Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)

Today was one of those days when I was going through my computer when I found this paper that I wrote for a International Relations Seminar on Civil War and Terrorism that I took in 2014. I chose to focus on a group related to the Kurds as I was deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2004-2005 and my unit interacted with the Kurdish people.

Introduction

Considered the world’s largest population without a state, the Kurds are a people who reside in parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. After WWI, they were promised an autonomous region, but were cheated out of such independence. Their culture has been attacked by the Turkish government and forced into assimilation; the Turks seeing Kurdish nationalism as a threat to the security and order of the state (Bruno 2007). They have been brutally attacked by despots of the region. Out of such a harsh lifestyle the Kurdish Worker’s Party, or Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan (PKK), emerged in the 1970s as a movement to fight for Kurdish independence and free itself from “imperialistic powers” it sees as a threat to its goals. This group has evolved over the years and has gone through a few name changes. The PKK has also been referred to as Kurdish Kongreya Azadi u Demokrasiya Kurdistan (KADEK), Kurdish Kongra Gele Kurdistan (Kongra-Gel), Congress for Freedom and Democracy in Kurdistan, and Halu Mesru Savunma Kuvveti (HSK) (Amini 2010).

This paper will cover the pre-history and events leading to the establishment of the PKK, their grievances, their methods of attacks or tactics, methods of recruitment and mobilization, motivations, government responses to their actions, their successes and failures, interventions, and prospects for either peace or further violence in the future. The PKK is an interesting case to study as it shines a light on a unique situation of a people without a state. This group is a key to stability in the region. They have affected relations between the United States and Turkey, the United States and Iraq, Turkey and Syria, Turkey, and the European Union. Without an end to the fighting, the Kurdish people will only be further oppressed and alienated which only embolden the PKK to commit further acts of violence in response. Neither side trusts each other and this case may require a neutral, independent 3rd party to intervene and bring both parties to concessions, and ensure that both parties stick to the agreements, punishing those who attempt to break the peace and cause further conflict.

When the Ottoman Empire was defeated by the Allied powers during WWI, its dominion was shattered and turned into several sovereign states. One such zone, which never came into fruition, was the zone designated as an autonomous region for the Kurdish people. The Turkish government since the fall of the Ottomans has endeavored to remove from existence the Kurds by forcing them to assimilate to include the banning of their language, culture, and their names for geographical areas. Their justification is that Kurds are not real and that they are really just “Mountain Turks” (Gunter 2000). These oppressive acts continued until the late 1970s when Abdullah Öcalan established the PKK who didn’t start using violence until the mid-80s, but that information is contested. The 1980s was a violent time in Turkey, going through a military coup which only further brutalized the Kurdish people. The PKK began to use violence as a tool to coerce the government to accommodate their demands for independence.

The PKK has been a force of instability in the region has caused around 30,000 to 40,000 deaths, many of whom were civilians not military targets (Bruno 2007). The PKK is also not recognized by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) or the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) who are seen as two legitimate political entities that are also striving for Kurdish independence (Kutschera 1994). The actions of the PKK are viewed as counterproductive and injure the legitimacy of the cause. The PKK see themselves as protectors of the Kurdish people, but have used indiscriminate attacks that have left many innocent lives ravaged and discriminate attacks that have targeted Kurdish persons. This also has a toll of the economy of Turkey as it spends around 20% of its national budget on defense which pays for a well-armed Turkish Army, half of whom are stated in and around Kurdistan (Menon 1995).

The Kurdish region, often called “Kurdistan” lies upon the southeast part of Turkey, northeast corner of Syria, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran. This region was originally supposed to be given to the people after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but the Treaty of Sevres was never ratified and that promise was never fulfilled to the Kurdish people (Zalman 2007). Had the treaty been enforced it would have taken away 2.5-million square kilometers of land from Turkey. Kurdistan is extremely rich in oil as about 10% of the total oil resources of the Middle East are here (Menon 1995). The Kurds are a distinct ethnic group found in the Middle East with their own language, but most of them are Sunni Muslims. In Turkey, the Kurds make up around 15-20% of the population; in Iraq, 23% of the total population (Zalman 2007); in Iran, around 13% of the population; and around 12.7% of the population in Syria (Menon 1995).


Grievances

During the days of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were left relatively alone and given autonomy, but after WWI the Turkish leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, refused to allow the Kurds to have independence and implemented policies that attempted to quell their culture, language, and any notion of self-determination by banning anything that was Kurdish (Pike 2013). When the people protested they were treated with further oppression, massacres, destruction of entire villages, deportation, forced assimilation, torture, imprisonment, police and military intimidation, and Turkish “colonization” of Kurdish lands (Menon 1995). At present, it is legal to speak Kurdish in Turkey, but celebrations and expressions of Kurdish culture are still restricted by the Turkish government (Bruno 2007). Turkey was able to secure an agreement with Iraq and Iran for them not to recognize Kurdish independence. The struggle for independence was squashed for a time (Washington Post 1999), but this forced assimilation only planted the seeds for the emergence of a Kurdish nationalistic movement in the region (Zalman 2007).

The political environment combined with the repressive acts of the government created a unique situation for the creation of the PKK. Turkey, being a Democracy, acted in a brutal manner towards an ethnic group who was better off under an autocratic government (the Ottomans). The Kurds were alienated from their own culture and forced into a life they didn’t want. Those Kurds who attended a university were exposed to other ideologies. Seeing Turkey’s form of government as failing to protect and represent the people’s desires many saw other ideologies are more desirable. It is no surprise then to see the followers of the PKK follow Marxist doctrine. In the 1970s communism was starting to decline, but was still working in China and was also starting to spread to some of the smaller countries where insurgent groups were adopting it as their ideology (an example being the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the MLR in Finland).


