Friday, 22 October 2010

Kaifeng Jews

The Kaifeng Jews are members of a small Jewish community that has existed in Kaifeng, in central China, for many hundreds of years - the earliest records of a Jewish community in Kaifeng are from the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). The ancestors of the Kaifeng Jews most likely came from Central Asia. Over the centuries, they intermarried with the local population but preserved their religion.

Here is a report on German TV about a group of cute young Kaifeng Jews who are immigrating to Israel. Unlike the contemporary rabbinical Judaism, where the transmission of Judaism is matrilinear (if you have a mother who is a Jew, you are a proper Jew), the Kaifeng Jews base their Jewishness on patrilinear descent. So, to receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, Kaifeng Jews must undergo conversion, a long and complicated process.
"But the true challenge", the narrator says, "is to assert themselves in Israeli society." Just like Ethiopian Jews, Kaifeng Jews might find themselves considered second rate citizens by many other Israelis, simply due to their skin colour.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Central Asia's Finest

For chirayliq fans, the FIFA world cup offers a lot of dark and stocky men with powerful cheekbones or well-defined noses, but where are all the Central Asians? Look closer - at the moment, I'm watching the Greece-Argentina match because of this guy:

Ravshan Irmatov, Asia's referee of the year 2008 & 2009.

Graham Poll at the Daily Mail described him in these ominous terms before the England-Algeria match last week:

Uzbekistan’s Ravshan Irmatov is a young man at 32, but [...] there will be no playing around for Asia’s finest referee.

Irmatov is a correct referee — by saying that, I mean he is firm, strong and robotic in his reactions.

Reputations mean nothing to him; any technical offence will lead to a card.

The star referee is the first Uzbek to be selected to the world cup. Rafael Ilyasov (Uzbekistan) and Bahadyr Kochkarov (Kyrgyzstan) were selected as assistant referees. Irmatov's international career since 2003 is quite impressive. On the website of the Uzbekistan football league, he recalls some memorable events during his career. Irmatov has already officiated at two world cups before, which makes him stand out among the referees this year.

For some cute reason, the FIFA website does not only tell us his height (183 cm) and occupation (school football instructor), but also his mother tongue (Uzbek) and his hobbies (football, swimming, tennis). It is quite interesting to see what many of the referees do in their regular life. There are engineers, postmen, accountants, car mechanics, policemen...

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

What is happening in Kyrgyzstan?

It is still unclear what the reasons for the ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan are. There are speculations that it was orchestrated by Kurmanbek Bakiyev, the former Kyrgyz president who was ousted following protests in April. Some point at perceived class differences coinciding with ethnicity - that ethnic Uzbeks are by ethnic Kyrgyz people viewed as generally wealthier than ethnic Kyrgyz people. Kyrgyzstan is one of Central Asia's poorest countries, with hardly any natural resources, and many families that had been relying on migrant work have been hit hard by the world's financial crisis. Such a situation can, of course, easily be abused by those who wish to stir up violence for political reasons.

Here is an eyewitness account by a Peace Corps volunteer from Osh:


A PCV's story from Osh City: READ THIS
Posted by: "theo davis"
Mon Jun 14, 2010 5:11 am (PDT)

This is from a PCV stationed in Osh City. It's a shocking story and they need our help. I called the US Embassy in Bishkek and they said they are still just trying to rescue all the Americans down there. There needs to be an intervention down there by Russia, the US and/or the UN to stabilize things.

Peace Corps Volunteers first hand experience in Southern Kyrgyzstan

Yesterday at 9:34pm

Hi all,

Before I explain anything, let me just say that I am completely safe. I and the other peace corps volunteers (except for 3 village volunteers in Osh who will be moved tomorrow but are safe right now) have been moved to the American military base outside of the Kyrgyz capitol of Bishkek. I totally and completely safe right now, and I will definitely never be returning to Osh.

I don't know if you have been following the news. Mostly just NPR and Al Jazeera have reported, but they know very little as the conflict is so bad no one can get in.

I just had the most terrifying experience of my life. I'm going to let you know so you can get a small picture of what it is like where I live. And I am only letting you know because I am now out of the conflict.

