Aug 312018
 

Today is Independence Day in Kyrgyzstan, and, as it happens, I am currently in Bishkek on my way to the World Nomad Games in Cholpon Ata. It now makes sense why there was so much activity yesterday and the day before, cleaning and painting in all the public squares and parks, plus erecting a huge concert stage at Ala Too Square.

The Kyrgyz state reached its greatest expansion after defeating the Uyghur Khaganate in 840 CE. From the 10th century the Kyrgyz migrated as far as the Tian Shan range and maintained their dominance over this territory for about 200 years. In the 12th century the Kyrgyz dominion had shrunk to the Altay Range and Sayan Mountains as a result of the Mongol expansion. With the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Kyrgyz migrated south. The Kyrgyz peacefully became a part of the Mongol Empire in 1207.

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed by recent genetic studies. Because of the processes of migration, conquest, intermarriage, and assimilation, many of the Kyrgyz peoples who now inhabit Central and Southwest Asia are of mixed origins, often stemming from fragments of many different ethnicities, though they now speak closely related languages. Issyk Kul Lake was a stopover on the Silk Road, a land route for traders, merchants and other travelers from the Far East to Europe. Kyrgyz tribes were overrun in the 17th century by the Mongols, in the mid-18th century by the Manchurian Qing Dynasty, and in the early 19th century by the Uzbek Khanate of Kokand.

In the late 19th century, the eastern part of what is today Kyrgyzstan, mainly Issyk-Kul Region, was ceded to the Russian Empire through the Treaty of Tarbagatai between China (then ruled by the Qing Dynasty) and Russia. The territory, then known in Russian as “Kirghizia”, was formally incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1876. The Russian takeover was met with numerous revolts against Tsarist authority, and many of the Kyrgyz opted to move to the Pamir Mountains and Afghanistan.

In addition, the suppression of the 1916 rebellion against Russian rule in Central Asia caused many Kyrgyz later to migrate to China. Since many ethnic groups in the region were (and still are) split between neighboring states at a time when borders were more porous and less regulated, it was common to move back and forth over the mountains, depending on where life was perceived as better. This might mean better rains for pasture or better government during oppression.

Soviet power was initially established in the region in 1919, and the Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast was created within the Russian SFSR (the phrase Kara-Kirghiz was used until the mid-1920s by the Russians to distinguish them from the Kazakhs, who were also referred to as Kirghiz). On 5th December 1936, the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic was established as a full republic of the Soviet Union. During the 1920s, Kyrgyzstan developed economically and modernized considerably. Literacy was greatly improved, and a standard literary language was introduced by imposing Russian on the population. Many aspects of Kyrgyz national culture were retained despite the suppression of nationalist activity under Joseph Stalin.

The early years of glasnost had little effect on the political climate in Kyrgyzstan. However, the Republic’s press was permitted to adopt a more liberal stance and to establish a new publication, Literaturny Kirghizstan, by the Union of Writers. Unofficial political groups were forbidden, but several groups that emerged in 1989 to deal with an acute housing crisis were permitted to function. According to the last Soviet census in 1989, ethnic Kyrgyz made up only 22% of the residents of the northern city of Frunze (now Bishkek), while more than 60% were Russians, Ukrainians, and people from other Slavic nations. Nearly 10% of the capital’s population were Jewish (a rather unusual fact for almost any place in the Soviet Union except the Jewish Autonomous Republic).

In June 1990, ethnic tensions between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz surfaced in the Osh Oblast (southern Kyrgyzstan), where Uzbeks form a minority of the population. Attempts to appropriate Uzbek collective farms for housing development triggered the Osh Riots. A state of emergency and a curfew were introduced and Askar Akayev, the youngest of five sons born into a family of collective farm workers (in northern Kyrgyzstan), was elected president in October of that same year.

By then, the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement (KDM) had developed into a significant political force with support in Parliament. On 15th December 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted to change the republic’s name to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. (In 1993, it became the Kyrgyz Republic.) The following January, Akayev introduced new government structures and appointed a new government composed mainly of younger, reform-oriented politicians. In February 1991, the name of the capital, Frunze, was changed back to its pre-revolutionary name of Bishkek.

Despite these political moves toward independence, economic realities seemed to work against secession from the Soviet Union. In a referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union in March 1991, 88.7% of the voters approved the proposal to retain the Soviet Union as a “renewed federation”. Nevertheless, secessionist forces pushed Kyrgyzstan’s independence through in August of that same year.

