News & Propaganda: Mid-May Fun at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, May 15

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope this week's N & P finds you well. Life is moving ahead swimmingly at the Borderlands Lodge. A week ago, I submitted my final grades for the spring semester, and now I'm preparing for the summer. I'm going to be teaching a class online on modern Turkey and am planning on doing some travel in the Eurasian Borderlands.

The weather has been really windy and nasty here lately, but that's okay. Nothing lasts forever, even blustery days in May. 


The Bozone is quieter these days, now that most of the students are gone. At least for the parts of summer when I'm in town, it's nice to have the streets more to myself when I bike. But while Bozeman might be quiet now, we've still had a lot of news and propaganda to deal with with this week at the Borderlands Lodge. 

Here are some of the highlights:   

Evren's Legacy

One of the big stories coming out of Turkey this past week was the death of former coup-leader and president, Kenan Evren at the age of 98. Evren, of course, has been a name that has haunted Turkish politics ever since he led the military takeover of the country on September 12, 1980.  

Taking power: September 12, 1980

At the time of the coup, the official story coming out of Turkey was that the country had become ungovernable, and that the military had been obliged to step in. Today, however, there are relatively few people who are willing to publicly defend the 1980 coup. At the very least, it's now much more common to see the coup attacked than defended. That wasn't really the case when I was living in Turkey in the 1990s, although even then most individuals I knew had nothing but terrible things to say about September 12. 

Time cover just a few weeks post-coup

In ways that Evren never could have imagined, the old general has played a key role in the recent political career of Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan. Evren and his cohort are the ones who created the Constitution of 1982, which is still in force. All of the stories you hear about Erdoğan suing journalists and cartoonists for having allegedly 'insulted' him? That comes from the Constitution of 1982, as do the laws allowing authorities to imprison journalists, activists, demonstrators, and just about anyone else who runs afoul of the powers that be. 

Another important way that Evren's legacy has played an important role in Erdoğan's political career relates to the coup's continued status as one of the most unpopular political events in recent memory. Turkish citizens from many different walks of life and of sharply clashing political ideologies often find themselves in agreement over the viciousness of the 1980 coup. Erdoğan's supporters, who feared military intervention more than anything during the early years of AK Party rule, despised what they had come to see as the short-circuiting of the "democratic process" that a coup represents. But many of Erdoğan's sharpest critics also often have bad memories of September 12. Far more than had been the case in 1960 or 1971, the coup of 1980 affected Turkish people outside of political elites. 

When I lived in Turkey in the 1990s I had a number of private students who had been caught up in the post-coup ramifications. One guy that I gave lessons to for several years had been arrested and detained for weeks, locked in a cell too small for him to stand up straight in. He had been active in leftist politics at the time, but even those students who just wanted an education at the time were deeply affected by a series of events taking place both before and after the coup. Thousands of people--maybe tens of thousands, maybe hundreds, depending on how you look at things--suffered far worse than my friend. It was a turbulent, bloody time, and the Army received credit for bringing it to an end. 

So, it makes sense when a 2010 proposal granting the government the ability to pack the Constitutional Court with its own appointees was attached to another, much more popular measure: stripping the former coup leaders, including Evren, of the immunity they had previously granted themselves. By packaging their "judicial reform" as part of a broader "democratization" package that included stripping the old coup-leaders of their legal protections, the parliament and president (then the AKP's Abdullah Gül) were given the right to appoint several new members to the Constitutional court.

In this referendum, which passed easily, the "Yes" side (led by the government) regularly invoked the military takeovers of 1960 and 1980, and the idea of military involvement in politics more generally. This was clearly a message that resonated with people beyond the AK Party's base.   

Menderes hanging on referendum poster

In recent years, the prestige of Kenan Evren, who had made himself president during the years 1982 and 1989, plummeted considerably. Erdoğan has been very skillful in presenting the opposing CHP as the party of coup-supporters, with his own AK Party as a champion of democracy. He therefore uses the sins of the Army as a means of hammering away at the opposition. And, for as long as they continue to feel assured that they will receive the most votes, the leaders of the AK Party will no doubt continue to champion democracy. In this respect, I don't see the AK Party as substantially different from many of its predecessors. 

Kenan Evren bequeathed to Turkey a winner-take-all constitution in which the government is given broad powers to suppress democracy. The idea, I think, was that for as long as the military continued to play a role in politics in Turkey, the gradual democratization--emphasis on the 'gradual' part-- of the country would continue. Only it would happen at a pace that the country's permanent government--the military, bureaucracy, and judiciary--thought was acceptable. 

