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Reflections on the Flawed Historiography of President Obama April 2009

Reflections on the Flawed Historiography of President Obama April 2009

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Published by bassam.madany9541
President Obama's speech in Ankara in April, 2009, had several flaws as it referred to certain historical events. While Ataturk began several reforms after the end of the Ottoman Caliphate, he did not actually initiate a genuine demoncaratic regime. The treatment of minorities, both ethnic and religious, did not improve. It was strange to hear Mr. Obama addressing the Muslim world, in his closing remarks at the National Assembly of a supposedly "secular" Turkish Republic! Was he acknowledging a de facto return to Islam that is going on in Turkey?!
President Obama's speech in Ankara in April, 2009, had several flaws as it referred to certain historical events. While Ataturk began several reforms after the end of the Ottoman Caliphate, he did not actually initiate a genuine demoncaratic regime. The treatment of minorities, both ethnic and religious, did not improve. It was strange to hear Mr. Obama addressing the Muslim world, in his closing remarks at the National Assembly of a supposedly "secular" Turkish Republic! Was he acknowledging a de facto return to Islam that is going on in Turkey?!

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Published by: bassam.madany9541 on Apr 17, 2009
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06/14/2009

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Reflections on the Flawed HistoriographyOf President Barack ObamaBy Jacob Thomas
When I reflect upon the history of the Turkish Republic, and its predecessor, the OttomanEmpire, my emotions come strongly into play. I experienced on a personal level greatloss and displacement. Let me explain. I am a Levantine Christian whose ancestors livedunder Ottoman Turkish rule for 400 years. My father was conscripted into the TurkishArmy and served as a clerk at an army headquarters in Cilicia, Asia Minor, during theFirst World War. His brother, my Uncle John, wasn’t that fortunate in his conscriptedservice for he was sent, along with many other fellow-Levantines, to serve in the Sinaifront facing the British forces on the east side of the Suez Canal. Weak and exhausted atwar’s end he returned home only to succumb shortly thereafter to a typhus epidemic thatswept through the family’s hometown, Seleucia. His wife also died leaving their twochildren orphans. Two other uncles had already fled the Levant before the outbreak of thewar, and thus were spared the depravations that befell the entire population of the Levant between 1914 and 1918.The end of WWI saw the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the emergence of newstates in the Middle East. The British gained control over the southern Levant, Palestineand Transjordan; and the French administered Syria and Lebanon, with a “Mandate” fromthe League of Nations.When I was just a child our family moved from Seleucia, to Alexandretta, Syria. This citywas the most modern and diverse part of Syria. The largest gulf in the Mediterranean lay just offshore of Alexandretta. The brilliant military man Mustapha Kemal Atatürk knewits strategic importance and coveted it for the new Turkish state he helped to create, andof which he was President for 15 years until his death in 1938. Shortly before he died,his dream was realized when Ataturk’s Turkish forces invaded our province in 1938 withthe connivance of the French Mandatory Power. By June 1939, around 90,000 citizens of the province, mostly Arabic-speaking Christians and remnants of the
 ArmenianGenocide,
were driven once again to seek refuge elsewhere. Many settled in the other  provinces of Syria, while some moved to Lebanon and to other parts of the Middle East.With even this short outline of some of the memories that are still vivid in myrecollection, the reader can understand my strong emotional attachment to the tragichistory of the changing contours of the Levant I knew. Thus when the President of myadopted country lately visited Turkey I was attentive to what he would convey to theTurkish people and leaders. President Barack Obama’s speech before the NationalAssembly in Ankara on Monday, the 6
th
of April, 2009 was stunning in its historicalinaccuracies and naïve assumptions. As I read the text of the speech, I found myself muttering under my breath,
‘this isn’t so’
or 
‘it was just the other way!’
 Of course I realize that kings, presidents, and prime ministers have to be very diplomaticwhen addressing the official representatives of foreign countries. By diplomatic, I mean
 