On 19th August 1991, when the State Emergency Committee assumed power in Moscow, there was an attempt to depose Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. After the coup collapsed the following week, Akayev and Vice President German Kuznetsov announced their resignations from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), and the entire bureau and secretariat resigned. This was followed by the Supreme Soviet vote declaring independence from the Soviet Union on 31st August 1991 as the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

In October 1991, Akayev ran unopposed and was elected president of the newly independent Republic by direct ballot, receiving 95 percent of the votes cast. Together with the representatives of seven other Republics that same month, he signed the Treaty of the New Economic Community. Finally, on 21st December 1991, Kyrgyzstan joined with the other four Central Asian Republics to formally enter the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Kyrgyzstan gained full independence a few days later, on 25th December 1991. The following day, on 26th December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. In 1992, Kyrgyzstan joined the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). On 5th May 1993, the official name changed from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Kyrgyz cuisine reflects the country’s nomadic past and the many influences of various cultures. Beshbarmak (бешбармак), a dish of homemade noodles and boiled meat (horse, beef, or mutton), is the national dish, although it is found across neighboring countries as well. If you want authentic Kyrgyz cuisine, remember my mantra: save your pennies and come here.

The term Beshbarmak means “five fingers”, because nomads used to eat this dish with their hands. The boiled meat is finely chopped with knives, mixed with boiled noodles, and spiced with onion sauce. It is usually served in a big round dish. Beshbarmak is usually served with shorpo – mutton broth in bowls called kese. Typically, shorpo is served as a first course that is followed by courses of beshbarmak and a drink called ak-serke (shorpo spiced with kymyz or ayran).

The serving of beshbarmak has traditional ritual associated with it at home, with different sections of the meat given to people depending on their gender, age and rank in the social structure. On special occasions, a lamb’s head may be served on the table. It is served to the most respected person, and he cuts off pieces from it and treats others with various parts. Festive beshbarmak can be cooked with Kazy (sausages) and other meats.

Beshbarmak is easy enough to prepare (if you are familiar with pasta making), but takes time. First the meat is boiled. In the traditional version of Beshbarmak, the hind quarters (rump) of a horse, plus kazy and sujuk (horse meat products), and rack of lamb were most common, but this changed with the seasons. In warm seasons, beshbarmak is usually cooked using lamb. A noodle dough is made using flour, water and eggs. It is rolled out very thin, and cut into noodles. The noodles are boiled in the meat-broth for 5–10 minutes. The boiled noodles and finely chopped meat are placed on a tray (“tabak”) and sauce (called “chyk” or “tuzdyk”, made of onion, ground black pepper and hot meat-broth) is poured over. Then everything is thoroughly mixed. Finely chopped meat in beshbarmak is a sign of respect for elders and guests. Presentation is also important. The dish is layered on a big communal tray. Ordinarily, being invited to a home for beshbarmak is an honor.

Here is a good instructional video. It is from a Kazakh kitchen, but the recipe is the same in Kyrgyzstan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug 232018
 

Today is the anniversary (1989) of the Baltic Way or Baltic Chain (also Chain of Freedom; Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь), a peaceful political demonstration protesting Soviet rule in the Baltic States and part of the Singing Revolution. Approximately two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning over 600 kilometres (370 mi) across the three Baltic states – Estonian SSR, Latvian SSR, and Lithuanian SSR — linking the capital cities of the three states. Organizers used banned radio broadcasts to co-ordinate timing. Singing banned songs and joining hands (and not guns) ended Soviet oppression.

The demonstration originated in “Black Ribbon Day” protests held in the western cities in the 1980s. It marked the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The pact and its secret protocols divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence and led to the occupation of the Baltic states in 1940 by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, even though they were widely published by western scholars after surfacing during the Nuremberg Trials. Soviet propaganda also maintained that there was no occupation and that all three Baltic states voluntarily joined the Union – supposedly the People’s Parliaments expressed the people’s will when they petitioned the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to be admitted into the Union. The Baltic states claimed that they were forcefully and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union. Popular opinion was that the secret protocols proved that the occupation was illegal. Such an interpretation of the Pact had major implications in Baltic public policy. If Baltic diplomats could link the Pact and the occupation, they could claim that the Soviet rule in the republics had no legal basis and therefore all Soviet laws were null and void since 1940. Such a position would automatically terminate the debate over reforming Baltic sovereignty or establishing autonomy within the Soviet Union – the states never de jure belonged to the union in the first place. This would open the possibility of restoring legal continuity of the independent states that existed in the interwar period. Claiming all Soviet laws had no legal power in the Baltics would also cancel the need to follow the Constitution of the Soviet Union and other formal secession procedures.

Ozolas

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, tensions were rising between the Baltics and Moscow. Lithuanian Romualdas Ozolas initiated a collection of 2 million signatures demanding withdrawal of the Red Army from Lithuania. The Communist Party of Lithuania was deliberating the possibility of splitting off from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On 8th August 1989, Estonians attempted to amend election laws to limit voting rights of new immigrants (mostly Russian workers). This provoked mass strikes and protests of Russian workers. Moscow gained an opportunity to present the events as an “inter-ethnic conflict” – it could then position itself as “peacemaker” restoring order in a troubled republic. The rising tensions in anticipation of the protest spurred hopes that Moscow would react by announcing constructive reforms to address the demands of the Baltic people. At the same time fears grew of violent clampdown. Erich Honecker from East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu from Romania offered the Soviet Union military assistance in case it decided to use force and break up the demonstration.