Pre-Formation and Early History

The Kurds trace their origins back to the Medes, an ancient people who lived in western Iran and southeast Turkey, who founded an empire after they defeated the Assyrians in the 7th century BC (Menon 1995). They themselves were defeated by the Persian Empire and never rose again. The Kurds themselves exercised independence under the authority of the Ottoman Empire, but after they were defeated and partitioned, the Kurdish region was split among multiple states. The brutality of the Turkish government kept the Kurds at bay for decades, but in the 1950s and 1960s, Kurds started forming clubs as well as establishing a political party known as the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Turkey, or KDPT (Kutschera 1994). The response was a massacre of students and the imprisonment, assassination, or exile of the leaders of KDPT. The Workers' Party of Turkey, or TIP, emerged and started distributing a journal that was in the Kurdish language. The Turkish government implemented assimilation camps where Kurds were forced to send their children. With the 1970s only came further oppression and instability in the state as there was a military coup in March of 1971. The government proceeded to use the prisons and schools as indoctrination centers, propagating anti-Kurdish and pro-Turkish material.

More clubs continued to emerge through the 1970s; one of them was started by students led by Abdullah Öcalan. This one was not solely about Kurdish grievances, but was also about supporting Marxist ideals (Amini 2010). This group wasn’t formalized until 1978, when the agenda was set and which was influenced by the writings of Mao as well (Zalman 2007). Öcalan wished to cause a revolution that would free the Kurdish people and establish a Kurdish state (START 2014). Öcalan was the son of a poor peasant and studied political science at Ankara University where he was introduced to communist ideals (Menon 1995). The group was composed of two different wings, a political wing, and an armed wing, with smaller branches or cells below. This group would not start its campaign of violence until 1984 (Amini 2010). The early 1980s marked another time of political upheaval as yet another military coup occurred in September of 1980 (Kutschera 1994). Once it started using violence it was primarily located in rural areas and often against military targets, but by the 1990s they started employing terrorist tactics and had moved into more urban areas where a greater population could be effected (Pike 2013).

The PKK was dealt a harsh blow in 1999 when the leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured and is now currently serving a life sentence (Australian National Security 2013). Originally he was sentenced to death, but there was enough commotion from the international community that the Turkish government commuted it to life in prison. In his absence, a council was formed to run the operations of the group. In his absence, there seems to be a power struggle between the leaders of the Executive Council and those in the armed or military wing of the group.


Goals

The goal of the PKK is to establish an “independent, communist, ethnically pure Kurdish state” by taking land from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria (Onay 2008). Some of the other objectives changed as the political environment in Turkey changed (Australian National Security 2013): such as the Turkish government giving Kurds voting rights. The leaders who took over after Öcalan was arrested have added his release as to their objectives (PKK 2011). Since his capture though, Öcalan has called for peaceful change and has asked the PKK to abandon violent and terrorist tactics, and seek concessions through political means, but this was most likely coerced by the Turkish government. In January 2000, the group did make attempts to move towards achieving their goals through political means (Pike 2004). This would change in 2004 when the PKK abandoned a ceasefire and returned to using violence rather than peaceful means. In 2010 concessions were attempted in Oslo between Turkey and the PKK, but failed and conflict between the two groups resumed. This led to 2-years of large scale violence (Pike 2013). In March of 2013, Öcalan again pleaded for his followers to use peaceful methods and to withdraw from Turkey (BBC 2013).


Motivations

The PKK is primarily voted by nationalistic ideals and the drive to be allowed to be an independent state. They motivate their members by using community support, particularly as they call for martyrdom. On the PKK website, it states, “We commemorate all the martyrs of the revolution with respect and gratitude and promise that we are going to crown the freedom struggle with victory in their memory.” (Pike 2004) The repressive actions of the Turkish government have, for the most part, unified the Kurdish people, although not all agree on the means on how to accomplish their independence. The PKK demonizes the governments, particularly the Turkish, and their collaborators in the brutal treatment of the Kurdish people which justifies any means necessary to defeat them. The group exploits emotional, communal, religious, and secular sentiments to gain popularity and gain new recruits (Australian National Security 2013). Although we see this isn’t fully working as the PKK is said to be down to around 5,000 members, falling from around 50,000 members at its height (Bruno 2007).


Operations and Mobilization Strategies

The PKK operates primarily in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Europe (Amini 2010). Most of its targets reside in Turkey, but is known to attack targets in Iraq. The PKK would use the states surrounding Turkey as a safe haven and spots for mobilization before crossing the Turkish border. The No-Fly Zones established by the United States and Turkey provided protection from the Iraqi military during the days of the Saddam regime (Cagaptay and Unver 2007). The PKK recruits most of its members from southeast Turkey where Kurds are most oppressed by the Turkish government, but gains members from Kurds found in Iraq, Syria, Iran, and the Kurdish diaspora in Europe (Australian National Security 2013).


Support

The PKK receives support from a large Kurdish diaspora present in Europe (France, Germany, Greece, Austria, etc) (Amini 2010). It also gains funding from criminal activity such as drug trafficking, human smuggling, extortion, money laundering, prostitution, and “voluntary” tax collection (Australian National Security 2013). The PKK is also said to receive support from a network of local news agencies, television stations, radio stations, newspaper companies, and publishing companies found throughout Europe (Onay 2008). For a time it also received support, usually just political, from Syria, but in the late 1990s this changed and Syria was coerced into withdrawing support from them (Zalman 2007). When the PKK was able to operate within Syria they used it as places for training camps as they faced less danger training in Syria than attempting the same in Turkey or even Iraq.


Tactics of the PKK

The PKK did not start using violence until 1984, but since then have used guerilla and terrorist tactics, inspired by the writings of Mao, in an attempt to achieve their goals (Zalman 2007). Some of their activities have included kidnappings, bombings of tourist sites like hotels, suicide bombings, placing of landmines, arson, vandalism, sabotage, and ambushes against military targets in Iraq and Turkey, often striking over the border then retreating back to the other country for safe haven (Australian National Security 2013). They have also been known to attack local officials and villagers who are opposed to their operations (Amini 2010). They may also attack the family of officials and village leaders to coerce them to comply and support the PKK (Onay 2008). Looking at the database compiled by the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, 11 suicide attacks have been carried out by the PKK and in 6 of the attacks the gender was known and we find that the PKK was just as likely to use women as men, although this analysis is skewed by the fact that gender information on the other 5 cases is missing which could either accept or reject this speculation (Pape 2014). Some do speculate though that most of the suicide bombings were employed by women, but no corroborating data is provided (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2011).

