Thursday, December 11, 2014

Turkey | Istanbul | Mongol Invasion

I entered a Portal on October 9 and after having spent several weeks in a Parallel Universe emerged just recently in Istanbul, which as cognoscenti know contains a Portal Connected to Shambhala. I reappeared in Istanbul just in time to meet up with my pal Ms. Saraa from Ulaanbaater, who had flown into town on Turkish Airlines for a few days of shopping and R&R.
Ms. Saka at her hotel (click on photos for enlargements)
We hit the streets running. I must say I experienced a different Istanbul than the one I am accustomed to: namely the shopping scene. First we visited the Historia Mall, a huge new complex just up the street from the Aksaray Metro Station. Thank Heavens they had a Starbucks! I parked myself there while Ms. Saka hit the stores. She had already advised me that she did not like people peering over her shoulder while she was shopping. It had recently dawned on me that I knew very little about the Achaemenids who ruled much of what is now Iran and surrounding countries from 550 BC to 330 BC, when their empire was conquered by Alexander the Great. I had brought my Kindle along (actually I never go anywhere with it), and now I took the opportunity to get up to speed on the Achaemenids by reading Matt Water’s marvelously entertaining Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE.

I had already reached the sack of Persepolis by Alexander the Great when Ms. Saka reappeared. After three hours of shopping she had found nothing she liked. So we moved on to the mammoth Forum Shopping Center a few stops further out on the Aksaray-Airport Metro Line. They too had a Starbucks! I finished Ancient Persia and moved on to Alexander the Great and the Conquest of the Persians. By the time Ms. Saka  appeared three and a half hours later Alexander was dead. Still she had found nothing she liked.

The next day we went to the Russian shopping district near the Laleli Mosque, not far from the Grand Bazaar. Many of the stores here are wholesale. Ms. Saka finally got down to business. She bought at least fourteen dresses, several pairs of boots, and other assorted items. I spent an enjoyable day listening to women from Russia and the former Soviet republics haggle with beleaguered sales clerks. Although I have not lived in Russia for years I was able to at least get the drift of most of the conversations. There following three more days of whirlwind shopping. Then finally to the Spice Market area where Ms. Saka bought raisins, apricots, dried cranberries (for kidney ailments), walnuts, both shelled and unshelled (her mother believes tea made from the shells of walnuts are good for the bones), cashews, almonds, and various other fruits and nuts. That concluded the shopping portion of Ms. Saka’s trip. 

Now for sightseeing. This was Ms. Saka’s first visit to Istanbul so we hit all the high spots, starting with the square between Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, certainly one of the world’s most iconic tourist venues. 
Ms. Saka and Hagia Sophia, built in the 530s AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. 
Ms. Saka and the Blue Mosque, built  between 1609 to 1616 by Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I
The Blue Mosque at night
We also visited the Basilica Cistern, built in the 520s AD to store water for the area around Hagia Sophia. The underground cistern has 336 columns and reportedly can hold over 100,000 tons of water. 
The Basilica Cistern
Two of the columns in the cistern rest on bases with carvings of Medusa. This one is on its side. No one know why. 
The other Medusa is upside down. Again, no one knows why.
Ms. Saka upside down
The Yeni Cami, or  New Mosque, near the Spice Market, completed in the 1660s
Courtyard of the New Mosque
Ms. Saka buying simit from a simit seller
Of course no trip to Istanbul is complete without seeing the Whirling Dervishes at the Mevlevi Hall in Galata, across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmed where Ms. Saka was staying.
Performers prepping for the dance
Whirling, whirling . . .
The morning after the Dervishes we left for Büyükada, the largest of the Prince Islands, located in the Sea of Marmara about an hour’s ferry ride from the main part of Istanbul. 
Ms. Saka at the Ferry Dock
On the ferry to the Prince Islands
Ms. Saka
Ms. Saka at the Büyükada (Big Island) ferry station
Ms. Saka strolling the streets of Büyükada. No cars are allowed on the island, so it’s either horse carriages, bikes, or on foot. 
Back in Istanbul we visited the famous fish restaurants near the Galata Bridge. Thoroughly sated by Istanbul, Ms. Saka caught the next plane back to Ulaanbaatar. She had arrived with only the clothes on her back but returned with 85 pounds of loot (that’s 38.5 kilos to you insufferable decimal-heads)—not a bad shopping trip!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mongolia | Uzbekistan | Chingis Khan Rides West

Chingis Khan Rides West is now available on Amazon: Paper Version and Kindle Version. The Kindle version is best read on devices that support color. 

