Due to real life taking precedence, I am taking a wee break from blogging. No Nanowrimo this year either. New posts later this month.
Nagorno Karabakh, or Artsakh, is a disputed territory in the southern Caucasus. While officially part of Azerbaijan, it has self-governed since 1994. Its ethnic Armenian population contest Azerbaijani rule. In October 2020 Azerbaijan mobilized to retake the region. Neighbouring Armenia supports Nagorno-Karabakh while Turkey supports Azerbaijan. The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War is the first international conflict of the 2020s.
Nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, between Russia and the Middle East, Nagorno-Karabakh is a green and mountainous land home to over 4,000 ancient monasteries and forts. Its name roughly means ‘Upper Karabakh. While Christian Armenians have the oldest presence in the region, Arabs, Persians, Turks, Azeris and Russians have also ruled. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia claim it as their own.
- < 180: Indigenous states
- 180 – 387: Great Armenia
- 387 – 600s: Sassanian Empire (Persian)
- 600s – 821: Arab Caliphates
- 821 – 1261: Kingdom of Artsakh (Armenian)
- 1261 – 1500s: Principality of Khachen (Armenian)
- 1500s – 1806: Five Melikdoms (Armenian governors ruling under Persian and Turkic overlords)
- 1806 – 1918: Russian Empire
- 1918 – 1991: Soviet Union
- 1991 – 1994: Disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia
- 1994: Republic of Artsakh (de facto)
The Soviets ended fighting between Armenians and Azeris in Nagorno-Karabakh when they took over in the 1920s. To divide-and-rule, they made Nagorno-Karabakh a part of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. By 1991 Nagorno-Karabakh was 25% Azeri and 75% Armenian.
In 1988, Nagorno-Karabakh voted to join Armenia, then still a part of the Soviet Union. Both Azerbaijan and the Soviet Union rejected the move and when the latter collapsed in 1991 both Azerbaijan and separatists took arms. Armenia backed the rebels and a bloody war ensued. Both sides committed atrocities and over 40,000 died. In 1994 they called a ceasefire. Azerbaijani forces withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh, leaving it under rebel control but officially Azerbaijani. Low-level conflict continued for the next 25 years.
On September 27th 2020 Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev launched a surprise rocket attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia retaliated and immediately called the draft. President Erdogan of Turkey promised to aid Azerbaijan by whatever means necessary. For the past nine days, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh exchanged rocket fire with Azerbaijan. Civilians have been the main victims and both sides have used cluster bombs, which international law prohibits.
Armenia is not without allies of its own. As a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), Russia is its greatest ally. Said nation has pushed for a peace settlement but has allegedly deployed mercenaries to Armenia’s aide. Russia does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh however and therefore will likely only intervene if Armenia itself is attacked.
Turkey is already engaged in proxy conflicts with Russia in Syria and Libya and is pushing territorial claims against Greece and Cyprus. They have deployed Syrian Jihadi mercenaries to Nagorno-Karabakh. Turkey shares an old rivalry with Russia and a bitter relationship with Armenia ever since the genocide of 1916. Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria have also rallied to Armenia’s side. Israel supplies weapons to Azerbaijan, including high-tech ‘kamikaze drones’.
Iran is pulled by both sides. On one hand, Iran has 2 million Azeri citizens and Azerbaijan is a fellow Shia Muslim country while Armenia is Christian. On the other hand, Iran and Armenia have long been close while ally Russia backs Armenia and rivals Turkey and Israel back Azerbaijan. At worst, this conflict could spin out of control and put regional powers Turkey and Russia into direct confrontation.
No countries officially recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s statehood except the fellow Caucasian disputed territories of Abkhazia, South Transnistria and North Ossetia. It shares close ties to Armenia and animosity with Azerbaijan.
Karabakh Armenians plead their right to self-determination. Azerbaijanis, meanwhile view Artsakh as an illegitimate rebel state who unlawfully displaced its Azeri inhabitants in the 1990s; as the international community sees Nagorno-Karabakh as an Azerbaijani province, they have every right to take it back. While this may be a repeat of the first Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, both sides now have stronger militaries and regional politics are far more fraught.
