A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bloody Day in Sinai

Today's bloody clashes between jihadists and Egyptian security forces around the town of Sheikh Zuweid in northern Sinai is some of the worst violence yet in the peninsula, and marked the third straight day of bloodshed in Egypt after the assassination of the Prosecutor General on Monday and two bombings yesterday in the Cairo satellite suburb 6 October City.

Claims by the Army, the "Sinai Province of the Islamic State" (formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, now Wilayat Sina') conflict, with the Army admitting to about 17 dead on its side after multiple attacks; other estimates of government losses are higher The Army struck back with air and helicopter attacks and claims to have killed 100 of the attackers.Sinai is a closed military zone with no media access, but all reports agree there were multiple attacks against Army checkpoints and police stations and that the attackers controlled the town of Sheikh Zuweid for a while.

And we are only halfway through Ramadan.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ASOR Quiz: Can You Identify These Near Eastern Languages?

Somehwhere along the line the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) were apparently assimilated by Buzzfeed, but their "Can You Identify These Near Eastern Languages?" is a nice challenge. Hint: Number 10 is not Near Eastern at all. At least in our world.

I got 10 out of 10. Can you?

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Battle of Badr and the Precedent for Fighting in Ramadan




 God  gave you victory at Badr when you were weak; fear God and perhaps you will be grateful.

         
  When you said to the Believers, "Is it not enough that God reinforced you with three thousand angels sent down?
           —Holy Qur'an, Sura 3 (Al ‘Imran), 123

It is proving to be another violent Ramadan, with violent jihadi attacks in Kuwait and Souuse and Grenoble, and today's assassination in Cairo. Ramadan is meant to be a month of peace and reconciliation, and warring Muslim states have sometimes held cease-fires during Ramadan, but in  fact there is no outright prohibition on fighting during Ramadan, a fact jihadists use to step up violence in what they see as a holy war against those they see as enemies, even their fellow Muslims.

The precedent lay in the very earliest years of Islam, just two years after the Prophet's hijra from Mecca to Medina. In AH 2 (AD 634), the Prophet Muhammad and his small Muslim forces fought against the more powerful Meccans in their first great battle, at Badr. It is one of the few battles mentioned by name in the Qur'an (above), which attributes the victory to Divine intervention. The traditional date of Badr is the 17th of Ramadan, AH 2.

Nor was Badr that unusual. Saladin's defeat of the Crusaders at Hattin in 1187 was also in Ramadan, and in Muslim tradition is said to have taken place the morning after the Laylat al-Qadr. (See the link for explanation.)

Less than a century later in 1260, the Mamluks finally stopped the Mongol invasion of the Middle East at another Battle in Galilee, at ‘Ain Jalut, fought in Ramadan.

On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The crossing of the Suez Canal may be remembered for taking place on Yom Kippur, but it was also the 10th of Ramadan. A code name for the Canal crossing was, in fact, Operation Badr. One of Egypt's satellite cities near Cairo is named 10th of Ramadan.

And during the Iran-Iraq War Iran even named an offensive which it launched in Ramadan the Ramadan Offensive.

Most Muslims would prefer not to fight in Ramadan, but there are numerous precedents, and in recent years jihadist terror violence has often spiked in Ramadan.

A Strike in the Heart of Cairo

The assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor, Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat, in Heliopolis today marks the first successful assassination of a senior government official since the crackdown of 2013. Although here have been attacks on police, security forces, and judges, the killing of Barakat marks a new threat to the most senior levels of stat power, and following terror attacks over the weekend in Kuwait and Sousse in Tunisia, is the latest violence in what is emerging s a dangerous Ramadan.

Friday, June 26, 2015

This Store's Marketing Department Could Use Some Diversity Training

I'm not sure where this photo was taken, but I don't think they have the right target demographic.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Egypt Plans Stamp for Opening of "New Suez Canal," Apparently Forgetting that Earlier Stamp

Egypt has announced plans to issue a commemorative stamp to honor the opening of the "New Suez Canal" project, expected August 6. Artists are competing for the design.

