Jun2015082015 / Jun / 08Several times before I’ve discussed the topic of social media and how it can be used for the positive and the negative. The positive is found in the ability to give voice to the often voiceless especially in countries where medias stay controlled. In other places like Iraq, groups like ISIS have a global reach in multiple languages by manipulating the demographics of social media’s key users, often young people.However, there is another value in social media that is less often discussed. Its value as a data collection hub and tracking tool. In nations like Nepal and Japan it an be used to monitor aid need for natural disasters. In America – aside from some of the more social uses – it can be used to track political upheavals. Social media is even used as a tool for monitoring terrorism.Egypt for instance, has become a hub of technology in the Middle East. Millions of dollars from United Arab emirates have been poured into technology in Egypt making it one of the most wired countries in both the Middle East and Africa. Twitter and Facebook became famous in Egypt during the Arab Spring for their role in not only creating a gathering platform, but in sharing and revealing information that was not privy to the presses once the regime cracked down on the media and on TV and Internet output. Social media was used as a tool for the voiceless as was discussed in a previous post about 21st century freedom fighter.Egyptians are not alone in their use of social media for socio-political change. In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity across the United States regarding the use of excessive force by the police in cities across the nation. I was able to participate in more than one of the #BlackLivesMatter protests as a result of following the information by protest organizers on social media.Social media has gone far beyond the social and launched a society whose history and movements are forever digitally recorded in archives of the Internet.Visit this week’s new #AVProject entitled “Social Media: Science Beyond the Social” HERE or visit youtube.com/archaeoventurersAdditional Reading:
Jun2015022015 / Jun / 02
For years pop culture has used the concept of aliens or some form of extra terrestrial being in order to explain periods of history that have often been deemed unexplainable.
One of the of world’s greatest historic icons – the Great Pyramids of Giza – is subject to all manner of other-worldly conspiracy theories.
In the fourth Indiana Jones – which was widely met with disappointment among diehard fans – was the insertion of aliens into the stories in Peru.
One side or the other, passions can run very high when discussing conspiracy theories and the science – or lack there of – around them. On April 15, 2015 a video surfaced on YouTube showing the culmination of a yet-to-happen debate between Graham Hancock and Egypt’s former Minister of Antiquities Dr. Zahi Hawass. Though the video is only about two minutes long and cast in poor lighting, the ‘lively’ nature of the argument has generated over 100,000 views in the month and a half since its release. And trust me – it’s not because archaeological debates are riveting viral material – it’s all about the drama.
This argument centered around Hancocks showing of a slide that contained Robert Bauval’s Orion Correlation Theory in which it is believed that the stars in the Orion Constellation have a relationship to the kings of the Great Pyramids of Giza. However, this has been regarded by many scholars as pseudoscience or junk science. For archaeologists and other scientists that have spent lifetime examining ancient peoples and understanding the depth of their technological and engineering capabilities, it may come off as an insult to surmise that astrological-type pseudoscience has a place in the world of academia except for its role in Archaeology 101 of what NOT to do.
Keeping in mind that this dramatic debate encounter caught on film was more than simply an argument, but a deep fundamental disagreement, was Dr. Hawass still unwarranted in his fervent disagreement to the Orion Constellation theory and its proponents?
Let us know your thoughts on this and other pseudo-science and conspiracy theories in archaeology on twitter @ArchaeoVenturer
Check out this week’s episode entitled “Why Aliens? Ancient Cultures Deserve More Credit” HERE.
Apr2015282015 / Apr / 28
The past month in the US has proven big in gender and LGBT issues – Bruce Jenner’s transgender interview changed the way America sees trans individuals, the supreme court makes a decision on proposition 8 regarding same sex marriage, and the nation faces the potential of its first woman president with Hillary’s bid to run. And though there are still major strides to be made, America seems to be accepting change at an increasingly accelerated pace.
What do changes in social gender norms mean in nations outside of American boundaries? Change is in the air in the post-Arab Spring Middle East as well.
As parts of the MENA region face increasing oppression under fierce dictators and the rule of terror groups like ISIS – there are young people in areas outside of terror control that are breaking the gender boundaries such Islamist groups seek to maintain.
