The old America wanted to bring daylight to others. Now the US president believes his country should be paid to intervene militarily in the Middle East – and then paid to leave.
By Robert Fisk and cross-posted from The Independent.
By the time Donald Trump was condemning environmentalists as the “perennial prophets of doom” in Davos, his impeachment trial was opening in Washington. But quite by chance, at that very moment, I was reading a new edition of a book by a child survivor of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust which, hauntingly and poetically, said more about America than anything Trump – or Congress – could ever utter.
Leon Surmelian lost both his parents in 1915 and, just after the Second World War, he published I Ask You, Ladies and Gentlemen with the kind of horrific detail that only accounts of the Jewish Holocaust, a quarter of a century later, normally include. He remembered the naked and mutilated body of a young woman in a Turkish river – “her long hair floated down the current” – and “a human arm caught in the roots of a tree” and “a long, long band of frothy blood clinging to [the river] banks”. No wonder Israeli Jews speak today of the Armenian “Shoah” – the Holocaust, in Hebrew – which first struck the Christians of Ottoman Turkey.
But it was Surmelian’s salvation when he travelled later to Constantinople and visited the US-run Robert College, on a hill near Istanbul’s Castle of Rome, that caught my attention in his book. The college, now 154 years old and still perched between the two Bosporus bridges, coeducational and independent, deeply impressed the young Armenian whose dream was to go to America.
Here is what he wrote:
“The campus of Robert College … with its modern buildings, laboratories, gymnasium, tennis courts, track field, was an impressive example of American education. Nowhere in the city were there such fine school buildings, such an exhibit of wealth and education for the training of youth. But to me the most remarkable thing about it was this: here Armenian and Greek boys sat in the same classroom with Turkish boys, were … in daily contact as members of one civilised society, with no fights, no racial catcalls between them. There were also Bulgarian, Russian, Jewish, English, Persian students, all living in harmony. As America had no territorial ambitions in our part of the world, she enjoyed a unique moral authority. And more than the mechanical wonders, the industrial progress and power of America was this moral authority, possessed by no other nation on earth. In my own mind, the concept of America was based on that…”