Friday, December 19, 2014


Today's post is about Pirates. Unfortunately I don't have much information about the image at left, which I bought as is in Istanbul somewhere, but it appears to come from a 1950s of 60s book about Ottoman Algeria. The top to flags belong to the Beylerbeyi or head Ottoman official of Algeria. The next, with the skull and arm, is the flag of Algerian pirates. The arm alone is the banner of Algerian merchants, while the red white and green pennant belongs to merchant ships carrying government property. The wishbone(?) looking flag is the Commander's standard, while the final striped flag is for merchant ships carrying non-government property.

Of course, it's impossible to talk about pirates without talking about gender. As I've written about here before, I was drawn to the topic when I discovered Feridun Fazil Tulbentci's 1948 Hayrettin Barbarosa is Coming, which uses Ottoman history as a site to articulate a "modern" form of male sexuality.

More recently, though I stumbled on a fascinating article by Judith Tucker about gender and piracy in the in the Mediterranean. As with everything in history, it's complicated. You should read the whole thing, but in short, manfully fighting pirates could be a way to perform your masculinity, while being sodomized by pirates could call your masculinity into question. Also the threat that pirates represented to female virtue could, in the 16th and 17th centuries be a means of reinforcing patriarchy by keeping women off the high seas, but then, by the 19th century, also serve as a discourse justifying European colonialism in North Africa.

Alternatively, you can go directly to one of Professor Tucker's most engaging primary sources instead: "The Worthy Enterprise of John Fox, an Englishman, in Delivering 266 Christians out of the Captivity of the Turks at Alexandria, the 3rd of January, 1577." in all its glory, after the jump.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Ride to Khiva

J. A. Mac Gahan's Map of Khiva showing Russian Operations. Full image here

Today we return to central asia with a map showing the route to Khiva and a few excerpts Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby's "A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia." While perhaps not as famous as other Central Asian adventurers like Fitzroy Maclean or Alexander "Bokhara" Burns (selections of whose adventures can be found in the Royal Asiatic Reader) Burnaby was a 19th century English adventurer of the most over the top sort (see picture). He tolerated Americans, disliked Jews, barely distinguished between Russians, Frenchmen and Tatars, and felt that native camel drivers could best be motivated with a swift kick or bucket of ice water. He was also fascinated by the Tatar admiration for sheep:
As he said these words he looked contemptuously at the guide, who was riding a little in advance of the party, engaged in singing a song descriptive of his love for mutton. The Kirghiz poetry is filled with odes in the honour of sheep, the natives placing this animal on the highest pinnacle of their estimation — after their wives, and, indeed, sometimes before them.
In one of the account's more earnest attempts at humor, pretty much anticipating the entire Borat oeuvre, Burnaby goes on to image how his trusty Tatar companion translated the compliments he paid a young a Khirgiz (meaning, most likely, Kazakh) widow:
As, however, his ideas of poetry were like my late guide's, limited to songs about the beauty of a sheep, and the delights of roast mutton, I fear that when he was desired to tell her that she was the most beautiful of her sex, Nazar translated it as follows: He says "that thou art lovelier than a sheep with a fat tail" — this appendage being a great delicacy amongst the Tartars — "that thy face is the roundest of the flock, and that thy breath is sweeter to him than many pieces of mutton roasted over bright embers."
Indeed, two things Burnaby believed with equal fervor were that Central Asian women were too moon-faced to be beautiful and that the British government was not doing enough to prepare for war with Russia. In fact, Burnaby traveled to Khiva in 1875, as much for reconnaissance purposes as for simple adventure. Russia had just annexed the Khanate of Khiva in a brief war, the contours of which are shown on the map above. Burnaby expected Russia to invade India shortly, and seems satisfied to discover that most of the Russian officers he meets feel the same way:

The officers in the garrison were unanimous in envying the luck of their more fortunate comrades in Kokan, who had been engaged during the recent disturbances, and they bitterly complained of the slowness of promotion and the dreary existence at Kasala. "Anything for a change," remarked one of them, a dashing little fellow with several medals, " we are bored to death here." "Yes," added another, "when we fight you fellows in India, then we shall have some proniotion ; as to fighting with the Kokandians we might as well shoot pheasants ; none of our seniors get killed." "I don't think England will interfere with us about Kashgar," remarked an officer apparently much older than his comrades. " Who knows, and who cares ?" said another ; "if we do fight we will shoot at each other in the morning, and liquor up together when there is a truce. Come along and have a drink," and with these words he led me into an adjoining room where some servants had just brought in what the Russians call Zakuski — caviare, salt-fish, little bits of bread and cheese, slices of highly-flavoured sausage, and spirits of every kind.

