Tag Archives: Pakistan

Riz Ahmed, Immigration, Suketu Mehta and me, Identity Politics, and Varun and Sidharth’s “shining future”

21 Sep

riz-ahmedRiz Ahmed is the first man of Asian descent to win an acting Emmy Getty Images

Suketu Mehta’ conclusions in “This Land is Their Land” (see: Suketu Mehta in Foreign Policy addendum, whole text) echo some of my points on immigration in Greece, Britain, U.S. and everywhere (see: It’s immigration, “stupid”: the United States’ best-kept secret…streams of thought on a hot Sunday afternoon).

Me:

“It’s when immigrant/migrants/refugees are leaving that you should worry.

“My often-stated opinion that the West has both the resources and the historical obligation to take in every-body that needs and wants to come still holds.  That the European Union’s migration agreement with Turkey marked people fleeing a country in the condition of Afghanistan’s as “economic migrants” was a scandal.  But when you’ve got a problem with Poles — whit-er, better-educated, harder-working, more Christian, cuter, better-mannered and less binge-drinking than you — then you really do have a problem…

polish-scum

“America’s best-kept secret, despite what trailer trash Donald Trump and his crew tell you, is that immigrants are a self-selecting group of already highly motivated people who are connected and aware enough to have heard that things are better where you are.  And they’re not coming to take that from you; they’re coming to improve it.  They’re the A-list crew that crashes your party because they’ve heard your parties are the ones to crash and in the process makes them even more of the hottest ticket in town.  It’s a self-fufilling, auto-re-perpetuating process.

“New York, in other words.”

“Olympian Zeus, king of the gods, will tear your head off if you’re unwelcoming to the stranger — or worse, for a Greek, make you ugly — so you better watch out. He comes in disguise to test you. Like the angels to Abraham.”

“So…wooops…there they are. Here they come! They’ve arrived. And they’ve instantly made Greece a more interesting place. And interesting is strong. And strength is freedom.”

And Mehta:

“Countries that accept immigrants, like Canada, are doing better than countries that don’t, like Japan. But whether Trump or May or Orban likes it or not, immigrants will keep coming, to pursue happiness and a better life for their children. To the people who voted for them: Do not fear the newcomers. Many are young and will pay the pensions for the elderly, who are living longer than ever before. They will bring energy with them, for no one has more enterprise than someone who has left their distant home to make the difficult journey here, whether they’ve come legally or not. And given basic opportunities, they will be better behaved than the youth in the lands they move to, because immigrants in most countries have lower crime rates than the native-born. They will create jobs. They will cook and dance and write in new and exciting ways. They will make their new countries richer, in all senses of the word. The immigrant armada that is coming to your shores is actually a rescue fleet.[My emphases]

Was that one of the subtexts or even the skeletal structure of “The Night of…”, the brilliant mini-series and incredible ethnographic essay on New York from HBO for which Ahmed won his Emmy: good, criminally uninclined, son of hard-working Pakistani immigrant parents from Jackson Heights, with …a shining shining future
Sadda bright si (see full video at bottom), gets led to his doom by decadent white girl? or is he a good Muslim boy led astray by Hindu seductress disguised as lawyer who then screws herself in the process?  (I have to admit that the sexual scratch-marks on the back of Ahmed’s character, Naz, that come to light in one courtroom scene put me in mind of the Gita Govinda.)  Or more misogynist than that even: that women — period. — are trouble?

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780

Some of the frustrating contradictions of identity politics in the Washington Post‘s Riz Ahmed makes history as the first South Asian man to win an Emmy acting award.  If Riz Ahmed wants to not be type-cast as a Muslim or South Asian man every time he gets a role, but to eventually just play a character called “Dave”, then he’s going to need his fans’ help and have them not get apoplectically happy because he’s the first “Asian” (whatever that means) to win an Emmy, but because he’s a great actor who won an Emmy.

In the meantime, tabrik.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

From the Times: ‘At the Stroke of Midnight My Entire Family Was Displaced’

14 Aug
(Just going to lift this material in its entirety from The New York Times because it’s so beautiful and moving; it’s hard to find something of your own to say  — NB)

August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in India and the creation of the two independent countries of India and Pakistan, carved along religious and political lines. More than 10 million people were uprooted. We asked readers how they or their families were affected. These are some of their stories.


