More From Alder's Ledge

August 18, 2015

Mercenary Heart

Why We Care For Some,
And Yet Neglect All Others...
(PLUCK series)

(Athens woman repeatedly kicks Romani child...)

The image of the 'humanitarian' is one that far too many try to hide behind. As for me, and most the team here, being called a 'humanitarian' is one of the greatest insults we could ever strive for. For me the term is one I have come to regard with a tremendous amount of disdain. It is nearly as much a disgraceful title to me as labeling oneself a Democrat, Republican, or by any other political or religious affiliation. For it is a title that the bleeding hearts hypocritically hide behind, an image of caring for all of humanity while tragically wrapping one's self in a given flag of their choosing. It is a term that carries no real weight or meaning. It is hollow and only serves to mask the one wearing it in much the same way cowards hide behind Guy Fawkes while reading from scripts. It's inherently heartless.

It may very well be part of human nature, and if it is then I've lost something inside, to first focus on one's own particular group before branching out to help others. We even came up with a term for it and yet rarely apply said term to it... ethnocentrism. 

Rally Around The Family

We have all heard of Gaza, the West Bank, and the rest of Palestine's many oppressed regions. We have all seen pictures and heard the stories of Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation and oppression. Of course this is not how large portions of 'humanitarians' see it. And by me pointing out the fact that we have (those of us they spend all day preaching to) I will undoubtedly be called a Zionist or some deviation of that talking point. Yet that isn't really my intent.

Endless hashtags and real life efforts are constantly made to help bring justice to the Palestinians. This is an admirable goal and far worthwhile effort on behalf of those who do dedicate so much of their time to it. But it's often not a 'humanitarian' cause. It is more often than not a religious and/or political goal by those who so strongly defend it. While there are those who dedicate their time to this cause with the end goal bringing the recognition of Palestinians' basic human rights, there are also those who (the majority) want far more than that. 

"From river to sea, all of Palestine will be free"

This is not the slogan of a purely 'humanitarian' cause. Do I agree with the premise of it? Yes. But can I agree with the proposed belief that those who promote it are somehow humanitarians? Hell no. 

This is most evident when somebody like me, arguably the natural born enemy in the eyes of so-called humanitarians, steps out and defends the rights of Palestinians. One would expect that the people pushing the slogan mentioned above would find it relieving to see a Jewish voice speaking out for Palestinians. And one would be wrong. Because, as time has proven rather repeatedly, there isn't a place for Jewish voices that don't agree 100% with the rest of the message. The only Jewish voices allowed are those that can be groomed, maintained, and propagandized for the cause. All others that dare go against the grain are more or less the enemy.

Now, like I have stated before, the humanitarian is supposed to be a person who cares about all of humanity. Yet in "humanitarian" causes such as Palestine/Israel the root of the cause becomes rather clear when just barely scratching the surface. The less than humane responses show a more political and racial undertone to what should had remained a cause centered around the actual people it affects.

The first of these is the response that immediately questions the "Jewishness" of the Jewish voice Palestinian supporters don't agree with. This is best shown when Palestinian supporters (largely not Palestinians themselves) immediately start in with myths taken right out of Nazism. Some will go as far as to start questioning the bloodlines of Jewish people to outright proposing that no "real Jews" even exist today. Of course this is hard to combat when one is the source of their frustration. And even harder to segregate from the true supporters of Palestinian rights when they themselves will not cull the racists among them.

The political undertones are brought to the surface when Palestinian supporters routinely and intentionally use the words "Zionists" and "Jews" interchangeably. While more honest supporters of Palestine can and often do recognize that Jews lived in Palestine long before Israel was created, these problematic supporters do not. Their agenda focuses around the goal of isolating Jews on one end of the spectrum while disproportionately amplifying the voices of Muslims they agree with. To do this many will downplay the damage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do to the already fragile peace process. And much like the Israeli leadership, they will always downplay the atrocities their side commits while exaggerating the actions of the others side. And this is where the mixing of the words Zionism and Judaism come into play. By accusing "Jews" of every atrocious act they belittle the actions of Zionists and create an atmosphere in which all Jews are the "enemy".

Of course I could use just about any conflict or genocide currently happening in the world to illustrate how people who call themselves "humanitarians" are far less than concerned with humanity. And in every scenario I could show just how their priorities center around group specific interests rather than that of all the people involved. So lets jump to another part of the globe and try this again.

In Southeast Asia the "humanitarians" we deal with on a daily basis have come to the conclusion that the Rohingya people are the "world's most persecuted people". This is of course highly inaccurate as it makes a claim that is both unfounded and incapable of being proven. Yet the focus on humanitarian issues in Southeast Asia is routinely monopolized by humanitarians dead set on centering it all on one particular group.

In neighboring Bangladesh the Jumma tribes of the Chittagong Hills have suffered colonization, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation for literally centuries. Their oppressors have included the British, Indians, Pakistanis, and Bengalis. Yet the story of their persecution has largely been overshadowed by that of the Rohingya on the flood plains to their east. They are a people who's story directly mirrors that of the Rohingya and yet even Rohingya activists seem oblivious to their plight.

Venturing down the peninsula to Vietnam there are the Montagnards (Degar tribes) who suffer routine harassment for their religious and cultural beliefs. They have been through massacres since the 9th century and have seen their homeland occupied for nearly just as long. The military and politicians in Vietnam all work tirelessly to make their ghetto like villages miserable while creating discriminatory laws against the Montagnards. And over the last several years there has been an exodus taking place in the forests between Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet once again the focus on humanitarian issues is not permitted to venture away from the Arakan. And once again the humanitarians who say they care for all of humanity remain deaf to the sounds of suffering in Vietnam's hills.

Examples like these are numerous in Southeast Asia. One only has to look to the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Kokang in Myanmar itself. This doesn't even include the tribes in the Philippines or the Hmong in Vietnam and Laos. Even with this broader picture you would have to widen it even more to focus on the tribal peoples of Nepal and how their cultures are facing extinction if nothing changes. Yet none of these are put into focus as so-called humanitarians demand the world only center it's attention on one particular group in Southeast Asia.

Now I myself have and often do focus my attention on the Rohingya in Myanmar. My team here at Alder's Ledge do a lot well beyond this blog (which has countless posts covering the Rohingya) to help. Yet we also make certain that the focus we give Southeast Asia also covers all other peoples and all other causes that arise. We center our attention on the tribal groups and persecuted minorities while also focusing on Southeast Asia's rampant sex trade and human trafficking.

The main reason for highlighting this is to bring everyone who reads this back down to reality. The world is much larger than any stretch of dirt and far more vast than any given individual group of people. The pain and suffering of people across the globe can obviously not be covered by one give person or any particular group. Yet the reasons why we tend to block out other people's stories and ignore their pain is something worth thinking about.

In Europe the popular social cause of the day is oddly focused on America's police and black communities. Yet Europeans have an entire minority that they have treated far worse for far longer a period of time... the Romani people.

In America the focus when it comes to humanitarian causes is almost always focused outward. And when it does center in on Americans it almost always gets focused on America's black population. Yet America has indigenous communities that are disappearing under a system of coerced assimilation. Many of America's indigenous youth can't speak the native languages of their ancestors. And even shift the focus to Native Americans for a minute would overlook the plight of countless immigrant groups that also suffer exclusion in American society due to a host of reasons.

So what is the answer to all of this?

Is there even a such thing as a true humanitarian?

"Fatal To Prejudice"

In all honesty there probably isn't such a thing. When it comes down to it we all have less than pure intentions when it comes to helping others. While I do believe that there are plenty of people who deeply care for others... I don't believe there are as many people out there who actually deeply care for all of mankind. But that's not to say that people can't learn to do so.

Taking time away from a given cause to focus your attention on a different one isn't the end of the world. The Palestinians will, as sad as it is, probably be just as oppressed tomorrow as they are today. And the Rohingya will most likely need just as much help even if you aren't the one there for them today. Yet you (and this is the less than "pure" intentions behind most of this work) do have a need to grow. It is the reason why people decide to reach out beyond themselves and help others. A thirst to grow and leave a mark on the world around them. And chances are that you started with groups to which you can relate and have something in common with.

One of the best ways to grow as a person is to reach well beyond the boundaries of what is comfortable and familiar. It creates in us a greater understanding of the world around us while ironically also generating endless questions about the world we encounter along the way. By helping people who we have no real connection to we come to better understand cultures and places we previously only had preconceived notions about. As Mark Twain put it, "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness". Which is exactly why more of us need to reach out to causes beyond our own.