Apparently they are forgetting, or have sent down the memory hole, the fact that they already issued one, as I noted here last year:

The Suez Canal is a sea level canal. It does not have locks. The lock shown is in Panama.

The "New Suez Canal" project, though much hyped and promised yo be complete in a single year, is apparently on schedule. The catch is, it is not a new Suez Canal. It is a new shipping channel along part of the existing Canal, as well as new tunnels under the Canal and works on either side. The current canal runs 164 kilometers. The new  channel is 72 km, of which only 35 km is new dry-land digging; other areas are being deepened and widened, essentially creating a new channel mostly between Lake Timsah and Ismailia.. This graphic may help:
Large bracket on right, The Suez Canal. Small line at left, the "New Suez Canal."

The graphic is a bit unfair as it doesn't include areas being dredged and expanded or other improvements.

Bad Ideas: #SummerinSyria

You would think that in an age of instant communication and social media, old-style propagandists would realize that they need new tactics. SANA, the Syrian Arab News Agency (the Asad regime's official agency), came up with a brilliant (?) idea:
Predictably, the Internet pounced, with people posting pictures of the horrors of the Syrian war. Some examples appear in articles by The Huffington Post, The Washington Postand Al Jazeera.

List of Digital Resources for Middle East History

A useful list: "11 Essential Digitized Collections for Middle East Historians."


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Syria's Embattled Druze Between al-Nusra and Asad

It isn't just the Druze of Israel and the Golan who are alarmed by the attacks by Jabhat al-Nusra on the Druze of Syria, but so far the Syrian Druze seem more intent on defending their threatened territory rather than seeking support from the Asad regime or Israel. Usually irrepressible Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt initially responded to the massacre of Druze villagers in northern Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra reportedly executed at least 20 Druze civilians in the northern governorate of Idlib, an area without a large Druze population. But the killings raised alarm in the more heavily Druze southern governorates of Sweida and Dar‘a. Sweida is heavily Druze and Dar‘a, where fighting has been heavy since the outbreak of the war, has a substantial Druze population as well. Sweida governorate is the region of the Jabal Hawran, also known as the Jabal Druze. Both Sweida and Dar‘a governorates adjoin the Jordanian border.

Irrepressible Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt initially called he massacre an isolated incident, and told a press conference, "We don’t need Assad or Israel. Both of them take a sectarian stance with the aim of perpetuating sectarianism and dividing the country.” But he also flew to Jordan to meet the King and intercede for the safety of Druze refugees in Jordan. Both Sweida and Dar‘a adjoin the Jordanian border.


Syrian Druze, like Syrian Christians and ‘Alawites, have traditionally supported he regime as a protection of minorities against Sunni jihadis. While some Druze leaders have continued to urge Druze to enlist in the regime army, others have said Druze fighters are absolved of responsibility to the regime and should defend their own home villages.

Jebel Druze State under French Mandate
Increasingly, as with the Kurdish region in the north that now calls itself Rojava, the Druze of Syria are looking to their own self-defense. During the French Mandate period, which deliberately partitioned Syria and Lebanon on sectarian lines, the Jabal Druze enjoyed a brief autonomy with its own flag, until France had to put down a Druze revolt.  The flag of the Jabal Druze 'state' in the Mandate period is the basis for variations used today as a Druze flag,

Modern Druze Flag
Whether we are returning to those days, with separate Kurdish, ‘Alawite, and Druze enclaves, or simply towards  collapse into anarchy, remains an open question.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Golan Druze Attack IDF Ambulances Carrying Syrian Soldiers

Twice today there were reports of attacks by Golan and Israeli Druze against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying wounded from the Syrian civil war, The first attack occurred in the upper Galilee Druze town of Hurfeish, leaving one local Druze wounded. The second attack, near Majdal Shams in the Golan, reportedly involved a crowd of 150 and left one Syrian soldier dead and several wounded, including the Israeli driver and doctor.