The author’s mother, Rashida Begum, and father, Malik Fazal Haq, in photos taken around 10 years before partition. CreditCourtesy of Tariq Malik

‘Was he calling out for me?’

In 1947 I was 10. We lived in comfort in Jammu and Kashmir state.

We lost everything at the time of the creation of Pakistan. Things can be replaced, not lives.

My father, an intellectual and educationalist, was murdered. Eight of us crossed into Pakistan dressed in summer clothes and nothing else. Winter came and we had nothing to wear and no roof over our heads. By the following summer my feet had outgrown my shoes and I had to walk barefoot on scorching earth. My feet sometimes still feel that hot surface.

Even today I get nightmares about my father’s murder. As a physician I wonder how the end came. Was he in pain, was he cold, was he thirsty, was he calling out for me?

— Tariq Malik


Suman and Anand Khorana. Credit Dr. A. B. Khorana

‘My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house’

My father, Anand B. Khorana, was about 10 years old at the time of partition. His father was a civil engineer and the whole family (my grandparents, father and his five siblings) had recently moved into a new home they built as a mark of their “middle-class” status. The oldest child, a daughter, had recently become engaged. The family had lived for generations in the state of Punjab and could not conceive of living any place else. As my late father told it, everyone had heard rumblings about the state being divided into a Pakistani half and an Indian half, but few thought it would happen imminently.

At the stroke of midnight my entire family was displaced. Their land and home were deemed to be on the Pakistani side and in a few days it was pretty clear that a Hindu family, regardless of their prior status, was in danger. I don’t know all the details but, unlike most families who decided to emigrate immediately (many losing their lives on the trains in the process), my father’s family went into hiding for a few months. My father recalled hiding in a Muslim family’s house (a former employee of my grandfather’s).

Eventually, things calmed down and the family made the trek to India and resettled, initially in Delhi in refugee quarters. My grandfather was able to find a job similar to his prior one. All of their property, including the house they had recently built, was lost but the family was grateful to have made it out alive — unlike so many others. The only person believed lost was the eldest daughter’s fiancé but, a year later, she spotted him at a train station in Delhi. They married and had several children.

— Alok A. Khorana


The Ghosh family, c. 1972. The author is in her father’s arms. CreditCourtesy of Madhushree Ghosh

‘We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver’

My parents were young when they walked from what’s now Bangladesh to India. Baba called East Pakistan “home” until he died in 2004. His family, landowners in Dhaka, fled with their belongings; copper utensils, large bowls, plates. He used to say, “We never needed anything, so we didn’t know the value of money. We carried the heavy utensils, because we thought copper was more valuable than silver. We were children, what were we to do?”

When Baba’s bank job moved him to New Delhi, he spent days recreating his childhood vegetable garden. Cabbage, cauliflower, peas, spinach, okra, we had it all. He used to say, “Our pumpkins were bigger than the sun!” and I would believe him. Everything in Bangladesh, the place he left, was better. The roses were more fragrant, the eggplants more purple, the fish were fresher — Delhi could never compete.

Ma was 12 when her family fled Barisal for Kolkata. They sold everything, including Ma’s favorite school books. She mourned those books until she died, in 2008. But she was proud that she hadn’t marked any of them with a pen or pencil. “They were pristine,” she would say, “so Thakur da could sell them at a premium. That money helped us escape.”

— Madhushree Ghosh


The author’s father and mother, c. 1960. CreditCourtesy of Peter Jones Jr.

‘My siblings and I have been effectively stateless’

My father’s family was part of the British colonial administration. During partition my father was in Pakistan attending school while the rest of his family was in Pune, India. As hostilities erupted between Hindus and Muslims, my father was cut off from his family. He couldn’t get British citizenship because most of his papers were lost during the upheaval. So, in the ’50s, he made his way to the United Arab Emirates by ship and started a family there.

My siblings and I have been effectively stateless. Although we are familiar with Indian and Pakistani culture, we belonged to neither culture. We grew up in the Middle East, in Dubai, among other Asians but could not identify with them.

