Tag Archives: Turkey

Turkey and WWII


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The Small War



Gokturk Khaganate – The First Turkic Empire



Turkey’s Invasion of Cyprus



Teleporting and psychedelic mushrooms: a history of St Nicholas, Santa and his helpers



File 20181217 185249 1a1da2.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Illustration to verse 1 of the children’s poem Old Santeclaus with Much Delight. 1821.
Wikimedia, CC BY

Louise Pryke, Macquarie University and Christopher Malone, University of Sydney

There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of pop culture, he also has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Santa’s blend of religion and popular culture is, however, not modern at all. Several of Santa’s modern features, such as his generosity, miracle-working, and focus on morality (being “naughty or nice”), were part of his image from the very beginning. Others, like the reindeer, came later.

The original Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century CE bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) with a reputation for generosity and wonder-working. St Nicholas became an important figure in eighth century Byzantium before hitting pan-European stardom around the 11th century.

He became a focus not just for religious devotion, but Medieval dramas and popular festivals – some popular enough to be suppressed during the Reformation

The naughty list

St Nicholas had his own version of the naughty list, including the fourth century “arch-heretic” Arius, whose views annoyed the saint so much he supposedly smacked Arius in the face in front of Emperor Constantine and assembled bishops at Nicaea.

Portrait of Saint Nicholas of Myra. First half of the 13th century.
Wikimedia

An even more surprising listee is the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. In popular Byzantine stories, Nicholas acted like a one-man wrecking crew, personally pulling down her temples, and even demolishing the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s almost a shame, as they probably would have agreed about the importance of reindeer.

The idea of St Nicholas’ conflict with Artemis probably relates to religious change in Anatolia, where the goddess was hugely popular. Historically, the temple was sacked earlier, by a band of Gothic raiders in the 260s CE, but hagiographers had other ideas. Perhaps these furious northmen even count as Santa’s earliest “helpers”. He was after all (as part of his extensive saintly portfolio) the patron of the Varangians, the Viking bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors.

Fast travelling

Santa’s greatest miracle is intrinsic to modern Christmases: his ability to reach all the children on Earth in one night. NORAD, the US and Canadian air defence force, has tracked Santa’s sleigh since the 1950s, presumably trying to figure out the secret of his super speed. But really, they just need to check their ancient sources.

St Nicholas had a history of teleporting about on his own — often showing up in the nick of time when people ask for his help. As the patron saint of sailors, he often did this out at sea.

In one story, sailors in a wild storm in the eastern Mediterranean cried out for the already-famous wonderworker’s help. With the mast cracking and sails coming loose, a white-bearded man suddenly appeared and helped them haul the ropes, steady the tiller, and brought them safe to shore. Rushing up the hill to the local church to give thanks, the sailors were astonished to see Nicholas was already there, in the middle of saying mass.

Saint Nicholas saves a ship. Circa 1425.
Wikimedia

Suddenly appearing to save people became a favourite trick in accounts of the saint’s life and in folklore. He once saved three innocents from execution, teleporting behind the executioner and grabbing his sword, before upbraiding the judges for taking bribes.

There’s also the tale of Adeodatus, a young boy kidnapped by raiders and made the cupbearer of an eastern potentate. Soon after, St Nicholas appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cupbearer in front of his startled master, and zipped him back home.

Artists depicting this story stage the rescue differently, but the Italian artists who have St Nicholas swoop in from the sky, in full episcopal regalia, and grab the boy by the hair are worth special mention.

The flying reindeer

None of the old tales have Saint Nicholas carrying around stacks of gifts when teleporting, which brings us to the reindeer, who can pull the sleigh full of millions of presents. The popular link between Santa Claus and gifting came through the influence of stores advertising their Christmas shopping in the early 19th century. This advertising drew on the old elf’s increasing popularity, with the use of “live” Santa visits in department stores for children from the late 1800s.

Santa Claus became connected to reindeer largely through the influence of the 1823 anonymous poem, A visit from St Nicholas.. In this poem, “Saint Nicholas” arrives with eight tiny reindeer pulling a sleigh full of toys. The reindeer have the miraculous ability to fly.

The fly agaric, a mushroom which produces toxins that can cause humans to hallucinate.
Flickr/Björn, CC BY-SA

The origins of the animals’ flight may link back to the Saami reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Here, the herders were said to feed their reindeer a type of red-and-white mushroom with psychedelic properties, known as fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria). The mushrooms made the reindeer leap about, giving the impression of flying.

The herders would then collect and consume the reindeer’s urine, with its toxins made safe by the reindeer’s metabolism. The reindeer herders could then possibly imagine the miraculous flight through the psychedelic properties of the mushroom.

The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was created as part of a promotional campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward by Robert Lewis May in 1939. May himself was a small, frail child, who empathised with underdogs. In May’s story, Rudolph Shines Again (1954), the little reindeer is helped by an angel to save some lost baby rabbits, once again blending Santa’s religious and popular sides.

Reindeer in Lapland.
Flickr/Steve K, CC BY

And … invisible polar bears

A number of modern depictions have connected Santa with polar bears, such as the 1994 film The Santa Clause. It seems likely the association grew as Santa’s home became accepted as the North Pole — though in one of the oldest stories, St Nicholas saves three Roman soldiers, one of whom is named Ursus (“Bear” in Latin).