With this in mind, the National Security Council was created after the 1960 coup, then strengthened after that of September 12, 1980. The National Security Council placed the military and the elected government as equals on either side of the president, who was not elected. This institution gave the military the ability to hold regular consultations with the government and the president, where military officials expressed their opinions on a variety of measures extending far beyond their competence in military affairs. They saw themselves as the final arbiters of politics. 

Ministers on one side, brass on the other, president at end

And that, after all, was the initial attraction of Erdoğan to a lot of journalists, academics, and politicians in the US, especially. Here, they thought, was the face of 'moderate' Islam defending democracy against the generals. The senior military in Turkey had already, I think, lost their stomach for takeover. The so-called "coup by memorandum" of 1997 was perhaps the first sign of this. No matter how powerful the military looked at the time, they were able to push Necmettin Erbakan out of office because Erbakan agreed to go. 

Sometimes I wonder: what if he had refused? 

1997: Nervous times for Erbakan

Well, Turkey's current president wasn't willing to wait until the military decided to take over. Instead, he went on his own offensive, taking out the senior officers through the Ergenekon trials. And so now the military is more pliant, or at least its leadership is. And all of that power that Evren and his associates had assumed would remain, somehow, in the hands of the generals is instead in those of Erdoğan. 

Political authoritarianism in Turkey did not begin with Erdoğan. The system was already in place for it. Erdoğan has been a lot more ruthless than most of his predecessors in exploiting a very flawed and undemocratic constitution. This constitution allows for the state to go after whomever it wanted. In 1982, this would have included leftists, mainly, but wording was also put in to allow for the crushing of just about anybody, including folks who were interested in issues pertaining to Kurds and, increasingly in the 1990s, people interested in Islam. 

Indeed, the military's public display of pressure upon then-Prime Minister Erbakan to step down in 1997 marked the beginning of the so-called "February 28 Process." Branded as a knockout punch against "reactionaryism," the February 28 Process led to the departure from Turkey of Fethullah Gülen. Tayyip Erdoğan, who was then the mayor of Istanbul, was put in jail for four months because of a poem that he read by Ziya Gokalp. And this is the person in whose hands the reins of a very authoritarian political system were placed. 

While Erdoğan has publicly vilified the coup of 1980 on many occasions, he has Evren and his associates to thank for the power he wields today. 

The Vise Tightens

An interesting story coming out of Syria this week implicated Turkey in a coup-plot allegedly designed to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. From the Telegraph
The Assad regime has placed its intelligence chief under house arrest after suspecting he was plotting a coup, in a sign that battlefield losses are setting off increasing paranoia in Damascus.
Ali Mamlouk, the head of the country's National Security Bureau, and one of the few officials still to have access to President Bashar al-Assad, was accused of holding secret talks with countries backing rebel groups and exiled members of the Syrian regime...
It was as Syrian troops lost control of Idlib city and Jisr al-Shughour to an alliance of Islamist rebels including Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s local branch, that Mamlouk reportedly began to make contact with hostile governments and former regime officials.
"Mamlouk had been communicating with Turkish intelligence through an intermediary," said a senior regime source with direct knowledge of the plan.
Mamlouk had also used a businessman from Aleppo as an intermediary to contact Rifaat al-Assad, Bashar’s uncle, who has lived abroad exile since he was accused of seeking to mount a coup in Syria in the 1980s.
Rifaat al-Assad declined to comment on the reports, but one informed source, who asked not to be named, said that "there is a big interest among the Syrian officers and military for Rifaat Assad to come back to Syria”.
This is an interesting coincidence, as just last week on my blog I was remarking on this topic. I mentioned that Assad must have a pretty loyal inner circle, because it seemed to me that there must be a lot of pressure to "square the circle" in Syria by removing Assad and keeping the Baath Party in power.  

Bad times for Ali Mamlouk

In some ways, such a solution would, I imagine, seem attractive to folks in DC, who are currently facing the unpalatable options of either supporting Assad or the rebels. In response to this, the Obama administration has tried to split the difference, working with Turkey to arm supposedly "moderate" rebels who are still working to overthrow the Assad regime. 

