Published on 25 Feb 2017
Catherine had many lovers during her life, but perhaps none meant so much to her as Grigory Potemkin. Although their romance did not last a lifetime, it did form the basis of a working relationship that would change the face (and future) of Europe.
March 21, 2017
March 17, 2017
Published on 16 Mar 2017
The protests that emerged in Russia this week are growing stronger and the Tsar is increasingly isolated until even his generals are pushing for his abdication. And after 300 years of Romanov rule, Tsar Nicholai II abdicates and when his brother refuses to take up the throne, the dynasty is no more. Meanwhile in the Middle East, the British are taking Baghdad effectively seizing control over a large area.
January 15, 2017
Published on 14 Jan 2017
It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again where Indy sits to answer all of your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the 1916 presidential elections in the US, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V and the relations between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
January 3, 2017
Published on 2 Jan 2017
The Ottoman Army underwent considerable reforms after the losses on the Balkans. And under German influence, the military tried to bring the whole army up to the standards of modern war. In a lot of way, the results were decent or even good but supply problems led to a great variety in uniform quality across the 400 year old Empire.
December 21, 2016
Brendan O’Neill on the way western media have been trained to report certain events to benefit terrorist organizations:
The British press is morphing into a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda. Consider its coverage of yesterday’s assassination of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey. It is borderline sympathetic. The killer’s words — or rather, certain of the killer’s words — have been turned into emotional headlines, into condemnations of Russia’s actions in Syria. That the killer’s first and loudest cry was ‘Allahu Akbar’ — the holler of the modern terrorist — has been downplayed, and in the case of at least one newspaper, the Express, completely ignored. Instead the papers upfront the killer’s other cries, about Aleppo. ‘This is for Aleppo’, says The Times. ‘Remember Aleppo’, says the Mirror’s headline, but with no quote marks, because these were not the exact words spoken by the gunman — they’re more like the Mirror’s own sympathetic echo of the killer’s sentiment.
To get a sense of how disturbing, or at least unusual, this coverage is, imagine if the 2013 murder of British soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamists had led to headlines like ‘This is for Afghanistan’ or ‘Remember Basra’ (those two knifemen, like Karlov’s killer, justified their action as a response to militarism overseas). Or if the 7/7 bombings had not given rise to front pages saying ‘Terror bombs explode across London’ or ‘BASTARDS’ but rather ‘While you kill us in Iraq, we will kill you here’. Reading the early coverage of Karlov’s killing, and noting how different it is to British press coverage of other acts of Islamist terror, one gets the impression that the media think this killing is justified, or at least understandable. ‘Remember Aleppo’: they’re saying this as much as the killer is — a perverse union of terrorist and editorial intent.
But the killer said, first, ‘Allahu Akbar’. Which perhaps suggests that his sympathy was not with Syria as such but with certain forces in Syria. Forces likely to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they kill people. Islamist forces. Something peculiar has happened in British media and political circles in recent weeks. Having spent years telling us al-Qaeda-style groups are the greatest threat to our way of life, these people have lately become spectacularly uncritical about, and even weirdly supportive of, the existence and influence of al-Qaeda-style groups in Syria. The press coverage of Karlov’s killing is in keeping with the superbly reductive, highly moralised media coverage of events in Aleppo over the past fortnight, in which there are apparently only two sides: defenceless civilians and evil Russia and Assad. The militants in Aleppo, which include some grotesquely illiberal and misanthropic groups, have been airbrushed out of the coverage as surely as some reporters airbrushed away, or at least demoted to paragraph six, the Turkish assassin’s cry of ‘Allahu Akbar’.
October 23, 2016
Published on 22 Oct 2016
Start your free trial of the Great Courses Plus at: http://ow.ly/KUvh30491YZ
Indy is sitting int he chair of wisdom again and answers all your questions about the First World War. This week we talk about technical and tactical innovation, pals battalions and the German officers in the Ottoman Army.
October 11, 2016
Published on 10 Oct 2016
One of Indy’s favourite historical characters is actually King Zog of Albania. History’s heaviest smoker and probably the only monarch to pull out his gun and shoot at his own assassins. But King Zog is not the only reason why the story of Albania before and during World War 1 is so fascinating and complicated.
October 7, 2016
Published on 6 Oct 2016
Even though his troops are drowning in mud, Douglas Haig is still sketching grandiose plans for the breakthrough at the Somme. At the same time, the German Ambassador is recalled from Constantinople because he spoke out against the Armenian Genocide and with a clever offensive the Romanians harass August von Mackensen on the new Romanian Front.
August 21, 2016
Published on 20 Aug 2016
It’s Chair of Wisdom Time again and this week we talk about the Kurds in World War 1 and the iconic Swagger Stick.
July 19, 2016
As the situation in Turkey stabilizes, Tom Kratman says it probably wasn’t Erdoğan’s version of the Reichstag fire:
So what are the possibilities?
A. The coup attempt could have been more or less spontaneous, incited by word that Erdoğan’s government was about to start arresting soldiers that either adhered to liberal Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gülen, or on some other pretext.