Sources: Ahval News, BBC, Lonely Planet, Mountainous Karabakh, The Nation, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Bears (scientific name Ursidae) are the largest land animals that eat meat. Mammals of the carniforma order, they live in Eurasia and the Americas. Despite their size and killing power, most bears are omnivores who forage more than they hunt. There are nine species of bear.
Bears evolved over 10 million years ago. Larger, older species like the North American short-faced bear and the European cave bear died out in the Ice Age. Their closest relatives are raccoons and dogs.
Bears have shaggy coats, powerful jaws and sharp claws. Unable to run for long periods, they seldom chase their prey. Instead, bears rely on foraging or killing helpless animals like seal pups or salmon. They have no natural predators and do not fear humans. What they lack in eyesight and hearing, bears make up for in scent. They do not distinguish between night and day and sleep at odd hours. In wintertime, most bears hibernate, occasionally venturing from their dens when snowfall lapses. The polar bear is the only species who stay outside all year long.
Bears mate once every two years. Males court females in the mating season but leave when the cubs are born. Bears stay with their mothers until one year old.
The American black bear is the most widespread species. They are adaptable scavengers and tree climbers who remain widespread today. Regional varieties include the cinnamon bear and the so-called Spirit, or Kermode bear (pictured) of British Columbia, of whom one in every ten have white fur.
Grizzly bears are the American variety of the brown bear. Unlike their smaller cousins, they are too big to climb most trees and owe their size to a salmon-rich diet. Grizzlies can kill bulls with a single blow of their paws. The Kodiak bear, a subspecies found in Alaska, can reach up to 600 kilograms. It is the largest bear.
The spectacled bear is the only bear in South America. Reclusive by nature, they inhabit the Andes Mountains and owe their name to brown rings by their eyes.
The Eurasian brown bear once inhabited Europe, Asia and Morocco but now lives only in isolated forests and mountains. Humans hunted brown bears and taught them to dance at circuses. Though they are highly tamable and eager to please, bears hide their expressions, meaning angry outbursts take their captors by surprise. Wojtek, a Syrian Brown Bear, served in the Polish Army in WW2 and reached the rank of corporal.
Asiatic black bears or ‘moon bears’, so-called because of the mark on their chest, inhabit the Himalayas and the mountains of East Asia. They are far smaller than the American black bear and make expert tree climbers.
Sun Bears are the smallest species of bear. They live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia and subsist mainly from honey and insects.
Sloth bears live in India. Though small and slow, they have sharp claws and can be highly aggressive, particularly towards humans. In the English-speaking world, the most famous Sloth Bear is Baloo from the Jungle Book.
Giant pandas are a small and highly specialized population native to a remote part of China. Unlike other bears, they are entirely herbivorous and eat only bamboo. Biologists considered them bears until the 1950s when they determined they part of the raccoon family. Recent scholarship has reclassified them as bears.
Polar bears are the only entirely carnivorous bears. Living on the Arctic Circle, they are the most accomplished swimmers in the bear family and hunt mainly seals and walrus pups. They are the largest carnivorous mammals. Due to lack of historical exposure, polar bears do not fear humans and are the only bears who will actively hunt them. Other bears attack humans only out of fear or desperation.
Due to their power and unique appearance, bears feature heavily in human folklore. The indigenous peoples of northern Eurasia, from the Ainu of Japan to the Sami of Scandinavia viewed them as sacred, as did many Native American and First Nation peoples. The ancient Greeks believed the constellations Ursa Major and Minor were nymphs transformed into bears. As it exists in both Eurasia and North America, the associations of bears with the ‘cosmic hunt’ is likely over 13,000 years old.