The incidents come amid growing tensions among local Druze in the Galilee and Golan, concerned about attacks on their fellow Druze inside Syria by yhe jihadist Jabhat al-Nusra. Since the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) was forced to withdraw last fall from the buffer zone to the Israeli forward line of control, both the IDF and the UN peacekeepers are essentially on the front line of the Syrian civil was.

Reeent background pieces in The Washington Post and the Irish Times (many of the UN peacekeepers are Irish troops) have dealt with the growing tensions as the Golan Druze demand protection for their Syrian co-religionists, many of whom have family ties across the disengagement line. Apparently the attacks on the ambulances were insire by fear that the wounded Syrians were Jabhat al-Nusra, though the Israeli reports seem to imply they were regime soldiers. Isral has regularly been treating Syrians wounded in the civil war in field hospitals in the north.

The growing danger that the fighting in Syria could spill into the Golan (or into Jordan), makes the Golan front a dangerous one.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Wikileaks Strikes the Saudi Foreign Ministry

Wikileaks claims it is posting "more than half a million cables" from the Saudi Foreign Ministry, doing to Saudi Arabia what they previously did to he US State Department. Press release here. The first 70,000 were released today, and there's a search page here.

The first few documents I've seen were OCRed, and seem to be either garbled or hard to read; they're in Arabic of course.

Light Blogging for a Bit Longer

I'm on deadline so blogging will be light for a few days longer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ramadan Karim

Ramadan will begin at sundown tonight and the fast will begin at dawn tomorrow in the US and most Middle Eastern countries that follow the Saudi determination. Ramadan Mubarak wa Ramadan Karim to my Muslim readers.

Süleyman Demirel, 1924-2015

Demirel and Bill Clinton, 1999
Süleyman Demirel, many times Prime Minister of Turkey and ultimately its President, has died at the age of 90. As head of the Justice Party and later the True Path Party, he served as Prime Minister 1965-1971 (deposed by military coup, sporadically for several terms in  1975-1980 (again deposed by military coup), mostly alternating with the Republican People's Party's Bülent Ecevit, and finally from 1991-1993. From 1993 until 2000 he served as Turkey's 9th President.

I'll let my Turkish readers judge Demirel's legacy. Coming soon after the recent death of Kenan Evren, and the recent elections, it is also a reminder underscoring how Turkey has changed since the seventies and eighties.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The YPG Victory at Tal Abyad

The capture of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad from ISIS by the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), combined with the previous fall of Kobane and other border areas, is a real setback to ISIS and threatens its source of international fighters reaching Syria via Turkey. The victory has also increased the flight of Sunni Arab refugees into Turkey, leading to charges by some Arab fighters that the YPG is ethnically cleansing the area; the YPG denies this and has urged the refugees to return.

Turkey is also concerned, both due to the renewed influx of refugees, and because the YPG's parent party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, is affiliated with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The Kurdish front against ISIS gets little coverage in the West, and what does get covered is mostly reported from Erbil in Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)-controlled areas. But the YPG is slowly capturing the Syria-Turkish border region of northeastern Syria (which Syrian Kurds call Rojava) from ISIS.

On a lighter note, I just learned Blogger's spellchecker does not include the city of Erbil in its dictionary. It suggested "gerbil" instead.

