Category Archives: Iran

South Caucasus Just Waiting for Europe?

From Caucasus: An Introduction, by Thomas de Waal (Oxford U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 4017-4050:

It seems an almost inbuilt problem of the South Caucasus that a positive development in one place causes alarm in another. Armenian-Turkish rapprochement angers Azerbaijan, which turns to Moscow. The “reset” American-Russian relationship is seen to damage Georgia. As soon as there was talk of the Armenian-Turkish border reopening, some Georgians were heard to worry aloud that the rerouting of trade would be bad for Georgia. Zero-sum thinking prevails.

The region suffers from a lack of inclusive thinking. Most of the big ideas and regional initiatives that have emerged in the last decade and a half have excluded either one of the South Caucasus countries themselves or a key outside power. Both Iran and Turkey have proposed “security pacts” for the Caucasus that have left out the United States and the European Union. The Commonwealth of Independent States is now without Georgia. GUAM excluded Armenia. For awhile, Moscow unsuccessfully promoted the idea of a “Caucasus Four” that included it and the three South Caucasus countries. Concentrating on a “Black Sea region” is to the detriment of Azerbaijan. Focusing on the Caspian leaves out Armenia. The metaphor of a “Silk Road,” pretty though it is, implies a return to a premodern world in which Russia did not exist. The idea of a “Great Game” unhelpfully casts Russia in a reprised role of a hostile nineteen-century power.

History has meant that there have never been any successful voluntary integration projects here. The plan for an independent Transcaucasian Federation in April 1918 collapsed after only a month. The only other unions have been colonial ones imposed from above, by the Persian, Ottoman, and Russian empires and by the Soviet Union. The Soviet project is hard to defend, but it did have the effect of bringing people together in a cohesive economic structure that many people still miss. In retrospect, the South Caucasian nationalists of the late 1980s lurched from one extreme to another when they took a bulldozer to the complex Soviet system. They exchanged suffocating integration for extreme disintegration, and you could say that they threw out the Caucasian baby with the Communist bathwater. Many of the economic and cultural links from those times are still there under the surface waiting to be reexploited.

The one neighbor that could be a facilitator for voluntary integration in the South Caucasus is the region that has itself accomplished such an integration, the EU. So far, unfortunately, the EU has been very slow to act in the region. One Georgian scholar says it is “too lazy and too late.” Most of its regional projects have been very modest. Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia, a European program started in 1993 for the eight countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, has spent less than 200 million euros since then—far less than BP, Gazprom, or USAID has spent in the region, to name three other foreign actors. The Eastern Partnership project is another laudable idea but is hampered by several constraints; the six countries involved have no membership perspective for the EU, which does not provide a strong incentive for reform. Promises of trade privileges and visa facilitation are more promising but have been watered down by European governments.

There is a widespread perception in the South Caucasus that it is “waiting for Europe” to notice its problems and pay attention to them. In the EU itself, there is caution. Partly, the EU has enough other problems to solve without having to deal with the headaches of the Caucasus. Partly, there is a perception that the governments of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia need to show a stronger commitment to democracy and reform to deserve that stronger interest. So the current period may be one of less engagement and greater realism. If that is the case, it may not be all bad news. History has been unkind to the South Caucasus, but there is no shortage of experience or talent there. If the outsider powers step a bit further away, local people may remember that they also have the skills, fashioned by the centuries, to solve their own problems.

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Origins of Georgia in Russia

From Caucasus: An Introduction, by Thomas de Waal (Oxford U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 638-643, 826-852:

The different parts of Georgia only came together in the nineteenth century with Russian rule, the coming of the railways, and a generation of patriotic intellectuals keen to foster a new national consciousness. The churches of the Golden Age, the rediscovery of ancient manuscripts, and the poetry of Shota Rustaveli were important cultural treasures in this process of national reinvention and discovery. The dilemma has been that anyone seeking to forge, or reforge, a “Georgian national identity” does so at the risk of suppressing the country’s great natural diversity. President Mikheil Saakashvili has faced this challenge as he has sought to build a modern Georgian state out of the country weakened by centrifugal tendencies he inherited in 2004.