During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, women were pivotal in leading the cause to advance their rights and place in Egyptian society. But even as laws change in a few short years, social fabric can often take a generation. In Egypt, women have been taking this into their own hands. Recently, Egypt awarded a mother, Sisa Abu Daooh, who dressed like a man for more than 40 years in order to provide for her family. Illiterate and widowed, she was forced to find work to support her children – being a woman in Egypt can be dangerous, being a woman in the work force equally so, but she courageously worked to do so – albeit dressed like a man.
However, there are women of a younger generation that are trying to break traditional work barriers without the gender-bending cloak and veil. Mennatullah El-Husseiny sought to break taboos of women’s place in the public social fabric of Egypt by doing jobs considered to be “only for men.”
Women are not the only ones who are trying to crack the glass ceiling they face in the Middle East – in Turkey, young men are brining back an age-old art – the Ottoman tradition of male belly dancing.
Known in Turkish as zennes, rakkas, or koceks, the art died out during the Ataturk era and has only recently resurfaced, but in the current political atmosphere is considered part of a homosexual culture in Turkey – a sentiment that while still considered taboo in many parts of Turkey, is becoming more accepted in its modern and increasingly globalizing society. And although the zenne scene in Turkey is becoming more accepted, one of the male dancers interviewed in an al-Monitor last December still declines to have his name and photo revealed – cracking the glass ceiling can still come with a price…
Apr2015202015 / Apr / 20
In preparation for writing this blog I scanned the Internet looking for images – and came across the horrific news of the Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS in a newly released video.
As I struggled to digest the recent news from ISIS, I tried to determine what I wanted to emphasize most in this new blog – and although history seems to continue to repeat itself, one thing that is left out is the reality of the situations – religion does not justify the killing of others.Throughout history we have seen the repeated loss of innocent lives in the name of one religion or another – during the crusades, many Muslims lost their lives at the hands of Christians. Yet at no point in time have these values of death in the name of god held to the true message of religion – peace, alms for the poor, and understanding of the plight of others.
Baghdad was once known as the ‘City of Peace’ (Madinat al-Salam) – but that was in another lifetime. And today, even with the trillions of images that exist online, one would be hard pressed to find any images representing Baghdad and peace.Our media perpetuates so much information about the Islamist terrorists whose campaigns are sweeping the Middle East and North Africa – but what is often left out of the media is the distinction between Islamism and Islam. One of the first things that is important to understand about the Jihadi Salafist ideology that is sweeping the world today is that this is NOT true Islam.
In an effort to illustrate that Islam is at its core a religion of peace, I attempted to find images to display this for my blog – I was truly shocked at the dearth of imagery available to illustrate this point. One of the few stories available in the “recent memory” of the Internet that truly illuminated Islam and the peaceful nature of the religion came out of a period of turmoil – the Arab Spring. During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, while Egyptians rallied together,Muslims stood guard to protect the Coptic Christians from violence during prayer – and the Copts did the same.
Every time an image of a group like ISIS or Ansar Al Sharia is reproduced, or clicked on, it only feeds the propaganda machine these groups are trying to proliferate. As they bastardize religion by using it as a justification for violence, they are at the same time killing the true peaceful nature of that religion in the minds of those outside of it – feeding the Islamaphobia beast – and furthering their cause against those for hating Islam.
Let’s stop giving them free propaganda. Send the ArchaeoVenturers Project your images of how Islam represents peace. Let’s change the dialogue together.
Mar2015082015 / Mar / 08
So Katie (The Digger) and I decided that if either of us ever have the chance to travel to interesting places with deep histories (which most places are and have), then we would not waste the opportunity and would share them as special ArchaeoVenturers episodes! It goes without saying that every country, city and historic site has a fascinating and complicated story to tell, and we only hope that you enjoy watching these special videos and reading our blogs as much as we love sharing them with YOU!
So this past holiday season, you may have seen on our ArchaeoVenturers social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit some friends of mine who had moved literally halfway around the world from good ole’ Washington D.C. (14, 392 km in fact!) to a part of the world that I had never visited before- Southeast Asia, specifically the capital of Cambodia- Phnom Penh. The Kingdom of Cambodia, once known as the Khmer Empire, saw independence from the French in 1953. Today, one of their largest sources of income has become the tourism industry. Who needs a better excuse to visit friends when you have a warm bed and Cambodian iced coffee on the other end!? If you want to visit a foreign land, my best advice would be to visit with people who are or have become locals- you meet and see things that tourists never get to experience, and luckily, such was the case here!
