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I spent the weekend with my family: my father, my brother, and my nephew Leo (age five, and a typically healthy, energetic five-year-old boy.) My brother and his Italian wife Cristina are now on a rotation to Brindisi, waiting for Cristina — a UN Peacekeeper — to be deployed to the next kind of place UN Peacekeepers get deployed.
I determined that we must all to Versailles, this on the grounds that it is rare for us all to be together on a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon in Paris; it would be fun and educational; it would get us all out of the house; that this would be the first time in years all of our immediate family (or what’s left of it) had gone on an excursion; and that one day I want Leo to remember — however dimly — his grandpa David, his Daddy, and his Weird Aunt Claire the Cat Lady doing something fun together in Paris.
Now, I had fully intended to write about that, but events have overtaken me, so I must compress that one down to the essentials. Ladies and Gentlemen of Ricochet, if you have children, I am in awe. That is hard work. And that’s the most understated way I can put it.
I am pleased to say that our expedition was a success. No one had to fish Leo out of the Swan Pond. No one tumbled on to the third rail of the RER. No one felt his parenting skills had been undermined (I hope: I may have screwed up for a moment there when I failed to understand that my brother was trying to inculcate a species of table manners in his son that I didn’t fully understand; but hey, I’m not Italian. I respect Italian wisdom on table manners. The mistake was honest, and I think I walked that cat back fast enough that I didn’t leave Leo completely bollixed-up for life.) No one ended up crying. Everyone got a reasonable amount of the kind of food he liked to eat; there were no total meltdowns involving any member of my family; and all three generations of the Berlinski family saw Versailles together.
No hats or umbrellas were lost. Everyone (but me) was dressed warmly enough. No one — I hope — will end up discussing this day many years from now with his therapist, or swearing this would be the last time we’d ever do anything like that. Nothing was on strike. It was easy to rent bikes. While some parts were under renovation, everyone left with an age-appropriate sense of “What Versailles basically looks like.” (If you’re five, it looks like an appealing thing to build with Legos.) And it didn’t break anyone’s budget. Frankly, this was as good as a family outing gets, and to those of you who do this every weekend, all I can say is: You do have my respect the way I reckon you must feel you deep-down should.
Anyway, I was going to write about this, as well as Saturday’s excursion to the local gipsy circus, and what it suggested to me about “how to have a shrewd, thoughtful pro-natalism policy” (France definitely has one).
I have much to say, so remind me to make this case later. In the meantime, you don’t need subtitles to watch this video; but sadly, it doesn’t capture the whole experience, so it might not totally persuade you of my point. The key to a high birth rate it is to have cities with tons of affordable things a family might do together on the weekend that are every bit as fun for every member of the family as being single and never having kids. Even if that video doesn’t make it clear, take it from me: it was delightful enough to smash every stereotype about the unrelenting drudgery of childrearing. It so thoroughly delighted the audience — every member, of every age — that I highly doubt anyone who saw it will ever argue with a clear conscience that France would be better off should the Roma be evicted.
Parenthetically, I’ve been pleased to see that the media narrative has swung from “Jews must flee Europe,” to “Beg pardon? You didn’t really say that, did you?”
[F]or many Jews, such remarks ignore, and even insult, the acceptance they feel in the countries where they and their families have often lived for generations.
“We are a little confused by this call, which is basically like a call to surrender to terror,” said Arie Zuckerman, senior executive at the European Jewish Congress. “It may send a wrong message to the leaders of Europe.” Menachem Margolin, general director of the European Jewish Association, said Mr. Netanyahu is wrong in suggesting that Jews can’t live safely in Europe. “To come out with this kind of statement after each attack is unacceptable,” Rabbi Margolin said.
Other Jews in Europe are reacting the same way. Sydney Schreiber, a Canadian attorney who moved to Brussels in 1992, called Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks appalling, complaining of “a statement that can be interpreted as meaning that Jews don’t belong in Europe.”
As you know, I’m with them. We’ll stay here, with the Roma, thanks. And with everyone else. Rule number 1: Terrorist attacks make terrorists flee, not us.
But all of that is by-the-by, even if I’d planned to have much to say. I’d left my phone at home to focus on my family. When I returned, I skimmed through the news and realized that never again must I step away from the news for even a minute. Something beyond bizarre had happened. It was reported thus:
To say I was surprised wouldn’t do this justice. I have no idea if this item is getting the play it deserves in the US, but I doubt it. What was in the news was this:
That’s the sort of item that tends to crowd out foreign news, so I wonder if anyone back home heard about the evacuation of Suleyman Shah. However, in my eyes, that is as weird a headline as this would be:
Homeland Security and US Special Forces Evacuates US Shopping Malls
Followed by a slew of analysis that offers either no real explanation of what happened and why, or analysis that’s in outright conflict.
I have no idea what really happened. Nor could I possibly, nor could any or the reporters who are bringing you the news about this story, because I simply don’t believe any party to it is speaking to the media in the aim of providing a useful, chronological account of the events.
