Tag Archives: Kurds

P.S. on Kamyar Jarahzadeh’s piece on Sayat Nova

9 Nov

Thank you Kamyar for your posting.
Your comments however are somewhat incomplete.
Sayat Nova, born name “Harutyun Sayatyan” would have been a perfect peace ambassador in today’s Caucaus region. As far as I know, only Armenians have honored his true work for people. He was a true peoples’ singer, musician besides being accepted in Georgian court. It is sad that Azeri’s don’t appreciate the work of a genius.
He became a monk in an Armenian monestery (Haghpat) after he was expelled from Georgian court. Because he refused to convert his religion to Islam, he was killed and beheaded by the order of Persian king Agha Mohammad Khan of Ghajar during his invasion to Caucasus…

Sorry.  Kind of a moral mission on my part: can’t let celebration of cosmopolitan, tolerant Islam (or any monotheism) get away with exaggerations.

A tableau/scene — the still, fabulous compositions of Paradzhanov’s style, that make so much of his work “our parts” pornography, in essence — from Color of Pomegranates:

sayat-nova,jpg

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

 

From the Ajam Media Collective: Sayat Nova by Kamyar Jarahzadeh

9 Nov

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The Bard of the Caucasus” by  

A popular rendering of Sayat Nova.

For those unfamiliar with his legacy, Sayat Nova’s story can seem like the stuff of myth. His life is fascinating even in broad strokes: he was an ethnic Armenian musician and Orthodox Christian who lived in the Caucasus in the 18th century. He created a unique style of music, and wrote hundreds of songs in Armenian, Azeri, and Georgian. His talent was so great that even though he was born in a humble background, he rose to become the court musician of a Georgian king and founded his own school of musicians.

Sayat Nova was part of a tradition of bards known in Armenian as ashough — synonymous with the Turkish aşiq or Persian ashegh, terms used to refer to travelling musicians but literally meaning lover. Such bards worked across a vast cultural landscape that included the territory of modern Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan, and similarly transgressed the Persianate, Armenian, Azeri and Georgian speaking cultural worlds.

Just like other artisans, during this era being an ashough was like joining a class of professionals. But Sayat Nova’s style of music was unusual, he created new musical forms and compositions in all three languages.

Despite the formidable and cosmopolitan legacy of this bard, his appreciation has largely been confined to the domain of Armenian cultural heritage. Sayat Nova is mostly associated with and remembered for his works in Armenian. The reasons for this are largely due to what history has passed down to us (or failed to preserve), but that still begs the question: what more could we understand about Sayat Nova, if we were to further explore his story and music beyond his Armenian identity?

A Sayat Nova composition being performed by a modern ensemble.
To understand how an 18th century bard could create such a corpus of work, it helps to start with the basics of the musician’s biography. Although there is contention over the details of his life, Sayat Nova was likely born in the northwest of modern-day Armenia. Supposedly, he was to become a trained weaver only to instead travel to India and fight in one of Nadir Shah’s invasions of the Mughal Empire. He eventually returned to enter the ashough guild and officially gained the moniker Sayat Nova, from the Persian sayyad-i nava, or “hunter of songs.”

As he rose to fame for his musical ability, he became the court musician of King Heracle II of Georgia in Tiflis (modern-day Tblisi). He composed and performed his famous repertoire of work during this period, until legend has it he was kicked out of the court for falling in love with the King’s sister. He lived out his final years as a monk.

A map of the Afsharid dynasty detailing their campaigns against the Mughals in modern-day India. Sayat Nova is claimed to have participated in these battles.

In the 17th and 18th century, despite conflict between empires of different ethnolinguistic makeup and demographics, linguistic and cultural cosmopolitanism was the norm in royal courts. Sayat Nova was particularly valued in the Georgian Court for his ability to contribute Persianate culture and Persian-style music (although the music he performed in the court was almost exclusively in Georgian, Armenian, and Azeri).

Fortuitous timing also gave Sayat Nova the space to create his particular repertoire and be appreciated. In the 17th century, Western and Eastern Armenia had been split by the Ottoman and Safavid Empires, respectively. The Safavid Empire fell to Afghan invaders in 1722 who were then overthrown by Nader Shah and his Afsharid dynasty — the rulers of the empire during the century between the Safavids and the Qajars.

