The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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By , nytimes.com
Published: February 24, 2013

ISTANBUL — When flight attendants first rode aboard Turkish Airlines in the late 1940s they wore cotton blouses under blue suits tailored to accentuate “the contours of the body,” as a fashion history of the airline puts it. In the ’60s and ’70s the trend continued with fashions straight off the Paris runway, designed to show Turkey’s European flair on its flagship airline.

The designer Dilek Hanif’s proposed uniforms, which have caused an uproar over how the country’s flagship carrier is perceived.

Now, the country’s shifting mores are reflected in a proposed new look: long dresses, skirts below the knee and Ottoman-style fez caps.

This being Turkey, where seemingly trifling matters can become bitter contests over identity, mock-ups leaked to the news media have caused quite a stir, eliciting passionate reactions from the secular and the pious, and from those who support the traditions of modern Turkey and others who are nostalgic for the days of the Ottoman Empire.

On Twitter, some Turks mocked the new uniforms as reminiscent of the costumes worn in “Magnificent Century,” a popular Turkish soap opera about the decadent reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. The dispute was only heightened after the airline said it was banning alcohol on some domestic and international flights.

Others slammed the new look as too conservative, a transparent effort to please the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The party’s decade-long run in power has wrought changes in the traditionally secular culture, like the acceptance of Islamic head scarves in public and on college campuses and restrictions on alcohol in certain places.

“It is a reaction against imposing a certain lifestyle to all institutions in Turkey,” said Ayse Saktanber, a sociologist at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. “Turkey is a pragmatic society which doesn’t like to fall behind the world. These new costumes came with the alcohol ban on planes.”

She added, “even my students with head scarves find these ridiculous.”

In a statement to the local news media, Turkish Airlines tried to mute the uproar, saying that the design was leaked prematurely and that it is just one option among many being considered. “Among those that reinterpret traditional Turkish designs, there are also others that stick out with their modernist approach.”

That Turkish Airlines has now become a locus of the country’s culture wars is perhaps not surprising, given that the airline is considered something of a national treasure by many Turks. This is particularly true of secularists, who see it as presenting the face of Turkey to the world. They recall that it was founded under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey who instituted secularism with an iron hand and banned the fez, among other symbols of Ottoman times.

With Turkey’s rise as an economic and political power over the past decade, tourism has soared. Feeding some of the backlash against the new uniforms is the fear that tourists, many of whom form their first impressions of Turkey on a Turkish Airlines flight, will get the wrong impression. And for all the talk of Turkey pivoting from the West and becoming a new leader of the Muslim world, the flight schedules tell a different narrative: in January nearly four times as many passengers flew to Europe as to the Middle East.

Some feel that Turkish Airlines, nearly 50-percent-owned by the government, is simply trying to please Mr. Erdogan, who, when he is not being accused by his opponents of being a strict Islamist, is referred to as a latter-day sultan for his accrual of power.

“Turkish Airlines is leaning toward a more conservative line,” said Serdar Tasci, a sociologist who also works as a consultant to the main secular political party, the Republican People’s Party, or C.H.P. “On the one hand it is trying to be a global brand, and on the other it is allying with the neoconservative policies of the political power.”

In a written statement, the chairman of Turkish Airlines’ board of directors did not deny that the airline was doing the government’s bidding. In fact, he adamantly confirmed it. “The Turkish Airlines vision matches with our government’s vision,” said the chairman, Hamdi Topcu. “There is no difference between them and us. It is the government that appointed us.”

He added, “The Turkish Republic’s government, which came to power with democratic elections and gained the confidence of its people, represents this country’s values.”

In a sense, Mr. Tasci said, the stir caused by the uniform designs is just a new twist in a perpetual conflict here. “There has been a cultural clash here” for the last 200 years, Mr. Tasci said. “But now they are bringing back the old as something new, and that is increasing the conflict.”