(Click on Photo for Enlargement)

Back Cover Blurb:
Since the time of the Xiongnu two thousand years ago the nomads of the Mongolian Plateau traditionally looked south toward China for both plunder and trade. In 1215 Chingis Khan turned his attention westward and by 1219 had decided to invade the Islamic realms of Inner Asia, unleashing a sequence of events that would result in the sack of Baghdad in 1258 by his grandson Khülegü and the fall of the 508 year-old Abbasid Caliphate. The dissolution of the Caliphate by Khülegü dealt a blow to the Islamic world from which some might argue it has never fully recovered. We are still to this day living with the consequences of the Mongol invasion. Chingis Khan Rides West examines the motivation of Chingis Khan’s ride westward to attack the Islamic world and recounts the fall of the great Silk Road cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Termez, Gurganj, and others.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Iraq | Yezidis | Peacock Angel |Shambhala



Things can't get worse than this: Iraqi civilians are escaping into Syria to get off a northern mountain wheretthey've been trapped without food or water for weeks. Between 20,000 to 30,000 minority Yazidis have found a safe passage through Syria and back into Iraqi Kurdistan, assisted by Kurdish guerrilla forces. Meanwhile, American and British missions have been dropping emergency relief Mt. Sinjar and U.S. has launched air strikes on Islamic State militants nearby.


As anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news now knows the United States is airdropping humanitarian aide to the Yezidis in Iraq. See US Drops New Aid To Iraqis Fleeing Militant Surge if by some chance you are not up to speed on this. The fleeing Iraqis in this case are Yezidis, although of course Syriac Christians are also fleeing from the Jihadists in Iraq. I think I first became aware of the Yezidis when I read about them in the book Meetings With Remarkable Men by twentieth century magus George Gurdjieff back in the early 1970s. Then in  2009 I met a Yezidi in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, where he was working in a carpet store. I had my laptop with me and he asked to see a post I had made about his store—there is wi-fi in the Grand Bazaar—and after he had seen that post he began surfing through other of my blog entries. Suddenly he stopped and blurted out, “What is this!?!” It was a Short Post About Yezidis. “How do you know about Yezidis?” he demanded. He actually seem shocked that I should know about anything about this subject. I said that I read about them in books and had seen various material about them on the internet. After some hemming and hawing he finally admitted that he himself was a Yezidi. He said that for various reasons he usually did not tell tourists who came into his store about this, but since I already knew about Yezidis he felt he could tell me. Admittedly he was not too eager to share his beliefs, but he did offer to take me to eastern Turkey to met his relatives if I was so inclined. 

According to One Source, “The religion is little known to outsiders but contains elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, and also includes the veneration of the Peacock Angel.” What, you are wondering, is the Peacock AngelAccording To Yezidis:
Tawsi Melek, the “Peacock Angel” and “Peacock King,” is the most import deity of the Yezidis. But he is not just the possession of the Yezidis, he belongs to the entire world. The Yezidis believe that they possess the oldest religion on Earth, the primeval faith that features Tawsi Melek, and that all other traditions are related to them through the Peacock Angel. They contend that Tawsi Melek is the true creator and ruler of the universe, and therefore a part of all religious traditions. He does not, however, always manifest within these diverse traditions as a peacock. Tawsi Melek has taken on many other forms throughout time. The Yezidis do not believe that the Peacock Angel is the Supreme God. The Supreme God created him as an emanation at the beginning of time. He was brought into manifestation in order to give the invisible, transcendental Supreme God a vehicle with which to create and administer the universe. Tawsi Melek is thus a tangible, denser form of the infinite Supreme God. In order to assist Tawsi Melek in this important role, the Supreme Creator also created six other Great Angels, who were, like the Peacock Angel, emanations of the Supreme God and not separate from him. Tawsi Melek was, therefore, both the first form of the Supreme God and one of the Seven Great Angels, which is a cosmic heptad mentioned within many religious traditions. The Jews, Christians, Persian, Egyptians all have their seven angels and creators. In the Meshefê Re, the Yezidis “Black Book,” there is one passage that describes the Seven Great Angels and associates their creation with the seven days of Creation. The text first states that the Supreme God first created a pearl containing the substance or substratum of the soon-to-be physical universe, ostensibly referring to the molten mass preceding the “Big Bang” championed by modern physics.
 The Peacock Angel
One of the manifestations of the Peacock Angel in human form is believed to be Shaykh Adi ibn Musafir al-Umawi. He was born in 1070 in what now Lebanon. He studied in Baghdad but soon took up the life of a recluse in upper Mesopotamia. He eventually became a Sufi, but also adhered to the Zoroastrian beliefs still prevalent in the area. His syncretistic tendencies and saintliness soon attracted the attention of local Yezidis, who recognized him as a manifestation or incarnation of the Peacock Angel. He died in 1162 at the age of ninety and was entombed in a mausoleum in a village near Lalish, Iraq. His mausoleum and shrine exists to this day and has become one of the main Yezidi pilgrimage sites. 
The Mausoleum of  Shaykh Adi ibn Musafir al-Umawi near Lalash (not my photo)
The Jihadists in Upper Mesopotamia have destroyed many shrines in the region, perhaps most notably the Tomb of Jonah, Jonah being the belly-of-the-whale-guy who makes an appearance in both the Bible and the Quran. Christian churches, Shiite Mosques, and Sufi holy places have also been targeted. Jihadists May Have Already Captured The Mosul Dam above the city of Mosul. Lalash is just twenty-five miles northeast the breast of the Mosul Dam. If the Jihadists reach Lalash they will undoubtedly destroy the mausoleum and shrine of Shaykh Adi ibn Musafir al-Umawi. 