On 15th August, official daily Pravda, in response to worker strikes in Estonia, published sharp criticism of “hysteria” driven by “extremist elements” pursuing selfish “narrow nationalist positions” against the greater benefit of the entire Soviet Union. On 17th August, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union published a project of new policy regarding the union republics in Pravda. However, this project offered few new ideas: it preserved Moscow’s leadership not only in foreign policy and defense, but also in economy, science, and culture. The project made few cautious concessions: it proposed the republics the right to challenge national laws in a court (at the time all three Baltic states had amended their constitutions giving their Supreme Soviets the right to veto national laws) and the right to promote their national languages to the level of the official state language (at the same time the project emphasized the leading role of the Russian language). The project also included law banning “nationalist and chauvinist organizations,” which could be used to persecute pro-independence groups in the Baltics, and a proposal to replace the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR of 1922 with a new unifying agreement, which would be part of the Soviet constitution.

On 18th August, Pravda published an extensive interview with Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, chairman of a 26-member commission set up by the Congress of People’s Deputies to investigate the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols. During the interview, Yakovlev admitted that the secret protocols were genuine. He condemned the protocols, but maintained that they had no impact on the incorporation of the Baltic states. Thus Moscow reversed its long-standing position that the secret protocols did not exist or were forgeries, but did not concede that events of 1940 constituted an occupation. It was clearly not enough to satisfy the Baltics and on 22nd August, a commission of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR announced that the occupation in 1940 was a direct result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and therefore illegal. It was the first time that an official Soviet body challenged the legitimacy of the Soviet rule.

In the light of glasnost and perestroika, street demonstrations had been increasingly growing in popularity and support. On 23rd August, 1986, Black Ribbon Day demonstrations were held in 21 western cities including New York, Ottawa, London, Stockholm, Seattle, Los Angeles, Perth, and Washington, DC to bring worldwide attention to human rights violations by the Soviet Union. In 1987, Black Ribbon Day protests were held in 36 cities including Vilnius, Lithuania. Protests against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were also held in Tallinn and Riga in 1987. In 1988, for the first time, such protests were sanctioned by the Soviet authorities and did not end in arrests. The activists planned an especially large protest for the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1989. It is unclear when and by whom the idea of a human chain was advanced. It appears that the idea was proposed during a trilateral meeting in Pärnu on 15th July. An official agreement between the Baltic activists was signed in Cēsis on 12th August. Local Communist Party authorities approved the protest. At the same time several different petitions, denouncing Soviet occupation, were gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures.

The organizers mapped out the chain, designating specific locations to specific cities, towns, and villages to make sure that the chain would be uninterrupted. Free bus rides were provided for those who did not have other transportation.[28] Preparations spread across the country, energizing the previously uninvolved rural population. Some employers did not allow workers to take the day off from work (23rd August fell on a Wednesday), while others sponsored the bus rides. On the day of the event, special radio broadcasts helped to coordinate the effort. Estonia declared a public holiday.

The Baltic pro-independence movements issued a joint declaration to the world and European community in the name of the protest. The declaration condemned the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, calling it a criminal act, and urged declaration that the pact was “null and void from the moment of signing.” The declaration said that the question of the Baltics was a “problem of inalienable human rights” and accused the European community of “double standards” and turning a blind eye to the “last colonies of Hitler–Stalin era.” On the day of the protest, Pravda published an editorial titled “Only the Facts.” It was a collection of quotes from pro-independence activists intended to show the unacceptable anti-Soviet nature of their work.

The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. It ran from Vilnius along the A2 highway through Širvintos and Ukmergė to Panevėžys, then along the Via Baltica through Pasvalys to Bauska in Latvia and through Iecava and Ķekava to Riga (Bauska highway, Ziepniekkalna street, Mūkusalas street, Stone bridge, Kaļķu street, Brīvības’s street) and then along road A2, through Vangaži, Sigulda, Līgatne, Mūrnieki and Drabeši, to Cēsis, from there, through Lode, to Valmiera and then through Jēči, Lizdēni, Rencēni (et), Oleri, Rūjiena and Ķoņi to Estonian town Karksi-Nuia and from there through Viljandi, Türi and Rapla to Tallinn. The demonstrators peacefully linked hands for 15 minutes at 19:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Later, a number of local gatherings and protests took place. In Vilnius, about 5,000 people gathered in the Cathedral Square, holding candles and singing national songs, including Tautiška giesmė. Elsewhere, priests held masses or rang church bells. Leaders of the Estonian and Latvian Popular Fronts gathered on the border between their two republics for a symbolic funeral ceremony, in which a giant black cross was set alight. The protesters held candles and pre-war national flags decorated with black ribbons in memory of the victims of the Soviet terror: Forest Brothers, deportees to Siberia, political prisoners, and other “enemies of the people.”