If the goal, however, is to keep extremists from taking control of Syria's treasury and weaponry, training an armed group to overthrow Assad seems like a really bad idea. It seems a little unrealistic at this juncture to think that the Assad regime could be overthrown, but that some government other than an Islamic State-allied one would take power.

So this, presumably, is where the idea of a coup comes from: you still get the secular governance of the Assad regime, with none of that messy aftertaste. 

Pretty wife and nice kids, but a grim future likely awaits

But removing Bashar Assad and replace him with his uncle Rifaat? That doesn't sound like a very workable plan. Rifaat hasn't lived in Syria since the end of Ronald Reagan's first term. If folks in Syria honestly believe that he'd be able to come back and run the country now, they must be feeling genuinely desperate about their prospects under Bashar.

Chasing Anger

Attention, Borderheads: Arabs have talked themselves into a state of high dudgeon! At least this is what we're told in a recent NY Times editorial on the current state of affairs in the Middle East. I don't mind the analysis, but I found the discourse kind of interesting. 

What's so interesting about it? Everywhere, it seems, the Middle Easterners described in the piece are acting not according to what they perceive as their interests, but rather in response to rather childlike bursts of emotion and pique. 
When Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, spoke here of the Arab world’s humiliation by three non-Arab states — Iran, Israel and Turkey — and the way they had, through their “hegemony,” turned Arabs into a “laughingstock,” I asked him what exactly he meant.
His response focused on Iran. This in itself was interesting. Statements from Tehran about Iran calling the shots in several Arab capitals — including Damascus, Baghdad and Sana — had “enraged many of us,” he said, leaving Arabs humiliated that any power “would dare say that.”
Yes, it's all a matter of "humiliation," rage, and other infantile responses to harsh reality, isn't it? When dealing with non-western populations, we're often quite quick to attribute actions to essentially internal factors like feelings of anger, hatred, jealousy, pride, frustration, and, of course, humiliation. 

Remember this?


It's interesting. When, for example, we talk about the US invasion of Iraq, do we describe these actions in terms of an American need for revenge, battered pride after 9/11, or a desire to overcome humiliation? Maybe we should, but we tend not to. Even now, and even by people who are critical of the war, focus tends to be placed upon the concrete objectives of the Bush administration in the Middle East (Oil! Regional hegemony!), whether real or imagined.

When it comes to cultures that are perceived as quite different from our own, however, we tend to ignore external factors relating to politics, economics, natural resources and other sorts of concrete, material concerns. Instead, we put non-western populations on the psychiatrist's couch,  diagnosing them with personality disorders. Why is this? Are there any reasons other than hurt feelings which might explain why Arab leaders, for example, might pursue the policies that they do? I'm betting there are.   

Ultimately, I think it's just laziness. It's a lot easier to pretend that someone is just responding to internal feelings or emotions because these are impossible to measure. Looking at the more concrete developments that may have angered or humiliated people in the first place requires more work, and also an acknowledgement that people might be justified in their anger.  

Seymour Hersh's Report on bin Laden Killing

A quite controversial piece came out by Seymour Hersh this week in the London Review of Books, discussing what Hersh describes as several 'fabrications' told by the Obama administration with respect to the killing of Osama bin Laden

Some highlights: 

*  The Pakistani intelligence services had captured bin Laden in 2006, and since then had been living as a prisoner in Abbottabad. 

*   The Saudi government had known about bin Laden's capture by the Pakistanis and had been paying for his upkeep. 

*   The US learned about bin Laden's whereabouts from a Pakistani informant, who was then paid $25 million and given a job with the CIA in the United States. 

*   Bin Laden was very ill and had been rendered "an invalid" at the time of his death. 

*   There was no intelligence gathering--no laptops or hard drives gathered--in the Abbotabad compound. Bin Laden was a very ill captive who was in no position to plan any new attacks. By the time of his killing, bin Laden had been reduced to a figurehead. 

*   There were no weapons inside the compound at the time of bin Laden's death. He was being held prisoner, did not have his own weapons, and the Pakistani ISI agents guarding him--who had been informed of the upcoming American attack on bin Laden--were under orders to disappear once they heard the sound of American helicopters. 

From the piece: 
‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”’
So what is one to make of all of this? At the very least, the allegations--if true--indicate how much of bin Laden's killing amounted to public relations theater for the Obama administration. The allegations also contradict some of the loud-mouthed bragging in which some of the Navy Seals involved in the killing have been indulging in recent years. 

