Category Archives: United States-Domestic Politics

Washington, Snowden, NSA: Learning the Right Lessons


27 June 2013

Why is Anyone Surprised?

It’s been out there for years. Utter the words “bomb,” “president,” or “Allah” on the phone, a computer will recognize it, record it, and then red flag it for analysis. Use the wrong word and things will get worse.

The leaks from National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden showed what Hollywood has been telling all along: Big Brother is watching you. All you had to do was pay attention.


Of course, the biggest problems with the NSA’s eavesdropping activities are government overreach and the threat to personal liberties. But these problems are a result of another one that is quite telling about how Washington has dealt with national security since 9/11.

One of the most important responses to the 9/11 attacks was the passage of the PATRIOT Act. The act gave the federal government authority to oversee anything from financial transactions to border control and from immigration to communication.

But what Washington has not yet done is to create a professional cadre of civil servants to run those operations.

Yes, there is the vast bureaucratic enterprise that we know as the Department of Homeland Security. Set up in late 2002, the agency has grown to employ nearly 250,000 people on a budget of $60 billion. It’s the third largest Cabinet department. Military and intelligence expenditures have also shot up.

But numbers can be deceiving. As the Washington Post reported nearly three years ago, for the 250,000 people employed by Homeland Security, the U.S. government relies on nearly 2,000 private companies employing hundreds of thousands who work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence in the United States. Quite often, different government agencies and contractors do the same work, which creates redundancy and waste. To “get the job done,” more than 850,000 people have been granted top secret security clearances.

That’s the problem. With so many agencies, companies, and contractors in the mix, redundancy, waste, and, yes, leaks are inevitable. A government outsourcing national security is quite different than a credit card company outsourcing call centers.

Edward Snowden
Will Snowden’s unfortunate actions give way to fortunate results? It’s Washington’s call.


What is the solution then? History might provide us an answer.

At the onset of the Cold War, the Truman administration tried to combine different segments of the federal government doing similar work. The Central Intelligence Agency came into existence (NSA did, too, a few years later) and took over almost all overseas intelligence operations from the State Department and the military. The War and Navy departments gave way to the Department of Defense. These were smart moves. Others, such as the attempted liquidation of the Marine Corps, were more questionable.

Nevertheless, reducing redundancy in government was a sound one. Today, it could teach Washington a thing or two. Drone strikes – essentially a military operation – are run by the CIA. The U.S. military is still doing nation-building in Afghanistan (and might well do so in other places in the future).

These agencies may or may not be the best tools for the job. Carefully defining areas of operation for different agencies would help to avoid overlaps and ensure efficiency. Training a cadre of civil servants who would view their work as one of a life-time rather than “a one-year thing” would boost counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence efforts in the United States and around the world.

There is clearly a way – by no means easy or cheap but very necessary – to ensure America’s safety without violating the Constitution. Let us hope the Snowden scandal will teach Washington that lesson.

Barın Kayaoğlu, a Smith Richardson Foundation fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University, is finishing his Ph.D. in history at the University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu), and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ

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After Boston: The Good, the Bad, the Disturbing


24 April 2013

Last week on Monday, 15 April, two explosions at the Boston Marathon killed three people (including an 8-year-old boy) and injured more than 250. On 18 April, Thursday, the suspected bombers shot a police officer and wounded another. The police killed one of the suspects. The other one was apprehended on Friday night.

The attacks in Boston showed the good, the bad, and the disturbing sides of post-9/11 America. Especially the bad and the disturbing bits offer useful lessons.

The Good

The marathon runners and the people of Boston: many individuals rushed to the scene of the bombings on Monday to help the injured. And so many Bostonians donated blood that the American Red Cross had to turn away new donors because there was enough blood for the victims.

The calmness of political leaders and law enforcement agencies: from President Barack Obama to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and from Speaker of the House John Boehner to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, political leaders kept their cool and convinced people that they had things under control.

Law enforcement agencies – federal, state, and local – also did their job well. Although it took three full days to identify the suspects, that was better than catching the wrong people and letting the culprits escape.