B. It could have been preplanned for a later date and only moved ahead because of the fear of arrest.
C. It could have been a small scale plot, as per B., above, but one of which Erdoğan was fully apprised, and the timing of which he was able to control by issuance of arrest warrants, as per A. and B.
D. It could have been, start to finish, Erdoğan and his party’s attempt at a Reichstag Fire, a staged incident, employing ignorant dupes, started and sabotaged in order to justify massive repression, bloodshed, and tyranny. You know; getting off the train.
E. It was a subplot of a larger Armed Forces-run plot for a real coup.
We can probably dispense with D right off; conspiracies of this kind are too difficult of execution, too unlikely to come off well, that it’s not for anyone but a fool to try. Erdoğan may be many things, and is possibly all of them, but a fool he is not. Likewise, one is inclined to discount E. Again, when the Turkish Army decides to do something it tends to do it forthrightly, competently, and without any undue restraint. If the Turkish armed forces as a whole had been not just doing the planning for a coup, but had such plans and preparations for execution well in hand, or, at least, well advanced, then the coup actors’ calls for assistance and support would not have been so ignored and the streets of Turkey would have seen enough soldiers on them, quickly enough, that defiance would have been unlikely in any case, and massive in no case.
A and B are both plausible, and there is evidence for both of those and C, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that what really happened was C, that there was a plot on a minor scale, that Erdoğan knew about it in considerable detail, that he let it go forward intending to dictate by his actions the time for the coup, and at the worst possible time for the coup, and that he was prepared to countercoup and to take full advantage of the opportunities that would open to him via a successful countercoup.
None of the evidence for C rises above the circumstantial, of course, but taken together, the body of evidence is persuasive. Consider: 1) Erdoğan was out of town at the precise right times, yet, 2) he was able to get back to Istanbul at the precise right times, while 3) easily avoiding capture, 4) having lists already prepared of military officers to dismiss, very nearly the entire Turkish officer corps above the rank of captain, I’ve heard, and 5) also had extensive lists of prosecutors and judges to purge.
That last one is the most persuasive to me, because we don’t have any evidence that the judges or prosecutors had anything to do with the coup. Mere opportunism? Maybe, but the speed of the thing and the thoroughness, given the lack of time…no, I’m not buying opportunism; Erdoğan was ready! Why? Because he knew! How? Because he was forewarned, possibly well in advance, even as to timing because he dictated the timing.
July 18, 2016
If there’s anyone more qualified than Luttwak (author of Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook (1968)) to discuss the recent coup attempt against President Erdoğan and his government, they must have been participants:
Rule No. 2 in planning a successful military coup is that any mobile forces that are not part of the plot — and that certainly includes any fighter jet squadrons — must be immobilized or too remote to intervene. (Which is why Saudi army units, for example, are based far from the capital.) But the Turkish coup plotters failed to ensure these loyal tanks, helicopters, and jets were rendered inert, so instead of being reinforced as events unfolded, the putschists were increasingly opposed. But perhaps that scarcely mattered because they had already violated Rule No. 1, which is to seize the head of the government before doing anything else, or at least to kill him.
The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was left free to call out his followers to resist the attempted military coup, first by iPhone and then in something resembling a televised press conference at Istanbul’s airport. It was richly ironic that he was speaking under the official portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey’s modern secular state, because Erdoğan’s overriding aim since entering politics has been to replace it with an Islamic republic by measures across the board: from closing secular high schools so as to drive pupils into Islamic schools to creeping alcohol prohibitions to a frenzied program of mosque-building everywhere — including major ex-church museums and university campuses, where, until recently, headscarves were prohibited.
Televised scenes of the crowds that came out to oppose the coup were extremely revealing: There were only men with mustaches (secular Turks rigorously avoid them) with not one woman in sight. Moreover, their slogans were not patriotic, but Islamic — they kept shouting “Allahu ekber” (the local pronunciation of “akbar”) and breaking out into the Shahada, the declaration of faith.
Richly ironic, too, was the prompt and total support of U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the European Union’s hapless would-be foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, in the name of “democracy.” Erdogan has been doing everything possible to dismantle Turkey’s fragile democracy: from ordering the arrest of journalists who criticized him, including the outright seizure and closure of the country’s largest newspaper, Zaman, to the very exercise of presidential power, since Turkey is not a presidential republic like the United States or France, but rather a parliamentary republic like Germany or Italy, with a mostly ceremonial president and the real power left to the prime minister. Unable to change the constitution because his Justice and Development Party (AKP) does not have enough votes in parliament, Erdogan instead installed the slavishly obedient (and mustachioed) Binali Yildirim as prime minister — his predecessor, Ahmet Davutoglu, had been very loyal, but not quite a slave — and further subverted the constitutional order by convening cabinet meetings under his own chairmanship in his new 1,000-room palace: a multibillion-dollar, 3.2 million-square-foot monstrosity (the White House is approximately 55,000 square feet), which was built without authorized funding or legal permits in a nature reserve.
July 16, 2016
Michael van der Galien on the coup attempt against Turkish president Erdoğan:
It’s a done deal: the military coup has failed. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Parti remain in power and vow to take revenge against those behind the coup.