But anyone who pays any attention to Turkey grasps that something weird, huge, and meaningful happened; and knows we have ten times as many questions about this as answers. I’ll offer you a selection of the analyses on offer. Perhaps you’ll have a favorite. That’s all it could be: an analysis that best matches your sense of what must be going on. I suggest reading them only on the principle that this is obviously big, so it might be worthwhile to have a sense of why. It’s certainly notable that an item like this barely ranks in the US media, even though — in my judgment — this probably means something extremely significant.
A commenter at the Guardian, of course, sees this is a sign of hope:
So for once we should praise the Turkish government whole-heartedly. Its little military expedition has ensured, with imagination and efficiency, that in a part of the world that is not only self-sufficient in causes for war and atrocity, but a net exporter of such causes to the rest of us, one possible reason for people to kill one another has been safely moved out of play.
The Financial Times sums it up thus:
“It’s an upside-down world and no one knows who are really allies in Syria’s war,” said one opposition activist who asked not to be named.
Alexander Christie-Miller — one of the best foreign reporters in Turkey — is probably right about the following:
The timing of the operation may be linked to fears that the tomb was to have been targeted by Isis, since it came five days after the Turkish government reached an agreement with the US to train rebels on Turkish soil to fight the jihadist group. “Those rebels are going to be fighting Isis, so they had to get their people out,” Aaron Stein, at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said.
Turkey is preparing for a general election on June 7, and so any invasion of the hallowed site, either by Isis or Kurdish forces, would have been acutely embarrassing for the government.
Turkey’s pro-government media went to great lengths to portray the operation as a victory, publishing photographs of soldiers raising the country’s red star and crescent at the tomb’s intended new location inside Syrian territory, opposite the Turkish town of Esmeler.
The decision to relocate it within Syria appears intended to convey the message to nationalist voters that Turkey is not ceding territory, Mr Stein said. The Turkish government had previously vowed to defend the tomb.
However, opposition politicians lambasted the government yesterday (Sunday). “We are losing our lands without fighting for the first time in the 90-year history of the republic. This is not acceptable,” Gursel Tekin, the secretary-general of the main opposition Republican People’s party, said at a press conference
So-called Turkish nationalists (a group that would take me a long time to explain, but let’s just say their response does not surprise me), are enraged:
The Nationalist Movement Party’s deputy chairman, Cemal Adan, also slammed the government for “making Turkey seem weak in the region.”
Withdrawal from territory legally considered Turkish prompted a major outcry from opposition parties and the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) called government leaders ‘deserters.’ CHP deputy Gursel Tekin said Turkey lost territory for the first time, without putting up a fight, while another CHP deputy Akif Hamzacebi called for Davutoglu’s immediate resignation.
Nor is Assad best-pleased:
Syrian state media described the incursion as “flagrant aggression”.
“Turkey goes beyond supporting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist gangs to launch a blatant aggression on Syrian territory,” state-run SANA news said, referring to the alternate name of ISIL.
One thing seems reasonably clear: Turkey has kept the lines of communication open with every player in the immediate region:
Davutoğlu said the government communicated with groups inside Syria, including the Free Syrian Army, in order to avoid civilian casualties during the operation but did not cite the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which controls the area from which the Turkish army crossed over border to evacuate the troops protecting the Tomb of Süleyman Şah. The Turkish government views the PYD with deep suspicion because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).“All parties were fully aware that any intervention or blockage of this operation would have received the harshest response,” Davutoğlu said, underlining that they would have never hesitated to use the deterrence capacity of the Turkish army if anyone had interfered with the operation.A PYD official said late Feb. 21 that the Turkish army sought cooperation of their armed forces before the operation started as the group controls the Kobane region.
“It was a highly successful operation to the last degree,” he said, emphasising that the mission was fully in line with international law.
Davutoglu congratulated the Turkish army on the success of an operation that he said had posed “considerable potential risks.”
Around 300 armed Syrian Kurdish fighters provided a security corridor for Turkish troops that staged an incursion to evacuate a Turkish-held tomb in northern Syria, witnesses in the region say. Fighters from People’s Protection Units (YPG) reportedly created a five-kilometer long corridor while Turkish units entered the Rojava canton of Kobane through the Mürşitpınar border gate en route to the Tomb of Süleyman Şah.
Everyone seems to agree there was a casualty:
The Turkish military said in a statement that there had been no clashes during the operation, the first such ground incursion by Turkish troops into Syria, but that one soldier had been killed in an accident.
“Unfortunately we had one casualty and this was not as a result of a clash but due to an accident that happened at the beginning of the operation,” Davutoglu said at a news conference in Ankara.
Aaron Stein — a sober and responsible analyst, and I trust him to be paying attention — offers this longer analysis, which may be summed up as, “Goodness. Hard to figure this one out.” (Worth reading, but many assertions would be easier to assess if supported with links or notes.)
Perhaps, one day, I’ll read a good historian’s account of the “overnight “Şah Fırat”’ evacuation, as it’s being called. I doubt that anyone who is trying to explain this is in a position to understand how something this significant could have happened: The people who know aren’t talking.
But clearly: Something very significant happened.