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Posts Tagged ‘Ottoman Empire’

Erdoğan’s Decade

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has served longer than any person as prime minister of the Republic of Turkey, recently marked his completion of a full decade in that office, having entered it on March 14, 2003.

Born in February 1954, he is now 59 years old. And while he has a potentially long political career ahead of him, he reportedly suffers from some serious ailments that could cut it short.

Erdoğan’s main challenges are three-fold: an electorate increasingly wary of his domineering ways, an ever-more restive Kurdish population, and a problematic regional alignment in which, as Ian O. Lesser put it in analysis published yesterday, “Ankara faces some troubling cold wars, new and old, that will shape the strategic environment and the nature of Turkey’s security partnerships.”

The only comparable figure in modern Turkish history is Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the republic and dominant figure. It is reasonable to see Erdoğan as the anti-Atatürk, the leader who seeks to undo substantial parts of his predecessor’s legacy, especially his rejection of Shari’a, or Islamic law. One can also see Erdoğan as the politician who turns Islamism into a nearly viable political program.

Westerners have been conspicuously slow in understanding just what a threat Erdoğan presents; one can only hope that his second decade will prompt more understanding than the first.

Originally published as “Erdoğan’s Decade as Prime Minister of Turkey” at DanielPipes.org and The National Review Online, The Corner, March 14, 2013.

The Jewish Cemetery in Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

A few years ago, a Saudi friend told me of the existence of a Jewish cemetery, or maqbarat al-yahud in Arabic, in the al-Ihsaa region in the eastern part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  The friend had been surprised to discover it and knew nothing about its history–about how the cemetery came to exist. The mystery was answered with the publication in 2012 of a well-documented work by Yusuf Ali al-Mutairi on al-yahud fi al-khaleej (the Jews in the Gulf). The book provides a balanced and well-documented review of the history of the small Jewish communities in the Gulf region from the start of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th.  The book states the obvious: that, unlike the large Jewish communities in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and North Africa, the number of Jews in the Gulf countries had never exceeded a few hundreds in any one country.

Most of the Jews who settled in the Gulf countries, primarily in Kuwait and Bahrain, were of Iraqi origin, and many of them were seeking either to escape military conscription under the Ottoman Empire or to explore economic opportunities. Of these Jews, only a few have remained and probably only in the Kingdom of Bahrain, which, in fact, is represented in Washington by Ambassador Houda Ezra Noonoo, a Jew who speaks Iraqi Jewish Arabic dialect quite fluently.

Saudi Arabia was a special case. The Ottoman authorities brought a number of Iraqi Jews to fill administrative and financial posts in the al-Ihsaa region, the key source of its oil. Al-Ihsaa had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1871 and governed under the Wilayat of Basra (Iraq) and remained so through 1913. A Saudi royal decree issue in 1956 changed the name of al-Ihsaa Region into the Eastern although local population continues to refer to it as al-Hasa.

In his study on the Jews of the Gulf, Al-Mutairi relates that Jews occupied important positions in al-Ihasaa–notably that of the treasurer (during the Ottoman Empire the post was known in Turkish as sanduq amini). Three successive occupants of the post were Jews–Yacoub Effendi (1878-1879), Daoud bin Shintob (the Arabic version of the Hebrew word Shemtov) (1879-1894), and Haroun Effendi (1895-96). During their tenure, many of the entries into the books were made in Hebrew (most likely in Arabic transliterated in Rashi script).  Al-Mutairi has suggested that keeping the financial records in Hebrew may have been intended to prevent an audit of the accounts possibly to protect their Ottoman superiors. My own grandfather was a sanduq amini in the Province of Basra for more than two decades until the occupation of the city by the British in 1917. Like many people in his generation, he studied Torah and learned to write Hebrew in the old Rashi script.

Jews were also employed in al-Ihsaa as treasurers in the Sunni office or in the court of cassassion of the district (liwaa).  One Jew, known as “Elyahu the Jew,” served as the collector of customs in the port of Oqair, one of the most important ports in al-Ihassa at the time. But perhaps the most significant post held by a Jew was that of Director of Customs for the whole province, a post that was sought after by many individuals both inside and outside al-Ihasaa because it offered the potential for illicit income.

Daoud bin Shintob (Shemtov) is thought by Al-Mutairi to have been the best-known Jew in al-Ihsaa because of the strong relationship he maintained with the Ottoman and local officials–in particular, with Mohammad Sa’id Pasha, the governor of the Liwa (province) of al-Ihsaa, during the latter’s third term as governor, 1896-1900.  Complaints against Sa’id Pasha relating to his special relationship with Shemtov ultimately led to his dismissal despite the absence of any viable evidence of misconduct.

ACCORDING TO our Saudi sources the cemetery is located behind Riyadh Bank main branch and across from Beirut restaurant in the city of Hufuf.  In his book, al-Mutairi includes a photograph of a walled area taken by him on September 29, 2009, which he describes as the Jewish cemetery.

Our Saudi friend in al-Ihsaa suggests that the photo was perhaps of an area known as Koot [in Turkish, it means the fenced area.] which used to be the center of government for the province of al-Ihsaa. The Ottomans built high walls and watch towers to protect the governing bodies located in Koot. Given that only few Jews lived and died in the area the cemetery itself could not have been large. The Saudis have largely dismantled the walls around Koot and the area has become commercialized. The land on which the cemetery was located is largely deserted and our correspondent maintains that no one has made a claim to it although locals continue to refer to it as “maqbarat al-yehud.”

