Purges in Jordan, war crimes in Syria, Iran child soldiers, & beautiful Egypt jewelry

May 22, 2019

Arab News published an editorial in English, arguing that after Iranian-orchestrated attacks last week against Saudi energy targets, the next logical step “should be surgical strikes” on Iran by the U.S. Arab News is owned by Turki Bin Salman Al Saud who is the brother of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It often reflects the official position of the Saudi government.

 

MORE CHEMICAL WEAPONS USE BY SYRIAN AND IRANIAN REGIMES

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach a number of pieces on Syria, Yemen, Iran, Jordan and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the renewed use of chemical weapons on Sunday by Syria’s Assad regime is being all but ignored by the international media.

The Assad regime, along with its Iranian and Hizbullah allies, is currently carrying out mass ethnic cleansing and killing in Idlib province. At least 200,000 Syrian Sunnis have been driven from their homes in recent weeks.

Against the advice of his own defense and intelligence chiefs, former US President Barack Obama famously backed away from the red lines he had set intended to deter Assad from using chemical weapons. Since then, an emboldened Assad regime has repeatedly used horrific nerve agents killing and maiming men, women and children.

 

 

BEAUTIFUL JEWELRY FROM ANCIENT EGYPT

Here is a much more uplifting item. One of the team behind the “Women of Egypt” website is an Egyptian friend of mine:

https://www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia/posts/2197737563597084

https://womenofegyptmag.com/2019/05/20/11-pieces-of-jewelry-from-ancient-egypt/

 

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer, with an Israeli flag drawn on his boots, at a graduation ceremony in Tehran

 

IRAN’S CHILD SOLDIERS

This brief video on Al Hurra reports on the history of Iranian child soldiers under Khomeini. Al Hurra is under the auspicies of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN),

The president of MBN is a subscriber to this email list.

He writes:

“It has garnered over 200,000 views since yesterday but is now ‘covered’ by Facebook for supposed "violent or graphic content." But there is nothing particularly graphic about it. The subject is disturbing but there are no gruesome images. This is a relatively small thing (the video has done well) but seeing how aggressive Facebook and Twitter are being at banning political speech and images they disagree with underscores the growing problem with social media. Certainly terrorist groups like ISIS had free rein in 2013-2014 in the digital space which contributed heavily to their success. But now you have ideologues at social media companies imposing their own particular litmus test and participating in the censorship process.”

Video here.

***

In other news, Dutch police yesterday arrested a Syrian suspected of being a leading commander of Jebhat An-Nusra (Al Qaeda).

Many of Assad’s henchmen and torturers are also now hiding in Europe. See this (English-language) video from yesterday on Germany’s DW.

-- Tom Gross

 

Tens of thousands of Syrians have been tortured in the prisons of the Assad regime. Nearly 14,000 are known to have died through torture, and 128,000 others are presumed dead or still in custody. Above, one of the survivors who made it to Germany.

 

CONTENTS

1. Syrian Government Documents Reveal Reach of Assad’s Shadowy Spy Agencies (AP, May 21, 2019)
2. How Yemen’s Iran-backed Rebels Weaponized Drones Against Saudi Arabia (AP, May 21, 2019)
3. What Happened To Iran’s ‘Hardliners’? (Jerusalem Post, May 19, 2019)
4. Iran’s Deadly Reach in Mideast Puts U.S. Forces, Allies in Striking Range (Reuters, May 21, 2019)
5. Iran Threat Has Been Put ‘On Hold,’ Acting Defense Chief Says (Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2019)
6. U.S. Officials Say Military Moves to Deter Iran Are Working (New York Times, May 21, 2019)
7. Trump’s sanctions on Iran are hitting Hezbollah, and it hurts (Washington Post, May 19, 2019)
8. Jordan’s King Is Afraid. So He Purged His Government (Haaretz, May 21, 2019)
9. When Turkey Destroyed Its Christians (Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2019)


ARTICLES

SYRIAN GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS REVEAL REACH OF ASSAD’S SHADOWY SPY AGENCIES

Syrian Government Documents Reveal Reach of Assad’s Shadowy Spy Agencies
During the country’s civil war President Bashar Assad’s shadowy security agencies sought to eliminate dissent at all costs
The Associated Press
May 21, 2019

Thousands of documents found in abandoned Syrian government offices during the country’s civil war reveal the reach of President Bashar Assad’s shadowy security agencies that sought to eliminate dissent at all costs, according to a rights report published Tuesday May 21.

The documents , obtained by the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center, show the agencies spied on the populace at large, sought to eliminate dissidents through detention, intimidation or killings and systematically persecuted the Kurdish minority even before the onset the 2011 uprising against Assad.

The report, titled “Walls Have Ears, An Analysis of Classified Syrian Security Sector Documents” and based on a sample of 5,000 documents, presents some of the most damning evidence of state involvement – at the highest level – in the bloody crackdown on protesters, dissidents, and even foreign journalists in Syria.

The documents also offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Assad’s security agencies and how pervasively they monitored Syrians’ everyday lives.

Sometimes handwritten, notes contain orders from top commanders to arrest, detain and “do what is necessary” to quell the unrest.

One document details how a man informed on his own brother for supporting anti-Assad protests, prompting a security commander to seek permission to lure the brother into a trap.

Another document, from the country’s top intelligence agency, the National Security Office, identified a French journalist of Lebanese descent as an “instigator of protests” and barred her from entering the country.

Several of the documents identify protesters by name, labelling many as terrorists without any evidence, while others detail the government’s policy of containing and monitoring political activities of the Kurdish minority.

“The documents show clearly that orders were very centralized and came from really high-level officials, including from heads of the security agency themselves, and in lots of documents from the National Security Office,” said Mohammad Al-Abdallah, the director of the Washington-based group.

“This, combined with the nature of the orders – deployment of military units, surveillance, the use of lethal force, persecutions of the Kurds – all are proof a systematic state practice, and can be used as evidence to establish both the Syrian state responsibility and the individual criminal responsibility for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity,” he added.

When protests erupted in March 2011 in Syria – in part inspired by the wave of uprisings around the region later labelled the Arab Spring – the government responded with a violent crackdown.

The crackdown in turn sparked an armed rebellion against government forces, dividing Syria into government and rebel-held areas.

