Friday N & P: May 1 Edition

May 1, 2015

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope your week has been a good one. Life has been good up at the Borderlands Lodge. My schedule has been pretty full lately, involving a lot of planning and organization for my upcoming travels to the Eurasian Borderlands. 

Gabor Szabo always puts me in the right mood

May Day

It's May Day, and it seems like there's been a fair bit of protest taking place in Turkey today. Taksim Square was closed, apparently, to prevent demonstrators from entering, but it looks like there's been some stuff happening both in Taksim and elsewhere.

Scene from Taksim Square today

Here's a blow-by-blow account of some of today's events. 

Peace at home

Did you know that there is a Turkish Club at Montana State University? There are over 100 Turkish students at MSU, mostly participants in double-degree programs (two years here, two years there) that we have with universities in Turkey. There are a number of non-Turks in the club as well, including our club president--a young woman from Illinois. 

Anyway, on April 23 the Turkish club had a big food/music party at the MSU student union. There were over 60 people there--I was super impressed. The food was really good, too.

Aferin çocuklar!

Beyond Tenuritis

The other night I attended a social event and dinner celebrating those of us receiving tenure and promotion. It's not official yet--that doesn't happen until a Board of Regents meeting in September--but it's gone through the university process, which is nice. 

They went to Jared!

I found the event quite touching. There was an open bar, which was great, and two associate provosts read rather detailed accounts about our research, teaching and service while everyone else looked on. Somebody spent a lot of time going over people's files and finding highlights to talk about.  

The whole night was fun and the weather was beautiful. Some friends had come over and pre-partied with me, drinking champagne on the Borderlands balcony. The food and drink at the ceremony was good, and it was also really quite moving to see so many people that I know. For the most part, the tenure recipients (there were 16 of us) were people that had gone through their junior professorships at the same time and place as myself--people I'd seen around here and there but not necessarily gotten to know very well. In other cases, there were good friends getting recognized, too. All in all, it was a really nice occasion, and the associate provost reading out my accomplishments even gave a shout-out to the JMB.

It's great to get tenure--certainly much better, in my estimation, than the alternative of getting fired. That being said, I never saw the possibility of not getting tenure in terms  of personal annihilation or anything like that. It's difficult to say--ever since my book came out, tenure had been looking more and more secure anyway, so I hadn't really been worrying about things much this year, to be honest.

I remember back when I was an MA student at Princeton and didn't get accepted into the PhD program of my department. It was personally devastating and, I have to admit, quite humiliating. But then I did a PhD in History at Brown and, I think, ended up getting a much better education than I would have received if I'd stayed in the Near Eastern Studies department at Princeton--mainly because I would be moving someplace new and working with different people. The move definitely made me a lot more employable, too. From all of this, I learned that sometimes, even if you don't get what you want, it can still end up being the better move for you. I tried to keep this in mind with respect to the tenure process here, especially during the time before I got the book contract.

All of the above notwithstanding, I need to say it: I have a great job and I'm very happy to be apparently on track toward keeping it.  Whenever I see my facebook friends and others grousing about their entitled students and idiot colleagues, I feel very fortunate to be where I am. 

One of the cool things about teaching at a place like Montana State is that you always run into students who have no idea how smart they are. A lot of them come from small towns and tiny high school classes, and then blossom intellectually in college. Now that I've been here for a while and have a few classes cycle through, I've become increasingly aware of this. On those snowy days in the middle of winter (or fall, or spring) when I'm trudging to school and maybe not necessarily feeling 100% motivated right off the bat, I think about the best of my students and how rewarding it is to have the job that I've got.

Blender Bender

About a month ago, I made one of the most important infrastructure upgrades in the recent history of the Borderlands Lodge. I bought a blender. 

Blending is something that I'd been meaning to get into for some time. Living in the mountaintop ski-town like Bozeman, I drink a lot of margaritas, so I definitely thought that it would be useful to have a blender. I've also been rather smoothie-curious lately, and thought it might be nice to consume more blendable fruits.

Good times!

Anyway, blending is turning out to be a really great hobby.  I have smoothies in the morning, and blendable cocktails in the evenings. It's about time I started making more improvements like this in my life. 

Syria Blues

Earlier this week I read this sobering story about Syria, discussing recent battlefield reversals for government forces and predicting that the Assad regime could soon be coming to an end. Since I've been teaching Russian imperial history this semester, when I think of the potential impact of the fall of the Assads upon the country I think of the Romanovs. The Romanovs, of course, had been on the throne for more than 300 years, rather than just forty or so, but at the very end of their reign there were very few credible people who were willing to defend tsarism. 

Nevertheless, no matter how impotent the tsar looked at the end, it turned out that the institution of tsarism was more important than people thought. For better or for worse, once Nicholas II abdicated in February of 1917, politics across the country became a lot more extreme really fast. The removal of the institution of tsarism from the scene appears to have had not just a liberating effect, but also a radicalizing one. 

Syria has been at war for four years so maybe it would just be best for that country to be rid of the Assads and hopefully come to an end of the conflict. On the other hand, I wonder what the immediate repercussions would be if the Assad regime were overturned altogether. My guess is that it would get really messy, really fast. 

