Tag Archives: Ottoman Empire

“Forgotten Bonds: Albanian armed guards protected medieval Serbian churches & monasteries in Kosovo…” (and a short Ayesha Saddiqi addendum)

17 Sep

@Purpura57912934 tweeted:

Forgotten Bonds: Albanian armed guards protected medieval Serbian churches & monasteries in Kosovo during the last centuries of Ottoman rule. The commanders were hereditary Vojvodas, the guards permanently lived on the church grounds & were most likely Laramans (Crypto-Orthodox).

Purpura begins his tweet with the words: “Forgotten Bonds”. I think it’s safe to assume that his intentions are to show how, in some indeterminate past, Albanian Muslims and Orthodox Serbs lived in harmony together in Kosovo and in such multicultural peace that it was Albanians who guarded the extensive and dazzling ecclesiastic art heritage of Kosovo Serbian Orthodoxy (instead of vandalizing it like they do now). But he concludes by saying that most of these guards were secretly Christian. And that of course belies the whole myth of “bonds” and tolerance and happiness and how “there is no compulsion in religion.”

Read about the Laramans on Wiki . It’s a fascinating page because it puts together a whole package of phenomena that all, to some extent, grew out of Ottoman defeat in the Great Austro-Turkish War at the end of the 17th century: the retaliatory violence against the still-Christian Albanian and Serbian population that lived in the western Balkans on the corridor where much of the fighting of the prolonged conflict had occurred; the flight of Serbs to the north; the Islamization of Albanian Catholic Ghegs who then settled in a depopulated Kosovo and the parts of southern Serbia that the Serbs had fled from*; the spread of Bektashism throughout the Albanian Balkans and how that form of Sufism may have grown out of the crypto-Christianity of much of the population and even from Janissaries (with whom the Bektashi order was widely associated) of Albanian extraction; and the spread of violent Islamization campaigns to the Orthodox, mixed Albanian-Greek population, of southern Albania later in the 18th and early 19th century.

A testament to this last phenomenon — the Islamization of southern Albania — is the obstinate Christianity of the region my father was from, the valley of Dropoli (shown above). There are several songs in the region’s folk repertoire that deal with the conversion pressures of the past, but one song that is heard at every festival or wedding and could be called the “national anthem” of the region, is “Deropolitissa” — “Woman of Dropoli.” Below are two versions; the first a capella in the weird, haunting polyphonic singing of the Albanian south (see here and here and here and especially here)**; and another with full musical accompaniment, so readers who are interested can get a sense of the region’s dance tradition as well (though in the second video the dress is not that of Dropoli for some reason). If you’re interested in Epirotiko music, listen for the “γύριζμα” or “the turn” — the improv’ elaborate clarinet playing — toward the end of the second video, 4:02; the clarinet is a Shiva-lingam, sacred fetish object of mad reverence in Epiros and southern Albania.

The lyrics are [“The singers are urging their fellow Christian, a girl from Dropull, not to imitate their example but keep her faith and pray for them in church.”]:

σύ (ντ)α πας στην εκκλησιά,
με λαμπάδες με κεριά,
και με μοσκοθυμιατά,
για προσκύνα για τ’ εμάς,
τι μας πλάκωσε η Τουρκιά,
κι όλη η Αρβανιτιά,
και μας σέρνουν στα Τζαμιά,
και μας σφάζουν σαν τ’ αρνιά,
σαν τ’ αρνιά την Πασχαλιά.
σαν κατσίκια τ’ Αγιωργιού.

…and go to church
with lamps and candles
and with sweet-smelling incense
pray for us too
because Turkey has seized us,
so has all of Arvanitia (Albania),
to take us to the mosques,
and slaughter us like lambs,
like lambs at Easter, like goats on Saint George’s day.

Until the first part of nineteenth century women in Dropoli used to wear a tattooed cross on their forehead, the way many Egyptian Copts, both men and women, still wear on their wrists; there are photographs of Dropolitiko women with the tattoo but I haven’t been able to find them. Here’s a beautiful photo, though — looks like some time pre-WWII — of Dropolitisses in regional dress.

Of course, as per my yaar, Ayesha Siddiqi, “I don’t think I can ever really be that close to people…” whose ancestors didn’t experience and stand up to religious persecution of the kind mine did.

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* Good to know something about the traumas of Serbian history before we rail against them and villainize them in a knee-jerk fashion. I think my best summary came from this post last year, Prečani-Serbs:

Prečani-Serbs: It’s doubtful that any Balkan peoples suffered more from the see-saw wars between the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs than the Serbs did.  It’s easy to see why; Serbian lands are pretty much the highway for getting from the south Balkans to Vienna.detailed-political-map-of-the-former-yugoslavia-1983It’s the easiest proof there is that war always had “collateral damage” and civilian casualties.  The Ottomans launched rapid campaigns up through to Vienna in 1529 and 1683.  Both times they failed to take the city and retreated.  Thank the gods, because the idea of Turkish armies at the walls of Vienna is even more terrifying than the idea of Arab armies in the Loire valley at Tours just 70 kilometers from Paris in 732. But in 1683 they not only failed to conquer Vienna, the Hapsburgs chased the retreating Ottomans across the Danube and as far south as Kosovo.  That could have meant Serbian liberation from the Ottomans 200 years before it actually happened.

But then the Austrians made the fateful decision to retreat.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps they felt overextended or thought they were getting too deep into imperial overreach.  And of course this meant horrific retaliatory violence on the part of Turks and local Muslims against the southern Serbs who had welcomed the Austrians as liberators.  And an epic exodus of the Serbs northwards, in what are called the Great Migrations of the Serbs, began.  This resulted in a massive shift to the north of the Serbian nation’s center of gravity and, perhaps most fatefully, marks the beginning of the de-Serbianization of Kosovo, which was the spiritual heartland of the Serbs.  And an influx of increasingly aggressive highland Albanians, now Islamicized and emboldened in their impunity as such, only accelerated the departure of Kosovo Serbs to the north.

Conditions in northern but still Ottoman Serbia were better than in the south.  But for many Serbs this was not enough.  A great many crossed the Danube and settled in what is now the autonomous region of Vojvodina and the parts of Croatia called Slavonia and Krajina.  Ironically, just as the Ottomans made Serbia prime recruiting country for their system of enslaving young boys to turn them into the most powerful unit in the Ottoman army, the Janissaries, the Austrians themselves also recognized that Serbs were, as always, good soldier material, and they invited Serbian fighters and their families into Austria’s border regions to protect the boundaries of the Hapsburg empire from possible Ottoman aggression.

So Prečani-Serbs, refers, very broadly, to those Serbs who went and settled in the borderlands of the Austrian empire; the term comes from “preko” or “over there” or “the other side”, across the Danube, Sava and Drina rivers, in other words, that were the borders between the Ottomans and Hapsburgs for centuries.

I don’t know whether Krajina Serbs from around Knin — shown in green in map below — are considered prečani or not, those from that part of Croatia that was largely Serbian until 1995, when it’s Serbian inhabitants were expelled with American help in what was the largest single act of ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars, with some 200,000 Serbs expelled from their homes.  Serbs are soldiers and poets, as I’ve quoted Rebecca West saying so many times; Croatians are lawyers; but with the detestable Milošević having abandoned Krajina Serbs (Venizelos-style), and with Americans arming, training them and watching their backs, Croats proved themselves to be formidable warriors indeed.

war_map

So, if one can put one’s biases aside, the poignant tragedy of this whole set of some 600-years of pain and trauma becomes clear.  Bullied out of Kosovo over the centuries, Serbs move north, even so far north as to settle in Austria itself.  Then, with no one’s help, they gather Serbs from Kosovo to the trans-Danube-Sava lands where they had settled over the centuries into one state.  And less than 100 years later, they lose and are almost entirely expelled from both the Kosovo they had fled from and from the Krajina and Prečani lands they had fled to.

Good to know the whole stories sometimes.

** I’m pissed and disappointed at my χωριανοί, “landsmen”, who have totally abandoned this beautiful and UNESCO-protected form of singing. When I first went to Albania to see my father’s village for the first time in 1992, after the fall of its heinous Stalinist regime, and to meet relatives we only knew through the spotty correspondence that made it through the Albanian Communist καθίκια‘s censorship, a group of aunts and uncles of mine recorded two hours of traditional singing for me to take back to my father (my father put off visitting until much later, when he was very sick because I imagine he was afraid that it would be traumatic; of course, going back when he did in 2002, knowing it would be his one and last time was just as painful.)

(If you want to know more about my family’s history, see: Easter eggs: a grandmother and a grandfather.)

My grandmother and my father a baby

Now, thirty years later, no one except a few very old men still sing; they’ve totally left the playing field of the region’s song to neighboring Albanian villages; just like only a few young girls still wear traditional dress as brides, just like they’ve built horrible concrete polykatoikies without even a nominal nod to the traditional architectural idiom… Dance and dance music they’ve maintained, though they’ve sped up the tempo a little (compared to the second video above for instance) and that would have irritated my dad, since the aesthetic ideal of dance in the region is slow, almost motion-less, restraint — reminds you of Japanese Nōh drama. I carry the torch for him and get “grouchy”, as my friend E. says, when things get a little too uppity-happy on the dance floor.

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Why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World — Alan Mikhail

5 Sep
Selim I

By Alan Mikhail September 3, 2020 7:00 AM EDT Mikhail is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Yale University. His new book is GOD’S SHADOW: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Co.)

At the end of August, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the Islamic New Year with aplomb. Fresh off his conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque, he converted another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures. The day after that he announced the largest ever natural gas depository in the Black Sea. This followed another recent discovery of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Both of these areas are hotly contested zones of international competition between the powers around these seas. Later that week he welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, where he expressed support for Palestinians in the wake of the recent announcement of an agreement between Israel and the UAE.

All of these moves project Erdogan’s vision of Islamist strength into the world. Standing up for Islam at home goes hand in hand with securing natural resources and imposing Turkey’s power abroad. It also goes hand in hand with domestic repression. The Islamic New Year saw Erdogan further tighten his grip on social media freedom and consider pulling Turkey out of what is known, now farcically, as the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits countries to protecting women from domestic violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Middle East, and around the world should worry.

Much has been written about Erdogan’s attempts to “resurrect” the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan. There is truth here. But to understand Erdogan’s political agenda and horizon we must be specific about which Ottoman sultan Erdogan strives to be. It is the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I.

Selim died 500 years ago in 1520. It was during his lifetime that the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire. For Erdogan, this sultan from half a millennium ago serves his contemporary needs. Selim in many ways functions as Erdogan’s Andrew Jackson, a figure from the past of symbolic use in the present. Selim offers a template for Turkey to become a global political and economic power, with influence from Washington to Beijing, crushing foreign and domestic challengers alike. He helps Erdogan too to make his case for Islam as a cultural and political reservoir of strength, a vital component of the glories of the Ottoman past, which he seeks to emulate in contemporary Turkey against the dominant elite secularism that has reigned since its founding.

We should be wary of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary vision of Turkish political power. It represents a historical example of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the attempted annihilation of religious minorities, and the monopolization of global economic resources. In addition to his attempts to monopolize natural gas reserves around Turkey, today this takes the form of Erdogan’s foreign military ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At home, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite community, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, women, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his own Sunni religiosity to position Islam at the center of Turkey’s domestic agenda, with the church conversions the most potent recent symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competition that pits Turkey against Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the region and over claims of global Islamic leadership.

Erdogan likes Selim because he made Turkish global political power possible. From 1517 through the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire maintained the geographic shape Selim won for it, dominating the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1517, the Ottomans defeated their major rival in the region, the Mamluk Empire based in Cairo, capturing all of its territory in the Middle East and North Africa. This more than doubled the empire’s size. This explosion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East turned it into the region’s foremost military and political power and one of the world’s largest states. The Ottomans now controlled the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean and thus dominated the globe’s most important trade routes overland between Europe and Asia and by sea through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Turkish Republic inherited much of that power after the empire’s demise and the republic’s rise in 1923.

While every modern Turkish ruler has distanced himself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and Islam, to attempt to project a more “western,” “secular,” and “modern” face for the republic, Erdogan is the first who has actively embraced the Ottoman past and the empire’s Islamic heritage. Here too Selim proves key to Erdogan’s image of his rule. Selim’s defeat of the Mamluks made the Ottoman Empire a majority Muslim state for the first time in its history, after over two hundred years of being a state whose population was mostly Greek Orthodox. [my emphasis] With this victory, Selim became the first Ottoman sultan to rule Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, thus earning the title of caliph and cementing the empire’s global Islamic credentials. If Selim was the first Ottoman to be both sultan and caliph, Erdogan is the first republican leader to profess to possessing both titles.

Like President Donald Trump’s purposeful deployment of the symbols of Andrew Jackson—prominently displaying his portrait in the Oval Office and defending his statues—Erdogan has trafficked publicly and specifically in the symbolic politics of Selim in Turkey. His most striking act was to name the recently constructed third bridge over the famous Bosphorus Strait after Selim. Erdogan has also lavished enormous resources on Selim’s tomb and other memorials to his rule. After winning a 2017 constitutional referendum that greatly expanded his powers—a process marred by irregularities—Erdogan made his first public appearance at Selim’s tomb. Staged as a kind of pilgrimage, there Erdogan returned to the long-dead sovereign his kaftan and turban that had been stolen years before. This far-from-subtle first act after winning a referendum that gave him near-limitless power made clear who Erdogan’s role model is.

Erdogan and his Islamist party colleagues regularly describe themselves as the “grandchildren” of the Ottomans. In this very pointed genealogy, Erdogan purposefully skips a generation—that of Turkey’s republican fathers since 1923—to leapfrog back in time to when the Ottomans ruled the globe with their particular brand of Turkish Sunni politics, to Selim’s day when wars and domestic repression led to wealth and territorial power. Recreating a political program akin to Selim’s is a dangerous prospect for Turkey and the Middle East and indeed the world. To make Turkey Ottoman again requires the kind of violence, censorship, and vitriol that Erdogan has indeed shown himself ready to use. The universal lesson here is that calls for returns to perceived greatness, whether in Turkey or in United States, selectively embrace controversial historical figures, mangle their history, and elevate hatred and division.

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Me and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

4 Nov

Here’s another dude who doesn’t like the premise of this blog.  I love when people like this write to tell you that you’re wrong, ridiculous, and that 99% of the world will ignore you because that’s what you deserve — and feel obligated to take the time and energy to write a 762-word email in order to tell you that.  (Full email of Kristos posted below)

It’s like Carly Simon’s “You’re so vain”.  I bet you think this post is about you, don’t you?! Don’t you?!?!

Carly, in all her 70s burnt-bra glory:

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Enjoy:

“good evening

“My name is Chris, I am from Greece and accidentally fell in your blog today, as I was reading news and things about the latest situation in Kurdistan. I noticed your title “FROM BOSNIA TO BENGAL”, then  “I’m Greek” and finally “What I hope this blog accomplishes is to create even the tiniest amount of common consciousness among readers from the parts of the world in question.”.

“I was sure what the blog is about before even open “Jadde — Starting off — the Mission”, as you are not the first person (of Greek roots) who supports such views. For example Dr Kitsikis would probably mastrubate to “It’s about that zone, from Bosnia to Bengal that, whatever its cultural complexity and variety, constitutes an undeniable unit for me”.we partied well together”

“I am not going to start with arguing wether your statements are or not right, let me ask you some things first: Do you realize the difference between “natural choice” and “enforcment” which (the second one) in many cases ended in 1821? Or the difference between 1819 and 2019 and how many changes have occured during these two centuries? Like you said, the area that your father called “our places” was Pogoni, a valley close to Greek-Albanian borders, which remained under ottomans till late 1912. Can you realize how different your father’s experiences are from a next-door Corfiot or an Athenian whose ancestors were expriencing Bavarian rule since as early as 1830s? Can you understand how many Greeks in the new world, are attracted by South Italians, Irish, or others by Eastern Europeans (like Russians or Ukrainians) depending upon person and for different reasons, the exactly same way that you are attracted by the ethnicities you mentioned above? By “attracted” i obviously do not mean physically attracted, but even in that case, how many marriages have been done between Greeks and Italians in the US and how many between Greeks and Bosnians, Arabs or Indians? From all of my relatives there, nearly half of Greek Americans married to a “foreigner” are married to an Italian person (funny fact is that even for Greeks of Smyrna it was much more possible to get married to a Person from French or Italian communities of the city than a turkish or Arabic person). Yes, you are a person from pogoni (where if i am not mistaken Greek was even not spoken till recently, instead of it Aromanian and Aravnitic were spoken), your ancestors have interacted much more with all these people you mention and until very recently. Can you understand that I and many other Greeks come from places where social  and cultural norms were very, very different?

“You call yourself a Roman, I guess considering yourself as a successor of Byzantines. In what way were the Christian Romans of Byzantium closer to Arab muslims than to Christian Romans of Western Europe?

“You will certainly find some (because 99% of “neo-athenians will probably not even pay attention to your work) “offended Athenians” but did you ever consider the possibility that Athens, being a multicultural city today, has ALL of the ethnicities mentioned above, with neither of these ethnicities attracting Greeks in the way you describe?

“You have the right to associate yourself with whoever you want, and feel confortable as well. Just let us know, why do you put a whole nationality, with different experiences from class to class and from region to region into the same basket, when the majority of our 10 million people have different experiences from yours? You mention enlightenment and the way nation state is perceived by it in a part of your text. As long as Greeks have chosen since 2 centuries ago to live this way (as an independent nation state and fully part of Europe-we had even revolted 150 times to gain independence from the ottomans before 1821) why don’t you at least respect that and seperate yourself and people with similar views to yours from us? No, we are not part of such a “zone” from Bengal to Bosnia, we have never been even if most of our ancestors were FORCED to interact with these people until 1821.

“Do not take my message as offensive, but as an invitation to open your mind and do not put whole groups or nationalities into basket which they don’t feel part of, because they are not part of them (and don’t take yourself as the “chosen one” to know the absolute truth among millions of “delusional” Greeks who “want” to be European)”

See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:,   Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fear

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fear

4 Nov

“This is…really something. Like, “and it’s no coincidence that 9 our of 10 examples here on how Greeks are supposed to belong to a supposed zone from Balkans to south Asia, are examples of Greeks who either lived in Northern regions near Balkans and Turkey and wasted time under ottomans until late 1913 and from early 15th century or Anatolian Greeks or even Romani Greek people. The majority of Greeks, who come from regions with deep and long contacts with Southwest and sometimes central Europe, like Southern Greeks or Greek islanders are almost ignored.”

[See full text of Giannis’ 1,562 – word email here: A Greek (sorry, Hellenic?) White Pride reader says: “you’re wrong, NB” — post I or reposted below.]

“What?! What Greeks are these, exactly, who experienced most of the 400 years before 1913 outside of the Ottoman Empire and in close contact with southwest and central Europe? And why don’t the Anatolian or Balkan Greeks count? (I mean, I know why they don’t count, his racist argument only works if you exclude people who don’t fit the narrative).

“It’s really astonishing how ultimately defensive and afraid this kind of nonsense is. They’re so terrified by the idea that, gasp, cultures and peoples mix over time, they have to construct these completely a-historical versions of the past to comfort themselves.” [my emphases]

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See also: Stormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:Me and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“Bad Hombre” Moskos, a landsman of mine, objects, I think, to Greek Gypsy love — “She’s 13”

20 Oct

Screen Shot 2019-10-21 at 12.02.38 AM

“She’s 13” refers to my previous post: Greek Gypsy love“.

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Yes, she’s 13.  And?  I respect your opinion because from what I know you are or were the best kinna New York cop who understands that his position entails a fair amount of social work along with the criminology and justice and every other kind of training you had to go through or exercise on the job.  But what should we think or think we should do exactly?  Have someone from some city or government agency intrude on this society and find a way to separate them?  Nobody forced them, so it wasn’t any kind of semi-pimping by their parents or dowry-greed; in fact, what they did was an expression of free will that — to some extent — disregarded and stood up to the strictures of their culture’s elders.  They just wanted to sleep in the same bed.

I have to explain this a lot, but the generations in my family are long, if you know what I mean.  Both my parents were last or only children, and both my parents were in their early forties when they had me.  All four of my grandparents were born Ottoman subjects.  I was raised, then, with a much greater intimacy and familiarity — even if second-hand — with pre-WWII Balkan rural life than most Greeks or Greek-Americans my age, 55, would understand.  Late teens or early 20s was considered prime age for marriage, and for my father’s clan in Albania still is.  Late 20s was already over the hill.

Romeo and Juliet were roughly the same age, 15 and 13, when they found love and the only reason that turned out badly is older people’s morality.  Are these kids doing something wrong?  Or are we just too cynical to think that our first love should be our only love, or maybe just too molly-coddled to take on the responsibility of marriage and children till we’re 35 and then run around panicked, trying to have kids at 40-something?

And as opposed to inner-city urban teenagers in America, this girl obviously lives in a society where she’ll have an extensive matriarchal support system to help her with having and raising children.

I have to admit it was a little weird to have this broadcast on Greek TV.  But what’s the problem exactly?

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

Damir Imamović explains what traditional Bosnian music ‘Sevdah’ is

16 Sep

Thanks to Adnan Delalić for tweeting this video.

A Colombian friend says to me: “That you can all [my blog’s world, Bosnians to Bengalis] listen to what to me sounds like exactly the same music and not get each other on everything else…I don’t understand.”

Me neither.

The Classical Liberals: “On the Balkans, the Former Yugoslavia, and the Unity of Spaces”

4 Jan

dropoliThe Valley of Dropoli, the pass up to the Pogoni plateau near Libochovo, and in the distance, the snowcapped peaks of Nemerčka, from the Monastery of the Taxiarches in my father’s village of Derviçani, Easter 2014 (click)

I’m honored by the fact that this really intelligent blog quotes extensively from the Jadde’s mission statement in a recent post: Jadde — Starting off — the Mission.

Check them out: The Classical Liberals: At least, most of the time  Smart, perceptive, interesting stuff.

The author of the post below and the person I suspect is largely behind the editing of the blog is one Eoin Power, not just a fellow Balkan-freak along the lines of me or Rebecca West, but also a fellow Epirote.  He demurs a bit — though not very convincingly — at being called an Epirote, because his lineage is multiple and complicated and the connection to Epiros is fairly distant historically.  But he’s from one of the most archetypically and ancient Epirotiko villages — where they still own their patriko — in one of the most archetypically Epirotiko regions of Epiros and he carries himself with the requisite Epirotiko dignity and soft-spokeness and if I, NikoBakos, have conferred the title on you, it’s ’cause you deserve it.

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On the Balkans, the Former Yugoslavia, and the Unity of Spaces

The other day, as she is wont to do, my mother sent me a link to something on the Internet; this time it was to Nicholas Bakos’ blog, which you can find here. If you’re reading this blog, we’re probably friends in real life (thanks for reading!), and so it’s probably obvious why something like that would be of interest to the both of us. I have admittedly only skimmed sections of his posting so far, but in his introductory one, it was especially gratifying to read this:

This blog is about “our parts.”  It’s about that zone, from Bosnia to Bengal that, whatever its cultural complexity and variety, constitutes an undeniable unit for me.  Now, I understand how the reader in Bihać, other than the resident Muslim fundamentalists, would be perplexed by someone asserting his connection to Bengal.  I can also hear the offended screeching of the Neo-Greek in Athens, who, despite the experiences of the past few years, or the past two centuries, not only still feels he’s unproblematically a part of Europe, but still doesn’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see that he’s the gurgling fount of origin and center of Europe.

But set aside for one moment Freud’s “narcissism of petty differences,” if we have the generosity and strength to, and take this step by step.  Granted there’s a dividing line running through the Balkans between the meze-and-rakia culture and the beer-and-sausage culture (hats off to S.B. for that one), but I think there’s no controversy in treating them as a unit for most purposes; outsiders certainly have and almost without exception negatively.  And the Balkans, like it or not, include Greece.  And Greece, even more inextricably, means Turkey, the two being, as they are, ‘veined with one another,’ to paraphrase the beautiful words of Patricia Storace.  Heading south into the Levant and Egypt, we move into the Arab heartland that shares with us the same Greek, Roman-Byzantine, Ottoman experiences, and was always a part of the same cultural and commercial networks as the rest of us.  East out of Anatolia or up out of Mesopotamia I challenge anyone to tell me where the exact dividing line between the Turkic and Iranian worlds are, from the Caucasus, clear across the Iranian Plateau into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Bakos suggests that for people of “those parts” displaced to another environment (e.g. grad school in the West), this kind of geographical unity came, at least in a social context, fairly naturally, so perhaps I shouldn’t be all that surprised and delighted at seeing it reconstituted in blog form. But in fact I think the basic unity of the geographical zone outlined here often gets lost in the way these places are understood by outsiders and, ironically enough, in no small part due to the vehement insistence from each of the zone’s component peoples that they could not possibly be compared with those uncultured idiots with whom they share a border.*

Explaining the rationale for delineating “his parts” the way he does, Bakos writes:

But to step into Buddhist Burma is somehow truly a leap for me, which maybe I would take if I knew more. And in the other direction, I stop in Bosnia only because for the moment I’d like to leave Croatia to Europe – mit schlag – if only out of respect for the, er, vehemence with which it has always insisted that it belongs there.  Yes, I guess this is Hodgson’s “Islamicate” world, since one unifying element is the experience of Islam in one form or another, but I think it’s most essential connections pre-date the advent of Islam.  I’ll also probably be accused, among other things, of Huntingtonian border drawing, but I think those borders were always meant to be heuristic in function and not as hard-drawn as his critics used to accuse him of, and that’s the case here as well.

Ultimately what unites us more singularly than anything else, and more than any other one part of the world, is that the Western idea of the ethnic nation-state took a hold of our imaginations – or crushed them – when we all still lived in complex, multi-ethnic states.  What binds us most tightly is the bloody stupidity of chilling words like Population Exchange, Partition, Ethnic Cleansing – the idea that political units cannot function till all their peoples are given a rigid identity first (a crucial reification process without which the operation can’t continue), then separated into little boxes like forks after Easter when you’ve had to use both sets – and the horrendous violence and destruction that idea caused, causes and may still do in “our parts” in the future.

Having not, at least north of the equator, yet made it further east than Istanbul, I am in no position to question Bakos’ perception of the fundamental apartness of Buddhist Burma. But the loose border he posits to the north and west is one I’ve crossed many times, and it’s one that is both deeply present and functionally invisible.**

At the very least it is present in people’s minds; I can vouch for the vehemence (to use Bakos’ word again) with which Slovenes and Croats will insist that their countries are European, and not Balkan. It’s also pretty visually observable – you could mistake Zagreb or Ljubljana for a city in Austria or Germany in a way you simply can’t for, say, Sarajevo or Belgrade. And on one frantic trip from Dubrovnik back to Ljubljana (the ferry which I’d intended to take from Dubrovnik to Ancona decided not to arrive from Split, leaving me nothing to do but beat a hasty retreat back north) you could, if you were looking for it, see an actual tangible difference in the way things were done in the world – bus tickets in Mostar and train tickets in Sarajevo had to be paid in cash and a conductor on the train north from Sarajevo let me pay in a mix of Croatian kuna, Bosnian marks,  and euros. In Zagreb I could pay with a credit card, the train station had working and appealing amenities, and you couldn’t smoke in the train. This is a terribly squishy thing to write, but it did feel more “European-y”.

On the other hand, if the relatively old Huntingtonian dividing line between formerly Orthodox and Ottoman lands to the south, and formerly Catholic Hapsburg lands to the north is visually (and, at least in terms of credit card viability in 2009, functionally) discernible, the comparatively recent unifying experience of Yugoslavia is also unavoidable. Here, too, the first signs are in architecture and appearance; Soviet-style architecture and the legacy of 1950s industrialization has left the same physical scars on cities from Nova Gorica to Skopje. But they run deeper than that – the protestations of linguistic nationalists notwithstanding, Slovene, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Macedonian (hell, even Bulgarian a bit) all exist along a spectrum of of mutual intelligibility; state apparatuses, all having those of the former Yugoslavia as their common predecessors, share similar characteristics. Indeed, to me as a foreigner, the similarities often seem more salient than the differences.

Just on the basis of whether or not there “is” a usefully differentiating border to be drawn where Croatia meets Bosnia, it seems you can argue fairly fruitfully either way, depending on whether your sympathies lie with a sort of longue duree emphasis on deep civilizational splits or a faith in the primacy of modern political experiences. But by Bakos’ own ultimate criteria, it seems a bit odd to leave the northernmost bits of the former Yugoslavia out of things (though there is a nice alliterative symmetry to covering “from Bosnia to Bengal”) . If you’re going on the basis of, “the bloody stupidity of chilling words like Population Exchange, Partition, Ethnic Cleansing,” surely things like Jasenovac or the Istrian exodus argue for the inclusion of all of the former Yugoslavia?

Of course, any exercise in boundary-izing is a bit arbitrary, and in this case there are good reasons to put one in between Croatia and Bosnia and not, say, in between Slovenia and Austria (two countries for which there also exist plenty of historical reasons to consider them as part of a unified space). So if all of this does anything, it is perhaps to show how much more liminal are most places than we or their inhabitants often care to admit; whether or not you see a border somewhere often depends as much on your level of zoom as anything else.

*Or at least their nationalist politicians – many average people (whatever that means) in Bosnia and Serbia, for example, will quickly stress to you the fundamental similarities between the two countries and their inhabitants
**People sometimes marvel at my overstuffed passport but really something like 40% of the stamps come from the Dobova and Dobrljin border posts.

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Again, check these guys out; you won’t regret it: The Classical Liberals

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

My Circassians

25 May

AdygeaReaders might remember I’ve had a long-term interest in Circassians since high school.  Of all the peoples collectively known in Turkey as muhacir, the Ottoman Muslims who took refuge in the Anatolian heartland of the Empire as it shrank, probably none had a more torturously, circuitous odyssey to ultimate safety in Turkey than the Circassians.  Here’s a selection about them from a post I wrote in February about why I was boycotting the Sochi Olympics; it wasn’t just for Putin and his filthy, murderous personage, but because the games were being held on land an admirable and honorable people had fought long and hard to keep and had been brutally thrown out of by Imperial Russia:

“And then there are the Circassians.  I became obsessed with Circassians in high school because I had to know who these people were, so physically beautiful apparently, that they held the entire Near East in thrall for centuries.  Circassians were the first reason I ever went into the New York Public Library, because the library at Stuyvesant didn’t have anything on them.  This is also around the time, as a nerdy sixteen-year-old, that I started developing the totally adolescent, romantic fascination I still suffer from, for honor-obsessed, heavily-armed highlanders — Montenegrins, northern Albanians, Pashtuns — who don’t easily let themselves get pushed around by outsiders.   It fed a lonely teenager’s fantasies of empowerment then.  Now, I couldn’t tell you.  Probably still.

“The Circassians lived in a huge swath of plain, foothill and high mountain country in the northern Caucasus.  Most of the sites of the this month’s games are being held on formerly Circassian territory.  This is a map of their general distribution in the eighteenth century, right before Russian expansion southwards began:

Circassia_in_1750

(click)

“For more than a century they fought a brutal tooth-and-nail war against the Russians and their Cossacks.  When they finally capitulated in 1864 it was in Sochi.  The majority, which would not agree to an oath of loyalty to Russia were deported, in what was probably the first campaign of ethnic cleansing of such dimensions in modern history.  For months, the beach at Sochi was a Dunkerque-like humanitarian disaster zone, with tens of thousands of shelterless, starving and diseased Circassians waiting for Ottoman ships to take them to safety in Anatolia or the still-Turkish Balkans or dying on the spot.

Expulsion_map_of_the_Circassians_in_19th_century“It certainly represented the largest civilian death toll of any war up to its time and today, ninety percent of people of Circassian descent live outside their original homeland, mostly Turkey, but also Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.”

(To read the whole post: Ignoring Sochi.“)

And as with Native Americans in North America, as their government was massacring and expelling them, Russian poets and writers like Lermontov, Pushkin and Tolstoy were romanticizing them, sympathizing with them and entering in a love affair with all the peoples of the Caucasus that literary Russia still has not recovered from.  Someone, everywhere, at all times, has a heart and a soul — for whatever good it does.

I had assumed muhacir is constructed from the Arabic “mu = doer of something” plus the roots ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘j’ (?) which almost sounds more like “pilgrim” –  as in “Hajj.”  But “mu” turns out to be a passive participle marker of someone who is made to do something, in this case not as in “Hajj, pilgrimage, but  ‘h’ + ‘j’ + ‘r’ as in “Hejira?” which would mean “fleer,” as in those who fled with Muhammad to Medina from Mecca in 622.  That would make more sense than traveller, which would be the “mu-sa-fir” recognizable to any Greeks as an old-fashioned word for “guest,” except to those Neo-Greeks that are so Post-Ottoman that they’re Post-Culture-of-Any-Kind and most certainly Post-Hospitality.  The Muslims that left India after Partition in 1947 to go to the land of Islamic Purity are also known as muhajir in South Asia.  I say that the Circassians’ route was particularly circuitous because many of them were first settled by the Ottoman government in the Balkans — especially Bulgaria and Kosovo (where there’s still a tiny community), where they were used to demographically offset the Christian population and because their warrior reputation would come in handy against Christian rebellions and Russian invasions.  (Though there is one wild episode of the Greco-Turkish War where a band of Circassian çeteler [çetes] in western Anatolia actually aided the invading Greek army.  Go figure.  Any-thing is possible in our part of the world.)  Needless to say with the coming of independence for the nations of the Balkans, they were uprooted again to Anatolia and other parts of the still Ottoman Arab world.

This year is the 150-year anniversary of the final, catastrophic expulsion from their Caucasian homeland and local Circassians (“Çerkes” in Turkish) have been holding demonstrations in front of the Russian Consulate down here on the Jadde (I wouldn’t even lower myself to asking for Putin’s ear) and then closer here to my place in front of Galatasarary.  (Click)

IMG_0777IMG_0775But I was kind of disappointed because I couldn’t get any really good pictures except some like these above.  Then I get on the ferry from Beşiktaş to go to Kadiköy with my cousin, Vangeli, to feed him at the spectacular Çiya restaurant there and visit Beylerbeyi, my favorite Ottoman palace, and by blogger-photographer’s luck right across from me is sitting this handsome Circassian kid from central casting (click):

IMG_0780 He was surprised I knew that his t-shirt said “Адыгэ” – “Adyghe,” which is what Circasians call themselves, written in the Cyrillic script they now use.  I asked him if he spoke the language and he said no, but some other Circassians I found the next day in Pera said that due to a concerted effort on the Turkey-wide community’s part — language classes, theater workshops, radio programs — more Circassians in Turkey of this kid’s age speak more of at least a little bit of the language than their parents do and that interest is increasing.  Insha’allah.  Cool.  So if you don’t respect these people for their legendary beauty, their ferocious warrior rep, the fact that they managed to stave off the forces of Imperial Russia for two centuries, that as the Mamluk military elite they effectively ran Egypt for five-hundred years till Mehmet Ali the Albanian massacred them in a totally, shitty, un-Albanian, pabesiko (“pa” = no + BESA), dishonorable, ambush — see  (“BESA: A Code of Honour,“) — then just admire them for sticking together as a cohesive and living identity after being scattered across the world for a century and a half now.

The suffering of Circassians and all the other Muslim peoples of the Caucasus are laid out in a bit of an uneven but heartfelt and informative book by Oliver Bullough called Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus — here’s his website too (check out some interesting pics): Oliver Bullough: Let Our Fame Be Great.

lofbg-usa-cover-300wUnfortunately, I don’t know if there’s a Turkish translation (or Arabic: Jordan, where Circassians still make up the King’s Royal Guard, Syria and, some extent Israel, is where most Circassians outside of Turkey now live) for young Circassians today to read.

Another book that I do know there’s a Turkish translation of, and is probably the only monograph to deal with the step by step expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Ottoman Muslims through the nineteenth and and early twentieth centuries, but tracing roots of the process back to even the century before is Justin McCarthy’s Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922Not polemic, not propagandistic, just the facts and figures that speak for themselves.  It should be required reading for every Christian in the former Ottoman sphere.  It’s not exclusively about the Circassian tragedy but there is, as you can imagine, a great deal of material on their experiences.

51qnwpuNCVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Turkish-speaking Circassians should definitely check this book out that’s available everywhere in İstanbul; they’ll learn a lot.  I really hope they get a chance to.  Share this post with friends if you found it interesting.  Feel free to write me with any comments.  And keep the memory alive!.  NB

55696-olum-ve-surgun-death-and-exile-justin-mccarthy

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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