It would be interesting to see just how differently the approach to our own personal causes might be if more of us spent some time focused on other causes first. Yet in writing this I am more aware that it will most likely be met with hostility and resentment rather than seen as the challenge it was meant to present to you the reader. So with that said, I would hope that most of you will understand this wasn't written out of spite or frustration but rather was a blunt analysis of everyone who calls themselves humanitarians. If you consider yourself one then this is meant to show you how I personally believe we can do better.

July 17, 2015

When Simply Staying Alive Becomes Resistance

The Struggle of Bangladesh's Indigenous Peoples
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

Marma Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Where Dreams Go To Die

We are all born with the desire to have certain things in life. We are born to desire a certain degree of freedom in this life. We are born with a fire inside that rages within us till we can quench this hunger for liberty. It is the natural state of man to crave freedom. It is why we are restless when we are deprived of it. It is why we feel hollow when it is stolen from us and replaced with one form of tyranny or another. It is a fire that either creates within us the desire to sustain our own freedoms or destroy the world as we know it till we can obtain said freedoms. All of human history attest to this.

It is no wonder that societies deprived of their basic human rights, their essential liberties, begin to reflect the symptoms of a staving body. Their minds become fixated upon what the hunger for it. They show it in their view of the world. They show it in the expressions of joy when they get a passing taste of it. But mostly... they show it in the ways they resist those who oppose their rights and keep them trapped in this state of hunger. 

For generations now the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts have been forced to dream of what it would be like to be free in their own homeland. They have been deprived of the rights that their ancestors once enjoyed. They have been kept in a perpetual state of craving what others enjoy daily while they are forced to suffer. For generations now the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts have simply stayed alive as an act of defiance to a nation that continually pushes them toward extinction. 

This is both what they resist and how they defy a nation. 

This is just a glimpse of what they endure.

The Jumma Tribes Of
The Chittagong Hill Tracts 

To understand the struggle one has to understand the people themselves. This article will not be able to, as no one article ever could, give you a full introduction to the indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. So in addition to this post we would like to invite all our readers to research and find reliable sources (some posted in the links below) to understand the Jumma tribes more than what we have written here. 
There are eleven tribal groups that are indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These include the Bawm, Chakma, Khumi, Khyang, Lushai, Marma, Uchay, Mru, Pankho, Sak, and Tanchangya peoples. Each are linguistically, culturally, and ethnically different from the Bengali majority that lives on the plains below the Chittagong Hills. They have distinct cultures that focus heavily on their traditional ways of life and individual religious beliefs. While the Chakma and Marma, numbering around 350,000, are mostly Buddhists the remaining tribes are comprised of Hindus, Christians, and traditional religions unique to their tribal groups. 

The traditional cultivating practices of the indigenous peoples lends to their collective name of Jummas. It is a system, called jum, of small patchwork fields that rotate in both location and the crops planted in them. It is also a system that the government of Bangladesh attempts to prevent the indigenous peoples from using. 

The Chittagong Hills stretch along the the southeastern border of Bangladesh, Inida, and Myanmar (Burma). It is a stretch of land that contains thick forests and mountain lakes. While difficult to cultivate, the Chittagong Hills do offer enough arable soil for the indigenous peoples to support their communities. 

In 1971 the Jumma tribes were practically the only inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their ancestral land had been exploited under Pakistan's rule yet had not been occupied in the way it would be once Bangladesh gained independence. From the very start of Bangladesh's rule the Jummas began to lose lands to the new tyrant ruling over them. 

First Came The Military

In the late 1970s the president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rehman, signed into law a series of programs designed to create a government-run "population transfer" in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. His government immediately sat out to displace as many of the Jumma tribal groups as they could in the shortest period of time they could manage. These dictates issued the orders to begin creating a system of military installations that would gut the Chittagong Hills and divide the tribal peoples. Within just a matter of years the Bangladeshi army had created hundreds of military camps across the mountain tops along the roads they paved through the heart of the Chittagong Hills. This was a campaign to divide and conquer the Jumma peoples. 

When the Jumma peoples began to resist the military occupation of their homelands in 1976 the Bengali army moved in even more troops. By 1977 the Bengali military had begun a full scale assault on Jumma lands by ordering Jumma tribes off their land to make way for more roads and military camps. When Jumma tribes dared to stand and fight for their lands the army of Bangladesh willingly committed massacres and torched Jumma villages. The direct response to resistance was the placement of military camps on and near Jumma villages. Any route the Jumma could take to move from one village to the other was suddenly blocked by checkpoints. The strategy had shifted to complete isolation and starvation of the Jumma people in less than a year of resistance efforts by the Jumma tribes. 

The Jana Samhati Samiti, with a military wing, attempted to negotiate with Bangladesh some form of peace between the Jumma tribes and the Bengali military. Yet from 1976 till December of 1997 the government of Bangladesh only sought to forcibly expand it's presence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their aim was to displace the vast majority of the Jumma tribes and drive as many of the indigenous civilians as the could out of Bangladesh. This aim was made clear as the number of Jumma peoples internally displaced rose to 100,000 while the number of Jumma refugees fleeing the country rose to 70,000. 

As Bengali troops sat out to put Jumma villages to the torch the issue of rape became ever more prevalent. From 1971 on through 1994 the military of Bangladesh has been reported to have committed over 2,000 rapes of indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This is in part due to the fact that Bangladesh's army was given permission to engage in rape as a means of displacing Jumma families and keeping the victims silent after atrocities were committed. Jumma women were raped both for the fact that Bangladesh had indoctrinated it's troops in the belief that the Jumma women were subhuman and the enemy. In addition it was seen as a way of keeping Bengali soldiers motivated and a perverse way of keeping moral of the troops high in the isolation of the Chittagong Hills. 

It has also been reported several times that Bangladesh's military committed at least 13 large scale massacres of indigenous peoples during the Jummas' struggle to resist occupation. These attacks are often denied by Bangladesh and attributed to "crossfire" incidents. This became very clear when in August of 2013 the government of Bangladesh tried to explain away the deaths of 776 indigenous peoples as "victims of crossfire". The main problem with this explanation is that from 2004 to 2013 the government of Bangladesh only lost 18 soldiers during combat operations. The sheer number of deaths involved in these incidents disproportionately falls in favor of Bangladesh while offering only slaughter as an explanation when talking about indigenous deaths. 

After the Peace Accords of 1997 were signed the military of Bangladesh was supposed to begin dismantling it's camps that now choke the Chittagong Hills. Of the more than 500 military camps installed since the 1970s, Bangladesh has only closed a meager 29 camps. And most of these have simply been moved to other areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Of course the government of Bangladesh does come up with excuses for building even more military camps today; such as how they most recently used the migrant crisis in the Andaman Sea as a reason for military expansion.

Today the government of Bangladesh keeps over 1/3rd of it's military in the Chittagong Hills at any given time. The UN called this "excessive" in it's most recent review of Bangladesh's failure to implement the 1997 Peace Accords. The UN went on to note that having 1/3 of the military occupying an area of land that constitutes less than 1/10th of Bangladesh's territory was unjustifiable. It also noted that the Jumma people themselves account for less than one percent of Bangladesh's population and yet are the most policed portion of the overall population. 

Unlawful Settlers

When president Ziaur Rehman began his displacement of the Jumma people he started a program of offering Bengali citizens bribes to uproot and settle on Jumma lands. According to UN mandates, to which Bangladesh has agreed, this policy of displacement not only violates international law but also the human rights of the Jumma peoples. Namely the ILO Indigenous And Tribal Populations Convention No. 107, to which Bangladesh agreed and signed in 1972. 

Yet in spite of having agreed to international laws which prohibit the displacement of indigenous peoples the government of Bangladesh pushed forward with it's policies. Between 1971 and 1997 the government moved more than 500,000 illegal Bengali settlers onto indigenous lands. Each and every one of these settlers were encouraged by bribes from the government and promises of "free" and "open" land in the Chittagong Hills. They were told that areas would be provided for them and all they had to do was squat on lands not their own. 

From the start the Bengali settlers found themselves at odds with the indigenous population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Settlers were prone to set up their unlawful settlements near military camps. And since the military camps were inevitably placed directly on indigenous lands this led to the intended conflict. 

