Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Great Urkun

One hundred years ago, there were two genocides. The better known one was the Armenian genocide where over 1,500,000 mostly Christian Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks. This occurred during the First World War. According to Fact Check Armenia (
  • The Ottoman Empire killed over 1,500,000 Armenian men, women, and children, exiled the Armenian nation from its historic homeland, and destroyed and deported hundreds of thousands of its other Christian Assyrian and Greek citizens.
  • The Armenian Genocide (1915-1923) was preceded by Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1909 and 1894-1896, during which hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered.
  • In 1918, Theodore Roosevelt called the Armenian massacres “the greatest crime of the war.” In President Herbert Hoover’s memoirs, he wrote, “Probably Armenia was known to the American school child in 1919 only a little less than England … and the Sunday School collections of over fifty years for alleviating their miseries.” President Woodrow Wilson, who called for a mandate over Armenia, stated, “At their hearts, this great and generous people [the Americans] have made the case of Armenia their own.”
  • The Allied Powers, England, France, and Russia, jointly issued a statement in May of 1915 explicitly charging the Ottoman Turkish Empire with committing “a crime against humanity” and pledging to punish the perpetrators.
  • Adolf Hitler was emboldened by the world’s failure to punish Turkey for its mass murder of Armenians. On ordering his commanders to attack Poland without provocation in 1939, he dismissed objections by saying “[w]ho, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

It is sad that, still, Turkey refuses to acknowledge this genocide. And, the US currently is reluctant to anger this ally by speaking of it officially on the day it is commemorated by Armenians, April 24. Even on the 100th anniversary--April 24, 2015.

But the title of this piece refers to another event,which I just learned about. It occurred in 1916. The Great Urkun refers to the Exodus of Kyrgyz people fleeing the Russians. A revolt broke out in Central Asia against Russian imperialism. The Russians, like the British, were concerned about the development of a pan-Turkic alliance. Hence they opted for suppression. " "I hold it as a principle that the duration of the peace is in direct proportion to the slaughter you inflict upon the enemy. The harder you hit them, the longer they remain quiet," Skobelev said after wiping out the last of the Turkmens' resistance in 1881." (

Most of the Kyrgyz did not possess weapons to fight against the Tsars forces, so they attempted to flee. Many fled, headed for China. This required them to pass through the Tien Shan Mountains. Hundreds of thousands made it to Chinese Turkestan, but, it is estimated that at least 150,000 and possibly more than 250,000 Kyrgyz perished.

The Bolsheviks encouraged the Kyrgyz to return. Some did. Bayali Isakeev did, and later became an official in the Kyrgyz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. He wrote of his journey during the Urkun, "we could see the crevasses filling up, nearly to the top in some places, with the bodies of camels, horses, cattle that had slipped over the side, and often people were there also." 

Isakeev was arrested and killed during the purges of 1937, the time of The Great Terror, when it is estimated that between 600,000 and 1,200,000 people were killed. Many of these were killed in either the eastern or western parts of the country, due to suspicion of spying or support for other nations. The largest number of these were ethnic Poles, of whom 143,810 were arrested and 111,091 executed. ( But, that is another topic, so I will end here.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Another hospital bombed

A women's and children's hospital in Aleppo was bombed today, totally destroying the hospital.
( The city's last pediatrician was killed.

Clearly such a hospital would be serving largely non-combatants, hence would be unacceptable if one accepted the standard rules of war and the Geneva conventions on the treatment of civilians.  Syria, Russia and the US have denied carrying out the airstrike.

Over 250,000 Syrians have been killed during the civil war. But, civilians have been targeted frequently by both government and terrorist groups. So, Syrians are leaving in droves. I'm sure they feel there is no alternative but death. Many civilians are trapped by the war. Children are suffering at home even more than those who have left there homes, trying to make it to Europe.

The recent attacks on clearly civilian sites are disturbing. Not only are the groups like ISIS, and the Taliban attacking civilians, but also governments with sophisticated weaponry. Certainly more information will come out over the next few days regarding this event, but certainly the war will go on and more civilians will suffer and die.. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Kunduz Redux

Over twenty years ago, fresh from my fellowship in neuro-oncology, I looked into volunteering with Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). It was before I had dependents--two children that I am now working to raise to independence. I knew there might be risks, so better to do it before I had someone who needed my care as a mother.

At that time, the war in Bosnia was heating up. I knew that surgeons were likely to be sent to war zones, as we are much needed to care for the victims of violence. I volunteered that I had studied 2 Slavic languages, so had a start on communicating with patients in Bosnia. It turned out that I didn't go. Instead, I started to work at an inner city hospital, where I saw victims of a different kind of war.

Today, I noticed two articles about an event last October 3, when US airstrikes targeted the MSF hospital in Kunduz:

The hospital was one that provided care to the northeastern region of Afghanistan. It has not yet reopened. It served all, civilians and combatants. But, it did not allow any weapons on its campus.

Clearly, patients and those caring for them are not engaged in war. Hence, it should have had protection under the rules of war. Yet, it was repeatedly attacked on October 3, despite having announced its coordinates. So, at some level, a mistake was made. Over time, more facts will come out. But, we do need to remember the victims, those who chose to risk their lives to care for others. We need to thank them for their service.