Almost nine years later, more than 400,000 people have been killed, half of the pre-war population of 23 million is either displaced internally or refugees in neighboring countries. Most of the towns and cities lie in ruins.

Syria’s government, which typically does not comment on security issues nor responds to reports accusing it of human rights violations, justifies its crackdown by describing those who rose up against it as terrorists. Assad charges that the uprising was part of a conspiracy supported by the U.S. and regional foes to oust him from power.

The documents were collected from the province of Raqqa and the town of Tabqa in eastern Syria in 2013, and from the western province of Idlib in 2015, following the withdrawal of government forces.

The Washington-based watchdog and investigators from another independent group, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability extracted over 400,000 government documents and collectively scanned and digitized them.

Both groups have already offered assistance to European prosecutors to pursue criminal cases against Syrian officials.

 

HOW YEMEN’S IRAN-BACKED REBELS WEAPONIZED DRONES AGAINST SAUDI ARABIA

How Yemen’s Iran-backed Rebels Weaponized Drones Against Saudi Arabia
In Yemen, the high-pitched whine of drones has been a part of life for over 15 years
The Associated Press
May 21, 2019

In Yemen, the high-pitched whine of drones has been a part of life for over 15 years, ever since the first U.S. drone strike here targeting al-Qaida in 2002. But now, Iran-backed Houthi rebels increasingly deploy drones in Yemen’s brutal civil war.

Neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has been battling the rebels since 2015, said drones attacked an oil pipeline, targeting two pumping stations west of its capital, Riyadh, on Tuesday.

The Houthis claimed a coordinated drone attack, underscoring how the Arab world’s poorest country has become one of the world’s top battlefields for drones. Both the rebels and the Saudi-led coalition fighting them, as well as the U.S., continue to use them for surveillance and attacks.

While the U.S. uses American-made drones and the coalition has turned to Chinese suppliers, the manufacturer of the Houthis’ drones in both the air and the sea has been a contentious question.

Here are some key details about the rebels’ drones:

THE IRAN LINK

A 2018 report by a United Nations panel of experts on Yemen looked particularly at the Houthis’ Qatef-1 drone.

The report said that although the rebel media announced the Houthis had manufactured the drone, “in reality they are assembled from components supplied by an outside source and shipped into Yemen.”

The Qatef, or “Striker,” it added, “is virtually identical in design, dimensions and capability to that of the Ababil-T, manufactured by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries.”

The Ababil-T can deliver up to a 45-kilogram (100-pound) warhead up to 150 kilometers (95 miles) away.

A research group called Conflict Armament Research, with the permission of the United Arab Emirates’ elite Presidential Guard, also examined seized drones used by the Houthis and their allies to crash into Patriot missile batteries in Saudi Arabia.

The research group similarly said those drones share “near-identical design and construction characteristics” of Iranian drones.

THE DRONE BOAT

Saudi-led coalition forces last year also showed journalists a Houthi “drone boat,” filled with explosives that had failed to detonate.

The officials also shared black-and-white images they said came from the “drone boat.” They said the pictures and associated data from the boat’s computer showed Iranians building components for its guidance system in eastern Tehran, with a hat in the background of one picture bearing the symbol of Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces.

They said those involved in building the components probably believed it would be destroyed in the blast, so they didn’t wipe the computer’s hard drive

For its part, Iran repeatedly has denied supplying the Houthis with drone or ballistic missile technology. However, Iran would have an interest in seeing Saudi Arabia, its archrival in the region, tied down in a bloody, protracted conflict with no clear end in sight.

 

WHAT HAPPENED TO IRAN’S ‘HARDLINERS?’

What Happened To Iran’s 'Hardliners?'
The “moderate” and “hardliner” narrative was trotted out by the Iranian regime and its explainers abroad while much stayed the same at home in Iran
By Seth J. Frantzman
Jerusalem Post
May 19, 2019

For many years Western media repeated a typical formulation: Iranian politics is dominated by “hardliners” and “moderates” and if the US or the West don’t do what Tehran wants, then the “hardliners” will be fueled and Iran will become more extreme.

When US President Donald Trump left the Iran deal a year ago, almost every major analysis claimed that the “hardliners” would now be empowered by his decision.

However, after a year little has changed in Tehran. The same faces are largely in charge and the same rhetoric, which was always militarist and threatening, hasn’t changed.

In May 2018, the US announced it was leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the “Iran Deal” that the US had agreed to in 2015. China, France, Russia, the UK, Germany and the European Union had signed on as well, ending most sanctions in exchange for Iran not producing certain levels of nuclear material or trying to build a nuclear weapon. After the US chose to leave, Iran and the rest of the signatories chose to keep the deal. Earlier this month, Iran threatened the European powers that if they didn’t do more for Iran in the next 60 days, then Iran might leave parts of the deal.

The deal was the “pet project” of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the political “moderates,” according to Vox. In May 2018, Vox claimed that “Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement has given their more hardline opponents, including the leaders of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), the upper hand in the domestic political environment.” The Union of Concerned Scientists also put out a statement claiming that “Trump’s announcement will strengthen Iranian hardliners.” And at The Harvard Gazette we learn: “It will also strengthen the Revolutionary Guard hardliners in Tehran.”

“Mr. Trump’s move could embolden hard-line forces in Iran, raising the threat of Iranian retaliation against Israel or the United States,” The New York Times wrote on May 8. Brookings, in an article published in October 2018, seemed to have a slightly different conclusion. “Although Washington’s new tough line on Iran has emboldened hardline circles in Iran opposed to the JCPOA, there is a willingness at the top of the [Iranian government] to keep the deal alive.”

How have the hardliners been strengthened in the past year? Iran’s foreign policy in the last year has remained largely consistent with what it was doing before 2018. It has continued to support Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has continued to support the Houthi rebels in Lebanon. It has continued to work with Shi’ite militias and political parties in Iraq. It has furthered its role in Syria. Does it have more bases in Syria in May 2019 than in May 2018? Insofar as it has only built upon and extended its goals. For instance, its goal in Iraq was to make the Popular Mobilization Forces, a group of Shi’ite militias, into an official force. Former Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi had already called them the “hope” of the country in October 2017. They were formally inducted into the security forces in March 2018.

