monks have created a place that calms one´s heart and clears one´s cluttered mind.

Outside the buildings Nature herself soothed and distracted with birdsong alien to my ears and sights strange to the eye.

It has always struck me as curious how man feels God can be kept restricted to buildings.

riverwalk_240

I saw no koala bears except in the Perth Zoo.

I saw evidence of wombat burrows but witnessed no wombats.

Parrots were everpresent in the trees of the monastery grounds and my eyes were dazzled by their brilliant colours.

Rainbow Lorikeet

I saw kangaroos in the Zoo and from the bus window on the road to and from New Norcia.

Kangaroo and joey03.jpg

I saw no waterbirds nor frogs, lizards nor platypus, for I saw no water as the River ran dry.

I briefly caught a glance at a shy dingo while kookaburras laughed at my stumbling efforts to make sense of all that surrounded me.

Dacelo novaeguineae waterworks.jpg

As for Salvado and the insanity that drove him to leave a comfortable life in Europe to live among the natives and establish a monastic community in one of the most difficult places on Earth, I can´t help but wonder how he would view his legacy.

Certainly he left behind a community of believers who still practice a 1,500 year old tradition worthy of preservation, but what of the indigenous population he sought to understand and convert?

Did they actually need to be converted, actually need to be civilised?

Were they afforded any dignity or respect as a result?

I saw only two of the indigenous natives during my fortnight in Australia and as much as I tried I failed to see the dignity and pride of a people who have lost so much since the Europeans invaded.

The pair of indigenous men I met at the Perth Bus Station were friendly and gregarious but their very presence seemed to frighten the whites waiting for their buses and annoy the security personnel protecting the premises.

I think of my own country of Canada and my limited experience with our indigenous population and I am ashamed.

"black and white image of an Inuit hunter seated in a kayak holding a harpoon"

I am ashamed that I feared what I did not understand.

I am ashamed that I made assumptions and had preconceptions about people I had rarely spent time with and that I had accepted without thinking some prejudices expressed about them.

I remember Oka, not just for the Abbey (the first Abbey I had ever visited and had ever been accommodated) but as well for the Crisis of 1989, when the mayor of Oka thought it was a great idea to build a golf course on native burial grounds and in protest the Mohawk people blockaded the Mercier Bridge leading into Montreal.

Folks were more disturbed by the disruption of traffic rather than the violation and disregard of native rights.

The present inequality and ongoing struggle for native people´s rights still continues.

In northern Canada, dozens of native women have disappeared or have been murdered near Highway 16 in British Columbia.

Most of the Highway of Tears cases remain unresolved.

Highway of Tears.jpg

Standing Rock´s struggles against the Dakota Access Pipeline is only the latest of the ongoing battles that native peoples have had to fight to protect their land and their heritage.

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We forget that the cultural damage we have inflicted upon native peoples doesn´t only cause loss to these peoples but as well diminishes us.

One might easily scoff, as the knight did in Daredevil´s tale, at Salvado´s sacrifices.

One might mock the monks of New Norcia and their devotion to a God that in His majesty actually doesn´t require worship from mere mortals, a God that might not even exist, a Heavenly reward that might not be waiting despite all of the efforts of these good men.

One might belittle the past of the indigenous peoples and laugh at their technological backwardness making their submission simplistic and totally disregard and disrespect their proud heritage and unique cultures and basic humanity.

But when I look into a mirror and when I compare myself to individuals such as Salvado and the monks of New Norcia and native peoples all around the world, I wonder…

Perhaps I, with all my gadgets and all my cynicism and all my self-assured cockiness and undeserved swagger…

Perhaps I am the greater fool.

(Sources: Wikipedia; The Story of New Norcia; “Your Day at New Norcia”; Rosendo Salvado: Commerating 200 Years (1814 – 2014); The Salvado Memoirs; Bill Bryson, Down Under)