Settlers were encouraged by the military to engage in evictions of their own. Bengali men were told that they had the right to utilize rape in order to force Jumma families from their homes. This was an aspect of the settlements that rapidly became one of their defining characteristics. It became so problematic that Bangladesh has resorted to telling doctors in the Chittagong Hills to exclude any evidence of rape when reporting on Jumma women and young girls. And yet at the same time the government of Bangladesh is quick, at times quicker than the actual facts, in reporting the rape of any Bengali squatter in the Chittagong Hill tracts. 

 One such case of Bengali rape of a Marma girl took place as recently as January of 2015. The eight year old girl was on her way home when a Bengali plantation owner brutally raped her. The savage attacker had left the girl to bleed out after his barbaric assault. Yet the hospital staff refused to communicate in the girl's native language and the doctors were unclear as to how they would record the attack. The perpetrator of the rape was not reported to have been arrested. And this is not an isolated incident. It is in fact far too common throughout the Chittagong Hills. 

In 2014 alone there were 75 reported cases of sexual violence against indigenous women in the Chittagong Hills. These 75 cases account for the sexual assaults of 117 indigenous women (57% of these cases also involved children). Of these cases a total of 21 involved gang-rape, 55 were victims of physical assault in addition to rape, seven of the victims were murdered, and 11 involved abductions of indigenous women. Yet despite these staggering numbers the reality is that the majority of rapes in the Chittagong Hills go unreported due to both societal and religious stigmas surrounding the crime itself. 

One could continue by detailing how in 2013 there were 175 reported incidents of sexual violence being committed against indigenous women in the Chittagong Hills (49 of which involving gang-rape). Or how of all the identified rapists from January of 2010 to December of 2011 were never convicted for their crimes against indigenous women and girls in the Chittagong Hills. But the numbers aren't as important here... it's the lives of the victims (who are increasingly ending up dead and are more often now below the age of 18) and their families that matters. This is an aspect of Bangladesh's occupation that is overlooked because it isn't something anyone wants to talk about. It is a part of the genocidal occupation that leaves scars which time itself cannot heal. And yet Bangladesh refuses to put an end to the culture of impunity that allows both Bangladesh's military and it's Bengali settlers to rape indigenous women without ever facing the consequences.

The illegal Bengali settlers are also allowed to forcibly evict and attack the Jumma without facing any legal consequences. Nearly every time the Bengali settlers attack and burn Jumma homes, villages, temples, and crops the army of Bangladesh offers support for the hordes of illegal settlers. This is most evident during incidents as that which occurred in Burighat, Naniarchar on December 16th of 2014.

This was a deliberate attack in which over 500 Bengali settlers marched into a Chakma village with the intent of destroying the entire village. The attack would last for almost two hours before the Bengali assailants would return to their own village. The attackers burned over 50 Chakma homes and several Chakma shops during the attack. They also looted and vandalized the Karuna Bihar Buddhist Temple, making off with several bronze statues. 

This attack was immediately followed by Bengali settlers attempting to take the land upon which several Chakma homes had previously stood. The illegal settlers attempted to pressure the military into offering them protection as they squatted on the land they had just torched. Meanwhile the Chakma tried desperately to keep what was being stolen from them. In the end, the government of Bangladesh blamed the Chakma and rewarded the illegal settlers with rice and cash for their assault on indigenous homes. 

This the climate in which genocidal attacks are permitted to occur. This is the work of a government that has refused to allow peace to once again come to the Chittagong Hills. It is the deliberate attempt to ethnically cleanse the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. A government so determined to undermine indigenous rights that it would unlawfully settle over 15,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar on the lands of Jumma tribal peoples. This is the face of a government devoid of any sense of morality. 

So Why Does The World Remain Silent?

It is unreasonable when presented with the facts to think that anything in the Chittagong Hill Tracts will change without pressure being applied to Bangladesh from the outside. The government of Bangladesh has carried out it's crimes for generations. It has shown that it is willing to commit the same crimes against humanity as is Israel, Myanmar, North and South Sudan, Eritrea, and any other genocidal regime. 

Yet when it comes to the issue of indigenous peoples facing genocidal regimes the outside world has a long legacy of remaining silent. We tend to respond to genocide only when it is too late. But in the case of indigenous peoples, we tend not to respond at all. Their fate is one that we have relegated to history books and the storylines of romanticized movies. 

In the case of Bangladesh there is also the fact that the perpetrator is often seen as an impoverished nation struggling to provide for it's own people. This is an image that Bangladesh is all to happy to perpetuate as it openly claims (with yet another lie) that there are supposedly no indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. And thus it's conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is one that it continues to lie about by calling it anything but what it is... genocide. 

As for the twitter realm of humanitarians...

The issue of Bangladesh's genocide in the Chittagong Hills is one that does not currently fit the prevailing narrative. It is a genocide in which the perpetrators are Muslims while the victims are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and those of indigenous religions. For this reason it does not gain the same favor as that of the Rohingya, Palestine, or the Uyghur of China. And this is an aspect of the silence that should be more damning than all others... but it's one never admitted to. 

There are currently more Bengali settlers on Jumma lands than there are Jumma tribal members. This is a genocide that is already passed the breaking point. It is one that is now headed for completion as the world continues to watch in silence. It is a genocide that needs addressed. And it is one that must be stopped soon before the damage is irreparable. 

We as a world community must start screaming for all those who are suffering in the Chittagong Hills (and across the globe) regardless of their race, religion, social standings, or creed. We must not only scream for the Jumma people but help their voices be heard. We must amplify their voices whenever and wherever we can.

If you call yourself a humanitarian these are not suggestions.

If you call yourself anything related to such a word as that.... then this is your fight as well.

Articles used in the research of this article:
(not all sources listed)

Survival International

Dhaka Tribune 


Cultural Survival

The Citizen (India)


University of Notre Dame

The Daily Star

Asian Tribune 


Asian Center For Human Rights

January 21, 2015

We Shall Remain...

Vietnam's War On Indigenous Peoples

(Degar children)

When America went to war in Vietnam it did it without any real understanding of what conflicts were resting just beneath the surface. In the province of Gia Lai this failure to understand past conflict only served to draw the battle lines a little clearer. The Montagnard peoples of Vietnam's central highlands had a long standing conflict with Vietnam's ethnic majority. It was one not of their choosing. And it was one in which America only served as yet a new ally in an endless battle.

The Montagnard people, or Degar people in their language, had been pushed into the mountains long before colonialism. They are culturally, linguistically, and ethnically distinct from the Vietnamese majority. It was these differences that had built a barrier between them and the Vietnamese. An it was this barrier upon which colonialism preyed. The Degar had battled to survive amongst invading Vietnamese, French, and American rulers. It is in those mountains and forests that the Degar have showed the world that they will remain.

"Sons Of The Mountain"
Degar Resistance 

(Degar Resistance, 1962)

The history of the Degar tribes (including the Jarai, Rhade, Bahnar, Koho, Mnong, and Stieng) has been one of resisting foreign invasion. They were once coastal tribes that farmed the lowlands, hunted in the forests, and fished the coastal waters. In the ninth century the Vietnamese and Khmer began encroaching upon their lands. And within a short time period the Degar tribes earned their name by claiming the Central Highlands of Vietnam. They fiercely defended what other ethnic groups had seen as undesirable mountainous areas. Their tribes, around 30 tribes in all, were ethnically distinct yet shared many cultural and social structures which helped them unite in defense of the last homeland they had left. 

When colonialism began in Southeast Asia the Degar tribes were at first left alone. Then came the introduction of the Roman Catholic missionaries in the 19th century. Only a small amount of the Degar tribes embraced the Roman Catholics. Most simply wanted the French to keep the Vietnamese off their lands. And for that matter... also wished the French would stay off their lands as well. But then came the American missionaries with their version of Christianity. Colonialism under the French, with American influence, had brought a new faith to the Degar tribes. By 1930's the Degar people were beginning to adopt Christianity into their cultural practices. 

Then came the communists.

 (Degar boys work as guerrilla soldiers during The Vietnam War)

Colonialism was a brutal source of tyranny in Vietnam as a whole. The French had to combat traditional beliefs and practices in Vietnam to maintain a profit at the expense of the Vietnamese people. Without oppressive practices and a repressive power structure, French colonialism in Southeast Asia would had collapsed much more rapidly. It was no surprise that once communism arrived in the northern parts of Vietnam that the French began to lose control. Communism could be manipulated to fit the cultural structure of Vietnamese society. French exploitation could not. 

