Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Turkish Delights Hide Ugly History

The regional culinary blog Kebabistan reported this week on a “Hatay Days in Istanbul” celebration, featuring a 73-meter long dessert called a künefe, representing the 73 years that the disputed region of Hatay has been a Turkish province.  (It is claimed by Syria as well).  A künefe, explains the blogger, Jennifer Hattam, is “thin strands of shredded dough encasing a layer of soft cheese, baked and drenched in sugar syrup” and is a Hatay specialty.

The Hatay künefe

But the actual events that led to Hatay (which includes the ancient city of Antioch) becoming part of the Turkish Republic are not quite so sweet.  Under the Ottoman Empire, the territory had been the Sanjak of Alexandretta, but when the victors in the First World War divvied up Ottoman possessions it was awarded to France and incorporated, under a League of Nations mandate, into the French Mandate of Syria.

When the 1935 expiration date of the French mandate approached, the Armenian and Arab majority in Hatay began aligning with those seeking independence for Syria as a whole.  But the Turkish Republic expressed concern to the League for Hatay’s Turkish minority and petitioned to keep it (like Lebanon, with its vulnerable Christian minority) out of an Arab-dominated independent Syria.  In response, the United Kingdom, France, and others helped Turkey set up Alexandretta as an independent State of Hatay in 1938.  Then the Turks carried out the second part of their plan: using the army to ethnically cleanse Hatay of Armenians and Arabs, importing loads of Turks, then orchestrating a referendum which—surprise, surprise—resulted in the infant Republic choosing to become part of Turkey, which it is to this day.  But it is still shown as a Syrian province on Syrian maps.

Turkish forces entering Alexandretta in 1938

It is probably no accident that Hatay’s Turkishness is being emphasized at a time when Kurds in nearby regions are stepping up their war for an independent Kurdistan (see my recent blog article on the uprising, plus a more recent one on shifting alliances) and Turkey is (as reported in this blog) contemplating a military incursion into civil-war-torn Syria.  (Also see my blog article on ethnic and sectarian dimensions in Syria’s civil war.)

But back to gooey desserts: Hattam compares the brobdingnagian künefe with a similar spectacle just a few days earlier in the Republic of Azerbaijan: a 21-meter-long, 6-meter-wide baklava, big enough to feed 40,000 people—who could wash it down with a 700-liter samovar of tea, also provided.

The world’s largest baklava?

What is it with the Southern Caucasus and world records?

Aside from the world’s deepest-dwelling land animal, discovered in a cave in Abkhazia this year (reported in this blog), and the reputed longevity of yogurt-eating Soviet Georgian (actually specifically Abkhaz) women in a 1970s Dannon Yogurt ad campaign (see above), recently archaeologists in Georgia discovered the oldest known evidence of beekeeping (predating Tutankhamen’s honey stash by a couple millennia), which came close on the (ahem) heels of the unearthing in Armenia of the world’s oldest known shoe.

The world’s oldest known shoe

But one undisputed record the Caucasus region has a solid hold on.  If you consider Abkhazia, South Ossetia, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Circassia, Adjara, Javakhk, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nakhchivan, and Dagestan, it probably easily stacks up the most territorial disputes per square mile out of any region in the world.

Flag of the State of Hatay (1938-1939)

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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