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Balkanium

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

Mystras, Hidden Gem of Greece

Athens and Sparta are almost synonymous with popular conceptions of Greece. Images of the cradle of democracy and the den of mighty warriors have permeated our society from textbooks to the silver screen. But now that we are over two millennia away from the Golden Age of Greece, what can the modern day cities of Athens and Sparta offer travelers?

Athens’ monuments are well known. The current Greek capital has a wealth of ancient temples, a horde of archaeological finds, and sites such as the old agora, or marketplace. And of course it boasts the Parthenon, albeit a little worse for wear after a Venetian army exploded a Turkish gunpowder magazine in the temple in 1687. Thousands of tourists flock to the city each year.

But what about Sparta? Continue reading “Mystras, Hidden Gem of Greece”

The Danubian Principalities: National Memory from the Ottoman Era

Those that lived in the dark woods and mountains to the north of the Danube had long remained on the edge of autonomy. The Romans had defeated the ancient Dacians of today’s Romania in 106 AD, but the new Roman province of Dacia only incorporated part of these lands. As Germanic tribes swept into this region in the 3rd century, the Romans pulled out. Local rule persisted for centuries, with semi-regular foreign incursions, until the Danubian Principalities, Moldavia to the north and Wallachia to the south, became independent in the mid-14th century.

Italian Map of Wallachia and Moldavia by G. Pittori, 1782.jpg
Italian Map of Wallachia (South) and Moldavia (North) from 1782

It was in the 15th century, however, that these two principalities began their unique relationship with the Ottoman Empire that defined the two principalities for nearly four centuries and left its mark on the region, culture, and people. Continue reading “The Danubian Principalities: National Memory from the Ottoman Era”

Genocide: The Cursed and Unrecognized Legacy of Armenians and Greeks

Greeks and Armenians have often had connected experiences over the centuries. They lived as neighbors since pre-Roman times, Armenians were a prominent minority in the majority Greek Byzantine Empire, and both were subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

But they also shared the most tragic of experiences: genocide. In 2014, the Greek Parliament passed law 4285/2014, which outlawed the denial of not only the Holocaust, but also the Greek (1913-1922) and Armenian Genocides (1915-1922) in the Ottoman Empire. This law not only presents a strong stance against genocide deniers, but also shows the solidarity of the Greeks and Armenians in the face of lack of recognition and continued Turkish denial. Continue reading “Genocide: The Cursed and Unrecognized Legacy of Armenians and Greeks”

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”

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