While some of the PKK’s attacks have caused collateral damage and may have been indiscriminate, most of their attacks are targeted at specific individuals or groups whom they see as a threat, enemy, or collaborator (Zalman 2007). Many of these attacks seem to do a few things: 1) cause as much damage on the populace that the government feels pressured into giving in to the PKK’s demands, 2) provoke military repression against the populace that the community loses its faith in the legitimacy of the government and military, and 3) to intimidate and coerce the populace, particularly the Kurds, into supporting its cause and the means to achieve it.


Success and Failures

The PKK has been fighting the Turkish government for 30-years and has employed a vast array of tactics to coerce the government to accommodate them, but little concessions have been given by Turkey. In 2009, reforms were emplaced aimed at giving the Kurdish people more rights in Turkey (Amini 2010). This wasn’t done because of the actions of the PKK, but most likely originated from pressures put on by the international community, particularly the European Union. Since 1987 Turkey has attempted to join the European Union, but has been denied membership some reasons have been Turkey’s glaring human rights abuses, particularly against the Kurdish people (BBC 2013). Membership has dropped dramatically; roughly 90%. The motivational and mobilization policies have not kept a steady stream of new recruits. The PKK attempted to reinvent itself, by adopting softer policies and changing its name, but is still considered by most states to be a terrorist organization (Bruno 2007). The final point in all of this is that no Kurdistan exists, either as an independent state or a recognized autonomous region.


Government Responses

As noted above, the Turkish government has given some political and economic concessions to the Kurdish people such as the National Unity Project (Amini 2010), but in response to the actions of the PKK, the Turkish government has employed oppressive acts against the PKK and the Kurdish people in general. The Turkish government eventually grew tired of the cross border attacks and started crossing into Iraq to attack the PKK. Iraq, to include Kurdish leaders of the PUK and KDP, have disavowed the PKK and refused to give them safe haven or support (Amini 2010). European states have arrested and punished criminal elements tied with the PKK and have also listed the PKK as a terrorist organization. The PKK is also listed by the United States and NATO as a terrorist organization. The United States has had a long relationship with Turkey and, with the Iraqi conflict, has strong ties with the government of Iraq. The United States has also been supportive of the Kurdish people, but has opposed the terrorist activity of the PKK.

All states use repression and in this case, we have seen negative and positive effects. While the indiscriminate violence created the landscape for the emergence of the PKK. Its oppressive nature of the Kurdish people has only solidified the people in their desires for an independent state free from the grip of the Turkish regime. It has made some notable positive steps by making political and economic reforms in an attempt to distinguish the fire that has enabled the PKK.

Until 1999, Syria had given support to the PKK, but gave it up under the pressure of the Turkish government. Turkey and Syria had been at odds with each other for decades which stemmed from border and water rights disputes. It is over this friction between the two that most likely influenced Syria to give aid to the PKK.


Current State of Affairs

As of today the PKK still exists, but in March of 2013, the imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, asked for the PKK to cease operations and withdraw from Turkey. Little can be found on the organization for events occurring in later 2013 and in 2014. According to CNN, PKK leaders have threatened to resume operation in Turkey as they feel Turkey is using the entities in Syria to conduct a proxy war against Kurds in that state (Coles 2013). From the press releases on the PKK websites, they continue to condemn Turkey for a variety of reasons, but have not openly committed any attacks in 2014. Öcalan remains in jail, but many are moving that he be given better facilities and treatment. As it sits right now, the PKK is holding to its promise of a cease-fire, but with the current conflict in Syria and Iraq, instability could cause a reemergence of the PKK in Turkey.


Prospects for the Future

The PKK seems to be looking for reasons to resume fighting has lost much of its support. Turkey has given some concessions, but in the event that they make any strong repressive moves against the Kurdish people, it may give the PKK the needed support and justifications to resume fighting in Turkey.

While Abdullah Öcalan is considered the de facto leader of the PKK, there appears to be a conflict between the two branches, political and armed/military. It was the leaders of the Executive Council, who took over after Öcalan’s arrest, that made attempts with peace, but it was the hardliners and leaders of the military wing who reinstated the use of violence in 2004. If the Turkish government wants to end or at least cripple the PKK, they need to accommodate the Kurdish people more by giving them more rights and freedoms, particularly with cultural expressions. Doing so would remove or limit further support of the PKK as it would remove the grievances and give legitimacy to the governance of the Republic of Turkey, at least over that of what is offered by the PKK. The Turkish government can also use Öcalan as propaganda and give him better accommodations in prison which would also give his messages of peace further legitimacy which may keep in check most of his followers in the PKK. There must also be multilateral operations to stem the criminal activity in Europe that funds much of the PKK.

It is likely the PKK will again try to turn into a political party, but this may be rejected by the Turkish government which could cause some escalation of violence. They may also try to become a political party in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and seek to compete with the PUK and KDP, which could cause instability in that area of Iraq. Though they banned them in the past, the Turkish governments could win over the Kurdish populace by allowing the KDP and/or the PUK to be allowed as legitimate political parties within Turkey. This would give the Kurdish people hope for political change in their favor and address any current or future grievances that may arise.