Tiflis (officially called by its Georgian name Tbilisi only in the twentieth century) had long been the largest city in the region. When King David IV reconquered the town from the Arabs in 1122, he invited Armenian traders and artisans to settle there, and they became its largest community. For centuries the Armenians ran the city, as Georgians tended to be either rural nobility or peasantry. After the Russian takeover in 1801, Tiflis became the seat of imperial rule. In the 1840s, Prince Vorontsov finally cleared away the last ruins of the 1795 Iranian assault and transformed the main part of the city into a European-style capital. He laid out a new central boulevard that became the main artery of the city.

The first theatre and public library were built; newspapers were opened. The viceroy invited an Italian opera company to come and perform Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti and was pleased to hear them instead of the “semi-barbarous sounds of Persian music” that had filled the town a few years earlier.

In 1899, Tiflis had 172,000 inhabitants. Armenians were just over a third of the population; Georgians and Russians each formed a quarter. The remainder included Ossetians, Azerbaijani “Tatars,” Persians, Greeks, Poles, Germans, and Jews. Caucasian towns were not melting pots, and each community had separate places of worship, different holidays, and special trades. The Armenians dominated business, trade, and municipal government, running the hotels, restaurants, cafes and taverns, wineshops and caravanserais. Wardrop said the Armenians were called “Shylocks” and like the Jews were disliked by other ethnic groups for their alleged sharp practices: “A local proverb says ‘A Greek will cheat three Jews, but an Armenian will cheat three Greeks.’” This kind of racial stereotyping caused tensions between Armenians and Georgians but generally did not spill over into street violence.

The same was not true in the other major city of the Caucasus, Baku. Here, social and political tensions eventually caused mass bloodshed. Situated on a peninsular overlooking the Caspian Sea, Baku was a small ancient desert fortress, home to a powerful dynasty, the Shirvanshahs, in the Middle Ages. The commercial exploitation of its oil wells in the 1870s changed it virtually overnight into the world’s foremost oil city. In 1883, the British writer Charles Marvin noted, “what was ten years ago a sleepy Persian town is to-day a thriving city. There is more building activity visible at Baku than in any other place in the Russian Empire.” Old houses were being pulled down while the “wretched booths of the Persians were being replaced by spacious Russian shops.” As in Tiflis, Armenians had a leading role in both business and municipal government, while tens of thousands of Muslim peasants, many from Iran, immigrated to earn a wage in the oil fields.

The third main urban center of the region, the Black Sea city of Batum (called by its Georgian name Batumi after 1936), became the Caucasus’s window on the world after the Russian takeover in 1878. Within a generation, it had a string of foreign consulates and a British yacht club and cricket pitch. Again, this all depended on Baku oil, sent to Batum first by railway and then through the world’s first oil pipeline. It was refined in a factory built by the Rothschilds—to which the young Stalin set fire in 1903. Like Baku, although smaller (its population in 1897 was twenty-eight thousand), it was a place of commerce and intrigue.

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Persian Culture in the South Caucasus

From Caucasus: An Introduction, by Thomas de Waal (Oxford U. Press, 2010), Kindle Loc. 418-459:

Persian culture can be traced in the South Caucasus from the sixth century BC, and Persians colonized large parts of the region for roughly a thousand years, far longer than the Russians did. The cultural residue of this is surprisingly faint but is there if one looks for it. The Armenian language is so full of Persian loan-words that it was long thought to be an Iranian, not an Indo-European language. The historian Nina Garsoïan argues that the Armenian sociopolitical system, with its tradition of hereditary aristocrats and semidivine monarchy, derived from an Iranian tradition. Medieval Georgia’s “Golden Age” was also heavily Persianized. Shota Rustaveli, author of the famous twelfth-century epic The Knight in the Panther Skin called his poem “a Persian work now done into Georgian.” Georgian princes served the Safavid dynasty for three centuries.