Not so fast, though. Here is a piece published a couple of days after Hersh's, criticizing Hersh's use of anonymous sources and predicting that the piece will be debunked. And here, meanwhile, is another piece attacking Fisher's piece and defending Hersh. 

So where does all of this leave us? Hersh's recent pieces do seem to rely upon a smaller number of generally anonymous sources, in contrast to his better-known exposes on My Lai and Abu Ghraib. Then again, hasn't Hersh earned some credibility over the years? He has a long history of going against the narrative grain and turning out to be right. I therefore don't think that his allegations should be dismissed so easily, especially by people whose main critique seems to be that Hersh doesn't use enough sources. 

I guess we'll have to see how much of this sticks as time passes.  

Pass the Penicillin

Last Saturday, May 9, was the day that Russia officially marks the end of World War II--a day after the occasion is celebrated in the US and Europe. Unsurprisingly given the events over the past 16 months or so, the number of attendees at Russia's Victory Day festivities was considerably less than it had been in other years, like this one, ending in a 5. And so this year, 2015, as the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, would normally be a larger and more international occasion than last year's (69th) or that of the year before. 

Victory Day celebration in Kazan, 2005

It's therefore considered newsworthy that a lot of western leaders are avoiding Moscow's May 9 celebrations. I mean, it's not like they have the excuse that they were busy with their own celebrations. 

Celebrating the Big V-D

In the US and western Europe, meanwhile, the war's end is marked one day earlier, on May 8. So maybe they could say they were too busy cleaning up, and that's why they couldn't go to Moscow? I mean, I know that downtown Bozeman was a total mess after last week's off the hook Victory in Europe Day-related partying.  

In any case,  it seems that China was the favored guest in Moscow, particularly in the absence of high-level representatives from the US and Europe. Here are some nice shots from the day's festivities, during which Vladimir Putin apparently "took swipes" at the United States in prepared remarks, according to this story in the New York Times:
In his speech to the assembled troops and veterans, President Vladimir Putin said that the carnage of the war underlined the importance of international cooperation, but "in the past decades we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world." That phrase is often used by Russia to criticize the United States' purported aim to dominate world affairs.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is on record as saying that there are nearly 11,000 Russian troops currently in Ukraine

Anyone who has read my commentary on matters pertaining to Russia-Ukraine-Crimea knows what I think about all of this. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that all of the US-Russian friction over influence in recent decades has come in regions that were once under Moscow's influence. Putin is talking about "past decades" (rather than decade) because he sees Ukraine and Georgia within a larger context that includes the former Warsaw Pact countries, the formerly Soviet Baltic republics, and even non-Warsaw Pact friends of the former USSR such as Iraq and Syria. 

Soviet influence in Europe during Cold War

Reach of NATO and Partnership for Peace initiative

NATO's expansion into formerly Soviet-dominated regions doesn't make it okay for the Kremlin to be doing what it is to Ukraine. But Americans need to understand that the recent disasters taking place in both Ukraine (2014-present) and Georgia (in 2008) are the result of a competition for influence taking place in former Soviet space between the US and Russia. As I've noted before, if Russia were to attempt to involve, say, Puerto Rico, in a military pact, my guess is that American policymakers wouldn't respond very well, either. 

At the same time, it's also worth noting that Russia is a federated republic made up of many "mini-republics" of its own. These are the sort of nationally-based entities whose existence Russia has recently exploited at the expense of both Georgia and Ukraine. For a country with over twenty nationally-defined mini-republics republics within it, it seems like a dangerous game to be stoking separatism in the mini-republics of one's neighbors.

Republics of Russia

No matter how easy victory may have come in Crimea, the potential for unintended consequences remains. This year's V-D may have been quite celebratory in Russia, but it's also the kind of activity that can bring on a nasty burning sensation later.   

Managing Islam in Central Asia

Why should you care about the ways governments in Central Asia attempt to manage Islam? Last week I saw an interesting piece on regarding the management of Islam in present-day Central Asia. The article describes the various state institutions that have been created in Central Asia in efforts to control the direction of Islam. 

