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Middle East

By Tania Bhattacharya

The Middle East is the chosen destination for Indian expatriates, more than any other region of the world. An estimated seven million people of Indian descent can be found working and living in countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain. The mentioned states lie along the coast of the Persian Gulf, which has endowed them with the epithet of ‘Gulf Nations’.

While a fair number of Indians can distinguish between an Arab Gulf nation, and Iran, most are not aware of the distinction between the Gulf and the Levant. They are of the opinion that the Arab dominated areas uniformly share the same topography, climate and culture. This is hardly true. Levant refers to a territory that is distinct from the countries bordering the Persian Gulf. The former is instead located along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and has displayed an independent streak over matters of culture, and religion, since time immemorial.

Levant refers to a territory that is distinct from the countries bordering the Persian Gulf. It is ocated along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and has displayed an independent streak over matters of culture, and religion, since time immemorial. Wikimedia Commons

West Asia, or the Levant, is mottled with a diversity of cultures and languages. Greco-Roman civilizations have left an indelible imprint on the collective psyche of the Levantine. Roman charioteers, its legions, and later, its gladiators, had once used the Levantine lands as their playground. As a result, West Asians consider themselves closer to the Greeks next door, than to their fellow Arabs in the Gulf. Interestingly, long before the Greco-Roman vassal states had mushroomed in the Levant, the area was home to an Indo-European peoples, closely related to the Aryan-Indian demographic of South Asia. Powerful kingdoms where the rulers and inhabitants spoke a form of Proto-Sanskrit, once dominated the West Asian landscape. The Hittites of Anatolian Turkey was such a community. Considered as one of Asia’s most brilliant ancient products, this kingdom has left behind considerable archaeological remnants, which can be used for joining the dots that lead from it, to the Kassite emigration into South Asia, through Pakistan’s Sindh, and north-western India. Not long after the rise of the Hittites, other Indo-European empires began to appear nearby, like the Mitanni, and the Hurrians. In time, these great domains would decay and crumble, forcing their inhabitants to seek greener pastures elsewhere, notably, eastward where the fertile plains of modern Sindh and Punjab are today located. Genetic tests have established an overlapping of genes found among people of north-western India, Pakistan, and West Asia, which should not come as a surprise to history buffs.

The vacuum left behind by the demise of Indo-European West Asia, would be filled by other ancient states, before the Semitic element – already present along the coast of Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine as the Canaanite and Phoenician domains – made itself visible by way of spilling into its neighbouring regions. At the eve of Islam’s birth, the Levant, and North Africa, were teeming with a healthy diversity, where languages, tribal loyalties, and cultural idiosyncrasies, flourished and jostled each-other for space. After Prophet Mohammad inspired his followers with an evangelical zeal, the language carried by the Islamic scriptures – Arabic – began to make aggressive changes to the identity of the Levantines. Those changes have remained largely in place, till current times, sometimes existing harmoniously with the underbelly of non-Arab loyalties, and sometimes taking issue with it.

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army soldiers celebrate around a statue of Kawa, a mythology figure in Kurdish culture, after they have destroyed it in city center of Afrin, northwestern Syria, early Sunday, March 18, 2018. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that allied Syrian forces have taken “total” control of the town center of Afrin, the target of a nearly two-month-old Turkish offensive against a Syrian Kurdish militia, which said fighting was still underway. Erdogan said the Turkish flag and the flag of the Syrian opposition fighters have been raised in the town, previously controlled by the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Defense Units, or YPG.(Hasan Kırmızitaş/DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

But the Arabizing of the non-Arab people of the region, has created a standardization, that must not be encouraged any further. If humanity wishes to preserve its heterogeneous heritage, it must carefully protect the positive peculiarities of indigenous communities.

Levantine ancestral bequeathing can be summed up as the following:

The Hittite
The Hattian (it refers to an ancient Anatolian civilization, in Turkey)
The Roum
The Canaanite/Phoenician
The Yezidi
The Kurdish
The Circassian (the North Caucasus)
The Assyrian
The Armenian
The Kemetic (Egyptian)

These multitudinous elements have classical roots and even today, among the academics of the mentioned communities, an allegiance toward the indigenous identity can be spotted. Turkey’s defunct Etibank is a fine example. Monikered after the Hittite empire’s memory, the naming of this Turkish bank, was an attempt to consolidate the non-Semitic nature of the Turkish identity.

While some of the diversity has been lost to time, much of it is still a vibrant presence, existing in defiant undertones that wish to see themselves separate from the forced homogeneity of the dominance of Arabic.

However, it is impossible to belittle the language of the peninsular Arabs – birthplace of the Arabic tongue – due to its sheer tenacity, and complexity. The Nabateans that have been the progenitors of Arabic, were imbued with creativity and sophistication. They have left behind their legacy in the form of some of West Asia’s most iconic monuments, such as the temples of Al Lat, Al Uzza, and Al Manat at Petra, in Jordan.

At present, from among the inventory of sub-cultures within the Levant, the surviving ones would be all, but the Hittite, and the Kemetic. The Lebanese lay stress on being descendants of the illustrious Canaanites and Phoenicians. The Kurds and the Yezidis are fighting a battle of attrition with the murderous forces that have besieged them. The Circassians are challenging the expansionist nations at the periphery of the North Caucasus to win independence along linguistic and cultural lines, and the Armenians and Assyrians, are trying to create awareness about the Ottoman Holocaust, in which millions from among their communities, as well as the Greeks, were massacred by first the Ottomans, and then by the regime of Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Most Turks including the top brass of the country, do not acknowledge the persecution and ethnic cleansing of the Levant’s Christians, as of now.

Turkey’s Uralic-Altaic linguistic heritage, in combination with the latent ancestral idiosyncrasies of the Levantine communities, must ensure that West Asian cultural diversity, can resonate with admiration from its fans, both at home and abroad.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.