Sources: New Illustrated Animal Kingdom Volume 4, World Wildlife Fund
The Ruc are a small tribe indigenous to the mountains of Quang Ngai province, Vietnam. Until 1959, they lived in complete isolation from the outside world as they had for thousands of years. The Ruc were hunter-gatherers who lived in caves and grottos and shunned contact with mainstream Vietnamese society. Upon their discovery, the North Vietnamese government forced their integration. Today they no longer live as hunter-gatherers and are recognised as one of Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minorities.
Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a land of dense mountain jungle that houses the world’s largest caves and oldest limestone deposit. The Ruc have lived there since the Stone Age and their name means ‘cave people’ in a local dialect.
To the ethnic Vietnamese that farmed the lowlands, these mountains were a wilderness home to dangerous beasts and mysterious tribes. Though their ancestors likely settled northern Vietnam at the same time, while the lowlanders adopted agriculture and formed kingdoms, the Ruc and their cousins maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle free from outside influence.
In 1959, a group of North Vietnamese soldiers were investigating the aftermath of a bombing in the mountains of Quang Ngai when they spotted a band of ‘forest people’. The strangers were short, naked and incredibly agile. They fled up trees and into caves and grottos. The soldiers followed them and spent all day persuading eleven families to relocate to a nearby village.
Rather than leave them be, the authorities forced integration. According to communist doctrine, history is progressive and the Ruc would be better off by settling down and adapting to modern, agricultural society than remaining in their primitive and oblivious state. By 1971 the Ruc had all abandoned their caves and were living in permanent homes.
The Ruc moved into state-provided houses, and their numbers grew from 109 in 1971 to 500 today. Many longed for their old ways, however, and to this day some still live in caves up to three months a year. In 2013 Ho Tien Nam became the first Ruc to graduate from university. He now works as a teacher.
Anthropologists place the Ruc language in the Chut group, which encompasses five other indigenous tongues and is part of the Austroasiatic family. Their ancestors may have retreated to the mountains when farmers settled northern Vietnam. Their language is small and, because they had no tribal or family names, after 1971 they took Vietnamese ones.
Traditionally the Ruc foraged for food, mainly the edible powder of the Doac tree, fished and hunted small animals. They slept standing up. Ruc believed in magic and cast spells to protect from pregnancy, stave off wild beasts or in, in some cases, cause harm. These spells and rituals are upheld by elders with secrecy and reverence. In 2005, scientists identified the small animal Ruc hunted as the Laotian Rock Rat, an animal they thought died out 11 million years ago.
Sources: English-Vietnam, Species Conservation, Spiritual Travellers Blog, UNESCO
Prathet Ku Mee (Which is my country), is a 2018 protest song by 10 Thai rappers called ‘Rap Against Dictatorship’. The music video targets the country’s military regime, corruption and legal double-standards in a pounding and defiant delivery reminiscent of late 80s and 90s American hip-hop. Uploaded in October 2018, it has over 89 million views. In May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation awarded them the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissen.
Thailand has had the most coups of any country. The military seized power in 2014 and has yet to relinquish it, despite promises of a return to democracy.
The song is viciously critical – a bold move in a country where censorship is strong and offending the wrong people can put you in jail. Some wear masks, others do not. Under aliases, the rappers criticise the military for interfering in politics and ruling through fear and the conformity of Thai society. It mentions:
- construction tycoon getting away with poaching and eating an endangered black leopard in February 2018
- the heir of Red Bull getting away with vehicular manslaughter
- judges building estates in a sacred national park
- the Prime Minister’s Rolex collection
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha condemned the song for inciting unrest and violence, and being ‘un-Thai’. In November he commissioned a government rap video in response. It is as bad as you might expect.
Despite their objections, the Thai government did not block Rap Against Dictatorship. Doing so would involve shutting down the whole of Youtube and causing public scandal – more trouble than it was worth. Thailand’s economy and politics are closely tied to the West and it lacks the state capacity China enjoys to build its own internet. They did, however, threaten to jail anyone who shared the video for 5 years.
Hip-hop serves an apt vessel for the frustration and resentment of these young men against injustice in their home.