The multiple transfers of power allowed the Kingdom of Georgia a chance to shake off years of Persian meddling, tribute taking, and general interference. While the Afsharids were occupied fighting against the Mughals in the East, Georgia had a chance to cultivate its own court culture — enter Sayat Nova.

A Sayat Nova composition in Georgian from a film biopic about his life. The Armenian version is titled “Dun el Glkhen.”
Many parts of Sayat Nova’s musical legacy survive to this day. His songs are still widely performed in Armenia, with countless recordings available in a variety of formats. But the nature of his enduring legacy doesn’t match the transcultural life and music of Sayat Nova: most of the available recordings of his music are exclusively in Armenian.

The significant cultural projects that attempt to continue his legacy are tied to the Armenian community and diaspora, including the upcoming Sayat Nova festival that will be held in Yerevan. While there are Sayat Nova monuments in Armenia and Georgia, there is no monument to Sayat Nova in Azerbaijan, even though the majority of his surviving poems are in the Azeri language. Most of his Azeri and Georgian poems, in their original language, are out of print or nearly-impossible to find.

Part of this is due to the difficulties of historical preservation. We have many of Sayat Nova’s lyrics in all languages thanks to his biographers and the documents gathered by his son, but his melodies are less well-preserved. Musical notation was not common in Sayat Nova’s time and milieu, so the Armenian melodies that survived were passed down orally for 150 years until they were finally notated. The projects to track down these melodies (that continues to this day) were mostly Armenian initiatives. While it is likely that Georgian and Azeri melodies of his still survive and are being performed, they are not as widely available as his Armenian repertoire.

It seems unfitting that Sayat Nova is solely remembered through the lens of Armenian culture. Of his surviving works, scholars have located 117 Azeri poems, 72 Armenian poems, 32 Georgian poems and six Russian poems. It is this cosmopolitan legacy that arguably makes Sayat Nova unique.

Sayat Nova compositions notably used Persian and Arabic poetic meters with Armenian melodic structures. With these techniques, Sayat Nova founded the Tbilisi “school” of ashough, a tradition that was notable at the time for performing Georgian music in the Persian style. Even people unfamiliar with these languages, when listening to a Sayat Nova composition, will notice that the final couplet of his ghazals often refer to Sayat Nova in the third person — a trademark of the ghazal form that many associate with Persianate poets such as Hafez and Rumi.

At the end of this song, Sayat Nova refers to himself in the final couplet. This is very common in the ghazal form in other languages as well, such as Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Urdu.

 

A bialphabetical Sayat Nova manuscript from his notebook. The text is one composition written in both the Armenian and Georgian scripts.

Sayat Nova was unable to read the Perso-Arabic script, but his Armenian poems often blended Persian words with the language. This speaks to the role Persian played as a language of high culture: it was a language of literacy in the Caucasus that transcended ethnic boundaries.

In his handwritten manuscripts Sayat Nova would even switch between scripts mid-poem. Picture this: his Azeri poems are written in a mix of Georgian and Armenian scripts, and his Armenian poems are often written in both Armenian and Georgian scripts. His songs in colloquial Tbilisi Armenian were written in the Georgian script, and the Armenian script was reserved only for the classical Armenian language — widely considered “sacred” by devout Armenian Christians.

Why then, are the cross-cultural celebrations of Sayat Nova so few and far between? Azeris and Georgians have just as much to celebrate in Sayat Nova as the Armenian cultural mainstream.

Unfortunately a more pancultural perspective of Sayat Nova is not just difficult due to the historical record, but politically fraught. This video of an Azeri version of Sayat Nova’s song “Kamanche” highlights the vehemence of the arguments that often accompany celebrations of Sayat Nova.

An example of a Sayat Nova composition adapted into Azeri Turkish, framed by the uploader as an example of “plagiarism.”
The video shows clips of the song being used to celebrate Azerbaijan and Turkey’s form of pan-Turkic ideology that arose in the 20th century  — an incarnation with anti-Armenian ideology — while criticizing Azerbaijan for cultural theft.

This is doubly confusing: Azerbaijani nationalists using Sayat Nova for pan-Turkic goals, while Armenian reactionaries respond by disavowing the fact that this bard actually had strong ties to Azeri culture. Comments on a video of a Georgian translation of an Armenian Sayat Nova song meanwhile try to excuse or explain his non-Armenian works, rather than acknowledge that they are a significant part of his canon.