Conclusion

For 30-years the Turkish-PKK conflict has caused the deaths of 30,000-40,000 people, instability in the region, and which has resulted in Turkey’s reputation being tarnished in the eyes of the international community and losing legitimacy among a large portion of its population. Both sides have committed human rights violations in an attempt to accomplish their goals. In its conflict with the PKK, the Turkish government has also harmed its economy by putting so much of the budget to the military to quell this terrorist organization (Gunter 2000). The Kurds number in the millions and are “people without a home”. Their promised land was taken from them and in return, they were brutalized for decades. Their culture, heritage, language, and identity were treated as a crime. The PKK appears as an extreme example of the nationalistic mentality that has emerged as a result of the repressive behavior of the Turkish government. Since his capture, the symbolic leader, Abdullah Öcalan, has called for peace between the two, but not lasting peace has occurred. Even now there is a ceasefire in place, but this is no indication of future events. Recent events in Syria could cause the reemergence of conflict between the PKK and Turkey, and in general, the instability caused by this conflict is the biggest challenge facing Turkey and its future.

Regardless, neither side trusts each other and this case will require a neutral, independent 3rd party to intervene and bring both parties to concessions and ensure that both parties stick to the agreements, punishing those who attempt to break the peace and cause further conflict. The PKK was strong enough to inflict serious damage on Turkey, but hasn’t been strong enough to win the concessions it strived to at its birth. Stephen Gent (2008) and Patrick Regan (2009) both point out that a state will only intervene when outcomes will be favorable and when the non-state actor is strong enough or evenly matched in their capabilities with the government. Regan does state in his book that diplomacy and mediation are a type of intervention that is more effective than military intervention. An organization like the United Nations would be an appropriate mediator and arbiter for the necessary accords to end this bloody conflict. Without such intervention, the PKK-Turkish conflict may be static now, but there is no certainty for lasting peace and further conflict could easily be stirred up again.

References

1. Amini, Shiler. 2010. “The PKK and the US State Department’s Terror Report.” August 13. http://kurdistancommentary.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/the-pkk-and-the-us-state-departments-terror-report/ (June 20, 2014). 

2. BBC. 2013. “Profile: The PKK.” March 21. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20971100 (July 3, 2014). 

3. Bruno, Greg. 2007. “Inside the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).” October 19. http://www.cfr.org/turkey/inside-kurdistan-workers-party-pkk/p14576 (June 20, 2014). 

4. Cagaptay, Soner and H. Akin Unver. 2007. “Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish-Iraqi Memorandum against the PKK.” August 21. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/iraqi-kurds-and-the-turkish-iraqi-memorandum-against-the-pkk (June 20, 2014).

5. Coles, Isabel. 2013. “Kurdish rebels threaten new fight in Turkey as Syria clashes intensify.” October 22. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/22/us-turkey-kurds-pkk-idUSBRE99L06820131022 (July 9, 2014). 

6. Gent, Stephen E. 2008. “Going in When It Counts: Military Intervention and the Outcome of Civil Conflicts.” International Studies Quarterly 52 (December): 713-735. 

7. Gunter, Michael M. 2000. “The Continuing Kurdish Problem in Turkey after Öcalan's Capture.” Third World Quarterly 21 (October): 849-869. 

8. Kutschera, Chris. 1994. “Mad Dreams of Independence: The Kurds of Turkey and the PKK.” Middle East Report 189 (July-August): 12-15. 

9. Menon, Meena. 1995. “Kurds in Turkey: Fighting for Survival.” Economic and Political Weekly 30 (April): 668-669. 

10. Onay, Abdulkadir. 2008. “PKK Criminal Networks and Fronts in Europe.” February 21. http://www.tc-america.org/files/news/pdf/PKK_Criminal_Network_in_Europe.pdf (June 30, 2014). 

11. Pape. Robert. 2014. “Suicide Attack Database.” Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism. http://cpost.uchicago.edu/ (June 24, 2014). 

12. Pike, John. 2004. “Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).” May 21. http://fas.org/irp/world/para/pkk.htm (June 20, 2014). 

13. Pike, Joh. 2013. “Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).” August 9. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/pkk.htm (June 20, 2014). 

14. PKK Executive Committee. 2011. “34th anniversary of Kurdistan Workers Party.” November 26. http://www.pkkonline.com/en/index.php?sys=article&artID=175 (July 5, 2014). 

15. Regan, Patrick. 2009. Sixteen Million One. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers 

16. START. “Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).” http://www.start.umd.edu/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=63 (July 1, 2014). 

17. Zalman, Amy. 2007. “Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).” http://terrorism.about.com/od/groupsleader1/p/PKK.htm (June 21, 2014). 

18. 1999. “Who are the Kurds?” February. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/feb99/kurdprofile.htm (June 22, 2014). 

19. 2011. “PKK/Kongra-Gel.” http://www.mfa.gov.tr/pkk_kongra-gel.en.mfa (June 30, 2014). 

20. 2013. “Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).” http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/KurdistanWorkersPartyPKK.aspx (July 1, 2014)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Grand York Rites of Colorado and Wyoming

A year ago I had finished back-to-back weekends of attending the Grand York Rites of Colorado and Wyoming. Now I've done a complete circuit of all the Grand Chapters that compose the Northwest Region. It has been a hectic year so far. Between work and Masonry, I've spent more than 180-days on the road since this time last year.

At the Grand York Rite of Colorado, I was made an Honorary Member of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar and the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. Due to my schedule, I had to leave before the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons assembled. The best part about flying home on Saturday, I got to surprise my nephew for his 15th birthday on Sunday.

This last Thursday I flew back to Denver with the Northwest Department Commander and drove up to Cheyenne for their annual Grand York Rite sessions. Outside of Idaho, Wyoming is one of my Masonic homes. I love visiting and some of my favorite Masons are in Wyoming. Everything went smooth with the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons, but it was a bit weird and tense at first with the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar as Sir Knight Mike Johnson was present and some Sir Knights brought a resolution to the floor to file a grievance with the Grand Encampment. This was not surprising in that Sir Knight Mike Johnson was from Wyoming and his removal as Grand Master was a sore point, to say the least. I was extremely pleased to see the Sir Knights of Wyoming, while unhappy, conducted themselves as Templars and with civility. The Northwest Department Commander gave some phenomenal comments that I believe will help with healing relations between the Sir Knights of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Wyoming and the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, USA.