It was Friday at 1am and I was awoken by a phone call from another friend in the Peace Corps who lives in my neighborhood in Osh. He was wondering if I heard any strange noises on the streets. I didn't at that point, but I got up and looked out my balcony (it must be noted that I am the only volunteer in Osh who lives on the main street with my windows facing it as well, so they wanted me to look for them. I am on the 2nd floor). What I saw was horrifying. I looked to my right and saw a fire burning in the street about a block away and men screaming loudly around it. I thought they were just screaming to put out the fire. I waited a bit and noticed the fire growning and growing. It cast a red glow across the whole street I lived on. I then turned to the left and saw a hundred or more local men walking down towards my building carrying axes and shotguns. They were yelling cheers and shooting into the air. They began to set fire to more buildings around me, while breaking the glass and doors of the stores on the first floor of my building and the buildings around me. I was scared and had no idea what to do so I called our safety officer at Peace Corps and she had no idea what was going on (I woke her up). More and more men gathered in the red glow of the burning buildings around me (at least 300 by now), and they began to throw rocks at buildings. I was walking towards the bathroom to seek cover (as this is the only room in my apartment that doesn't have a window facing the street), and a large rock smashed through my window and flew right by my head. I was lucky to have missed it as it was a fist sized stone. I spent the rest of the night hiding in my bathroom, staying on the phone with peace corps, and sneaking peeks to see if my building was on fire. Luckily just as my building was going to get caught by the flames, the fire department came, dispersed the crowd and put out the fire (which I am surprised they put out so much because we don't have fire hydrants here).

I can't even properly describe the terror I felt. I have never felt so trapped in my life. I didn't know what to do if my building caught on fire because if I ran outside I would have surely been killed. I am so grateful that the fire stopped when it did. It was also incredibly terrifying because this incident was about 2 hours long. I spent the rest of the night packing my emergency bag and trying to rest in the bathtub, but I was unsuccessful as I was so nervous about men climbing onto my balcony or my apartment being set ablaze. I can't get the image out of my head of all those mens and guns shadows destroying my neighborhood.

I spent the whole time praying for dawn because I thought it would get better with light. Well, it didn't. 5 o'clock hit and Kyrgyz men came with crowbars and started smashing up the stores right across the street from my building. This continued until a crowd of Uzbek men came and chased them away with rocks. Yes, if you didn't know, this whole conflict is about the ethnic tension between the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, possibly started by a third party for political reasons.

Hundreds of Uzbeks gathered again on my street, but soon scattered into the distant neighborhoods because of police. I was then called by Peace Corps and told to move about a block away to another Peace Corps volunteers house, where many of us would gather to be safe. I did so, and it was relatively safe. 6 of us spent the rest of that first day trying to rest, conserve our energy (I didnt get to eat for 2 days because the gas and electricity were shut off and no stores were open), and hope for the best. We just heard distant fighting and shots the rest of that day and then that night military tanks were roaming the city firing into crowds to disperse them.

The next day (Saturday), we all woke up and got the 4 other PC volunteers in the city to join us (thats 10 now). We were told by PC that we were leaving to the airport to catch a flight to the capital, but the roads were blocked and shooting was heavy on the way. We then had to wait for a new plan. In the mean time, some local Kyrgyz threw a bottle and rock into our window and smashed it. We had to create an emergency plan because we heard that molotov cocktails were being thrown into windows, so we needed to do fire prevention. We positioned the bed and cushions against all the windows, hoping that a molotov would bounce off back into the street. Luckily this was never tested. We spent the rest of the afternoon in complete silence (all phones were off except for mine to conserve our batteries. I kept mine on for communication with PC), and getting many different changing plans from PC.