— S. Jones


The author’s father and mother in the late ’40s/early ’50s.Credit

‘He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her’

When partition was announced, my father, who worked for the British Indian Government, was posted in Bombay. He was advised that as a Muslim he would have better career opportunities in Pakistan. He was asked to report to offices in Rawalpindi as soon as possible. He left and my mother, Rosy, who was 20, and their six-month-old daughter stayed behind until he could arrange for their accommodation. Because of the chaos he could not come back to get them, so he asked my mother to take a train to Lahore. On the train a Sikh gentleman noticed my mother alone with an infant and asked her where she was going. When she told him Lahore, he was shocked and told her about the massacres that were taking place on trains going to Pakistan — my mother and father hadn’t known.

He said he was traveling to Amritsar (30 miles from Lahore) but would accompany her to Wagah, a border town between India and Pakistan, because he would never forgive himself if anything happened to her. He told my mother that if anyone asked, she was his daughter. He thought her name, Rosy, was fine since it was secular. But my sister’s name, Shahina, was distinctly Muslim, so if anyone asked her name was Nina.

He stayed with them until Wagah and walked with them to the Pakistani border, kissed them both on their foreheads and told them he wished he could take them all the way to Lahore, but he would not make it back alive.

My sister, who lives in Karachi, is still called Nina by everyone in the family. My mother insisted on that.

— Sohail Murad


The author’s father, left, grandfather and grandmother, a few years after partition. CreditCourtesy of Kanwal Prakash Singh

‘We prayed as we imagined the worst. Almighty God had other plans.’

On Sept. 7, a bespectacled Sikh man, much like my father, was killed in town and a rumor spread that he had come to set fire to the local mosque.

The next day dislocated families from surrounding villages who had taken shelter in schoolyards, grain markets and other vulnerable locations were attacked. I can still hear the cries of people shot or stabbed outside the Gurdwara and the gunfire that began around 4 p.m., as the last train left the Jaranwala Railway Station, in Pakistan, and continued into the evening.

That night women and children were sheltering in a room on the second floor of the Gurdwara with instructions on what to do if the militia broke through the doors and entered the temple. The thought still gives me chills. The temperature outside was in the 90s Fahrenheit, but inside the heat was oppressive. Some men stayed on the main floor or on the rooftop lookout, armed with sticks, swords, a pistol and one double-barreled gun. We were certain our end was imminent. We prayed as we imagined the worst.

Almighty God had other plans. For the next three days we holed-up in the Gurdwara. Our ranks swelled with the addition of the injured who were able to escape. We heard rumors that we would be attacked on Sept. 12, after Friday prayers. But there was a knock at the giant door of the temple around 10 a.m. and four Sikh military officers ordered us to leave in ten minutes and said they would escort us to the caravan of refugees that was passing. Everyone scrambled and ran with the clothes on their backs, relieved and hopeful to live another day or die with others traveling toward the new border and sanctuary of India.

— Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh


‘I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947’

My father was a refugee and a migrant. As his child I have lived a peripatetic life, but have always been able to maintain connections with my family in Pakistan. I lived in Aligarh while I was researching my dissertation and visited the home where my father and my grandmother were born. I met the son of the family who had migrated from Lahore and received the home as refugee property (though he had been born later, in independent India). I was probably the first member of my family to visit the home since 1947 and met people who remembered my family, who were known for their love of rooftop kite flying. The family who lives there now sent homemade sweets for me to take to my Pakistani family.

— Amber Abbas


My parents with me in Calcutta at my Mundan ceremony, c. 1954. 

‘He spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West’

My mother’s younger brother lived in Jammu and must have been a lad of 15 at the time of the partition. He was aware of the mass violence around him, but he did not take up arms and perpetuate the violence. He was a strong swimmer, and he spent days carrying two Muslims from the East to the West and then two Hindus from the West to the East on his shoulders — back and forth. My uncle’s story reminds me that people can stop the cycle of violence.

— Ripudaman Malhotra


The author’s father, left, and grandfather. CreditCourtesy of Ritesh Batra

‘It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one’

My paternal grandfather and grandmother moved to Bombay during partition with their two little sons. I shared a room with my grandfather growing up and heard stories of how things were before and silences about what happened during. In his last year my grandfather would often weep about partition. It was not a national tragedy for him, but a very personal one.

