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Turkey's Ascendancy, the Russification of Israel and the Future of the Middle-East

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In Iran, an old Asian nation that had been able to fend off repeated British and Russian attempts to undermine its territorial integrity, the Japanese victory of 1905 triggered the emergence of a genuinely liberal constitutional movement- the first of its kind in the region (excluding Turkey). The Iranian Constitutional coalition brought together Westernized secular intellectuals (many of them graduates of UK and Russian universities), conservative Shiite clerics from the Islamic academies of Qom and Tehran, Orthodox Christian craftsmen and merchants of Armenian descent, and Sunni Arab tribal leaders from the oil-rich province of Ahwaz- a remote region of Iran that had whet the appetite of the British colonial lobby. The leaders of the Constitutional coalition were united in their desire to build a truly modern Iranian democracy modeled along the lines of the British parliamentary system. In August 1906, the Shah of Iran had to give in to their demands: he finally granted a form of constitution and permitted the convention of a constituent assembly in charge of organizing free and fair elections in all provinces, thus making Iran the first pluralistic democracy in the Islamic world. But London and Moscow (bitter rivals elsewhere in Asia) were quick to crush the Iranian Constitutional revolution: "Without consultation or even a hint to Iranians the two powers in August 1907 entered into an agreement which dealt with their differences in Afghanistan, Tibet and Iran. In the case of Iran they in effect carved up the country between themselves. Iran was divided into three zones, Russian in the north, British in the south and a neutral zone in between ["] Lord Grey, Britain's Foreign Minister at the time, stated ["] Persia tried my patience more than any other subject."! (8)

Just like the neocons today- e.g. rightwing Israeli commentators describing Turkish, Indonesian and Malaysian civilians in the Free Gaza flotilla as "armed Asiatic hordes" and "malevolent monkeys" or former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton warning against tolerating what he thinks must be some kind of Iranian-North Korean-Turkish-Chinese grand conspiracy against the West (9), there were many conservative commentators and politicians in early 20th century Czarist Russia who openly advocated the systematic use of force against Asians and Muslims- one of these commentators was a young journalist named Vladimir Yevgenyevich Jabotinsky, an Odessa-born Southern Russian journalist who would later become the founder and chief ideologue of the "Revisionist" brand of Israeli nationalism known as Likudism. Vladimir Jabotinsky readily transferred to Ottoman Palestine the xenophobic cliche's of his Czarist formative years. To him, Palestine was like Central Asia and the Caucasus, just another primitive Muslim land waiting to be carved out by the Russian "White Man': "Jabotinsky, in 1917, published his book, "Turkey and the War', in which, analyzing the components parts of the Ottoman Empire and repudiating Lord Kitchener's (the Minister of War in Great Britain at the time) military strategy, he insisted that Great Britain should open an Eastern military offensive through Palestine, as the result of which Turkey would be defeated and the Empire partitioned." (10)

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Russians of Jabotinsky's generation grew up in a self-righteous colonial, militarist culture: they had only contempt for the people of Asia be they Muslims or heathens. From the turn of the 19th century onward, the decline of Sweden and Poland combined with the German focus on its western borders had allowed Imperial Russia to concentrate its might on the Turkic regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus: with the help of French and German military advisers, Czar Alexander III's Cossacks had won relatively easy victories against the peaceful Islamic khanates of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia, massacring millions of innocent civilians as they marched eastward. The present day Circassian communities (called "al-Charkass' in Arabic) of Amman, Damascus and Istanbul are descended from the few survivors of General Yevdokimov's ruthless "scorched earth" policy"

In those terribly brutal days, there were very few voices of moderation in the West- two of them were actually leading US scholars who spoke courageously in defense of the people of Asia whatever their creed or color, while their Russian, British and French peers were mostly inebriated with colonial hubris: Reverend James A. B. Scherer, an early orientalist and translator who was President of the California Institute of Technology, the cradle of American "high-tech'; and Rabbi Judah Leon Magnes, one of the greatest American theologians and educators, founder of the American Jewish Committee and first Chancellor of Israel's Hebrew University. Their words of wisdom still sound eerily modern more than a hundred years after they were written: [the Russians were stupefied after their defeat, they] "never dreamed that Japan would fight. "Her people are but pygmies, a little monkey race if islanders.' To overawe these "monkey-faced men,' fresh armies were sent to Manchuria ["] As for Christianity, if Russia be Christian, then the less we have of that religion the better" (11) wrote Reverend Scherer in 1905.

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M. Nicolas J. Firzli is Director of the CEE Council, a Paris-based economic strategy think-tank.
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