The video is shot in black and white, the rappers performing on a backdrop of a cheering crowd. The only colour to feature is red white and blue of the Thai flag, emblazoned on the guitar playing near the end. It is revealed the crowd are cheering not the men rapping, but a man beating a limp corpse hanging from a tree with a chair.
This grisly scene is from the 1976 Thammasat Massacre, where conservative paramilitaries slaughtered 200 pro-democracy activists. It shows a counter-demonstrator beating a student’s corpse with a chair as it hangs from a tamarind tree. The photograph was caught by American Neil Ulevich and won the Pulitzer Prize. Amongst activists today, ‘chair’ is slang for establishment brutality.
Rap Against Dictatorship say nothing has changed. The soldiers still control the state, and ‘fuck the law with a machine gun’. What’s worse, the ’76 Thammasat massacre is taught nowhere in Thailand and the government is doing its best to disappear it from collective memory – an Orwellian move reminiscent of Tiananmen Square.
In February 2019 the Thai government held elections, on the precondition the military hold half the National Assembly’s seats in reserve. Prayut Chan-Ocha won with 99% of the vote. Echoing those of 1976, student protests erupted in August 2020.
Orcadian Folklore covers the folk traditions, superstitions and myths of the Orkney Islands. This archipelago, in the northern tip of Scotland, shares traditions with the Shetlands and Faroe Islands that reflect its Norse-Gaelic heritage. It includes eerie accounts of sea serpents, trows and shapeshifting seals.
The Orkneys have a population of 22,000 and a landscape of treeless hills and towering crags. Strong winds are common and temperatures rarely exceed 12 degrees celcius.
In the Stone Age, indigenous Orcadians built villages and megaliths out of stone slabs. The Picts inhabited the islands in Roman times. In the 9th century, Vikings took over and ruled the Orkneys until Scotland annexed the region in 1472. Today both the Orkney dialect and gene pool is three-quarters Scottish and one-quarter Scandinavian.
Two factors give Orkney folklore its unique flavour:
- Geography. The North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean in the Orkneys, making for notoriously stormy waters. Seals, sharks and sea birds are a common sight, drowning a common death.
- Ruins. Megaliths, barrow mounds and ancient stone villages dominate the Orkneys. Built around 3,000 BC, they awed later inhabitants and earned a hallowed reputation. Ancient sites inspired myths of fairies and ‘hidden people’ who called them home.
Trows are the foremost of these ‘hidden people’. Squat goblin-like creatures, they inhabit hinterlands and barrows of Orkney. Their name derives from the Scandinavian ‘troll’. Like trolls, they are ugly and malicious, like fairies small and mischievous. Trows kidnap human babies and replace them with their own. The ‘hogboon’ was a more benevolent house-spirit.
Sea Serpents are common. The Stoorworm was a sea dragon with a monstrous appetite. According to legend, Assipattle the farmer’s son, slew it by sneaking into the Stoorworm’s belly and lighting a peat fire in its liver. In 1804 fishermen found the Stronsay Beast, an unidentified carcass washed at sea – 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. Scientists concluded it was a decomposed basking shark.
Selkies are shapeshifters who take the form of humans on land and seals at sea. While their human forms are beguiling, they can only revert through their sealskin. Stories abound of selkies who take human lovers and the complications that subsequently arise. Selkie myths spread from the Orkneys to Iceland, the Faroes, Shetlands, western Scotland and parts of Ireland.
Finnfolk are malicious sea spirits who abduct humans. Their summer home is the vanishing isle of Hildaland, their winter home is Finnfolkaheem, deep beneath the sea. Finnmen prey on fishermen who sail too far out to sea. Their daughters are mermaids. If one fails to find a human husband, she must marry a finnman and will rapidly wither into a haggish ‘finnwife’ thereafter. They then take to land and funnel silver back to their husbands. Orcadians blamed finnfolk for death at sea.