In Moscow’s Pushkin Square, ranks of special riot police were employed when a few hundred people tried to stage a sympathy demonstration. TASS said 75 were detained for breaches of the peace, petty vandalism, and other offenses. About 13,000 demonstrated in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic which was also affected by the secret protocol. A demonstration was held by the Baltic émigré and German sympathizers in front of the Soviet embassy in Bonn, then West Germany.

Most estimates of the number of participants vary between one and two million. Reuters News reported the following day that about 700,000 Estonians and 1,000,000 Lithuanians joined the protests. The Latvian Popular Front estimated an attendance of 400,000. Prior to the event, the organisers expected an attendance of 1,500,000 out of the about 8,000,000 inhabitants of the three states. Such expectations predicted 25–30% turnout among the native population. According to the official Soviet numbers, provided by TASS, there were 300,000 participants in Estonia and nearly 500,000 in Lithuania. To make the chain physically possible, an attendance of approximately 200,000 people was required in each state. Video footage taken from airplanes and helicopters showed an almost continuous line of people across the countryside.

There was an immediate push back from Soviet authorities, of course, both within the Baltic States and from Moscow. You can read the details elsewhere for yourself. The upshot is that by December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report by Yakovlev’s commission condemning the secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On 11th March 1990, within seven months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

The earliest mention of the food and agriculture of the Baltic people (Aestii) and related customs comes from Tacitus circa 98 CE: “they cultivate grain and other crops with a perseverance unusual among the indolent Germans.” Faint praise, to be sure. My experience of Baltic cuisine has run to dumplings, potatoes, sour cream, and tons of dill. The region has had many influences from Slavic and German to French, each being given their own twist from area to area. I’ve given a number of recipes here from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, so you can do a search for something that appeals. Here is a video on how to make kugelis, a Lithuanian potato pie that is the national dish:

Sep 042017
 

On this date in 1949 there were full scale riots outside Peekskill NY (Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County) protesting a concert given by Paul Robeson and others. They were, ostensibly anti-communist riots but with strong elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I want to highlight them today to point out that rioting in support of White supremacy, White nationalism, along with police brutality against African-Americans has a long history in the United States, and not only in the South.The catalyst for the rioting was an announced concert by singer Paul Robeson, who was well known for his strong pro-trade union stance, civil rights activism, and sympathies with communism and anti-colonialist sentiments. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill.

Robeson had given three earlier concerts in Peekskill without incident, but subsequently Robeson had been increasingly vocal against the Ku Klux Klan and other forces of White supremacy, both domestically and internationally. Robeson had made the transformation from someone who was primarily a singer into a political persona with vocal support for what were at the time popularly considered “communist” causes, including the decolonization of Africa, anti-Jim Crow legislation, and peace with the USSR. Robeson had also appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to oppose a bill that would require communists to register as foreign agents and, just months before the concerts in 1949, he had appeared at the Soviet-sponsored World Peace Conference in Paris. Referring to the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR, his exact words were:

We in America do not forget that it was the backs of White workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of Blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong…We shall support peace and friendship among all nations, with Soviet Russia and the People’s Republics.

What came over the wires to news agencies via the AP in the United States was as follows,

We colonial peoples have contributed to the building of the United States and are determined to share its wealth. We denounce the policy of the United States government which is similar to Hitler and Goebbels…. It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against the Soviet Union which in one generation has lifted our people to full human dignity.

Research by historians would later show that the AP had put a prepared dispatch on the wires as Robeson was starting his speech, not reporting what he actually said. The false reporting was not investigated by the US press for its veracity and there was nationwide condemnation of Robeson. In the early stages of the Cold War and its accompanying wide anti-communist sentiments in the West, this statement was seen by many as especially anti-American. The local paper, the Peekskill Evening Star, condemned the concert and encouraged people to make their position on communism felt, but did not directly espouse violence. There was a strong racial element to the riots, including burning crosses and lynching an effigy of Robeson both in Peekskill and in other areas of the United States.

The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled to take place on August 27th in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill. Before Robeson arrived, a mob of locals attacked concert-goers with baseball bats and rocks. The local police arrived hours later and did little to intervene. Thirteen people were seriously injured, Robeson was lynched in effigy and a cross was seen burning on an adjacent hillside. The concert was then postponed until September 4th. Following the concert, new requests for Klan memberships from the Peekskill area numbered 748.

Robeson’s longtime friend and Peekskill resident, Helen Rosen, who had agreed to collect Robeson at the train station, had heard on the radio that protesters were massing at the concert grounds. Robeson drove with Rosen and two others to the concert site and saw marauding groups of youngsters, a burning cross on a nearby hill and a jeering crowd throwing rocks and chanting “Dirty Commie” and “Dirty Kikes.” Robeson made more than one attempt to get out of the car and confront the mob but was restrained by his friends.

