The Borderlands Lodge 2014 Year in Review

December 31, 2014

In many ways, 2014 was a terrible year for the world. Up at the Borderlands Lodge, however, it wasn't so bad. Actually, it was a really good year in some ways, even as I empathize with those who've been through tough times lately.  

With this in mind, here are the top events that took up the attention of the Borderlands Lodge in 2014. These are not in any particular order of importance--some of these developments are of concern to the world, others are mainly of interest to me personally. Rather, these are the things that, five years from now, I think I'll most likely remember about this year.  

#5: Rebuilding the blog

This was a two-part story. At the beginning of July, I was casually flipping through the web, as I'm wont to do, when I decided to check out the Borderfeed in order to see what was going on in the world when...nothing came up. There was no Borderfeed, no Borderlinks, not even the Borderland Classix! What had happened? 

The Borderlands Lodge's previous visage
I called up GoDaddy to ask them. The old version of the JMB had, after all, been produced through an interface of theirs called QuickBlogcast. Maybe they knew what was going on. 

According to the folks at GoDaddy, the plug had been pulled on QuickBlogcast. Apparently, they weren't earning enough money on it, which isn't surprising since it was an incredibly buggy and annoying system. I had stuck with it through thick and thin since 2008, however, holding the Blog together with twine, chewing gum, and frequent work-arounds that enabled me to keep the JMB looking sharp despite GoDaddy's rotten interface. 

Thanks, jerks!
Now, however, it was all gone. GoDaddy pulled the plug, kindly offering to send me my data on a zipdrive so that I could go somewhere else and rebuild the blog by hand. They had totally trashed the Borderlands Lodge.

I was pretty angry. Hadn't I been giving these people my money for the previous six years, and now that they had decided they weren't making enough money on the thing they felt they could pull the plug with impunity? Where do companies like this get off feeling they can treat their customers like this? 

I spent the next several days rebuilding the blog from the data that GoDaddy had sent me. I ended up cutting back on a lot of the posts, leaving behind those that I felt I couldn't be bothered saving. In other words, only the truly essential JMB made the final cut. 

Then, on August 1, I was visiting my parents in west Michigan when, once again casually checking the Borderfeed I saw that all of the photographs from my new-and-repaired interface, now on Blogger, had disappeared. In their place there were just empty spaces with captions below them. 

Apparently, the other shoe had dropped. After sending me my data on the zipdrive, the folks at GoDaddy had pulled the plug on the server onto which I had uploaded all of the photos. So, while I still had the new blog, it was completely bereft of visual stimuli. 

That's changed now. Over winter break I finally had the time to fix things, and all of the old photos have either been deleted completely, or else uploaded again. 

The Lodge is looking better than ever now


#4: ISIS, Syria & Iraq 

Obviously, this is a matter of considerably more importance compared to my petty concerns regarding the blog. I'll be honest with you, even reading this interview with the Obama administration's point-man on Syria, I still have absolutely no clue regarding what they're trying to achieve. Most of all, I think the administration is underestimating the difficulties that would ensue any downfall of the Assad regime. As bad as Assad is, I think his regime's departure would bring about a tsunami of instability at this point. I wrote about the doubts I had about all of this back in 2013

Be careful what you wish for
As I wrote back in September, and as I discussed in a talk that I gave in Bozeman in September, I think that--from the Obama administration's perspective--the most effective way to fight the Islamic State would be to sub-contract the battle to the Kurds and Iran. It now looks like that's what's happening with respect to both the Kurds and Iran

The real issue, as far as I'm concerned, is not so much the Islamic State itself--I find it hard to believe that such a violent organization can continue without burning itself out. Rather, the real issues lie among the consequences that will emerge from the measures that are taken to defeat the Islamic state. Already there have been calls to support Kurdish independence--the neo-con crowd in the US is going to push this big-time, especially if the Kurds in northern Iraq are successful in pushing back IS.  