The Persian-Iranian influence is strongest in Azerbaijan. The river Araxes only became a noticeable border in the nineteenth century. Prior to that, the lands to the north and south were generally part of the same kingdoms. The Azerbaijani city of Ganzak (Ganja) was the location of one of the four great fires of the Zoroastrian religion. The twelfth-century poet Nizami of Ganja is revered as a great Azerbaijani cultural icon, even though he wrote in the Persian language. In the sixteenth century, the Safavid Empire could lay claim to being a sort of proto-Azerbaijani state. The founder of the empire, Shah Ismail I (ruled 1501–24), came from Ardebil in what is present-day northern Iran, not far from Azerbaijan. Of mixed ethnic descent, he spoke both Persian and Azeri (or at least a form of Turkish that evolved into what is now Azeri) and wrote poems in Azeri under the name Khatai. In Safavid times, an estimated twelve hundred Azeri words, mainly dealing with administrative and military issues, entered the Persian language.

Iranian political dominance of the Caucasus began to fade with the end of the Safavids in 1722. A succession of military defeats on all fronts led to a slow retreat from the Caucasus that culminated in full capitulation to the Russians in 1828. This marked what some Azerbaijanis call “the parting of the ways” between northern and southern Azerbaijan. The Caucasus lived on in the assumptions of some Iranian statesmen, even as it turned into a Russian zone of influence. At the Versailles peace conference at the end of the First World War, the Iranian delegation caused consternation when it handed the conference a memorandum laying claim to all of present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan and parts of Dagestan. The document explained, “these provinces must be returned to Persia, for they had already formed part of Persia.”

Currently, Iran is closer to Armenia than to either Azerbaijan or Georgia. One of Armenia’s two open borders is with Iran, and an Iranian-Armenian gas pipeline, opened in 2007 gave the Armenians a new source of natural gas. For Azerbaijan and Iran, the big sleeping issue is Iran’s large population of ethnic Azerbaijanis in the north of the country, who may number as many as twenty-five million—or three times the number of Azerbaijanis in the Republic of Azerbaijan. So far, there has been no mass movement there for closer political ties to the north. Fred Halliday writes that after 1979, “in an upheaval in which many dogs barked, Azerbaijani nationalism is the one dog that did not, at least during the first 15 years after the Islamic revolution.” Iran would undoubtedly like to play a bigger part in the South Caucasus, but the biggest deterrent to it doing so is Western pressure. If there is a thaw between Iran and the West over the nuclear issue, then Tehran can be expected to claim a role in the region again.

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Some Loanwords in Indonesian/Malay: A

From: Loan-Words in Indonesian and Malay, ed. by Russell Jones (KITLV Press, 2007), ignoring the far too numerous loans from Arabic, Dutch, and English.

Chinese

aci (Amoy) elder sister
ahsiu (Amoy) dried, salted duck
a i (Amoy) aunt (addressing younger than speaker’s mother)
akew (Hakka) term of address for boy (‘little dog’)
amah (Amoy) female servant
amho (Amoy) secret sign, password
amoi (Chiangchiu) younger sister; girl
ampai (Amoy) detective
angciu (Amoy) red wine
angco (Amoy) dried Chinese dates (Z. jujuba)
ancoa (Amoy) how can that be?
anghun (Amoy) shredded tobacco
angkak (Amoy) grains of red sticky rice (O. glutinosa)
angki (Amoy) persimmon (D. kaki)
angkin (Amoy) waist belt
angkong (Amoy) grandfather
angkong (Amoy) ricksha
anglo (Amoy) heating stove
anglung (Amoy) pavilion
angpai (Amoy) card game employing 56 cards
angpau (Amoy) present given at Chinese new year
angsio (Amoy) braise in soy sauce
angso (Amoy) red bamboo shoot
apa (Amoy) dad, father
apak (Hakka) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apék (Amoy) old man, ‘uncle’ (lit. father’s elder brother)
apiun (Amoy) opium
asuk (Hakka) ‘uncle’, father’s younger brother