Iran’s role has become more institutional in Iraq since then. Iraq signed new deals with Iran in March. Voices critical of Iran have been “purged” in the PMU, according to reports. Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi called for them being disbanded in April of this year. His words fell on deaf ears. However, protesters have also targeted pro-Iranian groups in places like Basra, challenging Iran.

Where else has Iran’s foreign policy become more “hardline?” In January 2019, Iran was blamed for two political assassinations in Europe, one in 2015 and another in 2017. Iran’s destabilizing activities in Europe, therefore, have a historic element that goes back to the period of the Iran deal and before.

Zarif is still at the top of Iran’s foreign policy. He was recently on a high-profile trip to Japan, India, China and Turkmenistan. In February, Zarif appeared to resign after he was angered that Syrian president Bashar Assad visited Tehran without his inclusion. However, days later he was back at his post and was soon on a major trip to Syria and Turkey. Evidence shows that Zarif’s views are just as “hardline” as the supposed hardliners. He has said “we are IRGC” in October 2017, after US criticism of the Iran deal and the IRGC.

The IRGC, the ostensibly “hardline” part of Iran, hasn’t changed greatly in the last year. It has continued to develop its ballistic missile programs and to strengthen its influence at home and abroad. In April 2019, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei replaced the IRGC’s leader Mohammed Ali Jafari with Hossein Salami. Is Salami more extreme than Jafari, who was the architect of the IRGC’s policies over the last 11 years? Time will tell, if he is more extreme it might mean he is more erratic because the IRGC was already extreme.

WITH THE same faces at the helm of many parts of Iran and very little change in policies, where do commentators point to find the strengthening of the “hardliners.” Reuters argued, in a May 16 piece, that “Rouhani’s authority is now waning” and he has been weakened by Trump’s policies. According to the article, a “hardline rival heads the judiciary.” The article points to Ebrahim Raisi as an example of hardline gains. A March 2019 piece from Reuters had already claimed that Raisi, a “hardline cleric,” had consolidated power. It argued that he was a “contender” to succeed Khamenei. However, since Khamenei was already one of the supposed hardliners, wouldn’t his replacement by another hardliner merely be more of the same?

Another “hardliner” who was appointed recently was Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani. He was promoted to head the Expeditionary Council in December. He replaced a hardliner named Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. In fact The Nation magazine had claimed in 2009 that Shahroudi, “a political hardliner,” was a top candidate to replace the “ailing Khamenei.” Khamenei survived and Shahroudi died, but the hardliners was replaced by a hardliner. A washing machine of hardliners isn’t a form of empowerment, it represents a continuation of Iran’s power structure.

The cleric Larijani is also the younger brother of Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. Al-Monitor described Ali Larijani as a “moderate” in May 2018. The language here is a bit confusing because an earlier article refers to him as a “moderate conservative” opposed by “reformists.” Reuters and AFP also call him a “moderate conservative.” In November 2018, Radio Farda reported that “hardliners” were seeking to unseat Larijani.

The terminology appears confusing partly because it has been crafted largely to explain Iran to a Western audience. The simple cliché binary “hardliner” and “moderate” was a way to make a regime simple and to portray it as moderating even if it hadn’t changed at all. The survey of Iranian political leaders points to little real change in the way Iran is governed and the various power structures that exist in Iran. Iran has preferred to portray itself to the world as being more moderate during the Iran deal negotiations, sending Zarif to negotiate, while at home the IRGC continued to build missiles and support groups across the Middle East. The “hardliners” and “moderates” were trotted out like a kind of good cop, bad cop routine with the bogeyman hardliners always waiting in the wings if Western powers didn’t comply with Iran’s demands. But at home, it appears little has changed and Iran’s policy has been consistently aggressive and militaristic over the years, using a complex approach involving growing influence and strengthening its armed proxies across the Middle East.

 

EXPLAINED: IRAN’S DEADLY REACH IN THE MIDDLE EAST PUTS U.S. FORCES, ALLIES IN STRIKING RANGE

Explained: Iran’s Deadly Reach in the Middle East Puts U.S. Forces, Allies in Striking Range
Iran backs militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are also based, and in Lebanon and Yemen, located next to Washington’s closest regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia
Reuters (with Haaretz)
May 22, 2019

Threats of conflict between the United States and Iran have highlighted the places and ways their forces, proxies or allies could clash. Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been locked in a regional Cold War using proxy battles in four different countries to attack the other’s interests.

From Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Yemen, each country has paid the price of being a battleground in the Iran-Saudi regional power battle. Iran backs militias in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are also based, and in Lebanon and Yemen, located next to Washington’s closest regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It is situated opposite Saudi Arabia on the Gulf, and along the Strait of Hormuz, passageway for almost a fifth of the world’s daily crude oil consumption. Washington this month sent military reinforcements to the area, saying it feared an Iranian attack.

Last week, unidentified assailants struck Saudi oil assets and on Sunday others fired a rocket into Baghdad’s heavily fortified “Green Zone” that exploded near the U.S. embassy. Iran denied any role in either incident.

U.S. President Donald Trump warned this week that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East. At the weekend he tweeted that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.”

The Iranian government has condemned Trump’s remarks and U.S. deployments as provocative and called for respect and an end to a U.S. squeeze on Iran’s oil exports aimed at forcing it to negotiate.

However, a commander of its powerful Revolutionary Guards said this month U.S. assets in the Gulf were now targets. “If (the Americans) make a move, we will hit them in the head,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division.

Here is an outline of ways in which Iran could strike at the more powerful United States, and its regional allies and interests, if their dispute escalated.

IRAQ

Iran-backed Shi’ite groups gained strength in the chaos after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and were incorporated last year into the security forces, underscoring their pervasive role despite the American presence.

The strongest groups - trained, equipped and funded by Tehran - are Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba and the Badr Organisation.

The United States says Iran was behind the deaths of at least 603 American armed service members since 2003.

Some 5,200 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, located in four main bases, as well as Baghdad airport and the coalition headquarters in the Green Zone. Washington last week ordered a partial evacuation of its embassy.

The militias have positions very near places where U.S. forces are stationed, and have powerful rocket and drone capabilities.