Vietnam was set to fall to the communists as France began to retreat toward the south. Those loyal to the French became targets. Everything that resembled the French colonial rule had to go. And this meant the religion the French had spread across a country that was predominately Buddhist. For the Degar people of the Central Highlands this was just one more aspect of the conflict that already existed between them and the Vietnamese. 

Ho Chi Minh set his eyes upon the Central Highlands as the communists sought out to rid Vietnam of anyone loyal to the old masters. Northern Vietnamese guerrillas and regular soldiers began to push into Degar lands. Then came the Americans...

As America began it's war against the communists the Degar people found an ally. The Degar would be pawns in America's war. Yet for them it was a role that allowed them to remain on their lands. It was a war in which they had to choose the better of two devils. The communists offered them nothing but death even if the Degar would fight the Westerners. The Americans offered them a chance to remain on their lands even if there was a horrific price to be paid in their own blood. 

The Degar peoples resisted. Just as they had done for centuries. The Degar tribes did not fight for French or American colonial rule. They did not fight to keep Vietnam free of communist rule. They simply resisted so that they could remain on their ancestral homeland. The war may have very well been a struggle between two political systems, but for the Degar it was one of survival. The Vietnamese had been the ones to push the Degar tribes to these highlands in the first place. During the war the Vietnamese threatened to push the Degar off the last strip of land they had left to call their own. 

The legacy of standing up to Vietnamese aggression is one that still haunts the Degar tribes today. Vietnam went on to win the bloody war against American aggression. The fact that the Degar tribes had sided with the Americans is a memory that has not yet been forgotten. And it is one that is still used for political gains by land-grabbing Vietnamese politicians and military leaders. 

(Degar protest in front of The White House)

Today the Degar people are oppressed in ways that directly mirror the atrocities committed against them in centuries past. The government of Vietnam is directly responsible for the confiscation of Degar lands, the forced conversions of Degar peoples, the continual violence perpetrated against Degar civilians, unlawful and arbitrary arrests of Degar tribal members, and the persistent harassment of Degar villages. The government of Vietnam cordons off Degar lands from the outside world as it blocks access to the Degar people it so readily persecutes. All the while the government of Vietnam exploits the natural resources of Degar lands by allowing Vietnam's elite to sell off it's lumber, lands for plantations, and controlling access to the water sources on Degar lands.

Continual persecution has led many Degar to unite in ways that have blurred the lines between the many different tribes of Degars. Vietnam's harsh treatment of the Degar has led to mass protests within Vietnam (always met with violent oppressive actions by the state) and mass protests in countries that Degar refugees have resettled in. In 2001 the Degar marched on provincial cities across the Central Highlands to demand the return of their ancestral homelands, basic religious freedoms, their basic human rights to be recognized, and ethnic recognition by the Vietnamese government. Since then the oppressive measures taken by Vietnam have only increased. 

Vietnam has sent large numbers of police and military into the Central Highlands in an attempt to seal off the region from outside eyes. Churches (homes used as churches) have been burned in retaliation for Degars preaching the Christian faith. Leaders of the Degar community have been rounded up and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences (many still awaiting trial while being kept in prison). Women and Degar youth are constantly harassed by the military as Degar families are kept as prisoners on their own lands. And the border with Cambodia is heavily monitored in an effort to keep the thousands of Degar refugees from fleeing Vietnamese oppressive rule. 

Meanwhile the government of Vietnam hides behind claims that the Degar are terrorists that are dead-set upon damaging national unity and breaking away from Vietnam. These are claims that have yet to be proven by a regime that forbids foreign journalists and aid workers from entering the Central Highlands. While the regime uses these claims to crackdown on Degar tribes (essentially stripping them of all basic human rights) it outright refuses any outside government to investigate the claims. 

So while Vietnam carries out what has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, the outside world is left to watch. While Vietnam behaves in much the same way as Burma does in the Arakan... the outside world once again ignores signs of what has the potential to become (if it has not already been) genocide.

December 15, 2014

So That Others Might Live

Muslims Who Defied The Nazis

(Noor Inayat Khan 1914-1944)

In the face of evil it is easy to turn one's eyes away. For many people this is the response that comes natural. It is a tendency that permits evil to spread. It is through the silence of good men and women that evil propagates. Yet there are those who don't just bear witness to evil but decide to stand toe to toe with evil itself. These few, these heroes, grit their teeth and clinch their fists as they refuse to back down.

For the Jewish people there was a generation of men and women who decided to take this stand. Millions of men and women rolled up their sleeves and picked up their rifles. None of them had to stop the spread of Nazism. None of them had to bleed and perish so that we, the Jewish people, might have a chance to live. It would have been possible to contain the Germans with far less sacrifice. Yet they, the brave, came to our rescue... many to never live to see the defeat of our oppressors.

This is not the story of American GIs or the Russian red army. This isn't the story of how the so called "West" saved the day. No, today we will look at how those society has told us hate us joined the fight to save us. In a world that even then claimed Islam and Judaism were incompatible, these brave souls decided to fight, bleed, and sacrifice so that others might live.

This is the story of Muslims who stood in the gap as Judaism suffered it's darkest hour.


Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow on the first of January, 1914. The world was at war and any hope for the end of the flow of blood was still not yet in sight. Yet her parents were given a blessing that day that so many expecting parents wish and pray for, that hope that comes with every new life.

By the time Noor Khan was in her twenties the world was once again headed for war. She had studied music and medicine and had even written her own children stories. Yet when war did break out and hostilities with Germany seemed inevitable, Noor Khan didn't look the other way. Instead, Noor Khan trained as a nurse with the Red Cross in her home country of France. While others prepared for others to defend them if Germany attacked, Khan prepared herself to help those in need. 

In May of 1940 Germany's Waffen SS whipped around France's inadequate defenses and invaded France. Noor Khan's family escaped to England as the French government surrendered in a tram trolley. Hitler would tour Paris while Noor Khan joined England's Women's Auxiliary Air Force so that she could help fight for France. She would train as a wireless operator while the Germans pillaged Europe just across the English Channel. 

Noor Khan's ability to speak French fluently gained the attention of England's Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE needed people with Khan's knowledge to go across the channel and help spy on the Nazis in France. Noor Khan's willingness to fight against the evils of Nazism made her a perfect candidate for what many would look at as suicide. 

In June of 1943 Noor Khan was flown into France and made her way to Paris where she would join the Prosper Network. Yet shortly after Khan arrived the resistance network came under attack by the German Gestapo. With the capture of resistance members came the fear that the Prosper Network had been compromised. Khan was encouraged to make her way back to England so as to evade capture by the Germans. And yet Noor Khan refused. She argued that she was the last wireless radio operator left in the group. So she would stay and fight despite the inherit risks. 

Noor Khan made attempts to rebuild the resistance network as she continued to keep London informed with wireless transmissions. Her efforts went on for three and a half months as the threat of capture lingered overhead. It wasn't till October that the Gestapo finally got the information they needed to arrest Noor Khan. 

Upon arrest the Gestapo found documents that allowed them to crack the code the spy "Madeleine" had been using. Noor Khan's code was then used to capture three more agents landing in occupied France. Yet under constant torture, Noor Khan refused to give the Nazi's any information that could have further compromised the work of the SOE in London. Dedicated to the war against Nazism, Noor Khan endured humiliating conditions and bravely faced a life in chains. Despite their best efforts the Gestapo could not break Noor Khan. 

In the summer of 1944 the Gestapo transferred Noor Khan and three other agents to Dachau Concentration Camp. The agents were questioned, beaten, and harassed by the Nazi SS. On the twelfth of September, 1944 Noor Khan met with the fate that Nazism had allotted all of Judaism. Put before a Nazi SS death squad, Noor Khan and the other three agents were shot and killed. 

Noor Inayat Khan had been given the chance to run away. She had been given the chance to live as comfortable a life as anyone else could have in England during the war. If anything, she had the chance to live free and stay out of harm's way. Yet Noor Khan took to the battle field against an enemy that was well known for it's brutality. When death came marching in it's wretched black uniform, Noor Khan held her head high and prepared to stand her ground. 