This is a tragedy, as some of the most integral parts of Sayat Nova’s identity were linked to his non-Armenian cultural capital. For example, 19th century Sayat Nova biographer and documenter Akhverdian recorded a story in which the ashough, as a retired monk, hides his identity in order to meet a young new ashough visiting the city in search of the infamous Sayat Nova.

When the youngster meets a disguised Sayat Nova and asks where to find the renowned bard, Sayat Nova’s answers are a series of Azeri plays on words: bilmanam, tanimanam, and gormanam, Which could either be translated as “I don’t know,” “I don’t recognize him,” and I “have not seen him,” or, “know, I am him,” “recognize, I am him,” and “see, I am him.” The beauty of this word play brings the young bard to surrender his instrument to Sayat Nova, to show that he has been humbled in the face of the master.

These sides of Sayat Nova’s legacy are often forgotten or glossed over. It appears that Sayat Nova’s Georgian and Azeri sides have been both lost on accident and forgotten on purpose over the course of time.

The Sayat Nova Project, now renamed Mountains of Tongues, seeks to document and explore musicological phenomena in the Caucasus beyond a nationalist lens.

There is great interest in reviving a multicultural Sayat Nova. Mountains of Tongues (formerly known as the Sayat Nova project), is a multicultural ethnomusicological research project that attempts to document the region’s musical heritage while breaking free of nationalist tropes. But that work has unfortunately become politically tenuous. The borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan remain closed in the face of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Funding for Caucasus-based musical research is often tied to a single culture and involves the explicit practice of nation and identity building. If Sayat Nova was alive today, far-right nationalists from all three communities in the Caucasus would likely denounce him for daring to perform in the languages of the “others,” whoever they may be.

But just as a modern Sayat Nova would be denounced, there would perhaps be those awaiting his return. Could there be a radical, transformative potential in remembering the multicultural Sayat Nova? Over three centuries on, the natural cosmopolitanism that Sayat Nova embodied seems lost to us. In the face of ethnic homogenization and conflict in the Caucasus, there are no easy answers. The clichés of past cultural fusions are no panacea for the contemporary political problems that the region faces. Cultural dialogue and civil society is important in such a situation, but it is important not to overemphasize the role of shared cultural heritage in examining contemporary political problems.

But at the very least, the very work of filling out our collective image of Sayat Nova could bolster a longstanding cultural unity in the region. The mix of knowledges it takes to appreciate Sayat Nova’s oeuvre is no longer easily found: people knowing Georgian, Armenian, Azeri, Persian and Russian is no longer as common as it once was. Perhaps filling our mutual gaps of knowledge could bring fans of this famous ashough together to at least remember what once was, and dream of what again could be. Until then, the very least that fans of Sayat Nova can do is heed his own hand-written introduction to his second written song:

“This divani (type of song) is very good

If you learn it, pray for my soul.”

And here is the poem he was humbly boasting about:

Special thanks to Hasmig Injejikian’s dissertation on Sayat Nova. Please refer to her publication for more specific information on Sayat Nova’s life and the academic discourse surrounding his biography, works, and legacy.

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Odd that this piece left out two masterpieces of Georgian-Armenian Soviet director Sergei Paradzhanov; one: Aşık Kerib, that tells the story, in Azeri, of exactly the kind of bard-troubadour-“lover” Sayat Nova was:

He directed the Armenian-language stunner, The Color of Pomegranates, which was a highly abstract biography of Sayat Nova (below):

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Iraq will remain united.” Does al Abadi have a point?

19 Oct

I wondered about the wisdom of Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum:Do Kurds need to do this right now, just at this very moment? and more than a year before that in Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything:

The Kurds: ‘I have a dream,’ as they say, for Kurds: that they will recognize the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan with a capital at Erbil is already a de facto independent state and not complicate things in the neighborhood by please resisting the urge to declare de jure independence.

Kurds

Kurdish-inhabited regions of the Middle East and Caucasus, according to tribal break-down.

