Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Century Old US Map Envisions United Kurdistan... Under Russian Control

European Territorial Claims on Turkey from Europe at Turkey's Door, The Geographical Review, 1916

As the French and British were hammering out the Sykes Picot agreement in the spring of 1916, an American geographer named Leon Dominan prepared a map showing the possible European spheres of influence that might be carved out of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat. His accompanying article discusses the historical, economic and political background to each power's claim in the region, but does not give any specific details on how we came up with this particular division. His predictions seem to have erred rather consistently in France's favor, not only granting them Palestine but the Karadeniz too. The map also imagines Russia's sphere of influence extending from Iran into much of Eastern Anatolia and what is now Northern Iraq, which even before the revolution was more than the British and French seemed willing to offer.

Anyways, for more on how this map fits into contemporary political debates, check out our other blog post on the subject!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Up and Down Again

Part of a portolan chart from the 1547 Vallard Atlas, which can be seen in its entirety here. It shows Europe and the Mediterranean during that strange period where North appeared prominently marked on the compass rose but wasn't necessarily up. In fact, looking closely at this map, its hard to tell if it even has an up.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Bond's World

The map above features offensive quotes about the world's diverse people and places compiled from the various James Bond books. The article below originally appeared in Al Jazeera on Nov 22, 2015.

With its most recent installment, “Spectre,” the James Bond franchise has at last abandoned Ian Fleming’s book series as even a nominal source of movie plots. Fortunately, the franchise has largely abandoned another aspect of Fleming’s writing: his persistent, overt racism. A quick look at this map, compiled from quotes found in Fleming’s books, shows how heavily the author relied on racial, national and ethnic stereotypes in crafting Bond’s semifictional world.

This aspect of Bond’s history should be well known by now, having been addressed in scholarly works, “Saturday Night Live” skits and many recent articles about whether actor Idris Elba could be the first black Bond. But the enduring popularity of the franchise can also serve as an opportunity to remember the many ways in which racism was as prominent in Anglo-American Cold War foreign policy as in Ian Fleming’s spy novels.

So these dark, ugly, neat little officials were the modern Turks … Bond didn’t take to them. “From Russia With Love”

Set in Istanbul, the novel “From Russia With Love” quickly establishes that Fleming really didn’t take to the Turks. The Turkish language, with its “broad vowels, quiet sibilants and modified u-sounds” was pleasant enough, but the Turks’ eyes were another story entirely. Variously described as “angry,” “cruel,” “untrusting” and “jealous,” these were eyes “that kept the knife-hand in sight without seeming to,” eyes “that had only lately come down from the mountains,” where they had been “trained for centuries to watch over sheep.”

Fleming’s obsession with Turkish eyes may be unique, but his descriptions (which seem to have disappeared from the Turkish translation of the novel) are uncomfortably close to those that occasionally turn up in British and American diplomatic correspondence from the same period. According to various cables, the Turk was “a proud man” and “a realistic soul,” “Oriental enough to enjoy standing on [his] honour against sordid economic considerations.” Even though U.S. officials usually took to the Turks quite enthusiastically, they still couched their political assessments, both positive and negative, in equally essentialist terms.

Evaluating Turkey’s potential contribution to NATO, for example, one diplomat noted that Turks were “a simple peasant folk” who took “satanic pleasure” in killing Russians. To understand the risk of a coup in Turkey, another wrote, it was important to recognize that “the stolid Turk very seldom blows up, but when he does, there is a major explosion.” 

It’s like in the new African states where they pretend the cannibal stewpot in the chief’s hut was for cooking yams for the hungry children. “You Only Live Twice”

A growing body of literature has begun to explore how the racism of British and American statesmen shaped the postwar world they worked together to build in the 1950s. As the Bond books show, Cold War geopolitics often led U.S. policymakers to support European imperialism in the hopes of forestalling Soviet expansion in the third world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Populism, Nationalism and the Politics of Ottoman History

This article first appeared in Politico Europe on December 29th, 2015

When President Erdoğan’s party won an unexpected and decisive victory in Turkey’s November 1 election, many surprised observers concluded that the Turkish people had voted for stability. A month later, following the downing of a Russian jet and continued killing in the country’s southeast, stability seems more elusive than ever. Yet as Erdoğan leads Turkey into turbulent waters, polls suggest that his popularity has only risen along with domestic and international tensions.

People continuing to search for the secret of Erdogan’s popularity might do well to consider the success of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — particularly the powerful tradition of populist nationalism and aggrieved egalitarianism that Erdoğan inherited from him.

