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



Of Culture & Çay: A Visitor’s Guide to Istanbul

This guide is a comprehensive collection of advice based on my experiences studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey for 10 weeks. I hope it is helpful to anyone that plans on visiting the wonderful city!

Of Culture & Çay: A Visitor’s Guide to Istanbul




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”

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”

President Erdoğan vs. the World: The Turkish Referendum and Flaring European Tensions

Recep_Tayyip_Erdogan Gobierno de Chile
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan | Gobierno de Chile

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current president of Turkey, has been at the forefront of Turkish politics for over the past decade. The divisive leader has built up a powerful, technically democratic regime, with strong currents of authoritarianism. The past 14 years have been a series of steps that have brought Erdoğan greater and greater power. Last July’s attempted coup brought Erdoğan to his greatest height yet. In its wake, Erdoğan purged the military, fired thousands of educators, and arrested dozens of journalists.

But now Erdoğan has gone a step further: with the same powerful rhetoric that helped bring him to power all those years ago in Turkey, he has violently lashed out against Germany and the Netherlands. Continue reading “President Erdoğan vs. the World: The Turkish Referendum and Flaring European Tensions”

Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans

Yesterday, Americans celebrated Groundhog’s Day, an odd, but perhaps also endearing tradition to welcome the coming of spring. Although Punxsutawney Phil may be unique, traditions that say good-bye to winter and welcome spring are not. From Poland’s drowning of the Marzanna (a straw doll) to throwing colored powder at each other in India’s Holi, the celebration of spring after a long winter is important in cultures across the globe.

The Balkans has its fair share of spring traditions as well. Many of them share characteristics of their neighbors, no doubt from centuries of cross-cultural contact. From giant vats to scrambled eggs to red and white woven bracelets tied to trees, the coming of spring is a time for celebration across the Balkans.

A Large Pot of Cimbur (scrambled eggs) | Travel Channel

Continue reading “Eggs, Bracelets, and Grass: Spring Comes to the Balkans”

The Devşirme: The Lifeblood of the Janissary Corps

The period of Ottoman rule over the Balkans is still triggering even today for Christians across the Balkans. Much of their current lives were crafted by four centuries of Ottoman rule. A particularly vivid piece of national memory throughout the Balkans is the devşirme system. The devşirme system sustained the famed janissary corps, elite Ottoman infantry soldiers who were taken from Christian subjects as boys. The opportunities for advancement and the agony of losing one’s child were intertwined with the devşirme system. But when the devşirme system was abolished during the 17th century, the janissaries, who continued after the discontinuation of the system, lost the attributes that made them the powerful warrior force of previous centuries. Continue reading “The Devşirme: The Lifeblood of the Janissary Corps”

Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire had dominated the Balkans for centuries, from the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 all the way into the 20th century. But while the Ottoman sultan may have still controlled a significant amount of land in the Balkans through the end of the First Balkan War (1912-1913), his hold on the region was severely weakened during the 19th century.

The unique cultures of the Serbs, Greeks, Romanians, Montenegrins, Bulgarians, and Albanians had not been submerged over time, and memories of their former medieval states still remained, along with a rising sense of nationalism. Rebellions in the Balkans against the Ottomans had happened before, such as the Banat Uprising by Serbians in 1594 and the Orlov Revolt in Greece in 1770, but none were successful until the 19th century. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the peoples of the Balkans took advantage of Ottoman decline and the interest of the Great Powers to gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire.   Continue reading “Re-emergence of the Balkans: Independence from the Ottoman Empire”

Likely to Reign, Likely to Fall

To be the leader of a state is to hold power and prestige. But while the position of ruler may be a coveted one, it can also be a dangerous occupation. History is rife with the names of kings and emperors whose reign ended before its time: the Gallic warlord Vercingetorix was executed by the Romans, Tsar Alexander II of Russia struck down by an assassin’s bomb, and Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to abdicate in the final days of World War I.

But some crowns were more unstable than others.  Continue reading “Likely to Reign, Likely to Fall”

Empire on the Brink: Four Times the Ottoman Empire Almost Fell

The Ottoman Empire was a constant for over half a millennium: nations rose and fell, but from the late Middle Ages to the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire endured. However, this was not necessarily guaranteed to happened. Over its 600-year history, the Ottoman Empire nearly fell four times before finally succumbing to the tide of history in the aftermath of the First World War. Continue reading “Empire on the Brink: Four Times the Ottoman Empire Almost Fell”

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