Libya – a bloodstained history

The country we call Libya was not formed until the 20th century. In 74BC, the Romans controlled the areas of Tripolitania, centred around Tripoli, the current capital, and Cyrenaica, roughly where modern-day Benghazi sits today. But when the Roman empire split in the 3rd century, Tripolitania went to the western half while Cyrenaica was given to the Byzantine empire.

In the 640s, Arab troops conquered first eastern Libya and then Tripoli, bringing both into the growing Islamic empire. The region remained under Arab control for nearly 900 years, but European intervention was commonplace, and in the 16th century Tripoli briefly fell under Christian control.
In 1551, however, the Ottoman empire took control of Tripoli and Cyrenaica. It held the region until the start of the 20th century, when Libya again fell under Rome's control. Italy's attempted reconquista, launched in 1911, was long and bloody. The invasion triggered a brutal revolt by Tripoli's citizens, against which the Italians launched an even more brutal crackdown that opened the "floodgates of blood and lust", according to a contemporary report in the Times.

The Ottomans ceded control of Tripoli and its surrounding areas to the Italians in 1912. That invasion also marked the first time an aeroplane had been used in war, when on 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Giulio Gavotti tossed a grenade at soldiers as he flew over the Jifarah plain south of Tripoli.
Italy, however, struggled to maintain control of its new colony. Rebellion was fomented in eastern Libya, and particularly in the city of Benghazi. Italy did not gain complete control until 1931, after two decades of near-constant fighting, when a recognisable "Libya" came into being.

The Italian imperial reign, however, was brief. After Mussolini's defeat in the Second World War, Libya's three main territories - Fezzan (in the south-west), Cyrenaica and Tripolitania - were split between Britain and France. The country remained under allied control from 1943 to 1951, when
the country became the Unified Kingdom of Libya, with King Idris I - based in Cyrenaica - as monarch.

Prospectors from Esso discovered oil in the country's eastern reaches in 1959. In 1969, a 27-year-old army captain of the Libyan army named Muammar Gaddafi launched a coup d'état against Idris while the king was holidaying in Turkey. Gaddafi promoted himself to colonel and proclaimed a Libyan Arab Republic, based on "freedom", "socialism" and, that rare trait in Libyan history, "unity". l

This article first appeared in the 28 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Why Libya? Why now?

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Ankara bombs: Turkey is being torn apart by bad leaders and bad neighbours

This is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed.

It had already been a deadly summer of political instability in Turkey. And now this. Another massacre – this time at the hand of twin bomb attacks on a peace rally in Ankara, which have killed at least 97 people.

It is the worst terror attack in Turkey’s history. In just a few months, hundreds of civilians, Turkish security personnel and PKK members have been killed. Barely a single day passes in Turkey without some incident of lethal political violence.

Freedom from fear is the very basic principle of human security, which should be protected by any state that wants a true sense of legitimacy over its population and territory. In Turkey, that freedom is under enormous pressure from all sorts of internal and external forces.

Stirred up

There are plenty of competing explanations for the political violence engulfing the country, but none can seriously overlook the impact of Turkey’s bad political leadership.

The terrible, violent summer reflects nothing so much as an elite’s greed for power and willingness to treat civilians as dispensable. This has become particularly apparent since Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 election, and the way various political parties and leaders did all they could to prevent the formation of a viable coalition government.

Ultimately, the power game is simple enough. At the elections hastily called for November, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party needs to garner only a few per cent more than it did in June to win the majority it needs for Erdogan to bolster his powers and make himself the country’s executive president.

To that end, pro-government media has been in overdrive throughout the summer, deliberately fuelling an environment of division, paranoia and mistrust in hopes of winning votes out of pure fear.

All the while, southeast Turkey has endured dreadful violence. Some towns – Cizre, for instance, which was under seige for days – have suddenly found themselves on the front line of renewed fighting between the security forces and the PKK.

The demise of the peace process is not just a failure of diplomacy – it signals that the armed conflict is still hugely politically and financially lucrative to Turkey’s political and military leaders. And the violence they’re profiting from is rapidly corroding social life and human security across the country.

The war next door

But the political instability caused by Turkey’s leaders has been greatly exacerbated by its neighbours, especially the continuing civil war in Syria and its deadly ramifications – an influx of jihadist fighters, a massive refugee crisis, and spiralling military interventions.

Since the end of the Cold War, global security has never been so seriously threatened as it is by today’s situation in Syria, which is now host to a head-to-head clash between the interests of Russia, the Assad regime and Iran on the one hand and the US, the EU, their Arab allies, and NATO on the other.

All sides claim to be fighting against the Islamic State and other Islamist extremists, but it’s clear that what’s really at stake is a lot more than just the fate of the jihadists or the political future of Syria. Already there’s an ominous spat underway over Russian planes' incursion into Turkish airspace; NATO has already raised the prospect of sending troops to Turkey as a defensive gesture.

And while it was always inevitable that the Syrian disaster would affect its northern neighbour to some degree, Turkey’s continuing internal political instability is proving something of an Achilles heel. By deliberately forcing their country into a period of chaotic and violent turmoil, Turkey’s leaders have made it more susceptible than ever to the Syrian conflict and the mighty geopolitical currents swirling around it.

And yet they press on with their cynical political ploys – seemingly unmoved by the cost to their people, and unaware that they could just be becoming pawns in a much bigger game.

The Conversation

Alpaslan Ozerdem is a Chair in Peace-Building and Co-Director of the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.