My two friends and I packed our bags and spent the almost two days of traveling getting to the city of Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, where the temple complex of Angkor awaits eager tourists. Our friends in the capital had to wait a few days to see us, because as a history buff and archaeologist, Angkor was a place I could not miss out on, and also, they had already visited a month earlier. This first video in our special Global ArchaeoVentures series is about my friends and my journey traveling from JFK on Eva Air (yes, the Hello Kitty airline!) through Taiwan to Phnom Penh, and straight into a 6+ hour taxi ride with a driver who easily hit 90 mph on roads that had more potholes than all the potholes I’ve ever seen combined! And yet, we enjoyed (and were exhausted) every minute of it! Our driver stopped only once for petrol (which is sold on the sides of the roads in used cola bottles for convenience) and to grab us all bamboo shoots filled with rice and beans for a road snack.
It’s hard to switch from light hearted travel/adventure mode in the videos to writing more about what I heard in this portion of the trip. The most enlightening part of our journey to Siem Reap, was learning more about the destruction of the Khmer Rouge from our driver, who’s family had luckily survived the massacres. Between 1975 and 1979, a genocide organized by the ruling Khmer Rouge government, killed roughly one fifth of the country’s population- from all walks of life and all echelons of their society, echoing memories of the Holocaust. Despite their ousting in 1979, the Khmer Rouge continued to exist until 1999, and the effects of their regime remain ever present in contemporary Cambodian society. Our driver told us that the bamboo with rice and beans snack we were eating, was a popular staple during the war because of its easy ingredients and simple preparation. What I was truly inspired by, and I regrettably didn’t manage to catch this part on film, was how positive our driver spoke about Cambodia’s future despite all that had happened to his family and culture. The world is doomed to repeat atrocious acts of violence if we fail to learn from history, something happening at an alarming rate with ISIS/ISIL in the Middle East right now. Luckily, there are strong communities of people willing to fight back and save what is irreplaceable. That is what happened in Cambodia, and although it is still recovering, the positive and enduring attitudes of their countrymen bring hope for the future.
Ending with that somber note of reflection, please stay tuned for Chapter 2 in “Global ArchaeoVentures: The Diver Travels to Cambodia” also known as “An ArchaeoVenture to Cambodia” where the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat is highlighted.
Please visit Youtube for Chapter One Episode! or View Below!
For further reading:The Cambodian Tribunal: Khmer Rouge HistoryTime Magazine: The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge (told through images)
Feb2015092015 / Feb / 09
Monuments are a curious concept in modern society – just as the victors often write history, those in power are also responsible for determining what is valuable – what is worth memorializing and what should be forgotten. What defines “good” destruction from “bad?”
Although upon first hearing that question one would likely wonder what destruction of a monument could ever be “good?”
November 9, 2014 was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – an event many would argue as a major turning point toward a more unified Germany, more unified Europe, and a more prosperous West – its destruction overall. Few today would argue that the Berlin wall should have remained intact. Yet, will archaeologists hundreds of years from now consider the destruction of the wall a loss of important tangible heritage? Only time will tell. But today, as nations the world over work to have pieces of cultural heritage repatriated to their homeland, it may seem contradictory that we laud the sale or loss of some of these items yet celebrate the sale of others, in particular pieces of the Berlin wall.
On the one hand, the argument can be made for the sale of such a (literally) dividing piece of history in the sense that it empowers a people to reclaim their society and take back their freedoms. However, once this history becomes antiquity will future minds have changed about the sale of this major portion of history? Even decades later, past tourists are returning pieces of monuments such as those at Pompeii – yet at the same time a piece of the Berlin wall can be found on eBay.
But admittedly, Europe is not my forte – so let’s look at an example that may have more resonance with the current era: the toppling of Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.
You’ve seen this scene before – from the invaders of ancient history conquering their enemies, to the demonstrators of Ukraine protesting communism today, to the destruction of ancient societies by modern ones – such as the recent campaign of ISIL today. Why is it that we lament the losses from destruction of the ancient world, while lauding the same types of destruction for monuments today?