But in addition to being an entertaining Great Game period-piece, Burnaby's account is most striking for his pointed critique of European imperialist hypocrisy. Or, to be more precise, Russian imperialist hypocrisy -- Burnaby seems uncannily astute in dissecting it:
There was no reason to believe that the Turkomans would break the truce. However, it would not do for the Tashkent column to return home without a little bloodshed. The glory of the war had been actually confined to the column from Orenburg. The officers from Tashkent had done nothing to merit promotion. General Kauffmann now sent for the elders of the tribe, and declared that a part of the indemnity must be paid by them within a fortnight, and the remainder later on. At the same time the general detained some of the elders as hostages, until such time as the first instalment of the indemnity had been paid in to the Russian treasury. But the Russian Commander-in-Chief was in a hurry; Instead of waiting the appointed time, he sent out a laige detachment under General Golovatcheff to ascertain what chance there was of the payment being made. This general, in order to discover the intentions of the Turkomans, gave an order to his soldiery not to spare either sex or age. Men, women, and children at the breast were slain with ruthless barbarity; houses with bedridden inmates were given up to the fiery element; women — ay, and prattling babes — were burned alive amidst the flames ; hell was let loose in Turkomania. And this, the Russians would have us believe, was done to further Christianity and civilisation. This is the sort of Christianity which some people wish to see established in Constantinople. Would they like this kind of civilisation next our Indian frontier...  
If the Turkomans had been treated differently they would have paid the tribute to the Russian general. But they are barbarous creatures, utterly unacquainted with that European civilisation which characterises Russian troops. They were so foolish as to be exceedingly angry. Indeed it is said that later on these poor ignorant Turkomans became utterly lost to all feelings of honour. They actually dared to attack General Golovatcheff's camp at Illyali ; but they had no chance against the breechloaders of their foes, and were repulsed with great slaughter. The Turkomans now abandoned the district. They were disinclined to listen to any terms of peace which might subsequently be offered them. However, they sent General Golovatcheff the following message : "We know how to respect peace, and shall keep it if you will have peace with us, but if you will not have it we shall fight, and we can fight well..."
Colonel Ivanoff, the Commandant at Petro-Alexandrovsk, has found time to attack some bands of nomad Turkomans. On one occasion he made prisoners of two of these Arabs of the steppes. They had robbed, it was said, some Russian Kirghiz. In consequence of this the captive Turkomans were tried by court-martial and sentenced to death. The sentence was shortly afterwards put into execution. The Turkomans on their side have captured a Russian soldier. They refuse to surrender him until such time as they receive a sum of money, perhaps to go to the widows of their fellow-countrymen. The man has not been tried by court-martial by the Turkomans, probably on account of their ignorance of military law. When they become more civilised they will doubtless follow the example set them by their Christian foe.
Burnaby, appropriately enough, later died at the Battle of Abu Klea as part of the Gordon Relief Expedition, though I hope he will live on in the remarkable meta-hypocrisy of the lines above.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Cultural Prominence of US Cities Over Time

We're taking a break from the Middle East today to post a map that I made with Evan Tachovsky using Google Ngram to chart the literary popularity of different US cities over the course of the last two centuries. The version below uses a crude combination of word size and fonts to display both how frequently a city turns up in the English language today, as well as the era in which it was most talked about. The gif above offers a more precise view of how each city's popularity evolved over time. As explained in our original write-up for the New Inquiry, how surprising you find the results will depend on your preconceptions.

Las Vegas, it appears, carries less cultural weight than nearby Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Boston, having ceded its dominant role in American literary life nearly a century ago, continues to hold its own: with barely 300,000 people, it still looms larger in the language than LA. But more than anything, this map shows the enduring dominance of New York City, towering over the cultural landscape in a way that the map, with its pseudo-logarithmic scale can’t even do justice to. Were these letters written according to a more ordinary geometric scale (making Tucson visible to the naked eye) New York would blot out the entire Eastern Seaboard. And though it also proved impossible to show, for most of the 19th century Brooklyn appeared as often as Manhattan. That may in part have been on account of people simply referring to Manhattan as New York.

The map also reveals the unsurprising geography of America’s cultural development. New England had pride of place in the late 19th century, not only cities associated with the era’s high culture like Boston and Hartford (where Mark Twain moved in his later life) but also, say, Pittsburgh. Portland, Oregon’s prominence in this period is most likely the result of its post gold rush high, combined, one suspects, with the fact that its east coast eponym was also enjoying a period of maritime relevance at the time.

Confirming what everyone suspected, interest in the South peaked during the Civil War, with cities like Richmond, Savannah, Nashville and Charleston getting more mentions during the war or shortly thereafter than at any time since. Even Atlanta, one of the few Southern cities to emerge as a burgeoning cultural hub, was mentioned more the year it was burned down that at any point before the 1960s. (Bangor appears in part because it is the one of the few northern cities whose cultural influence also peaked in the 1860s. I can only assume this corresponds with the first telling of the “Bangor? Hardly even know her!” know joke.)