Standard Arabic, Algerian Arabic, and Kabyle

Lameen Souag at the Jabal al-Lughat linguistics blog has a piece called "The irrelevance of the standard in Algeria," citing a new study relevant to our ongoing discussion of Arabic diglossia. An excerpt:
I recently came across a nice little study of language attitudes among Kabyles in Oran, inheriting Kabyle from their parents and kin but living in an overwhelmingly Arabic-speaking context: Ait Habbouche 2013. The results will not come as a huge surprise to anyone familiar with Algeria, but they stand in stark contrast to a curiously widespread idea about Berber language endangerment: the notion that Berber is under threat from the government-imposed hegemony of Standard Arabic. What the survey answers reveal, time after time, is in fact the utter failure of government policies to create any meaningful space for Standard Arabic in daily life. It is no surprise to see that Standard Arabic is used by 0% of respondents with other Kabyles in the cafe or at home. But seeing that only 4% speak it even at work, and 0% in university, should be a shock to anyone who still imagines that Standard Arabic occupies a position analogous to, say, Standard German. The taboo on speaking Standard Arabic in any but the most formal quasi-academic conversation remains nearly absolute; 73% rated it as the language they used least. The only topics surveyed for which this option was selected by any significant number were religion and politics, and actual usage in both cases would probably reveal a mix of Standard words into a basically dialectal matrix. There are absolutely no signs that this group is shifting to Standard Arabic, or even sees this as a viable possibility. The language that has attained a large usage among these speakers, even with other Kabyles, is not Standard Arabic but Algerian Arabic - a language with no official status taught in no school, which was the least likely (2%) of any of the available languages to be rated as most beautiful or richest, and was rated by 42% as the language they liked least (nearly tied with Standard Arabic). Yet this little-loved language, dismissed as much by its speakers as by their rulers, is not only the main language they use with non-Kabyles but is extensively used even with fellow Kabyles (42% with their own siblings). 

Monday, June 15, 2015

As Ramadan Approaches, UK Muslims Discuss Fasting Hours

Ramadan starts this week, very close to the longest day of the year, and a debate that arises from time to time has cropped up again, as one British Muslim scholar suggests following Mecca times for Ramadan in northern Europe, where the days can be extremely long in summer. Something similar is practiced by Muslims north of the Arctic circle, where the sun never sets in high summer, and was also the case for the Saudi astronaut aboard the space shuttle some years back, when sunsets were about 90 minutes apart in orbit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Karnak

Update: blogging will remain sparse another day or so. I'll be back. (Say in Schwarzenegger voice.)

Blogging has been sparse due to deadlines, but I should say something about the attempted suicide bombing at the Temple of Karnak. Egypt's tourist industry has been struggling to revive since the revolutionary upheavals of 2011-2013, and this presents a tempting target to radical jihadis. Just recently there was an attack on tourist police near the pyramids, and now this failed suicide bombing at Luxor's Temple of Karnak. No tourists were injured, but reports say some police and shopkeepers were wounded.

The attack on foreign tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir al-Bahri in 1997 (just across the Nile from Luxor) killed 62 people 58 of them tourists, and remains the worst attack on tourists to date, though there have been others, especially in Sinai. I suspect this will not be an isolated case.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Erdoğan Headline of the Day

I'll let others analyze the deeper meaning of the Turkish elections and the frustrations to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's dream of amending the Constitution. The anti-Erdoğan Hurriyet Daily News has this telling headline:

"Water cannon producer’s stock dips after Turkey’s ruling AKP loses majority."
The largest supplier of police water cannons in Turkey has seen a steep fall in its stock prices, hours after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority.
Shares in Katmerciler Ekipman, the company that manufactures the riot control vehicles popularly known as TOMAs, decreased 10 percent early June 8. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sports Notes: Triple Crown Winner's Owner Once Ran Egypt's Stella Brewery

The main news on  Saturday was the victory of thoroughbred American Pharoah (officially so spelled on his registration, so racing fans will never spell "pharaoh" correctly again) in the Belmont Stakes, making him the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown. You may already know that he is owned by Egyptian-American businessman and breeder Ahmed Zayat. I thought it worth mentioning that Zayat (besides identifying himself variously as both Muslim and an Orthodox Jew; a Yeshiva graduate and living in an Orthodox neighborhood in Teaneck, New Jersey) used to run Egypt's Al Ahram Beverages Company, which among other things brews Stella Beer, a number of other beers, and produces Gianaclis wines.

Al Ahram beverages had been nationalized under Nasser and its quality control suffered; when it was privatized in 1997 Zayat  and a group of investors bought it, expanded its product line (including a non-alcoholic beer) and improved quality control. In 2002 the company was sold to the Heineken group, though Zayat remained involved in its management until 2007.