For photos of Lalish see Visit The Holy City Of The Iraqi Religious Minority That ISIS Is Threatening With Destruction (allow the ad to run for 15 seconds)

The Peacock Angel Manifests Itself In Many Religions, including Buddhism, and is believed to occasionally incarnate as the King of Shambhala:
In Tibet the Peacock Angel appears to be manifest as Amitibha, the peacock-riding dhyanibuddha who sits upon his Peacock Throne in the heaven of Sukhavati and occasionally takes a physical incarnation as the King of the World in legendary Shambhala, the land of immortals that flies the Peacock Flag. Shambhala, meaning the “Place of happiness,” is a place designed as eight territories or “petals” and recognized to be the heart chakra of planet Earth. In the center of the planetary heart chakra is the palace of the King of Shambhala, who thus functions as not only planetary monarch but soul of the world (just as the human soul resides within the human heart chakra). According to one legend, the Peacock Angel not only spread his colors around the globe but additionally merged his spirit with that of the Earth and became the world soul. Thus, his physical body is the Earth and his will is reflected in the actions of all creatures that live upon the face of the Earth.  

Turkey | Tur Abdin | Mor Gabriel Monastery

Lots of news coming out of Mesopotamia. I posted earlier about Midyat, in Turkey, where a refugee camp has been set up to house Syriac Christians fleeing the civil war in Syria. I also posted about the Syriac Christians from Mosel in Iraq who had sought Refuge On Mount Alfaf, about eighteen miles north of current-day Mosul. The plight of Christians in Mesopotamia has continued to worsen; see Ancient Christian population of Mosul Flees Islamic State. Now with the fall of Qaraqosh, Iraq's Largest Christian City, to Jihadists, Syriac Christians in Iraq face annihilation. See ISIS Persecution Of Iraqi Christians Has Become Genocide. Given these conditions, Turkey, which in the past has had its own checkered relationship with its Christian minorities, now appears to be a safe haven for Syriac Christians. 

After visiting Midyat we wandered down to Mor Gabriel Monastery, twelve miles southeast of Midyat and fifteen miles north of the Syrian border. Here, at least, Syriac Christianity appears to be surviving. This is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. It was founded in 397 by Mor (saint) Samuel (d. 433) and Mor Simon (d. 409). Originally it was called the Monastery of Mor Samuel and Mor Simon, but in the seventh century it was renamed Mor Gabriel Monastery after Mor Gabriel (634-668), the bishop of the Tur Abdin Region. Except for brief periods during wars and civil disorders the monastery has operated continuously since the year 397. Visitors are not allowed to wander around the grounds by themselves (although you can stay overnight if you make previous arrangements), but a guide is provided to give you a tour. Our guide, a young Syriac Christian, spoke perfect, unaccented English. 
Entrance to the monastery (click on photos for enlargements)
Entrance to the courtyard
Inner courtyard of the monastery
Monastery grounds
Steeples
This circular room, a later addition to the original monastery, was built in the sixth century with funds provided by the notorious Empress Theodora, the wife of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
Circular Room. The small windows on the dome open on monks’ cells. 

