Saturday, January 23, 2010

Farmers on the move, 8000 BCE

This blog is called Muhlberger's Early History for a good reason: I'm often making a connection between things that happened centuries ago and things that our neighbors are doing somewhere in the world today. In the classroom I love talking about remote origins. If I were teaching ancient history now, you'd bet this would be included ( exceerpt from the UK's Daily Mail):

European farming began around 9,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent - a region extending from the eastern coast to the Persian Gulf and which includes modern day Iraq, Syria, and southeast .

The region was the cradle of civilisation and home to the Babylonia, Sumer and Assyrian empires.

The development of farming allowed people to settle down for the first time - and to produce more food than they needed, leading to trade and the freedom to develop new skills such as metal working, building and writing.

Some archaeologists have argued that some of these early farmers travelled around the world - settling new lands and bringing farming skills with them.

But others have insisted that the skills were passed on by word of mouth, and not by mass migration.

The new study suggests the farmers routinely upped sticks and moved west when their villages became too crowded, eventually reaching Britain and .

The waves of migrants brought their new skills with them. Some settled down with local tribes and taught them how to farm, the researchers believe.

'When the expansion happened these men had a reproductive advantage because they were able to grow more food so they were more attractive to women and had more offspring,' said Prof Jobling.

'In total more than 80 per cent of European men have Y chromosomes which descend from incoming farmers.

'It seems odd to think that the majority of men in Ireland have fore fathers from the near East and that British people have forefathers from the near East.'

The findings are published in the science journal PLoS Biology.

Dr Patricia Balaresque, a co-author of the study, said: 'This means that more than 80 per cent of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers.'

In contrast, other studies have shown that DNA passed down from mothers to daughters can be traced by to hunter-gatherers in Europe, she said.

'To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to be a farmer,' she said.

I don't think anyone had a clue about this 20 years ago when I first taught Ancient Civilizations. What fun!

(And let's hear it for SE Turkey getting proper credit.)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some follow-up on recent Turkish history

Over at the serious but not very seriously named blog, The Duck of Minerva, a short discussion by an expert, Peter Henne (the right doctoral candidate is usually pretty expert) on recent developments in Turkish and Armenian relations. I feel that my discussion of post-Ataturk Turkey was pretty inadequate in the Islamic Civilization course, so for those of you who are still hanging around, here's a primer. I particularly draw your attention to this:

While there are many factors at work, it is very likely that this is part of a broader shift in Turkish security policy under the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in 2002. The party’s electoral victory prompted concerns about the group’s commitment to democratic norms and the possibility it will institute Islamic law. The concerns proved unfounded, however, with the AKP acting as responsible reformists; ironically, the Turkish military—the guardians of secularism—emerged as the greatest threat to democracy in the country, threatening several times to remove the AKP from power. Yet, while the AKP is not a radical force in the mould of the Taliban, their rise to power did change Turkey through the redefinition of Turkish identity and the incorporation of religious influences.

The Turkish political system began to open up in the 1990s, and increasing popular pressure on the state’s actions gradually broke the military’s exclusive hold on security policy. This also undermined the military’s monopoly over what security means, exposing this to popular contestation as well. The AKP’s rise was part of this, advancing a conception of Turkish security that questioned the state’s US ties and was more concerned with global Muslim opinion than its predecessors’. This was not a revolutionary rejection of the West, though, as Turkey continues to view itself as European and the AKP actually criticized the secular parties for not pushing hard enough on gaining accession to the European Union.

And this:

Yet, this has also involved a break with Turkey’s secular nationalist legacy, which could prove positive. While the AKP has advocated an increased role for Islam in Turkish society, it has simultaneously deemphasized the significance of ethnic divisions and attacked ethnic Turkic chauvinism. The party launched major outreach campaigns to the Kurdish population—although Kurdish parties won out over the AKP in 2009 local elections—and has proved more willing to compromise on the Armenian issue, as its identity is not tied as tightly to the founding myths of Turkish nationalism (which include downplaying crimes against the Armenians). Interestingly, the digging up of the Kurdish graves was enabled through the arrest of several security officials who were involved in actions against the Kurds; they were arrested on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the AKP in early 2009.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Archaeological riches of Ephesus (Turkey)

Jonathan Jarrett's blog A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe has a fascinating piece inspired by a seminar talk by Professor Charlotte Roueché on the challenges of archaeology at Ephesus (mainly, a common one: everyone wants to concentrate on their favorite period) and the particular insights that can be gained at this amazing locale:

[T]he extent of stone-carving in these cities, which is huge—Professor Roueché had a picture of a fair-sized wall at Aphrodisias covered in imperial edicts, including Diocletian’s price edict which you may have heard of and which we only have from stone—was apparently dwarfed by the number of more temporary painted inscriptions. Such an amazingly lettered culture is implied by this that it does seem quite alien to Westerners, who too often acquire an idea that writing is the preserve of the Latin Church. At Ephesus, the theatre seats are covered in carved graffiti; as Professor Roueché said you begin to think that everyone was carrying a chisel and hammer in their back pocket in case they passed a blank surface…

Lots more good stuff there!