Selkies and Finnfolk may be of common origin. There are three possible explanations:
- Sami. The Norwegians used to view their reindeer herding neighbours as magic-workers to be feared and avoided. They called them ‘Finnar’. The Finnfolk could have come from misremembered accounts brought by Norwegian colonists.
- Inuit. Orcadian fishermen occasionally saw Greenland Inuit at sea. Dressed in sealskin robes and rowing canoes, they looked alien to the fisherman, who kept their distance and reported the sightings to their families.
- Medical conditions. Syndallacty is when children have conjoined fingers and/or toes resembling a seal’s flipper. It is hereditary and used to be common in the Orkneys; people claimed it came from selkie ancestry.
In February 2019, 52 polar bears descended on a Russian settlement in the Arctic Circle. They ransacked rubbish dumps and overran the town in search of food, walking through schoolyards and open corridors. The village of Belushya Guba declared a national emergency.
Novaya Zemlya, meaning ‘New Land’ is an island chain around the size of Cuba in the Russian Arctic. Its 3,000 inhabitants include those in the military, oil and gas industry and their families. 1,987 of them live in Belushya Guba, its largest settlement. Since the 1950s, the Soviet and Russian governments have used the island for airfields, oil extraction and nuclear testing.
Polar bears live on the island’s coasts. During the summer they converge on the southern end to hunt seals but usually avoid the inland settlements. As global temperatures increase and ice sheets melt, the bears stray closer and closer to human settlements. Specialist patrols keep the polar bears at bay and scare them off when they get too close. Polar bears are endangered and under Russian law and it is illegal to kill them or shoot them with live rounds. Whilst polar bears are the only bears to eat only meat, and the only species known to purposely hunt humans, they rarely attack humans unless acting out of fear or desperation.
Fifty-two bears converged on the outskirts on Belushya Guba in December 2018. Patrols tried to ward them off with vehicles, warning shots and dogs but, undeterred, the bears marched on. By February the ursine ‘invaders’ entered the town. They gathered at local rubbish dumps and scavenged for food as the town’s inhabitants locked their doors and hid inside. On the 16th of February, the provincial government declared an emergency as the bears roamed free through the streets and schoolyards. While the inhabitants cowered in terror, the polar bears amazingly left them be with no reported casualties. Governemnt watchdogs denied a town request to shoot the bears.
Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals. 2019 was the hottest year on record and, as the Arctic Ice sheet continues to melt, the bears search for alternative food sources. Polar bears are massive animals however and, unlike their smaller cousins, cannot sustain themselves on human scraps. A high protein diet is essential to their survival.
A team of specialists eventually fended off the bears and the town set up more rigorous patrols and bear-proof fences around schools and kindergartens. Though not matching the ‘invasion’ of February, polar bears continued to wonder into villages throughout Novaya Zemyla.
Sources: BBC, BGR, Polar Bear Science, RT
Giraffe ghosts are a phenomenon alleged by the Humr people of Sudan. They emerge after one consumes umm nyolokh, a drink made from giraffe liver and bone marrow.
The Humr are a tribe within the Arabic-speaking Messiriya, themselves a part of North Africa’s Baggara (cattle herder) people. Humr inhabit the narrow belt of Savannah between Lake Chad and the White Nile. Although many now live in cities, Humr traditionally herded cattle and supplemented their diet by hunting elephants and giraffes.
Scottish anthropologist Ian Cunnison (1923 – 2013) documented Humr customs in the early 1950s on behalf of the newly independent Sudanese government. He described umm nyolokh, a ‘delicious drink’ made from grounded liver and marrow of giraffes. Cunnison reported its consumers experienced dreamlike visions of phantom giraffes walking the horizon. He did not try it himself. Cunnison believed them hallucinations, though as giraffes do not contain psychedelic properties, he attributed them to placebo.
