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Balkanium

History, Culture, Politics, and Travel in the Balkans, Turkey, and Cyprus

The Global Migrant Crisis and the Impact of Syria

The number of migrants worldwide is at a high point: 244 million in 2015, over 40% more migrants than in 2000. While some of the migrants move by choice, a substantial number are not so lucky. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calculated that 65.3 million were forcibly displaced “as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations,” the highest number since the end of World War II. And this number is on the rise: 12.4 million people were newly displaced in 2015. Of the 65.3 million, 21.3 million were considered refugees. Continue reading “The Global Migrant Crisis and the Impact of Syria”

Macedonia: What’s in a Name?

Macedonia established a new government a few weeks ago after several months of political deadlock. Zoran Zaev, the new prime minister, is seen as a potential hero that can save Macedonia from its recent bouts of political turmoil. But not only is Macedonia excited; Greece has been quick to open talks with its northern neighbor. Talks between the Macedonian foreign minister and his Greek counterpart in Athens are supposed to be the start to solving the poisonous issue in Macedonian-Greek relations: Macedonia’s name. Macedonia may be willing to change its name, after more than 20 years of disputes with Greece, said Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia’s foreign minister. Continue reading “Macedonia: What’s in a Name?”

The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans

When Basil II conquered Bulgaria in 1018, he inaugurated over 100 years of Byzantine rule in Bulgaria. But under Basil’s successors the fortunes of the Byzantine Empire began to fall. Although Byzantium briefly recovered under the first three emperors from the Komnenos Dynasty (1081-1180), after 1180 came a string of mostly incompetent emperors. Bulgaria took advantage of a weakened Byzantium, reasserting its independence and then taking advantage of the fractured Balkans region following the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Continue reading “The Second Bulgarian Empire: Taking Advantage of Chaos in the Balkans”

Flouting International Law: The Turkish Military Presence in Cyprus

When Cyprus became independent from Great Britain in 1960, the Treaty of Guarantee was signed between Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and Great Britain. Article I bans Cyprus from unifying with another state. Article II requires Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom (the guarantor powers) to respect the territorial integrity of Cyprus. Article IV allows the guarantor powers to re-establish the status quo in Cyprus:

“In the event of a breach of the provisions of the present Treaty, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom undertake to consult together with respect to the representations or measures necessary to ensure observance of those provisions. In so far as common or concerted action may not prove possible, each of the three guaranteeing Powers reserves the right to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the present Treaty.” Continue reading “Flouting International Law: The Turkish Military Presence in Cyprus”

The First Croatia: A Medieval Memory and the People That Never Died

Modern Croatia only became independent in 1991, but although it may be one of Europe’s youngest states, it has existed in some capacity since the 10th century. The medieval Kingdom of Croatia only lasted roughly 200 years (925-1102), but ever since then, Croatia, under foreign kings and emperors and part of multinational states, has persevered. As a people, the Croats never disappeared, like so many other peoples that came and went throughout history. Continue reading “The First Croatia: A Medieval Memory and the People That Never Died”

Old Mostar Bridge: A Missed Opportunity in International Law

The Bosnian and Herzegovinian city of Mostar is known for its cosmopolitan nature. Churches, mosques, and synagogues lay next to each other and diverse groups of peoples walked side by side for centuries under Ottoman, Austrian, and Yugoslav rule. The city developed a unique type of architecture that fused styles from the various traditions that came to Mostar, which still has elements of its Ottoman past in its bazaar and neighborhood layout. The city is dominated by the Ottoman-built bridge which gave Mostar its name, the Stari Most.

Postcard of the Mostar Bridge, 1911
Stari Most in a 1911 Postcard

Continue reading “Old Mostar Bridge: A Missed Opportunity in International Law”

The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium

Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς, πάλι δικά μας θα ‘ναι!

“Once more, as years and time go by, once more they shall be ours.”

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Ever since the Ottoman Turks had conquered Constantinople in 1453, Greeks had yearned for liberation from the Ottoman Empire. When that independence came in 1832, it was only a fraction of ethnic Greeks that became free. Only southern Greece was part of the newly independent Kingdom of Greece, while the vast majority still lived under Ottoman rule. The mission to rescue them would consume Greece for the next century. Continue reading “The Megali Idea: The Dream to Restore Byzantium”

What Could Be Won and Lost With Turkey’s Referendum

On Sunday, a referendum that will change Turkish history was decided. In a 51.3% to 48.7% victory, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, won the referendum, which will usher in 18 changes to the Turkish constitution. The one that was given the greatest coverage was the changes to Article 104, which will end the current parliamentary political system in Turkey, replacing it with an executive presidential system. But all of the changes together create a system that could potentially keep Erdoğan and the AKP in power for a long time. Continue reading “What Could Be Won and Lost With Turkey’s Referendum”

Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling

Female rulers were an anomaly in medieval history. Many of the most notable thrones of the Middle Ages were never graced by a female monarch. While there were queens and empresses who had power through their husbands, few ruled in their own right. The Kingdom of France never had a female ruler in its entire history. The Holy Roman Empire was similarly situated (the only exception, Maria Theresa of Austria in the 18th century, was barred from being Holy Roman Emperor due to her gender).

The Byzantine Empire lasted for over a millennium (330-1453), and had three independent empresses. England is only coming up on the millennium mark in the 21st century, and even they have only had five queens (including the long-lived Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II). Although their reigns were relatively brief, the fact that Irene (r. 797-802), Zoe (r. 1042), and Theodora (r. 1042, 1055-1056) could rule at such a time shows the different mores Byzantium held in comparison to most of its medieval counterparts. The longest reigning of these, Irene, shocked the world and illustrated the greater access to power by Byzantine women than their neighbors by becoming the first female “Roman Emperor” in history. Continue reading “Icons, Blood, and Legacy: How Empress Irene Got Past the Byzantine Glass Ceiling”

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