My maternal grandfather moved to Lucknow in India at the height of the violence. They lost many cousins and relations, but the immediate family made it safely. He restarted an optical shop called Lahore Opticals, named after the city of his birth, and became successful. When Hindu-Muslim strife breaks out in India, the shop is invariably targeted. But my grandfather never changed the name. His shop is now run by my uncle and is still named after the city they fled, now in Pakistan.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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The Pakistani cab-drivers and Hanuman

15 Oct

Taxi-cabs-New-York-0986

I had a seriously annoying Pakistani cab-driver a few days before I left New York in September.

He saw my “Jai Bajrang Bali” tattoo to Hanuman (for those who don’t know: Hanuman) and he said:

“What that say on your arm?”

I said: “It says ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’”, which is a praise-phrase for Hanuman that I think roughly means: ‘Hail, strong one’ (He’s the patron deity of wrestlers and strength athletes generally and I got it in prep for going back to judo.)

“You know about Hanuman?  You read about him?”

“Yeah…” seeing where this was going.

“You Hindu?”

“No”

“So why you Hindu on your arm?”

“Because Hanuman is important to me.”

“So why don’t you become Hindu?”

“Well,” I said kind of testily, “you can’t become Hindu.  You can observe Hindu practices or show some reverence for Hindu deities, but you’re born Hindu, with a very specific place in the cosmic order, with a varna and a caste and a gotra and its particular deity/deities that you’re devoted to and very particular and varied rites or ritual obligations that you’re subject too.  You can’t really convert to Hinduism…in my opinion, at least, despite lots of white people who think they can.”

Silence.

A little bit out of his depth at this point.

“You Jewish?”

(Of course, right?)

“No, I’m Christian technically, Greek Orthodox.”

“If you Christian, how come you have Hindu on your arm?”

“Well,” I said, “that’s probably a little hard for a Muslim to understand.”

And that ended the conversation.

But I shit y’all not, two days later I had the same conversation with another one.  This one ended more abruptly.  When we got to the part about how one can’t “become” Hindu, he started telling me that Islam is very simple and that to become a Muslim is very simple.  “You want to become Muslim, it’s very simple.”

But instead of saying…

“Yes, I imagine the appeal of all totalizing and authoritarian ideologies has always been their ‘simplicity.’  ‘Come with us — it’s simple…’”

…I just said: “Oh, well then maybe I’ll think about it.”

I don’t think he knew what to make of that one.

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

See also: “For Hanuman-ji and the Pakistani cab-drivers: Aditya Kapoor’s beautiful photo essay of a wrestling akhara in Benares

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Jerusalem: “…if he cannot control her, he would rather see her dead.”

3 Jan

 

ISRAEL-superJumboJerusalem’s light rail trams, once a haven of normality, have come under attack in recent months. Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times  (double click)

A line from an op=ed piece by

“Yet, with all their talk of Jerusalem’s indivisibility, neither side has a plan to enable everyone to live functional, productive lives here.

“Both sides profess their love for this city, but they love it as a violently jealous man loves a woman: If he cannot control her, he would rather see her dead.”

It says it all, and lends itself to a powerful explanation of why the fiercest nationalist is usually a male.  If I can’t have her, who cares.  Better yet, kill her, Stella-style.  This is what Venizelos was thinking when he embarked on his pipe-dream in 1919; this is what he though at Lausanne when agreeing to the Population Exchange — he had already run through several population exchange scenarios in his head with which he might seduce the Allies and bring himself glory; 1923 wasn’t the first time he had expressed such ideas.

This what Milošević was feeling when he abandoned Krajina’s Serbs to their fate and then again when he sealed the fate of Kosovar Serbs by thinking he would expel its 90% Albanian population.