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the chairman of the C.H.P., said in an interview that “it’s just not possible for them to go ahead with the designs that were leaked to the papers. This airline represents Turkey’s image.”

The uproar has cast a spotlight on the Turkish designer Dilek Hanif, who was commissioned by the airline to redesign the uniforms. Ms. Hanif seems to encapsulate the divides and diversity of Turkey’s culture. A favorite of the Paris haute couture scene, her clothes are often inspired by Ottoman fashions, and she is said to be a favorite of Turkey’s head-scarf-wearing first lady, Hayrunnisa Gul.

In an interview, Ms. Hanif said the uniform designs that appeared online were not final. She attributed the negative reaction — especially from those who found no deeper cultural meaning and simply called the designs ugly — to the callousness of the fashion industry, apparently as fierce in Istanbul as it is in New York, Paris and Milan.

“Contrary to the photos that were leaked,” she said, “we are also working on a range of modern designs.”

Yildirim Mayruk, another Turkish designer, was quoted in the Turkish news media as saying, “even if they are not finalized I think it is a disgrace to design them.” Evoking the legacy of Ataturk’s secularist ideology, referred to as Kemalism, he added, “how right is it for a Kemalist woman to design such clothes?”

Ms. Hanif said her designs have always been a “synthesis of East and West,” and is none too happy about being thrust to the front lines of Turkey’s culture wars.

“I am still working on different designs, colors and alternatives,” she said. “When the designs are finished, they will be presented to Turkey and the world.”

Ceylan Yeginsu and Yesim Erdem contributed reporting.

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Speak Forth

Konuş

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As if the Ottoman Period Never Ended

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A scene from “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

By
Published: October 29, 2012

ISTANBUL — Since the lavish, feel-good Turkish epic “Conquest 1453” had its premiere this year, its tale of the taking of Constantinople by the 21-year-old Sultan Mehmet II has become the highest-grossing film in Turkey’s history, released in 12 countries across the Middle East and in Germany and the United States. But its biggest impact may be the cultural triumphalism it has magnified at home.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

Visitors at the Panorama Museum in Istanbul. Large crowds are flocking to the institution, which features a 360-degree painting of the siege of Constantinople.

“Conquest 1453” (known as “Fetih 1453” in Turkish) has spawned a television show with the same title and has encouraged clubs of proud Turks to re-enact battles from the empire’s glory days and even dress up as sultans and Ottoman nobles. The producers of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” a television series about the 18th-century insurrection against Sultan Ahmet Khan III, said they planned to build a theme park where visitors will be able to wander through a reproduction of Ottoman-era Istanbul and watch sword fights by stuntmen. At least four new films portray the battle of Gallipoli, the bloody World War I face-off between the Ottomans and Allied forces over the straits of Dardanelles and one of the greatest victories of modern Turkey. The coming “In Gallipoli” even includes Mel Gibson starring as a British commander.

The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past.

Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards.

The three-year-old Panorama Museum, which showcases an imposing 360-degree, 45-foot-tall painting of the siege of Constantinople, complete with deafening cannon fire blasts and museum security guards dressed as Janissary soldiers, is drawing huge crowds.

And in the past few years there has been a proliferation of Ottoman-themed soap operas, none more popular than “The Magnificent Century,” a sort of “Sex in the City” set during the 46-year reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Turkish show pulpishly chronicles the intrigues of the imperial household and harem, including the rise of Suleiman’s slave girl-turned-queen, Hurrem. Last year it was broadcast in 32 countries, including Morocco and Kosovo.

The empire’s rehabilitation has inspired mixed feelings among cultural critics. “The Ottoman revival is good for the national ego and has captured the psyche of the country at this moment, when Turkey wants to be a great power,” said Melis Behlil, a film studies professor at Kadir Has University here. But, she warned: “It terrifies me because too much national ego is not a good thing. Films like ‘Conquest 1453’ are engaging in cultural revisionism and glorifying the past without looking at history in a critical way.”

