Russia's seizure this week of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine has been welcomed by some of the ethnic Russian majority in the area. However, it is vigorously opposed by the large Crimean Tatar population.
The Crimean Tatars, descended from the Golden Horde of Mongols, were once the majority population in Crimea. However, Joseph Stalin charged them all with collaborating with the Nazis during World War II, and deported them to the parts of the Soviet Union that are now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Many Tatars have returned to Crimea since the fall of the Soviet Union - and they are not at all interested in coming under Russian rule once more.
A reader who worked as a civilian for the U.S. Army in South Korea just sent me a link to some of her pictures from that time, taken between 1956 and 1959. These amazing images look much more similar to Korea in the early 1900s than South Korea today. It's amazing how quickly the country has changed!
Collage photo, left to right: 1910 photo from Library of Congress Prints and Photos Collection, 1952 photo from Homini:) on Flickr.com, 2005 photo by Chung Sung-Jun on Getty Images.
The great Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, died on the battlefield at the age of 71 in 1566. His troops were fighting the Hapsburgs in Hungary, and they went on to win the Battle of Sziget, unaware that their leader had passed away from a heart attack.
And here is where the story gets a bit mysterious. For some reason, likely to preserve the body for its trip back to Constantinople, Suleiman's attendants removed his heart and intestines, and buried them on the site. Several later maps purport to show where the heart was buried, but they are not considered reliable.
Now, researchers are searching for the burial site, although theirs may be a quixotic quest. After all, organs decay, and Suleiman's heart likely would have been buried in a simple wooden box in accordance with Muslim burial practices. Local officials hold out hope that the sultan's heart will be found, however, so that they can advertise the site as a tourist attraction.
In the meantime, the search for Sulieman's heart has yielded one large and surprising find. Archaeologists discovered a previously forgotten Ottoman town, which stood on the site from about 1573 to the 1680s, when the Hapsburgs wiped it off the map.
Painting of Suleiman by Titian (?) via Wikipedia.
Move over, Central Asia. New archaeological evidence from Saudi Arabia suggests that horses may have been domesticated there as early as 9,000 years ago, rather than about 6,000 years ago in what is now Kazakhstan, as scientists had previously believed.
The evidence consists of stone, horse-like statues discovered in the Al Magar region. Initial radiocarbon and DNA testing hints that the site may by 9,000 years old, although those dates are not final. The statues depict equine animals with raised ridges along their shoulders and muzzles, resembling halters and reins.
Arabian horses are world famous today. It's possible, however, that their heritage on the Arabian Peninsula goes back much further than we knew. If the dates are correct, and the carved stone horses really are sporting tack, then the whole history of horse domestication has just been rewritten.
Photo of much later horse petroglyphs that clearly show domesticated horses, by James P. Blair via Getty Images.
The BBC recently did an interesting report on how modern Mongolian herdsmen in Inner Mongolia, now part of China, struggle to hold on to their traditional way of life in the face of modernization. In the 1980s, the Chinese government divided the grasslands into uniform plots and assigned them to specific families, striking a decisive blow against nomadic subsistence patterns. Today, yurts are used only to attract tourists - most Chinese Mongols live in brick homes like their farmer neighbors.
The report highlights another common problem for rural people the world around: young people moving to the cities. An entire generation of Mongolian youth living in urban areas sounds the death-knell for nomadic herding traditions. In addition, the Inner Mongolian herders who remain face a peculiarly Chinese problem - rampant pollution that fouls the grass and poisons their livestock.
Photo by Nancy Brown via Getty Images.
China has reacted with fury to a call from the city of Minami-Kyushu, Japan, for UNESCO to grant World Heritage status to the farewell letters of some kamikaze pilots from World War II. As the war turned against Japan in 1944-45, young pilots were sent on suicide missions against Allied naval vessels in the Pacific. Many of the kamikaze penned proud but melancholy letters to their families just before taking off on their final flights.
China calls the proposal to preserve the letters as an "effort to beautify Japan's history of militaristic aggression." However, the letters represent an important historical record of Japan's desperate, last-ditch attempts to defend the home islands from the advancing Allies.
In addition, while Japan certainly committed horrifying war crimes in China, it's odd that China has taken a stand on the kamikaze letters. After all, the pilots' targets were American, British, and Australian ships - not Chinese ones.
Photo of kamikaze strike that killed 60 on the USS Intrepid by Keystone / Getty Images.
Oh, the stigma of being a "-stan"! Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, is considering changing the country's name in hopes of attracting more western tourists. He recently noted that "foreigners take an interest in Mongolia, the population of which is only two million, but its name does not end in '-stan."
I'm not entirely sure that Kazakhstan's larger population makes it potentially more attractive to tourists than Mongolia, contrary to Nazarbayev's theory. Still, he may be correct that his country's current name conjures up an image of poorer neighbors, such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, or even the potentially dangerous destinations of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Nazarbayev proposes renaming the country Kazakh Eli, meaning "Land of the Kazakhs."
This wouldn't be an unprecedented move for the Kazakh president. In 1997, he decided to move the capital from Almaty to a remote northern town, which he renamed "Astana" - meaning "capital." I also suspect that Nazarbayev has not entirely gotten over the humiliation of the 2006 movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, featuring Sacha Baron Cohen. With the stroke of a pen, the president could distance his country from both the film and its Central Asian neighbors.
Photo of Kazakhstan's Olympic delegation at the Sochi Opening Ceremony, 2014, by Quinn Rooney / Getty Images.
On this day thirty-five years ago, the Islamic Revolution in Iran brought down the Shah. The revolution resulted in a new theocracy, headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It also marked a severe down-turn in relations between Iran and the US, particularly with the Hostage Crisis of 1979, in which revolutionaries seized the American Embassy and held the staff hostage.
Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Hulton Getty.
Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Hulton Getty.
China's moon rover, the Jade Rabbit, is experiencing technical difficulties that may doom the mission. In a first for unmanned space exploration, the rover itself took to Twitter recently to bid humanity a melancholy farewell.
China has a lot of prestige riding on the Jade Rabbit. It has been more than 40 years since any country has made a soft landing on the moon, so the mission is historic, no matter the outcome. Once the 14-day-long lunar night is over, the people of China and the rest of the world will learn the rover's fate.
Art by Mike Licht on Flickr.com.
In October of 1965, a coup began in Indonesia. The motives still aren't entirely clear. Was it an attempt to oust President Sukarno, or were the army officers involved trying to protect the president? Did General Suharto manipulate the other officers into starting a coup, so that he could finish it?
In any case, the coup ended up taking about 18 months to complete. It wasn't until March of 1967 that Sukarno formally relinquished power. I'm not sure if that's a world record in slow coups d'etat, but it has to be right up there...
Photo by Underwood Archive/Getty Images