Thursday, 27 August 2009

Telling the Truth About the Armenian Genocide

We must resist Turkish pressure to distort history.

Fighting Words

By Christopher Hitchens

Even before President Barack Obama set off on his visit to Turkey this week, there were the usual voices urging him to dilute the principled position that he has so far taken on the Armenian genocide. April is the month in which the Armenian diaspora commemorates the bloody initiation, in 1915, of the Ottoman Empire's campaign to erase its Armenian population. The marking of the occasion takes two forms: Armenian Remembrance Day, on April 24, and the annual attempt to persuade Congress to name that day as one that abandons weasel wording and officially calls the episode by its right name, which is the word I used above.

Genocide had not been coined in 1915, but the U.S. ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, employed a term that was in some ways more graphic. In his urgent reports to the State Department, conveying on-the-spot dispatches from his consuls, especially in the provinces of Van and Harput, he described the systematic slaughter of the Armenians as "race murder." A vast archive of evidence exists to support this claim. But every year, the deniers and euphemists set to work again, and there are usually enough military-industrial votes to tip the scale in favor of our Turkish client. (Of late, Turkey's opportunist military alliance with Israel has also been good for a few shame-faced Jewish votes as well.)

President Obama comes to this issue with an unusually clear and unambivalent record. In 2006, for example, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Evans, was recalled for employing the word genocide. Then-Sen. Obama wrote a letter of complaint to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, deploring the State Department's cowardice and roundly stating that the occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 "is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence." On the campaign trail last year, he amplified this position, saying that "America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president."

For any who might entertain doubt on this score, I would recommend two recent books of exceptional interest and scholarship that both add a good deal of depth and texture to this drama. The first is Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, by Grigoris Balakian, and the second is Rebel Land: Travels Among Turkey's Forgotten Peoples, a contemporary account by Christopher de Bellaigue. In addition, we have just learned of shattering corroborative evidence from within the archives of the Turkish state. The Ottoman politician who began the campaign of deportation and extermination, Talat Pasha, left enormous documentation behind him. His family has now given the papers to a Turkish author named Murat Bardakci, who has published a book with the somewhat dry title The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha. One of these "remaining documents" is a cold estimate that during the years 1915 and 1916 alone, a total of 972,000 Armenians simply vanished from the officially kept records of population. (See Sabrina Tavernise's report in the New York Times of March 8, 2009.)

There are those who try to say that the Armenian catastrophe was a regrettable byproduct of the fog of war and of imperial collapse, and this might be partly true of the many more Armenians who were slaughtered at the war's end and after the implosion of Ottomanism. But this is an archive maintained by the government of the day and its chief anti-Armenian politician, and it records in the very early days of World War I a population decline from 1,256,000 to 284,157. It is very seldom that a regime in its private correspondence confirms almost to an exactitude the claims of its victims.

So what will the deniers say now? The usual routine has been to insinuate that if Congress votes to assert the historic truth, then Turkey will inconvenience the NATO alliance by making trouble on the Iraqi border, denying the use of bases to the U.S. Air Force, or in other unspecified ways. This same kind of unchecked arrogance was on view at the NATO summit last weekend, where the Ankara government had the nerve to try to hold up the appointment of a serious Danish politician, Anders Rasmussen, as the next secretary-general of the alliance, on the grounds that as Denmark's prime minister he had refused to censor Danish newspapers to Muslim satisfaction! It is now being hinted that if either President Obama or the Congress goes ahead with the endorsement of the genocide resolution, Turkey will prove uncooperative on a range of issues, including the normalization of the frontier between Turkey and Armenia and the transit of oil and gas pipelines across the Caucasus.