So if you have access to a bottle of Stella, raise a glass to a record-making three year old thoroughbred with a misspelled name.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tariq ‘Aziz, 1936-2015

Tariq ‘Aziz, who has died at the age of 79, was Saddam Hussein's longtime Foreign Minster and Deputy Prime Minister, and thus was the public face the Saddam regime showed other countries. If many found him more acceptable and less blood-soaked than his colleagues, that was certainly why he was the public face; he was still the regime's key apologist. ("He wasn't quite as monstrous as all the others" is not really an epitaph anyone wants, though.) Though sentenced to death after the fall of the regime, he was not executed. He suffered a heart attack in prison and died after being taken to a hospital.

Born Mikhail Yuhanna, he was the highest-ranking Christian in the regime, a Chaldean Catholic (though I rather suspect not a regular churchgoer). I note his passing, but will not say RIP.

June 5 + 48 Years

It's another June 5, the anniversary of the event from which so much of modern Middle Eastern history stems: the 1967 War.  As I'm rather busy, it seems best to simply link to earlier posts on that warm, of which there have been many.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Middle East Connections of Both NBA Championship Coaches

A very busy day so not much blogging. I'm not that big a basketball fan unless my alma mater or a local pro team is involved, but with the NBA finals underway, I should note Haaretz' piece "Middle East veterans to meet in NBA finals." 

Cleveland coach David Blatt is an Israeli dual citizen and former coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Golden State coach Steve Kerr is a Beirut-born son of the late, great scholar and AUB President Malcolm Kerr, assassinated in Beirut in 1984. I met Malcolm Kerr a few times but had no idea of this connection
.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Two More Attempts at Demythologizing the "Sykes-Picot" Conventional Wisdom

Over the past year or so, the rise of ISIS or ISIL or IS or Da‘ish or whoever they are has led to a lot of talking head and op-ed opinionating about "redrawing the Sykes-Picot boundaries" and such. As I have patiently pointed out on more than one occasion, the famous carving up of the Ottoman Empire by Messrs Sykes and Picot bears only a very rough kinship to the borders that emerged after the war. For instance Sykes and Picot gave Mosul to the French sphere, so ISIS taking over Mosul didn't "reverse" Sykes-Picot, it implemented it. As I noted in that earlier post, Sykes-Picot fell apart even before the peace:
During the Paris peace talks, on Sunday, December 1, 1918 during a meeting at the French Embassy in London, by David Lloyd George's own account, Georges Clemenceau asked him what he wanted, and Lloyd George immediately replied, "Mosul." Clemenceau then said "You shall have it. Anything else?" To which Lloyd George responded "Palestine from Dan to Beersheba," (or in another version, "Jerusalem.") (Much of Palestine was supposed to be under international control under Sykes-Picot.) Clemenceau, who wanted British support for French claims in the Rhineland, quickly agreed.
The rise of the Turkish Republic undermined the hopes of Italy and Greece  for carving out their shares, and the Treaty of Lausanne and the results of the San Remo Conference had far more than the Sykes-Picot agreement to do with the modern borders, which continued to change at least as late as the 1939 transfer of the Hatay to Turkey.

So I'm pleased to see two recent additions to the choir:

Egypt Demolishes Fire-Gutted NDP HQ, One of the Last Visible Reminders of the Revolution

NDP HQ Burning, January 28, 2011 (Egyptian Museum to the Left)
This week, Cairo began demolishing one of the most familiar buildings along the Nile Corniche, the former headquarters of Husni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

The building, which had stood since 1959 between the Egyptian Museum and the original Nile Hilton (now the Nile Ritz-Carlton) was set afire on January 28, 2011, the critical "Friday of Rage" early in the 2011 Revolution. The burned-out hulk has stood there ever since as its future was debated; lately the facade had been covered with a hanging touting Egypt's new development efforts.

This week it finally came down. As Zeinobia notes, some had hoped to keep it as a visible reminder of the Revolution, but that didn't happen. Ahram Online has a photo gallery of the demolition, from which the two photos below are taken.