they must be polite, respectful, and aim at leaving good impressions with the hostcountry. But that doesn’t require the twisting of historical facts. President Obama’sspeech had too many flawed statements that ignored or covered up certain deep woundsthat had been inflicted on many nations and ethnic groups during the long, long history of the Ottoman Empire (1453-1918), as well as in the relatively recent history of the TurkishRepublic.I am not so naïve as to conclude that Mr. Obama wrote that speech himself! It is difficultto know just who had a hand in it but it seems likely the State Department staff washeavily involved. Still, the speech in Ankara left much to be desired in the “historicalfacts” department.Mr. Obama has a degree from Harvard University. While he was studying there, SamuelP. Huntington (1927-2008) taught political science. This famous scholar authored thewidely read and highly regarded book 
“The Clash of Civilizations and the Remakingof World Order.”
Professor Huntington never tired of reminding his readers that
Theunderlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and areobsessed with the inferiority of their power” 
 
P. 217 * We can only hope that if he didn’tread Huntington while at Harvard, President Obama has done so by now. In particular, hewould do well to remember this particular thesis of Professor Hungtington.Let’s now look more critically at the President’s Ankara speech to get a view towardunderstanding his way of looking at the Turkish situation and its relationship to the broader historiography of the Middle East.
“This morning I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of the great founder of your  Republic. I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so muchto shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacyis Turkey’s strong and secular democracy, and that is the work that this assemblycarries on today.” 
Mustapha Kemal Ataturk was indeed a great Turkish hero which explains why he earnedthe title of “
 Ata Turk” 
i.e.
Father of the Turks.
He abolished the
Caliphate
in 1924, andreplaced it with a republican regime. He spearheaded a tremendous effort to break withthe past by forcing on his countrymen a process of secularization that went to suchlengths that men and women were required to adopt European-style clothing. The Arabicscript that had been in use for half a millennium was replaced by a Latin-based script thatenormously facilitated the spread of literacy among all sections of Turkish society.But we should not be so naïve as to suppose that it is accurate to credit him with havingcreated
“a strong and secular democracy.” 
It is true that he did champion a thoroughform of secularism, but he did not believe or practice democracy. Until his death in 1938,Turkey had only one political party,
Cumhuriet Halk Partisi,
i.e. the
 People’s Republican Party.
(Note: In modern Turkish, the letter “C” stands for “J”) He continued2
 
to hold the office of the presidency throughout his entire lifetime. Most of his reformswere forced on the people, such as the prohibition of the use of Arabic in the
Call to Prayer 
, and the
 pilgrimage to Mecca
; but those reforms did not last very long!It is extremely difficult today to sustain the theory that Turkey is still committed to the
 Ataurkian
concept of a secular society. Both the Prime Minister 
and President
 Abdullah Gul 
belong to the
Theyare boldly and steadily reshaping Turkish society by directing it back to Islam, regardlessof the strong opposition of the secularists and the Turkish Army General Staff.Building on the theory that Turkey is a democracy, Mr. Obama continued, 
“Turkey’s democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by anyoutside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice. Like any democracy,Turkey draws strength from both the successes of the past, and from the efforts of each generation of Turks that makes new progress for your people.” 
I don’t deny that Turkey observes many rules of the democratic game, at least since the beginning of the two-party system in the 1950s. However, its genre of democracy benefits only the Turkish majority, but exhibits no genuine respect for the rights of non-Turkish ethnic groups living within Turkey. Still, Mr. Obama continued his panegyric of the democratic achievements by telling the deputies in Ankara,
“In the last several years, you have abolished state-security courts and expanded theright to counsel. You have reformed the penal code, and strengthened laws that governthe freedom of the press and assembly. You lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting  Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new  state Kurdish television station.“These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and amomentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static – they must move forward. Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil  society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki  Seminary, will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. “We have already seen historic and courageous steps taken by Turkish and Armenianleaders. These contacts hold out the promise of a new day. An open border would return the Turkish and Armenian people to a peaceful and prosperous coexistence that would serve both of your nations. That is why the United States strongly supports the full normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.” 
President Obama listed those great achievements of the Turkish government in creatinggenuine democratic changes in the country, such as allowing Kurdish to be used on statetelevision. But there is no hint about relaxing the restrictions imposed on the OrthodoxChurch, as its Halki Seminary has been in governmental forced closure for a long time.That hostile act of closing the Seminary has prevented the
 Ecumenical Patriarchate of 
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