Sunday, July 27, 2014


From a set of maps housed at the British Archeological Institute in Ankara, we have two fascinating looks at middle eastern dwellings from an earlier era. The map above shows housing structures, which the colors corresponding to the types of structures deemed "typical" in the region (pictured below).

And for those who don't have permanent dwellings, this chart shows the prevailing nomadic tent fabric in each region. Round blue dots for felt, red triangles for goat hair.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Seljuks and Normans

A Western army invades a Middle Eastern country, relying on superior military technology to “shock and awe” a numerically superior Muslim opponent. After achieving a seemingly decisive victory the triumphant invaders set out to build a new state based on the prevailing European political model. The commander of the invading force then marries off his sister to an enemy warlord. When the warlord dies in battle, she flees to Eastern Anatolia, declaring herself regent for a newborn son whose Turkmen Atabeg she marries.

If you assumed this was the story of Crusader Knight Raymond of St. Egidier, Seljuq King Kilij Arslan, then you already know what happens next. If not, you can read about it here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mahdis, Messiahs, Christs

Wikipedia's love of listing obscure things in an unbelievably earnest way provided the content for this map, showing an assortment of people who claimed to be either the Mahdi, the Jewish Messiah or the Second Coming of Christ over the last few millennia. It's obviously a slightly arbitrary list, with Messiahs getting the best coverage, and Christian pretenders strangely absent between the 1st and 19th centuries. Still, there's a nice geography to where these people appear (you have to move the map a bit to see North America, but you'll certainly find a lot there), and a lot of them have a great esoteric, Borgesian quality too. Also, I like the fact Wikipedia lists Jesus at the top of the list of Jewish Messiah Claimants, but not on their list of People Who Have Claimed to be Jesus.

The image at left is from a German work called the Death of Simon Magus. Simon Magus, or Simon the Magician was an early gnostic who not only appears in the Acts of the Apostles but also  in today's map.

Karamanlica America

Thanks to Fergus Reoch for alerting us to this amazing Karamanlica map of the United States from 1877. (Karamanlica is Turkish written in a slightly modified Greek script, but then I suspect our readers already knew that). Fergus drew our attention to Γενι Πρανζβικ, or Yeni Brunswick, and ΤΙΓΙΑΡΙ ΧΙΝΤΙ (ΑΣΗΛ ΑΜΕΡΙΚΑΒΙ) ΙΝΤΙΑΝ ΤΕΡΡΙΤΟΡΙ [Diyari Hinti, (Asil Amerikavi) Indian Territory] among other highlights. There is also Memaliki Kanata (the dot above the T, if I recall correctly, makes it a D), Amerika-i Şomali-i Ingliz, Kenthki, Oxaio and my favorites, Gioyta for Utah and Oyagiomink for Wyoming. The maps of the other countries on the side are there for comparison.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Inside the Fez

I had originally hoped to call my new book about Turkish culture and society "Turkey: Behind the Veil" but the publisher said that was already taken so we went with "Inside the Fez" instead. The book won't be out for a while, but in the meantime I was inspired to actually look inside a fez, and was amazed by what I found.

So our question for today is "Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries combined, were there more fezzes manufactured at Istanbul's famed Feshane, on the Golden Horn, or in all the regalia companies in the American midwest combined. Reader speculation, informed or otherwise, is encouraged.

Also, it seems a little petty to point this out, but given how quickly this fez came apart when I tried to look inside of it, the idea of calling it a first quality fez is absurd.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Middle East Border Post #583, Iraq and Syria

Today's post comes out of my effort to make the case that the Iraqi-Syrian border is an odd place from which to claim the end of the the Sykes-Picot treaty and the Middle East state system it created. Among other things, the French and British imperialists behind Sykes-Picot apparently cared so little about the stretch of border that the ISIS has over-run that they didn't bother demarcating it for about a decade, and even then were sufficiently indifferent that they let the League of Nations arbitrate their conflicting claims.

The map above shows the work of a League Commission assigned to arbitrate between rival interpretations of the border's path between the Tigris an Euphrates Rivers. (click here for a close up of the map, courtesy of the Rumsey collection). A 1970 report from the US state department offers the step by step written narrative of the commission's decision. As the report explains:

The Convention, which defined the boundaries of Iraq and Syria, is titled, the Franco-British Convention of December 23, 1920, on certain points connected with the Mandates for Syria and the Lebanon, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. It provided for the demarcation of the frontiers by an Anglo-French Boundary Commission but delimited the boundary only in general terms, subject to later determination. On February 3, 1922, the two powers signed another agreement which differed only slightly from the original delimitation. The boundary as it is today is based on the League of Nations Report of the Commission entrusted by the Council with the study of the Frontier between Syria and Iraq, Geneva, September 10, 1932.