“This centrally located political entity can serve as the hub of a wheel of still-to-be-worked-for, autonomous, Kurdish regions encircling it, and by not insisting on independence and union, they will be able to put more resources and energy into developing what they have and not fighting to defend it forever. I don’t know; maybe the future of the world will involve the devolving of nation-states into affiliated groups of semi-autonomous units with perhaps overlapping or varying degrees of jurisdiction – Holy Roman Empire style – and the Kurds may be the first to experience this as a people and benefit from it: that is, to see diaspora (if that word really applies to a non-migrating group), or political ‘multiplicity,’ as a finger in every pie and not as separation, and be able to reap the advantages of that.”

And my what-to-do suggestions:

“The Kurds: Give the Kurds EVERYTHING they need. They’re creating a society, both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the internal socio-political life of Turkish Kurds that is nothing short of revolutionary in its civic-mindedness, democratic tendencies and secular steadfastness. Yes, nothing’s perfect there either but it’s by far the best we have. And the loose confederation of Kurdish regions that I spoke of earlier may have perhaps an even more strategically valuable position to offer the rest of the world than Turkey does. Beg Turkish Kurds to swear to abide by ceasefire terms despite all provocations by the Turkish state; insist that Iraqi Kurdistan not declare independence. And then give them everything they need, even if it means billions in aid. Because, along with the Russians, they’re the ones who’ll probably have to do even more of the ground fighting when the airstrikes campaign reaches its inevitable limits – and starts harming civilians, which it unfortunately already has — even though they now insist that they’re not spilling any more of their own blood for anything outside of Kurdish-inhabited regions.”

Where I was definitely wrong, or just changes on the ground proved me wrong, in  Syria, Russia, ISIS… is:

“Neither Iraq nor the Iraqi army are functioning entities, so we can temporarily remove them from our discussion.”

ISIS horrors, and the speed with which their conquests occurred, seem to have forced Iraqis to get their act together, especially militarily (and especially with American help?)

So now I find myself thinking al Abadi has a point in his Times op-ed: Iraq Will Remain United.  Also find myself thinking that if I’m so violently against Catalan separatism I can’t pick and choose my nationalist fissures…except for that Iraqi Kurds have suffered so horribly in the past, under Iraqi rule.

And what will Turkey’s next move be?  Is Erdoğan so fearful of Turkish Kurds’ separatist aspirations (which do not represent nearly as high a percentage as the PKK wants us to believe — which is why Turkish heavy-handedness in the southeast is so counter-productive and infuriating), that he’ll have to hold his nose and deal with Shia Iraq differently.  Because the ONE thing the Iraqi takeover of Kirkuk proves, it’s that power in that country definitely rests in southern, Shia hands…with all the implications that has for Iranian power in the region…

Aaaarrrgghhhh…

I dunno…

Abadi-superJumbo Mike McQuadeMike McQuade for The New York Times

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Turks don’t suffer from Sèvrophobia; they suffer from Lausannitis.

9 Oct

One of today’s Reuters’ titles: Turkey urges U.S. to review visa suspension as lira, stocks tumble is a very deeply unintentional funny.  Is he dyslexic?  Am I?  I’ve read it correctly, yes?  The UNITED STATES is suspending visas to TURKS? The TURKISH lira and TURKISH stocks are tumbling? Right?

There’s been a ton of repetitive commentary again recently — including from me — about how Kurdish, let’s say, “pro-activeness,” in Iraq and Syria, what Kurds think is their right since they played such a key role in kicking ISIS ass, is a menace to Turkey because Turks are still traumatized by the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres that called for the remaining Ottoman Empire (Anatolia essentially) to be partitioned between the winners of WWI (and the hangers-on and cheerleaders like us), with the Straits and Constantinople internationalized (meaning British), so that Turks would have been left with a rump central Turkey and, I think, a minimal outlet to the Black Sea along the coastal stretch around Sinope.

All of that was changed by Atatürk’s declaration of a Turkish Republic at Sebasteia and the subsequent disastrous defeat of the invading Greek army.  The Turkish War of Independence (please, Greeks, gimme a break and let me call it that for now) was an impressive accomplishment, and if it ended badly for the Greeks who lived there, as we remember every autumn when we recite the Megilla of Smyrna, that’s our fault and especially the fault of Venizelos who, being Cretan, found pallikaristiko demagoguery and dangerous, careerist magandalık irresistible So impressive was Kemal’s accomplishment, in fact, that all the parties involved in Sèvres then got together at Lausanne in 1923 and decided Turkey should get whatever it wants.  Suddenly, the clouds of three centuries of depressing imperial contraction, and massacre and expulsion of Muslims from the Caucasus, the northern Black Sea, the Balkans and Crete were lifted (ditch the Arabs south and call it a country seemed to be the Turkish consensus for whatever was left) and the Turkish Republic went on its merry way.  Sèvres and Sèvrophobia was gone.