I'm now on my way home and I do not have to travel for the next several weeks which will be a nice change of pace. My next adventures include an SRICF College convocation, the Northwest York Rite Conference, the annual meeting of the SRICF High Council, and a special trip that I believe will be a blessing and enhancement to me as a Christian, Rosicrucian, and Sir Knight.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem

Started at the end of the 19th century, the Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem is an organization open to both men and women. Membership is open to all Master Masons in good standing and to women who have a relationship to or vouched for by a Master Mason. Unlike the Order of the Eastern Star or Order of the Amaranth, the White Shrine is a Christian organization and requires a belief in the Christian religion. This requirement for a Christian belief inspires the use of the word "White" in their name as a descriptor not of order, but of the Savior who is the greatest example of a pure life. According to the Supreme Shrine website, "Its aim is to bring together men and women of high moral and social character to share their desire to spread the Gospel, aid and assist those less fortunate, and create enjoyable experiences for themselves."

Members refer to each other as "Sojourner" and the honorary title of "Worthy" is used in this organization. The basic organizational unit is the Shrine which is presided over by a Worthy High Priestess and Watchman of Shepherds. They are supported by the following officers:

Noble Prophetess
Associate Watchman of Shepherds
Worthy Chaplain
Worthy Scribe
Worthy Treasurer
Worthy Shepherdess
Worthy Guide
Worthy Herald
First Wise Man
Second Wise Man
Third Wise Man
King
Queen
First Hand Maid
Second Hand Maid
Third Hand Maid
Worthy Organist
Worth Guardian
Worthy Guard

Only women can serve in some offices like the Priestess or Prophetess while men can only serve as Watchman or the Wise Men. Some offices like Guard, Scribe, or Treasurer can be filled by either a man or a woman. Constituent Shrines fall under the governance of the Supreme Shrine which is composed of the following officers: 

Supreme Worthy High Priestess
Supreme Watchman of Shepherds
Supreme Noble Prophetess
Supreme Associate Watchman of Shepherds
Supreme Scribe
Supreme Treasurer
Supreme Worthy Chaplain
Supreme Worthy Shepherdess
Supreme Worthy Guide
Supreme Worthy Herald
Supreme First Wise Man
Supreme Second Wise Man
Supreme Third Wise Man
Supreme King
Supreme Queen
Supreme First Hand Maid
Supreme Second Hand Maid
Supreme Third Hand Maid
Supreme Worthy Organist
Supreme Worthy Guardian
Supreme Worthy Guard

A Supreme Shrine in Illinois was established on September 23, 1894. This Supreme Shrine was administered by a Board of Directors until 1901 which was presided over by a President and Vice President. After 1901, the Illinois Supreme Shrine was governed by Supreme Worthy High Priestess and Supreme Watchman of Shepherds. In 1897, another Surpeme Shrine was established in Michigan that was presided over by a Supreme Worthy High Priestess and a Supreme Chancellor (equivalent to the Supreme Watchman of Shepherds in Illinois). These two Supreme Shrines would establish subordinate Shrines around the country until 1909 when they merged together. Today there are Shrines in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ontario (Canada). The current Supreme Shrine meets annually in May.

There is one degree for the White Shrine and the ritual takes the candidate through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The emblems of the White Shrine are the Star, Cross, and Shepherd's Crook which can sometimes be seen with the phrase "In Hoc Signo Spes Mea" which translates as "In this Sign is my Hope." All three symbols seem very obvious in their use as the organization as it surrounds the Blessed Redeemer.

The charity of the White Shrine is called the Material Objective which assists the less fortunate with medical bills regardless of race, color, creed, or sect. This charity is funded through voluntary donations and income from their endowment.


References

1. Cross and Shepherd's Crook (White Shrine of Jerusalem). (n.d.). Retrieved from City of Grove, OK: https://www.cityofgroveok.gov/building/page/cross-and-shepherds-crook-white-shrine-jerusalem 

2. General Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from Supreme Shrine, OWSJ: https://supremeshrine.org/about/ 

3. The Order of The White Shrine of Jerusalem. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of Kentucky: https://grandlodgeofkentucky.org/?page_id=1269 

4. What is The Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem? (n.d.). Retrieved from MasterMason.com: http://www.mastermason.com/wsj/whatis.htm

Saturday, August 27, 2022

2022 KYCH Convent General

This weekend I attended the 2022 Convent General for the Knights of the York Cross of Honour which was presided over by Glen Cook. I flew in Friday afternoon coming from a work trip in Minnesota and hung out with the other Knights from Idaho Priory No.13. The rest of the day was socializing with Knights from all over North America. 

Saturday was when all of the business was conducted and Glen did a fantastic job as he always does. His meeting was fun and efficient. Saturday afternoon was filled with the Memorial Service and meeting of the Medical Research Foundation. Then Knight Joe R. Manning Jr. was installed as the new Most Eminent Grand Master General of the Convent General of the Knights of the York Cross of Honour along with his other officers. I wish him and his officers the best of luck in the ensuing year. The evening was filled with the banquet and more socializing with my fellow Knights.

This was my first Convent General and I plan on attending many more.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Quite the Day

Today was an extremely busy day for me as my AMD Council, Knight Mason's Council, and Red Cross of Constantine Conclave met. Luckily for me, it met only 40-minutes away so the drive wasn't too bad compared to some others. Star Garnet Council No.560 of the Allied Masonic Degrees met and it was the first time I sat in Council as a Past Master and a happy sideliner. I had the pleasure to assist in investing the then-sitting Sovereign Master with the Knight Commander of the Royal Order of the Red Branch of Eri. After the elections and the closing of the business meeting, I assisted in the conferral of the Installed Sovereign Master degree and then served as Marshall for the installation of officers for the ensuing year.

Next, the Knights of Tara Council No.122, Order of Knights Masons, met. Aside from the usual business, I was elected and installed as Excellent Chief which is the presiding officer of the Council. I'm the fourth Excellent Chief of this Council and I hope I can fill the shoes of my predecessor.