The Bad

The media circus: on 17 April, CNN reported that police sources had told the network that one of the suspects, “a dark-skinned male,” was in custody. Not only was the tip false, it was completely fabricated. A senior CNN anchor blamed “part of the mistake” on the authorities – an excuse worse than the infraction. The comedian Jon Stewart was hardly being unfair when he called CNN the “human centipede of news.” (If you don’t get that reference, click here.)

Law enforcement agencies’ and political leaders’ overreaction: after the shootings on Thursday night, law enforcement agencies – with several thousand officers – conducted a manhunt around Boston. The entire area was virtually locked down to find a single suspect who, it turned out, was hiding in a boat all along. It’s not easy to see things clearly in the fog of war. But shutting down a metropolitan area of 4.5 million people to catch a 19-year-old seemed a little exaggerated.

The problem with this overreaction negatively affected the public in nearby cities as well. I live in New Haven, Connecticut, and the streets of Elm City looked semi-abandoned for much of Friday afternoon. Especially the Yale campus looked like a ghost town.

The Disturbing

The likes of Erik Rush, run-of-the-mill Islamophobes, and the countless idiots who harassed people because they “look terrorist”: Immediately after the Monday bombing, Fox News commentator Erik Rush posted a tweet to solve the problem of terrorism: “Let’s kill all Muslims.” When people criticized those outrageous words, Mr. Rush defended his “sarcasm” and called one of his detractors an “idiot.”

The level of intelligence (!) displayed in Mr. Rush’s “sarcasm” and CNN’s “reporting” was part of a bigger problem. A student from Saudi Arabia, who was seen fleeing the scene of the bombings (because who runs away from an explosion?), was first declared a “suspect,” then “a person of interest,” and finally, a “witness.” Others cast suspicious glances on Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Indian American man, who’s been gone missing since mid-March. Cause for suspicion? He wore t-shirts depicting the revolutionary Che Guevara. (Never mind that Guevara, a communist, has become one of the greatest capitalist icons of all times.)

The Future

Benjamin Franklin had warned how people who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither. I always thought we didn’t quite make that trade-off after 9/11. The Friday lockdown in Boston, however, showed how we still haven’t learned the proper response to terrorism.

A good place to start would be to re-think the “no-fly” and “terrorist-watch” lists with hundreds of thousands of names. Law enforcement agencies have to find better ways of finding people who deserve to be on those lists. Russian security services allegedly warned the FBI about one of the Boston suspects but he never got on any “watch list.” If these lists become so full that we can’t manage them, we will have a hard time catching the real threats to public safety.

We also need to find better ways to help immigrants to integrate to American society (one of the suspects allegedly once said “I don’t have a single American, I don’t understand them”). We also need to do something about the ease with which people get firearms in this country.

But we also need to understand that there will always be deranged individuals – immigrant or native – who will find a way to hurt the innocent – with or without a gun. Therefore, in situations like these, we need to learn to keep our cool. If we lose our heads, compromise on our values, and display fear and hatred rather than calm and love toward our fellow humans, our next experience with a Boston-like attack is going to be worse and even more disturbing.

Boston Bombing

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia and a predoctoral fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ

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The Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011


January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ 

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Amerikan Temsilciler Meclisi Karar(sız)lığı Sonrasında Türkler ve Ermeniler İçin “Taze Kan”


25 Aralık 2010

[Click here for the English version of this article.]

“Türk’ten boşalacak o zehirli kanın yerini dolduracak temiz kan Ermeni’nin Ermenistan’la kuracağı asil damarında mevcuttur.”

2004 yılında yazdığı bu sözlerle Hrant Dink dünya Ermenilerine ulusal kimliklerini “Türk” travmasından bağımsız olarak yeniden oluşturmaları çağrısını yapmıştı. Bu sözlerle Dink, Ermeni soydaşlarına 1915’i Ermenistan’ı geliştirme çabasından ayırmayı tavsiye etmişti.