Erdoğan and Ataturk are often seen as opposing figures. For Ataturk’s supporters it is a contrast between the modernizer and the reactionary, the pro-Western secularist and the anti-Western Islamist.

Shortly before November’s elections, Erdoğan presented the contrast somewhat differently.

Welcoming guests to his new thousand-room presidential palace to celebrate the founding of the Turkish Republic, Erdoğan reminded them that the country’s founders had once celebrated the occasion in Ataturk’s palace “with frocks, waltzes and champagne” while a “half-starved nation, struggling to survive without shoes on their feet or jackets on their backs, looked on from outside the gates in shock.” Today, he went on, “after a long struggle we have eliminated this division between the public and the Republic.”

Erdoğan told the assembled crowd that their presence inside his new residence symbolized the fact that the building now belonged to the people and to the nation.

In part, Turkey’s recent election hinged on whether the citizens believed him. Did they think Erdogan’s palace truly belonged to them or instead, as critics claimed, to an increasingly powerful and out-of-touch autocrat? Most sided with Erdoğan, just as almost a century earlier most had sided with Ataturk.

Ironically, Erdoğan’s attacks on Ataturk’s regime bear an uncanny resemblance to Ataturk’s own attacks on the Ottoman sultans he overthrew in creating modern Turkey. Erdoğan’s comments sought to depict his predecessors as an alien elite whose European affectations marked them as indifferent to the needs and culture of the masses. Ataturk worked to paint the late Ottoman dynasty in the same light, saying the Sultans who presided over the Empire’s dissolution were “foreign usurpers,” “madmen and spendthrifts,” whose depravity endangered the Turkish nation.

In place of waltzes and champagne, popular history from Ataturk’s era offered the Mad Sultan Ibrahim, “taking amber as an aphrodisiac” to “better busy himself with women” while Turkish soldiers fought and died. To muster popular support for abolishing first the Ottoman Empire and then the Caliphate, Ataturk accused the Ottoman Sultans of further betraying the nation by seeking British support to sustain their corrupt rule. With undoubted delight, Ataturk noted that the last Ottoman Sultan, “in his capacity as Caliph of all the Mohamedans,” had “appealed for English protection” and was conducted out of Istanbul on an English man-of-war.

Building on this critique, Ataturk’s rhetoric centered on his regime’s commitment to the values and well being of the Turkish people. Slogans like “Turkey belongs to the Turks,” or “the villagers are the masters of the nation” sought to give ordinary citizens a sense of ownership over their new nation-state. Ataturk’s government claimed to celebrate the people and their culture, speaking the plain Turkish of Anatolian villagers, not the incomprehensible mix of Arabic and Persian used by the Ottoman court. In place of royal palaces it promised museums to display the villagers’ costumes and carpets with pride, and schools to prepare them to take their place among the country’s governing elite.

In time, of course, Ataturk’s regime did create its own elite, but most villagers remained conscious of their place outside it. The regime’s authoritarian approach failed to live up to its promises, bringing rural Turkish voters economic stagnation and one-party rule instead of empowerment.

Erdoğan’s regime may well do the same, and in time be remembered in a similar fashion. But its initial promise and methods are not that different from Ataturk’s. After November’s election a pro-government columnist wrote that the people who voted for Erdoğan demanded their rightful place in “the media, the academy, the arts and the neighborhoods of the elite.” Now, she declared, with the advent of democracy, “all these bastions of the great nation will be conquered.” In short, the villagers were still waiting to become masters of their country, and they expected Erdoğan to deliver where Ataturk had failed.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The World War and Its Relation to the Eastern Question and Armaggedon

I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but judging entirely by the cover I feel confident I should. The full text is available here. If anyone who reads it wants to share some highlights let me know. And thanks to Muaz Selim for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Morocco Mapped by Air (France)

Today Tajine editor Graham Cornwell discusses a beautiful but politically fraught Air France map of colonial Morocco from the Rumsey Map Collection. Here's a full sized version of the map (127 mb) and some other Air France maps.

In 1948, France faced a looming crisis in its North African colonies. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia joined colonized populations around the world renewing their push for independence after World War II. In Morocco, Sultan Mohammed V began to press the French, especially after he allegedly received a tacit endorsement for Moroccan independence from Roosevelt at the end of the war. Protests increased, and although things had not yet turned violent, but Protectorate officials had begun arresting (and sometimes exiling) prominent nationalist leaders.

Yet the post-war years were prime time for Morocco’s colons. C.R. Pennell calls it the “Indian summer of settler colonialism.” The Protectorate opened up new lands to settlement, especially to war veterans, and a massive infrastructure boom helped make Morocco an attractive place to invest. This 1948 Air France promotional map captures the dream of colon Morocco at its heyday: the near-famines of the previous decade over, indigenous unemployment finally decreasing, and a new crop of bourgeois settlers opening up new businesses in Moroccan cities.