Perhaps it is the fact that some believe that time can make something valuable.
Yet, if an object’s worth appreciates with time – are we then undermining the value of our future by not lamenting the destruction of modern history in the same way that we condemn the destruction of our past?
Should we only be condemning the demolition of our past and not our future? Who should determine what is ok to destroy and what is not? These are questions with many answers, and we are looking to you to send us your thoughts!
Here’s some further reading to help you inform your thoughts on the argument:
Feb2015022015 / Feb / 02
When most people hear “archaeology” one of the first things that comes to mind is Indiana Jones. How is it that a pop culture icon became the mascot of a scientific discipline?
Archaeology – and all of the romanticized tales of ancient mummies and temples that come with it – has been entwined in pop culture since people first began literally digging into our history.
In the late nineteenth century, common fads for elites involved “mummy unwrapping parties.” Although today many would see this as a desecration of a deceased person, most elite Victorians didn’t see anything wrong with damaging pre-Christian bodies.
Mummies were simply a curiosity of the orient. But as the study of the ancient Near East became a common place academic discipline – particularly after the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 by Jean François Champollion – archaeology found its way into the imaginations of the West and the increasingly developing world of popular culture.
Ancient Egypt was used to sell everything from cigarettes to soap. And it carved out its own niche in Hollywood well before the days of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider.
Elizabeth Taylor’s famous role as Cleopatra is still well known in popular culture today as one of the iconic images of Cleopatra – never mind that many historians believe that it was not physical beauty, but wit, wisdom, and womanly cunning that made the real Cleopatra a legend of history. In reality, she is an example of what women should be valued for in society – their intellect and strength of character – but this was not the idealized beauty that Western culture wanted to portray.
Politics of women in history and Hollywood aside – one question remains: do the common misconceptions created by archaeology in popular culture hinder or help the overall discipline?
Some may think that if the public is going to learn about archaeology or history is should be with accuracy from the beginning.
However, here’s my person opinion: As someone who began studying the discipline just at the cusp of the recession and finished grad school with the effects of an economic crisis in full swing, I must say that anything that gets the public interested enough in a discipline to patronize a museum or donate to an archaeological excavation is something worth containing. Most people get into a science one way or another based on a romanticized view of what it is. Unfortunately, cut backs in government funding for research and an economic crisis that has made many funding sources at foundations and universities tighten their belts means that other routes of funding must be sought.
But this is a debate that can go on forever – so what are your thoughts on archaeology in pop culture? Does it damage the mind of the public or expand it?Crowd funding has become a new means of revenue for archaeologists to seek in gathering funding for their research. But with a source of funding that relies on the public, archaeologists must be able to appeal to the internet world’s non-scholars to get their attention – and of course dollars. This kind of appeal would not be nearly as effective if it weren’t for all of the fantasized, glorified, and heroic archaeology adventures that Hollywood and western culture portray – regardless of how inaccurate it is. Those inaccuracies provide an opportunity to grasp the imagination of the wider public and engage them in a way where those misinformed interests can be put to rest in the name of science.
For further info on crowdfunding your archaeo-project and archaeology in pop culture, check these out:
Jan2015252015 / Jan / 25
World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarineThere is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe. USS Abraham Lincoln manning rails for USS Arizona
Jan2015192015 / Jan / 19
Sure, we get a day off from work today- but we must learn to remember to focus on the reason. My guess is the most Americans take the day off for granted without acknowledging what the significance is of this particular national holiday for freedom and human rights. Today is dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and by pure coincidence, this week’s episode of the “ArchaeoVenturers Project” is about Brooklyn Heights and the Underground Railroad. The Abolitionist Movement was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement, headed by Dr. King and an inspiration and platform for millions in America.I wanted to have an episode about slavery in Brooklyn because just down the street from where I grew up in Brooklyn Heights, now known for its scenic and private views of Manhattan, is Plymouth Church, which is a National Historic Landmark on the National Register for Historic Places. According to the National Park Service, Plymouth Church, founded in 1847, was considered “one of the nation’s foremost centers of antislavery sentiment” in the late 19th century. I went there several times as a child on field trips, exploring the basement used in the Underground Railroad, seeing where Lincoln sat in the church pew, and I distinctly recall seeing a freedom ring that was given to a enslaved child (Plymouth’s website enlightens that the child’s name was ‘Pinky’ and the ring was given to her when her freedom was purchased by the congregation- Henry Ward Beecher declared “With this ring, I thee wed to freedom”). Also, as a result of visiting Plymouth church, I learned about Sojourner Truth, as she had been one of the famous abolitionist speakers featured. She was born into slavery, freed when New York State abolished slavery in 1827, and became an outspoken antislavery abolitionist and advocate for women’s rights. Her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech (recounted below) brought tears to my eyes as a child and although I can’t remember what grade, I performed her monologue several times in one year and ended up writing several middle school papers on women’s rights as a result of her influence. (Side note- this is likely why I was so drawn to the Slave Wrecks Project, although a completely independent decision)(As recounted by Frances Dana Gage, in 1863) Ain’t I a Woman?
