Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Central Asian Trivia Time

James Call: Expert here! Back with some very fun questions from reader "Erin". Standard Disclosure: Please bear in mind that there are way more "expert" folks out there than I! But they're not as good drinking buddies.

Georgian Jews?!?

That's right baby, Georgian Jews. Now I don't know the exact history of Georgia's Jews, although I'm pretty fucking certain that a healthy dose of them were frontline Bolsheviks back in the days, because Stalian and a lot of the other first-gen Bolshies were straight outta Georgia, and the Jews, with a long history of often radical intellectualism, tended to go for things like "the overthrow of a feudal autocracy by the vanguard party of Communist revolution" all the time. In fact, it's fascinating to look at the early Zionists and see how thematically close it was to various strains of communist thought.

But, while I don't know the internal migratory history of the USSR very well - and there was a fuckload of it, while Stalin and others were all "Hey, Siberia needs more starving Azeris," etc., I'm willing to bet a lot of those Georgia Jews go all the way back to the good old days of the Khazars.

(p.s.: Turns out I was totally wrong about my first guess. I thought it was the nearby Uighurs, who converted to Manichaeism back in the day. Let's not even go THERE, girlfriend.)

The Khazars were your basic horseback riding fun loving subertribe/kingdom back in the day, back around, oh, 900 AD, I want to say? Back when Russia was around but way before Peter the Great made it into that familiar shape we've all come to know and love - The Russians used to be centered around the Principality of Moscow and a few other towns, and didn't really become a force to be reckoned with until they starting fucking the Ottomans (today's "Turks") around the 14th and 15th centuries.

Anyways the Khazar down there were doing their Turkic thing, just trying to stay alive, and of course you always had your Christians, Jews, and Muslims trading with these assorted Turkic groups, located as they were between China (rich), Persia (pretty rich), Byzantium (also pretty rich), and Europe (piss poor but featuring some handy crap such as woolens, etc). And apparently some notable Khazar military figure named Bulan starting banging this Jewish broad, and next thing you know he's all, "Fellow Khazars! Let us embrace this fantastic faith centered around a Holy Land that is way the fuck far away from us and has nothing to do with our lifestyle up here!"

And the other Khazars were all, "Hold on, cowboy," so Bulan convened a sort of grand argument between Jewish, Christian, and Islamic notables. And they all made their points about how great their YHWH-centered religions were, but in the end of the day the conversion probably came down to money and geopolitics, such as they were: The Christians could offer trade with the shitty Christian world (well, Byanztium would have been handy), the Muslims could do Arabia and Persia (muuuuuuch better), and the Jews could do ... drum roll please ... BOTH!

Because ever since the Christians came to power in Rome, the Jews have occupied a weird position of being the Chosen People let also flawed, and all throughout Rome up through the period of Islamic ascension and the rise of the Middle Ages, Muslims and Christians have alternately persecuted Jews and used them as go-betweens. Besides, Jews have tended throughout their history to be great world travelers and traders... there were plenty of Jews in the T'ang Dynasty of China, for instance...

So the Khazars went Jewish, and presumably did alright for themselves, although, where the hell is Khazarstan today? They are still out there, somewhere, you can bet your tuckus.

So I don't know if those Jewish Khazars, close as they were to where Georgia is today, are related to Georgia's Jews, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Next question!

now, i am also curious about the uzbeks, since the very best meal i had all summer was at the uzbeki restaurant....

Uzbeks Uzbeks Uzbeks... I got Uzbeks on my mind. I don't know much of the history of Uzbeks specifically, except it's important to note all these types are basically Turks. Not Turks from Turkey... it's a weird distinction... the most famous Turkic groups of all time have to be 1. The Mongols, 2. The Ottomans, and probably 3. The Seljuks, although there's so many other bitchin' Turkic groups. Fuck, the Afghans used to be Turks; they're just Turks who settled down.

You may note that a Mongol looks nothing like an Ottoman. That's because the Turkic groups were small, horseback riding types. They were always great conquerers, and to a lesser extent, traders, but once they actually conquered something, they had to intermarry to really dominate a place. And that almost never worked out for 'em. You can't hold down China, Persia, or Asia Minor very long. Their ancient and far-out cultures will always reassert themselves above barbarism.

Anyways, Uzbeks, I assume they're pretty old at this point. I DO know a bit about modern Uzbek politics, though, and it's great fun.

First off: ever hear of the "Northern Alliance"? They were our proxy in the invasion of Afghanistan (our invasion, not one of the other invasions). They consistented to a large extent of Uzbeks and Tajiks, from Uzbekistan and Tajikstan, natch. They were not Pastun like the rest of the country and therefore couldn't really do squat without the help of NATO. They also do not rule the country today. Although they got the opium supply flowing again, after years of Taliban repression of the drug trade. PHEW! Those illegal opium dollars are very convenient for helping our intelligence agencies purchase small arms for paramilitary groups.

Also, Uzbekistan is totally filled with natural gas, and part of the Project for a New American Century clique's New American Century totally included this ridiculous 1,000+ mile pipline to go from Uzbekistan through Afghanistan and then through PAKISTAN to the Indian Ocean. Ha ha ha! That's like say, "Hey, I live next to three crackhouses, I wonder if I can run my laundry line through all three of 'em" and expecting nothing to go wrong. Here, check out this map:

Gotta admit I'm not too up on the last few years of coup-related activity in Uzbekistan. I know they have the standard "radical Islamic student" problem that pretty much all those countries have. Remember: the age of the horseback conquerer is over, so Central Asia's a pretty sad place now. It's where Russia meets Islam meets China, with some Americans (who are on course to get kicked the fuck back to the Western hemisphere where we belong) mixed in.

I also know that Islam Karimov was the dictator of Uzbekistan for many years, and now it's some other guy. It's your basic post-Soviet totalitarian dictatorship.

I finally, I know that "Trans-Caspian Pipeline," to bring natural gas to the Indian Ocean for Exxon or whatever, is toast. It's a "pipe dream" you might say. HA HA HA! Since we've so royally boffo'd everything in Afghani- and Paki-stan these last few years, the Uzbeks have thrown down with their old overlords the Russians, and will be supplying their natural gas to our pals in the Kremlin from here on out.

And that's all I know about the Uzbeks. I should go get some Uzbek food too, I bet there's hella good lamb involved.

RECOMMENDED READING: For easy and VERY entertaining reading, start with Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe vol. 3. All of you should read all three volumes of this anyways. It's your defacto primer for the history of man. I am dead serious. And it's funny as hell. Also strongly recommended: The New Great Game by Kleveman Lutz. Sooooooo wickedly good. A few years old at this point, but really explains the hell out of the struggle for power in Central Asia, which is a large part of the impetus for our invasion of Afghanistan in the first place. It's all about the pipelines, baby! Also, check out ever so often. They're great for this sort of coverage (it's short for "Asia Times Online"). Oh, and here's some online book which looks really good and from which I fact-checked my Khazar/Judaism info (glad I did that! I would have had Manichaen egg on my face! Would have been ashamed to show myself at Columbia U. parties, etc.),M1 ... Mom, Dad, I want this book for Christmas.

1 comment:

hokees said...

Oy vey, like I can read that schmekel?