From ‘Hunting the Giraffes’, Sudan Notes and Records (1958):
“I have already mentioned the drink umm nyolokh of giraffe liver and marrow, which many regard as the supreme moment of the expedition. It is said that a person, once he has drunk umm nyolokh, will return to giraffes again and again. Humr, being Mahdists, are strict abstainers and a Humrawi is never drunk (sakran) on liquor or beer. But he uses the word to describe the effects of umm nyolokh upon him. (It is also used for a man’s condition on drinking large quantities of sour milk, which results in a breakdown of inhibitions.) I can only assume there is no intoxicating substance in the drink and that the effect it produces is simply a matter of convention though it may be brought about subconsciously. Its warmth, its delicious taste, and consistency produce an effect of physical contentment on Humr, and probably do to whoever drank it.
It is followed frequently by dreams of giraffe, and I have heard a man wake shortly after drinking it shouting “giraffe on your left”. This was regarded as a typical effect. In the waking state, also, men swear they see giraffe through the forest or over the plain where there are none at all. In the absence of any physiological explanation, these phenomena may perhaps be regarded as an indication to which the Humrawi’s being is permeated with thoughts of giraffe.”
Richard Rudgley’s ‘Encyclopedia of Psychedelic Substances’ (1998) pulled Cunnison’s observations from obscurity. Rudgley speculated the visions came from Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the umm nyolokh. Both Sudan’s giraffe species – the Kordofan and Nubian – eat a an acacia tree that contains DMT.
The theory holds that the psychoactive chemicals were stored in the giraffes’ liver and marrow, which in turn was consumed as umm nyolokh. The only psychedelic known animals are species of fish and frog, though mammals can store chemical compounds in their bloodstream after consuming hallucinogens. Siberian shamans used to eat magic mushrooms and produce hallucinogenic urine.
DMT elicits amorphous visions which differ according to the person seeing them. Of all hallucinogenic compounds, it is the most powerful and least understood. Shamans and the esoterically inclined believe its visions are not the product of one’s mind but glimpses of phenomena ‘out there’, independent of the viewer and imperceptible in regular, waking consciousness. Such thought aligns the claim of giraffe ghosts though is near impossible to prove by scientific methods. In either case, it is likely cultural presuppositions which inform the specific vision of giraffes rather than the fact that animal filters the DMT.
Cunnison was the only person to write about umm nyolokh first hand; no one else reported it since. The Humr are far from an obscure hunter-gatherer band though their way of life has changed since the 1950s, as savannah turns to desert. Today both Nubian and Kordofan giraffes teeter on the verge of extinction. Whether their ghosts still walk, or if they ever did, we simply do not know.
Sources: Giraffe Conservation, The Guardian, Ian Cunnison – Sudan Notes and Records (1958), Richard Rudgley – Encyclopedia of Psychadelic Substabces (1998)
The rule of three is a storytelling convention popular in fables, folk tales and children’s stories. It is when something happens two times with the same result then a third with a different one. Examples include:
- The Three Little Pigs
- The Three Billy Goats Gruff
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears
You see it a lot in western fairy tales. Snow White’s stepmother tries to kill her three times. Jack climbs the beanstalk three times. In Aesop, the boy cries wolf three times. In modern screenwriting, Aristotle’s Three Act Structure still predominates.
In other fields, the rule of three goes much further. Popular wisdom claims ‘third time’s the charm’. Art theory employs the parallel ‘rule of thirds’ and rules of three apply to statistics, survival and aviation. Of the world’s 194 recognised countries, 174 have three colours in their flags.
Rhetoric also uses the rule of three. Adages with three beats are easier to remember and recall. In his 1940 address, Churchill actually promised ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat, but people remembered it as ‘blood sweat and tears’.
- Veni, Vedi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)
- Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite
- Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
- Friends, Romans, Countrymen
- Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll
- Stop, look and listen
- On your marks, get set, go!
- Mirror, indicate, manoeuvre
- First, second and third place
- Rock, paper scissors
- Mind, body and soul
- Past, present, future
- Beginning, middle, end
We see three dimensions. There are three primary tenses and three primary colours. Modern governments have three branches and there are three emergency services.