Ancak bu sözlerinden dolayı – sözleri Türklerle ilgili olmadığı halde – Hrant Dink “Türklüğe hakaret” suçundan mahkemeye verilmiş; 2007 yılında da Dink’in Türklere hakaret ettiğini zanneden 17 yaşındaki bir çocuk Dink’i öldürmüştü.

22 Aralık’ta Amerikan Temsilciler Meclisi’nin 252 sayılı “Ermeni soykırımı kararını” bir kez daha oylamadığını okuduğumda aklıma Dink’in “zehirli kan” yazısıyla birlikte aşağıdaki sözleri geldi:

“Benim geçmiş tarihimin ya da bugünkü sorunlarımın, Avrupa’larda, Amerika’larda sermaye yapılması zoruma gidiyor. Bu öpmelerin ardında bir taciz, bir tecavüz hissediyorum. Geleceğimi geçmişimin içinde boğmaya çalışan emperyalizmin alçak hakemliğini kabul etmiyorum artık. Gerçek hakem halklar ve onların vicdanlarıdır” (Tuba Çandar, Hrant, s. 446).

Hrant Dink’in izinden giderek Türklerin ve Ermenilerin arasındaki “zehirli” kandan ancak her iki tarafın da kalbine ve aklına dokunarak kurtulabiliriz.

Öncelikle, Türkler ve Ermeniler 1915 olaylarıyla ilgili görüşlerini siyasi ortamlarda yarıştırmaya artık son vermeliler. Siyaset her zaman ikili oynamayı gerektirir ancak bazı durumlarda bu daha da barizdir. Örneğin, Temsilciler Meclisi’nin eski başkanı Nancy Pelosi’nin 252 sayılı Ermeni tasarısını Meclis’e getirmeye çalışmasıyla kendi eyaleti California’da yaşayan Ermeni seçmenleri memnun etme isteğinin alakasız olmadığına inanmıyorum. Ayrıca Bayan Pelosi’nin 252’yi hasıraltı ederken Türkiye’nin jeostratejik öneminden ve Amerika’nın Balkanlar’da, Kafkasya’da, Ortadoğu’da ve Orta Asya’da işbirliği yaptığı bir ülkeye olan ihtiyacından da habersiz olduğunu zannetmiyorum.

Aslında alternatif bir senaryo tarihi parlamentolarda yarıştırmanın anlamsızlığını daha net ortaya koyabilir: Bugün Amerika’da okuyan Türklerin ezici bir çoğunluğu bu ülkeye yerleşmekte ve Amerikan vatandaşı olmaktadır. Dolayısıyla, önümüzdeki yirmi yıl içinde Türk kökenli Amerikalılarla Ermeni kökenli Amerikalıların sayıca eşit olmaları sürpriz olmayacaktır. Bu bağlamda, Türk kökenli Amerikalılar Amerikan Kongresinde 1915 olaylarının soykırım olduğuyla ilgili Ermeni iddialarını reddeden karar tasarıları geçirmeleri konusunda ne hissedeceklerdir? Hatta daha kötüsü, 1915’te tehcir edilen Ermenilerin bunu hakkettiklerini? “Doğru şartlar altında” bu tür tasarıların Amerikan Kongresinden geçmeyeceğine gerçekten inanabilir miyiz? Bu sebepten ötürü Ermeni tarafının Washington’daki lobicilik faaliyetlerini ve bu faaliyetlerin Ermeni çıkarlarına hizmet edip etmediğini gözden geçirmeleri gerekmektedir.

Benzer şekilde, Türk tarafı da artık Kongre kararlarının geçmemesini 1915 olaylarına dair Ermeni iddialarının çürütülmesi ya da Türk tezlerinin kabul edilmesi şeklinde yorumlamayı bırakmalıdır. Tarih yasama organlarında yapılmaz; çok ciddi çalışma gerektirir. Her iki tarafın da argümanlarını incelemiş (ancak konunun uzmanı olmayan) bir tarihçi olarak 1915’te tehcir ettirilen 1.5 milyon Osmanlı Ermenisi için “soykırım” kelimesini kabul etmiyorum. Bundan öte, Doğu Anadolu’da Ermeni çetelerinin katlettiği Türk ve Kürtlerin Batı’da neden hiç zikredilmediğini de anlayamıyorum.