THE GULF

Revolutionary Guards commanders have long warned that in a war they could cut off Gulf oil supplies flowing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Indian Ocean. Iran holds one side of the strait, putting shipping in range of its forces from the sea or shore, and allowing it to lay mines.

A U.S. official has blamed Iran for last week’s attacks on four vessels including two Saudi oil tankers in the Gulf, though Tehran has denied it.

Iran could also strike directly at U.S. forces in the Gulf with missiles.

The U.S. Combined Air Operations Center is based at al-Udaid airbase in Qatar. Its navy Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain. The U.S. air force also uses al-Dhafra airbase in Abu Dhabi and Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait.

The governments of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia say Iran planned attacks on security forces in Bahrain in recent years. Iran and Bahrainis accused of this have denied it.

Missiles could target infrastructure in Gulf monarchies, including water and power plants, oil refineries and export terminals, and petrochemical factories.

A 2012 cyber attack targeting Saudi oil giant Aramco and another two years earlier against Iran’s nuclear programme point to new ways a conflict could play out.

YEMEN

Yemen’s Houthis chant “Death to America, Death to Israel”, daubing the slogan on walls and gluing it to their weapons. The U.S. has backed a Saudi-led coalition targeting the group since 2015.

Iran and the Houthis have longstanding links, but both deny coalition claims that Tehran provides training and weapons. The U.N. says missiles fired at Saudi Arabia share design features with ones made in Iran.

Since the war began, the Houthis have often used rockets and drones to attack Saudi Arabia, one of Washington’s closest regional allies. One came down near Riyadh airport in 2017.

U.N. experts says the Houthis now have drones that can drop bigger bombs further away and more accurately than before. Last week, drones hit two oil pumping stations hundreds of kilometres inside Saudi territory.

Houthi control over Yemen’s old navy, with speed boats and sea mines, means the group could try to disrupt shipping in the Red Sea.

SYRIA

While backing President Bashar al-Assad during eight years of conflict, Iran has built a network of militias in government-held areas.

These include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iraqi Nujaba group, and the mostly Afghan Fatemiyoun group.

They have fought near the Syrian-Iraqi border, near the U.S. military base at Tanf, and near the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

A senior U.S. official said in February that Washington would keep about 400 troops in Syria after defeating Islamic State, down from about 2,000 before.

They are located in the northeast area held by Kurdish-led forces and at Tanf, near the borders with Jordan and Iraq.

Israel has struck Iran and its allies in Syria, seeking to drive them far from its frontier. In January it accused Iranian forces of firing a missile at a ski resort in the Golan Heights.

LEBANON

The U.S. blames Hezbollah for its military’s bloodiest day since the Vietnam war: the truck bombing at a marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. service members. It also accuses it of taking Americans hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s.

The group, set up by Iran to resist Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, is today the most powerful in the country.

Israel, the U.S.’ closest regional ally, regards Hezbollah as the biggest threat on its borders and launched a military incursion into Lebanon in 2006 in a failed bid to destroy it.

Today, Hezbollah says it has a large arsenal of “precision” rockets that could strike all over Israel, including its atomic reactor. It has threatened, in the event of war, to infiltrate fighters across the frontier.

A pro-Hezbollah journalist, Ibrahim al-Amin, last week wrote in Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper that if Israel got involved in any war between the U.S. and Iran, striking at Tehran’s proxies, it would “become an actual target for allies of Iran”.

AFGHANISTAN

Western officials and analysts say they believe Iran gives some help to the Taliban, either in weapons or through finance and logistics, which could be increased.

The Taliban control or influence more territory than at any point since their ouster at the hands of U.S.-led troops following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States; intense fighting continues.

A report by the U.S. Institute of Peace in March said that up to 50,000 Afghans have fought in Syria as part of the Tehran-backed Fatemiyoun group.

It issued a statement two years ago, carried by Iranian news outlets, pledging to fight wherever Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked them to.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and Washington imposed sanctions on the Fatemiyoun in January.

An Iranian official told Reuters that the U.S. used its presence in Afghanistan “to threaten us from these bases.”

 

IRAN THREAT HAS BEEN PUT ‘ON HOLD,’ ACTING DEFENSE CHIEF SAYS

Iran Threat Has Been Put ‘On Hold,’ Acting Defense Chief Says
Shanahan briefed lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but some say they still want administration to be more open
By Nancy A. Youssef
Wall Street Journal
May 22, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said Tuesday that the prospect of an Iranian attack on Americans has been put “on hold,” outlining a reduction of the potential threat after earlier U.S. intelligence suggested a high degree of danger.

U.S. intelligence in early May suggested Iran and its allies were planning attacks on U.S. interests, prompting the deployment of U.S. warships and bombers. The Trump administration hasn’t detailed the intelligence, although officials have said that the military was concerned by indications that Iran or allied groups were transporting missiles on small boats and engaging in surveillance on American forces.

Mr. Shanahan, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other officials were due to brief members of Congress on Tuesday afternoon.

Analysts have offered differing interpretations on the intelligence. Some officials said the information indicated Iran’s leaders believed the U.S. was preparing an attack and that Iranian forces and their allies were engaging in defensive measures.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said Tuesday that the U.S. military is creating the risk of miscalculations and mishaps by crowding into the region, although Iran doesn’t intend to attack anyone.

“The United States is playing a very, very dangerous game,” he said on CNN.

President Trump and his administration have provided shifting assessments of Iran’s actions and varying explanations of prospects for a diplomatic outcome.

Over the weekend, Mr. Trump warned that if there was a conflict, “that will be the official end of Iran.” On Monday, he said the U.S. has no indication of hostile Iranian intentions.

“I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything,” he said. “If they do something, it’ll be met with great force. But we have no indication that they will.”

White House officials declined to elaborate on Mr. Trump’s comments.

Mr. Trump and his aides have played down the prospect of talks. On Monday, Mr. Trump said no talks were taking place.

“If they called, we would certainly negotiate,” he said. “But that’s going to be up to them. I’d only want them to call if they’re ready. If they’re not ready, they don’t have to bother.”

Mr. Zarif said Iran wasn’t interested in negotiations with the U.S. because it broke its promises when Mr. Trump abandoned the nuclear agreement negotiated between Iran and world powers in 2015.

On Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo said in a radio interview that an Iranian decision to release American detainees held by Iran would represent a sign of good faith that could support talks. Mr. Zarif recently proposed an exchange of detainees between Iran and the West.

“I always think anything one could do to have even a small confidence-building measure is a good thing,” Mr. Pompeo said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “So it’s absolutely the case that were they to release these Americans who are wrongfully held, it would be a good thing. It would be a step in the right direction, for sure.”

At least four U.S. citizens and one legal U.S. resident are known be held by Iran, which has a history of arresting and detaining people with dual citizenship and charging them with spying or spreading harmful propaganda.

 

U.S. OFFICIALS SAY MILITARY MOVES TO DETER IRAN ARE WORKING

U.S. Officials Say Military Moves to Deter Iran Are Working
By Julian E. Barnes and Emily Cochrane
New York Times
May 21, 2019

WASHINGTON – Top Trump administration national security officials said on Tuesday that their moves to deter Iran from attacks on Americans and allies were working, but vowed to continue the pressure campaign on Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan briefed Congress about the intelligence that prompted the United States to send an aircraft carrier, bombers and missile defense systems to the Persian Gulf region.

The briefings on Tuesday, first to House lawmakers and then to the Senate, did not include John R. Bolton, the national security adviser who is the fiercest Iran hawk in President Trump’s administration.

Late last week, Iran removed some missiles it had stationed on small boats in its territorial waters – a step American officials said was a sign that Iran was seeking to ease tensions.

“Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate,” Mr. Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region.”

In a radio interview, Mr. Pompeo said that the United States had not determined who was responsible for sabotage attacks last week on oil tankers in the Middle East, but that “it seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind” them.

He also defended the administration’s steps against Iran and said the United States would continue to “work to deter Iran from misbehavior in the region.”

“We’ve made clear that we will not allow Iran to hide behind its proxy forces, but that if American interests are attacked, whether by Iran directly or through its proxy forces, we will respond in an appropriate way against Iran,” Mr. Pompeo told Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host.

Classified intelligence analysis made available to lawmakers in recent days has pointedly noted that Iran’s military moves are in reaction to the Trump administration’s tough sanctions against Tehran and its decision to designate the paramilitary arm of Iran’s government a terrorist organization, according to two officials. Both described the analysis on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Some intelligence reports indicate that Iranian officials believed they were about to be attacked by the United States, and were taking defensive measures.

Like many things in Washington, reactions to the administration’s handling of the tensions with Iran have fallen along a sharp partisan divide.

Republicans briefed on the intelligence have publicly described it as troubling, and the situation as dangerous. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said the fault for the recent tensions in the Middle East lies with Iran.

“If the Iranian threats against American personnel and interests are activated we must deliver an overwhelming military response,” Mr. Graham wrote on Twitter on Monday. “Stand firm Mr. President.”

Democrats viewing the same reports have come away with a far different view and suggested that Iran has been pushed into its recent moves.

“I believe there is a certain level of escalation of both sides that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Representative Ruben Gallego, Democrat of Arizona. “The feedback loop tells us they’re escalating for war, but they could just be escalating because we’re escalating.”

He accused Mr. Bolton and other Iran hard-liners in the Trump administration of trying to get the United States into a “shooting war” with Iran.

Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, tweeted on Monday that Republicans were twisting the intelligence.

“I don’t let the president off the hook. He has made all the decisions that have led up to this,” Mr. Murphy said in a later interview. “When it comes to sanctions on Iran, the administration has imposed them in a way that is pushing us toward conflict, not pushing us to the negotiating table.”

In Baghdad, the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said his country wanted to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States.

“We want to defuse the crisis by taking advantage of our relationships with both countries,” Mr. Mahdi said in his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

Mr. Mahdi said that while Baghdad would not play the role of mediator, Iraq was conveying messages between the United States and Iran and would “send delegations to Tehran and Washington to contain the crisis and put an end to the military escalation.”

The Iraqi government, which has ties to both Iran and the United States, has made clear it fears being caught in the middle and having the two countries fight on its soil.

A rocket struck near the United States Embassy in Baghdad on Sunday evening. The United States played down the significance of the attack, no one claimed responsibility and there were no injuries or damage, but it was a reminder of the fragility of the situation.

It also underscored how an antagonistic gesture, potentially by a minor faction, has the potential to destabilize the region.

Ahead of the closed briefing on Capitol Hill, two Obama administration officials – John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, and Wendy R. Sherman, a senior diplomat who helped negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran – spoke to House Democrats during their weekly closed-door caucus meeting, according to two people familiar with the discussion but unauthorized to disclose it publicly.

Mr. Brennan told lawmakers that Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal had weakened America’s credibility in Iran. He also said the Trump administration’s actions toward Iran had undercut moderates in the cleric-led government in Tehran, according to a person who was in the room.

Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger who served in Iraq, called for creating a hotline between the American and Iranian militaries, like the one the United States and Russia established in Syria, to help avoid military mishaps.

“It’s very important that we have military-to-military communication in the Middle East to avoid misunderstanding,” Mr. Crow said.

 

TRUMP’S SANCTIONS ON IRAN ARE HITTING HEZBOLLAH, AND IT HURTS

Trump’s sanctions on Iran are hitting Hezbollah, and it hurts
By Suzan Haidamous
Washington Post
May 19, 2019

The powerful Lebanese Hezbollah militia has thrived for decades on generous cash handouts from Iran, spending lavishly on benefits for its fighters, funding social services for its constituents and accumulating a formidable arsenal that has helped make the group a significant regional force, with troops in Syria and Iraq.

But since President Trump introduced sweeping new restrictions on trade with Iran last year, raising tensions with Tehran that reached a crescendo in recent days, Iran’s ability to finance allies such as Hezbollah has been curtailed. Hezbollah, the best funded and most senior of Tehran’s proxies, has seen a sharp fall in its revenue and is being forced to make draconian cuts to its spending, according to Hezbollah officials, members and supporters.

Fighters are being furloughed or assigned to the reserves, where they receive lower salaries or no pay at all, said a Hezbollah employee with one of the group’s administrative units. Many of them are being withdrawn from Syria, where the militia has played an instrumental role in fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad and ensuring his survival.