Hindi

abaimana anal and urethral orifices (with regard to ablution)
acita fine rice
anggerka gown
antari inner
arwa saw-edged knife
aruda rue (bot.)
ayah Indian nurse

Japanese

anata you
arigato thank you
aza hamlet

Persian

acar pickles
adas fennel
aftab sun
agar in order to
agha nobleman
ahli versed in; member of
aiwan hall
ajaibkhanah museum
akhtaj vassal
almas diamond
anggur grape
anjir fig
arzak beautiful gem
asa mint
asabat nerve
asmani heavenly
atisnyak fiery, glowing
azad faultless

Portuguese

alabangka lever
alketip carpet
alpayaté tailor
alpérés ensign, sublieutenant
andor (obs.) a litter on which images of saints were borne
antero whole
aria lower away (naut.)
arku bow (of a kite)
aria, aris-aris bolt rope, shrouds (naut.)
arkus arches (triumphal, with festoons)
armada armada, squadron, naval fleet
asar roast; barbecue

Sanskrit

acara program, agenda
adi beginning, first, best, superior
adibusana haute couture
adicita ideology
adidaya superpower
adikarya masterpiece
adimarga boulevard
adipati governor
adipura cleanest (etc.) city (chosen annually)
adiraja royal by descent
adiratna jewel, beautiful woman
adisiswa best student
adiwangsa of high nobility
adiwarna glowing with colour
agama religion
agamiwan religious person
ahimsa non-violence
aksara letter
amerta immortal
amerta nectar
amra mango
ancala mountain
anda musk gland
Andoman Hanuman
anduwan foot chain
anéka all kinds of
anékawarna multi-coloured
anggota member
angka number, figure
angkara insolence, cruel
angkasa sky
angkasawan astronaut; broadcaster
angkasawati astronaut; broadcaster (fem.)
angkus elephant-goad
angsa goose
aniaya violation
anjangkarya working visit
antakusuma cloth made from several pieces
antar- inter-
antara (in) between
antarabangsa international
antariksa sky
antariksawan astronaut
antariksawati astronaut (fem.)
antamuka interface (of computer)
antarnegara international
anugerah (royal) favour
anumerta posthumous
apsari nymph
arca image; computer icon
aria a high title
arti meaning
Arya Aryan race
aryaduta ambassador
asmara love
asmaraloka world of love
asrama hostel
asta cubit
asta eight
astagina eightfold
astaka octagonal bench
astakona octagon
astana palace
asusila immoral
atau or
atma(n) soul

Tamil

acaram wedding ring
acu mould, model
andai possibility
anéka various, diverse
anékaragam various kinds
apam rice flour cake
awa- free from
awanama anonymous
awatara incarnation
awawarna blanched, decolorized

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Who Toppled Mossadegh?

From: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, by Vali Nasr (Free Press, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2154-75:

History has charitably characterized the Mossadegh period as a democratic revolution in the making. But Iranian politics was not then truly moving in the direction of liberal democracy. Mossadegh talked of reducing the power of the Shah but was amassing power in his own hands and was quick to cross the constitution when it suited him—including dismissing the parliament in 1953. Far from liberal democracy, Iran seemed to heading for the familiar story of an elected Third World politician riding the wave of nationalism and transforming himself into an authoritarian ruler, leaving his country broken in the process.

As Mossadegh stepped up tensions with Britain, cutting off diplomatic relations in October 1952, the British government requested U.S. assistance, suggesting that the United States collaborate in overthrowing Mossadegh. The Truman administration refused to take direct military or diplomatic action against Iran, fearing that Mossadegh was naïve about the Soviet threat and too close to the communist Tudeh Party, which had backed Mossadegh’s election. Cold war paranoia fueled fear that Iran would join the Soviet sphere of influence. Shortly after Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in the 1952 election, he approved a plan for the CIA to sponsor a propaganda campaign to foment protest against Mossadegh, allocating $1 million in funding to the plan (of which not much more than $60,000 was eventually spent), which was dubbed Operation Ajax.

