Dannon: “In Soviet Georgia…”

From 1973 to 1978, the Dannon yogurt company ran a series of successful commercials featuring centenarians from “Soviet Georgia“. Here is a transcript of one of the TV commercials (with captions in brackets):

In Soviet Georgia, there are two curious things about the people [Tarkuk Lasuria, age 96]: a large part of their diet is yogurt [Temur Vanacha, age 105], and a large number of them live past 100. Of course, many things affect longevity [Kasteh Tanya, age 101], and we’re not saying Dannon yogurt will help you live longer. But Dannon is a natural, wholesome food that does supply many nutrients [Shadat Marcholia, age 103]. By the way, 89-year-old Bagrat Tabagua liked Dannon so much, he ate two cups. That pleased his mother very much.

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Armenian Stuff in Buenos Aires

Georgia and Armenia have a lot in common: they both have weird alphabets; they were both early adopters of Christianity and remained Christian after the spread of Islam; they’ve both been batted around by much larger nations around them; and they’re both kinda Middle Eastern and kinda not.

A striking difference between the two nations, however, is that Armenia has an enormous diaspora and Georgia doesn’t. Due to the Armenian Genocide, large communities of Armenians can be found throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. In contrast, most Georgians living outside of Georgia are in Russia, and there aren’t even all that many there. Consequently, it’s not easy to find Georgian stuff to see when traveling. Remember that Georgian church in Istanbul? That was pretty much the only Georgian thing to see in the whole city, and Turkey is right next to Georgia.

Can you see where this is going? I’d like to see Georgian stuff everywhere I go, but there aren’t any Georgians in most of the world. But Armenians are somewhat similar to Georgians, and they’re very easy to find. This suggests a coping mechanism: I want to see Georgian stuff, but I’ll settle for Armenian stuff.

For the past few months I’ve been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and just as you would expect, there was no Georgian stuff and a good amount of Armenian stuff. So, I settled for the latter. Here are some pictures. They are: 1) a sign for the Armenian archdiocese (arzobispado) of Argentina; 2) an Armenian Genocide memorial; 3) a memorial for the Nagorno-Karabakh war; 4) a Spanish plaque from that memorial (note the name Artsaj); 5) a sign for some kind of church group; 6) a Spanish / Armenian plaque from a tomb in the beautiful Recoleta Cemetery; 7) me at the front door of the church of Gregory the Illuminator (San Gregorio Iluminador); and 8) the front door of the Tadron cafe (notice the Western Armenian transliteration — Tadron rather than Tatron for ԹԱՏՐՈՆ).

History of the Modern Middle East (Richard Bulliet)

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I love listening to audio recordings of lectures, especially of university classes. I prefer them to books because I can put them on my phone and then listen to them while walking around, which prevents me from falling asleep (something that happens often when someone with a video-game-rotted brain tries to sit down and read a book). I prefer them to audiobooks because listening to someone read straight from a book is even more boring than actually reading the book yourself. Of course there are bad lecturers who just read straight from their notes or whatever, but a good lecturer is able to deliver the same information and ideas in a more conversational style, which is more interesting to listen to and also easier to follow.

One of my favorite audio-recorded lecture series is History of the Modern Middle East by Columbia University historian Richard Bulliet. HMME was given as an undergraduate history class at Columbia in Spring 2009 (so in particular it doesn’t cover the Arab Spring). It consists of 26 lectures which are about 75 minutes apiece (for a total of a little over 30 hours). Bulliet covers a wide variety of topics related to the Middle East, but also spends quite a bit of time discussing whether the Middle East is even a real thing (see below for his answer to the question of whether Georgia is in the Middle East!).

Before I go into a more detailed review, let me say that I recommend this course without reservation to anyone who reads this blog.

strip mall ottoman fountain

The Modern Middle East

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Is Georgia in the Middle East?