From the article: 
To manage religion, Central Asian leaders have modified Soviet-era instruments, namely state committees for religious affairs. Such state organs now operate under different names, depending on the country: the Religious Affairs Agency in Kazakhstan; the State Commission for Religious Affairs in Kyrgyzstan; the Committee on Religious Affairs in Tajikistan; the Council on Religious Affairs in Uzbekistan; and the Committee for Religious Affairs in Turkmenistan. But no matter the name, they all generally have branches in each of the country’s respective regions, where the aim is to exercise tighter control at the local level.  
These committees are supposed to facilitate interaction between state institutions and the respective populations, as well as act as a bulwark against perceived fundamentalist and violent movements. They are also designed to contribute to the formation of a knowledge base on active religious movements, and cooperate with local jurists, researchers, and experts from university institutions or other specialists who examine religious topics. They likewise collaborate with governmental institutions, including representatives of the executive branches of government, interior ministry personnel and state security agents. In Kazakhstan, the pro-presidential Nur Otan party worked directly with the Religious Affairs Agency to develop a campaign to diminish the attraction of radical religious ideas among youths.
The article describes the formation of official religious boards as a form of "Soviet methods," which is partly true. All of these institutions derive, in one way or another, from the Soviet-era Spiritual Administration for Central Asia and Kazakhstan, known as SADUM according to its Russian acronym. Adeeb Khalid talks about this in his brilliant book, Islam After Communism

As Khalid and others have pointed out, though, there were certainly imperial-era precursors of SADUM, even if they didn't exist in Central Asia. Robert Crews' book For Prophet and Tsar, for example, looks at the Ufa-based Orenburg Spiritual Assembly, which was responsible for the administration of Muslims living in European Russia and Siberia. 

Today, Muslim spiritual boards have a much more active role in politics and society than they did during Soviet times. As Khalid points out, SADUM's function during the Soviet era was mainly to train a very limited group of students to become imams and other Muslim religious figures, as well as to support Soviet policies at international meetings of Muslim organizations. 

State-supported Muslim religious councils in both Russia and Central Asia now play roles that, in some ways, are more similar to those of Russian imperial times, than Soviet ones. During late imperial times, Muslim religious authorities were employed by tsarist officials in a variety of ways. These included playing the role of the state's eyes and ears within Muslim communities, reporting to police if, for example, a stranger arrived in their midst. It would be of particular importance for a local imam, for example, to contact authorities if such an individual were preaching, or otherwise somehow engaging with Muslim communities in a way that could be construed as "religious." The ways in which official Islam worked in imperial Russia also make up a pretty important part of Turks Across Empires.

Have I mentioned my book lately?


As is the case today, Muslim spiritual personnel--the bureaucratic name by which imams, muezzins, and ahunds were known in tsarist administrative parlance--were responsible for promoting a state-approved "moderate" face of Islam. More often than not, the difference between moderate and extremist Islam derived, in the eyes of tsarist officials, from the degree of support that particular Muslims were understood to hold for tsarist state projects. 

One thing that's interesting about most of the states of Central Asia today: there's usually (Kyrgyzstan is something of an exception, but not entirely) very little going on in terms of official politics--a real opposition, political parties, a free press, etc. As was the case for many of the republics that were created in the Middle East in the 1950s and 1960s, the principles of state secularism and cultural westernization are associated with corruption and dictatorship. In most of these countries, real opposition to the state takes place in the form of movements speaking in the name of Islam, which are officially prohibited from taking part in politics. 


So why should you care how these states try to manage Islam? In many ways, the secular-national-authoritarian model of the Middle East that has been overthrown in various countries over the past decade has found new life in Central Asia (and Azerbaijan) since the breakup of the USSR. As has been the case among secular-national-authoritarian republics in the Middle East, much of the political opposition to the status quo in Central Asia is being articulated through an Islamic discourse.

Does this mean that Central Asia and Azerbaijan will similarly experience a series of revolutions followed by a rise in Islamist politics? Of course not. Central Asia is different from the Middle East in a number of ways, and the complex web of factors that have contributed to the overthrow of Arab republics in recent years are, in some ways, more specific to the Middle East. At the same time, however, recent events have indicated that the secular-national-authoritarian model, at least insofar as it has developed in the Middle East, is not a particularly stable one. Should we really assume that this model will play out in a substantially different way in the former USSR?

Azerbaijan and the Baku 10

Fans of the Republic of Azerbaijan were treated to a good story this week: 10 members of Congress took secretly funded trip sponsored by Baku.  
Lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.
My first reaction: What? Is that illegal? Since when is it against the law for foreign companies to ply our elected leaders with gifts?

The problem was that the company in question was the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. So, this allegedly amounts to a foreign government sponsoring the trip. And if it had just been a regular corporation laying down hundreds of thousands of dollars for an all-expense-paid vacation/conference? Would anyone have batted an eyelid? 