The CIA urged the Shah to execute his constitutional authority to remove Mossadegh from office, but he resisted doing so, and in a preemptive move, Mossadegh, who had learned of the intentions against him, announced that he was dissolving parliament and he organized a national plebiscite to affirm his hold on power.

His extreme moves ignited further agitation against him, and the crisis came to a head when, in August 1953, the Shah finally did formally dismiss Mossadegh from power. When Mossadegh refused to step down, the Shah fled the country to Rome, appointing retired General Fazlullah Zahedi prime minister. With Mossadegh still in charge and the Shah gone, however, the Anglo-American plan failed and the crisis deepened. Massive protests erupted in the streets of Tehran and around the nation, with brutal fighting breaking out between pro-Shah and pro-Mossadegh factions. Four days later General Zahedi, widely popular in the royalist military, led troops to storm the capital in a second coup attempt. Mossadegh surrendered to Zahedi the next day, and the Shah was reinstalled in power. It has been common wisdom that the CIA did all the heavy lifting for the coup, but in reality it was General Zahedi, taking advantage of the growing popular apprehension with the worsening situation, who planned and led the second coup that won the day.

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Rising Primacy of Sistani among Shia

From: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, by Vali Nasr (Free Press, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2840-63:

Fundamentalism and extremism speak to the Muslim world’s deep-seated yearning for change. Sentiments that decades ago supported leftist ideologies across the Muslim world today fuel Islamic ideology and more so the extremist interpretations of it. Look and listen closely and you can see Lenin’s ghost standing behind Khomeini, and an undertone of Che Guevara in bin Laden’s bluster. Bin Laden is not quite as dashing as Che, and al-Qaeda is far too steeped in jihadism to have come up with a really good T-shirt, but still it has attained glory as the iconic flag-bearer of resistance in the postcommunist world. It appeals to those who, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, still yearn for revolution. Until violent jihadism meets the same fate in the many pockets of the region where it is currently wreaking havoc that Islamic revolution met in Algeria, many Muslims will continue to see in the jihadi fighter a compelling representative of their hunger for success and respect. This is why the effort to quash radical groups is vitally important and must be sustained. But fundamentalism has also been changing from within, recognizing the limits of revolutionary violence and turning attention instead to participation in elections and to winning over converts by championing the cause of social justice and representing the interests of the poor in the political system, providing much-needed social services. With the putting down of Islamic revolts in state after state—Egypt after 1981, Syria in 1982, Algeria after 1991, and most recently, Saudi Arabia after 9/11—many fundamentalists conceded that the creation of Islamic states was no longer in the cards. The call for an Islamic state was not entirely abandoned, but increasingly it was recognized as a distant prospect, and social activism took over as the work at hand. Many popular clerics have also stepped up to denounce violence in the name of Islam, especially in the wake of 9/11. Even Shia fundamentalism, which was the force behind Khomeini’s fashioning of the Islamic Republic as the domain of clerics and which sees politics as inseparable from Islam, has been moderating.

Three decades after the Iranian Revolution, it is not Khomeini’s heirs who are the most popular voices of Shia faith, but the quietist Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani, who sees to the affairs of his community from his perch in the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq. Sistani stands for the older Shia tradition, which holds that, absent the return of the messiah, the Mahdi, the ideal Islamic order is not within the realm of the possible. Clerics, he says, should merely see to it that the state does not repress Islam or violate major Islamic teachings, and should otherwise leave politics alone. Since 2003, Sistani has gathered an impressive following and is today the most venerated and influential Shia cleric not only in Iraq, but far beyond. Shias from Detroit to Delhi embrace him as their “source of emulation.” Even in Lebanon, where Shiism is usually associated with Hezbollah, most Shias follow Sistani. That is also now the case in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Even in Iran, observant Shias have turned to Sistani.