Is Georgia in the Middle East? I’ve found that most people give one of three anwers:

  • The general familiar-with-Georgia public usually says “no”, the reasoning being that Georgia is part of Europe / Russia / whatever, and the Middle East is a whole other thing.
  • Nerds and people who are boring at parties will tell you that the question is meaningless because the so-called “Middle East” is a eurocentric ideological construct designed to bolster Britain’s interests in the blah blah blah…
  • Georgians themselves, as far as I can tell, don’t consider their country to be part of the Middle East mainly because of their religion.
    • Related to this, some non-Georgians say that the only thing to do look at is how Georgians self-identify, and that anyone who disagrees with that self-identification is an asshole.

Now to be fair, the nerds are basically right. The “Middle East” is ultimately a bullshit concept, and any purportedly definitive claim about its would-be borders is bullshit too. The problem with this kind of approach is how unsatisfying it is. It’s one thing to be told an answer that you don’t want to hear, but it’s another thing to be told that your question is no good from the beginning. And besides, is the term “Middle East” really completely meaningless? Does it literally have no meaning at all? I think it does have some kind of meaning, even if it is used in wildly varying and even contradictory ways, and I think there is some value in considering whether Georgia (or any other country) belongs to it.

So assuming that the Middle East is a thing, how can we tell if Georgia is a part of it? Clearly we can’t refer to any definitive borders for the Middle East, so what is there to do? In this post, I would like to look at various properties — geographical, cultural, linguistic, etc — that the Middle East presumably has, and see whether Georgia has them too. If it turns out to have enough of them, then maybe Georgia is in the Middle East. (Spoiler alert: it does, and it is.)

georgia middle east

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In Bloom (2013 Georgian film)

In Bloom is a 2013 film directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross. Set in Tbilisi in 1992, the movie depicts the lives of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, as they deal with typical teen problems: boys, bullies, teachers, domestic violence, food shortages, armed gangs in the streets, and abduction and forced marriage.

In Bloom was the Georgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2014 Academy Awards.

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Religion in Istanbul: Mosques, Churches, Cemeteries, Cats

In the comments section of my post on the Georgian Catholic church in Istanbul, a reader requested “a series of posts on some of the odder churches of Istanbul“. As far as I know, the Georgian church I wrote about is the only one in Istanbul, and so a whole series of posts about Istanbul churches would be too far afield from the main focus of this blog. But one post about churches in Istanbul is still somewhat related to Georgia, and so that’s what this post is. Of course, a post about churches in Istanbul would not be even remotely similar to a post about religion in Istanbul, since the modern city is overwhelmingly Islamic. So in the interest of comprehensiveness, this post will also cover some mosques of interest.  Religious life also deals with cemeteries, so I’ve included those too.

Still, as a post dealing with the general topic of “Religion in Istanbul”, this discussion will be woefully incomplete. For one thing, I won’t talk about big, flashy tourist spots like the Hagia Sophia or the New Mosque. There’s plenty of information and pictures of that stuff out there already, and the world really doesn’t need any more. For another thing, in several cases I wasn’t able to enter the church or cemetery or whatever, and even if I could, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. So this post will be more uneven than I would have liked. On the other hand, there will be a lot of nice pictures (all taken by me).

This post is really long, so for your convenience, here’s a clickable table of contents (seriously, click the links to go straight to what interests you the most!):

Again, this is a long post. But the photos really are cool, so I recommend taking some time to look at them. Maybe look at the different sections over the course of a few days.

And as a special treat for my loyal readers…cat pictures!

istanbul mosque cat

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Corn Island (2014 Georgian film)

Corn Island (Georgian: სიმინდის კუნძული, Simindis Kundzuli) is a 2014 Georgian film directed by George Ovashvili. It depicts a summer in the lives of two Abkhazian peasants who grow corn on a small seasonally-formed island in the middle of the river that separates Georgia and Abkhazia. It was the Georgian submission for Best Foreign Language Film for the 2015 Academy Awards.

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