Faruk Aksoy, the 48-year-old director of “Conquest 1453,” said that he had dreamed of making a film about the conquering of Istanbul ever since he arrived there at the age of 10 from Urfa, in Turkey’s rugged southeast, and had been mesmerized by Istanbul’s imperial grandeur. But he had to wait 10 years to make a big-budget film because the financing and technology were not available.

The film’s budget of $18.2 million was a record in Turkey, but it has more than recouped that, grossing $40 million in Turkey and Europe, Mr. Aksoy said. So stirred was a crowd at a recent screening that it roared “God is Great!” as the sword-wielding Ottomans scaled Istanbul’s forbidden walls. Mr. Aksoy recalled that one cinema manager debated calling the police, fearing a real fight.

“We Turks are hot-blooded people,” he said. “The Turks are proud about the conquest because it not only changed our history but it also changed the world.”

But others warn of a dangerous cultural jingoism at work. Burak Bekdil, a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News, mused in a recent column that the time was ripe for a film called “Conquest 1974,” to celebrate the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, or “Extinction 1915,” to commemorate the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I. Death threats followed.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A tourist in Ottoman attire inside a Topkapi Palace photo booth.

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

The actress Aslihan Guner on the set of “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny.”

Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times

A traditionally dressed military band on the streets of Istanbul.

Adem Altan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A poster for “Fetih 1453.”

Critics have also faulted the film for inaccuracies and hyperbole, though Mr. Aksoy stressed that he had employed Ottoman scholars. Members of the court of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI — portrayed as hedonistic boozers surrounded by nubile dancing girls — talk in Turkish rather than Greek or Latin. Even Mehmet II, the conquering Sultan famed for his prodigious nose, has been retooled as a heroic pretty boy.

Alper Turgut, a leading film critic, deplored this one-dimensional universe even as he lauded the film’s epic ambitions. “If they had exaggerated just a bit more, it would be an absurdist comedy,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Aksoy expressed annoyance that a film meant to entertain was being politicized. “Would you ask Ridley Scott if he was politically influenced?” he asked.

Cultural critics noted that the film’s religious underpinning — there’s even a cameo by the Prophet Muhammad predicting that Constantinople will be conquered by believers — had made it popular with the growing Islamic bourgeoisie in a country that has increasingly turned its back on the crisis-ridden Europe and instead looks increasingly eastward. (The movie has also been embraced by some members of the governing Islamic party as an alternative to Hollywood’s “crusader mentality.”)

Religious conservatives had been marginalized during the secular cultural revolution undertaken by Ataturk. “For the first time we are seeing this new Islamic bourgeoisie, its tastes and its mores, reflected on the small and big screens,” Mr. Turgut said.

Ms. Behlil noted that the advent of big-budget television shows and films depicting the Ottoman era owed something to the country’s popularity in the Arab world, which was bringing in new revenues for production companies. Last year Turkey was Europe’s largest exporter of soap operas, pocketing $70 million in revenues.

But it is at home that the series and films are having a profound impact, educating a new generation of Turks.

Burak Temir, 24, a German-Turkish actor who played a prince on “Once Upon a Time Ottoman Empire Mutiny,” said he had initially been intimidated about portraying an era he knew so little about.

To prepare for his part, the show gave him a four-month crash course in Ottoman manners that included learning how to ride horses, sword fight, use a bow and arrow and puff out his chest. Even when not filming the show, he sports a Sultan-like beard and skinny Ottoman-style pants. “It makes me proud to be Turkish,” he said.

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The London 2012 Equestrian – Olympic Team Jumping competition at Greenwich Park displayed blatant marketing for Darwinism, with mural displays of Darwin, the Monkey Scientist, and icons associated with evolution from The Gospel according to Charles, more commonly know as On the Origin of Species. 