Our guide related that Theodora was born near here, in what is now Syria, and that her father was a Syriac priest. It was this connection with the area and the Syriac Church that motivated her to make a sizable donation to the monastery for the purpose of building this room. This is the sanitized version of Theodora’s background. Most sources do agree that she was born in Syria, but many maintain that Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer and a professional dancer and actress. They began pimping out Theodora and her sister Komito when they were both pre-adolescents. Theodora quickly began one of Constantinople’s most notorious prostitutes. If we are to believe the Byzantine historian Procopius (c. AD 500 – c. AD 565), who probably knew her personally, Theodora engaged in behaviour which would make even Kim Kardashian blush:
One night she went into the house of a notable during the drinking, and, it is said, before the eyes of all the guests she mounted the protruding part of the couch near their feet and forthwith pulled up her dress in the most disgraceful manner, and did not shy away from displaying her lasciviousness. And though she made full use of three orifices, she often found fault with Nature, complaining that Nature had not made the holes in her nipples larger so that she could devise another variety of intercourse there. Of course, she was frequently pregnant, but by using pretty well all the tricks of the trade she was able to induce an immediate abortion. Often in the theatre too, in the full view of the people, she would throw off her clothes and stand naked in their midst, having only a pair of knickers over her private parts and her groin – not, however, because she was ashamed to expose these also to the public, but because no one is allowed to appear there absolutely naked: underwear over the groin is compulsory. And with this costume she would spread herself out and lie on her back on the floor. Certain menials on whom this task had been imposed would sprinkle barley grains over her private parts, and geese trained for the purpose used to pick them off with their beaks one by one and swallow them. Theodora, far from blushing when she stood up again, actually seemed to be proud of this performance. For she was not only shameless herself but did more than anyone else to encourage shamelessness. And many times she threw off her clothes and stood in the middle of the actors on the stage, leaning over backwards or pushing out her rear to invite both those who had already enjoyed her and those who had not been intimate as yet, parading her own special brand of gymnastics. With such lasciviousness did she misuse her own body that she appeared to have her privates not like other women in the place intended by nature but in her face! And again, those who were intimate with her showed by so doing that they were not having intercourse in accordance with the laws of nature, and a person of any decency who happened to meet her in public would swing round and beat a hasty retreat, for fear he might come into contact with any of the hussy’s garments and so appear tainted with this pollution. For to those who saw her, especially in the early hours of the day, she was a bird of ill omen. (Quoted from Procopius’s Secret History)
None of this mattered to Emperor Justinian, who became besotted with Theodora and eventually married her. As the wife of a Byzantine emperor Theodora might well have wanted to upgrade her image by donating money to religious institutions. Thus she has been memorialized here at Mor Gabriel Monastery. Justinian himself initiated the construction of Aya Sofia in Istanbul, to this day one of the most magnificent religious structures in the world. Maybe he was feeling guilty about marrying a nymphomaniacal prostitute and wanted to do something to atone for it?
Theodora (c. 500 – 28 June 548) portrayed on a mosaic in a church in Ravenna, Italy (not my photo)
This was probably the dining hall in the monastery
A book, I believe a Bible, but I am not sure, in Syriac Script. The Syriac Language is closely related to Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus of Nazareth, leader of the Galileans.
The Syriac Script was based on the ancient Aramaic Script. The Sogdians of Inner Asia adapted the Syriac Script into their own Sogdian Script; the Uighurs in what is now Xinjiang Province in China adapted the Sogdian Script into their own Uighur Script; and later the Uighur Script was used as the basis for the Traditional Mongolian Script. Thus the Mongolian Vertical Script, which is experiencing somewhat of a revival in Mongolia, can be traced back to the ancient Aramaic Script, a variation of which is still used by Syriac Christians in Turkey today. 
Closer view of Syriac Script. 
A Syriac inscription on a wall in the monastery

New addition to the monastery. Local stone carvers and masons have lost none of their traditional skills.
Good example of local stonework

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mongolia | Zaisan Tolgoi | Galleria | Artist Anunaran

I have been somewhat remiss in noting changes to the Galleria of my Hovel In Zaisan Tolgoi. Here are two works by Ulaanbaatar Artist Anunaran. She and her partner Dorje Derem, who is also an well-known UB artiste,  installed them. 
 Anunaran prepping her palette
 Anunaran putting some finishing touches on her self-portrait
 Anunaran putting some final touches on her self-portrait
 Anunaran and her self-portrait 
 Anunaran and Dorje Derem with self-portrait (Dorje Derem’s name by the way, might be translated as “Vajra Guardian of Shambhala”, at least according to one interpretation). 
 Anunaran putting the final touches on her installation which I call “Dreams of Foxes”.
 Making final adjustments
At the bottom of each hanging string is an image of a fox fashioned from felt. This is based on the Mongolian belief that if you hang an image of a fox over a baby’s crib the baby will not have bad dreams. 
 Anunaran and Dorje Derem with Foxes installion
  Anunaran
Anunaran in Artist Mode

Anunaran is also a well-known professional model. Here she is in Model Mode (not my photo). See her Facebook Page.

 Anunaran (not my photo)


Anunaran working the sultry look (not my photo)

Anunaran also helps organize a dance troop which performs at various places of interest, including Aryaval Temple.
Performance artists at Aryaval Temple 
 Performing at Aryaval (not my photos)