When the question is phrased in this thuggish way, it can be slyly suggested that Armenia's own best interests are served by joining in the agreement to muddy and distort its own history. Yet how could any state, or any people, agree to abolish their pride and dignity in this way? And the question is not only for Armenians, who are economically hard-pressed by the Turkish closure of the common border. It is for the Turks, whose bravest cultural spokesmen and writers take genuine risks to break the taboo on discussion of the Armenian question. And it is also for Americans, who, having elected a supposedly brave new president, are being told that he—and our Congress too—must agree to collude in a gigantic historical lie. A lie, furthermore, that courageous U.S. diplomacy helped to expose in the first place. This falsification has already gone on long enough and has been justified for reasons of state. It is, among other things, precisely "for reasons of state," in other words for the clear and vital announcement that we can't be bought or intimidated, that April 24, 2009, should become remembered as the date when we affirmed the truth and accepted, as truth-telling does, all the consequences.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Afternoon in Kathu

The rumble in my stomach has the quality of distant thunder and lets me know that it's around 2 pm. Eating patterns provide me with a practical and reliable alarm clock - one that relies on rice, not batteries.

Sometimes my insides can feel like they are brawling, an internal struggle for energy sources; a fight to the death - acids vs. enzymes.

At this point the mind gives up on many levels, and concentration gives way to a blinkered one way street, with a vender selling fried dumplings and bbq chicken visible at the end.

Images pour in to the mind like an intense light source; smiling faces smeared in meat juices and sticky fingers lifting delicious pieces of spiced pork, delivering them to their salivating resting place.

The day is long and bright, but for once the shining beacon in the sky is not burning white.

Monsoon weather has it's benefits. Humidity and suffocating heat are not present today.

The world looks like a different place.

I can look out into the distance without a painful squint, and can feel fresh in mid afternoon without the need for a paralytic nap.

This is a good time to be productive - no time to rest.

Productivity is not a given in Thailand; the climate does not always permit free flowing activity. Like a fisherman, you have to pick the correct moment and move fast, no stalling or the moment will pass.

As the evening draws ever closer people start coming out of buildings, like ants between the cracks of concrete, their motorbikes groan and then howl, as they make their way to their destinations.

Even with a forest of black clouds in the sky the locals wrap their bodies in clothing, afraid of it's relentless UV assault.

This lesson is ignored by the blossom faced tourists who ride bare-chested, oblivious to the damage to their skin, on an insatiable quest for temporarily darkened skin.

Vanity squares up and eyeballs cancer.

Only one can be the victor in this battle.

Eat where the locals eat and do what the locals do if you are serious about staying in an alien place for long.

Take heed and learn their lessons. Be open to things that you initially disreguard as nonsense - Hold back your pride and embrace the unknown.

It's time to leave the world of words on a blog level and assert myself within the classroom.

Teaching English is a rewarding and challenging job. One in which you will never know it all.

For that, I am thankful.

In the immortal words of Confusious, "A great teacher is always learning."

Time for class.


Friday, 21 August 2009


This morning a woke up earlier than usual. After gulping down a coffee and some cake, I could think only of one thing: Music.

The last seven months have been dominated largely by setting up a business, which is now doing very well indeed, and attempting to adjust and assimilate within Thai culture. The former has not been a problem, while the latter does provide one with challenges that are not always simple. These two factors have drained my energy and have soaked up my time, leaving me suffering from what feels like, severe music withdrawal.

Music has always played a very important role in my life, from early childhood experimentation, to formative teenage dabbling in all manner of sounds, then on to where I am now; a twenty eight year old man with a head full of the past, and a yearning for something new in the present.

It is time to find my way again musically; get the ship back on course. Seek out all that is new and inspiring, and let it do its work on my wanton ears. Music has the ability to sooth one’s mind, as well as energize and motivate. There is no time to waste.

I want music back in my life, for good.


Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Yale University Press & Freedom of Expression

Christopher Hitchen’s latest article for Slate entitled, “Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammad from a book about Danish Cartoons?’ is a well reasoned piece that points out some ominous facts that if left to run their course, will result in not only the watering down of the medias effectiveness, but further the erosion of free speech and open inquiry.

Cast your mind back to 2005 and the controversy surrounding the Danish newspaper Jylland Portem that hosted a competition for cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad. This caused a media shit storm that reverberated around the world, consequently resulting in the deaths of at least one hundred people.