Polar bears are undoubtedly useful companions for secretive Santa, and don’t even need his powers to move about unseen – the special properties of their fur mean they are hidden even from night-vision goggles.

Polar bears have fur that is invisible to night vision goggles.
Shutterstock

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas (1976), written by the Lord of the Rings’ author to his children, features the (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear. Like St. Nick, the North Polar Bear isn’t shy about getting physical with those he perceives as wrong-doers. In one letter, the North Polar Bear saves Santa, his elves, and Christmas from a murderous group of goblins.

So with Santa Claus once again coming to town, remember — ancient or modern – it’s better to be on the “nice” side of this teleporting saint and his motley crew of miracle-workers.The Conversation

Louise Pryke, Lecturer, Languages and Literature of Ancient Israel, Macquarie University and Christopher Malone, Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Thracian History



The Hittites



Fall of the Ottoman Empire and Creation of the Balkan States



The Assyrian City of Tushan


The link below is to an article examing the archaeological work being done on the Assyrian city of Tushan, which is soon to be lost to a dam in Turkey.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/07/archaeologists-discovered-an-ancient-assyrian-city-only-to-lose-it-again


The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the making of the modern Middle East


Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, we’ve got a package with an explanatory article about the secret accord, an argument the accord still underlies the discontent in the Middle East (below) and the counter-view that its influence is overstated.


The Sykes-Picot Agreement created the modern Middle East. It represents one of the first instalments in a long line of modern European – and subsequent American – meddling in the region. And, in providing a set of unrealistic and impossible promises to the Arabs, it led directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Asia Minor Agreement, the official name of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, dates to 1916. It was the result of secret deliberations between the British civil servant Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot.

It was made official by the Allied Powers of the first world war with the San Remo Conference in 1920.

The agreement provided a general understanding of British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East. The goal was to divide between them the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces (not including the Arabian Peninsula).

The line across a map of the Middle East it drew created colonial spheres of influence that cut directly and artificially across a region that had previously been divided along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines.

Area “A” was to be under French influence and control, while “B” was to be under British influence and control. The Sykes-Picot Agreement also proposed an “international administration” for Palestine.

In 1920, the latter region was transferred to British control as “Mandatory Palestine”. It was governed under British civil administration until 1948, during which the competing Arab and Zionist nationalist movements clashed with one another.

The cause of many of these clashes were unrealistic promises made to each side by the British; promises directly related to the artificial arrangement of the modern Middle East initiated by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The agreement, then, helped frame the contours of modern nation states in a region where before there had been none. Since it’s essentially an accord between two colonialist powers external to the region, it would have devastating effects.

The mainstay of the plan was that France and Great Britain were prepared to recognise and protect an independent Arab state, or confederation of Arab states – in exchange for Arab help in overthrowing the Ottoman Empire.

Conflicting promises

To get a sense of the broken promises, it’s worthwhile comparing the Sykes-Picot Agreement to two other contemporary documents. These are the McMahon-Hussein letters and the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

Sir Henry McMahon was the British high commissioner in Egypt and Hussein bin Ali was the Sharif of Mecca. In letters they exchanged between 1915 to 1916, Britain clearly agreed to recognise Arab independence after the first world war, in exchange for Arab help in fighting the Ottomans.

The Arabs regarded McMahon’s promises as a formal agreement, which it may very well have been. The boundaries proposed by Hussein included Palestine. But this area was not explicitly mentioned in the McMahon–Hussein correspondence.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has called for the replacing of the Middle East’s crumbling nations with a transnational regional power.
Reuters

Confusing the issue was the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. Part of this very short text reads as follows:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…

These conflicting promises remained at the heart of the impasse between two distinct nationalist groups in Mandate Palestine: the Zionists and the Arabs, later to be renamed Israelis and Palestinians.

Repeated and conflicting promises to both sides during the Mandate period further stoked nationalist resentment. Each expected the land to remain in their hands, which seems to have been what the British promised them. And repeated attempts at dividing or partitioning the land suited neither.

Intractable problems

If the Sykes-Picot Agreement created the modern Middle East, it is also at the heart of many of the region’s intractable problems.

The most significant, at least historically, has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More recently, it’s the breakdown of Arab nation states in the area and the rise of Islamic State (IS).

Read about how Islamic State uses Sykes-Picot in its propaganda

One of IS’s stated goals is to dismantle the agreement. The outfit’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has called for replacing the crumbling nations of the area into a transnational regional power, the so-called “caliphate”.

In a 2002 interview, then British foreign secretary Jack Straw quipped:

A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now, I have to deal with now, are a consequence of our colonial past … The Balfour Declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis — again, an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable one.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement is instrumental to understanding the modern Middle East. It represents the framework of its colonial past and shows the potential for national fractures inherent to the region’s present and future.

When taken in the larger context of other agreements, declarations and promises to the players in the region over the years, we see how the agreement is at the root of so many contemporary problems.


This article is part of a package marking the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Read the counter-argument about the legacy of the document or the introductory article about the accord.

The Conversation

Aaron W. Hughes, Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Rochester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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