 'A' is for Azerbaijan

Sponsored or not, I'd love to get back to Azerbaijan. Why should members of Congress get all the bribes? 

I spent four months in Baku in 2004 and another month there the following year. It was an incredibly good experience for me research-wise, and I had a lot of fun living there. It was fun developing my Azeri Turkish, and I really liked my post-archive trips to the beach. I'd work until about 4.30, then take the minibus back to my apartment and take a nice big swig of gin. I'd then quickly change into my beachwear, pack up a gin and tonic for the road (I'd put it in a plastic water bottle), and take a taxi to Crescent Beach. It wasn't the greatest beach in the area, but I could get there in 15 minutes.  

Anyway, I guess the lesson from all of this is: if you're going to risk your Congressional career by accepting illegal gifts and travel, you might as well make sure you're going someplace nice. 

10 of the Republic of Azerbaijan's Newest Fans

So congratulations to the Baku 10! If I were going to take a career-ending journey right now, I'd also probably choose a place like Azerbaijan to go to. You only live once, people!

Nerd Alert: Ottoman History Edition

Here is a story for the Ottoman historians out there. It's about Ottoman-language archival holdings in Bulgaria.
Today, the NBKM’s Oriental Department Collection (Kolektsiya na Orientalski Otdel) contains more than 160 sijills, 1000 defters and registers, 1,000,000 individual documents, and countless registers of religious endowments (waqf/awqāf) from all provinces of the Ottoman Empire between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries. In addition, it has a valuable Persian, Arabic, and Turkish manuscript collection. Apart from its Oriental Department, the Bulgarian Historical Archive (Bŭlgarski istoricheski arkhiv) houses materials dating mostly from the nineteenth century and written in both Ottoman Turkish and Bulgarian. In this sense, NBKM is a hidden gem for scholars of the Middle East and the Balkans.
Years ago, I wrote a piece for Ab Imperio discussing the Istanbul-based holdings that might of interest to Russianists, and the Russia-based holdings that could be useful for scholars with a background in Near Eastern or Islamic studies. I wish I knew of a more comprehensive guide for Ottoman-oriented holdings in the Balkans. 

I miss the BG!

In any case, this seems like it could end up being a good reason to visit Bulgaria, a country that I have fond memories of from the 1990s.  

Oh--and for all of you Russian history nerds out there, don't think I've forgotten you. Here are some cool pictures from the Russian Caucasus in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  

And finally, here's something for all of you Islam in Russia nerds: an article on the lost mosque of Moscow

The Lost Mosque of Moscow...before it was lost


Goodbye, Sports Guy

One story that I saw online last week right after I posted last week's N & P was about the "Sports Guy," Bill Simmons, who is apparently leaving ESPN. It's not a total surprise--there had been rumors about an impending breakup for some time. Apparently, his tenure at ESPN is over.

Contemplating a career shift?

I'll miss him. I first started reading the Sports Guy's columns when I was researching overseas as a graduate student during the 2002-2004 academic years. I'm a fan, at least insofar as I've been able to ignore the way that Simmons routinely massacres the names of Turkish NBA players on his podcasts. I've always liked his sense of humor as well as his fan's perspective on sports. In some ways, he's been a bit of an inspiration for me, particularly with regard to his use of new media. I hope he finds the move from ESPN liberating. 

ESPN's new Sports Guy?

Who will ESPN replace him with? Maybe Will Timmons? Jill Gibbons? The Sports Dude? Maybe they could hand over the Grantland site's responsibilities to Simmons' faithful sidekick Jalen Rose, and see what he could do with it. As for Simmons: from what I've heard, he long ago sold both his name and likeness to the Subway sandwich company, so now he'll have to blog under an assumed identity. 

It's the unknown sportswriter!

He'll be okay, though. Just slap some sponsors' names on the bag and we'll be all set. The future of sports journalism, and the money surrounding it, is secure.

True Crime Stories: Bozeman Edition 

Some people think that Bozeman is a small town where nothing exciting ever happens. They might be right. 

From the recent police reports of the Bozeman Daily Tattler

*  An officer warned two men who were drinking beer and talking about philosophy too loudly on their front step at 4:28 a.m.

*  A woman's mountain bike was found dumped at a Babcock Street business. The owner called to claim it, saying that her roommate borrowed it but had a few too many adult beverages and forgot where it ended up. The bike was returned to the woman.