The media were flooded with reactions and charges. The Joint Veterans Council of Peekskill refused to admit any involvement, describing its activities as a “protest parade… held without disorder and… perfectly disbanded.” Peekskill police officials said the picnic grounds had been outside their jurisdiction.  A state police spokesman said there had never been a request for state troopers. The commander of Peekskill Post 274 of the American Legion stated: “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached.”

Following a meeting of local citizens, union members, and Robeson supporters who formed “The Westchester Committee for Law and Order” it was unanimously determined that Robeson should be invited back to perform in Peekskill. Representatives from various left-wing unions – the Fur and Leather Workers, the Longshoremen and the United Electrical Workers – all agreed to converge and serve as a wall of defense around the concert grounds. Ten union men slept on the property of the Rosens, effectively guarding it. A call was then put out by the “Emergency Committee to Protest the Peekskill Riot.” On Tuesday, August 30, an overflow crowd of 3,000 people assembled peacefully and without incident at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to hear Robeson speak:

I will be loyal to America of true traditions; to the America of the abolitionists, of Harriet Tubman, of Thaddeus Stevens, of those who fought for my people’s freedom, not of those who tried to enslave them. And I will have no loyalty to the Forrestals, to the Harrimans, to the WallStreeters… the surest way to get police protection is to have it very clear that we’ll protect ourselves, and good!… I’ll be back with my friends in Peekskill…

The re-scheduled (September 4, 1949) concert itself was free from violence, though marred by the presence of a police helicopter overhead and the flushing out of at least one sniper’s nest. The concert was located on the grounds of the old Hollow Brook Golf Course in Cortlandt Manor, near the site of the original concert. 20,000 people showed up. Security was organized by the Communist Party and Communist dominated labor unions. The men were directed by the Communist Party and some unions to form a line around the outer edge of the concert area and were sitting with Robeson on the stage. They were there to fight any protestors who objected to Robeson’s presence. They effectively kept the local police from the concert area. The musicians performed without incident.

Setlist (incomplete)

Sylvia Kahn: “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Piano performances by Leonid Hambro and Ray Lev[19] including works by Chopin and Bach, Prokofiev and Ravel

Singing by soprano Hope Foye

Pete Seeger: “T For Texas”, “If I Had a Hammer”,[18] and another song[23]

Paul Robeson: “Go Down Moses”, the English ballad “No John No”, and “Farewell, My Son, I’m Dying” («Прощай, мой сын, умираю…», Proshchay, moy syn, umirayu…), the final aria from Boris Godunov, and other songs including “America the Beautiful” and traditional spirituals, ending with “Ol’ Man River.” Robeson’s accompaniment was provided by Larry Brown.

 

The aftermath of the concert was far from peaceful, however. After some violence to south-going buses near the intersection of Locust Avenue and Hillside Avenue, concertgoers were diverted to head northward to Oregon Corners and forced to run a gauntlet, miles long, of veterans and their families, who threw rocks through windshields of the cars and buses. Much of the violence was also caused by anti-Communist members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters. An angry mob of rioters chanted “go on back to Russia, you niggers” and “white niggers”, some of the concertgoers and union members, along with writer Howard Fast and others assembled a non-violent line of resistance, locked arms, and sang the song “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Some people were reportedly dragged from their vehicles and beaten. Over 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged as police stood by.

One car carried Woody Guthrie, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, Seeger’s wife Toshi, and his infant children. Guthrie pinned a shirt to the inside of the window to stop it shattering. “Wouldn’t you know it, Woody pinned up a red shirt,” Hays recalled. Seeger used some of the thrown rocks to build the chimney of his cabin in the Town of Fishkill, New York, to stand as a reminder of that incident.

The first African-American combat pilot and decorated World War I veteran, Eugene Bullard, was knocked to the ground and beaten by the mob, which included White members of state and local law enforcement. The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest and the Oscar-winning, Sidney Poitier-narrated documentary Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist. Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted for the assault. Graphic photos of Eugene Bullard being beaten by two policemen, a state trooper and concert-goer were later published in Susan Robeson’s pictorial biography of her grandfather, The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.

Following the riots, more than 300 people went to Albany to voice their indignation to Governor Thomas Dewey, who refused to meet with them, blaming communists for provoking the violence. Twenty-seven plaintiffs filed a civil suit against Westchester County and two veterans’ groups. The charges were dismissed three years later.

Following the riots, House Representative John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi) condemned Robeson on the house floor. When Republican New York Congressman Jacob Javits spoke to the United States House of Representatives, deploring the Peekskill riots as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly, Rankin replied angrily. “It was not surprising to hear the gentlemen from New York defend the Communist enclave,” Rankin bellowed, saying that he wanted it known that the American people are not in sympathy “with that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there.” On a point of order, American Labor Party House Representative Vito Marcantonio protested to speaker Rayburn that “the gentlemen from Mississippi used the word ‘nigger.’ I ask that the word be taken down and stricken from the RECORD inasmuch as there are two members in this house of Negro race.” Rayburn claimed that Rankin had not said “nigger” but “Negro” but Rankin yelled over him saying “I said Niggra! Just as I have said since I have been able to talk and shall continue to say.” Speaker Rayburn then defended Rankin, ruling that “the gentlemen from Mississippi is not subject to a point of order… referred to the Negro race and they should not be afraid of that designation.” Then Representative Edward E. Cox (D-Georgia) denounced Robeson on the House floor as a “Communist agent provocateur.”