This is what that other raging ego-maniac Jinnah was thinking when he convinced people to cut the heart out of Muslim India and create two dysfunctional wing statelets, one of which barely survives in horrible destitution, the other ruled by a series of some of the most hideous, corrupt, mendacious regimes in the world (see October 6: “It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”)

This is what the Messenger thinks when he starts shrieking from his Mussolini balcony: “And I don’t give a shit about Anatolian Hellenism or Politikes Kouzines or Loxandres!!! [.] I care about what’s good for Greece!!!”  Or when he stands ten kilometers from my father’s village “…where my ancestors held on tooth and nail to their land, their religion, their language, for centuries – as every other people have the right to — looks out over the valley of Dropoli and thinks out loud: “These borders could have been drawn to better advantage for us. All that was necessary would’ve been a few key population exchanges…”

The weird “contentlessness of nationalism” as I’ve said many times before.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Or what it becomes.  It just has to be mine.  Or set a match to it.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“It’s not even a country; it’s a fuckin’ acronym!”

6 Oct

Maybe the best line from last night’s season four opening of SHOWTIME’s Homeland…and maybe a nomination for best “nuff-said” comment ever on the Land of the Pure.

political-map-of-Pakistan(click)

Led to me to look up exactly what the acronym was and came across the brilliant Hitchens’ attack on the Pakistani elite and political/military establishment and the U.S.’s dysfunctional relationship to it: From Abbottabad to Worse which appeared in Vanity Fair’s July 2011 issue, following the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Harsh, perhaps exaggerated, but probably not far off the mark:

“Again to quote myself from 2001, if Pakistan were a person, he (and it would have to be a he) would have to be completely humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. That last triptych of vices is intimately connected. The self-righteousness comes from the claim to represent a religion: the very name “Pakistan” is an acronym of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and so forth, the resulting word in the Urdu language meaning “Land of the Pure.” The self-pity derives from the sad fact that the country has almost nothing else to be proud of: virtually barren of achievements and historically based on the amputation and mutilation of India in 1947 and its own self-mutilation in Bangladesh. The self-hatred is the consequence of being pathetically, permanently mendicant: an abject begging-bowl country that is nonetheless run by a super-rich and hyper-corrupt Punjabi elite. As for paranoia: This not so hypothetical Pakistani would also be a hardened anti-Semite, moaning with pleasure at the butchery of Daniel Pearl and addicted to blaming his self-inflicted woes on the all-powerful Jews.

“This dreary story actually does have some bearing on the “sovereignty” issue. In the beginning, all that the Muslim League demanded from the British was “a state for Muslims.” Pakistan’s founder and first president, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was a relatively secular man whose younger sister went around unveiled and whose second wife did not practice Islam at all. But there’s a world of difference between a state for Muslims and a full-on Muslim state. Under the rule of General Zia there began to be imposition of Shari’a and increased persecution of non-Muslims as well as of Muslim minorities such as the Shiites, Ismailis, and Ahmadis. In recent years these theocratic tendencies have intensified with appalling speed, to the point where the state contains not one but two secret statelets within itself: the first an impenetrable enclave of covert nuclear command and control and the second a private nexus of power at the disposal of the military intelligence services and—until recently—Osama bin Laden himself.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Life as an Illegal Immigrant in Greece — from VICE

16 Sep

Or what the Messenger would call my “aiding and abetting the enemies of our Fatherland.”

A great video piece done this past spring by that increasingly brilliant outlet, Vice.

Felt proud, though, at the number of intelligent, articulate, compassionate Greeks who appear in the video taking a stand against this deplorable situation and not indulging in the usual apologetics that have unfortunately become the Neo-Greek man-on-the-street’s default discourse: “We can’t afford to have these people here

…Golden Dawn helps the people, etc.”  Or this one from the Messenger: “If that percentage of immigrants had descended on the United States all of a sudden, wouldn’t the Ku Klux Klan be voted into office the next day?”  Errr…no.  It wouldn’t.  A classic piece of simplistic knee-jerk anti-Americanism touched with his own brand of fascism-lite.

 “Greece has always been a gateway for immigrants searching for what they assumed would be a better life in Europe. But many of those who have crossed illegally into Greece have found that they have traded one bad situation for another. Refugees from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan are finding themselves stuck in a country that is not only battling an economic crisis but is witnessing a rise in anti-immigrant violence—exemplified by the a nationalist political party known as the Golden Dawn.

VICE News’ Alex Miller travelled from Athens to the western port of Patras to find out what it is like to be trapped in a country you never wanted to be in in the first place.”

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

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