Saturday was the Women’s March and today is MLK Day, making me reflect on the Civil Rights movement and social change in general. MLK represents many different things to so many people and I think everything we project on him can sometimes obscure the man and the many people around him, who fought just as hard and sacrificed just as much. And I think that was MLK’s greatest gift and legacy-empowering, not only a nation, but each and every individual who came in contact with him to fight for justice and for what’s right. Today, I want to write about two such people, two women who I deeply admire and can’t help but be inspired by: Dorothy Height and Fannie Lou Hamer. Hopefully, this way I can pay my respects to the Women’s March and MLK’s and the Civil Rights Movement’s legacy.
Dorothy Height, once described by civil rights leader, James Farmer, as one of the “Big Six” of the civil rights movement, was a women’s and civil rights activist who dedicated herself to African-American issues such as unemployment, illiteracy, and voter awareness. She was a well-recognized figure of the civil rights era, presiding over the National Council of Negro Women from 1957 to 1997, founding the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership, and forming the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom.
Yesterday, I was going to write a blog post about the 100th year anniversary of the WWI armistice and of Poland’s independence, but I couldn’t find the right words. I wanted to celebrate with Poland (lord knows they desert it), while also properly reflecting on the war that killed 7 million civilians and 10 million military personal, shattered three empires, and created a decade of instability and civil wars, culminating in the Second Word War.
Tuesday 25, April 1916 was a fine, spring day. There had been gentle showers earlier, but the land had dried since then, and the rest of week promised to be warm. After a disastrous start on Easter Sunday, things had gone as smoothly as could be expected for Irish Volunteer, Lieutenant Richard Mulcahy. After reporting to the GPO in Dublin on Monday, he and two other Volunteers were sent into the countryside to destroy the telegraph lines at Howth. Despite one Volunteer needing to be sent back for his rifle and briefly being stopped by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), they reached their target and easily severed the lines. Mulcahy on his way back to headquarters, stumbled upon the Fingal (5th) battalion, led by the charismatic and courageous Commandant Thomas Ashe. Mulcahy was instantly recognized and made Ashe’s second in command. Together, they would spend a week, utilizing basic guerilla tactics to terrorize British forces in the countryside of Dublin County and capture three different British garrisons. They would end the week, with the Battle of Ashbourne, a desperate struggle that would pit Ashe’s leadership and Mulcahy’s analytical mind against the RIC’s discipline, arms, and experience. The battle, while often overshadows by the drama unfurling within Dublin, would provide a taste of what was to come during the Anglo-Irish War.
Since it is Halloween, I thought it would be fun to write a post about the five notorious historical figures who have either inspired supernatural creatures or were confused for supernatural creatures.
I’ve been thinking about Balakian’s memoir and two points that stuck out the most to me were: the international community’s culpability/lack of proper response and Turkey’s complaints once the Armenians were murdered.
Starting with the Turk’s complaints, it’s so similar to the U.S. right now, it’s terrifying. Balakin writes that the Armenians were the core of Turkey’s economic, serving at its craftsmen, artisans, lawyers, farmers, etc. Balakian might have exaggerated the importance of his people to highlight the horror and stupidity of Turkish policy towards the Armenians, but there is some evidence to support his claims. When the Armenians were taken and killed, the Turkish peasants asked where the Armenians had gone, when were they returning, and when were the fields going to be plowed? Every time Balakian talks to a Turk, they complained about how no one was making anything, and people were starving because no one was harvesting, etc.
This is similar to the U.S. After the current president talked about building a wall, cracked down on undocumented immigrants, and seated families, American farmers complained about a lack of workers and their inability to harvest all their crops and tech companies worried about losing their immigrant workers. While a minority can be easy to blame when things go badly or when a nation needs to be ‘united’, they are often the backbone of the society and economy. Balakian wrote that during their march to death, his caravan would pass farms that once belonged to the Armenians. The crops were left on the vines and Turks were starving because they didn’t harvest the food.