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.
Everybody thinks that because the North was against slavery, that everyone in the North was by default against slavery, but that wasn’t the case at all. Although New York citizens were legally obligated to manumit their slaves in 1827, many people found ways around the law, even by sending them back to plantations in the South, as many Brooklyn businesses had dealings invested in them. Also, despite the abolished slavery law, it was still illegal to harbor fugitives, hence the prominence but secrecy of the Underground Railroad. Brooklyn’s own harbor was used on the Railroad, as runaway slaves hiding on cargo ships made their way into Brooklyn, often through Plymouth Church, which was called “the Grand Depot” on the Underground Railroad. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and founding preacher of Plymouth Church, was a tireless abolitionist, despite hate and featured such prominent speakers like Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass as part of his antislavery efforts at Plymouth. He was even outed as being a leader on the Brooklyn Underground Railroad by The Brooklyn Eagle in 1872, along with many others in his congregation. One of the most memorable actions of Beecher’s was that he would hold mock auctions at the churchyard, showcasing the horrifying aspects of slavery while he simultaneously urged parishioners to bid for the freedom of escaped slaves. President Lincoln himself worshipped at the church, just a day before his infamous speech declaring his antislavery ambitions that is said to have won him the nomination for the Republican presidential bid.It’s quite cliche to state the obvious, but we must make a concentrated effort to not only engage in topics that make us squeamish as a nation on days where it’s appropriate, like today for example. We need to make it part of the national everyday conversation because there can be no healing or catharsis from ignorance and secrecy. The new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture will ideally be a platform for these ongoing conversations, and be a safe place for reflection and interpretation. There is a new exhibition called “Brooklyn Abolitionists: In Pursuit of Freedom” at the Brooklyn Historical Society (running through winter 2018 so GO!) which explores a dark chapter in my home borough. There is so much to say about slavery in Brooklyn, and I hope to have more opportunities to highlight the courage and efforts of those involved in its abolition at future opportunities.Highly recommended for further reading- “Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church in the Civil War Era: A Ministry of Freedom” by Frank Decker.- Plymouth Church Website (http://bit.ly/15qOogg)- 10 Stops on the Underground Railroad in NYC (http://bit.ly/1CHAMIs)- Slavery in Brooklyn (http://bit.ly/14YoaB7)- The King Center (http://bit.ly/19AAcCv)- Donate or Become a Member of the New Smithsonian Institution African American History and Culture (http://bit.ly/1DUT8cQ)
Jan2015142015 / Jan / 14
Greeks of Pontus: Maintaining Identity
Growing up in America with any ethnic background allows many of us to relate across cultures – simply by the similar ways in which our families share and preserve the keynotes of each of our cultures. For ethnicities in America today – Greeks, Italians, Arabs etc. it’s the ethnicity that comes first when describing their background, and citizenship that comes second. Greek-American, Italian-American, and Arab-American – to say ‘American-Greek’ sounds strange to us. Perhaps that speaks to the immigrant nature of the United States and the people who left their homelands to be here – and continue to do so to this day. Coming to America meant having the freedom to have pride in your culture and ethnicity and being free to practice your religion, so it may seem only natural to boast that part of one’s identity first. Although in the past – like today – this was not always an easy journey.
