The main attraction in Ioannina is still the Kastro, the Turkish fortress that served as the Ottoman capital of the territory of Epirus, ruled for 30 years by Ali Pasha, a dashing Albanian warlord who accidentally helped to spark the Greek Revolution.
The one thing most Americans think they know about the Ottoman Empire is that it was a stable institution that brought peace to the Balkans and the Middle East. Like most things most Americans think they know about history, the Ottoman peace is not only a myth but a very great lie. The Turks, having no capacity for business or government, had to rely on conquered peoples for their management and leadership, and their provincial rulers were always at war with one another or with Constantinople. Even a powerful governor or warlords would often have to deal gently with brigands and tribal chieftains. Visitors with official permission from the sultan would find themselves waylaid, robbed, and kidnapped as they made their way across Ottoman territory that was more like a rolling gang war than an empire.
Things went from bad to worse in the later stages, as local warlords in Greece, Serbia, and the Middle East were able to defy any reasonable laws the sultan might pass for the protection of his subjects. The violence of the Serbian Muslim renegades set off the first uprising under Karadjordje, and Ali Pasha’s bid for independence gave Greek bandits and pirates the taste of victory against the hated Turks. When the Greek uprising began, most of the Greek officers and soldiers abandoned Ali Pasha, while the Albanians, failing to live up to the better half of Lord Byron’s description of them as cruel but not treacherous, deserted their leader.
When Byron went to “Yanina” in 1809, the vizier’s deputies took care of him handsomely, providing him with horses and supplies for an expedition to meet the leader. Although Byron took a Greek translator with him, Ali Pasha’s doctor, being an educated man, spoke Latin. Byron’s visit was in part occasioned by a harebrained English scheme to wrest the islands of the Ionian Sea from Ottoman control. Unfortunately, the British consul was simultaneously involved in a plot to assist Ali Pasha in acquiring control. Byron stored up enough impressions and anecdotes to make Childe Harold a great success when he returned to England.
Byron returned to Greece in 1823, where he generously and nobly raised money for the Greek Revolution. Alas, all too many British statesmen took the position that the sick man of Europe had to be nursed along in his convalescence—even if it meant the persecution of Christians in the Balkans—in order to prevent the growth of the Russian Empire.
This pattern repeats itself in modern Greek history: While English (and later American) idealists worked to aid the Greeks, cynical and opportunistic scoundrels like Disraeli favored the Turks. As a young man touring the Middle East, Disraeli even expressed the wish to fight for the sultan and against his rebellious Greek Christian subjects.
One of Disraeli’s masterstrokes was his support for the Ottomans at the Congress of Berlin. In old age, he explained to a young admirer that he had cut a deal with the Ottomans to provide a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Now it is America’s turn, as our “statesmen” applaud the decision of President Erdogan—an Islamist thug—to shoot down a Russian jet that had allegedly infringed Turkish airspace. Chris Christie—a thug of Erdoganian proportions—said in the third Republican debate that he would shoot down any Russian plane that crossed into a U.S.-declared no-fly zone. It is, perhaps, a good thing that the Chinese did not carry out the Christie doctrine when a U.S. Air Force plane flew too close to an island claimed and controlled by China.
Like others of his race and religion, Ali was fond of unusual tortures and punishment. He had a summer palace on the lake island just off Ioannina. Walking through the rather small though pleasant house with a lovely view of the lake, my wife was struck by a display of strange instruments in a large niche in the wall: instruments of torture, read the sign. When she asked me why he kept instruments of torture in his summer house, the only answer I could come up with was that he did not have a television. On the other hand, ISIS and the Taliban do have TV and video recorders, which they use to display beheadings and torture. When Freud said the first use of any new technology is usually sexual, he was obviously not thinking of Muslims.
It was to this summer place Ali Pasha retired when the sultan’s army took Ioannina and persuaded him—with an offer of mercy—to leave the Kastro. Like most Turkish (or, for that matter, most Muslim) acts of mercy, the sultan’s promise was phony, and when the officer showed Ali Pasha the sultan’s death sentence, Ali Pasha withdrew to his room on the second floor. Rather than face the terrible old man, they shot him through the floor from the room underneath.
If Angela Merkel knew any history, she might rethink her alliance with Turkey and her decision to permit Europe to be overrun by Muslims.
[Read Part I here]