The centrality of the minority to the economy, makes the arguments that they’re hurting the country almost believable. Even though they are the ‘minority’ and are being exploited, they seemed ‘everywhere’ and control ‘everything’ somehow making them responsible for everything going wrong. It’s a twisted and terrifying logic that contains enough ‘truth’ to be believed. The obvious solution, is to pull them out of the economy, separate them from everyone else, and then exterminate them.
The second point was the international community’s silence even though there were articles about the horrors that were occurring. The Germans knew and said nothing. Instead, the German military officers and political leaders looked the other way and the German engineers would help to a certain point. The Swiss engineers were far more helpful, but their country was silent. Even with Henry Morgenthau in Turkey as an ambassador couldn’t get the U.S. to formally say anything about the genocide until they entered the war. Wilson used the Armenians in his arguments for the fourteen points, but after the war, Balakian wrote that many of the Turkish officials who were not assassinated by surviving Armenians were either forgiven, escaped justice, or returned to politics.
Balakian’s complains that there were no formal international trials for the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide makes me think about the important of the Nuremburg Trials. If there had been a Nuremberg like trial for the Turks, would the Holocaust had ever happened? If it did, we would have already had a legal foundation on how to handle genocide. It also made me wonder when should a nation get involved with genocide? At what point could the Americans, Swiss, or other nations stop the Turks from killing the Armenians? Could they have? It’s easy to judge them, but, honestly, what could they have done at the time? It seems that they could have been far stricter when it came to ending the war, but as Balakian writes, Turkey has a strategic position connecting Europe and the Middle East, they did not want to upset the new Kemalist regime.
Reading Balakian’s memoir made me think of Syria and how there will be no punish for Assad or his regime. The Syrians have been slaughtered and someday some will say: “who, today, speaks of the Syrians?”
Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian. Published by Vintage in 2009.
This memoir was written by Grigoris Balakian, a bishop of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Balakian was an educated Armenian, having studied in Germany and spoke Armenian, Turkish, and German. He was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and wrote this memoir to chronicle what he experienced and saw.
When I’m not reading/researching history topics, I write fiction. My newest project is a Middle Eastern/Central Asian novel about a royal family trying to keep out colonists and a growing terrorist ring wanting to recapture the glories of the past. While writing this book, I need to do a lot of research. This week, I’ve been reading about Central Asian women-warriors, leaders, poets, etc. and I thought it’d be fun to write a post about my favorite women I’ve encountered.
I recently finished Hamid Ismailov’s book the Devils’ Dance, which is about Abdulla Qodiriy’s last days in a Soviet prison and the book he was working on before his arrest. The book mentions several Uzbek writers who I was unfamiliar with, so I decided to do a little research. This was what I was able to find out.
First World War and Central Asia
Before we can discuss the three writers, we must understand the world they lived in. All three men lived during the painful and dangerous period the end of the Victorian Era and the beginning of the Edwardian Era. They also lived through one of the century’s greatest disasters: the First World War and then the Bolshevik Revolution.
Nationalism had been on the rise all over the world during the decades that preceded the First World War, and Central Asia was no different. When World War I occurred, many in Central Asia thought they could gain their independence. This hope was increased by the Bolshevik Revolution and the disintegration of Tsarist Russia.
After the Tsar was overthrown, both the White and Soviet Russians tried to court the Central Asian provinces, wanting to keep control over these regions. The Whites, however, shot themselves in the foot by treating the Central Asians with great haughtiness, seeing no reason why they should change their policy to their old colonials. The Soviets, instead, lied to Central Asia, promising to respect their need for autonomy and independence. Obviously, many people in Central Asia supported and fought with the Reds. Once the Soviets defeat the Reds and solidified their control over Russia, they turned to Central Asia and purged the region of anyone who they perceived to be a threat. They then split Central Asia into unnaturally created states, utilizing tribal hatreds and rivalries to keep the region under control, and ignored any attempt at nationalist or independence. Instead, they exploit Central Asia’s peoples and natural resources.