It was equally surprising that Saudi Arabia clinched bronze but felt comfortable with the Darwinist images. Perhaps Wahhabi thought went so far off the religious and political spectrum that it merged with evolutionism. All in the name of catching up with the rest of the developed world of course.

Since evolution is a so-called theory that is not provable enough, as opposed to Creationism and the new anti-Darwinist Intelligent Designism (enough of isms), we shall waste no more time and share the golden moment.

From the official London 2012 website:

To complain about anything else

For all other Games-time complaints, you can get in touch with us in a number of ways as detailed below. Please provide as much information as possible to help us deal with your complaint more quickly.

You can contact us:

By phone
Call us on 0808 197 2012. Hours of operation are Monday to Sunday 9am–6pm.

By email
Email us at complaints@enquiries.london2012.com or by using the web form below.

In writing
Write to us at: Complaints, Communication and Public Affairs, The London 2012 Organising Committee, 23rd floor, 1 Churchill Place, London, E14 5LN.

If your complaint is about an event you attended we will need the following information:

•   Details of event including date, time and venue
•   Details of what happened
•   Whether you raised your complaint at the time of attending and details of outcome
•   Your contact number

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Caucasus Activist Feels Heat in Turkey

By SUSANNE GÜSTEN
Published: July 11, 2012, nytimes.com

ISTANBUL — Midnight was long gone and the back streets of Istanbul lay dark and deserted, when Kuban Kural was walking home from an evening’s campaigning for the Circassian cause one night this spring.

Kuban Kural fears he is being stalked by Russian agents.

Suddenly, the interior lights of a parked car flared on, and Mr. Kural found himself staring straight into the pale eyes of his pursuers.

Then, the motor started up, and the car began to move slowly toward him.

“That was perhaps the worst moment of all,” Mr. Kural, 29, said in an interview in Istanbul this week, recounting a month of such encounters that the police and prosecutors in Istanbul are still studying.

Neither the authorities nor, indeed, Mr. Kural would have taken these incidents so seriously, were it not that six other Caucasian activists have been gunned down in the streets of Istanbul over the past four years.

In the most recent attack, three Chechen militants were shot and killed last September with silencer-equipped guns as they were getting into a car outside their home in Istanbul. Three other Chechen activists were killed in similar fashion in separate attacks in September and December 2008 and in February 2009.

None of the victims were Circassian; all were living in Turkey as refugees from the Chechen war, in which they had fought for independence from Russia. For that reason, analysts suspect that the perpetrators, who have not been apprehended, are linked to Moscow.

“It is quite open, quite clear who did it,” Guner Ozkan, an expert on security issues in the Caucasus with the International Strategic Research Organization in Ankara, said this week. “Russia does that,” he added, pointing to similar killings of Chechen militants in Vienna, Dubai and other places.

Oliver Bullough, the author of “Let Our Fame Be Great,” a recent book about the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, agreed. “The balance of probability is overwhelming that at least some of these were committed by Russian agents or people sent by Russia,” Mr. Bullough said by telephone from England this week.

The Russian Embassy in Ankara did not reply to requests for comment by telephone and e-mail. The Russian authorities have offered no comments on the killings, except for a statement by Russian investigators last year, quoted by Interfax, saying that two of the three men killed in the most recent Istanbul shooting were suspects in the bombing of Domodedovo Airport, which serves Moscow, in January 2011. Previously, the office of the Chechen president, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, a Moscow ally, has denied his involvement in the killings of any of the Chechens.

The case of Mr. Kural, the Circassian activist, is different from the others: Not only is he not Chechen, but also he is a Turkish citizen.

Mr. Kural’s first name comes from the Caucasian region, Kuban, from which his forebears hailed. He is one of several million Turkish descendants of the Adyghe and Ubykh peoples, commonly known as Circassians, who were forcibly evicted from their homeland in the Caucasus by Russian troops in 1864.