Originally built in 1959, it was, like the Nile Hilton and the Arab League, built on the site of the old British Qasr al-Nil Barracks; the new buildings represented Egypt's liberation from colonial rule. Originally intended to be the Cairo Municipality, Nasser instead made it the headquarters of his single party, the Arab Socialist Union. The ASU (which was not very Arab and only nominally socialist) morphed in the Sadat era into the National Democratic Party (which was somewhat National but never Democratic).

A website appropriately called Failed Architecture has an aptly-titled piece, "Erasing the Remnants of a Revolution."

I believe officially the land is supposed to go to the Egyptian Museum for expansion. Knowing the rapacity of Cairo developers and the prime location fronting the Nile, I hope it does but plan to wait and see.

Jon Stewart Summarizes US Middle East Policy

I'm pretty busy with Journal stuff today but this pretty much nails it with only a few exaggerations:

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

YouTube Posts Archive of Classic Egyptian Films

YouTube has created a channel called Aflam devoted to an archive of Egyptian film from the classic era.  Searchable by genre, date, title, and actors, this should prove to be good news for fans and students of Egyptian film, It's apparently been up for a few months, and I'm late discovering it; it can be accessed here.

ASOR Report on Threat to Palmyra

Aerial View of Site (ASOR)
The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Syrian Heritage Initiative has published a "Special Report on the Importance of Palmyra" addressing the importance of the site and the need for international concern. Given that there have been conflicting reports about the security of monuments since the ISIS takeover, it's good to see an assessment from a respected source. An excerpt:

So far, there have been few confirmed reports of damage to the site of Palmyra. Video footage has documented combat-related damage to the Citadel, and unconfirmed reports suggest that several mortars fell within the Temple of Bel. The DGAM has also reported the destruction of modern plaster statues at the Museum by ISIL, and other reports suggest that at least one government airstrike hit a position within the ancient city. ISIL also posted a video and a series of images online showing various views of the ancient city, including the Temple of Bel, the Colonnaded Street, and the Theater. On May 26, 2015, a purported ISIL representative made a statement claiming that the group plans to destroy “statues” at Palmyra but will not “bulldoze” other historical monuments. Given current uncertainties about the extent of looting at the site and the state of the collection at the Palmyra Archaeological Museum, it is impossible to specify exactly which archaeological materials are most at risk. Some rumors suggest that deliberate destruction of sculptures has already begun – with the Lion of Al-lāt that stands at the entrance to the Bel Temple – but these claims have not been confirmed (and have recently been denied by the DGAM). At the same time, it is unclear whether or not ISIL will in fact refrain from harming other monuments at the site, either deliberately or for looting purposes. A satellite image taken on May 27, 2015, shows several trucks in the vicinity of the Theater but otherwise shows no visible damage; it must emphasized, however, that many types of damage would not necessarily be visible in the satellite imagery.
Whether or not significant damage has already occurred, the site must be considered at high risk of further damage – in light of the ongoing airstrikes in the area, the potential for renewed conflict on the ground, and the possibility of looting and deliberate destruction by ISIL. The summary provided above has shown that Palmyra is a site of significant cultural and historical importance. As part of the broader, humanitarian response to the current crisis, the international community should do whatever it can to save Palmyra.

Vehicles Parked Near Theater (ASOR)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are Kurds Turning to Zoroastrianism? Thoughts on the Cultural and Historical Context