Growing up ethnic in America is one thing, growing up Greek-American is another, but growing up Pontian-Greek brings with it a different side of cultural pride – one that has been hard fought, and remains hard fought to keep the culture alive.
The region of Asia Minor once known as Pontus is located on the South coast of the Black Sea in modern day Turkey. Pontian Greeks (like all Greeks) hail themselves as the ‘Greekest’ of the Greeks –language and land, traced back beyond Alexander. In fact, one of the unique aspects of Pontic Greek dialect is that it maintains archaic Greek elements of the Ionian dialect, which was first introduced during the Hellenic colonization of the Pontic region around 800 B.C. Not only that, but Pontic dialect includes many aspects of Turkish vocabulary.
Yet, by today’s national boundaries we (Pontians) are essentially ethnically Turkish and culturally Greek – though you would be hard pressed to find many Pontians today to admit to that Turkish part. The people descended from Pontus are dark haired, almond eyed and dark skinned Orthodox Christian Greeks. And like many of the Christians living in parts of the Arab world who face ISIS and its affiliates today, they were told to convert or die.
In 1914 the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians of Asia Minor faced extermination or forced conversion by Kemal Ataturk’s troops. 100 years later, the world watches as the people of Iraq and Syria fight to survive against a similar fate. And much like a century ago – Turkey is playing a major role. A major world power, and a member of NATO – Turkey has turned a blind eye to the efforts of ISIS and has made little attempt to thwart the effects of their cause. And as Turkey’s President Erdogan tightens rights and restrictions on women, increasingly showing his Islamist tendencies, it appears that history is slated to repeat itself again. It has even been suggested that Erdogan is the new Ataturk.
100 Years Later: Today’s tools
My childhood and adulthood were sprinkled with the not so subtle reminders of who our people were. Where we originally come from. Greece and Turkey were rarely referred to as ‘Greece’ or ‘Turkey’ – it was simply “the old country” when referring to Pontus. Because the old country, wasn’t the country it is today.
The Greeks of Asia Minor faced the horrors of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during World War I. And though history has forgotten the millions of lives extinguished by these events – the community has not forgotten, and the war is not far from the memories of those still alive today. The imprint that ethnic cleansing can make on a culture is like a birthmark – it is passed from parents to children for generations.
The past century has seen tens of millions lost to genocide. So often throughout history we have said ‘never again’ – and yet again comes, and we do nothing, or remain silent. One incredible asset that technology has afforded the global community is the ability to generate a collective voice to say ‘no more.’ It has also provided an opportunity for those members of cultures without a country to come together and form a collective community. Pages such as the Greek Genocide: 1914-1923 Facebook page use this technology and in doing so inform a new generation of what has happened in our past – the parts that the history books leave out.
These technological tools also give us an opportunity to stand up to history repeating itself. The Facebook Page Operation Antioch continually shares the battles faced by Christians and other minorities in the Middle East today and how they are struggling to maintain identity while fighting terrorist groups seeking to eliminate them from history.
These pages and others like them have allowed survivors and their descendants to develop a community to support the sufferers of genocide across the world. What is unique is that the very religious and ethnic boundaries that were the dividing platforms seem to be erased when one people can sympathize with the suffering of another.
Today, all of those – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim alike – in the Middle East under the rule of ISIS and its affiliates who do not adhere to their extreme interpretation of Islam, are facing the same decimation that mine and so many others’ ancestors have faced.
Today, we have the tools to speak out about these atrocities at the click of a button, or the swipe of a thumb. And though it may seem like the odds are insurmountable – we can help. Today, there are volunteer groups risking their lives to keep their people alive. The people of Syria have been facing waves of cleansing campaigns – whether political cleansing by Assad or ethnic cleansing by ISIS – yet there are still brave and selfless volunteers who stay behind, not fleeing the turmoil. And you can help.
To read more about the Pontian Greeks of Asia Minor – check out my paper on Academia.edu: Tracing Transnationalism: Reconciling American Citizenship and Maintenance of Pontian Ethnic Identity Among First-Generation American Pontian Greeks in Northeast Ohio
To help the White Helmets – Syria’s volunteer emergency medics – donate HERE.
To help preserve the cultures of Asia Minor you can help the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center – donate HERE.
You can also read more about the history of the Greek Genocide at greek-genocide.org