What Turkey suffers from now, and has for most of the twentieth century since the events we’re talking about, is a Lausanne-inspired sense of entitlement that is simply breathtaking in its cluelessness.  It’s the kind that leaves you staring at some Turks, silenced and dumbfounded, and unable to tell whether what they just said to you is elegantly, sweepingly aristocratic or just passively asinine.  Lausanne was first; add Kemal’s personality cult (I’m not sure that history ever threw together two bigger narcissists than him and Venizelos; they should’ve been lovers), then, what was always a silenced Ottomanness came out of the closet, allied as it always has been with the seminal triumphalist narrative of Islam itselfand you get Erdoğan!

erdoganjpg-thumb-large

Now he wants the U.S. to review its Turkey policies?  Who is this man?  Scolding the whole fucking world like we’re a bunch of children.  Let him scold his children — meaning Turks — first, and then maybe we can take it from there.  If I were a German diplomat in Turkey and had been summoned to His Sublime Presence for the nth time in one year to be chastised for something mocking someone in Germany had said about Him, and told “to do” something about it, I would have found it hard to control my laughter.  As an outsider, I find it delightful enough that of all peoples on the planet, Turks and Germans got involved in a multi-episode drama on the nature of irony and parody. But to have him demand shit from all sides…

No, you’re not a “mouse that roared” arkadaşım, ok?  Yes, “all of Luxembourg is like one town in Turkey” (wow…ne büyük bir onur).  Turkey’s a big, scary, powerful country with a big, scary, powerful military, and lots of “soft” cultural and economic power in its region too.  But you’re in a schoolyard with some much bigger cats.  Soon all of them — the United States, Russia, the European Union, Israel and even some who already openly can’t stand your guts — like Iran — are gonna come to the conclusion that you’re more trouble than you’re worth.  Even Germany is no longer so guilt-ridden as to be polite to you.  And I don’t say any of this as a Greek, because I don’t think that when they all get to that exasperated point and temporarily turn to Greece, that Greeks are going to be anything other than the chick you were drunk enough to take home for a one-nighter — Kurds are going to be the rebound girlfriend, though I can’t say right now for how long — but things have been moving rapidly in a direction where the big boys are not going to want to play with you anymore, and they’re going to let you know in a way that won’t be pretty.

Though, as with all bullies, as soon as Erdoğan’s tough-guy bluff-policy on anything is called, he backs down.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Another NikoBako I-told-you-so: Antiocheia, Idlib, Turkey and goddamn “referenda”

7 Oct

In a recent post (September 22): Do Kurds need to do this right now, just at this very moment?“, I re-examined some of the assumptions and hopes I had made and wished for in an older post from December 2015: Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything“.

From just two weeks ago, this September:

“I hate, more than anybody, to look like I’m catering to Erdoğan’s peeves, but an Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence just at this time is a provocation for him that may turn out to be disastrous.  Erdoğan is already massing troops on Turkey’s southern borders, and though I doubt he’ll have the balls to invade what’s pretty much an American satellite, Iraqi Kurdistan, I don’t put it beyond him to send troops into the Idlib region in Syria — maybe even hold a “referendum” and annex it like the Turkish Republic did to the neighboring region of Antiocheia in the 1930s.”

Well, the man’s deranged mind functions like clockwork.  Reuters announced a few hours ago that Turkish army operations in Idlib have already begun:

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that a major military operation was underway in the Syria’s northwest province of Idlib, which Free Syrian Army rebel groups earlier said they were preparing to enter with Turkish backing.

“There is a serious operation in Syria’s Idlib today, and this will continue,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in a speech.

Much of Idlib is currently controlled by an jihadist-led alliance of fighters. “We will never allow a terror corridor along our borders in Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue to take other initiatives after the Idlib operation.”