Omaha, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Detroit… these were the towns whose mystique and economic vitality seemed to vanish when the highways reached them. The same goes for Boise, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City and even all of Montana. Even Chicago, which sort of maintains on this map its claim to being the Second City, was never so popular as that moment in the 30s when it truly was hog butcher to the world. America’s shift westward is well-documented too, and many of the up-and-coming cities are the ones we would expect from this movement: Dallas, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle.

Washington’s size proved too difficult to calculate on account of their being a state and a George with the same name, but it seems that references to Washington DC took off dramatically around the time of the New Deal, after being virtually nonexistent before, and then rose again with the expansion of the federal government in the 1970s. Needless to say, DC’s growth continues today.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Myth of the Caliphate

The Round City of Baghdad, constructed by Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur and illustrated above by Naji el Mir. Today's post, taken from an article on Foreign Affairs, critiques the myth of the Caliphate as an enduring political institution. But honestly if any aspiring Caliph wants to rebuild a city that looks like such a cool, perfectly geometric map of itself I fully support them.

In 1924, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk officially abolished the Ottoman caliphate. Today, most Western discussions of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the extremist group that has declared a caliphate across much of Iraq and Syria, begin by referencing this event as if it were a profound turning point in Islamic history. Some contemporary Islamists think of it this way, too: there’s a reason, for example, that Lion Cub, the Muslim Brotherhood’s children’s publication, once awarded the “Jewish” “traitor” Ataturk multiple first prizes in its “Know the Enemies of Your Religion” contest.

Even if today’s Islamists reference the Ottomans, though, most of them are much more focused on trying to re-create earlier caliphates: the era of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, who ruled immediately after Muhammad’s death in the seventh century, for example, or the Abbasid caliphate, which existed in one form or another from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries (before being officially abolished by the Mongols). By conflating the nineteenth-century Ottoman royal family with these caliphs from a millennium ago or more, Western pundits and nostalgic Muslim thinkers alike have built up a narrative of the caliphate as an enduring institution, central to Islam and Islamic thought between the seventh and twentieth centuries. In fact, the caliphate is a political or religious idea whose relevance has waxed and waned according to circumstance.

The caliphate’s more recent history under the Ottomans shows why the institution might be better thought of as a political fantasy—a blank slate just as nebulous as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”—that contemporary Islamists are largely making up as they go along. (If it weren’t, ISIS could not so readily use the same term to describe their rogue and bloody statelet that Muslim British businessmen use to articulate the idea of an elected and democratic leader for the Islamic world.) What’s more, the story of the Ottoman caliphate also suggests that in trying to realize almost any version of this fantasy, contemporary Islamists may well confront the same contradictions that bedeviled the Ottomans a century ago.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Africa Uncolonized?

Recently this cool map (below left) by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon has popped up in a few places, including Strange Maps and Africa is a Country. It shows one imaginative rendering of what Africa might look like today had the continent never been colonized by Europeans. Now I'm still hoping at some point to commission a definitive guest post about Ottoman maps of Africa from someone who knows more about them, but with Cyon's map making the rounds I thought it was only fair to share different set of imaginative cartographies addressing the same subject. Here is a distinctly non-European vision of how the political map of Africa should have looked if European imperialism had just been kept in check: behold Afrika-i Osmaniye.

Quite a few of the maps in Ottoman atlases from the late 19th and early 20th century boldly claim a large swath of Northeast Africa for the Ottoman Empire. In addition to preserving the fiction of Ottoman sovereignty over the Barbary Coast, Egypt and by extension Sudan long after these regions had been effectively taken over by England and France, these maps extend Ottoman claims to Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. Only Ethiopia, presumably since it had its own distinctly independent, definitively non-Muslim government, is excluded from this ambitious rendering of Ottoman Africa.

Anyways, everyone should check out Mostafa Minawi's podcast on the Ottoman Scramble for Africa to find out more about the politics of the period. Suffice it to say, the Ottomans seem to have been a century or so ahead of Nikolaj Cyon in imagining what Africa would have looked like without European colonization, and it looked an awful lot like Ottoman colonization. To be fair, these were Ottoman maps very clearly drawn in response to the Ottoman experience of European imperialism, but I think the broader point holds. What's striking about Cyon's map is that it quite openly reflects the legacy of Arab and Islamic influence in Africa. It seems entirely plausible that if we really tried to imagine an alternative history without Europe, Cyon's map would become a representation of Middle Eastern imperialism in Africa, and we would actually need some Saudi Cyon to come along and draw an imaginative cartography of how Africa might have looked free from that legacy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

From Florina to Golyazi: the other side of the Population Exchange

The town of Golyazi, with Ulubat Lake in the background, seen from the site of the former Greek cemetery.