Bloody April in Sarajevo

“...our home is your home; feel at home. Our women will not hide their faces in your presence, because you are like family members to us. Now that your life is in danger, we will not leave you.”
Mustafa and Izet Hardaga speaking to Joseph Kavillo

Yugoslavia had been a target of the Nazis for some time. It was a stepping stone toward Greece and a vital part to Hitler's plan to take control of the Balkans. In April of 1941 the Luftwaffe began bombing Sarajevo as the Nazis made arrangements to occupy the city. Once the bombs began to fall the Waffen SS would begin it's assault upon the city. And it was in this bombardment that the Kavillo family, a Jewish family, found their home completely demolished. This was the Kavillo family's introduction to the horrors of the holocaust.

Joseph Kavillo's family had waited out the bombing in the forest. It was only after the bombs stopped dropping that Joseph Kavillo returned to survey the damage the Nazi's warplanes had wrought upon Sarajevo. He was planning to bring his family to the factory close to their old house so as to seek shelter as the war ravaged on. A family friend, Mustafa Hardaga, spotted Joseph and offered him and his family to take shelter in his house. This was in spite of the fact that Mr Hardaga knew that the Nazis offered no mercy for anyone who would willingly house Jews.

It wasn't long before Joseph Kavillo decided to move his family out of the Hardaga house and try to relocate them to the Italian controlled areas of Yugoslavia. When his family was safe, Joseph decided to stay behind. It was in this process that Joseph Kavillo was arrested by the Nazis in Bosnia. He was taken into captivity and kept in chains outdoors in the cold. Kept like an animal, Joseph Kavillo was not fed or offered shelter from Bosnia's harsh weather.

Zejneba Hardaga, the wife of Mustafa, found Joseph chained in the snow. She risked her life to smuggle Joseph food and water. Over the course of Joseph's time in chains it was Zejneba who kept him alive till she could find a way to help Joseph escape his chains and flee to be with his family. If it had not been for her, Joseph Kavillo would have either froze to death or starved in his chains.

Not long after Joseph Kavillo had rejoined his family in the Italian controlled area of Yugoslavia the Italians handed over control to the Nazis. Once again the family was trapped by the Nazi army. It's grip upon Bosnia had become absolute. So once again the Kavillo family made their way to the home of the Hardagas where they would again be sheltered by their Muslim friends. 

The Hardaga family risked everything to save their fellow Bosnians. The Gestapo had a headquarters just a short distance from their home. And yet this Muslim family took in a Jewish family in their greatest hour of need. The danger of being caught was ever palpable. Both families would have faced concentration camps or even death in the streets as the Nazis fought to smash Bosnian resistance. This was friendship at its finest. It was a heroic act that would not soon be forgotten. 

In the 1990's the city of Sarajevo fell under siege once again. This time the Serbian militias were surrounding the city and laying siege to the Bosnians. The Hardaga family were the targets this time. The Serbs wanted to ethnically cleanse Bosnia of it's Muslim citizens. Genocide was spilling Muslim blood as Bosnia's Jews tried to flee. 

The UN rarely allowed Bosnian Muslims the chance to run away from the bloodbath their arms bans had helped to engineer. Yet the Hardaga family had friends that wanted to help... friends that owed their lives to the heroism of the Hardagas. In 1994 the Hardaga family was brought to Israel as their homeland was bleeding out. Some 50 plus years had passed since the Kavillo family had been saved by the Hardaga family. But it was an act of true friendship that time could not fade the memory of. 

(Kaddour Benghabrit)

Within The House Of G-d

In 1926 the Grand Mosque of Paris was built as a token to the thousands of Muslims who had given their lives in "the war to end all wars". It was, and remains, a grand building dedicated to the Islamic faith and the belief in one G-d. Kaddour Benghabrit was one of key figures in helping to establish the massive structure in Paris. And it was Kaddour Benghabrit who was responsible for the mosque when the French Vichy government took power and aligned itself with the Nazis' final solution.

When the Nazis began collecting Jews for deportations there was a flaw in their original plan. It was one that had roots in France's colonial past. While there were plenty of French Jews in Paris that could easily be picked out and sent off for deportations, the diversity of France's Jewish citizens emerged. Jewish citizens from France's North African colonies had much more in common with Muslims than they did with European Jews. Their names, their culture, and their community were all linked with how Judaism had adapted itself to North African Islam. Many were closer friends with France's Muslim population than they were with the Jewish communities the Germans were familiar with. And it is in this aspect of France's unique diversity that the Nazis' plan ran into a wonderfully unique problem.

France's Muslims were not readily willing to hand over their Jewish neighbors. They had no desire to adopt the sorts of racial ideas and religious extremism that Hitler was preaching. There are many stories of influential Muslims in Paris who risked everything to do what was right. They risked their lives to save a people that Hitler believed they should hate. These Muslims found ways to help their Jewish brothers and sisters evade capture by the genocidal Nazis.

One way was to bring their Jewish neighbors to the Grand Mosque of Paris.

There was no organized effort involved. This was not an underground railroad of any sorts. It was simply a response in the heart of a community to stand beside their brothers in desperate need of help.

The head imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris was mainly responsible for housing Jewish refugees who turned up at the mosque. Kaddour Benghabrit was said to be responsible for giving these refugees Muslim identification papers so that they might make their way to safety. Kaddour also brazenly showed Nazi generals around the mosque even while Jews hid inside so that the Nazis might be fooled into believing he was cooperating.

In 1940 the Vichy government began petitioning the Grand Mosque to stop any actions it might be taking to save Jews from the Nazis. The head imam and Benghabrit remained defiant as they continued to give shelter to Jewish refugees who showed up at the Mosque. Their faith demanded it. Their actions demonstrated that which they believed. 

The Nazis showed their belief that Islam was a natural ally in the Nazi hatred of Judaism. They had expected the Bosnians in Yugoslavia to side with them in killing off Yugoslavia's Jews. In France they had expected the Grand Mosque to be the home of Islamic hatred for European Judaism. Yet the Muslims who operated the mosque showed that Islam was and is not opposed to Judaism. Their actions may have saved only a few dozen or potentially hundreds of Jews from the Nazi death camps. But as time goes on, as long as their story is told, their actions will show that Muslims and Jews are brothers in our unique faiths. Their actions should forever show that Judaism and Islam can and should live side by side in peace. 

Lest We Forget...

Muslims have a faith that teaches tolerance and an understanding of others. While some may abuse the faith, there have always been Muslims who have stepped out of the mold society has shaped for them... there have always been Muslims who have risked their own lives to save those of others. Beyond the news articles and daily broadcasts of stories like those of ISIS and other extremists... beyond the stereotypes... there will forever be Muslims who show the love of their Prophet's teachings.

These are the sorts of Muslims the world should never forget. These are the sorts of brave men and women that the world needs to talk about with a sense of pride and respect. We will all forever remember the names of villains like Osama bin-Laden. Yet we should also remember the names of heroes like Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga. These brave and honorable souls should be inscribed not just on monuments but also imprinted upon our collective memory.

May G-d bless those who sacrificed so that others might live.

October 10, 2014

1915's ISIS

The Young Turks and The Islamic State

With the continued spread of the Islamic State terrorists across Syria and Iraq the world has bore witness to what genocide in the modern era looks like. This is not genocide committed by a state, it is not genocide committed by one particular ethnic group; this is genocide being committed in the name of religion. Though the Islamic State (often called ISIS, IS, or ISIL) does not practice Islam, in it's purest form, they do believe that their calling to create a caliphate and implement strict Islamic laws is called for by Islam itself. Their rigid devotion to these goals has created a wave of terror that has rapidly spread across the Middle East. It is so brutal, so barbaric, in it's nature that even old enemies have begun to work together in efforts to suppress the threat ISIS poses to the modern world.

The belief system that has spawned ISIS is not new. It is not the first time extremists within Islam have committed grotesque acts of genocide in their devotion to a perverted ideology which exploits their faith. As early as the turn of the 20th century there were modern day extremists who had found a niche in perverting Islam for their own political agendas. Sure, there have been many since. And there is little doubt that there will many more in the future. But one in particular stands out when thumbing through the history books. One that was just as hedonistic and savage in it's use of genocide to prop up a failed caliphate.

The Rise Of The Young Turks

 "You are greatly mistaken. We have this country absolutely under our control. I have no desire to shift the blame onto our underlings and I am entirely willing to accept the responsibility myself for everything that has taken place." 
~ Enver Pasha

In 1889 the Young Turks movement began with a conspiracy hatched in the Imperial Medical Academy in Istanbul, Turkey. What began with the goal of deposing the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and instituting a constitutional government rapidly failed as the students who had organized it fled to Europe. Yet their dream of a more democratic society within the Ottoman Empire did not die. As with most ideological revolutions, the methods utilized by the sultan to combat it were ineffective in crushing the ideals already embedded within Turkish society. Once the seeds of the revolution had been cast, the Ottoman Empire could do little to stop them from taking hold. 