Ancak aynı zamanda tehcir için öne sürülen sebebi – Birinci Dünya Savaşı sırasında ve öncesinde Ermeni çetelerinin saldırılarını – son derece yetersiz buluyorum. Ayrıca 600,000 Ermeni sivilin (ki bu rakam Türk tezlerini savunan tarihçi Justin McCarthy tarafından verilir) yapmadıkları suçlar için ölmelerini de kabul edemiyorum.

Peki bundan sonra ne yapabiliriz? “Taze kanı” nasıl yaratacağız?

Türkiye ve Ermenistan arasındaki sınırı açmak iki ulus arasındaki psikolojik sınırları kaldırmaya yardımcı olabilir. Bu açıdan Ermenistan’ın Azerbaycan’la arasındaki Karabağ sorununu çözmek için daha cesur adımlar atması gerekiyor. Türk-Ermeni sınırı 1993’ten beri Ermenistan’ın Azeri topraklarını işgal ettiği için kapalı durumda. Türk sınırının kapalı kalmasıysa ne Ermenistan’ın 1991’de bağımsızlığından bu yana vasatın altında seyreden ekonomik durumuna katkı sağladı ne de sınırın açılmasından kazanç sağlayabilecek olan Türklere yardımcı oldu.

Ancak her gün 1.5 milyon varil Azeri petrolü Türkiye üzerinden uluslararası pazarlara akarken Azerbaycan’ın durumu göz ardı edilemeyecek kadar önemlidir. Dolayısıyla, eğer Erivan, Bakü’yle aralarındaki sorunları çözebilirse Ankara da geçen yıl imzalanan Türkiye-Ermenistan protokolünü Meclis’ten geçirebilir ve Ermenistan sınırını açabilir.

Tabi sınırları açmak tek başını sorunu çözmeyecektir: Türk ve Ermeni korkularını ortadan kaldırmak da ayrı bir mücadele gerektirecektir. Bu amaçla Türkiye’den, Ermenistan’dan ve Türk ve Ermeni diasporalarından sivil toplum örgütlerinin gençlik konferansları tertiplemeleri Türkler ve Ermeniler arasında hoşgörü ve anlayışı geliştirebilir. Bu tür toplantılar Türklere ve Ermenilere Washington’da ve diğer Batı başkentlerinde lobicilere ödediklerinden çok daha az paraya mal olur; ayrıca, Türk ve Ermeni gençlerini 1915’ten beri ebeveynlerini ve dedelerini-ninelerini zehirlemiş olan nefretin pençesinden de kurtarabilir.

Zaman içerisinde, bu genç insanlar yetişkin olduklarında Türkiye ve Ermenistan için geçmişin zehrinden arınmış taze ve daha barışçıl bir gelecek inşa edebilirler.

Barın Kayaoğlu, Amerika’da Virginia Üniversitesi’nde Tarih Bölümü’nde doktora adayıdır ve her türlü yoruma, soruya ve fikir alışverişine açıktır. Kendisiyle bağlantıya geçmek için buraya tıklayın.

Ayrıca kendisini Twitter’dan (@barinkayaoglu) ve Facebook’tan (BarınKayaoğ da takip edebilirsiniz.

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“Fresh Blood” for Turks and Armenians in the Aftermath of the U.S. House of Representatives (Non-)Resolution


December 25, 2010

[Yazının Türkçesi için buraya tıklayın.]

“The fresh blood to replace the poisonous blood emptied from the Turk exists in the great vein that will connect the Armenian with Armenia.”

With those words in 2004, the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink had called upon Armenians throughout the world to rebuild their national identity free from the trauma of “The Turk.” With those words, Mr. Dink had told his fellow Armenians to dissociate 1915 from the more important task of making Armenia a better country.

But because of those words, which weren’t really about Turks, Hrant Dink was prosecuted for “insulting Turkish identity” under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. And because of those words, a 17-year-old boy, who thought Hrant Dink had insulted Turkish people, killed him in 2007.