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The reason this is so dangerous a move is that it’s so blindingly easy for Erdoğan to justify it.  In case you’ve ever wondered why the Greco-Syrian city of AntiochΑντιόχεια, one of the three great urban centers of Greco-Roman Christianity, is today in Turkey and not Syria, it’s because in 1939, the Turkish Republic strong-armed the French Mandate of Syria (I don’t know how) into holding a plebiscite in the Sanjak of Alexandretta (see map below) in order to determine its future incorporation into the Turkish state.  And as with all such votes — like Putin’s elections, Puigdemont’s referendum — the response was overwhelmingly approving.  We’re supposed to believe that 90% of the population of this region, the hinterland of Antiocheia (Antakya), where a majority of the population were, and still are, Arab Alawites/Alevis (see second to last map at bottom) who already had a little-sister, special relationship with France like Maronites did in Lebanon, followed by Turco-Kurdish Alevis and a sizeable Arab Christian community (most of which has now long moved to İstanbul), had — even after almost twenty years of watching the vicious war the Turkish Republic had been waging against Kurds, the crazed massacres of Alevis in Turkey, and the Republic’s systematic campaign to either expel or forcibly assimilate its Christian population — voted in their delighted majority to become part of Turkey.

An independent Iraqi Kurdish state, with neighboring Syrian areas already under YPG, would only need Idlib (only 100 kilometres from Turkish Antiocheia) to connect it to the strongly Assadite, Alawite region of Laodicaea (Latakya) and give a something-like-a-Kurdish state access to the Mediterranean; it would certainly end Erdoğan’s dream of a Sunni-run Syria.  I don’t even know what to think or what predictions to make.  Hopefully Russia will say no.  Hopefully the U.S. and the EU will too and go for serious sanctions, by which I mean not bullshit sanctions, but the cutting off of military aid completely.  Erdoğan deserves a serious back-hander — not just German pissiness — from some-one, for eff’s sake, and I can’t think of a better one than to have the Turkish army, deprived of its fancy American toys, “eat its face”, as we say in Greek, against Kurdish peshmerga in northern Syria.

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Hatay, where the name comes from — Hittites, I think – Hittites who came from the Sun, I think — and how there’s been a Turkic presence in the region for forty centuries (were there even homo sapiens forty centuries ago? …hmmm…maybe that’s the point) are all contained in the sacred texts of Turkish nationalism.  Like I’ve said many times before, nationalism is always funny (if it weren’t at the cost of so much blood) but Turkish nationalism is hysterical, Star Trek as a SNL skit.  Check it out if you’re bored at work some afternoon: Sun Language Theory.

More maps:

1579px-Hatay_in_Turkey.svgThe Sanjak of Alexandretta — Antioch — “Hatay” province — little red corner of Syrian Mediterranean, that Turkey bullied out of French hands in 1939.

1024px-alawite_distribution_in_the_levantDistribution of Alawites/Alevis in Turkey (Antiocheia), Syria and Lebanon, indicating, clearly, regions of ALAWITE MAJORITY.

And Idlib governate below.

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See “Alawite”, “Alevis” and then “Kurds” tags from other Jadde posts for more on this.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Repost: Catalonia: “Nationalism effaces the individual…”

1 Oct

…fuels imaginary grievances and rejects solidarity. It divides and discriminates. And it defies the essence of democracy: respect for diversity. Complex identities are a key feature of modern society. [my emphasis] Spain is no exception.”

A brilliant op-ed piece from the Times today by Mario Vargas LLosa, among others, that exposes all the petty narcissism and destructiveness of the orgy of separatist movements that Europe has seen come to the fore in the past few decades: A Threat to Spanish Democracy .”

Catalunya+Prov+EnglishOther money quotes:

“In their attempt to undermine the workings of the constitutional government, Catalan separatists have displayed a remarkable indifference to historical truth. Catalonia was never an independent state. It was never subjected to conquest. And it is not the victim of an authoritarian regime. As a part of the crown of Aragon and later in its own right, Catalonia contributed decisively to making Spain what it has been for over three centuries: an impressive attempt to reconcile unity and diversity — a pioneering effort to integrate different cultures, languages and traditions into a single viable political community.

“Compared with the crises occasioned by the collapse of dictatorships in many European states, Spain’s transition to democracy, following the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, was exemplary, resulting in a democratic constitution granting broad powers to Spain’s autonomous regions. Yet Catalan separatists have glossed over the positive aspects of the transition.”

and:

“But the advent of democracy brought official recognition to Spain’s distinctive cultures, and set the foundations for the autonomy the Catalans enjoy today. Catalonia has its own official language, its own government, its own police force. Catalans endorsed the Constitution overwhelmingly: 90 percent of them voted yes in the referendum of Dec. 6, 1978. The millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona every year, drawn by the beguiling blend of Gothic and Gaudí, attest to the vigor of Catalonia’s culture. The claim that Catalonia’s personality is being stifled and its freedoms oppressed is simply untrue.”

The piece pretty much says it all: the bogus democraticness of separatist rights and the supposed right to self-determination completely debunked as nothing more than “little” nationalisms, which as Vassily Grossman points out in this post …the nationalism of little nations,” can be just as dangerous and certainly as small-minded as that of “bigger” nationalisms.  Ditto this op-ed for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Ukraine (both sides), for Belgium, Scotland and, of course, for the most nightmarish manifestation of these tendencies in our time, the tragic break-up of Yugoslavia.  And that’s without even going as far back as the Partition of India, or the Greco-Turkish Population Exchange of the 1920s.

“Complex identities are a key feature of modern society.”  No, no and no…  Complex identities are not just a key feature of modern society, but humanity period, a feature of pre-modern society since the beginning of time.  The roughly two centuries of modernity or “the modern,” which we can probably date from the French Revolution on, is the only period in history when the ethnicity-based nation-state and its brutal, levelling, anti-humanist attempt to “de-complicate” human identity held sway as the predominant form of sociopolitical organization.  It’s just a blip on the screen of history and will soon come to be seen as such.  Multiple cultural identities and stable state political organization can co-exist easily.  Thinking otherwise is an idea whose burial is long overdue.

So, what irritates me most about separatist movements like that of the Catalans is that they’re really retrograde ideologies disguised as liberation movements.  Since the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, when the autonomous Catalan government had the impudence, I remember, to plaster New York City subway cars with ads that read “Catalonia is a country in Spain,” (???) Catalans have been engaged in a massive public relations campaign to project an image of sophistication, liberalism, bogus hipness, and artistic innovation (including culinary — if you can actually call the molecular nonsense Ferran Adrià put out food…) all meant to be juxtaposed against a clichéd, “Black Legend” stereotype of Spain — under whose repression Catalonia suffers — that’s just plain racist. Catalan nationalism rests mostly on the laurels of its Republican-ness and struggle against the forces of Spanish reaction in the 1930s — Hemmingway and Orwell’s “Homage.”  But the attitude of today’s average Catalan nationalist more resembles that of the average member of Italy’s Northern League, a far-right if not quite fascist but certainly racist bunch of jerks: the same smug sense of superiority towards their co-citizens and the same petit bourgeois self-righteousness about how their wealth and resources get sucked up by the parasitic rest of the country.

There is no convincing evidence that Catalan society is any more liberal or open or sophisticated than the rest of Spain.  See González Iñárritus film “Biutiful” (if you can bear to watch it; I couldn’t make it though a second viewing…but it’s the perfect antidote to Woody Allen’s nauseating “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona”), for how much better Catalonia treats its immigrants, for example, including those from poorer parts of Spain, than any other part of Europe, or do some reading up on the discrimination Castillian-speakers in Catalonia suffer.  Catalan independence is not a liberal or liberatory idea; it’s exclusionary and elitist to the core.  The problem is that most of the world falls for the discourses of these movements –the way the West did with Croatia in the 90s — because they’re so good at playing victim.

The finger-flipping at the impressive democratic achievements of Spanish society since 1975 is particularly galling.

See also my Leader of Catalonia Calls for Independence Vote (September 27th).  And  More on Alevis and Alawites…or Alevis and Kurds…or Iraqi Kurds…or…Christian Kurds…or Assyrians…or… (September 27th)

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Diyarbakır

24 Sep

A cool Twitter account with photos of Diyarbakır, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan.  Slight weakness for the super wide angle, the last refuge of those with no compositional ideas, but interesting nonetheless.  Plus, who knows when we’ll once again be able to travel there freely.

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

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