Finally, at about 6pm we were picked up by 5 kyrgyz men (trusted and hired by PC) who had masks on and guns. They were to escort us to a bus that would take us to helicoptor. We left with them, but the bus got lost so we were exposed on the main street for 20 minutes. It was so eery as all the streets were empty, except for when random cars would drive by with dozens of men and guns in them. One of the cars was stopped on the way by a group of Kyrgyz who pointed their guns at the volunteers in it and screamed, "If any of you are Uzbeks we will kill you all." Luckily our drivers were Kyrgyz and we were somewhat "safer" because we were in Kyrgyz territory. They went away and we spent the next 20 minutes trying to get the bus to come to us while watching troops of Kyrgyz driving past us with guns. We were so scared of being shot at this point. Luckily, we got to the bus that was controlled by the Kyrgyzstan border control, who was to take us to a helicoptor in the city. We got in and after driving a certain way we were blocked by a crowd of hundreds and hundreds of Kyrgyz men who were demanding the guns from the military tank escorting us. The military refused and started firing guns into the air. We all ducked down, but I saw that more gunshots were being fired around us by the local kyrgyz and then rocks and sticks were being smashed against our car windows. We were in this position for about 5 minutes and we were all in control, but I truly felt for the first time in my life that I could have died at that moment. So many men screaming, so many shots in my direction, so much anger. I just could truly see myself not surviving that moment. Again, i can't describe how that danger feels. It is beyond numbing.

Luckily the tank eventually decided to plow through the crowd and we followed. We made it to the heli base and were lifted to the Osh airport where we got a charter flight to Bishkek. We are now safe at the base while our homes and friends burn in the fires of ethnic conflict.

While we feel grateful to be alive and gone, I personally feel guilty because I am so privileged to have the ability to be lifted out of the danger like that while my local friends and coworkers hide for their lives. It is a horrible feeling to have left them to die. Hundreds are dead already, thousands are injured. 150,000 Uzbeks have fled to the Uzbek border; women are handing their babies off to Uzbekistan soldiers at the border so that at least they survive.

Whats worse is that the Uzbeks are not only blamed for this whole thing (as the ethic and hated minority), but they are being targeted not only by Kyrgyz, but also the military. We hear from our Uzbek friends that police are openly killing defenseless Uzbeks on the street. Entire Uzbek neighborhoods are destroyed in Osh. I will never forget the last image I had, flying away in a heli over the city, seeing entire blocks of houses scorched to the ground, with smoke and fire covering the whole city. It will haunt me forever.

Whats worse is that the Kyrgyz government is only providing humanitarian assistance to the Kyrgyz, and leaving the Uzbek out. Please urge your congressperson to push the american government to urge the Kyrgyz government to provide equal aid to all ethnicities. PLEASE. These are my friends and neighbors that are being murdered. Just take a few minutes and call/email. It is an emergency situation, no time to lose. Please leave my name out of your message though.

If you want to see the most accurate news please check out Al Jazeeras Central Asia section.

Email me if you have questions. I have good internet at the base. The rest of the country is completely stable as Uzbeks are mainly just in the south, so don't worry about me being in the north now.

I love you all and I am think I will be home in America soon. Help the victims of Kyrgyzstans latest violence.

Theo Davis

Contact my cell from the US, dial: 011 971 50 4408776
Download and we can talk for FREE computer to computer. Our skype user name is megsmonty. It's easy.


Photo from AP via Daylife. Ethnic Uzbeks try to extinguish a fire in their neighbourhood in Jalal-Abad, Sunday, June 13th.

Photo by Reuters via Daylife. A road block with the sign "Kyrgyz zone" in Osh, June 13th.

Photo from Getty Images via Daylife. People helping an elderly ethnic Uzbek man sitting in front of his burnt-out house in Osh, June 15th.

Photo by AP via Daylife. Ethnic Uzbeks guard a road to an Uzbek neighbourhood near Osh, armed with sticks and and hunting rifles, on Saturday, June 12th.

Photo by AP via Daylife. Members of the ethnic Uzbek community, armed with sticks and Molotov cocktails to protect their lives and property, look at smoke rising from the burning Uzbek villages set on fire by the Kyrgyz attackers near Osh, on Saturday, June 12th.

Photo by Getty Images via Daylife. An injured Ethnic Uzbek man rests in an Uzbek neighbourhood in Osh, June 14th.