Programs on Hezbollah’s television station Al-Manar have been canceled and their staff laid off, according to another Hezbollah insider. The once ample spending programs that underpinned the group’s support among Lebanon’s historically impoverished Shiite community have been slashed, including the supply of free medicines and even groceries to fighters, employees and their families.

The sanctions imposed late last year by Trump after he withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions are far more draconian than those that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table under the Obama administration, and they are having a profound effect on the Iranian economy, analysts say.

Trump administration officials claim they have wiped $10 billion from Iranian revenue since November, inflicting widespread misery on the lives of many poor Iranians, as well as the government’s own spending.

The tensions between Washington and Tehran spiked after further restrictions went into effect on May 2, eliminating waivers from eight countries that had previously been allowed to continue importing Iranian oil with the goal, U.S. officials say, of reducing Iranian oil exports to “zero.”

Many in the region say the ferocity of the sanctions offers an incentive to Tehran to push back against Washington, crossing a “red line” that will give Iran little choice but to retaliate, according to Kamal Wazne, a Beirut-based political analyst who is sympathetic to the Iranian and Hezbollah point of view.

“The Iranians are used to sanctions. But this level of sanctions will generate a different response. The Iranians will not be quiet about it,” he said. “They are a form of war more detrimental than actual war. . . . It’s the slow death of a country, the government and its people.”

Although it is too early to confirm that Iran was responsible for the sabotage attack on four oil tankers near the Persian Gulf in the past week, as U.S. officials claim, “Iran has a major incentive to put the squeeze also on the U.S. economy by making the price of oil jump,” he said. “The pain will be reciprocated.”

The austerity measures adopted by Hezbollah offer one indication of the breadth of their impact, not only on Iran’s economy but also on its capacity to support its regional proxies.

A senior Hezbollah official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with the group’s rules governing interactions with the media, acknowledged that income from Iran has fallen, obliging Hezbollah to cut its expenditures. “There is no doubt these sanctions have had a negative impact,” said the official. “But ultimately, sanctions are a component of war, and we are going to confront them in this context.”

Hezbollah is also grappling with a separate set of sanctions directed at companies, individuals and banks that do business with the group, which the United States designated as a terrorist organization after suicide bombings and kidnappings aimed at Americans in Lebanon in the 1980s. But Iran sanctions have had the biggest impact on the group’s funding, the official said.

The official would not say how much Iran has cut its financing for Hezbollah or how big it used to be. U.S. Special Envoy Brian Hook told reporters in Washington in April that Iran in the past has sent Hezbollah up to $700 million a year, accounting for 70 percent of the group’s revenue.

But Hezbollah has other sources of income and plans aggressively to seek out more, hoping to “turn this threat into an opportunity” to develop new revenue streams, the official said.

Those Hezbollah officials and full-time fighters who are still on the payroll are receiving their salaries, but benefits for expenses such as meals, gas and transportation have been canceled, according to another Hezbollah insider, who, like all the Hezbollah members and supporters interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The families of Hezbollah’s “martyrs,” those who have died fighting for the militia in Syria and previously in wars with Israel, are also continuing to receive full stipends. The payments are considered sacrosanct and essential if Hezbollah is to sustain its effectiveness as a fighting force, drawing loyal and die-hard recruits, Hezbollah officials say.

Hezbollah has meanwhile embarked on a major campaign to compensate for the shortfall in Iranian funding by soliciting donations. The drive appears intended to rally supporters behind the group, but it also draws attention to its financial difficulties.

Since Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah urged followers in a speech in March to contribute to what he called “a jihad of money,” donation boxes have proliferated on the streets of Hezbollah-loyalist areas and beyond, carrying exhortations such as “Charity averts catastrophe.”

Pickup trucks with loudspeakers tour the streets of Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled Dahiya neighborhood, south of Beirut, with plastic boxes on their hoods, into which people are encouraged to deposit cash. Billboards have been erected along the road to the airport urging citizens to contribute to Hezbollah-run charities, and videos posted on the pages of Hezbollah-affiliated social media sites remind citizens of their “religious duty” to contribute to needy people.

The Hezbollah official insisted that the cutbacks have had no impact on the group’s standing in the Middle East or its military preparedness.

“We are still getting arms from Iran. We are still ready to confront Israel. Our role in Iraq and Syria remains. There is no person in Hezbollah who left because they didn’t get their salary, and the social services have not stopped,” he said.

The sanctions “won’t last forever,” he predicted. “Just as we were able to win militarily in Syria and Iraq, we will be victorious in this war, too.”

But Hezbollah is suffering, at least indirectly, from the separate sanctions aimed at the group’s activities, analysts say. Hezbollah has for years solicited donations from wealthy business executives, in Lebanon and abroad, but the sanctions serve as a deterrent to them, said Hanin Ghaddar, who researches Hezbollah at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The sanctions also deter companies and government agencies from doing business with the expansive network of Hezbollah companies and contractors that has arisen in tandem with the group’s political and military apparatus, according to Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.

The cutbacks in Iranian contributions further coincide with a sharp downturn in the Lebanese economy. The recession is afflicting an extensive network of Hezbollah-affiliated companies whose activities help support the group, and Hezbollah’s ordinary Lebanese constituents, whose incomes and businesses are suffering.

Although the sanctions appear to be working from the U.S. point of view, there is growing concern that the pain being inflicted on ordinary people, including within Iran, will further destabilize the already violence-racked region, heighten anti-American sentiments and increase pressure on Iran to retaliate.

“The issue today is: What will be the price of continuing the sanctions and what will the collateral damage be?” Nader said. “There will be a lot of instability and hardship, and there could even be a new conflict.”

Hezbollah’s strategy is to identify alternative sources of income while riding out the Trump administration’s anti-Iran campaign, said Mohammed Obeid, a Beirut-based political analyst who is close to the group. Hezbollah recognizes that Trump may be in office until 2024 and is taking a long-term view, seeking out extra sources of revenue while reviving former ones, he said.

In the meantime, Iran will also try to secure new sources of funding. “Iran will go back to their old ways from before the [nuclear] accord, to the black market,” he said. “They have many alternatives for smuggling oil, through Iraq, through Pakistan, through Oman, through Afghanistan and even through Dubai.”