Together with the 2004 quote, I recalled the following lines after reading how the U.S. House of Representatives did not put the “Armenian genocide resolution” – Resolution 252 – to vote on December 22, yet again:

“I resent the use of my past history and present problems as a pretext in Europe and America. I feel a harassment; a rape beneath those kisses. I no longer accept that despicable imperialism as a referee because it tries to choke my future with my past. The real referees are the peoples and their conscience.” (Quote from Tuba Çandar’s biography of Hrant Dink, p. 446)

Following in Hrant Dink’s footsteps, we can get rid of the “poisonous” blood between Turks and Armenians only by addressing their hearts and minds.

First, Turks and Armenians should stop contesting their respective interpretations of 1915 at political bodies. All politics involves some cynicism but some more than others. For example, I don’t think Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s efforts to have the U.S. House of Representatives pass Resolution 252 had nothing to do with her desire to score points with Armenian constituents in her home state of California. Nor do I think she was oblivious to Turkey’s geostrategic importance as she swept 252 under the rug in order not to offend a critical U.S. partner in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

An alternative scenario can help to illustrate how meaningless it is to race historical interpretations at parliaments: Today, an overwhelming majority of Turks who study in the United States tend to stay and become U.S. citizens. Thus, it won’t be surprising to see Turkish Americans and Armenian Americans becoming numerically equal within the next two decades. Now, how would Armenians feel if those Turks got their representatives in the U.S. Congress to pass resolutions refuting Armenian allegations that the events of 1915 constituted genocide? Or worse, that Armenians had deserved to be deported from their homes? Are we sure that such resolutions wouldn’t pass under “the right circumstances”? The lesson for the Armenian side is to take a hard look at its lobbying efforts in Washington and think whether those efforts are serving Armenian interests.

In a similar manner, the Turkish side should stop treating the defeat of Congressional resolutions as a defeat of Armenian claims or a validation of Turkish arguments with respect to 1915. History cannot be legislated; it must be studied rigorously. As an historian who has read both sides of the argument (yet one who does not claim expertise), I do not accept the label of “genocide” for the forced deportation of nearly 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians in 1915. Furthermore, I am at a loss why the massacre of Turks and Kurds by Armenian gangs in Eastern Anatolia are never mentioned in the West.

But I also find the justification for the deportations – Armenian guerilla attacks in Eastern Anatolia in the run-up to and during World War I – as an inadequate explanation. Nor do I accept the death of nearly 600,000 Armenian civilians (as the historian Justin McCarthy, whose works have a pro-Turkish perspective, estimates) for troubles not of their making.

So, where do we go from here? How do we get some “fresh blood”?

Opening the physical borders between Turkey and Armenia could help to bring down the psychological barriers between Turks and Armenians. To that end, Armenia should move more boldly on the issue of Nagorno-Karabagh with Azerbaijan. Since 1993, the Turkish-Armenian border has remained closed because of Armenia’s occupation of Azeri territory. The closure of the Turkish border has neither contributed to Armenia’s less-than-impressive economic performance since it became independent in 1991 nor has it helped those Turks who would otherwise benefit from open borders.

But with nearly 1.5 million barrels of Azeri oil flowing to international markets through Turkey every single day, Azerbaijan is simply too important to overlook. Thus, if Yerevan can resolve its differences with Baku, Ankara can find it easier to ratify last year’s Turkish-Armenian protocols and open the border.

Opening the borders, of course, won’t solve the problem by itself: alleviating Turkish and Armenian fears will be another challenge. To that end, NGOs from Turkey, Armenia, and the Turkish and Armenian Diasporas should gather youth conferences to nurture understanding and tolerance between Turks and Armenians. Not only would such meetings cost Turks and Armenians a lot less money than what they pay for lobbyists in Washington and other Western capitals; moreover, they can help Turkish and Armenian youths to break free from the clutches of hatred that has poisoned their parents and grandparents since 1915.

Down the road, when those young men and women become adults free from the poisonous past, they can build a fresh and more peaceful future for Turkey and Armenia.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ

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