The Sinjar Sector, from Google Earth
But by now I'm sure you're all saying "just give us the text of the Commission report ." Here it is. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the more detailed map that accompanied the report, and the map above doesn't seem to actually match the final border as detailed by the State Department below. So you're sort of on your own plotting the trigonometrical points are if you are trying to work this out at home. But in case you're also wondering what a thalweg is...

1. Tigris-Sinjar Sector From the confluence of the Eastern Kabur and the Tigris, the thalweg of the Tigris to about one kilometre below Pesh Kabur; thence a straight line to Tell Dahraya (point 384); thence a straight line as far as Tell Khoda-ed-Deir (point 391).

2. Sinjar Sector Majority Proposal.From Tell Khoda-ed-Deir (Point 391), a straight line to Tell Rhuli (trigonometrical point 402); thence to trig. pt. 645; thence to trig. pt. 573; thence to trig. pt. 395, and terminating at Tell Sfug (trig. pt. 332).

3. Salt-deposit Sector
From Tell Sfug (trig. pt. 332) in a straight line to trigonometrical point 331; thence to trig. pt. 280; thence to trig. pt. 259; thence to trig. pt. 276; thence to trig. pt. 230; thence to trig. pt. 236; thence to trig. pt. 231; thence to the ruins of the small military post on the border of the Buara salt deposit (point 164, 3.6 kilometres W.N.W. of trig. pt. 172); thence to trig. pt. 167; thence to El Gara (trig. pt. 193); thence to trig. pt. 174; thence to the Jebel Baghuz (trig. pt. L.S. 29, not indicated on the map).

4. Euphrates Sector
And a slightly greener picture
From the Jebel Baghuz (trig. pt. L.S. 29, not indicated on the map), a straight line towards the thalweg of the Euphrates, which it reaches near the northeastern extremity of the island of Baghuz; thence the thalweg of the Euphrates up-stream as far as the boundary of the territories of the villages of Heri and Qseba; thence in a straight line to the Leachman boundary-stone (Point 169). 

5. Euphrates-Jebel Tenf Sector
From the Leachman boundary-stone in a straight line to the point situated 30 kilometres from the minaret of Abu Kemal on the straight line joining that minaret to the point situated 3.2 kilometres north of Tell Romah; thence this latter line as far as its intersection with the frontier between Iraq and Transjordan.15

The State Dept. report concludes by noting that the Commission also included a minority report more favorable to French interests that was rejected by the League. This proposal "followed a line southeastward from Tell Rhuli, through a pass in the Jabal Sinjar, referred as "Bab-ech-Chilu," then to Tell Yusef Beg, then in a straight line rejoining the majority proposed line at "Tell Sfug." The League, in a token gesture of fulfilling the stated mission of the Mandates, decided that the French version would have meant splitting the Jabal Sinjar, where "most of the Yazidi people lived."

In conclusion, I suspect if the leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant knew how much work had gone into drawing this border, they would be a little less cavalier about denouncing it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Map of the Middle East Immediately After World War One

View a full sized map here

In the 568th installment of our never-ending series about Middle Eastern borders, today we have a British map from 1922, courtesy of the Rumsey Collection, showing the Middle East after its division between France and Britain but before the demarcation of its present-day states (part of Anatolia, too, is still under Greek occupation, while the borders of the proposed Armenian mandate appear in the Northeast).

As can be seen, the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement split the Middle East into French and British controlled regions shown on this map as the undotted red line between Iraq and Syria. Subsequent subdivisions, for example between Syria and Lebanon or Jordan and Iraq were only finalized later. Ironically, while they British are often accused of creating an unworkable Iraqi state by joining together land inhabited by Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, the French had originally proposed sub-dividing Syria into separate Alawite and Druze mini-states. Faced with protests by Arab nationalists who saw it as a cynical attempt at divide and rule, the French abandoned the plan, creating modern Syria.
If anyone knows anything about the French military zone in Eastern Syria, the tentative borders of the Kurdish region in Iraq or why the border of Alexandretta are shown as an oddly small triangle please share. Or, to see more historic maps of Syria, check out Chris Gratien's collection on the subject.