Juan Cole at his blog reproduces an article from niqash.org by Alaa Latif: "Kurdish Muslims abandoning Islam for Zoroastrianism in Disgust at ISIL/Daesh?" The original article at Niqash carries the title "The One, True Kurdish Prophet?Thanks To Extremism, Iraqis Revive Ancient Religion."
An excerpt:
For the first time in over a thousand years, locals in a rural part of Sulaymaniyah province conducted an ancient ceremony on May 1, whereby followers put on a special belt that signifies they are ready to serve the religion and observe its tenets. It would be akin to a baptism in the Christian faith.
The newly pledged Zoroastrians have said that they will organise similar ceremonies elsewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan and they have also asked permission to build up to 12 temples inside the region, which has its own borders, military and Parliament. Zoroastrians are also visiting government departments in Iraqi Kurdistan and they have asked that Zoroastrianism be acknowledged as a religion officially. They even have their own anthem and many locals are attending Zoroastrian events and responding to Zoroastrian organisations and pages on social media.
Although as yet there are no official numbers as to how many Kurdish locals are actually turning to this religion, there is certainly a lot of discussion about it. And those who are already Zoroastrians believe that as soon as locals learn more about the religion, their numbers will increase. They also seem to selling the idea of Zoroastrianism by saying that it is somehow “more Kurdish” then other religions – certainly an attractive idea in an area where many locals care more about their ethnic identity than religious divisions.
I don't know to what degree this overstates the supposed trend; it seems to be regionally localized and there are no numbers cited. And Zoroastrians traditionally do not proselytize, though that is perhaps a response to living in Islamic-dominated areas.

A few side thoughts, however. While orthodox Zoroastrianism itself has much declined in the Middle East proper there are a number of small, syncretiistic religious groups in Iran, northern Iraq, and Eastern Turkey that incorporate elements of Zoroastrian tradition, including to a greater or lesser degree the Yazidis and Shabak in Iraq, Alevis in Turkey, ‘Ali-Elahis and Ahl-e Haqq (Yarsanis) in Iran, and even the Syrian ‘Alawites,  Most have secret or semi-secret doctrines and retain elements of Zoroastrianism, Mazdakism, Mithraism, or other Ancient Persian beliefs overlaid with elements of Shi‘ite or Sufi Islam. The strong influence of Sufi orders in Kurdistan (Naqshbandi and Qadiri foremost among them) also may predispose many to an openness to heterodox ideas. During the siege of Jabal Sinjar and the Yazidis, I considered writing more about these small, syncretist, heterodox groups whose links to Islam are tenuous at best, and will get to that eventually. 

Zoroastrian revivals are not a recent phenomenon. Babak Khorrami, who led an uprising against the ‘Abbasid Caliphate in 9th Century AD Azerbaijan, led one such movement attempting to revive either Zoroastrianism or its offshoot Mazdkism. Patricia Crone's The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism is now the standard source.

The article definitely overreaches in its opening paragraph:
[Zoroastrianism] was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives.
Most linguists class Avestan as originating in northeastern Iran not Kurdistan, All the ancient Indo-Iranian languages derive fom a common origin, but modern Persian has at least as much claim as Kurdish to "derive" from Avestan.

Biographical details of Zoroaster/Zarathustra/Zardusht are much disputed. The various scriptures were composed at varying times, and there is some uncertainty about dating the Prophet, even to whether he belongs in the First or Second Millennium BC. So too, there is uncertainty about his birthplace. Many older traditions point to northwestern Iran, to Azerbaijan or to Rayy in Media, near Tehran. But others point to northeastern Iran and even Central Asia, and the language of the Avesta is Eastern. The Encyclopedia Iranica has extensive treatment of the uncertainties of Zoroaster's history.

In any event he represents a religious figure and culture hero to not just Persian speakers but to speakers of other Iranian languages, including Kurdish. Claiming him as a Kurd may not reflect the consensus of Zoroastrian Studies scholars, but then, there really is no consensus of Zoroastrian Studies scholars on where he was born, or even exactly when.

Update: For more see Brian Ulrich's comments in the Comments, and the link.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aww, Poor Things: Daily Mail Laments Plight of Vacationers Inconvenienced by Migrant Refugee Camp

The pesky Third World has created another First World problem: that paragon of journalism the Daily Mail bemoans the fact that the Mediterranean refugee crisis has inconvenienced Europeans on holiday on the Greek island of Kos:
Admittedly, the photos suggest the irony, though the tone of the headline doesn't.

The homeless migrants were not asked their opinion of the tourists.