Within a few days, hundreds of editorials and letters appeared in newspapers across the nation and abroad, by prominent individuals, organizations, trade unions, churches and others. They condemned not only the attacks but also the failure of Governor Dewey and the State Police to protect the lives and property of citizens, and called for a full investigation of the violence and prosecution of the perpetrators. Despite condemnation from progressives and civil rights activists, the mainstream press and local officials overwhelmingly blamed Robeson and his fans for “provoking” the violence. Following the Peekskill riots, other cities became fearful of similar incidents, and over 80 scheduled concert dates of Robeson’s were canceled.

On September 12, 1949, in response to Robeson’s controversial status in the press and leftist affiliations, the National Maritime Union convention considered a motion that Robeson’s name be removed from the union’s honorary membership list; the motion was withdrawn for lack of support among members. Later that month, the All-China Art and Literature Workers’ Association and All-China Association of Musicians of Liberated China protested the Peekskill attack on Robeson. On October 2, 1949, Robeson spoke at a luncheon for the National Labor Conference for Peace, Ashland Auditorium, Chicago, and referenced the riots.

In recent years, Westchester County has gone to great lengths to make amends to the survivors of the riots by holding a commemorative ceremony, at which an apology was made for their treatment. In September 1999, county officials held a “Remembrance and Reconciliation Ceremony, 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1949 Peekskill riots.” It included speakers Paul Robeson, Jr., Peter Seeger and several local elected officials.

When I celebrated Robeson’s birthday here http://www.bookofdaystales.com/paul-r/  I mentioned the heirloom Paul Robeson tomato which was bred in the Soviet Union in honor of his visit. If you can get hold of some, a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich would be in order.  Also in his honor, several cake recipes appeared in cookbooks in the Soviet Union – all full of chocolate and very rich layered cakes. Here’s a couple of sites that have rather incomplete recipes (in Russian and in bad translation):

https://www.edimdoma.ru/retsepty/8383-tort-pol-robson

https://bashny.net/t/en/350946

This gallery may inspire you.

The cakes all have one thing in common: they are made of black and white layers (very subtle).  Some are covered in chocolate icing, some with a mix of cream and chocolate.

May 282017
 

On this date the short-lived South Caucasian state of Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (TDFR), which lasted only from 22 April – 28 May 1918, split into different political units, including the Democratic Republic of Armenia and the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. I dealt with Azerbaijan here  http://www.bookofdaystales.com/azerbaijan-republic-day/ so now I will turn my attention to Armenia.

On December 5, 1917, the armistice of Erzincan was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat, ending armed conflict between the two (part of Russia’s disengagement from the First World War following the Russian Revolution). After the Bolshevik seizure of power, a multinational congress of Transcaucasian representatives met to create a provisional regional executive body known as the Transcaucasian Seim. The Commissariat and the Seim were heavily encumbered by the pretense that the South Caucasus formed an integral unit of a non-existent Russian democracy. The Armenian deputies in the Seim were hopeful that the anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia would prevail in the Russian Civil War and rejected any idea of separating from Russia. In February 1918, Armenians, Georgians, and Muslims had reluctantly joined to form the Transcaucasian Federation but disputes among all the three groups continued and unity began to falter.

On March 3, 1918, Russia followed the armistice of Erzincan with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and left the war. It ceded territory from March 14 to April 1918, when a conference was held between the Ottoman Empire and the delegation of the Seim. Under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russians allowed the Turks to retake the Western Armenian provinces, as well as to take over the provinces of Kars, Batum, and Ardahan.

In addition to these provisions, a secret clause obligated the Armenians and Russians to demobilize their forces in both western and eastern Armenia. Having killed and deported many Armenians of Western Armenia during the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman Empire intended to eliminate the Armenian population of Eastern Armenia. Shortly after the signing of Brest-Litovsk the Turkish army began its advance, taking Erzurum in March and Kars in April, which the Transcaucasian government of Nikolay Chkheidze had ordered soldiers to abandon. Beginning on May 21, the Ottoman army moved ahead again.