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Secularist Delusions in Revolutionary Iran

From: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World, by Vali Nasr (Free Press, 2009), Kindle Loc. 2325-50, 2372-87:

The chasm between the Shah and his people had become glaringly obvious. What was less clear, but equally important, was a chasm between the communist and socialist visions for the country of the secular intellectual elite and the middle-class professionals and the hopes of the ardent lower-class followers of Khomeini. At least the chasm was misunderstood by the secularists. Among the secular agitators against the monarchy, clerics and their followers were widely regarded as harmless hangers-on to the great bandwagon of revolution. The secularists failed to perceive both Khomeini’s true intentions, and the surging momentum—and force in numbers—of the backing for him among the teeming urban and rural lower and working classes. The exploding numbers of urban factory workers had no infatuation with the ideologies that fascinated the middle class; Khomeini’s populist call for freeing Iran of dictatorship and spreading the oil wealth among the population is what appealed to them.

Azar Salamat studied at Berkeley in the late 1960s, and there joined radical Iranian students agitating against the Shah. When she went back to Iran in the late 1970s she was determined to do Lenin’s work, spreading the gospel of communism, organizing the working class, and setting Iran on the path to a communist revolution. With comrades in tow she would visit factories on the outskirts of Tehran looking for the proverbial proletarian laborers to convert to the cause. Workers on their lunch break listened politely to the Marxist harangue, humoring the young idealists, but understood little about dialectical materialism or capitalist exploitation. Communism was an alien tongue; so “when we turned to leave,” remembers Salamat of one telling lunchtime encounter, “one of them called to us, waving his hand. ‘Bye bye,’ he said in English, grinning with amusement. Nothing seemed to express more clearly the foreignness of our contingent to those workers whom we thought our natural allies.”

It was as if years of thinking secular thoughts and following secular ideologies had blinded these secular activists to reality. They correctly perceived that their support for Khomeini was vital in building widespread support for a revolution. Leftist jargon did not percolate down into society very well, and the revolution needed the support of larger numbers—of the poor and traditional Iranians who looked to the clergy for moral and political leadership. But the secularists failed to appreciate the intensity of Khomeni’s mission to establish an Islamic state, or to think through what would be in store for them if and when the clergy took power.

Secular revolutionaries stayed deliberately silent on the issues of Islamic government and Islamic law, hejab and women’s rights, and engaged in little discussion of how individual liberties, economic aspirations, and democratic goals could be affected by clerical rule. This absence of serious discussion in speeches, rallies, meetings, manifestoes, media, and everyday conversations is astonishing on reflection. So strong were their opposition to the Shah and their trust in the clergy—their conviction that the only issue that mattered was ridding Iran of the Shah—that they forgot all about those other hard-earned cultural freedoms that were so vital to their lives and future. When they did finally wake up to the reality of the revolution, it was too late….

With the revolution triumphant throngs of class warriors banded together in revolutionary committees and militias, and backing Khomeini’s cause, came out of slums and working-class neighborhoods, bazaars, and poorer quarters of the city to claim their prize. They were quick learners. None knew what dialectics of history was about or what Marx had penned in his Das Kapital. Khomeini had taught them it was not necessary to convert to Marxism to be a revolutionary; it was more important to make the revolution Islamic.

The middle-class pro-communist and pro-democracy protestors were shocked by the numbers of Khomeini’s forces and their zeal, and they quickly came to understand they were outgunned. The clergy drew large crowds to demonstrations day after day, and even larger numbers to voting booths for a national referendum and constituent assembly elections that were to decide the fate of the revolution. The middle class cringed at the takeover unfolding, and efforts were made to better organize and resist. But leftist and pro-democracy rallies were disrupted by club-wielding thugs, who also stormed Tehran University to purge it of leftists. When in March tens of thousands of middle-class women poured into the streets to demand freedom of dress, vigilante thugs attacked them. Pro-democracy forces formed a new party, the National Democratic Front, and at first large crowds showed up at its rallies. But after only a few confrontations with Khomeini’s stone-throwing and club-wielding mobs, the Front melted away.

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