While the world was torn apart and Central Asia had to fight for its identity, men like Qodiriy, Cho‘lpon, and Fitrat, fought an intellectual war, creating a canon of Uzbek literature that included novels, poetry, short stories, and plays. Many of these works of art spoke to the need to modernize Central Asia to achieve self-rule. This belief became known as the Jadid movement. The movement was created in the mid nineteenth century and fought to reform ancient customs and lives. They looked to the Ottoman and Russian Empires for inspiration and, initially, believed the Bolshevik Revolution would usher a new age for Russia and Central Asia.
To learn more about World War I, and how it affected Central Asia, check out the YouTube Channel: The Great War.
Abdulla Qodiriy was born in 1894 in Tashkent, modern day Uzbekistan. He is
considered to be one of the three great Central Asian reformers-the other two being Abdulrauf Fitrat and Cho‘lpon. Qodiriy was a highly intelligent man, studied journalism at the Briusov Institute in Moscow, and was fluent in Turkic, Persian, Arabic, and Russian. Qodiriy was a starch Jadidist.
His most famous novel, O’tgan Kunlar (Days Gone By) not only created the standard that all Uzbek books would later be compared to, it also argued for the modernization of Central Asia, attacking old customs such as having multiple wives and the Bacha (dancing boys). His novel also captured the torment, humor, and every day life of the common man/woman of Central Asia. While his work was an intelligently written, sophisticated critique of his society, it was also a moving preservation of his homeland.
To learn more about O’tgan Kunlar, check out the Uzbek Modernist. It is a website dedicated to help a Western audience understand and explore the O’tgan Kunlar
Qodiriy was arrested in 1926, most likely because he made fun of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in the journal Mushtum (the Fist). He had served as its editor, but after he was released from jail, he became a translator instead. He translated Gogol’s Marriage and Anton Chekhov’s the Cherry Orchard into Uzbekistan. He kept writing throughout the 1930s and became a delegate to the Uzbekistan Writer’s Union.
He traveled to the collective farms of Uzbekistan and wrote his book Obid Ketman. It was attacked as being anti-Soviet and nationalistic and he was arrested again in 1937. He was executed with many other Uzbeks in October 1938. He was the first of the murdered to be rehabilitated in 1956 and his influence continues to be felt in Uzbek literature and national consciousness.
Abdurauf Fitrat was born in Bukhara in 1886. He was originally educated in a
madrasa, but also traveled throughout the world, including Turkey, India, and Moscow and St. Petersburg. Because of this, he was comfortable with many languages, including Persian and Tajik. In fact, many of his works were written either in Persian, Tajik, or a form of Turkish. While his birthplace makes him a beloved literary figure in Uzbekistan, his literary work and his study of languages makes him a renowned innovator of the Tajik language.
Initially, Fitrat was a strong Muslim and resisted by the Jadid movement. However, his mentor Mahmudkhodja Behbudiy convinced him to join the movement he became one of its preeminent leaders, often criticizing the imams, mullahs, and emir.
While in Istanbul, Fitrat was introduced to several other reform movements, allowing him to understand modernization as more then ‘turning Western’. He became the leader of the Jadids in Istanbul and wrote several pieces demanding reforms in social and cultural aspects of Central Asia.
When World War I broke out, Fitrat returned to Central Asia and became leader of the Jadid Movement in Bukhara. He also wrote a reformist agenda with Munawwar Qari Abdurrashidkhan ogli, another Jadidst, that would become the basis of the jadid’s political agenda. This brought him to the attention of Tsarist police as well as religious leaders and he was forced to flee to Tashkent, where he worked for the Afghani consulate and organized the intellectuals found there. Between 1917 and 1919, Fitrat determined that the British were the true enemies of Muslims and Central Asia and, so, he supported the Soviets.