Photo by AP via Daylife. Ethnic Uzbek refugees from Osh wait at the border for permission to cross into Uzbekistan, Monday, June 14th.

Photo by Andrei Stenin/RIA Novosti. An Uzbek special forces soldier helps a baby across the border. With the enormous number of refugees trying to get to Uzbekistan, the Uzbek authorities are prioritizing wounded, women and children.

Photo by Getty Images via Daylife. Pakistani citizens evacuated from Kyrgyzstan sit in the waiting lounge following their arrival at Chaklala military airbase in Rawalpindi on June 15th. About 1200 Pakistani citizens, mostly students, were in Kirgizstan when the clashes broke out. One Pakistani citizen has been killed. A group of fifteen was held for ransom, but Kyrgyz security forces were able to free them on June 14th.

Photo by AP via Daylife. A traditional Uzbek dish is cooked for refugees who fled from Kyrgyzstan in a refugee camp on the border near the Uzbek village of Jalal-Kuduk, Monday, June 14th.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Ben Bilirim

Just have to share this çok güzel klip by Barış Manço: Ben Bilirim from 1975.

Psychedelic/folk rocker, singer and composer
Barış Manço was a member of famous 1970's bands such as Moğollar and funder of Kurtalar Ekspres. He played with international artists and exchanged ideas with Turkish and foreign musicians, influencing numerous genres of modern pop and rock music in his homeland. His long hair and big mustache could be considered as a provocation to the conservative establishment, as well as a dedication to tradition...

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Chirayliq Eurovision 2010

No chirayliq victory this time - for a change! - but some quite chirayliq contestants nevertheless!

Turkey once again picked up the Turco-Finnish tradition of sending a band that plays real music to the contest:

maNga (nothing to do with Japanese comics, I think) take their musical influences from nu-metal, hip-hop, electronic music and Anatolian tunes. Their song for the ESC, We Could Be the Same, has a slightly poppier sound than usual, and the lyrics are in English, when usually they sing in Turkish. But in any case they are cute.

Russia was represented by Peter Nalitch and his musical collective, with the humorous song Lost And Forgotten. Peter's grandfather Zahid Nalić was a Bosnian opera singer from Tuzla, hence his Balkanic surname. He became famous in 2007 with his Youtube video "Gitar" ...

Harel Skaat represented Israel with Milim ("Words"). He is one of the two cute Harels of Israeli pop music - the other one is Harel Moyal. (Here they perform together.)

Here is a really cute interview with Harel Skaat from before the contest ...

Hmm, how is it that the best songs and the cutest guys usually coincide ...? :o)

Friday, 28 May 2010

Ran Danker, hotness from Israel

*Sorry if this text is totally incoherent, but not only is it 4 AM, but my brain is also for the most part incapacitated by the dazzling handsomeness of Ran Danker, 26 years old.*

Eyes Wide Open is a film about the Ultra-Orthodox family father Aaron (Zohar Strauss), who hires the homeless Yeshiva student Ezri (Ran Danker) to work as an apprentice in his butcher's shop. Their friendship develops into an emotional and sexual relationship, but they are being closely watched by their community, and the religious authorities, their fellow believers and the "purity police" will absolutely not tolerate anything of the like.

Ezri, who "scribbles a bit" in his free time, offers to draw Aaron's portrait.

Ezri convinces him to go outside the city for once, to take a ritual bath together in an ice cold pool.

The situation is obviously extremely complicated for Aaron, who has a family and a business to take care of. But as an atheist it's easy to start asking myself why Ezri can't just leave the Ultra-Orthodox community in the Old City and go to secular, tolerant Tel Aviv or something. But for one thing, he is very young; he was only just kicked out of his Yeshiva. And most important of all, this is his community and his religion just as much as everyone else's. He believes in God just as much as everyone else.

About 90 percent of the film was shot in Jaffa, and 10 percent in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, where the story is set, in quick "hit-and-run" shots without official permission, due to the controversial nature of the film. The end result is still very realistic and recognizable as Mea Shearim.

This is a very subtle film that neither glorifies nor demonizes anybody, told in simple and beautiful images in limestone and pale green.