#3: Russia-Ukraine-Crimea  

The potential for disaster to strike in Crimea was something that I had been talking about since 2008 (such as here and here). In 2014, meanwhile, events in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine occupied a large part of the Borderland Lodge's attention, in addition to forming the subject of a talk that I gave in Bozeman in early April. My thoughts on Russian-Ukraine relations are not very different from what they were in the spring--namely, that Putin's objectives relate to all of Ukraine, not just the east. 

Speaking on Crimea in April
Ultimately, I think Russian policymaking right now is dedicated toward neutralizing Ukraine in the short-term, and bringing in a pro-Russian government in the long-term. The goal was never to conquer territories in eastern Ukraine--which, unlike Crimea, are of little actual value to Russia. Instead, eastern Ukraine is much more valuable to Russia as an unstable part of Ukraine, an area that can provide a pretext for Russia to intervene in Ukrainian affairs for the foreseeable future.   

#2: Anatolian Express

As this is a list of my personal interests, rather than those of the rest of the world, another noteworthy event of 2014 was the trip I took through Turkey in May and June of this year

The trip came during a time when my book manuscript was with the copy-editor at Oxford. Knowing that I would be spending the rest of the summer wrestling with the conclusion of the manuscript, I felt that could use a vacation. It was a good decision. 

Prior to leaving, I was asking myself why, of all the places I could go, would I choose to travel through Turkey? I mean, hadn't I spent enough time in that country already? I'd lived there for years prior to graduate school, and then had spent another couple of years there, on and off, as a graduate student doing research. After finishing my PhD in 2007, I'd spent the better part of another year in Turkey on a post-doctoral fellowship, and then had visited the country every year since. Why, of all places, should I spend my vacation there, too? 

The thing is, I like spending time in places where I speak the language and know something about the history. I wasn't looking to do research--the month-long trip this summer came out of my own pocket--and instead just felt like exploring. It had been years since I'd done that in Turkey. I enjoy the feeling of being on the road from one day to the next, talking to people as I travel and learning things about the places I visit. 

Between Mardin and Urfa
It was especially important for me to go to Turkey, or at least it seemed that way at the time. I was finishing a book on Turkey, one that had taken up my time, in one way or another, since I was a graduate student working on my dissertation. Now, I was looking for inspiration, trying to figure out what I wanted to do next professionally, and also in life. After so many years spent focusing on jumping through academic hoops, now I was starting to think about what I wanted to devote my intellectual and personal energies to. 

I'm still trying to figure this out, I suppose, although I think I have a better idea of where I'm going than I did when I took this trip to Turkey in the summer. Nevertheless, the summer trip helped a lot, both with respect to giving me the stamina to finishing off the book over the rest of the summer, and through the manner in which a month on the road with my backpack helped to open up my perspectives a little bit more. 

#1: Finishing the Book

Again, this is a personal list, so I really would be lying if I didn't place Turks Across Empires at the top of it. For me, the book obviously was not just a professional requirement for tenure and the culmination of years of work, but also a very personal project. 

I wrote this book the way that I did because I identified with the people at the center of the story's narrative. Without being too self-aggrandizing (okay, maybe a little...), I felt that the stories of people like Yusuf Akçura,
İsmail Gasprinskii, and Ahmet Ağaoğlu spoke to me in a personal way that I tried to convey in the book. I was particularly attracted to the ways in which they made use of their various experiences and the different capacities in which they'd lived their lives and developed their careers across different geographical locations. 

In the end, probably less than half of this book is about these individuals in particular--mostly I discuss what I see as the broader developments taking place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and how these Turks across empires fit into them. I guess it's at least partly because I'm still in the process of trying to figure out how I fit into my own surroundings that I found this subject interesting enough to base my book upon it. 

So anyway, that's what's been going on with me over the past year or so, at least insofar as I'm willing to discuss things publicly. It's been a pretty wild year--a really good one, actually, in a number of ways. And although it some ways it feels a little inappropriate for me to be feeling good while so much of the world seems to be going to hell, I can't help but remember that it wasn't so long ago that it felt like my own life was falling apart. All of us need good years once in a while, and if we're lucky we occasionally get them.

More photos, analysis, and links can be found, as always, at the Borderlands Lounge

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