I thought this particular issue had been laid to rest, but recent events have placed it firmed back onto the political agenda. Yale University Press has decided to publish a book called “The cartoons that shook the world” by Danish –born Jytte Klausen, who is professor of politics at Brandeis University. It tells the story of the horrid and preplanned campaign of “protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in the closing months of that year. The publication will see the removal of the twelve original caricatures that caused the initial hysteria. On one hand, this could be seen as expedient maneuver considering the related murders and threats carried out by Muslim extremists; on the other hand, a question has to be asked:

How far can the religious push this kind of censorship, and where will it end?

We can already hear Mullahs in the West shouting from their minaret tops for the banning of innocuous children’s fairy tales like “The Tree Little Pigs” and nonsensically lambasting fictitious television character like Miss Piggy. Laughably, one of the twenty centuries most revered novels, George Orwell’s profound and powerful “Animal Farm” has been banned from Muslim curriculums because of the central character is a pig.

The decision taken by Yale University is a momentous blow to all who believe that free speech is necessary and healthy within a functioning modern society. As Hitchens states, “According to the Yale logic, violence could result from the showing of the images-and not only that, but it would be those who displayed the images who were directly responsible for that violence.” This kind of logic creates all kind of problems and complexities. In theory an individual or group could be seen as the aggressor and perpetrator when in actual fact, they were upholding their right to freedom of expression.

During the first calamitous episode in 2005, those vehemently against the cartoons exclaimed that they would result in the “instigation” of violence. As Hitchens points out, “If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it.”

The ramifications of this type of misinformation prove to be fatal, as the religious continue on their sadistic and sectarian crusade, against rationality and secularism. This particular masochistic bending of the rules by the religious can not go on if we are to maintain a level of decency and modernity in our world. Media outlets and the population writ large must have the confidence to stand up to these socio-religious bully boy tactics.

Sam Harris, one of the spearheads within the so called, “New Atheist Movement” postulates that religion should not be given such an elevated position within society, as it is merely a belief system, on a par with political allegiance. By this assumption, religion is given an artificial position within our society; one that can and should be challenged.

Hitchens surmises about the possibility of his own life being threatened or put in danger by his high profile polemics. He imperiously states, “Who’s to say a homicidal theocrat won’t decide to be offended now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on his hands.”

I take my hat off to Mr. Hitchens, and feel like him, that it is time for the media and people to stop sound biting democracy, and face facts that there is an encroaching beast at work - organized religion, that is not content to keep its views private; but insidiously attempts to force them upon others.

One would think that the religious would be overjoyed with the fact that they have uncovered the truth and discovered the dark and wondrous secrets of life to which, the rest of us are ignorant, but this is not the case. The religious with their tele-evanjelist conmen and their apocalyptic Mullahs continue to peddle fear, lies and damnation to the credulous, playing on peoples’ innate fear of death, and need for simple answers to life’s difficult questions.

A lot of blood has been split in attaining things that we now take for granted, such as free speech, which has undoubtedly accelerated our development as a race, and enhanced the lives of millions of citizens. It’s important to remember these undeniable facts, and not let the zealots dilute the effectiveness of progress made.

The monotheisms written as they were, by men sitting round iron-age campfires, have little relevance today and their majestic mutterings now look frail under the microscope of modern science and philosophy. These ‘great’ religions were probably our first attempt at understanding the big questions in life, of which some still baffle people today; but the point is that out first attempt at philosophy, has now been overshadowed and overtaken by sober, rational inquiry.

Evidence and facts, have felt their way slowly to the mainstream, and there they will stay.

The Yale University happenings are not the way forward for a democratic society and set a macabre example to all those who want to further their own fraudulent agendas. As Hitchens concludes, “What a cause of shame that the campus of Nation Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.”

I will conclude by saying that we all have the right to free expression in any form, and Yale University Press has provided a copybook example of what can happen when rationality is pushed a side in favour of a capitulation to the demands of opportunistic dogmatists.


The photograph voted the winning wonder of Ireland .

Belfast Telegraph:

An amateur snapper from Co Down fought off thousands of competitors to win a tourist photography competition, it was announced yesterday.

Ryan Wilson impressed the judges with his entry entitled Into the West to take home first prize in the Wonders of Ireland contest.

The winning picture features Tyrella beach near Downpatrick against the stunning backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, with a horse and rider in silhouette.