A lot of unexpected can happen in a small ski town

*   While she wasn't positive, a woman told dispatch that her "Spidey senses" were telling her that an ice cream truck in her neighborhood belonged to a sex offender.

Thank goodness we've got people in Bozeman with "Spidey senses" calling the police on their neighbors. No wonder there isn't much crime here! 

Montanan Borderlands

It's true that crime in Bozeman tends to be of a more run-of-the-mill variety, but the Bozone still shows off its flavor in other ways. Breezing through the hallowed corridors of Wilson Hall the other day, I saw something cool--an advertisement for an upcoming talk on the Chinese of Montana taking place at Bozeman's Museum of the Rockies. 

From the announcement: 
Chinese pioneers have been neglected in Montana’s written record, even though in 1870 they comprised 10 percent of the population. By the 1950s, very few remained. Chinese homes and businesses fell victim to urban renewal programs. Time erased their remote mining and railroad camps. Traces of their culture disappeared, and their stories have become obscured in myth and legend. What happened to these pioneers and where did they go? Historian and award-winning author Ellen Baumler explores Montana’s urban and remote Chinese settlements through archaeological sites, artifacts, and rare remaining landmarks, recalling the contributions of Montana’s Chinese residents and the cultural footprints they left behind.
I'm a secret fan of Chinese history in Montana. Just up the road from Bozeman is Butte, Montana, which is a fascinating place for a bunch of different reasons. One of the cooler sites in Butte, however, is the Mai Wah Asian history museum. The Mai Wah is pretty small, but provides a glimpse into the lives of Chinese in Butte.

That's life in the northern Rockies, though: it's more of a cultural borderland than you might have imagined. 

Borderland Meteorological Report

The weather has been overcast lately in the Bozone, which is unusual. I've heard that we get 300 days of sunshine a year, but spring is the dreariest season here. At least this is how I feel about the blustery winds and sudden snow showers that we frequently experience in May and even June. 

I kind of like the overcast days, though. Growing up in the Midwest, I had never realized that it was possible to have sunshine and cold weather simultaneously. I've experienced snowy winters in a number of places since then--Montreal, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, to name a few--and they have all had their share of both sunny and overcast days. In Bozeman, it's almost always bright, so when the skies are low and things look gloomy, I often get a bit of a thrill. 

For whatever reason, when the weather is overcast and I'm feeling hemmed in by Bozeman's already very low (to us) clouds, I enjoy listening to Kraftwerk. I think the electronic nature of their music feels more natural to me, perhaps, when I'm inside already and the windows and doors are shut. Traditionally, my Kraftwerk faves have been Trans-Europe Express and Computer World, but lately I've been playing a lot of The Man-Machine. I bought this record at a store called L'Échange in Montreal back when I was in university at McGill, and it was one of the few that I did not sell after I graduated. 

I'd love to see Kraftwerk in concert one day. 


Anyway, this isn't the greatest of seasons in Bozeman but spring weather is still kind of cool in that it's just so different from what we normally get here. Most importantly--and this is a little-known fact--the low cloud cover helps with the acoustics of Kraftwerk's electronica. 

Nothing Lasts Forever

I guess that's been one of the themes of this week's N & P, eh? It's certainly true with respect to Kenan Evren, and especially for the sort of Turkey that he thought he was handing over to the civilians after he stepped down from the presidency in 1989. So too are we reminded of this with respect to the Assad regime, the Simmons/ESPN breakup, philosophy discussions on the front step, post-Cold War partnership, cold November rain, and, of course, even blustery days in May such as the ones we're going through now. 

So with all of this in mind, I'll close this week with one of my favorite songs from Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express album: "Europe Endless." I first bought Trans-Europe Express when I was still just a teenaged Turk across empires with pimples on his forehead. 

The theme of the album is the crossing of borders--for better or for worse. "Europe Endless," which opens the album, exudes a sense of optimism about Europe that seems both way ahead of its time--Trans-Europe Express was released in 1977--and strangely nostalgic. I think it's definitely worth a listen.

I love the way this song gallops along  

Enjoy the music, Borderheads! Goodbye for now, and may your borderlands remain endless. 

109 libraries can't be wrong! Ask yours to order a copy of Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or from Amazon

More links, commentary and photographs available poolside at the Borderlands Lounge

No comments:

Post a Comment