The Silk Cord
I have long had a contentious relationship with Turkey. One of my favorite novels since childhood is a historical tale about the apex moment of the Ottoman Empire. The only fly in the ointment was that my countrymen were the last ones to fall to the military machine of Suleiman the Magnificent – after about a century of TRYING, Turkey finally ground up the borders. Though it STILL needed another 30 years to secure the whole area, ultimately Turkey ruled directly or had dominion over the entire land.
But then again, it was a case of tables being turned – a millennium earlier, it had been Constantinople receiving the raids and paying the tribute…
While I was growing up, Turkey was known for three things. One was guest workers commuting to Austria and Germany, swarming the borders and roads in the summer and during Christmas. That institution of legalized ‘illegal immigration’ (e.g. non-assimilative, visibly ethnically different workers of a foreign culture, language and religion toiling at below-average wages WITHOUT enjoying the civil rights and social benefits of the host country) started in the sixties. While the program officially ended in 1973, the vast majority of workers stayed on, becoming ultra-long-distance commuters who would go home 2-3 times a year. The other two notable features of Turkey at the time were leather and gold. If you wanted either, Istanbul was the place to go – both because you did not have to pass through the iron curtain to get there, but mainly because both were available at a large variety and minimal prices (in terms of premium to spot, re: gold). The bazaar was held (grudgingly) in awe for its sheer volume and variety of goods both mundane and exotic. The fact that only a few had resources to make the trip, let alone buy anything, only added to the mystique.
I have been trying to keep an eye on developments vis-a-vis anti-government protests: true grass-roots movement of discontent against a corrupt and overbearing regime? Western meddling and attempted ‘Syria-style’ revolution highjack? Second wave of Arab spring (though I realize Turks and NOT Arabs)? And of course, one must not forget the connection of the story to precious metals – it appears by many (all) accounts that Turkey has been buying Iranian natural gas for gold bullion.
“The system was simple. As Reuters notes, Turkey purchased Iranian natural gas in Turkish lira, and transferring the proceeds to Halkbank accounts. Iranian gold traders then accessed the funds to buy gold in Turkey, which was subsequently carried in luggage to Dubai, and then sold for foreign currency to help sure up Tehran's dwindling foreign exchange reserves.
Remarkably, it was legal under the current sanctions regime, as long as the Obama administration couldn't prove that Turkish gold payments were made to the government of Iran (which strained credulity given Turkey's public admissions that they were selling gold to Iran in exchange for Iranian energy).” – May 17, 2013, The Atlantic
Some have speculated that Turkey has ALSO been facilitating a similar trade between the sanction-beleaguered Persians and the rest of the world – but in any case that trade seems to have been taking place, with or without Turkey.
“The second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Iran said last month it will accept payment in any local currency or gold as new sanctions make it harder for trading partners to pay in dollars and euros.” – March 30, 2012, Bloomberg
So I got to thinking – if petrogold is indeed re-emerging, what is happening in terms of the ongoing gold price movements? If gold is ‘worth’ less denominated in fully convertible, ‘hard currency’ like Euros, Dollars or Yen, then the gold that Iran may or may not receive in exchange for its exported barrels has less purchasing power, thus benefiting the enemies of Iran. At the same time, lower gold prices might allow those who might USE gold as payment to acquire MORE oil for the same amount of fiat – but only presuming that the trade agreement for the sale of oil was denominated in weight of gold.
In light of all of the above, the news item perhaps lost in the tumult of this week is as follows:
“Two parts Crazy Eddie, one part Gatsby and one part Trump, Ali Agaoglu, No. 527 on Forbes’ billionaire list, is Turkey’s most famous and arguably most notorious construction mogul, a man known just as much for his collection of luxury cars and ex-wives as he is for his links to Erdogan’s government and the state housing authority in particular. […]
Today, Agaoglu is in police custody. Tuesday morning, in a series of raids that seemed to catch all of Turkey, including Erdogan’s government, entirely off guard, Turkish police detained at least 50 people on suspicion of tender rigging, money laundering and bribery. In a country where corruption investigations, at least those involving figures close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), are rare, this one has netted a number of very big fish: the sons of three Cabinet members, the mayor of one of Istanbul’s biggest boroughs, the general manager of Turkey’s second biggest state bank, Halkbank, several prominent businessmen, as well as a number of civil servants. And finally, Agaoglu.” 12/19/13, TIME
Notice the BANK involved in the story above. Now, the Western media has been very quick to pin the affair on THIS man, a Turkish cleric who is living in Pennsylvania:
Whether or not that is the case, I leave for readers who are more familiar with him and with Turkish current affairs. While on one hand he himself denies/deflects any involvement, or even HAVING a movement behind him in the first place, his students (devotees? disciples?) have opened a network of schools in 140 countries – and by many accounts, the graduates from these schools have reached the highest positions at levels of Turkish government. What perhaps makes all this even MORE interesting is this:
“That the U.S. government and, specifically, the Central Intelligence Agency support the Gülen movement is conventional wisdom among Turkey's secular elite even though no hard evidence exists to support such allegations. […]
Gülen attached twenty-nine letters of reference to his June 18, 2008 motion, mostly from theologians or Turkish political figures close to or affiliated with his organization. John Esposito, founding director of the Saudi-financed Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, who, after receiving donations from the Gülen movement sponsored a conference in his honor, also supplied a reference. Two former CIA officials, George Fidas and Graham Fuller, and former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Morton Abramowitz also supplied references.