In the afternoon, St. Michael Conclave of the Red Cross of Constantine met. Many of our members had never received the Order of the Holy Sepulchre or the Order of St. John the Evangelist so the Puissant Sovereign along with the Intendant General planned and put on these two appendant orders as well as the College of Viceroys and Senate of Sovereigns degrees, the latter I needed to receive before I serve as Sovereign next year...if elected.

As we had met in a rural Lodge and due to the extreme heat, we did not wear our traditional tuxedos, but instead wore pants with Hawaiian shirts. After the meetings were completed, we retired to a nearby park where we had a BBQ dinner.

Now I have to get ready as I am going on a work trip next week, attending the Convent General of the Knights of the York Cross of Honor next weekend, going on another work trip the week after that, and then attending the session of the Grand York Rites of Colorado and Wyoming after that (essentially I'm going to be traveling from now until midway through next month).

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Holy Esclarmonde de Foix

Today is the Feast Day of Esclarmonde de Foix, a Cathar priestess from the 12th and 13th centuries. Before I had joined the Apostolic Johannite Church I had never heard of her. I found in my research that there were several women of noble birth named "Esclarmonde" which made it difficult to trace her history. She is remembered for her fervent support of the Cathar faith, her presence at the Council at Pamiers 1207, and her part in the renovations to the fort of Montségur which would help shield her people during the Albigensian Crusade

It is believed that she was born after 1151 to a noble family in what is now southern France; some give a date range of ~1151 to 1165 and I found several sources that dated her birth to 1154 or 1155. She was the daughter of Roger Bernard I, Count of Foix (a vassal of the Count of Toulouse), and Cécile Trencavel, daughter of Raymond I Trencavel, the Viscount of Agde, Béziers, Albi, Carcassonne, and Razès. Her name, Esclarmonde, means "clarity or light of the world". Some theorize that her name comes from the Visigothic words "Is Klar Mun".

Growing up in Occitania afforded her an education in language, poetry, music, history, philosophy, and politics. At the age of 12, she was consecrated by Nicetas, Bogomil Bishop of Constantinople and Patriarch of the Cathars during the synod of Saint-Félix de Lauragais. For those unfamiliar with the Cathars, they were a sect of Christianity that did not adhere to the Roman Catholic doctrine and were seen as heretical by the Roman church.

In 1175, she was married to Jourdain III, the Lord of L'Isle-Jourdain, the Viscount of Gimoez, which was an unusual older age for her to marry. Although the marriage seems to have been politically motivated, as they were at that time, the marriage was fruitful and joyful as they had 6 children:

Bernard-Jourdain
Escaronia
Obica
Jordan
Othon-Bernard
Philippa

Little is known about Esclarmonde during the 25 years of marriage, but there are some stories. Anti-Cathar beliefs had started before they were married. In 1163, during the Council of Tours, Pope Alexander III condemned Catharism as heresy and by 1180 persecution was common. In 1181, a papal legate attacked Castres and Lavaur (both East of Toulouse and South of Albi). Legend has it that with these attacks, Esclarmonde helped the survivors, the refugees, flee from the onslaught of the Roman Catholic Church. She was accused of heresy but was defended by her husband (who was Roman Catholic).

In 1200, Jourdain III died and Esclarmonde devoted her life to Catharism. Jourdain had bequeathed his titles and property to Esclarmonde, but she turned it over to her children. In 1204, she received by Guilhabert de Castres, the Cathar Bishop, the Consolamentum, a sacrament taken for those becoming a Cathar Prefect. This action speaks highly of her character and resolve as most widows of nobility would live out their lives in comfort and she was choosing not only a life of service, but one that was facing severe backlash and persecution. As a Prefect, she was trained in the art of healing, medicine, herblore, weaving, agriculture, geology, mathematics, and astronomy as well as the sacred texts of the Cathars. As a Prefect of her faith, she established girls’ schools, hospitals, and homes for aging Prefects.

In 1204, Esclarmonde, foreseeing further aggression by the Catholics, suggested to the nobility to fortify their castles, and one such lord to take her words seriously was Raymond de Pereille who then owned Montségur.

Esclaramonde was said to have attended or even organized the Council of Pamiers in 1207 where a debate between Catholics and Cathars occurred. The Catholics were represented by the Bishop of Toulouse, the Bishop of Navarre, the Abbott of the Augustinians in Pamiers, and several others, including Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Dominican order who would lead the Inquisition. For the Cathars, there were several Prefects, both men and women, including Esclarmonde. There seem to be conflicts as to her contribution to the Council as one account says she delivered a brilliant lecture while another account says she was shut down and prevented from speaking by the Catholics who would not allow a woman to speak about matters they saw above her gender.

The years following saw the ruthless hand of ignorance and the destruction of brutal force with the Albigensian Crusade that would officially last until 1129. The name Albigensian comes from the town of Albi which was a center of Catharism.

Esclarmonde became a rebel and even had a bounty put on her head by the Pope and became a symbol of resistance. Through the years she avoided capture and assisted surviving Cathars. This Crusade was different as it was against Christians and fellow Europeans, but the Occitania was rich in resources, culture, and wealth, and the Catholic Army composed of the dregs of society pillaged and plundered their way through the region. In the face of such wanton destruction, many Cathars fled the Montségur which would fall to the Catholics, but not until 1244.

Some believe that Esclarmonde died in 1215, but some believe that the story was invented by her brother, Raymond-Roger, who was trying to get his lands in Foix restored to him as they had been taken during the crusade and given over to the papal legate. There is one legend that she attended the wedding of Roger-Bernard, the new Count of Foix and her nephew, to Ermengarde de Narbonne in 1232. In this legend, it is believed that she died in 1240 which would mean she was into her 80s well above the average lifespan of the time. No trace of her body or burial has ever been found.