Or, perhaps better said: against those they say are behind it.
Now that the coup has clearly failed, we can conclude that this must have been the most incompetent attempted takeover in Turkey’s troubled history. When part of the military launched their offensive last night (Turkish time), I immediately checked news channels supporting President Erdoğan. Surprisingly, none of them were taken over. The only broadcaster that was taken over was TRT Haber, the state news channel. But NTV and other channels supporting Erdoğan were left alone.
That was remarkable, but what struck me even more was the fact that these channels — especially NTV — were able to talk to the president and the prime minister. That’s strange, to put it mildly. Normally, when the military stages a coup, the civilian rulers are among the first to be arrested. After all, as long as the country’s civilian leadership are free, they can tell forces supportive of them what to do… and they can even tell the people to rise up against the coup.
And that’s exactly what happened. Both Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called into news programs and told their supporters to go out on the streets and fight back against the soldiers. A short while later, streets in the big cities (Ankara and Izmir) were flooded with Erdoğan supporters, who even climbed on top of tanks. Fast forward a few hours and it was officially announced that the coup had failed, and that Erdoğan and his AK Party remained in power. About 1500 soldiers were arrested.
As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, there were three options:
- The coup was staged by a small group within the military, which would severely limit their ability to strike.
- The coup was staged by the entire military, which meant Erdoğan’s chances of surviving politically were extremely small.
- The coup was a set-up. Think the Reichstag fire.
The main argument against option number three is that there was some very serious fighting taking place, including massive explosions. Dozens of people have been killed. If this was a fake coup, it probably was the bloodiest one ever. That’s why many people are skeptical about this option, and believe it was just an incompetent attempt at a military takeover.
June 14, 2016
Published on 13 Jun 2016
The region of Armenia was a play ball between the interests of Russia and the Ottoman Empire long before World War 1. But the Armenian people were striving for self determination like the peoples all across Europe were doing too. In our special episode we take a look at the struggle of the Armenians beyond the Armenian Genocide.
May 23, 2016
It is pleasing to see a man travelling in style. Erkan Gürsoy, age sixty-eight, took the northern route for his latest visit to his native Turkey, which is usual when flying to the Old World from British Columbia. But he gave this a twist by avoiding the airlines. Instead he negotiated the Northwest Passage, then crossed the rough Atlantic (weathering a hurricane), in a 36-foot aluminum yacht of his own construction. The Altan Girl, and her master, arrived safely at Çanakkale (near Troy in the Dardanelles), somewhat dimpled by the ice. Polar bears were also among Mr Gürsoy’s perils, as I gather from reports.
Most solo sailors come from inland locations, I have noticed, and this one from the Turkish interior. My theory is that people raised along the coast would know better. My own frankly escapist sailing fantasies owe much to a childhood spent mostly well inland, so that I was fully four years before I’d even seen an ocean. I remember that first encounter vividly. It turned out to be larger than I had expected.
Mr Gürsoy makes his living in Nanaimo manufacturing aluminum boats, mostly as tenders for larger vessels. He calls his stock-in-trade the “non-deflatable” — the hulls ringed around with fat aluminum irrigation tubing. He has a patent on that, and while admitting that his craft are rather ugly, notes that they are hard to sink. (From photographs I see that he is not much into concealing welds, either.) They are also rather noisy, for those riding inside, and they do bounce about on the waves. But on few other ships can one drum so impressively, to discourage those pesky bears, when trapped in ice that is crushing you like a pop can.
Clearly, from the accounts I have read, and by the full Aristotelian definition, a magnificent man.
David Warren, “Yachting news”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-02-11.
May 21, 2016
Published on 23 Apr 2016
Suleiman lost faith in those who surrounded him, fearing that they schemed to replace him. Why do we so rarely see such destructive suspicion in our governments today? We also need to talk about what made the West dub Suleiman “Magnificent,” and the flourishing of arts and education which took place under his reign.
Towards the end of his reign, Suleiman saw his once trusted advisor, Ibrahim Pasha, and his own son, Mustafa, as enemies rather than allies. He feared that they would displace him to put Mustafa on the throne. Why don’t we see such distrust turn into murder in our governments today, when it was such a common trope in the ancient world? Perhaps it’s because our modern governments provide a regular means of succession, so that anyone with ambition is usually better served waiting for their turn rather than trying to take on the entire government.
The series was too short to allow us to give Suleiman’s reign the coverage it really deserved, but we want to take advantage of this opportunity to talk about why the West dubbed him “Suleiman the Magnificent” and his people called him “The Lawgiver.” The laws he put so much effort into rewriting improved equality in the society, including creating additional protections for Christians and Jews within his Muslim empire. He was also a patron of the arts, and even a poet himself, under whose reign a distinctive Ottoman style developed and many beautiful buildings were constructed. Finally, as a leader of armies, he took many cities that were considered the bulwark of European defense against the Ottomans, and though he had huge armies to do it, many huge armies had failed at those tasks before since the cities were heavily fortified and actually had the odds stacked in their own favor.