The photo also shows a dramatic sky with heavy clouds and sun bursting through, which was described as “typically Irish”.

Irish and visiting tourists submitted thousands of photo entries, with 56% of images coming from visitors.

The 11 runner-up photographs were the work of Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, UK, German and Irish tourists.

The announcement was made by Gulliver Ireland at the launch of the Photography Awards 2009 yesterday.

Held in association with John Hinde Ireland, the Photography Awards is an international amateur tourist photography competition that highlights Ireland and its tourism qualities using a different theme each year.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Free Time Wondering

I dander…………………………………….

Hellish Hondas zip past like belching bees, under a bruised and nebulous sky.

The relentless waves of heat and mugginess stultify the brains capacity to think.

Movement feels unnatural; awkward - controlled by an outside force like some celestial deity lounging in wicker furniture with fingers poised on a remote.

The heat stifles and entraps the form squeezing like a boa constructor.

There’s no escape, nowhere to run.

A refreshing, albeit, short-lived breeze massages my face, allowing me for a short moment to escape the tiresomeness of natures onslaught.

Quaint housing lines the narrow streets lined with pretty tropical flowers and trickling streams.

Families sit on plastic chairs, some stare into space and others watch them do the same. Life is on the move and so am I.

Breathe deeply and know your alive.

Feel the aliveness of the moment and march into battle.

The queen of Thailand stares down from her perch over the intersection, watching closely the circus show below.

Chaos and pandemonium compete on the roads for superlative status; wild driving and obliviousness of danger dominate the scene.

How does one stay alive for long in this rat’s nest?

One can duck and dive, but sooner or later a brush with death is on the cards.

Myriads of students dominate the sidewalks, unmistakable in their regimental white and brown uniforms; shining lights of impeccability.

Minuscule paces and grease smeared faced surround; seas of youth and happiness; every step an image of the beautiful spring time of life.

Beads of sweat continue to lose their grip with gravity and make their saline decent south.


Following the shade I come across Thalang Road which is like looking into a crystal ball at Phuket’s past.

Shops many more times longer than they are wide are adorned with heavily accented latticework entries, and brightly coloured exterior paintwork.

The scene is like that in Pennang, Malaysia crossed with the Big Bad Wolf’s sugar coated residence in the famous children fairy tail; a multi-coloured vista of brilliant colour and intricate bi-gone architecture.

Just off Thalang Road lies Soi Romani, an interesting little back lane that has had, even by Phuket’s standards; a sordid past.

This quaint blip on the map was once a red light district for the many Chinese labourers who came to work the tin mines.

It has been restored to it’s former self in recent years and now is full of small drinking holes.

This grandiose Sino-colonial spectacle, once occupied by Phuket's tin barons, stands as a living monument to the town's past.

The name of this soi is intriguing as 'romani' is an old-fashioned Thai word, roughly translating to 'naughty with the ladies'.

Having frequented this area by night I can reassure the reader that little has changed in a century.

By night, young ladies, scantly dressed prowl the street looking for ‘customers’ and men of all ages and nationalities do the same fueled by booze and a wanton lust for fresh meat.

There no point being shocked. No one cares. This is Thailand after all.

As the propitious locals would say,

“Relax......Same same, but different...... not serious”


Another Day, Another Dollar

Well there we go folks, another fun packed day in the classroom has screeched to a halt in Thailand. It has not been a

remarkable day, nor has it been one to forget; it's time to simply pack up my things and go to a nice restaurant by the

beach for some well deserved down time. After a few tough days teaching, the best ways to unwind is with cold beer

and North Eastern Thai food - nicely settled, in time for sunset. That's enough for me really: simple, beautiful and

chilled. The roads on the island are not a busy on a Sunday night as for many the weekend is drawing to a close and

the world of work beacons tomorrow, but for me it's the end of a busy week, a week that has provided me with some

closure on issues that have been bugging me. It's a great feeling when something that has been weighing on your mind is

suddenly emancipated, leaving you energized and flighty. So, the time has come to change into the civvies, pour a very

large gin and tonic and get myself to a picturesque little table over looking the Andaman Sea.