Esclarmonde de Foix leaves a legacy of feminine strength, leadership, the Cathar religion, and of religious freedom. Such was her character that she is mentioned in several pieces of poetry and literature to include being a Keeper of the Holy Grail legends and in Gnostic revival literature. Her importance was so strong that even in recent years the Roman Catholic Church has opposed any statue or monument being made in her honor. Supposedly there is a statue of her in Foix, but I cannot find anything to corroborate this.


References

1. Barber, M. C. (1977). Women and Catharism. Reading Medieval Studies, 45-62.

2. d'Honore, R. (2007). Esclarmonde de Foix. Retrieved from Laconneau: http://laconneau.org/womensaffairsEsclarmonde.html

3. Esclarmonde de Foix c. 1154-1232. (2021, March 29). Retrieved from The Thelemic Order: https://www.thelemicorder.io/2021/03/29/esclarmonde-de-foix/

4. Esclarmonde of Foix. (n.d.). Retrieved from Academic Dictionary and Encyclopedia: https://en-academic.com/dic.nsf/enwiki/5423843

5. Graham-Leigh, E. (2005). The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

SE SRICF Conference

June and July kept me so busy that it was nice to get away for the weekend. On Friday, I flew into Atlanta and then drove to Birmingham, AL, where the two Colleges in Alabama hosted the first Southeast SRICF Conference.

Friday night was a presentation by George Ladd and Joe Kindall, both of Tennessee College, who shared their knowledge and insights about planning, research, and constructing research papers.

At the opening of the College on Saturday, I counted 75 Fratres present including 8 Chief Adepts, 5 High Council officers (some of which are also Chief Adepts), and the Most Worthy Supreme Magus. We had attendees from Arkansas College, Tennessee College, Mississippi College, Alabama College, Gulf Coast College, Georgia College, South Georgia College, South Carolina College, Florida College, Texas College, Prairie Land College (Illinois), Montana College, North Dakota College, and Idaho College.

After some introductions of the more distinguished Fratres, Gulf Coast College conferred the Grade of Philosophus (IV°) and Tennessee College conferred the Grade of Practicus (III°).

During Lunch, Worthy Frater W. John Simmons, IV° of Tennessee College, gave a presentation called "Grain, Wine and Oil: The Wages of a Mason?"

In the afternoon, Georgia and South Georgia Colleges conferred the Grade of Theoricus (II°), and South Carolina College conferred the Grade of Zelator (I°). Then Very Worthy Frater Robert Elsner, VII° of Gulf Coast College, gave a presentation called "Truth, Light, and the Lectures."

Before the closing, the Chief Adepts of the attending Colleges gave their remarks then Right Worthy Frater Jim McGee, IX°, Chief Adept of Alabama, gave some remarks before turning over the mic to Most Worthy Frater Jeff Nelson, IX° KGC, Supreme Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis who complimented the excellent ritual work and then discussed the schedule of the High Council meeting in November.

The Celebrant of Gulf Coast College then closed the College and we adjourned to the dining room for a delicious meal.

I'd like to thank Frater McGee for inviting me to this conference back in March at Fort Wayne. I had a great time and it was nice to be able to sit on the sidelines and just enjoy the ritual work.

From R-L: Me, Supreme Magus of the High Council SRICF, Sixth Ancient of the High Council SRICF, Director of Ceremonies of the High Council SRICF, and Conductor of Novices of the High Council SRICF


Friday, July 22, 2022

Temple Church

Hidden between Fleet Street and the River Thames is the iconic Temple Church, a location on my travel bucket list, known for its unorthodox round shape (one of only 5 in England). Originally built as the English headquarters for the medieval Knights Templar, it is now used as the private chapel for two Inns of Court. While Temple Church played a part in English history, it was brought back to the public's attention with the publication of the Dan Brown novel, The DaVinci Code, and the corresponding film with the same name.

During his tenure as the first Grand Master of the Templar Order, Hugh de Payens started a tour through Western Europe to grow the order, in number and authority. Toward the end of 1128, Hugh visited England and Scotland. While in London, he established a headquarters for the British Templars in Holborn (~0.5 miles north of its current location). Around 1161, the Templars had to move their headquarters when their original one couldn't hold the ever-expanding membership. They moved to where Temple Church resides today, but, in the Middle Ages, would've included barracks, residences, council chambers (for meetings), training facilities, dining hall, and recreational grounds. It needed a large complex as novices and some brothers were not permitted to go into the city proper without permission of the Master of the Temple, who was in charge of the Templars.

Temple Church itself is comprised of two sections called "The Round" and "The Chancel". The Round was the original nave and is based upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Round was consecrated on February 10, 1185, to Mary Theotokos by Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Going around the 55-ft diameter nave are free-standing column marbles. A column that is built into the wall itself is called an "Engaged column" while one that is not is called a "Free-standing column." The Chancel would be built about a half-century later by the King of England. The Chancel is a rectangular structure with a central aisle and two side aisles of equal width. The Chancel was built over the original choir of Temple Church after Henry III had originally desired to be buried there although he would be buried in Westminster Abbey; one of Henry III's sons is buried in the Chancel. The Chancel was consecrated on Ascension Day 1240.

Temple Church was used by the Templars for Templar initiation ceremonies where new knights would enter and take their monastic vows. The exact rites are unknown as they were jealously guarded and such secrecy ultimately fed the fire during their suppression in the 14th century. As it was with most Templar headquarters and preceptories, Temple Church would also serve as a depository bank which contributed to the monumental wealth of the Templars that made them a target of the tyrannical French King and the downfall of the Templars. This property was also used as a residence for kings and papal legates (ambassadors).

The commanding officer of Temple Church was referred to as the Master of the Temple. Over the years, the Templars became a powerhouse in England. The Master of the Temple would be given a seat in Parliament with the title "First Baron of the Realm." The Master of the Temple would often be called on to serve as an arbiter between the king and nobles. One such incident occurred with William Marshall who negotiated a deal between King John and nobles who demanded their rights granted by Richard I. This meeting ultimately led to the Magna Carta in 1215. The Master of the Temple was very close to the British Crown that when King John died, his son Henry was too young and so England was controlled through a regency and William, Master of the Temple, served as Regent for Henry III until he came of age to rule by his own right.