He joined the Communist Party of Bukhara from 1918-1924 to win his country its independence. In 1920, the Russian army led Mikhail Frunze overthrew the Emir of Bukhara and Fitrat joined the new Soviet government. He served as its foreign minister (1922), minister of education (1923), and deputy chairman of the council for work of the Bukharan People’s Soviet Republic. He focused on improving education and language development, while continuing to hope for a free Bukhara.
In 1923, he published the book Qiyomat (the Last Judgment), in which he wrote about the Bolshevik’s inadequate and ignorant rule of Central Asia. He, along with the head of the government Fayzulla Khodzhayev, tried to ally with Turkey and Afghanistan to secure Bukhara’s freedom, but their efforts ended in failure. The Soviets took control in Bukhara and Fitrat was expulsed to Moscow in June 1923.
While in Moscow, Fitrat wrote a series of allegories criticizing the Soviet government. He also focused on teaching, working at the Ivan Lazarevich Lazarev Institute for Oriental languages in Moscow and the Institute for Oriental Studies at Petrograd University. He would return to Tashkent and Samarkand in 1924 and continued to teach while also serving on the Academic Council of the Uzbek SSR.
However, as a historian of literature, he stuck to his beliefs and criticized many Soviet theories such as the theory of national cultures in the supra-ethnic structure of Central Asia. He also disagreed with segregating Soviet Central Asia along ethnic lines and promoting Chagataian literature (Chagataiism was a form of nationalism). In 1932 he wrote his late play, To’lqin (the Wave) which protested censorship. He would be arrested in 1937 and murdered in 1938, most likely during the same mass execution that claimed both Qodiriy and Cho‘lpon.
Cho‘lpon, whose full name is Abdulhamid Sulaymon o’g’li Yunusov, was born in
1893 in Andijan Turkestan. He was a poet, playwright, novelist, and translator and was the first person to translate Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the Uzbek language. He is Uzbek’s most famous of poets and one of the first authors to introduce realism into Uzbek literature.
Cho‘lpon was first educated in a madrasa before enrolling in a Russian elementary school for non-Russians. From there he would become an editor-in-chief of the newspaper, TurkROSTA and worked on the editorial board for a series of publications such a Ishtirokiyun Qizil bayroq (the Red Flag), Turkiston (Turkestan), Buxoro axbori (Bukhara News), and Darhon.
He published his first poems in 1922 and his novel, Night and Day, is one Uzbekistan’s most famous novels. In it, he criticizes Soviet colonialism and the hypocrisy and collusion of jaded reformists and Muslim clerics. He was also the first Uzbek playwright and he spent several years in Moscow in a drama studio to train Uzbek actors. He is credited with introducing realism into Uzbek literature, translated Pushkin and Gorky into Uzbek, and wrote about the Uzbek national character. Like Qodiriy, his work was more then skewering the Soviet, Tsarist, and Emir governments. It was about preserving a Central Asia that was disappearing, while also inspiring a better future.
Also like Qodiriy and Fitrat, his work caught the eye of the Soviet authorities who wrote a vicious smear campaign against him before arresting him in 1937. He was murdered in 1938, most likely alongside Qodiriy and Fitrat.
A few months ago, I finished Hamid Ismailov’s the Devils’ Dance, which is a historical novel about the famous Uzbek writer, Abdulla Qodiriy’s last days in a Soviet prison, and the book the real Qodiriy was working on, but never published about an Uzbek princess, Oyxon, and the courts of Kokand and Bukhara. I was somewhat familiar with the court of Bukhara before starting the Devils’ Dance because I had read of the executions of the British envoys: Charles Stoddart and Arthur Connelly.
The Anonymous Soldiers by Bruce Hoffman. Published by Random House in 2015
This is a well written and well researched book that is easy to read, and is packed with information. While there is a lot in there, it’s not a ‘dense’ book. It is a definitely a book that needs to be ready multiple times to get everything, but that’s just because the situation itself is so complicated and crazy.