While Pakistan went through a rather subdued routine of protesting execution of their one-time collaborators-the war criminals of Bangladesh-the Turkish President Erdogan has chosen to make louder noises with repeated outbursts against the trial and execution of what he thinks 'innocent' people. It reminds us of a Bengali phrase that says 'the aunt who is more concerned than the mother about the welfare of a child is a witch'. We would not condescend to apply that epithet to the honourable President of a country with a glorious past, but his tantrums came as a shock as well as a puzzle.
The shock stems from the fact that a friendly nation has suddenly turned into a nemesis for no ostensible reason. For, Bangladesh does not have any contentious issue, nor any border dispute or ideological conflict with Turkey. On the contrary, we always hold the nation in high esteem. Our rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam composed a beautiful ode to pay tribute to the great Turkish leader, Mustafa Kamal Pasha -Kamal tu ne kamal kia (Kamal you have done wonders) -- for halting the advancing European powers to devour what had become 'sick man' of Europe following world War I. Kamal Pasha's heroic so intensely ignited our passion that an obscure village in Noakhali named a school after Kamal Ataturk before his country could name one of their own. One important road - Kamal Ataturk Avenue -- of Dhaka is also named after the great leader.
Why then are these tantrums and shocking display of Erdogan's partisan stance bordering on vendetta against a peaceful nation now trying to come to terms with its past? As the world knows, the executed criminals closed ranks with the marauding Pakistan army and together went on killing three million Bengalees and dishonoured hundreds of thousands women. Tons of evidences have proved beyond doubt that the people like Nizami and Mujahid were also directly involved in abducting and murdering some of the best sons of the nation.
The puzzle is why an enlightened leader like Erdogan pretends to be ignorant about the genocide and atrocities of Pakistan's war machine in Bangladesh. Most puzzling is Erdogan's persistence that the earth's scum like Nizami and his cohorts did not commit any 'earthly sin'. No one would believe that a modern nation like Turkey could be in the dark about what Pakistan did in Bangladesh in 1971. Why then is this ambivalence about Pakistan's misdeeds? Are we to assume that the Turks do not consider massacres and rapes as offences? The answer may be found in Turkey's sordid past which Erdogan wants the world to forget.
The massacre of Armenians by the Turks stands out as one of the worst genocides in the modern era. At the onset of the First World War I, they drummed up hatred against the Armenians for their supposed loyalty to their enemy country, Russia, and proceeded to exterminate an entire nation. The Armenian genocide began on April 24, 1915 when the Turkish government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, ordinary Armenians were turned out of their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water. Frequently, the marchers were stripped naked and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they dropped dead. People who stopped to rest were shot. At the same time, the Young Turks created a "Special Organization," which in turn organized "killing squads" or "butcher battalions" to carry out the liquidation jobs."
There is a striking similarity between Turkish pogrom against Armenians and Pakistan's atrocities against fellow brethren. Turks and Pakistan both chose to kill the intellectuals. Turkey created a special force while Pakistan created auxiliary forces-Razakars, Al-badr, Al-shams-to assist the army to carry out their designs. Turks drove the Armenians to perish in arid Syrian deserts while Pakistan hounded out ten million souls from their homes and forced them to trek across hundreds of miles of inhospitable terrains to perish in the refugee camps in India. Both the countries are on a denial mode and are not prepared to tender apologies.
The joy of killing people and pillaging other nations are perhaps etched deeply in the psyche of the people of central Asia, the original homes of the Turks across the upper reaches of Central Asia. Their brethren-the Mongols and Huns-have left indelible marks on the world arena through massacre of people and destruction of human habitats. One Mongol warrior, Halaku Khan, from the house of Genghis Khan, in one single swoop, butchered an estimated 200,000 to 1,000,000 people of Baghdad in 1258.
The Ottomans, who ruled over a vast empire stretching across three continents for 600 hundred years, did not lag behind to perpetrate their own brand of atrocity. They snatched children from the wailing mothers from orthodox Christians in Greece and Balkan region, forcibly converted them into Islam to create infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultans household troops and body guards, the janissaries. This was actually against Islamic law that forbids abduction and forcible conversion but Ottoman Turks knew well how to circumvent the Islamic tenets. They also culled beauties from across the empire and filled their harems at Topkapi, the imperial palace. At one point the number of concubines swelled to one thousand. What a nice way to serve Islam!
The killing spree of the Ottomans extended to their own siblings and even their sons and parents well up to the seventeenth century. Every time a prince occupied the throne after the death of a Sultan his first job was to execute all his brothers and half-brothers to remove all possible obstacles to the throne. Mehmed III Adli (1566 -1603) went on to murder as many as 19 siblings to pave the way for peaceful rule. The popular Turkish drama serial, 'Magnificent Century', now being telecast in Bangladesh, chronicles the relentless palace intrigues to kill the siblings and even the father to gain the crown. Sultan Suleyman, who bears the lofty sobriquet of 'Magnificent', killed his two sons-Mustapha and Bayezid-leaving Selim II the sole heir to rule peacefully. Suleiman's own father, Selim I, also hatched a plot to kill him but was narrowly saved by his mother.
With so many sordid stories of massacres and atrocities embedded in the genetic blue prints of the Turks, it comes as no wonder that Mr. Erdogan would see no crime in abetting invading Pakistan army to kill innocent people.
The Turkish President does not have a clean personal image either. A recent German satirical video broadcast by NDR on March 17 mock the President for everything from his "showy palace with a thousand rooms, built without a permit in a conservation area" to his crackdown on journalists and "for jailing journalists for writing things he does not like". It also criticised his attitude towards Kurds, claiming "he is more inclined to bomb them than his brothers in faith from ISIS''.
Apparently, President Erdogan is caught between the dilemma of maintaining ties with Europe while masquerading as a champion of Islam in Asia and Africa. The duplicity is reflected in Turkish overt policy of opposing IS (Islamic State) while covertly profiting from thriving oil business in collaboration with the IS.
We hope that President Erdogan and our Turkish brethren will reassess their holier-than-thou stance towards our war criminals and genuinely work towards forging cohesion among the Muslim Ummah.
The writer is a former central banker.