The power of the Templars in England saved them from the same treatment the French Templars received after October 13, 1307. Edward II initially refused to comply with the request to arrest all Templars and it wasn't until January 1308 that some arrests occurred. When the Templars were dissolved by the Papacy, the Templar property in England wasn't turned over to the Church as one might think, but rather was taken control of by the Crown.

Temple Church was given to the Knights Hospitallers in 1324 who then let two colleges of lawyers rent them out. These two colleges evolved into the Inner Temple and Middle Temple which own Temple Church today. In 1540, Henry VIII dissolved all of the religious houses/orders, and Temple Church once again fell back under the British Crown. Once under Henry's control, he put an Anglican priest over it and styled them "Master of the Temple" in memory of the Templar commanding officer.

Temple Church would go on to serve as the location for the Battle of the Pulpits, a theological conflict between Anglicans and Calvinists. In 1608, King James I granted Temple Church back to Inner Temple and Middle Temple in perpetuity as long as they agreed to support and maintain the buildings.

In historical literature, Shakespeare used Temple Church to depict the start of the War of the Roses. In modern literature, Dan Brown used Temple Church as a red herring for the location of "a knight A Pope interred."

Being constructed of stone, Temple Church survived the Great Fire in 1666, but was still given some renovations during the 17th century including the installation of an organ. It went through another restoration in 1841, 1862, and 1945-1958. The last date was due to extensive damage the church took during a WWII air raid. The church was rededicated in November 1958.

You enter Temple Church through a southern entrance that is adorned in Norman style that has a column on either side that is adorned with roses, saints, monarchs, etc. Looking around the nave, there are carvings of beasts and humans in different states of being and salvation/damnation. High windows allow plenty of light to flood the nave. The windows were some of the renovations, the originals being destroyed during the Nazi air raids.

Going inside you are greeted with a high arched ceiling, free-standing marble columns, and effigies embedded into the floors. To the East of the Round is the Chancel which is supported by Gothic-style arches and columns that allow light to illuminate the room.

As the fictional character Robert Langdon discovered, the effigies are not tombs or graves. Effigies are defined as an image, sculptures, models, or representations of a person. In the case of the effigies of Temple Church, they are stone carvings of knights who appear poised for battle. There are nine stone knights on the floor of the Round. Now, being in a Templar building one would think that all of the effigies depict a Templar knight, but this is disputed by some scholars. However, the use of 9 could be a tribute to the founders of the Templar order.

Today the Church is still owned and used by the two societies of lawyers as their private chapel. The church holds regular church services including Communion and Mattins (morning prayer service). They also allow for wedding ceremonies, but only for members of the Inner Temple and Middle Temple.

Temple Church is still presided over by the Master of the Temple who is appointed by the Crown and is given a house near the church that is provided by the Inner Temple and Middle Temple. The Master of the Temple is supported by a "Reader of the Temple" that is appointed by either the Inner Temple or Middle Temple (they take turns).

The acoustics of Temple Church has also made it famous for its music. The church holds performances of organ and choir music, but it has also attracted secular musicians. It has a professional all-male choir that wears, due to the special status of Temple Church, scarlet cassocks.

Temple Church stands as a testimony of the medieval Templars who built it and all members of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple should seek to visit it. Temple Church is less than one mile (roughly a 14-minute walk) from the United Grand Lodge of England.



References

1. History. (n.d.). Retrieved from Temple Church: https://www.templechurch.com/history

2. History. (n.d.). Retrieved from Temple Church: https://www.templechurch.com/history 

3. Inns of Court. (2019, January 16). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Inns-of-Court 

4. Irvine, A. (2021, April 09). Temple Church. Retrieved from History Hit: https://www.historyhit.com/locations/temple-church/ 

5. Muscato, C. (n.d.). Engaged Columns in Architecture. Retrieved from Study.com: https://study.com/academy/lesson/engaged-columns-in-architecture-definition-examples.html#:~:text=Ok%2C%20maybe%20we%20should%20explain,is%20said%20to%20be%20engaged. 

6. Richardson, E. (1843). The Monumental Effigies of the Temple Church. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 

7. Ruggeri, A. (2016, May 13). The Hidden World of the Knights Templar. Retrieved from BBC Travel: https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20160510-the-hidden-world-of-the-knights-templar 

8. Temple Church. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple: https://www.middletemple.org.uk/about-us/temple-church 

9. Temple Church. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Church 

10. Temple Church. (n.d.). Retrieved from Britain Express: http://www.britainexpress.com/London/Temple_Church.htm 

11. Temple Church. (n.d.). Retrieved from Inner Temple Library: https://www.innertemplelibrary.org.uk/inner-temple/history/temple-church/ 

12. Treasures of London – Temple Church knight effigies. (2012, October 19). Retrieved from Exploring London: https://exploring-london.com/2012/10/19/treasures-of-london-temple-church-knight-effigies/

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Visiting the Grand Lodge of Louisiana

I spent the last week in Alexandria and Fort Polk, Louisiana, and with some of the free time I had, I stopped by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana that is now in Alexandria where I met the Grand Secretary and the Brother in charge of the Library. We talked a bit and I got a lesson on the history of Louisiana and Louisiana Freemasonry which is pretty much the same history. I was shown the Library which has a great collection of books, but also some historical artifacts. The Grand Lodge of Louisiana has gone through a few buildings, but with the 21st century, they moved out of New Orleans and to Alexandria near the Masonic Home. 

Although an Idaho Mason, my journey to Freemasonry started in Louisiana while I was training for my first deployment to Iraq. My unit had just completed training at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and while waiting to head over to Iraq I went to New Orleans on a 4-day pass with several soldiers from my Platoon. While down there we drove down Park City Avenue where I saw the entrance to a Masonic graveyard. It sparked my curiosity as to who this group was, particularly since the movie National Treasure had just premiered.

Here are some photos from my visit: