Tag Archives: Ottomans

We’ll always have Sicily II, the Cathedral of Monreale — “the art of our ancestors safe from the plaster, whitewash, eye-gouging — and drapes — of the hysterics and puritans of monotheism…”

22 Sep

The Cathedral of Monreale (See also: We’ll always have Sicily I: the church of the Martorana in Palermo and We’ll always have Sicily III: the Cathedral of Cefalù)

And, of course, as per millenial-cum-major-victim, Ayesha Siddiqui

“…unless you’ve had 90% of your cultural and artistic heritage — the product of what was one of the main poles of human civilization for two millenia — destroyed and lost, with the remnants still being vigorously vandalized today, in 2020 AD, “I don’t think I can really be that close to you.”

We’ll always have Sicily I: the church of the Martorana in Palermo — the art of our ancestors safe from the plaster, whitewash, eye-gouging — and drapes — of the hysterics and puritans of monotheism…

21 Sep
Church of the Martorana12th century

(See also We’ll always have Sicily II, the Cathedral of Monreale and We’ll always have Sicily III: the Cathedral of Cefalù)

The Normans weren’t exactly our best friends once they embarked on their conquests and rise to power in the Mediterranean. But when they had settled in, they started developing certain Mediterranean civilized habits that almost no one who comes to this part of the world is immune to.

For example, when they wanted something beautiful built and decorated they knew where to place the want ad: either C-Town or among the Greeks who already inhabited Sicily and parts of the Italian south. And, after the Normans, the Angevins, Aragonese, Bourbons, Piemontesi, and, finally, the republic of Italy, kept it all safe.

Mostly people think Ravenna when they think of things Byzantine in Italy. But no part of Italy is as laden with high Byzantine beauty as Sicily is. And the church of the Martorana may be the single most important site for in situ Byzantine art in the world. Read about it. It’s really fascinating. Not least for “belonging” to the Albanian-Italian community of Sicily:

The church is a Co-cathedral to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi[1] of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, a diocese which includes the Italo-Albanian (Arbëreshë) communities in Sicily who officiate the liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite in the ancient Greek language and Albanian language[2] The Church bears witness to the Eastern religious and artistic culture still present in Italy today, further contributed to by the Albanian exiles who took refuge in southern Italy and Sicily from the 15th century under the pressure of TurkishOttoman persecutions in Albania and the Balkans.

[Otherwise, of course, “there is no compulsion in religion.” me, NB, my emphasis above as well]

Here are some photos I put together:

And, of course, as per my chum Ayesha Siddiqui, unless you’ve had 90% of your cultural and artistic heritage — the product of what was one of the main poles of human civilization for two millenia — destroyed and lost, with the remnants still being vigorously vandalized today, in 2020 AD, “I don’t think I can really be that close to you.”

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“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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Jews, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Romania and how “the borders kept changing”.

17 Sep

Flying Dacian@FlyingDacian Tweeted the following:

This is a map of the distribution of Jews in Romania in 1930. 728,115 or 4% of the country was Jewish. Notice that the territories lost in 1940 to Russia and Hungary account for the majority of Jewish people in Romania in 1930.

And I asked him…so…what conclusions are we supposed to draw from his map?

And immediately I realized what the most important conclusion was for me and should, therefore, be for everyone: Jewish migration into eastern Europe and the nature of the Polish state at the time.

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard it; you can’t be from New York and not have heard it. You ask a now third or fourth generation Ashkenazi Jew where his ancestors were from and he says: “Oh, Russia or Poland…the borders kept changing.”

It’s a misconception that the Jews who fled pogroms, massacres, persecution and the social chaos of the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe of which they were the primary victims, migrated east to different countries in eastern Europe. They didn’t. They only moved to Poland.

People wonder what it was that led so many Jews to migrate to poor and socially backwards areas of Europe like Russia or Ukraine. Again, they didn’t. What Jew in his right mind would have fled persecution in the Rhineland, say, and sought refuge in Russia, for God’s sake? A relatively primitive mediaeval theocracy, which it arguably still is. Jews, however, ended up in Russia and Ukraine, when Poland was partitioned twice in the late eighteenth century by Russia, Austria and Prussia/Germany. The Pale of Settlement, which my hypothetical New York Ashkenazi Jew above might have heard of — the parts of the Russian Empire were it was legal for Jews to live — were simply the parts of what is now Poland, Ukraine, Belarus’ and Lithuania that Russia got out of the partition of Poland. Upon taking control of these lands, Tsarist Russia also inherited the largest part of Polish Jewry as well.

Why did they go to Poland then? Because at the time that persecution of Jews in western Europe was booming the Rzeczpospolita, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (shown in its various constituent parts in map below) was by far the most tolerant and progressive Christian state in Europe, which surprises many people, and like the Ottomans, Poles saw that Jews’ talents would benefit their state, and allowed and even organized their settlement throughout Poland.

So to address @FlyingDacian‘s curiosity, the parts of contemporary Romania that had the largest number of Jews in 1930, were simply those regions that had been Polish, then passed, some to Hungary, but most to Russia, and then ended up in modern Romania.

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The duck and okra and Armenian massacre chapter from Loxandra — “shit happens” — my translation

4 Sep

It’s actually hard to say which came first: whether Maria Iordanidou’s Loxandra was the first literary manifestation of the archetype of a Greek woman of Istanbul, or whether life imitated art and Politisses started unconsciously behaving like Loxandra.  Joyful, funny, hovering and caring around all her loved ones but even strangers – even Turks – worldly for her degree of education and fundamentally cosmopolitan if even unawares, obsessed with good food, and always finding happiness and beauty and pleasure in the world, despite her people’s precarious position in their wider environment.

Iordanidou’s novel captures more perfectly than any other literary representation what Patricia Storace has called the “voluptuous domesticity” that Greeks associate with life in Anatolia and Constantinople.  But what’s always moved me and struck me as so intelligent about the novel — each of the some ten or more times I’ve read it — is that it’s not all fun-and-games and yalancı dolma and Apokries in Tatavla and Politika nazia.  Right along side the pleasure and humor rides a brutally honest portrayal of the “tolerant” and “diverse” Ottoman society that is a favorite fantasy of certain progressives, on both Greek and Turkish sides of the coin.  Iordanidou doesn’t fall into that trap, just as she doesn’t fall into the alternate trap of portraying all Turks as murderous animals, along the lines of Dido Soteriou’s Matomena Homata (Bloodied Lands) or Veneze’s Aeolike Ge (Aeolian Earth).  She simply goes for the starkest realism: Ottoman Turks/Muslims and their subject peoples didn’t live together in harmony but rather lived in parallel universes that rarely intersected; the novel takes place at a time when – as Petros Markares points out in his essay in the book’s latest edition – “life was heaven for the minorities and hell for Muslims.”  But even in that paradise, when the two parallel universes collided, the result was hellish for everyone.

I’ve translated the chapter that takes place during the Hamidian massacres of Armenians in 1896, particularly the shockingly urban episode that occurred in Istanbul.  In August of that year, the Dashnaks, Armenian freedom-fighters-cum-terrorists took hostages at the Ottoman Bank in Karaköy and the operation turned into a mini-civil-battle with groups of Armenians and Turks taking up position on either side of the Galata Bridge. 

From Wiki:

Massacres:

Retribution against the ordinary Armenian populace in Constantinople was swift and brutal. Ottomans loyal to the government began to massacre the Armenians in Constantinople itself. Two days into the takeover, the Ottoman softas and bashibazouks, armed by the Sultan, went on a rampage and slaughtered thousands of Armenians living in the city.[11] According to the foreign diplomats in Constantinople, Ottoman central authorities instructed the mob “to start killing Armenians, irrespective of age and gender, for the duration of 48 hours.”[12] The killings only stopped when the mob was ordered to desist from such activity by Sultan Hamid.[12] They murdered around 6,000[1] – 7,000 Armenians. Within 48 hours of the bank seizure, estimates had the dead numbering between 3,000 and 4,000, as authorities made no effort to contain the killings of Armenians and the looting of their homes and businesses.

Loxandra and her family live through the massacring of their Armenian neighbors in Pera in terror, hiding inside their shuttered house for a week, till they finally run out of water and have to start interacting with the neighborhood vendors.  Iordanidou does take a swipe at Turkish passivity and fatalism though in the closing part of the chapter as Loxandra hears repeatedly from the Turkish merchants she has to deal with, in reference to the killing: “Yağnış oldu.”  “That was a mistake.”  This “Yağnış oldu” chimes like a bell or rather a kick in the gut on the chapter’s last page.  Thousands dead, “their homes looted, their churches destroyed… Yağnış oldu”

Shit happens, in other words.

Loxandra soon starts to forget, or at least pretends to.  In the end, the chapter is a disturbing look at the compromises we make in order to go on living with the Other, despite the evil he may have done you, or you him.  Otherwise life would be intolerable.  For “…too much sorrow doth to madness turn…” Loxandra concludes in the final sentence.

Loxandra: Chapter 5

Glory be to God, because To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to be born, and a time to die…a time to break down, and a time to build up…”

Loxandra just figured that for her to suddenly find herself living in the Crossroad*(1) that meant that her time had come and that this had to be her world from now on.  She accepted her new life the way that she accepted Demetro’s death.  What can you do?  That’s how that is.

The Crossroad was nothing like Makrochori, and the beautiful old life she had there – it was like a scissor had come and snipped it off — slowly became a sweet receding dream.  Cleio started to yearn for twilight in Makrochori, the sky, the sea, their garden and the shade of their plane tree.  She had even lost her father’s library, because during the move to Pera, Theodore had pilfered most of it and now all she was left with were Kassiane, Pikouilo Ali Ağa and Witnesses at a Wedding.  She started to avoid the cosmopolitan life of Pera, which she at first had thought heavenly, and she lamented her lost paradise.  Exactly opposite to her mother.

Because Loxandra never wept for lost heavens.  Nor did she ever go in search of joy.  It was joy that went in search of Loxandra.  And it would usually pop up in the most unexpected moments.  The angel would suddenly descend and stir the waters in the fount of the Virgin of Baloukli and for Loxandra it was like she had been baptized anew.

Glory be to God.  And great be the grace of the Virgin.

The fat little ducklings of August and the okra make good eating.  It’s a sin to let August pass without eating ducklings with the okra.

So on the eve of the Virgin’s Loxandra bought ducklings to cook them with the okra, and despite her exhaustion, she went down into the kitchen to start preparing the birds.  She was especially tired because the day before she had stocked up fuel for the winter.  She filled the cellar with charcoal, and then she’d call the Kurds to come hack up the lumber she would use for the stoves.

In the City at that time, just as your milkman was Bulgarian, your fishmonger Armenian, your baker from Epiros, so your lumber supplier was a Kurd.  So Loxandra called the “Kiurtides” to come chop up her winter stock of lumber.  Early in early morn’ — όρθρου βαθέος — they would dump a good thirty “chekia” of tree trunks and thick boughs and then the Kurds would come, brawny giants from deep in Anatolia in salwar and black kerchiefs wound around their fezzes and with their shiny, well-sharpened cleavers to chop up the wood.  The Kurds were meraklides when it came to their blades.  Even all the way in his village in the depths of Kurdistan, the Kurd could never be separated from his cleaver, and when the time came for him to emigrate his mother would present his cleaver to her son, the way a Spartan woman gave her son his shield.  And when a young Kurd got to an age of fourteen or fifteen and started feeling the first longings of his youth, he never took flowers in hand.  Instead he’d take his knife and go about the mahalades crying out: “Dertim var, dertim”… “I’m in pain, in longing” and would look around to see if any of the shutters or windows all about would open.  The young girl that would first answer his call would open her window and cry: “Dertine kurban olurum”, meaning “I’ll sacrifice myself to your longings”.  And the young man would exclaim: “Bende baltaim burada vururum”, meaning “And so I nail my knife here.” Then he went home and sent his mother to retrieve his knife and at the same time, get to know her future daughter-in-law.

That’s how important the cleaver was for a Kurd.  And you’d be better off cursing out his Prophet rather than saying anything offensive about his cleaver.

Loxandra was afraid of Kurds, just the way she was afraid of Turks.  But when it came to important things like her yearly supply of firewood, well…there was no holding her back nor kid gloves to wear in treating them:

“Does this fit, you son-of-a-dog?” she’d yell, suddenly fearless and waving a big, bulky knot of wood above the Kurd’s head.  “Does this fit, bre, in my stove?”

She would get so angry that she almost might have said something about his cleaver.

But oddly enough the Kurds never got angry and never felt insulted by her, and would do any favor she wanted.  They would stack the chopped up lumber in her cellar and their departure was always warm and accompanied by the usual güle güle and reciprocal good wishes and a light winter, may-it-be, and here…take this for your little boy and here take this for your wife, and all the rest.

That night, Loxandra was exhausted and all night long she saw bizarre dreams of sharp meat cleavers and a big butcher’s block piled with chopped meat.  She just attributed the dreams to her experiences that day with the Kurds.  “Oh”, she thought upon waking: “Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά” “Jesus Christ Victor”…and she went down into the kitchen to brown the ducklings.

How could she know what the future had in store for them?  How could she know that the treaty that was signed eighteen years before in San Stefano had been revised and revised again so that Bulgaria could be an autonomous state, Romania and Montenegro were now independent, Russia took Kars and Ardahan and Batumi, Britain took Cyprus, Greece got Thessaly and a part of Epiros, but the Armenians got nothing out of all that had been promised to them, and they started an uprising, so that Sultan Hamid roused up his people, and he brought Kurds with their cleavers and they had organized a massacre of Armenians…right there…in the middle of the streets of the City…on the eve of a feast day like this…the Assumption of the Virgin…  How could she possibly know all of that?

So, blissful and clueless, she went down to prepare the ducklings, and she was in a happy mood, but in just such a good mood that morning.  The day before they had received a letter from Giorgaki asking for Cleio’s hand in marriage.  The letter was a bit nutty, but what was important is that he wanted to marry Cleio.  It started like this:

“In these difficult moments my mind races to you and only you, my refuge and haven, my peaceful port…”

And riding on that inspiration – and drunk – Giorgaki wrote that he missed his boat and that he had gotten stuck in Genoa with Epaminonda, alone and abandoned and penniless, because, being human, they had had a bit to drink to forget their dertia and night had fallen on them in the alleyways of Genoa, and in the dark Epaminonda had started bugging a Catholic priest: …psss…psss…thinking he was a woman, and the neighbors had gotten all riled up and Epaminonda had gotten arrested, but the Greek consul in the city was a countryman of Giorgaki’s and he got the authorities to release Epaminonda from the holding pen, and in a few days the consul would put them on a ship to Constantinople to celebrate the engagement — that is, if Loxandra accepted him as a son-in-law.  And before closing, he added: “My lips will never again touch even a single drop of alcohol.”

How could she not be happy?!  She set the pan on the fire and as soon as the birds started to soften up, she tasted the sauce to check the salt.  Suddenly she heard the stomp of running feet in the street.

Bre, Tarnana, get up and go out and see what’s going on”, she said to him.

But Tarnana was too tired to go see because to see he had to climb up onto the sink because the kitchen was in the basement. So all he could see the was the sight of running feet.  But Loxandra grabbed a chair for herself and climbed on top of it to get a better view.  And what does she see?  A Kurd with his cleaver in hand was trying to break down the door of Monsieur Artin.(**2)

HA!  The bloody dog, may-a-wretched-year-befall-him!

She got down off the chair and grabbed the large soup ladle.

“Just wait and see what I’ll do to him!”

She gathered up her skirts and ran up the stairs.  But she came crashing into Cleio.

“It’s a massacre, mother, a massacre!” cried Cleio in a semi-faint.

Loxandra paid her no mind.

“What massacre shmassacre you talking about, bre?  Some Kurd is looking to break down Monsieur Artin’s door. Get outta my way!”

Sultana came down too and along with Cleio and Tarnana they stuffed up her mouth so that her cries couldn’t be heard on the street.  They closed the shutters and they all hid in the charcoal cellar.

But even in the cellar you could hear the blows from the street, the running feet, and the dying cries of the wounded.  There would be a short few moments of quiet and then it would start again.  Any time there was a bit of silence, Loxandra would grab her ladle.

“It’s just the Kurds for heaven’s sake, may-the-Devil-take-them-and-carry-them-off! Let me go see what’s happening!”

When the frenzy finally stopped an employee from Thodoros’ office came to bring them some groceries and to see how they were.  He said there had been a mass slaughter of Armenians but that no Greeks had been hurt unless they were harboring Armenians in their house, and Thodoro sent the message that God forbid anyone find out you’ve got Tarnana in the house.  In the Crossroad things had calmed down, but the killing was continuing in the suburbs.

That was enough to finally scare Loxandra and she hid Tarnana under her bed.  She was afraid to get near the window or even open the shutters.  The street vendors started to come by as usual.  The salepçi (***3) came by.  The offal-vendor came by, and as soon as they smelled him the cats started growling.  She locked them up in the charcoal cellar.  “Shut up, bre, they’ll come and cut your throats too.”  The milkman came and knocked.  No one inside made a sound.  We’ll do without milk.  Drink tea.  But on the seventh day the water supplier came by and she had to open up because they were running out.  Hüseyn came in limping and emptied two goatskins into the clay amphora they stored water in. 

Hüseyn says good bye sweetly and soon the egg-seller comes knocking on her window.

“Kokona (****4), Aren’t you going to buy any eggs?”

Loxandra cracked open the window, took a look at him, and thought: “Could my egg-vendor Mustafa be a Hagarene Dog (*****5) too?”

The next morning the street watchman came by to say hello, expecting his usual cup of coffee.

Haydi, Tarnana, make him some coffee.”

She opened up the front door and sat on the steps, thinking again: “Is he or isn’t he?”  Finally she couldn’t contain herself:

Bre, Mehmet, I want you to tell me the truth, but, I mean, I want the truth, ok?  Were you out on the street the other day with the killings?  But tell me the truth.”

“Valah! Billah!  Mehmet wasn’t involved.”

“Oooff… And I was going to say…” And she began to sob.  “Why such madness?  What did poor Monsieur Artin do to them and they slaughtered him like that?  No, Tell me!  What did he do?”

“Vah, vah, vah”, Mehmet said.

“Vah, vah, vah”, said the liver vendor a bit later.

“Vah, vah, vah”, said the chickpea vendor too. “Yağnış oldu.”  “That was a mistake.”

Some ten, some twenty thousand people were murdered.  Their homes were looted.  Their churches destroyed.  Whole families were wiped out…“yağnış oldu.”

The dogs licked the blood off the sidewalks and life started again as if nothing had happened.

Tarnana came out from under the bed too, Elegaki came over too and they all got together in the kitchen to prepare the sweets for Cleio’s engagement.  Loxandra wiped her tears and made sweet out of sorrow, because that’s how that is.  And let me tell you something, too much sorrow, well…”that way madness lies.”  I mean, there are limits!

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*(1) The Crossroad, Το Σταυροδρόμι, (above) is what Greeks called the spot in central Pera where the now Istiklâl Caddesi (the Isio Dromo or the Grande Rue) intersects with the steep uphill Yeni Çarşı Caddesi (never understood what the New Market, which is what Yeni Çarşı means, refers to) coming from Karaköy, and the Meşrutiyet Caddesi which then takes a curve at the British consulate and ends up — now — in one of the most dismal urban plazas in Istanbul and a run-down convention center, that were built over a pleasant little park that was built in turn over an old Catholic cemetery. Mercifully, one side of the street is still architecturally intact and you still get one of the most splendid views of the Horn and the western part of the Old City from there. By the Gates of Galatasaray Lycée, that’s still the starting place for demonstrations and protests — whatever are allowed, anyway… By the Cité de Pera arcade and the central fish market (never understood why the fish market is up at the top of one of Istanbul’s hills and not on the seafront somewhere) that is full of both trashy, touristy restaurants and really good meyhane finds as well, once almost all owned by Greeks and Armenians.

If Pera is the center of Istanbul, the Crossroad is the center of Pera. And in Greek usage it meant the whole surrounding neighborhood as well.

The old Meşrutiyet Caddesi
The Gates of Galatasaray

(**2) Artin immediately registers to a Greek-speaker as an Armenian name.

(***3) Salep (Salepçi is a salep vendor) is a hot drink made from ground dried orchid tubers, milk I think, and cinnamon on top. It’s supposedly fortifying — in what way common decency prevents me from saying — but aside from the fact that “orchid” comes from the Indo-European root for “testicle” (as in “αρχίδια,” or as in “στα αρχίδια μου”) the finished drink has a slightly creepy, slippery texture and translucent color that definitely reminds one of semen. I happen to really like it, but I don’t know if that’s just because of its status as a historical remnant or oddity. You can find it in Athens too, like on Ermou, still. But it’s a hot drink, meant for wintery consumption, so it’s weird for Iordanidou to have a salepçi coming around on the street in the middle of August.

(4****) “Kokona” is a term used in historical literature to address not just Christian women, but Greek women, Ρωμιές “Roman” women, specifically. It’s never used to address Armenian or Jewish women, for example. It appears in literature and various accounts dating from even early Ottoman times. In the Byzantine Museum here in Athens (the name of which, at some point recently, was changed to the Byzantine and Christian Museumin case we forget that Byzantium was a Christian culture 🙄) there are several pieces of ecclesiastic embroidery: priests’ stoles, Epitaphio shrouds — that date from the 16th and 17th century, and are attributed to specific women: Kokona Angela, Kokona Marigo, so it was more than just a slang term of address. No one I know can tell me the root of the word, nor can anyone say why it was used just for Greek women and not other gâvur/kaffr women.

(5*****) “Hagarene Dogs”Αγαρηνά Σκυλιά – is an obviously unpleasant term used as far back as mid-Byzantine times to refer to Arabs/Muslims. The rub is that it was the first peninsular Arabs and Muslims who themselves identified with the term. Hagar, as we know, was the slave wife of Abraham, who bore him a child, Ishmael, because his own wife, Sarah, was already 80 years old plus and unable to have a child. Then the angels came to visit and told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a child; Sarah heard from the kitchen and laughed. But indeed, she did bear him a son, Isaac. And Abraham promptly tossed Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert, but they were saved by an angel that descended and struck the ground out of which a fresh spring of water gushed:

Hājar or Haajar (Arabic: هاجر), is the Arabic name used to identify the wife of Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and the mother of Ismā’īl (Ishmael). Although not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, she is referenced and alluded to via the story of her husband. She is a revered woman in the Islamic faith.

According to Muslim belief, she was the Egyptian handmaiden of Ibrāhīm’s first wife Sara (Sarah). She eventually settled in the Desert of Paran with her son Ismā’īl. Hājar is honoured as an especially important matriarch of monotheism, as it was through Ismā’īl that Muhammad would come. [my emphasis]

Neither Sara nor Hājar are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but the story is traditionally understood to be referred to in a line from Ibrāhīm’s prayer in Sura Ibrahim (14:37): “I have settled some of my family in a barren valley near your Sacred House.”[20] While Hājar is not named, the reader lives Hājar’s predicament indirectly through the eyes of Ibrāhīm.[21] She is also frequently mentioned in the books of hadiths.

I have no idea why early Arabs chose — not that it was a conscious process, but being unconscious makes its function even more powerful — out of all of Jewish scripture, to consider themselves and Muhammad (all together now: PUBH) descended from a scorned slave woman and her unwanted son, the first-born of Abraham cast into the desert, especially given how Ishmael is described in Genesis:

Genesis 16:12 “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him.”

Unless “a wild man” suited their needs. Almost to an archetypal degree, conquest narratives justify themselves as retribution for a historical wrong, or as a necessary process by which the morally and ethically superior impose themselves on the inferior: from the Israelites and Canaan, to the Romans taking revenge for their defeated Trojan ancestors, to the Turkic Conquest of Rum and the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, to the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, to American Manifest Destiny, to Nazi lebensraum to the current Islamist and Turanian rantings of Mister Erdoğan and the bitchy historical insults he’s constantly hurling our way.

So the Hagar and Ishmael story might be perfect soil for the sprouting of Sunni Muslim triumphalism. And if that triumphalism hits the wall of modernity and suddenly finds itself not in charge anymore, if the triumph narrative doesn’t go the way it should, well then we get the Nietzschean man of resentment and we can talk about that forever. But the prophecy that “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him.” certainly seems to have been fulfilled, as we find so much of the contemporary Ummah stewing in rancid testosterone, lamenting their “humiliation” and “disrespect” and convinced that the purpose of the rest of humanity is to deny them their Allah-given superior place in the sun.

And the rest of us just don’t get it. But their mission is that we do.

And wouldn’t you know, just today, Mr. Erdoğan gives us a Friday sermon that pretty much says it all and in language far less wordy than mine:

“Turkish Conquest Is Not Occupation or Looting – It Is Spreading the Justice of Allah”

Loxandra, of course, doesn’t know any of this. She’s just heard the legends of the “Hagarene Dogs” growling at the walls of the City before the conquest, and imagines them to be real barking dogs who can take human shape and turn into her milkman or egg vendor.

Betty Valasi as Loxandra in the 1980 Greek TV serialization of the novel

And now I need some good salsa, ’cause the legacy of “our parts” — τα μέρη μας — can weigh on you like a glob of hardened lead.

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“Ottoman”: It’s pretty good: understanding an opponent’s mythology

28 Jan

“Understand an opponent’s mythology…”

Last night I figured I’d just buck up, get over with it, and start watching the Netflix docudrama — got through first two episodes — and it’s actually pretty good. Some key notes: The Turkish perspective is not insufferably jingoistic or Islamically triumphalist, like it was in that trashy 1453 film that came out a few years ago, which I also put off watching for a while because I thought it would be disturbing, but I ended up turning off after 20 minutes, not because I was disturbed or offended but because the script and acting were so horrendous and the production values so cheap — it looked like the set was composed of stuff bought wholesale from a Moroccan antique shop in the East Village or Çukurcuma– that it was simply unwatchable.

* We’re not portrayed as craven cowards or decadent dinosaurs à la Gibbon, whose destiny it was to float off into extinction. Both Constantine and Mehmet are portrayed as equal opponents, Hector-Achilles style: it’s probably no accident; both were, I’m sure, as acquainted with the Iliad as the other. Constantine’s heroic and complex combination of resistance and resignation are portrayed as thoroughly as possible: he did everything he could until there was nothing to be done anymore; Mehmet’s impressive intellect, cosmopolitanism and warrior skills are highlighted without going overboard. And both are pretty sexy, as is Giustiniani, as is even Notaras père (costumes and sets are beautiful too). I do dread the thought of how they’re going to treat the fate of the Notarades, though. It’s much too scintillating to just leave out of the whole narrative, yet to show it to us they’d have to admit that their revered Fatih Mehmet was what we would today call bisexual, and that he was also a cruel sadist, and I don’t know how that would have sat with the Turkish side of the production.

* Unexpectedly, I thought, we’re called “Romans” from the beginning of the series, in the fictional segments (and I think some of the Italians, Giustiniani even, calls us “Greeks” at one point); there’s more “Byzantine” used in the doc segments obviously. Either way, it’s hard to say whether they wanted to take a calculated risk in doing that, because using “Romans” probably leaves all non-Greek viewers baffled, or because “baffling” and confusing were the desired result for what’s always been the Turkish state’s policy: that is, separating us from the Byzantines/Romans and not giving us our due rights to claim descent for ourselves there, by calling us something different, the same reason Turkey calls Istanbul’s 3,000* remaining Greeks “Rum” to this day, while the rest of us are “Yunan”. It’s satisfying to hear, in any event.

* Whether advertently or not, it punctures some pretty giant holes in the Turkish mythology of heroic feat. One, by admitting the fact that we were outnumbered by the tens of thousands, so that the speed with which, for example, Rumelihisarı was built doesn’t seem quite so miraculous, plus there were already foundations on the site from an older Roman fortress. Two, by showing the glaring technological disparities between the two sides, meaning, that the Siege and Fall of Constantinople was the last great military event between mediaeval fortifications and early modern cannons and artillery, so that instead of being an incredible military achievement, it was more like the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, with as dogged and determined a defense. And enough already with the “genius” of dragging the ships over from what, I would guess, would be somewhere near Kabataş, over the ridge, down Dolapdere into the Horn. It must have taken an enormous amount of manpower — too bad Erdoğan’s tunnel wasn’t there yet — yet not everything that’s just super-hard is necessarily “genius”.

* And stop comparing it to fucking Game of Thrones. GOT was Tolkien with sex and was the most maddening piece of trash to enthrall the masses in a long time. Ottoman is about a series of deeply traumatic events in the history of a real people that still exists, and who have been persecuted and are still threatened and harassed by Mehmet’s descendants to this day: US.

All in all it’s good; watch it. I mean, wtf, whatever. Maybe the inevitable escalation of violence, especially against civilians after the entry of the Turks into the City (The Religion of Peace gave an army three days’ right to loot, murder, rape and enslave if a city resisted and didn’t capitulate on it own) will make later episodes more disturbing. And the long arm of Erdoğanism is always felt throughout the whole thing. If Netflix were to produce a series portraying the destruction of the Second Temple and the horrendous brutality with which the Romans massacred and expelled most Jews from Judaea that made the Romans look even slightly heroic for even a second — “due to be released next Tisha B’av” — there’s not even a question of whether it would face a howling riot of protest or not; it would simply never have been produced. That’s not a “Jews control Hollywood” argument. It’s the truth. Just too many people would be offended. But even as Turkey sinks deeper into self-isolating dictatorship, it does wonders projecting a certain image to the rest of us and the rest of the Ummah.

But, at best it’s an exercise in what Helequin above calls “understand-[ing] an oppenents [sic] mythology”. You don’t have to be a trained Jungian to understand (or at least try) that “myth” is the only “reality”. That means understanding the other’s myth/s is crucial to the development of empathy, the one form of intelligence that homo sapiens [?] are still tragically deficient in.

It’s certainly the only thing in Palestine, or between Hindu and Muslim in India, and in the continuing bad divorce that is Greek-Turkish relations that will inevitably make a difference. Put yourself in a Turk’s position. Think about the massive baggage of tradition around the idea of taking Constantinople that animated them. And then [smerk]… put yourself in our position: if everybody wanted it so badly for 1,200 years, it must have been one puta madre of a city we had built there.

And in the 19th and 20th centuries, we built them another real city — “over there” — the likes of which they also had never known, and they threw us out of there too.

What are you gonna do? After a certain point, anger is too tiring. And they pay and are paying the price for their political culture anyway.

************************************************************************* The number of Greeks today in Istanbul is somewhere in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, there’s an issue of whether deaths and marriages and births will keep things in the range of critical mass… Near 300,000 in a city of around a million in the 1920s, three-thousand — in a city of 15 million today.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Prečani Serbs: I thought this passage from a previous post should also be posted separately

14 Nov

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.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Yugoslavia, King Aleksandar and the Карађорђевићи/Karađorđevići, addendum — and a digression about Serbian slava celebrations

14 Nov

In responding to the post of the philatelic enthusiast who found the vintage Yugoslavian stamp from 1939: Yugoslavia: Yeah, you found a very cool stamp. Do you have any clue what it means?“, there was no meaningful answer or comment I could give without bringing up King Aleksandar I Karađorđević.  But there was one important point I couldn’t fit into that post about the founder of that Serbian royal house. They (along with its rival Obrenović family — we’ll get into that below) are the only post-Ottoman royal families in the Balkans to be of indigenous stock.

karadjordje-bozo-buzejic

The founder of the family, the legendary Карађорђе (Karageorge) was a pig-herder from the Šumadija who led the first general Serbian uprising against the Ottomans in 1804.  It’s believed that his near ancestors moved to that central Serbian region from Montenegro, but claiming Montenegrin descent has always been a way to establish your butch/macho credentials in Serbia, plus it’s a good claim to use as part of an insanity plea if you’re the defendant in a legal case.  Other genealogists claimed that they had discovered links between Karageorge’s Petrović clan and the glorious rulers of mediaeval Serbia, the Nemanjići, which include Car Stefan DušanBut sometimes it seems that all of Montenegro, most of Herzegovina and half of Raška claim to be descended from the Nemanjići, so let’s feel free to not take that claim too seriously.

Actually, Montenegrins see it the other way around; they don’t think they’re descended from the Nemanjići, they think the Nemanjići were descended from them.  And there’s that great joke: someone in 1913 asked a Montenegrin notable what their relationship with Russia would be, now that the Turks had been chucked out of the Balkans.  And the Montenegrin replied: “We will NEVER abandon the Russians!”

And…in all fairness, until modern times Serbs were a very clan-tribe-lineage oriented culture where families kept extensive and detailed memories of genealogical maps in their heads going back for centuries, so much of their claims may actually be true and not concocted historical fictions.  A really powerful proof of that is that the Serbs are the only Orthodox Christians to not observe personal namedays.

Serbian-Slava-Festivityὁ σῖτος, ὁ οἶνος καὶ τὸ ἔλεον τοῦ δούλου σουthe wheat, wine and oil of Thy servant

Instead they observe the saint’s day on which their clan’s ancestors first converted to Christianity in a beautiful celebration called a slava, (the “glory”) and hereworth reading — which is essentially an offering and feast of remembrance, a ritual of ancestor-worship that proves that Serbs probably have more of one foot still in the pagan past than any other group of Slavs.  I don’t know how seriously modern Serbs still take the observation of this custom, but I’m going to be in Belgrade December 19th this year, St. Nicholas Day, which is the most widespread slava in Serbia, so maybe I can finnaegle my way to an invitation from someone.

Slava 1

Many of their funerary customs are similar to ours — like the artos or artoklasia above and koljivo below — meaning they developed together spontaneously or they represent the influence of known Slavic sub-strata in the language, genes and culture of modern Greeks — and now that I said that I’ll have to go into a witness protection program.

Koljivo_from_wheat

Koljivo or Koliva just like Greeks make.  Commemorating the dead with the seeds of life.

Whhhooooo…  long digression, even for NikoBako.

Anyway.  Karageorge wasn’t particularly wealthy or an Ottoman archon of any type, like the Greek Phanariotes who ruled Roumania as Ottoman vassals were.  He raised pigs and herded them across the Danube to the Prečani-Serb* inhabited regions of Austria and further in.  But he led a revolt that led to — if not complete independence — significant autonomy for Serbia.  He was assassinated fairly soon after but his descendants came back as kings of the independent country later on, in an often vicious see-saw dynamic with the rival Obrenovići which has always been too complicated for me to remember accurately, and then established themselves as the sole ruling house of Serbia in 1903, after the last Obrenonović monarch, also ironically named Aleksandar I, and his wife Draga, were chopped into pieces by a military coup who then threw their bodyparts off the balcony of the royal palace in Belgrade.

This, of course, did not exactly do wonders for Serbia’s image abroad, and is one of those events where Serbia might have needed to find a good public relations firm to work for them.

Why all this?  I dunno.  I just think it’s one of the very cool things about Serbs that they refused to be Frank-ridden after centuries of being Turk-ridden, and would not accept some lame, impotent, manic-depressed, inbred, rickety little 17-year-old nerd, tenth-in-line German or Danish princeling who spoke no Serbian as their king, the way all of the rest of the new Balkan states did.  They chose their own.  And he was a pig-herder.  And that rocks.

No joke.

Below — Karagiorge Servias Street in downtown Athens

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 1.11.20 AM

*************************************************************************************

* 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.  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 its 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 over 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.

It’s good to know the whole story, people, and not just buy the villain myths wholesale.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

P.S. Armenians & Kurds — “Atoning for a Genocide”

30 Oct

150105_r25970 armenian churchEaster Mass in Sourp Giragos in Diyarbakır, 2014. Because the church still has no priest assigned to it, a priest flies in from Istanbul. Pari Dukovic

From A Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath.:

“As the villagers fled to Diyarbakir from the surrounding areas, it became a Kurdish city. In time, the Diyarbakir Kurds began to recognize that their role in the genocide was a kind of original sin in their modern political history. “I remember this one Armenian priest,” Demirbaş told me. “A Kurd was insulting him, and this priest told him, ‘We were the breakfast for them, you will be the lunch. Don’t forget.’ And that was important for me.'””  [My emphasis]

While we’re on Armenians, at a time when Syria plunges more deeply into hell than we had ever thought possible, when the West abandons the Kurds to Erdoğan and Assad, proving again that the U.S. is Turkey’s hamali, or that Turkey’s tail wags the dog, if you prefer, a historical reality check might be called for.

The American and almost every other media might be too superficial or too impatient to dig so deep historically because they’d lose their audience, but there is one, and one big thing that disproves Donald Trump’s assertion that Turks and Kurds have been fighting each other for centuries and are “natural enemies (see video below).  And that is the fact that perhaps the greater portion of the massacres of Armenians and other Christians in eastern Anatolia during the last decades of the 19th c. and first two and a half decades of the 20th c. were conducted by Kurds.* Not by the Ottoman military, but by Kurdish para/irregular forces or just Kurdish tribal chieftains craving more land and authority and wealth, and conducting/justifying their campaigns of mass murder with the rippling green banner of Islam, under which Turks and Kurds were just brothers in defense of the faith.  Only when the forces of modern nationalism started displacing the older bonds of religion and empire, did Kurds arguably start to feel themselves a separate entity from Turkish Muslims, and did the power of clan loyalties shift from semi-feudal to Kurdish nationalist ones; it’s even arguable that Republican Turkey’s anti-ağa, anti-religious and Turkification campaigns stoked the fires of the new Kurdish nationalism more than anything else.  (Somewhat of a similar process occurs between the Ottomans and Muslim Albanians in the early 20th c., and Orthodox Greeks and Orthodox non-Greeks: Bulgarians, Macedonians, Vlachs, Albanian Christians — as the latter groups discovered/invented new identities to replace the old religious-institutional bonds.)

Armenian_woman_and_her_children_from_Geghi,_1899_(edit).jpgAn Armenian woman and her children who were refugees of the massacres and sought help from missionaries by walking far distances.  Photo unknown provenance.

So I’m sorry that couldn’t counter Trump’s claims of eternal Turkish-Kurdish enmity with something pretty about how — on the contrary — eternally well they have gotten along but rather by implicating both parties in coordinated mass murder.  And forgive me the occasional snicker at Greek pro-Kurdish poses and the general sanctification of Kurds that we’ve witnessed in the past couple of decades.

Armenia22hamidianArmenian victims of the massacres being buried in a mass grave at Erzerum cemetery.  Photo unknown provenance.

* From Wiki:

(“In 1890-91, at a time when the empire was either too weak and disorganized or reluctant to halt them, Sultan Abdul Hamid gave semi-official status to the Kurdish bandits. Made up mainly of Kurdish tribes, but also of Turks, Yöruk, Arabs, Turkmens and Circassians, and armed by the state, they came to be called the Hamidiye Alaylari (“Hamidian Regiments“).[16] The Hamidiye and Kurdish brigands were given free rein to attack Armenians, confiscating stores of grain, foodstuffs, and driving off livestock, and confident of escaping punishment as they were subjects of military courts only.) [my emphasis]

And not just eastern Anatolia.  Istanbul’s Kurdish population played a major role in the 1896 Hamidian Armenian massacres in the City, where hundreds were killed right there in Pera, in ab-fab Beyoğlu, in the middle of the elegant, Beaux Arts, now garish and overlit Istiklâl.  Referred to this before and to how brilliantly these events are handled in the “Duck with Okra” chapter in Maria Iordanidou’s Loxandra.

Only fair, however, that I include a reference to this 2015 article from The New YorkerA Century of Silence: A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath. by Raffi Khatchadourian, in which the then mayors of Diyarbakır and the separate municipality of the Old City, Osman Baydemir and Abdullah Demirbaş respectively, apologize for the Kurdish role in the Armenian massacres and rebuild and restore the city’s main Armenian church, Sourp Giragos (Hagios Kyriakos in Greek) and allow it to function (see photo above) for the handful of Armenians left in the city.   Khatchadourian‘s article has some beautiful photos too by Pari Dukovic.

“We Kurds, in the name of our ancestors, apologize for the massacres and deportations of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915. We will continue our struggle to secure atonement and compensation for them.”

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Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

14th century Constantinopolitan sakkos in Vatican — from the Byzantine Ambasador

20 Nov

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 4.39.39 PM 2h2 hours ago  C14th Vatican Sakkos was embroidered in before going to Rome as a gift to the Papacy. The back shows the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt Tabor. 

It’s really striking.  The mountain of Byzantine loot that’s collecting dust in the basements and treasuries of Italian and European museums and churches probably dwarfs the amount of classical Greek objects collected there over the centuries.  But not a one of us has spoken out against that fact or demanded their “return.”  The only art we’re interested in having returned to us is the art the West itself validates — and along with that we inherit the West’s own ignoring or ignorance of two millenia of our history.  How f*cked up are we…

Below is an older post on same issue.

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Why the Elgin Marbles and not the loot of 1204?

3 Jan

Another tempest in a teapot about how one statue from the British Museum‘s collection was lent to the Hermitage: Greek Statue Travels Again, but Not to Greece by Steven Erlanger.

In 1811, a lone Scottish gentleman, with or without permission of the Ottoman authorities, took some of the major sculptures from the Parthenon frieze down — admitted…stunners — and shipped them back to Britain, where they’re displayed to this day.

In 1204, a motley crew of Western/Catholic armies sacked Constantinople, our capital city, destroyed more of the art and learning of the classical world in a shorter space of time than had ever been destroyed before, carried off the City’s most precious objects, and left both the City and Romania, the Empire of the Romans, one of the most long-lived states in human history, a shattered shell, which, even though the new roots of an artistic renaissance in Byzantine art and architecture were pushing forwards, not even Greek ingenuity and political prowess were ever able to put together as a viable state again.  It was the most bafflingly mindless destruction of the greatest city in the world and, by far, the most violent, and to-the-root assault our civilization has ever experienced.

An yet no one asks Italy for the return of even one piece of the looted objects, which are just sitting there, most gathering dust in the treasury of San Marco in Venice.  Are none of these items of any interest to us as Greeks?  Are none of them as beautiful as the Elgin Marbles?

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Are they less Greek?  Why no fuss?  Why don’t we care?  I don’t support the repatriation of art works and I wouldn’t support the transfer of the objects in the San Marco treasury to Greece either.  But it should make you think.  Why?  Because we’re so effed in the head by Western Classicism, and two millenia of our history is ignored as we obsess about fifty years of the art of one city-state…out of our entire cultural experience!

And here’s an individual who thinks he’s doing us a favor — and the politically correct thing — by supporting the Neo-Greek statelet in its demands to have the Elgin Marbles returned:

‘The Parthenon Marbles: Refuting the Arguments’

– by Dr. Tom Flynn
[Dr. Flynn can be contacted at tomflynn@btinternet.com and @artnose on Twitter.
This document can be read as a .pdf in the Documents & Articles section. It can also be found on the website of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.]

The pressure on Western encyclopedic or ‘universal’ museums to address the repatriation of cultural objects unethically removed from their countries of origin during the age of imperialism is growing ever stronger. The museums, in their efforts to resist, continue to cleave to the argument that return of even one significant object or set of objects would inevitably “open the floodgates” leading to the wholesale denuding of the world’s great museum collections.

This argument is fallacious since it implies that the majority of  museum collections were unethically acquired, which is not the case. It succeeds, however, in deflecting attention away from the dubious circumstances in which certain objects were removed from their rightful homes. Few cases are more significant in this respect than the Parthenon Marbles in London. For this reason they are of pivotal importance for the future of international cultural diplomacy.

In its effort to counter mounting public pressure to return the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, the British Museum has used a range of arguments over the years, all of which can be refuted. This perhaps explains why majority public opinion continues to favour the reunification of the Marbles as the right thing to do. Through its continuing resistance, the British Museum is failing to honour the public trust.

Outlined below are the main arguments used by the British Museum to keep the Marbles in London and the counter-arguments which support the calls for return.

1. Lord Elgin “rescued” the Marbles by removing them to safety in Britain
An argument consistently promoted by the British Museum and supported by Julien Anfruns, Director-General of the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Despite ICOM’s supposed impartiality in matters of delicate cultural diplomacy, Anfruns told the Spanish journal La Nueva España: “Had the transfer never happened, who knows if we would be able to see these pieces today at all.” In fact, the Marbles that Lord Elgin did not “transfer” to Britain and which remained in Athens, survived remarkably well and have benefited from responsible cleaning by Greek conservators using state of the art laser technology. In contrast, the Marbles retained by the British Museum were scrubbed with wire brushes in the 1930s by British Museum staff in a misguided attempt to make them whiter.

2. Lord Elgin “legally” acquired the Marbles and Britain subsequently “legally” acquired them from him for the British Museum
In the absence of unequivocal documentary proof of the actual circumstances under which Lord Elgin removed the Marbles, the legality of Britain’s acquisition of them will always be in doubt. More importantly, the fact that permission to remove them was granted not by the Greeks but by the Ottoman forces occupying Greece at that time undermines the legitimacy of Elgin’s actions and thus by extension Britain’s ownership.

3. Lord Elgin’s removal of the Marbles was archaeologically motivated
Lord Elgin’s expressed intention was always to transport the Marbles to his ancestral seat in Scotland where they would be displayed as trophies in the tradition established by aristocratic collectors returning from the Grand Tour. Nobody with genuine archaeological interest in ancient Greek sculpture would ever have countenanced the disfiguring of such a beautiful and important ancient monument in the way Lord Elgin did. For archaeologists, an object’s original context is paramount. It is telling that Lord Elgin’s son, James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, was responsible for ordering the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing during the Second Opium War of 1860. Philistine disregard for the world’s cultural monuments seems to run in the family.

4. The Greeks are unable to look after the Parthenon Marbles properly
The New Acropolis Museum in Athens is a world-class museum with first-rate conservation and curatorial expertise. It is the most appropriate place in the world in which to display the Parthenon Marbles. Its proximity to the ancient monument — and the masterful disposition of the New Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon Galleries on the same architectural axis as the Parthenon itself — would return to the Marbles some measure of their architectural significance. While they remain in London, this aspect of their importance is steadily being erased from the cultural memory.

5. It is impossible to restore the Parthenon and thus the aspiration towards ‘reunification’ is a false one
Restoration of the structural fabric of Parthenon temple continues apace. However, the aspiration has never been to return the frieze, pediment and metopes to the original building but rather to reunify them within the New Acropolis Museum where they can be properly appreciated and understood in the context of the original building, and preserved for posterity. In London they are willfully decontextualised and misleadingly displayed with no relation to Greek artistic or cultural history.

6. The Marbles are better off in London where they can be seen in the context of other world cultures
Research on museum visitors has concluded that the average visitor does not make meaningful connections between the randomly acquired objects held and displayed by encyclopedic museums. Indeed, when given the choice between viewing the Parthenon Marbles within the artificial environment applied to them by British Museum curators and experiencing them in the city of Athens from which they originate, polls consistently demonstrate that the majority of the public would prefer to see them returned to Athens.

7. The Marbles belong to “the world”, to all of us, and should therefore be left where “everyone” can enjoy them
Now that Athens has a world-class, state-of-the-art museum in which to house the Marbles, there is no longer any justification for assuming that London is the best place for the people of the world to enjoy them. Since its opening, the New Acropolis Museum has enjoyed huge visitor numbers. It is therefore reasonable to assume that visitor numbers would increase still further were the Parthenon Marbles to be reunited in the New Acropolis Museum. Moreover, Greece is in dire need of a boost to its cultural tourism, which the return of the Marbles would help it to achieve. Anyone comparing the New Acropolis Museum, bathed as it is in Attic light, with the gloomy Duveen Galleries in the British Museum would reasonably conclude that “enjoyment” of the Marbles would be immeasurably enhanced were they returned to Athens.

8. If the British Museum agreed to return the Marbles to Athens, it would set a dangerous precedent that would “open the floodgates”, leading to the denuding of the world’s encyclopedic museums
For European and North American museums to suggest that they would be denuded is tantamount to admitting that the majority of their collections were dubiously acquired, which is not the case. It is therefore nonsense to suggest that museums would be emptied. Every request for repatriation should be treated on its own merits. The great encyclopedic or ‘universal’ museums in London, Paris, Berlin, New York and elsewhere are all subject to the laws laid down within internationally agreed legal instruments such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the safeguarding of cultural property. Refusing to return the Marbles sends the wrong message at a time when a more ethical approach is required over disputed cultural objects.

9. The Marbles are too important a part of the British Museum collection to allow them to be given up
The most important part of the British Museum’s work in the future will be the fostering of creative cultural partnerships with other nations. These can lead to groundbreaking exhibitions such as the Terracotta Army from China and Moctezuma from Mexico. Returning the Parthenon Marbles would open a new chapter in cooperative relations with Greece and enable visitors to the British Museum to see new objects loaned by Greek museums. Refusal to return the Marbles is hampering this process. The Parthenon Marbles display in the Duveen Galleries at the British Museum could be reconfigured using high-quality casts, properly lit. The decision to return the Marbles to Athens would be seen as the British Museum leading the way in enlightened cultural diplomacy, the benefits of which would be diverse, long-term, and far-reaching.

10. The Marbles can only be “loaned” to Athens if the Greeks agree to concede Britain’s legal ownership of the sculptures
Attaching such a precondition to a dispute over cultural property has been widely viewed as insulting and condescending and reminiscent of colonialist approaches to international relations. Seemingly intractable cultural disputes require both parties to adopt a spirit of open-minded generosity and to enter into discussions on equal terms and with no preconditions.

11. “The Elgin Marbles are no longer part of the story of the Parthenon. They are now part of another story.” (Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum)
It is not the role of museums to rewrite history to further their own nationalistic ends. As their correct name makes clear, the Parthenon Marbles are, and will always be, integral to the story of the Parthenon, one of the finest cultural achievements bequeathed to humankind by the ancient Greeks.

Have we missed anything? Ah, yes, the sun shines more frequently in Athens. Case closed.

And here I am, not even realizing that I had written a response to this piece a while ago:

“This might be good or even be a strong case but I refuse to encourage Greeks’ obsession with these issues in ANY way.  This stuff is crack for the Neo-Greek soul.  It’s pathological and is part of the DEEP cultural fuck up of Modern Greek identity.   It’s distracting, false consciousness; it’s to Greeks what soccer is to Brazilians: cheap bread-and-circus pride.  Flynn is being far more colonialist or post-colonialist or whatever than those he so freely levels those accusations at in ignoring the ways that Western Classicism has damaged the Modern Greek spirit and made a coherent identity impossible.  Does he know that down to my grandparents’ generation the most frequent term of self-designation we used was “Romios” — Roman, because a holistic connection to antiquity, early, middle and late was a given.  But in no other part of the “colonized” world was the “colonized’s” supposed history so fundamental to the “colonizer’s” own origin myth, so the post-Enlightenment-cum-Romantic Westerners show up and we have to be who they want us to be.  Does he know what the granting of selective blessing on one small part of our historical experience, while the whole rest is disregarded as a mediaeval or Ottoman dark age, does to a people’s own interpretation of their past?  Is he even remotely aware of what — the state and ideological violence — it took to to turn Byzantines/Ottoman Greeks into Neo-Hellenes obsessed with proving their connections to a past that the West planted in their heads?  He’s unaware that the obsession with these issues approaches the level of a psychosis among Modern Greeks that has caused them deep psychological and cultural trauma that will probably never heal until the next historical revolution in Greek consciousness occurs.  In doing so, he’s being as WOEFULLY ignorant, condescending, racist, etc., about Greeks and Modern Greece as he thinks the British Museum is.”

Plus, any one who, in 2014, writes the words “bathed…in the Attic light” should be prohibited from publishing anything ever again.

My solution?  Flynn points to one: “The Parthenon Marbles display in the Duveen Galleries at the British Museum could be reconfigured using high-quality casts, properly lit.

Great.  So make two perfectly “reconfigured” models of the originals, one for the British Museum and one for the New Acropolis Museum in Athens — and light them properly.  Then take the originals and crush them into fine gravel and spread it over the driveways of Sandringham and Balmoral and let’s be done with the issue and let the conscience-ridden Flynns and other Frangoi of the world be tormented by their post-colonial guilt and leave us in peace with our neuroses — please

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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