As the movement grew so did the ideas being fed into it. While some within The Young Turks had pushed for more equality amongst the diverse population of the Ottoman empire, many of The Young Turks pushed a policy of "Turkification". The illusion of a more democratic society being constructed under The Young Turks would rapidly vanish as Turkish nationalism took hold amongst it's leadership. When they finally did get the sultan to step aside in 1908 with the creation of a constitutional government the more rabid members of The Young Turks movement took charge. 

In the beginning there was the proposed idea that minority ethnic groups and religions would have equal rights as Turkish Muslims. However, with the rise of the Pashas, the new leaders of The Young Turks, this promise vanished into thin air. Instead of offering unity amongst the diverse population of the Ottoman Empire, the Pashas set out to vilify certain ethnic groups and religions. This goal became easier to achieve as the world was plunged into "the great war" in Europe. With Russia and the Balkan states threatening the spread of yet more war and bloodshed on Ottoman lands, the Pashas capitalized upon the fear these wars created. 

World War One would offer the Pashas the cover behind which they could implement their policy of Turkification. The undesirables, as they saw them, could now easily be disposed of as the world focused on the threat Germany posed to Europe. Old scores could now be settled with the ethnic groups in the Balkans. A long standing hatred of Armenians could now be rehashed across the eastern portions of the Ottoman Empire. And the ancient Christian communities in the Middle East could now be targeted for annihilation without much backlash from Christian Europe or the rising influence of America. World War One offered the Pashas their chance to revitalize what they viewed as their own caliphate. 

Flirting With The Quran

The mixture of patriotism and religion helped The Young Turks rally large portions of the Turkish population to their cause. By not only offering the Turkish citizens greater freedoms than that the sultan permitted them but by also giving them a sense of superiority over "the others", The Young Turks had snared many of their fellow country men. The sense of religious superiority that The Young Turks had fed the Turkish citizens of the Ottoman Empire came through their denial of similar rights to other faiths within the empire. This elevated Muslim citizens to a higher level within society while engineering a new sense of serfdom amongst members of other faiths. And nowhere was this made more evident than with the Christian subjects now trapped under The Young Turks harsh dictate. 

By hen-picking verses from the Quran to support their ideology, The Young Turks set out to segregate Muslims from other faiths within the empire. This process utilized an already existing method that divided society up into "millets", or social classes. This stage of Turkification is also currently recognized in the stages of genocide as the classification stage. By using the millet system to pit Turks against "the others", the Pashas had set the Ottoman Empire on course with seemingly endless bloodshed.

Classification was just the start. Once the Young Turks had created an atmosphere in which millets could thrive they needed to accelerate the Ottoman's race toward all out genocide. This required the Pashas' to utilize their political influence over the mosques within the empire. Through this influence they could twist Quranic verses to take the next step toward genocide, symbolization. 

By taking the labels applied to "indigenous Christians" and mixing in a tone of "us verses them", the Young Turks were able to push toward genocide. This also permitted Muslim leaders across the empire the opportunity to re-institute unjust taxation under distorted interpretations of the Quran. Where the Young Turks had set up labels for the "enemy within", the Muslim community leaders had taken the leap into the stages of dehumanization and organization against Christian minorities. All of which was seemingly justified by the Young Turks' policies dictated by the umbrella of Turkification. And with religious leaders within the Muslim community backing the politics of the genocide, bloodshed was inevitable.

Rivers Of Blood

“Turkey is taking advantage of the war in order to thoroughly liquidate its internal foes, the indigenous Christians, without being thereby disturbed by foreign intervention.” 
~ Talat Pasha

The Pontic Greeks

(Greeks Mourn After Massacre, 1922)

In 1914 the Pontic Greeks became the first victims of Turkification. Though they had existed along the shores of the Black Sea for far longer than any Turks had, the Young Turks claimed all the land as Turkish. And since both ethnically and religiously the Greeks were seen as unable to be "truly Turkish" the order for their expulsion and destruction came without hesitance.

Ottoman commanders gave the order, "There is nothing but death for the Greeks, who are without honor. As soon as the slightest sign is given you, destroy everything about you immediately. As for women, stop at nothing. Do not take honor or friendship into consideration when the moment of vengeance arrives."

The Greeks within the Ottoman Empire had done nothing to warrant the genocide they would now suffer. They had simply been born Greek in a land where the governing body had embraced radical nationalism and religiously fueled hatred. The "moment of vengeance" had arrived upon them as a result of the Ottomans' defeat in the wars in the Balkans in 1912-1913. Though none of them had, with any real evidence to be supplied, fought against the Ottomans. They simply lived too close to the Balkans and just happened to be Christians.

For the Young Turks the opportunity to expel the Pontic Greeks from the Ottoman Empire was one they had long awaited. The Pashas had eyed a make-believe fortune they thought the Greeks' church and community had stashed away. And then there was the land itself. The millet system had dictated that both the land and wealth of the Greeks was rightfully Turkish. This genocide was therefore obligated by the very policies the Young Turks had set for their failed empire.

Greek men and boys were immediately rounded up to be used as "labor battalions" in the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks justified this by saying that the Ottoman Empire was under assault from the Russians and Balkan states. Their reasons were well picked in the fact that they could easily paint the outside attackers as Christian armies and thus claim that the Greeks should be forced to defend Turkish lives. This permitted the Young Turks to further dehumanize the Greeks and at the same time claim they were forcing the Greeks to prove their loyalty. It was a method that both fed into the nationalistic fervor and the religious ideology that was plaguing Turkish society at the time. No mention was given as to what conditions the Greek slaves would face in their tormentous captivity.

Greek women were often taken as sexual slaves by Turkish military members and their own Turkish neighbors. Girls were considered cheap and their value in Ottoman society was clearly less than that of man when the laws The Young Turks used are scrutinized to any degree. These women, if they survived the rape, were rarely given freedom. Many would be disposed of once the system under which they were held as slaves was finally abolished. Others would die in captivity from relentless abuse and neglect. While others would live out their lives as even less than third class citizens in a nation that had promised equality just a decade ago.

The rest of the Greek population was subjected to outright massacres and deportations. In the massacres the Ottoman military saved their bullets by utilizing knives to slash and kill their victims. Their assaults on unarmed civilians were brutal and personal. The perpetrators of the genocide against the Greeks had to watch as their victims gasped for their last breath and as blood and life slipped from the victims' bodies. This was a savage campaign that one can only guess was meant to harden the soldiers for the genocides still yet to come. It was a method that Hitler's SS death units would utilize in their creation of soldiers that could kill without hesitation.

Those who were deported were raped, robbed, and beaten as they were herded out of their homes and into the barren central lands of the Ottoman Empire. There they were left in concentration camps where food, water, and shelter were not provided. The lands upon which they were left were void of any means with which to support themselves. Those who dared to venture beyond the camps were killed if caught or died in the deserts upon which they had been placed.

The genocide of the Pontic Greeks would last from 1914 till 1923. By the time the killings ended the Young Turks had presided over the massacre of around 700,000 - 950,000 Greek civilians. The genocide had been fueled by the lack of ability on behalf of The Young Turks to "Turkify" the Greeks. Or otherwise put; the Young Turks could not force the Greeks to accept the culture or religion that The Young Turks had wished to impose upon them. The Greeks had kept their faith and their culture in spite of the brutal treatment the Young Turks had given them.

The Assyrians

 (Western Media Reported as Genocide Occurred)

In the third century the Assyrian people of Mesopotamia adopted an emerging faith that was quickly spreading, Christianity. This adaptation within Assyrian society was one for which the Assyrian people would die for time and time again. Yet it is such an intrinsic part of Assyrian society that despite their persecution for it, it still persist to this day.

At the end of the 19th century the Ottoman sultan had grown weak in his control over the Ottoman Empire. In an attempt to break up what the sultan saw as a "troublesome" portion of the empire's ethnically diverse population, the Assyrians suffered deportations from their native homelands. The irregular army, mainly Kurdish cavalry, was brutal in it's treatment of Assyrian civilians. Yet this was just the start of Assyrian suffering in the modern era.