Also, Jarrett has, for you philosophical scholars and would-be scholars, a meditation
on owning books.

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Moon over Byzantium

From this wonderful site. Click to find the moon and see the image in its full glory.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Middle East at the end of 2007

For any of my readers who might be interesting in summaries of what the Middle East is actually like at the moment -- since just following the headlines, whether or not they are honestly composed, is not very helpful -- I have two recommendations.

The first is from Juan Cole, who posts on Informed Comment a count-down list of Top 10 Challenges Facing the US in the Middle East, 2008. Though formally composed as recommendations to Americans, the analysis is less US-centric that most US political discussions, which focus on "the horserace," i.e., which American political actor is ahead in which media-defined race. Cole actually discusses what foreigners want.

For Iraq, I recommend the last few entries from the blog Inside Iraq by the Iraqi correspondents of the US McClatchy news service. There is a tiny bit of good news, but my non-expert impression is that the civil war is about half over and I have no idea how it will end up.

Image: "The grim world of Warhammer." If only great big hammers were the worst we had to worry about!

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Friday, October 19, 2007

America's fraying alliance with Turkey

An op-ed in the LA Times lists all the reasons that US foreign policy pressures are unwelcome to Turkey, a long-time NATO ally and sort-of successful democracy. To be brief, on just about every issue that's important to Turkey, US positions are having a negative impact. It's a long list.

I have to wonder if you could make a list just as long for most Middle Eastern countries, and for many outside the Middle East.

Image: The Bosphorus at Istanbul

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The complexities of the hijab -- Turkey's upcoming elections

An unusually excellent article in today's Washington Post discusses head scarves in Turkey and how they are at the moment one of the keys to Turkish politics (even Turks seem a bit bemused by this).

Sensibly, perhaps, the article focuses more on what the wearers think than on what the opponents do. For that alone it is worth a look.

It might be interesting to make a list of countries where wearing a hijab looks like a threat to the constitution. Do any but the nuttiest nuts in the USA feel that way? Yet quite a few people in France and Turkey get really charged up on the subject.

Certainly one can see where this attitude comes from in Turkey. It strikes me that the vital issue there is whether women will have a real choice about expressing religion, or not, through headwear. For Turkish women does the wearing of hijab by some mean that soon all will be required to? That's the fear on one side. On the other, those who want to wear hijab certainly face restrictions, and the article shows them desiring the freedom to be Islamic in public.

It would have been interesting if the reporter had asked the hijab wearers about the freedom of other women not to wear hijab -- or did I miss something?

Update: More on the election and the issues from the Washington Post.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Zsa Zsa Gabor meets Ataturk

Ataturk was the founder of the secular republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, and one of the most fascinating of the between-the-wars strongmen. From the blog Progressive Historians, a story -- true? -- of one woman's meeting with him in later life. I've given you a link to Part IV -- page back for more, wait with me for the rest of the tale.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Here's where it gets really messy

Or should I say, here's where the catastrophe widens unstoppably? I hope that's wrong.

Juan Cole in his blog Informed Comment, points to a story in the UK's Guardian reporting that Turkey, after years of restraint, is threatening to invade Iraq to deal with Turkish Kurd guerrillas (the PKK) hiding there, if the United States doesn't do something about the PKK's hideouts there.

Since the war began, I've been reading (often in blog comments) that "the Turks will do something crazy and then we [= the USA, the West, the world] will be in trouble." It never seems to occur to anyone that the Turks have been, despite great provocation, very uncrazy. No doubt because they actually live in the Middle East (or is it Europe? the eternal question) and know how bad things can get. Certainly they don't want all of Iraq's troubles to spill over their border. Iraq was in terrible shape before the invasion; Turkey is a reasonably stable and productive country that might someday be part of the EU.

But this news out of Turkey is ominous. The man making the demands on the US (which may not be capable of doing anything on the Turkish frontier in any case) is not some general or some editor, but the foreign minister Abdullah Gul.

We'll see.

Back to Juan Cole, whom I cited earlier: this University of Michigan professor has been running one of the great war-related resources for a long time now. He summarizes a lot of material in non-European languages and has links to lots of easier to read news and commentary. He often discusses material that no one in the professional media is discussing in depth. I don't always go along with his opinions, but I read his blog every day I'm by a computer.

Cole has now started a new blog to complement Informed Comment, i.e., Informed Comment: Global Affairs, in which he is teaming up with other observers to comment on a wider number of issues. (And maybe start a TV franchise!). The first blog post on IC:GA was two days ago, and since then it's covered some interesting stories indeed: female genital cutting in Egypt (perhaps some good news on that; at least some perspective); the new amusement park in Qandahar, Afghanistan; and the gasoline shortage and riots in Iran.

The story on Iran brings up some facts not usually discussed, especially that having large amounts of cheap oil in the ground can have disastrous effects on the domestic economy. Canada exports lots of oil and gas, but we do have other things to sell (like wood pulp and nickel, and oh, yeah, a little brainpower). If oil prices dropped dramatically tomorrow it would have some serious effects on parts of the economy, but I bet the federal budget would still be balanced next year. Cheaper energy might reduce the prices of Canadian manufacturing and allow our international customers to buy more of our resources.