Visiting Syria in better times: 1995

And who would be replacing Assad? None of the forces that are succeeding on the battlefield are friendly with the United States. The US, of course, is financing the Free Syrian Army, but this seems like a strange policy since the Free Syrian Army appears to have little hope of making much of a difference in this conflict. 

The Free Syrian Army's only real chance of effectiveness, in fact, is probably to just help further weaken the Assads and, most likely, pave the way for an Islamic State-type regime to take power in Damascus. 

The souk in Damascus, 1995

This, I think, would probably be considered in Washington and elsewhere as a bit of a problem. 

I don't always agree with the Obama administration's foreign policymaking, but at least I'm generally able to understand it. When it comes to Syria, however, I have no idea what the administration is even trying to accomplish, no matter how many rhetorical questions I ask.

Kadyrov keeps on rockin' 

Maybe this news story is based more upon collective wishful thinking than fact, but I was intrigued by the reports circulating last week regarding Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov's so-called "shoot to kill" orders regarding the presence of Russian federal troops on Chechen territory. 

From the NYTimes: 
Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has told his security forces to fire on Russian federal troops if they try to operate in the region without his approval. The Russian Interior Ministry, which runs the police, said Mr. Kadyrov’s order was “unacceptable."
Three days ago, meanwhile, a European Council on Foreign Relations report labeled Kadyrov's Chechnya "a state within a state.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and friend 

Similarly, Ramzan Kadyrov's father,  Akhmet Kadyrov, was a militia leader during the first Chechen war prior to switching sides in 2000 at the beginning of the second Chechen war. Akhmet Kadyrov was assassinated in 2004, and at that point his son Ramzan became president. 

Kadyrov's story, and that of his father, remind me a little bit of Ismail Atarshchikov, the hero of a recent book by Michael Khodarkovsky called Bitter Choices. In Khodarkovsky's book we see Atarshchikov changing sides more than once in his attempts to maneuver between local Chechen society and that of Russia. 

We'll see what happens with Kadyrov and Chechnya. I wouldn't be surprised if this kerfuffle quietly disappeared. At the same time, however, for a country like Russia with so many non-Russian republics, it can't feel good to have the leader of one of them claiming that Russian federal troops will be endangered simply by setting foot in Chechnya.

G-word commemorations

There was lots of commemoration last week regarding the Armenian genocide. As usual, there were calls from a number of different addresses for the government of Turkey to recognize the genocide 

I've discussed this issue elsewhere, so I won't go into much detail here, but frankly I don't find it very surprising that the Turkish government would be so reluctant to acknowledge the genocide. Why would they? Given the one-sided manner in which late imperial genocides in the region are remembered in the first place, why would anyone in Turkey assume that acknowledging the Armenian genocide would earn them any credit internationally?  

The world clucks its collective tongue every April 24 and wags its finger at Turkey, while turning a deaf ear to the genocidal context which Muslims and Christians both inhabited in the Balkan-Anatolian-Caucasian region during the late imperial era. Given these circumstances, and the fact that the government of Armenia is on record as making territorial demands on Turkey, of course no Turkish leader is going to publicly acknowledge the genocide. When you come from a part of the world (non-European, non-Christian) that is used to being double-crossed by the "international community," why on earth admit to anything if it's just going to be used against you?

Take, for example, Vladimir Putin's well-publicized reference to 1915 as a 'genocide.' Putin can speak freely about this issue because he knows that the world will never demand that Russia acknowledge the genocides that the USSR perpetrated against numerous populations. But the mass deportations and murder of entire populations of Crimean Tatars and Chechens in 1944 bears a strong resemblance to the events from 1915 for which the Turkish government is routinely pilloried for not recognizing as a 'genocide.' Yet no one ever asks Russia to publicly acknowledge historical crimes perpetrated by the predecessors to the Russian Federation. For that matter, one might also ask why there is no worldwide campaign pressing the US government to recognize American policymaking toward Native Americans as a genocide.

Nor will anyone waste much time talking about the genocides perpetrated against Muslims in what is today Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and elsewhere during the course of separatist/independence wars fought against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. That's okay, people don't have to talk about these issues, but why should the Turkish government have its feet held to the fire every April 24 while no other country in the region is similarly taken to account for its history? Why does genocide in the Balkan-Anatolian-Crimean-Caucasian borderlands only seem to matter when it involves Muslims killing Christians?  

Late imperial genocide extended far beyond Anatolia

None of what I'm saying here constitutes an effort to deny the Armenian genocide in any way. Nor does any of the above justify the crude, and often quite ugly, manner in which the Armenian genocide issue is dealt with on a routine basis in Turkey. At the same time, however, pretending that the genocide of 1915 occurred in a vacuum--and not as part of a broader context that involved numerous genocides against Muslims in the Balkans and Russia in the late imperial era--does nothing to move anyone toward a reconciliation with the past. 

Borderheads! I need libraries to buy my book. Please ask your local library, especially if it's a university one, to buy Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or on Amazon. They'll be glad they did!  

More photos, analysis, and links can be found,
как всегда, at the Borderlands Lounge.

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