Prior to the political instability of the late 19th century, the Assyrians had embraced the millet system under the sultan. It had provided them with some degree of religious and political autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. Yet when the Young Turks came to power the very system that had protected them became the same system that would permit even greater persecution of the Assyrian people. With the redefining of the millet system came the demonetization of the "indigenous Christian" communities. And thus the targeting of the Assyrian community under the guise of implementing the millet system to the letter of the law.

Assyrian churches became targets of local Turkish militias, often sponsored by the Young Turks, as all signs of Assyrian Christendom came under fire. The community leaders amongst the Assyrians were taken off to be falsely accused of trumped up charges only to end up executed. The Young Turks wished to decapitate the Assyrian community as a whole. They wanted a defeated Assyrian population from the start. The goal was absolute submission and then annihilation. It was a strategy that was designed to limit resistance to the genocide The Young Turks had begun to carry out.

In 1914 the Turkish army began to ethnically cleanse Assyrian villages in mass operations commanded by Pashas. Men and boys from the villages were often killed on the spot while at other times the Assyrian men were forced into slave labor. Those who were forced to work for the Turkish army were given little to no food and absolutely no protection from the elements. These slave labor battalions were worked to death with the intent of killing the Assyrian male population. Those who ended up on the front lines of Turkey's war with Russia were placed in areas where they could be killed easily by both Ottoman forces and Russian shelling. The Young Turks fully intended for all Assyrian men and boys to be dead no matter how loyally they served their oppressive dictators.

Turkish men and soldiers were rewarded for their depravity by the Pashas by allowing them to abduct and enslave Assyrian girls. Women who were too old to be considered useful for sexual slavery were often raped and then killed or simply put to death on the spot. For the sexual slaves, death would come in either its physical form or through the trauma inflicted upon them as they were forced into a living hell. These abducted girls would be forced to denounce their faith, convert to Islam, and rid themselves of any signs of their native culture. To the Pashas, this was the quickest way to destroy the Assyrian culture and ethnically cleanse their bloodlines.

For those who were not outright killed in the initial massacres the horrors of deportation awaited them. The elderly, the ill, the young, and the survivors were forced into cattle cars and sent into the interior of the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks claimed this was for their own good since it removed them from areas close to the war front. Yet the concentration camps they were sent to were nothing more than barren patches of land upon which food would not grow nor could it be found.

In 1915 the London Times reported that thousands of Assyrians were being kept in concentration camps around Baghdad, Iraq. The Turks would not admit to how many Assyrians had started out on the initial death marches into Iraq's barren desert. Yet by the time news was filtering out into the British media there was only around thirty thousand survivors left alive. While the British government petitioned to take these survivors into their protection, the Turks stalled any attempts to rescue the starving Assyrians from the concentration camps the Pashas had established. For The Young Turks, this would have meant that the genocide of the Assyrians would not be complete.

By the end of the Turkish genocide of the Assyrians an estimated 750,000 Assyrians had been slaughtered or starved to death. Their property and their homes had been handed over to Turkish and Arab neighbors. The lives they had led in their homeland were now a memory to those who had managed to cling to life. And the acknowledgement of their suffering under The Young Turks genocidal regime still has yet to be achieved.

The Armenians

(Armenian Community Leaders Hung Publicly in Constantinople)

There was no minority that The Young Turks hated more than the Armenian people. The radical nationalists had long accused the Armenians for every military defeat and political crisis that the Ottoman Empire had suffered. Armenians were the perfect scapegoat for The Young Turks not only for their faith but also because of the Armenians' historic claims to a national homeland. This allowed the Pashas to not only create a "Turkey for the Turks" through the genocide of the Armenians, but also permitted them total control over Armenian lands. The destruction of the Armenians fed both the Pashas' hatred of non-Muslims and their political ambition of reconstructing their empire. 

On April 24th, 1915 the Pashas orders for the arrests and executions of Armenian community leaders was given. On that fateful day the genocide of the Armenian people began in earnest. Turkish military was deployed and prominent Armenians were immediately arrested. The Pashas had desired to eliminate those they viewed as capable of rallying Armenians in a resistance movement against the coming genocide. Yet in spite of the Pashas' attempts, the Armenian people were only galvanized by the attacks on their community. And resistance to the onslaught by Turkish authorities would be met with resistance by the common Armenian civilian. 

The Mountain Of Moses

(Armenian Defenders of Musa Dagh)

As the Turkish military razed Armenian villages and began deportations of Armenian civilians there were four areas where resistance was organized. Musa Dagh was one of those locations.

Six villages laid at the base of the mountain, Musa Dagh. This scenic mountain stands along the edge of the Mediterranean Sea just south of modern day Iskenderun, Turkey. And it was in these six villages that the Armenian civilians were ordered to submit to the deportations ordered by the Pashas. They were told that they would leave the shadow of Musa Dagh and be sent off into the deserts of Syria. Yet none of them believed the reasons The Young Turks were giving for leaving their homes. 

Taking only a few hundred rifles and a months supply of food, the Armenians took to the mountain to seek refuge from the approaching Turkish army. On July 21st the Ottoman forces laid siege to Musa Dagh in an attempt to force the Armenians down the mountain and into captivity, or certain death. Those trapped on the mountain put up fierce resistance in their attempts to keep the Turks from coming up the mountain after them. Every Armenian on Musa Dagh was prepared to die there if help did not arrive. None of the Armenians wanted to be taken by the Turks who had already begun to wipe out their homes below. 

By the time September arrived the Armenians knew that their survival relied upon gaining the attention of passing Allied ships. World War One was still raging and Turkey was still the enemy of the Allied forces. Yet the Armenians knew that there was an off chance that their homemade banners could eventually capture the attention of a passing friendly vessel. 

On September 12th the survivors on Musa Dagh managed to gain the attention of a passing French warship. Once the French forces were able to bring five ships close enough for the Armenians to evacuate the mountain safely the survivors were permitted to board the Allied vessels. By this point only around four thousand Armenians were still alive. Yet for them this was a victory. For this was their salvation from certain death at the hands of their Turkish assailants. 

These four thousand would spend the rest of the genocide in refugee camps in Egypt. Despite the conditions endured as refugees, these were the fortunate ones. They had managed to resist the genocidal efforts of The Young Turks. They had managed to defy the orders of deportation and the horrors of the concentration camps in Syria's deserts. And for the women; they had managed to escape possible rape, murder, and/or sexual slavery.

Slave Battalions

(Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians utilized as slave labor by Turks)

The Greeks and Assyrians suffered the same slavery at the hands of the Turkish military. Yet it was the Armenians who were more regularly forced into this humiliating form of suffering as the Ottomans sent endless battalions of slaves to the front lines. The Young Turks had recognized the fervor with which Turkish soldiers tortured and tormented their Armenian slaves. And therefore permitted more and more Armenian men and boys to be forced into conscripted labor for their failing army. 

In the autumn of 1914 there had been 40 thousand Armenian men serving loyally in the Ottoman military. These men were the first to be turned into slave labor battalions. Their rifles were confiscated and all their equipment that could be used to resist was taken away. Their comrades in arms were suddenly their masters. And their job went from defending their homeland, the empire, from foreign invaders to suddenly being forced to work as slaves for new tyrants. 

Slave laborers in the Turkish military were utilized as human pack-mules. They were made to carry the equipment of their old comrades and pull the wagons upon which weapons of war were taken into battle. There was no job too degrading for them to be forced to do. The more filthy and dehumanizing the task, the more back breaking the work, the more the Turkish slave drivers forced their captives to do the tasks at hand. 

When a slave labor battalion outlived it's uses the Turkish military turned their rifles upon men who had once fought to maintain Turkish sovereignty. If a slave labor battalion would cost too much to transport, if the food to keep them alive was running low, if there was simply a lull in the war; the slaves could be dispensed of without concern or care by the Turkish forces. Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians serving as slaves were not to be considered human. Their torture and torment was dictated from the top down. And their lives were cheap. To outlive their purposes on the battle field was a death warrant for these unfortunate souls. 

Slave labor would continue well after World War One and the war with Russia. The Ottomans kept the institution of slavery alive so that the genocide of the "indigenous Christians" could persist.