* * *
... And, of course, Ran Danker (actor, pop singer, model) is so hot that I was in exhilarated spasms every second he was on the screen.

Here are some bonus photos of him ...

He was hairier than this in Eyes Wide Open, so either he went through a second puberty in between, or he probably shaves or crops his chest hair. ;_;

Our mum would tell him to wear his pants properly.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The "Kandahar captives"

Recently a big Russian film has been released, which dramatizes the until now rather forgotten story about a Russian cargo plane crew that was held hostage for more than a year by the Taliban in 1995, but managed to escape with their own plane, after convincing their captors that this expensive plane, a great asset for the Taliban, needed regular maintenance.
The film stars some of the most popular Russian actors today, and seems to avoid as much of the back story as possible, instead focusing on individual crew members and their heroic feat. Which is kind of frustrating, because it's very interesting.

Some of the back story can be read in the book Merchant of death by Douglas Farah and Stephen Brown.

The plane was an air freighter owned by the Kazan-based company Aerostan, that had been leased by the company Transavia, owned by a man by the name of Viktor Bout. The secretive Bout, presumably born 1967 near Dushanbe, Tajik SSR, and a former Soviet military translator, was making "a significant amount of money" through his many air transport companies. In the 1990's he became the top private supplier and transporter of arms, with the reputation of one who would deliver no matter the circumstances. His clients have included both UNITA rebels and government forces in Angola, several sides in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnian Muslim forces, both government forces/Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as US army and private contractors in Iraq, while also carrying relief supplies for the UN to alleviate the same conflicts. He has always been careful to stay on the technically legal side, albeit frequently violating UN arms embargoes. (However, Bout was arrested in Bangkok 2008 and has been in prison until this day.)

Bout's cargo planes would very often have to land and take off from airstrips so crude that they would have been impossible for modern freighters, and with no maintenance facilities whatsoever. But he used tough old Soviet planes - Antonovs, Ilyushins and Yakovlevs, some of them 40 year old models - for which such conditions were not a problem. The crews were just as tough, and able to do any necessary maintenance and repair by themselves. Mobutu Sese Seko, who in 1997 took off from Zaire into exile on an Antonov owned by Bout, as pursuing rebel forces fired a hail of bullets at the plane's fuselage, later commented: "We were lucky it was a Russian plane. If it had been a Boeing, it would have exploded."

The Ilyushin Il-76 that was forced to land in Kandahar in 1995 was piloted by Vladimir Sharpatov, a decorated former Soviet Air Force pilot, who had been working on and off for Bout for years. This particular flight was just one of many routine runs Sharpatov flew shipping weapons from Tirana, Albania, to the government forces (later Northern Alliance) in Kabul, Afghanistan. At the time, Kandahar was controlled by the Taliban, who patrolled the air space around the city with a single MiG-21. Usually Sharpatov had no problems with the Taliban MiG if he just kept his plane at a safe distance, but this time he was apparently not so lucky.

The plane was forced to land, and the crew of seven was held hostage by the Taliban for over a year. As they had been shipping weapons to the government forces, the Taliban assumed that Russia was providing military support to the Afghan government, and tried to pressure Moscow into releasing prisoners captured during the Soviet Union's war with Afghanistan. Since Bout operated independently, and the Russian government had no interest in getting mixed up in Afghanistan again, this was not true. Negotiations dragged on, and the crew was promised to be released many times, but nothing happened. Meanwhile, apparently Viktor Bout saw the situation as an opportunity, and established business relations with the Taliban while negotiating for the release of his plane and crew. There are suspicions that the Taliban "let" the crew escape after reaching a sweet deal with Bout.

When they returned to Russia, the crew was received as heroes, and certainly their ordeal and their daredevil escape should not be belittled, as they in any case probably did not know what deals were possibly being made about them, and planned and carried out their escape all by themselves.

However, this film is a bit disturbing not only in that it avoids telling most of the back story.