For Hezbollah, it is nonetheless a sobering moment after a string of successes.

Founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in the 1980s as a shadowy guerrilla force dedicated to ejecting the Israeli troops who were then occupying Lebanon, Hezbollah has become the prototype for Iran’s subsequent proxy forces in the region. Its affiliate, Islamic Jihad, drove Americans out of much of Beirut by conducting suicide attacks against the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks and kidnapping American citizens, a model Iran might now follow elsewhere in the Middle East.

Hezbollah has since expanded to become a major regional power – with too much to lose by provoking conflict in Lebanon, many analysts say.

If a regional conflict were to erupt, Hezbollah could become one of Iran’s most feared assets, with its stockpile of tens of thousands of rockets and its highly disciplined fighting force extending Iran’s reach to the shores of the Mediterranean and to the borders of its arch enemy, Israel.

The group is also now the single most influential force in Lebanese politics, with seats in the parliament and ministries in the cabinet.

All the while, Hezbollah has relied overwhelmingly on Iranian largesse. In a speech in 2016 seeking to dispel concerns that the war in Syria would bleed Hezbollah’s revenue, Nasrallah assured his followers that Hezbollah had secured “all” of its funding from Iran.

“As long as Iran has money, we have money,” he said.

 

JORDAN’S KING IS AFRAID. SO HE PURGED HIS GOVERNMENT

Jordan’s King Is Afraid. So He Purged His Government
King Abdullah cleared out the ranks among the senior officials in the royal court and removed senior intelligence officials. There’s a message to the U.S. here, and to Israel too
Analysis by Zvi Bar’el
Haaretz
May 21, 2019

Princess Basma bint Talal of Jordan, the sister of the late King Hussein and the aunt of the present king, Abdullah II, knew back in 2013 that the sword was hanging over her head.

At the time, as part of periodic campaigns to uproot corruption in the Hashemite Kingdom, a parliamentary anti-graft committee revealed that her husband, Walid al-Kurdi, had exploited his position as the CEO and chairman of the state-owned phosphate mines company to commit fraud amounting to tens of millions of dollars. A day before Kurdi was scheduled to testify before the committee, he left Jordan for self-exile in London, where he has lived ever since.

The same year, he was tried in absentia for corruption and sentenced to 37 and a half years of hard labor in prison and fined $378.8 million. Since then Jordan has been unsuccessfully demanding his extradition from the United Kingdom – but now it looks as if a deal between the Jordanian government and Kurdi will allow him to return to his country and rejoin his family.

The details of the agreement are still unclear, but it will have to be one that preserves the honor of the kingdom – in other words, the honor of the king – but doesn’t tear the royal family apart.

This is a not simple task for Abdullah, who has faced harsh public criticism concerning the way he runs Jordan – so much so that he and his close relatives, including his wife Queen Rania, are also being accused of corruption and violating the constitution.

The latest round of troubles began in December 2018, when thousands of Jordanians started protesting the increase in gas prices, steep unemployment that has reached an average of 19 percent and a lack of economic prospects. In February 2019, former Labor Minister Amjad Hazza al-Majali wrote a searing letter, widely shared on social networks, demanding that the king “make practical and effective arrangements to tackle corruption and hunt corrupt individuals, including the corrupt circle that is close to you.”

In addition, Majali accused Abdullah of “sponsoring political and economic models which are based on corruption and autocracy” and demanded that the purportedly stolen funds be returned to the state treasury.

Majali is the son of former Jordanian Prime Minister Hazza Majali, who served in the late 1950s, and a relative of Habas al-Majali, who was the army’s chief of staff for over 20 years and was himself a close adviser to King Hussein – a member of the so-called Old Guard. This elite circle of the kingdom’s rich and powerful people still finds it difficult to internalize that times have changed and Abdullah is no longer the 36-year-old newly crowned king. They haven’t realized that their direct ability to influence the decision-making process has shrunk since Abdullah’s coronation almost exactly 20 years ago.

But this group still can make trouble for the king. The Old Guard’s leadership comes from well-off and deeply entrenched families or the large Bedouin tribes in the country, members of the richest classes who for generations conducted mutually beneficial transactions with the royal court. Some of them still have the king’s ear, others only claim to have influence, and all of them hold old-style political salons in their homes or hotels in which the royal court is slaughtered and dismembered limb by limb.

These gatherings of the elite are nothing new. They served as a greenhouse for planning political and economic moves. It’s where the “political refugees” from senior government positions, including ministers and military officials, met; meanwhile, those who were waiting for their turn to return to the senior positions in the government left through a revolving door. The frequent government reshuffling that King Hussein carried out – a policy inherited by his son Abdullah – kept these refugees well nourished, and allowed for layers of impatience, frustration and bitterness to accumulate.

The constant threat is that the close ties between the senior officials who were removed from their posts and those still serving could, under the appropriate conditions, lead to a palace coup. The solution was usually another round of firings and appointments intended to break up these relationships and make it clear that the “plot,” whether true or imaginary, had been exposed.

Last month, the Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al-Qabas published a sensational report that “the [Jordanian] kingdom was saved from a dangerous plot” whose goal was to shake up the country by organizing mass protests, expanding criticism of the king over his method of appointing prime ministers and his opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

Abdullah’s response was swift. He replaced seven ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, removed the director of the country’s General Intelligence Department Adnan al-Jundi and appointed Ahmad Husni, who has served in several top intelligence positions, as his replacement. He cleared out the ranks among the senior officials in the royal court and removed senior intelligence officials on the justification that they had been in contact with members of parliament and other Jordanian figures to “damage national security.”

Many in Jordan think these steps were taken in preparation for the bad news of Trump’s “Deal of the Century.” The details are still unknown, but the king fears it could include sections that might make Jordan into the alternative Palestinian state. According to this train of thought, the ousted senior intelligence officials were supporters of the deal and it was suspected that the United States and Israel were “operating” them to change Abdullah’s position on the U.S. proposal.

Jordanian commentators have found evidence for this suspicion in the wording of the letter that the king released in honor of appointing the new intelligence director. He wrote that a few of those in the intelligence service made use of their position “to advance their personal interests at the expense of the public interest.” True, the tension between the king and his intelligence services is a permanent component of the internal balance of forces, but this time it seems that the move was intended to also pass a clear and unequivocal message to the Trump administration – and maybe also to Israel, whose military cooperation with Jordan remains close but whose diplomatic relationship suffers from deep cracks.