20th century Turkish nationalism continues to offer Western journalists its fair share of dwindling ancient minority stories. There are the Greeks of Istanbul, the Jews of Antakya, the Suriyani of Mardin and the Armenians of Vakiflar, just to name a few. All powerful stories - and tragic - but read together they also suggest a tendency to fetishize the dying at the expense of the living. Maybe America, as a nation of successful immigrants, is particularly susceptible to a guilty fascination with the plight of those who remained behind. But we of all people should realize there is another side to the story.

The town of Golyazi lies on a lakeside promontory in a particularly beautiful part Anatolia just west of Bursa. Abandoned by deported Christians in 1923 and resettled by Muslims deported from northern Greece, it stands as something of a monument to both the cruelty and dislocation of the Turkish-Greek population exchange as well as the endurance of those who survived it. Golyazi has two graveyards, one destroyed and one still standing. The first evokes the loss of those deported, the second evokes the meaning of their post-deporation lives.

When I visited Golyazi with my father in October 2013, we had to ask a few people in order to find the site of the town's Greek cemetery. Once we got there we had to ask again to find out if we were really in the right place. The former graveyard was a field of bare, rough gravel on a hill overlooking the lake, marked by a few pomegranate trees and the husks of their dead fruit. Like all to many physical reminders of Anatolia's Christian inhabitants, it had been destroyed by the government, apparently bulldozed at the orders of a local mayor in the 1960s.  All too often these acts of destruction accompanied international conflicts, over Cyprus usually, in which minority populations and their history became victims in Greece and Turkey alike. Destruction often proceeded in a retaliatory fashion, Turkey demolished Orthodox churches, Greece converted abandoned mosques into stables.

An old shepherd, at work among the weeds and rocks, confirmed that this was the Greek cemetery, then began to tell us about its destruction. He was, in fact, was eager to express his outrage at the state's disrespectful treatment of the dead. He said he had insisted at the time that it was immoral to tear up a graveyard whatever the faith of the people buried there. And, he continued, though those who ordered the destruction never admitted their error, his view had subsequently received divine confirmation when, some nights after the work was finished, villagers saw a spectral blue light descend on the hilltop.

After hearing his story and admiring the view out over the lake, we walked down the hill to the Muslim cemetery, sprawling near the surprisingly well preserved remains of the Greek orthodox church on a road into the village.

A group of graves facing the road caught our attention. Indeed, the epitaph on the oldest was designed to do just this -- "Ey Follower of Muhammet, Don't Just Glance and Pass By..." I was perhaps not the right person to recite a Fatiha, but reading the stones -- all bearing with the names of the now Greek cities where the interred had been born -- suddenly evoked a sense of the lives that had been built after the exchange. 
The inscriptions, from left to right, read as follows:

Selim Duran, from Filoruno [Florina], a prayer for his soul, born 1923, died 1998
Demir Duran, son of Selim, of Filorina, one of the population exchangees
Huvel baki, Dervish Duran, son of Demir Born 1338, died 1971
Saliha Duran, Daughter of Hasan, Born 1295, Died 1967

The dates span Turkey's conversion from the Islamic to Latin calendar, though Demir Duran's oldest son seems to have given his birthdate in Latin, the younger son in Hijra. But even with a rough estimate the advanced age of all the deceased becomes apparent. Selim Duran, for example, died at 75.

As Turkey has begun wrestling with the legacy of a century of nationalism, it is increasingly common to hear condemnation of the the population exchange that brought the Durans to Golyazi. Yet there is also something ahistorical, about this condemnation, almost a refusal to recognize the full extent of the 20th century's tragedies. Among other things, the population exchange is easier to talk about than the fate of the Armenians. There is a neat reciprocality to the exchange that makes makes nationalism the villain, not one particular nation.

But this is hardly a story unique to Turkey. In the history of much of 20th century Europe and the Middle East, deportees were the lucky ones. Here, by the lakeside, were the graves of an entire family that, after living out full lives, had been buried together, in graves laid out side by side, overlooking their new home. This was a fate reserved for all too few people in the last century.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Adorable WWI Propaganda


Of all the great WWI propaganda I've seen, these post-cards, courtesy of Chris Trapani  and Esin Pektas, are certainly the most endearing. Perhaps not as adorable as the Mini Mehter kids, they are way less ominous than most of the images to be found at, where you can purchase your own original. If anyone knows anything more about these let us know. Germany, needless to say, is the one driving the wagon and giving Turkey an encouraging pat on the back in the second card.

If nothing else, though, these picture make me regret abandoning my kickstarter campaign to develop a line of child-sized Pickelhaube. The problem, as I recall, was that we couldn't decide whether to market them under the slogan "Baby Bismarck" or "Otto von Baby."

Anyways, if you want to see more martial babies just read on after the break. Apparently this is an entire genre. Seriously, does anyone know what the story is?