About a million Circassians, 90 percent of their total number, were expelled from their lands on the eastern shores of the Black Sea at the time, according to Mr. Bullough’s research, and 300,000 to 400,000 perished.

Today, most Circassians live in Turkey as a relatively well-integrated ethnic minority of three million to five million. Other Circassians are in Israel, Jordan and Syria as well as the United States, where there are sizable communities in New Jersey and California.

The Circassian community in Turkey has recently begun to join Kurds, Laz and other minorities in calling for recognition of its ethnic identity and protection of its language and culture. The Ubykh language became extinct with the death of its last native speaker a decade ago.

“It is partly a result of the democratization process of the past 10 or so years,” Mr. Kural said of the fledgling Circassian movement. A recent rally to commemorate the events of 1864 drew around 5,000 participants in Istanbul in May.

The jolt that galvanized Circassians in Turkey and around the world into action came when Sochi, a Russian resort town built on former Circassian lands, was named a candidate for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in 2006. It won the Games a year later.

“We will never agree to the Olympics’ being held on soil where genocide was committed against our forebears, where their bones still lie,” said Mr. Kural, who has been deeply involved in a Circassian diaspora campaign against the Sochi Games since 2006.

Mr. Kural suspects that his role in this campaign, “No Sochi 2014,” has earned him the unwanted attentions of Russia. He has described his mysterious encounters in detail to the police and the news media.

His pursuers would routinely make eye contact with him. Whenever he found them waiting outside his home, at the university where he works as an administrator or at Circassian campaign events, they would turn on the dome light of their car.

On another occasion they were waiting outside a restaurant in a part of Istanbul that he was visiting for the first time. They also once chucked a balled-up piece of paper at him. “You will die” was written on it in Russian.

Though cautious, analysts do not rule out the possibility that Mr. Kural is indeed being stalked by Russian agents.

“Russia takes the No Sochi movement very seriously, perhaps too seriously,” Hasan Kanbolat, chairman of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies in Ankara, said by telephone this week. “But harassing an activist is not behavior that can be condoned.”

Mr. Bullough, the author, said Russia had been “stunned” and “blindsided” by the Circassian protests against the Sochi Games.

“They thought Chechnya was going to be the problem, and suddenly this happens,” he said.

Mr. Bullough said Mr. Kural’s account reminded him of his own experiences being followed by Russian agents in the Caucasus. “They do make sure you know, they are very demonstrative about it,” he said. “So this does ring a bell.”

Mr. Ozkan, the Caucasus expert, said that although Russia was more focused on the Chechens, by stalking Mr. Kural “they might be sending a message” to the Circassians “to stay away” from the Olympic issue.

The Turkish government has said little about the subject. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that the police were looking into the threats against Mr. Kural, while the security authorities were still investigating the killings of the Chechens. On July 12 Mr. Kural was placed under police protection and provided with a bodyguard.

Mr. Ozkan said he suspected Ankara was trying to protect its blossoming relationship with Russia.

“Turkey is not willing to go into identifying who killed those Chechens; even if they know, they will not come out and say it,” he said. “Relations between Turkey and Russia are flourishing, especially in economic terms. Both sides are keeping this low-level.”

Mr. Kural fears that Turkey’s silence on the Chechen killings may have encouraged Russia to come after him. “They know now that they can act easily and with impunity in Turkey,” he said.

But all experts interviewed agreed that the assassination of a Turkish citizen is of another order and highly unlikely.

“The fact that he is a Turkish citizen changes the color of things” compared to the Chechens’ killings, Mr. Kanbolat of the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies said. “We hope they wouldn’t risk that.”

The police in Istanbul, who have been investigating the threats for several weeks, summoned Mr. Kural to another meeting on Monday. They said that his request for police protection was still being weighed by the provincial governor’s office.

Mr. Ozkan said he did not expect the matter to end there. “Will we see more such attacks? Probably yes,” he said. “Because the violence in the Caucasus is ongoing.”


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