 

WHEN TURKEY DESTROYED ITS CHRISTIANS

When Turkey Destroyed Its Christians
From 1894 to 1924, a staggered campaign of genocide targeted not just the region’s Armenians but its Greek and Assyrian communities as well
By Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi
May 18, 2019
Wall Street Journal

Between 1894 and 1924, the number of Christians in Asia Minor fell from some 3-4 million to just tens of thousands – from 20% of the area’s population to under 2%. Turkey has long attributed this decline to wars and the general chaos of the period, which claimed many Muslim lives as well. But the descendants of Turkey’s Christians, many of them dispersed around the world since the 1920s, maintain that the Turks murdered about half of their forebears and expelled the rest.

The Christians are correct. Our research verifies their claims: Turkey’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian (or Syriac) communities disappeared as a result of a staggered campaign of genocide beginning in 1894, perpetrated against them by their Muslim neighbors. By 1924, the Christian communities of Turkey and its adjacent territories had been destroyed.

Over the past decade, we have sifted through the Turkish, U.S., British and French archives, as well as some Greek materials and the papers of the German and Austro-Hungarian foreign ministries. This research has made it possible to document a strikingly consistent pattern of ethno-religious atrocity over three decades, perpetrated by the Turkish government, army, police and populace.

The concentrated slaughter of Turkey’s Armenians in 1915-16, commonly known as the Armenian genocide, is well documented and acknowledged (outside of Turkey, which still bitterly objects to the charge). But the Armenian genocide was only a part, albeit the centerpiece, of a larger span of elimination that lasted some 30 years. Our work provides the first detailed description and analysis of the 1894-96 massacres and the destruction of the region’s Greek and remaining Armenian communities in 1919-24 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic.

The bloodshed was importantly fueled throughout by religious animus. Muslim Turks – aided by fellow Muslims, including Kurds, Circassians, Chechens and Arabs – murdered about two million Christians in bouts of slaughter immediately before, during and after World War I. These massacres were organized by three successive governments, those of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Young Turks and, finally, Atatürk. These governments also expelled between 1.5 and 2 million Christians, mostly to Greece.

The U.N.’s Genocide Convention defines it as a series of acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Such acts include killing, causing bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures intended to prevent births and “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” The events of 1894-1924 meet this test.

The official Turkish position denies any intent or policy of systematic elimination. Just last month, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote to the Armenian patriarch of Turkey to “offer my sincere condolences” to the grandchildren of “the Ottoman Armenians who lost their lives under [the] harsh conditions of the First World War” and to urge him “to avoid helping those who seek to create hatred, grudge and hostility by distorting our common history.”

The slaughter that we describe and analyze doesn’t conform to any narrative attributing the deaths to the “exigencies of war.” One particularly horrific aspect alongside each bout of killing was the mass rape of tens of thousands of Christian women and their forced conversion – together with their children and thousands of children whose parents had been murdered – to Islam. Indeed, so pervasive was the sexual violence and kidnapping that many of today’s Turks, whether they know it or not, can trace at least part of their ancestry to these abducted Christians.

The tragedy began during 1894-96, when Sultan Abdulhamid II unleashed a series of massacres against the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian minority, fearing that they threatened the integrity of his realm. Some 200,000 people, almost all Armenians, were killed; many thousands of Turkish villagers, townspeople, officials, policemen and soldiers took part, as well as Kurdish tribesmen. At each site, alongside the pillage and murder, many thousands of Armenian women were raped or abducted. Some would eventually be killed; many more were forced into Muslim households and converted, serving for the rest of their lives as wives, concubines or servants.

In January 1896, in the southern Turkish town of Palu, an American missionary reported that the Turks “continue to carry off girls and women, keeping them a few days and then returning them with their lives blasted.” His meaning was made clear in an August 1896 report by another missionary in Mardin: “We saw girls not a few who returned from the hands of their captors weeping bitterly, shrieking and crying: ‘We are defiled! No one will take us in marriage.’”

Turkey and Germany were allies in World War I, but on July 7, 1915, the German ambassador in Constantinople, Baron Hans von Wangenheim, reported that deportation columns of Armenians from the eastern city of Erzurum were being ambushed by Kurdish bands, with “the men and children…butchered and the women carried away.” On July 27, a German engineer on the Baghdad railway reported that a Turkish sergeant “abducted 18 women and girls and sold them to Arabs and Kurds for 2-3 Mejidiehs,” a coin that was a fifth of a Turkish pound.

During the war, slave markets emerged in Aleppo, Damascus and several Anatolian towns in which Armenian girls who had been corralled by Turkish troops were sold for a pittance. Officials of the Ottoman Interior Ministry seem to have encouraged abduction and conversion. In December 1915, a telegram from the ministry decreed it “necessary for young Armenian girls to be married with Muslims.”

During 1919-22, amid a war against invading Greek forces in western Anatolia, Turkish nationalist forces commanded by Atatürk mounted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Turkish Greek communities, concentrated along the Black Sea and the Aegean coast. Claiming that Ottoman Greeks were assisting the invading Greek army, the Turks took the opportunity to murder hundreds of thousands of them, as well as expelling more than a million Ottoman Greeks to Greece.

After the defeat of the Greek army, many thousands (and possibly tens of thousands) of the Greek and Armenian inhabitants of Smyrna (now known as Izmir) were murdered. The American consul general in the town, George Horton, reported that one of the “outstanding features of the Smyrna horror” was the “wholesale violation of women and girls.” In 1924, the British Foreign Office assessed that “not less than 80,000 Christians, half of them Armenians, and probably more” were still being detained in Turkish houses, “many of them in slavery.”

In all, we found that tens of thousands of Christian women suffered rape, abduction and forced conversion during this period, along with the mass murder and expulsion of their husbands, sons and fathers.

The German people and government have long acknowledged the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich, made financial reparations, expressed profound remorse and worked to abjure racism. But every Turkish government since 1924 – together with most of the Turkish people – has continued to deny the painful history we have uncovered.

 

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