An Empire of Decline

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

I caught this from an academic article, “The Later Tanzimat and the Ottoman Legacy in the Near Eastern Successor States“:-

The period of Ottoman decline (from approximately the late seventeenth- to the early nineteenth-century), the system of checks and balances was grossly undermined and arbitrary and despotic government prevailed both at the center and in the provinces. In the later Tanzimat period (1856–71), by contrast, the emphasis was placed on strong state organs and a powerful bureaucracy, armed with a new set of laws borrowed from western legal systems. The maintenance of law and order in the cities and towns was performed by an officer called a subashi, who was one of the kadi’s prominent aides and who was “a legal police and a high security official with executive authority”. The kadi’s deputies also came from the local‘ulama, whether in the principal court where he presided or in the neighborhood courts of big cities or in towns throughout the province.

But don’t forget, the Ottoman Empire became an empire in 1453.

So, from 1453-1918 it existed while from “approximately the late seventeenth- to the early nineteenth-century it was in decline”.  Which means out of 500 years existence, it was in decline some 300 years.

Not that good.

Visit My Right Word.

Talking Turkey, the Country

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

The menu for meals on my Turkish Airlines flight earlier this month assured passengers that food selections “do not contain pork.” The menu also offered a serious selection of alcoholic drinks, including champagne, whiskey, gin, vodka, rakı, wine, beer, liqueur, and cognac. This oddity of simultaneously adhering to and ignoring Islamic law, the Shari’a, symbolizes the uniquely complex public role of Islam in today’s Turkey, as well as the challenge of understanding the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish abbreviation, AKP) which has dominated the country’s national government since 2002.

Political discussions about Turkey tend to dwell on whether the AKP is Islamist or not: In 2007, for example, I asked “what are the AKP leadership’s intentions? Did it … retain a secret Islamist program and simply learn to disguise its Islamist goals? Or did it actually give up on those goals and accept secularism?”

During recent discussions in Istanbul, I learned that Turks of many viewpoints have reached a consensus about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: they worry less about his Islamic aspirations than his nationalist and dictatorial tendencies.

Applying the Shari’a in full, they say, is not a feasible goal in Turkey because of the country’s secular and democratic nature, something distinguishing it from other Muslim-majority countries (except Albania, Kosovo, and Kyrgyzia). Accepting this reality, the AKP wins ever-greater electoral support by softly coercing the population to be more virtuous, traditional, pious, religious, conservative, and moral. Thus, it encourages fasting during Ramadan and female modesty, discourages alcohol consumption, attempted tocriminalize adultery, indicted an anti-Islamist artist, increased the number of religious schools, added Islam to the public school curriculum, and introduced questions about Islam to university entrance exams. Put in terms of Turkish Airlines, pork is already gone and it’s a matter of time until the alcohol also disappears.

Islamic practice, not Islamic law, is the goal, my interlocutors told me. Hand chopping, burqas, slavery, and jihad are not in the picture, and all the less so after the past decade’s economic growth which empowered an Islamically-oriented middle class that rejects Saudi-style Islam. An opposition leader noted that five districts of Istanbul “look like Afghanistan,” but these are the exception. I heard that the AKP seeks to reverse the anti-religiousness of Atatürk’s state without undermining that state, aspiring to create a post-Atatürk order more than an anti-Atatürk order. It seeks, for example, to dominate the existing legal system rather than create an Islamic one. The columnist Mustafa Akyol even holds the AKP is not trying to abolish secularism but that it “argues for a more liberal interpretation of secularism.” The AKP, they say, emulates the 623-year-old Ottoman state Atatürk terminated in 1922, admiring both its Islamic orientation and its dominance of the Balkans and the Middle East.

This neo-Ottoman orientation can be seen in the prime minister’s aspiration to serve as informal caliph, by his change in emphasis from Europe to the Middle East (where he is an unlikely hero of the Arab street), and his offering the AKP’s political and economic formula to other Muslim countries, notably Egypt. (Erdoğan staunchly argued for secularism during a visit there, to the Muslim Brotherhood’s dismay, and looks askance at Mohamed Morsi’s ramming Shari’a down Egyptians’ throats.) In addition, Ankara helps the Iranian regime avoid sanctions, sponsors the Sunni opposition against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, picked a noisy, gratuitous fight with Israel, threatened Cyprus over its underwater gas finds, and even intervened in the trial of a Bangladeshi Islamist leader.

Having outmaneuvered the “deep state,” especially the military officer corps, in mid-2011, the AKP adopted an increasingly authoritarian cast, to the point that many Turks fear dictatorship more than Islamization. They watch as an Erdoğan, “intoxicated with power,” imprisons opponents on the basis of conspiracy theories and wiretaps, stages show trials, threatens to suppress a costume television soap opera, seeks to impose his personal tastes on the country, fosters antisemitism, suppresses political criticism, justifies forceful measures against students protesting him, manipulates media companies, leans on the judiciary, and blasts the concept of separation of powers. Columnist Burak Bekdil ridicules him as “Turkey’s elected chief social engineer.” More darkly, others see him becoming Turkey’s answer to Vladimir Putin, an arrogant semi-democrat who remains in power for decades.

Freed of the military’s oversight only in mid-2011, I see Erdoğan possibly winning enough dictatorial power for him (or a successor) to achieve his dream and fully implement the Shari’a.

Originally published at the National Review Online on December 26, 2012 and available on Daniel Pipes.org under the title, “Talking Turkey.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/talking-turkey-the-country/2013/01/02/

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