The map depicts the northern two-thirds of the French zone, as well as the Spanish zone, which is designated by a dotted line just south of the Rif Mountains but not identified as such. It’s a beautiful print, designed to attract tourists to come see a Morocco that was still traditional but beginning to show the hallmarks of paternalist French expertise. There’s a surprising amount of accurate detail—one can make out the distinct, pentagonal minaret of the Mazagan (El Jadida) kasbah mosque while the ksour towns of Agdz, Ait Ben Haddou, and Kelaa M’Gouna actually bear a resemblance to the real things.

There are only four Europeans in the image. Three bathe off the coast of Mogador (Essaouira), while one skis the slopes near Ifrane. Sun and snow aren’t the only draws: in the Middle Atlas, a lone boar’s head indicates hunting opportunities and a trout near Azrou points to good fishing. The map’s Morocco shows no hint of nearly fifteen years of intermittent drought and the hardships of World War II. Moroccan workers reap abundant crops while the Atlantic teems with sardines and tuna.

Most of the Moroccans depicted are men, and most are pictured at work, whether collecting water from a well in the Tafilalet, riding a tractor in the Chaouia, or collecting olives in a Rif foothills grove. Even snake-charming might have counted as a profession in French eyes. The effect is to make Moroccan labor appear like other natural resources: mines in the hills above Berguent in the east and the phosphates region near Khouribga in the west, orchards of the Gharb plain, vineyards of the Beni Snassen. Here, in startling technicolor with Neptune frolicking off shore, we get the colonizer-colonized distinction reimagined as a dichotomy between play and work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Most Beautiful 19th Century Arabic Maps of Syria and Palestine

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)
Today we're delighted to have another guest post from Zachary Foster

Beginning in 1818, American missionaries set sail for the Middle East with the aim to convert the region's inhabitants to Protestantism.  Soon enough they realized that the locals preferred education to proselytization.  And to educate the region's Arabic speakers, the Americans needed Arabic language books -- and maps.  So a group of missionaries opened up a printing press in Malta in the 1830s in which they published a number of history and geography books as well as an atlas (the Ottoman Sultan initially forbade them from importing a printing press into imperial lands).  Their 1835 atlas of the world included a dozen some maps of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  The map above appeared in the second edition of this missionary atlas, printed much later by Edward Aiken in the 1880s or 1890s, as Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

The Americans were either unaware of the Ottoman administrative order or unbothered by it, but probably both.  For they labeled the Ottoman Empire with names they brought from English, culled from classical Greek geography, including Caria, Pisidia, Cappadocia, Lycia, Cilicia, Phrygia Palestine, Syria, and much more.  See the following 1907 map, published in Samuel Butler's The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography, if you had as much trouble as I did in trying to figure out modern English orthography for the ancient Greek divisions of the region printed in the Arabic script by American missionaries:

Samuel Butler, The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (
Now have a look at the next map.  It is fascinating in comparison because, although printed in the same undated late 19th century atlas, it reflects not ancient Greek administrative nomenclature, nor Ottoman political geography, but terms actually in vogue among Levantine Arabs at that time, including the following: The Land of Rum, the Land of the Armenians, Karaman, Kurdistan, the Land of Anatolia, the Land of Sham, al-Jazira, Arab Iraq and the Land of the Arabs.

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

These maps were printed with a movable iron press, but parts of them seem to have been hand-drawn.  Compare the next two maps against one another, both titled "A Map of the Land of Sham": The first appeared in our late 19th century atlas, the second in Simeon Calhoun's Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, a seven hundred page analytical survey of the Bible, New and Old Testaments, published in Beirut in 1869 by the American Press.  

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

Look carefully at the two maps.  A movable iron press generated the outlines to mark rivers, borders, seas and mountains, since these are the same. But human hands were behind the names of the places and color traces, which appear slightly differently in each map.

Simeon Calhoun, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, (Beirut: n.p., 1869), after text

Now, a brief word about Calhoun's magnum opus, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin. He seems to have written the book in Arabic himself, for by the time he published it, he had already spent a quarter of a century in Lebanon teaching the gospels to Arab pupils (in Arabic).  He was also plenty adept at learning languages, for he spent seven years preaching the gospel in Greek to Ottoman Greeks in Istanbul and Izmir, and he also managed to learn Turkish along the way, assisting the American Dr. Goodell in his translation of the Bible into (Ottoman) Turkish.