On May 11, 1918, a new peace conference opened at Batum. At this conference, the Ottomans extended their demands to include Tiflis, as well as Alexandropol and Echmiadzin, which they wanted for a railroad to be built to connect Kars and Julfa with Baku. The Armenian and Georgian members of the Republic’s delegation began to stall. On May 26, 1918, Georgia declared independence and on May 28, signed the Treaty of Poti, thus receiving protection from Germany. The Muslim National Council in Tiflis also announced the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan. Having been abandoned by its regional allies, the Armenian National Council, based in Tiflis and led by Russian Armenian intellectuals who represented Armenian interests in the Caucasus, declared its independence on May 28. It dispatched Hovhannes Kajaznuni and Alexander Khatisyan, both members of the ARF, to Yerevan to take over power and issued the following statement on May 30 (retroactive to May 28):

In view of the dissolution of the political unity of Transcaucasia and the new situation created by the proclamation of the independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian National Council declares itself to be the supreme and only administration for the Armenian provinces. Because of the certain grave circumstances, the national council, deferring until the near future the formation of an Armenian National government, temporarily assumes all governmental functions, in order to take hold the political and administrative helm of the Armenian provinces.

Meanwhile, the Turks had taken Alexandropol and were intent on eliminating the center of Armenian resistance based in Yerevan. The Armenians were able to stave off total defeat and delivered crushing blows to the Turkish army in the battles of Sardarapat, Karakilisa and Abaran. The Republic of Armenia had to sue for negotiations at the Treaty of Batum, which was signed in Batum on June 4, 1918. It was the ADR’s first treaty. After the Ottoman Empire took vast swathes of territory and imposed harsh conditions, the new republic was left with 10,000 square kilometers.

A considerable degree of hostility existed between Armenia and its new neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, stemming largely from to ethnic, religious, and cultural differences. The Azeris had close ethnic and religious ties to the Turks and had provided material support for them in their drive to Baku in 1918. Although the borders of the two countries were still undefined, Azerbaijan claimed most of the territory Armenia was sitting on, demanding all or most parts of the former Russian provinces of Elizavetpol, Tiflis, Yerevan, Kars and Batum. As diplomacy failed to accomplish compromise, even with the mediation of the commanders of a British expeditionary force that had installed itself in the Caucasus, territorial clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan took place throughout 1919 and 1920, most notably in the regions of Nakhichevan, Karabakh and Syunik (Zangezur). Repeated attempts to bring these provinces under Azerbaijani jurisdiction were met with fierce resistance by their Armenian inhabitants. In May 1919, Dro led an expeditionary unit that was successful in establishing Armenian administrative control in Nakhichevan. Conflict and tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan were suppressed under Soviet rule, but have resurfaced since the fall of the Soviet Union and continue to this day.

On September 20, 1920, the Turkish General Kazım Karabekir invaded the region of Sarikamish. In response, Armenia declared war on Turkey on September 24 and the Turkish–Armenian War began. In the regions of Oltu, Sarikamish, Kars, Alexandropol (Gyumri) Armenian forces clashed with those of Karabekir’s XV Corps. Fearful of possible Russian support for Armenia, Mustafa Kemal Pasha had earlier sent several delegations to Moscow in search of an alliance, finding a receptive response from the Soviet government, which started sending gold and weapons to the Turkish revolutionaries. This proved disastrous for the Armenians.

Armenia gave way to communist power in late 1920. In November 1920, the Turkish revolutionaries captured Alexandropol and were poised to move in on the capital. A ceasefire was concluded on November 18. Negotiations were then carried out between Karabekir and a peace delegation led by Alexander Khatisian in Alexandropol; although Karabekir’s terms were extremely harsh the Armenian delegation had little recourse but to agree to them. The Treaty of Alexandropol was thus signed on December 2/3, 1920.

The 11th Red Army began its virtually unopposed advance into Armenia on November 29, 1920. The actual transfer of power took place on December 2 in Yerevan. The Armenian leadership approved an ultimatum, presented to it by the Soviet plenipotentiary Boris Legran. Armenia decided to join the Soviet sphere, while Soviet Russia agreed to protect its remaining territory from the advancing Turkish army. The Soviets also pledged to take steps to rebuild the army, protect the Armenians and not to oppress non-communist Armenians, although the final condition of this pledge was reneged on when the Dashnaks were forced out of the country. On December 5, the Armenian Revolutionary Committee (Revkom, made up of mostly Armenians from Azerbaijan) also entered the city. Finally, on the following day, December 6, Felix Dzerzhinsky’s Cheka entered Yerevan, thus effectively ending the existence of the First Republic of Armenia.

The most common Armenian dish, thought of as “everyday food,” is called dzhash (Ճաշ), but you won’t find much if you search for recipes under that name because it’s just a generic term like “soup” or “stew”. Most versions are a soupy stew made with meat (or a legume) plus a vegetable, and spices. Well-known examples of dzhash are:

Meat and green beans or green peas with tomato sauce, garlic, and mint or fresh dill.

Meat and summer squash. This is a signature dish from Ainteb, and is characterized by the liberal use of dried mint, tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Meat and pumpkin. This is a wedding dish from Marash made with meat, chick peas, pumpkin, tomato and pepper paste, and spices.

Meat and leeks in a yoghurt sauce.

Dzhash was traditionally cooked in a tonir, a clay-pot oven embedded in the ground, but now it is cooked on the stovetop. Dzhash is generally served over a pilaf of rice or bulgur, sometimes accompanied by bread, pickles or fresh vegetables or herbs.