If the price of oil dropped tomorrow, the governments of Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria would be in serious, immediate trouble. In fact, with oil at or near an all-time high, Iran is already in trouble. The government is hooked on high world prices, and the population is hooked on low domestic prices, which makes life a little more tolerable. Iran is like many other countries where oil is just about the only prop holding up a poorly developed economy.

Canada's economy could use some diversification, both in what we make and who we sell it to, but so far our economy and our government haven't been corrupted by oil wealth.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Two developments of interest to students of Islamic Civilization

I am writing this and subsequent similar posts for the benefit of the students who just finished the course in Islamic Civilization, if any are still reading and any regular or chance readers who are also interested in recent news about Islam and Muslims. I have two items for today.

This past week saw an election for President in France, which was won by the "conservative" candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy. I put "conservative" in quotation marks because old terms like "conservative" and "liberal" have all sorts of meanings and certainly don't translate well across political systems, or generations. Heaven knows, for instance, what "conservative" is supposed to mean in the United States these days.

In any case, Sarkozy, who is a descendant of Hungarian immigrants himself, is widely considered to be anti-immigrant, especially Muslim immigrants. As a result of French colonialism in North and West Africa, there are a lot of French Muslims, some of whom come from families that have been there for generations. Juan Cole a few days back had an extended piece on his blog, Informed Comment, discussing what Sarkozy's narrow French nationalism -- leaning toward an ethnic or cultural or racial national identity rather than a civic one, "open to all ethnicities." If you know nothing about this set of issues I'd recommend taking a look; if you know more than Cole does, or have a different view, please comment, or send a link to something good.

Phil Paine, still traveling in Europe, has been writing about similar issues. Recently he found himself in the poor but famous London district of Whitechapel, where he saw unhappy Muslim youth wandering the street, radiating a sense of being excluded. Phil, who has lived in Toronto practically since it was "The Belfast of the North," has experienced many waves of immigration and I take his observations on such a matter very seriously. Here's what he says on another tricky word, "multiculturalism:"

I hear repeated references to “multiculturalism“ in Britain, but the word seems to have a different flavour here than back in Canada. In Britain, it seems to refer to government and institutional efforts to get Britons to accept Muslims as fellow-citizens, or at least to tolerate their presence. In Canada, acceptance is taken more or less for granted. The word there refers to the efforts of immigrant community organizations to preserve and transmit the elements of traditional cultures to the generation born and raised in Canada. One usage presumes that assimilation is difficult, the other that it is so swift and effective that there is a danger that parents and children might not understand each other. But the two countries have such profoundly different histories and social systems that the different attitudes and results are understandable.

This brings to mind my mind the "immigrant grandmother test" which I put forward on the very rare occasions I hear someone of old Canadian stock making remarks about immigrants not fitting in. I say, ask any immigrant grandmother about her grandkids. She'll say, perhaps sadly, "Oh, they are Canadian."

For more on this from Phil: go here and read the May 4th entry.

Another recent set of developments come out of Turkey. My former students know that the constitution and philosophy of Turkey is secular, despite the fact that 99% of the Turkish population is Muslim. This is due to the fact that Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who built the modern Turkish state on the post-WW I ruins of the Ottoman Empire, was personally quite hostile to Islam and believed that the Turks had to join "the whole civilized world" by adopting European standards in just about every sphere of life, from the alphabet, to the law, to the wearing of fedoras instead of fezzes or turbans.

As you may imagine, a strictly secular constitution in an overwhelmingly Muslim country doesn't suit everybody, and for the last 20 years or so political parties that prize the Islamic heritage have proved pretty popular at the polls. The current ruling AK party (controls the cabinet and parliament but not the presidency) is one of these. Recently the AK put forward its foreign minister as a candidate for president, a powerful post. A significant number of people took to the streets to protest this nomination in the name of Ataturk's vision. In one interview I saw, a woman in her 60s said that the AK was trying to take them back to "the Dark Ages."
AK's candidate was blocked in parliament when the opposition parties were able to deny quorumm on the crucial vote. What's going to happen next? A law may be passed making the presidency a popularly-elected post.

In the past, when threats to Ataturk's model, whether socialist or religious, seemed to be strong, the Turkish military, which sees itself as the guarantor of his legacy, has intervened, either behind the scenes or through an open military coup. For them and many others, secularism trumps democracy. Could a coup be launched this? What would be the consequences for Turkey and the world? Remember, this is the most stable country in the Middle East, a candidate for European Union membership. Should it prove to be unstable...(an article that cites Algerian experience since 1990 as a warning).

On the other hand, what happens if AK takes control through democratic means? Plenty are willing to argue that they are a democratic organization, hardly extremists. But there are violent extremists in Turkey, as in most other places, and other Turks fear them.

Update: A huge demonstration of secular Turks against the ruling Islamist party on May 12.

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