The Bounty Of War

(Armenian Woman Tattooed During Her Sexual Slavery)

As men and boys were being sent off to die as slaves the Armenian women were left vulnerable to a different form of slavery. The Young Turks had designed in their dictates certain clauses which permitted the forced marriages and temporary holding of Armenian women as sexual slaves by Turkish men. This form of slavery was meant to reward the butchers who had cleared Armenian villages and executed countless Armenian civilians. It was a perverse incentive for the Turkish soldiers and politicians who supported the genocidal regime in Istanbul. And it permitted Turkish neighbors to literally move into an Armenian home and claim both the building and woman as their own. 

In almost every genocide there is a certain focus on the "blood purity" of an enemy. While Hitler's Nazi's would seek to cleanse their own people of "impure blood", The Young Turks sought to destroy the blood lines of their victims through mixing their own with it. The goal in both is to destroy a lineage that can be idealized by the victims that will inevitably survive even the most thorough genocidal attempts. It is the desire to wipe clean any memory of the victims' culture, community, heritage, and supposed racial identity. 

For the Young Turks this was made evident as they supported practices that not only dehumanized the victims of this sexual slavery but also set them apart from any offspring that might result form their abuses. The Young Turks incited a campaign to tattoo, or mark visibly in some way, sexual slaves that were kept long term in Turkish homes. This act would set aside women who were slaves from the rest of Turkish society. It would permit them to be ostracized by the community in which they were being held captive. And it would further make it easier for Turkish families to take any resulting children and raise them separate of their mothers.

It became common practice for many Armenian women who were taken slaves to be used in mass rapes and then, if they survived the rape, to be killed. When this occurred amongst the Turkish military it often led to Armenian girls being beheaded, having their throats slit, bayoneted, stabbed, shot, or hung. These victims were first made to suffer the barbaric rapes inflicted upon them only to have to be tortured to death by the rapists. 

There was no mercy shown to the sexual slaves taken by Ottoman Turks. Their enslavement was meant to not only separate them from the rest of the Armenians but served as a way to segregate the victims from the rest of humanity. The tattoos, the piercings, the rape, the beatings, the public humiliation; all were ways the Ottomans sought to break their spirits and kill the Armenians' soul.

(Armenian Girl Who Survived Torture By Turks)

Death Marches and Death Camps

"The Ottoman Empire should be cleaned up of the Armenians and the Lebanese. We have destroyed the former by the sword, we shall destroy the latter through starvation."
~ Enver Pasha

In April of 1915 the Pashas gave the order for the Turkish military to begin forced deportations of all Armenians across the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks wanted every Armenian village cleared out and the Armenians in them to be sent in one way or another to the deserts of Syria. In some cases the Armenians were put in cattle cars and shipped toward Syria. But in almost every case, at some point, the Armenians were forced to march into the desert where they were expected to die from exposure. 

Around 75 percent of all Armenians who were deported would die along the way to the concentration camps. Those who reached the concentration camps were not met by the sight of gas chambers or barbwire fences. These death camps were simply patches of barren earth where the victims themselves were expected to stay under the guard of nearby Turkish soldiers. If they dared to try to leave they would be executed by sword or a bullet. 

There were no means with which to provide themselves protection from the harsh winters of Syria's deserts. There was no way to hide from the summer sun. And water was nowhere to be found. Food was a distant memory for the victims of deportation. There was simply no way for life to continue in these hellish conditions. 

Those who had died along the way had suffered rapes, torture by the Turkish military, and random executions. If the deportees had not been able to carry onward to their deaths the Turkish soldiers were more than willing to oblige them with a beheading or impalement. The corpses of those who had gone ahead of them lined the ditches and pathways. Bodies of victims were strung up in the brush along the way. Rape victims decayed in the streams and behind shrubs. The signs of death were never far away. 

Death marches were used to deplete the numbers of Armenians who would need to be executed later. The Young Turks knew well what would happen to the Armenians as they were forced to walk into the deserts. This was just death by another cruel method. The goal, after all, was annihilation of the Armenians. 

The Aftermath

(Armenian Child Receiving Care In A Refugee Camp)

When the genocides committed by the Pashas and Turks finally did end the carnage was spread across the entire breadth of the Ottoman Empire. While the Ottoman Empire itself would dissolve and modern nation states arose in it's place, the legacy of Turkish atrocities did not dissolve so easily. Mass graves still remained along the trails of death and around the concentration camps and razed villages. Burnt out villages still smoldered in the wake of war. And countless refugees now were left in limbo. 

1.5 million Armenians had been exterminated during the genocide of the Armenian people. Nearly a million Assyrians and a million Greeks had been slaughtered as The Young Turks committed genocide against them. For the Assyrians, those left displaced in Iraq, genocide would strike again in 1933 and under Saddam Hussein. For all three peoples the memory of death would linger for generations so as to never be forgotten. 

Not a single orchestrator, participant, or beneficiary of the genocides committed would ever face trial for their crimes against humanity. The nation of Turkey would be quickly forgiven as the Western allies attempted to gain a foothold in the Middle East. The United States, the nation who documented the Armenian Genocide while it occurred, would go on to becoming allies with the Turks. Both Europe and America would base their military and establish their sphere of influence out of Turkey. If anything, the former Ottomans benefited greatly through their genocides against the Pontic Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians. 

Historians now refer to the genocides committed by Turkey as "the forgotten genocides". For the most part, this pathetic analysis of one of history's largest (and unpunished) crimes is very true. Over three million lives lost and history has forgotten them. 

The Islamic State

Modern Islamists have little in common with the organized government of the old Ottoman Empire. Yet the crimes that the Islamic State (ISIS, IS, ISIL) commit are eerily familiar. The goal of constructing an Islamic caliphate under which only Muslims (and even then, not all Muslims) are permitted to live directly reflects The Young Turks' ambitions. A desire to force a culture, no matter how perverse it may be from the original, upon all those trapped within a failed caliphate mirrors what the Pashas wished when they said, "a Turkey for the Turks".

When the ISIS militants laid siege to the Yazidis who had fled to a mountain they had, if only for a moment, recreated the crimes of the Turkish military at Musa Dagh. They intentionally isolated and fired upon a surrounded and outnumbered civilian population. Regardless of geography, the intent behind the crime was identical. And the only way out of the snare for the trapped victim was certain death or slavery.

As the ISIS militants force Syrian and Iraqi Christian minorities to convert to Islam or face death they reconstruct the orders given by The Young Turks. And just as with The Young Turks, conversion to Islam does not guarantee the victim that he/she has evaded death. For those who do manage to live under their new oppressors are put into a system of classes where they are the lowest ranking member.

While ISIS beheads, buries alive, burns, tortures, shoots, stabs, and butchers minorities they are following in the footsteps of the Turkish army who came before them. In burning out entire villages the ISIS members ignite the flames that Middle Eastern Christians saw lit under the Ottoman Turks. Forced evictions that often lead to death marches place these minorities in the footsteps of their ancestors. And for the Yazidis, the sexual slavery their girls face is exactly like that which Christians faced under the Ottomans.

There is nothing new that ISIS can bring to their genocide of the Middle East's ethnic and religious minorities. There have been savages like them in the past. And there will be barbaric heathens like them in the future. What must change is the willingness on the part of the outside world in addressing these crimes against humanity. We must learn to combat the perpetrators of genocide not only after the genocide has occurred but also while it is happening. There is no reason that we, in our modern age of information, should be willing to look the other way like we did with the Greeks, Assyrians, and Armenians. While there is nothing new that ISIS can bring to the table, there is something we can... the desire to fight.

History is not written by the meek, the pacifists, or those who pray for a better tomorrow. It is written in the blood of those who have fallen while others looked the other way. All evil has ever needed to prevail is the willingness of good men to say nothing, do nothing, and beat their chests when its over as though they won the day. We do not currently face the same tragedy in what was once the Ottoman Empire because of the religion of those perpetrating it. We face the reality of yet another genocide because we have closed our eyes to the reality of it. We have covered our ears so as to not hear the cries of the dead ringing out from graves they never should have had to go to. History has been written in their blood because our "free world" decided to set on the sidelines while others died.

If in a hundred years the genocides being committed by ISIS are not remembered or even recognized it will not be because they didn't happen. If the crimes of ISIS are forgotten it will be because, just as we have done with the Armenians, we will have decided to forever turn our backs upon those left in the killing fields.

We will have once again lost our humanity.


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Some of the resources used for this post can be read by following the links listed below. 
Please note that not all sources are listed.

Tattooing of Armenian Girls:

Basic overview of the Genocide:
The Young Turks