Dzhash with Beef and Leeks

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs leeks, chopped into ½ inch pieces
butter
1 ½ lbs stewing beef, cut into small cubes
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. tomato paste
6-8 cups beef stock
2 cups madzoun (Armenian plain yoghurt)
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Brown the meat quickly with a small amount of butter over high heat in a deep skillet. Add the onion, garlic, salt and cayenne to taste and sauté until transparent. Add the tomato paste, stir briefly, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering, cover tightly, and cook until the meat is tender (about 2 hours).

Add the leeks and add more broth if the soup is too thick. Continue cooking until the leeks are tender.

Beat the egg and madzoun together, and very gradually, add 2 cups of hot soup liquid, whisking as you add to prevent the yoghurt from curdling. The slowly pour the egg-yoghurt mixture into the soup, stir continually until everything is well blended. Take off the heat and serve in deep bowls with rice and bread.

Serves 4-6

Aug 272016
 

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On this date in 1991 the Republic of Moldova declared its independence as part of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The current Constitution of Moldova was adopted in 1994. A strip of Moldovan territory on the east bank of the river Dniester has been under the de facto control of the breakaway government of Transnistria since 1990. Otherwise, it is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, east, and south. The capital city is Chișinău.

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The history of Moldova as a political entity can be traced to the 1350s, when the Principality of Moldavia, the medieval precursor of modern Moldova and Romania, was founded. The principality was a vassal of the Ottoman Empire from 1538 until the 19th century. In 1812, following one of several Russian-Turkish wars, the eastern half of the principality, Bessarabia (where most of today’s Moldova is located), was annexed by the Russian Empire. In 1918, Bessarabia briefly became independent as the Moldavian Democratic Republic and, following an intervention of the Romanian Army, united with Romania. In 1940 it was annexed by the Soviet Union, joined to the Moldavian ASSR, and became the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the USSR.

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Is Moldova culturally or ethnically distinct from Romania? A good question that will get me in hot water in some quarters no matter how I answer. Moldova is obviously a political entity now, and has had a certain integrity over history despite the shifting sands of fate and time. You could ask the same question about Scotland and England and get much the same kind of answer (although, obviously, the circumstances are different). When asked, the vast bulk of the people of Moldova will say they are Moldovan – and may even say that they speak Moldovian – but there is an ongoing controversy about this. Is there a way to decide whether Romanians and Moldovans are the same ethnic group or not? Does the Moldovans’ self-identification as Moldovan and NOT Romanian constitute  enough evidence to consider them as a distinct ethnic group distinct and apart from Romanians or a subset? During the 2014 census more than 75% of people asked identified as Moldovan first, but there were numerous allegations that the ethnic affiliation numbers were rigged: 7 out of 10 observer groups of the Council of Europe reported a significant number of cases where census-takers recommended respondents declare themselves Moldovans rather than Romanians. Complicating the interpretation of the results, 18.8% of respondents that identified themselves as Moldovans declared Romanian to be their native language.

I don’t have a horse in this race so I’ll be a bit craven about the whole issue. Cultural and ethnic politics are largely about self interest, not about hard facts that can be independently verified by science (not that I would trust science anyway). From a distance, Romanian and Moldovan language and culture appear to be similar, but not identical. On the ground tempers flare about the subject. This has more to do with national politics than cultural realities. You can draw borders around nations, but not around cultures. Cultural identity is much sloppier. Go to the borders of any nation that has neighbors and you’ll see all manner of cultural mixing even though there is a tangible line separating one nation from another.

It would be convenient if there were a culinary solution to this conundrum, but there isn’t. Moldova has deep, fertile soil making it an abundantly productive agricultural nation producing grapes, fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and dairy products, all of which have found their uses in the national cuisine. It’s very hard to distinguish Moldovan from Romanian cuisine, and can best be characterized as drawing inspiration and elements from many cuisines in the region, including Greek, Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian, with a great influence left by the cuisine of the Ottoman empire.

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Arguably the best known Moldovan dish is also a well-known Romanian dish, mămăligă, a cornmeal mush or porridge that is a staple polenta-like dish on the Moldovan table, served as an accompaniment to stews and meat dishes or garnished with sour cream and cheese on the side (mămăligă cu brânză şi smântână) or crushed in a bowl of hot milk (mămăligă cu lapte). Sometimes slices of mămăligă are pan-fried in oil or in lard, the result being a sort of corn pone. Since mămăliga can be used as an alternate for bread in many Romanian and Moldovan dishes, there are quite a few which are either based on mămăligă, or include it as an ingredient or side dish.

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Just to be craven to the end, I’ll give you a video on the cooking of mămăligă – “like mama makes.” Don’t worry if you can’t understand Romanian, the video is self explanatory, and gives a very good idea of how to make the dish (slowly with lots of stirring), and the consistency you are aiming for.