The letters may have worked. On July 16, 2008, U.S. district judge Stewart Dalzell issued a memorandum and order granting Gülen's motion for partial summary judgment and ordering the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to approve his petition for alien worker status as an alien of extraordinary ability by August 1, 2008.” – 2009, Middle East Quarterly
Hmmmm…… So is this a simple shot across the bow to the Turkish PM from an elusive, shadowy figure who acts as a puppeteer, moving his ‘sleeper cell’ followers against the PM at will? Is Gülen in league with/controlled by/ a creature of the US-based NatSecAgencies? Or merely a political player and ersatz spiritual/cultural authority exerting his influence to retain the lifeline of his movement (the Turkish government apparently planned to close the schools in question)? The network of religious schools propagating his brand of Islam is eerily reminiscent of the organization of Wahhabi institutions sponsored by Saudi petrodollars (in their structure, funding and proliferation, if not their principal philosophy). And it would seem convenient that the Agencies mentioned earlier already have substantial experience in funding, working with and exploiting assets educated in such institutions. But this really seems to be taking it to a whole new level:
“His school network is impressive. Nurettin Veren, Gülen's right-hand man for thirty-five years, estimated that some 75 percent of Turkey's two million preparatory school students are enrolled in Gülen institutions. He controls thousands of top-tier secondary schools, colleges, and student dormitories throughout Turkey, as well as private universities, the largest being Fatih University in Istanbul. Outside Turkey, his movement runs hundreds of secondary schools and dozens of universities in 110 countries worldwide.” – 2009, Middle East Quarterly
Destabilizing Syria DID work, but not with the degree of efficiency those directing it might have hoped. All-out, multilateral war did not break out. Whether that bit was off-script, or if we just aren’t far enough along in the play yet remains to be seem, but in any case SOMEONE seems to be keen on at a minimum reducing the power of government in countries in the area – including neighboring Turkey. Who it seems is also a key trading partner of Iran. Who may or may not be involved in a high-volume gold settlement system centered around Iranian oil and gas. Could this be considered a warning to stop the trade or to restore/increase it to levels seen before the tightening of Iranian sanctions? Was Erdogan’s outfit simply skimming too much from the top?
Another (to me) intriguing angle: with the Geneva deal, US-enforced sanctions have eased, giving S. Korea, China and India waivers for buying Iranian oil. However, even if said countries are allowed to pay Iran with their own currency, or Euros, or USD, there are potentially a significant amount of things Iran wants/needs but cannot acquire with fiat currencies, due to the limits on outbound financial transactions it can make, and the types of goods which may be traded. Could it be that Iran isn’t so much accepting gold because it is one of the few types of payment it can RECEIVE, but that it is preferred as a form of payment because it is one which Iran can use most widely to make PAYMENTS? So could the recent developments in Turkey have anything to do with the fact that Iran has just interrupted negotiations in Geneva over the future of global relations with the country?
Or could it be the case that honest, forthright members of law enforcement and the judicial system are standing up, and attempting to take back their country from a ruling caste corrupt to its core?
Whatever the case, this could be a story worth keeping tabs on. Just because it does not remain in the headlines ALL the time does not mean nothing’s happening. An actively simmering Middle East that can be ‘whipped’ into all-out war pretty much at will is an ongoing requirement for the preservation/life-support of the petrodollar. Turkey itself is in a crucially important strategic position geographically, making it a target of imperial interests (and perhaps manipulation) from more than just one side. And it’s not like there have been any conflicts in recent years/decades due to the production, sale and transport of hydrocarbons in this region…
In the Ottoman Empire, a ritual/custom of succession for the seat of monarch developed over the centuries:
“In earlier times, the Turkish sultans sent to high-ranking personalities who were sentenced to death, a silk thread - stylishly usually in a small jewelry box. After receiving, the condemned was strangled by a servant or soldier. This method offered the very great advantage that the sultans could vacate brothers and nephews out of the way to secure their rule, without shedding their royal blood. Occasionally, even the convicted had the opportunity to escape the strangling by suicide. If the blood flowed, this was thus the responsibility of the individuals affected.”
(For those inclined to do more historical reading on what a REAL game of thrones might have looked like, and more macabre details on royal fratricide and similar hobbies, I can recommend this post and this Smithsonian article.)
A fascinating twist was also introduced for top officials/nobility who were NOT a direct threat to the ruler's position:
"For a grand vizier, however, there was still a chance: as soon as the death sentence was passed, the condemned man would be allowed to run as fast as he was able the 300 yards or so from the palace, through the gardens, and down to the Fish Market Gate on the southern side of the palace complex, overlooking the Bosphorus, which was the appointed place of execution.
If the deposed vizier reached the Fish Market Gate before the head gardener, his sentence was commuted to mere banishment. But if the condemned man found the bostanci basha waiting for him at the gate, he was summarily executed and his body hurled into the sea." -- Smithsonian Magazine
The silk cord is one step worse than a severed horse’s head – it is not so much a warning to cooperate, but rather a notification of imminent violent death. It definitely seems to me that this episode was a warning, not a ‘true’ silk cord (yet) – the only question is who was the sender? Will the current government 'run for it', or try to make a stand?