Pythagoras claimed three was the noblest number as it was the only one who equalled the sum of its predecessors. 1+2=3. The Socratic method relies on asking three questions in a row. Chinese numerology considers the number three lucky.
You also see the motif in religion and mythology. Hinduism has the Trimurti (Brahman the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer), Christianity has its Holy Trinity, Greek mythology has the three sons of Chronos (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades), Buddhism has the Threefold Path of ethics, wisdom and meditation. The Zoroastrian mantra is ‘Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.’ Divisions of existence into three planes (generally, but not always Heaven, Earth and Underworld) is also common. The trope is most prevalent in Indo-European traditions, perhaps owing to their societies’ ancient threefold division into warriors, priests and farmers.
The rule of three makes telling it easier to tell a story from memory – especially true with jokes – where the punchline is delivered on the third try. Three allows sufficient variety and complexity without confusion. The first two beats start a rhythm, the third adds a surprise. Three is the smallest number to make a pattern.
Sources: Jonathon Crossfield, TV Tropes, Wikipedia
The Hagia Sophia, meaning ancient wisdom in Greek, is a historic place of worship in Istanbul, Turkey. A Christian basilica for over a thousand years, it became a mosque, then a museum and, as of July 2020, a mosque once more.
Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sophia in 532, when Istanbul was Constantinople and capital of the Byzantine Empire. Built of marble, concrete, porphyry and stucco, it contained the largest dome and was the largest church for 1,000 years. Hagia Sophia is the crowning achievement of Byzantine architecture. Referencing the old temple in Jerusalem, Justinian allegedly said ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee’. He and his successors filled the basilica with mosaics depicting Byzantine emperors and empresses and Orthodox saints, priceless artifacts today. Byzantine domes as represented in Hagia Sophia became a staple of Islamic architecture.
In 1453, Sultan Mehmet of the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople. Rather than destroy or maintain Hagia Sophia, he converted it into a mosque. As Islam prohibits religious icons, he replaced some mosaics with Arabic calligraphy and concealed others. The Ottomans added four minarets to the structure and buried five of their sultans in Hagia Sophia. Orthodox Christians, who form the majority in Greece and many Eastern European countries, mourned the conversion of their holy site.
The Ottoman Empire fell in 1918. By 1922, Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey. A devoted secularist, Ataturk officially closed the Hagia Sophia to worship in 1934. He opened it instead as a museum; a monument to Istanbul’s multicultural heritage and a gallery of its intricate artwork. He commissioned John Whittlemore, an an American archaeologist to restore the damaged mosaics. By doing so, Ataturk hoped to heal old wounds and invoke the image of a new and secular Turkey in place of the theocratic Ottoman Empire. UNESCO named it a world heritage site in 1984, proclaiming its ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. As of 2020, Hagia Sophia receives 37 million visitors a year.
Enter 2020. Tayyip Erdogan, a longtime president popular with conservative Turkish Muslims, loses his political hold on Istanbul in a landslide. On 10th July the Turkish court ratifies his decision to annul Hagia Sophia’s museum status and make it a mosque once again. It will be open to all religions and nationalities outside of prayer times, during which its mosaics will be covered up.
Critics accuse Erdogan of firing up his base in the face of a looming election and reversing his souring popularity. Patriarch Bartholomew (right), the Istanbul based Orthodox leader called the decision ‘disappointing’, the World Council of Churches expressed ‘grief and dismay’, Patriarch Kiril of Moscow called it a ‘threat to Christian civilization’. UNESCO mentioned the move was done without their consent and could breach the 1972 World Heritage Convention. Erdogan stated it was in his rights as the site falls under Turkish national authority. Reactions within the country were mixed.
Turkey sits on the crossroads of east and west. Ataturk sought to make it a secular country but since Erdogan took power, Turkey is pulling away from its founding principles to Erdogan’s blend of conservative authoritarianism. Having so dismayed its members, particularly Greece, Turkey is unlikely to join the EU under his rule.
Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC, Greek Reporter, UNESCO, Washington Post