The crew of seven is reduced to five and given different names in the film - in which process the Tatar names of some of the crew members are changed into more Slavonic-sounding names: second pilot Gazinur Hairullin (played by the handsome Vladimir Mashkov) becomes "Seryoga", and flight engineer Askhat Abbyazov (played by bright-eyed Bogdan Benyuk) gets the Ukrainian name Vakulenko. The Aerostan plane, which originally had decals with the Tatarstan flag, gets "RusTransAviaExport" decals with Russian flags. And when religion comes up, the crew members are either practising Christians (Abbyazov/Vakulenko is one of them) or don't care - none of them shows any signs of a Muslim background.

The real story might have been much more about international arms dealing and the political situation in the mid-1990's. But in a St. Petersburg Times interview, director Andrei Kavun said: “My film is about the fact that it is possible to love your country, regardless of its attitude toward you.” Indeed, it focuses (tries to, at least) on the individual crew members and how they react to their imprisonment and the seeming indifference towards them from Russia. The tone is set in the beginning, when Seryoga escapes from the Turkish police (in the film the plane takes off from Istanbul, not Tirana) after engaging in shady dealings on the beach, and his partner shouts: "We Russians don't abandon our people!" Basically the message is about "individual patrotism", solidarity with your countrymen in spite of how much your nation might screw you over.

In an interview for the Los Angeles Times, Kavun explains further:
"My main moral thread was not about Afghanistan, but about contemporary Russia. In the Great Patriotic War, we were all Russians whether we were Jews, Chechens, Tatars, Georgians, Ukrainians, Russians or others. When Nazis captured a Soviet soldier who was a Chechen, they called him a Russian and they killed him as a Russian.
Now we have grown very particular about our ethnic, confessional and other differences to the point that we can no longer exist next to each other. My movie is about five different people who are caught up in a tragic situation which aggravates their differences. Each one thinks that he is right and each one has a right to his truth. But only when they put their differences aside do they manage to survive together and make a heroic escape. It is about coming to terms with each other, making allowances and compromises."
So why did he have to erase the Tatar elements in the story? Is Kavun talking about a "Russianness" where ethnic minorities can easily find their culture "assimilated to death", while the majorities might have problems realising that their culture is actually not the norm for everyone who calls themselves Russian?
Another explanation could be that this film was made in 2010. After all, while the Tatar elements have been removed, there is plenty of anti-Islamism. Most of the Afghans are portrayed as idiots, emotional, aggressive, fanatical, uncultured, and easily diverted with games and bribed with watches and jewelry.

Enough rambling, and on to the screencaps!
Click to enlarge:

Turkish policemen

The crew of the Il-76

Commotion as the plane lands in Kandahar. The film was shot in Morocco, and I seriously doubt they bothered to fly in Afghan people to play any of the Afghan roles. But in any case, there are lots of handsome men in the crowds of stereotypically "angry and violent Orientals" ...

The interpreter - "Misha", as he calls himself. Played by Imomberdy Mingbaev (his name sounds Tajik).

Adil, the Russian-speaking MiG-21 pilot, is played by the Tatar Ramil Sabitov: yet another role in his long career of "swarthy bandits" ... And particularly ironic in this film, where some of the "heroes" in real life were Tatars like him.

Sabitov has a large fanbase of people who appreciate his manliness.

More handsome extras.

Some of the guards.

Vityek tries to get on the guards' good side by gambling with them (!).

Then he speaks to Misha about converting to Islam and joining the Taliban, and the possible benefits he would get from it. When the other crew members find out they kick his ass.

The pilot is forced to teach the Taliban how to fly the Ilyushin.

The youngest of the guards.


Doing "maintenance" on the plane ...

Vityek convinces this cute guy to let him ride his bicycle, so he can maybe ride way out along the air strip and check out the anti-aircraft gun positioned there.

It's Friday, and most of the guys guarding them have gone off to do their prayers. Now is the chance ...

And for comparison, here are some authentic photos, taken by a Russian doctor who was with a team who was allowed to visit the hostages - again, click to enlarge:

The MiG-21 pilot in front of the Aerostan Ilyushin

Crew members eating

One of them is clearly sporting a "Tatarfro" ...

The doctors also treated some locals while they were in Kandahar.

Street scene

There are more authentic photos at EnglishRussia.