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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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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A Georgian Catholic Church in Istanbul

Notre Dame de Lourdes (known in Turkish as the Bomonti Gürcü Katolik Kilisesi) is a Georgian Catholic church in the Feriköy neighborhood of Istanbul. Most Georgians being Orthodox Christians, there are not many Georgian Catholic churches in the world. Further, there were never many Georgians in Istanbul, and there are very few today. Thus the very existence of this church is twice surprising. Its continued use is also surprising. Most sources report that the congregation today is largely made up of Turks, though when I went to see the church I found an amicable group of Georgians inside.

The church was built in 1861 and extensively renovated in 1901. For further details on the church, as well as its place within the history of Georgian Catholicism, see this recent paper by Natia Natsvlishvili. It’s a very nice essay, and I don’t have much to add to it, so this post will contain mostly pictures of the church along with some comments.

georgian catholic church istanbul gate

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Turkish Phonology: Vowel Harmony

Turkish — more specifically, the standard Turkish dialect of Istanbulis a very boring-sounding language, at least superficially. What I mean by this is that it has no distinct, uniquely-identifying sounds. For example:

  • even if you don’t know any Russian, you can tell if people are speaking Russian because of its rampant palatalization (that is, its many y sounds, as in nyet);
  • Arabic is easily identifiable by its baffling array of throat sounds; and
  • Georgian (along with other Caucasian languages) is distinguished by its varieties of consonants and its many consonant clusters.

Turkish has nothing like this. It’s a very generic blend of Southern European and Middle Eastern sounds, shorn of anything remarkable. The first time I went to Turkey, I was shocked by how uninteresting the language sounded.

I still feel that way to a great extent, but it turns out that there’s a little more to the sound of Turkish than can be heard by a casual listener, namely vowel harmony, a process whereby the vowels within a word match each other in certain qualities.

turkish vowel harmony

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Turkish Money

The Turkish currency is called the lira. This, of course, is an anagram of the Georgian currency, the lari. I have yet to stop mixing these words up. As far as I can tell, most Anglophones use lira as both singular and plural, which they also do for the lari. To my ear this smacks of Orientalism, and I prefer to use regular English plurals: liras and laris.

The current lira regime was introduced in 2005, when the “new lira” replaced the “old lira”. The “old lira” had become grossly inflated, and was exchanged for “new liras” at a rate of 1,000,000:1. At the time of its demise, the old lira was being issued in denominations as high as twenty million.

old turkish lira twenty million

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I haven’t posted any personal news recently because I haven’t been doing anything remotely related to Georgia. Now, however, I’ve moved to Istanbul, Turkey, for more wacky English-teaching adventures. If I had moved to Korea or somewhere like that, I would probably have started a new blog, but stuff related to Turkey is within the penumbras of stuff related to Georgia. Maybe I’ll start writing about topics more related to the Ottoman part of Georgia’s history rather than its Russian part (not to mention finishing old post drafts that have been sitting around for months). I also plan on revisiting Georgia and visiting Armenia and possibly Azerbaijan for the first time. Stay tuned.

old istanbul

My life these days

Azeri (Turkish)

Azeri is a language spoken in Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Georgia. It is closely related to Turkish, and Turks and Azeris can generally understand each other without special accommodation. Indeed, there are dialects of Turkish spoken in eastern Anatolia that are closer to Azeri than they are to standard Istanbul Turkish. So it would not be amiss to say that Azeri is a dialect of Turkish. We might even go so far as to simply identify Azeri with Turkish. This is done in Iran, the northern part of which is home to more than half of the world’s Azeri speakers.

azeri iran

Iranian Azeris protesting for language rights (I think)

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