TDISH: Death of a Diplomat

On September 17, 1948, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte was in Palestine during the fight for Jewish statehood serving as a representative of the United Nations.  Bernadotte had been a hero during World War II when he used his position as a neutral diplomat to negotiate with Heinrich Himler to save many Jews from Nazi gas chambers.  However, by 1948, his reputation among many Jews had taken a hit.  He had put forth a proposal for a peaceful solution to the conflicts surrounding Jewish statehood – it was, however, unacceptable to Jews since it forced them to give up control of Jerusalem to an international committee.  One group of Israelis that was particularly vehement against Bernadotte’s policy was the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (LEHI).  LEHI was a group of militant Zionists willing to use violence against anyone not actively supporting Jewish statehood.  On the evening of September 17, LEHI set up a roadblock in Bernadotte’s path and as his UN vehicle came to a stop, opened fire on the diplomat, killing him almost instantly.  LEHI announced that while Bernadotte’s death was tragic, it was necessary for the birth of the state of Israel.

Featured Image: “Folke Bernadotte.” Public Domain.
Source: “Modern History of Israel: The Assassination of Count Bernadotte.” Jewish Virtual Library.

TDISH: The Emperor in the Bathtub

In 668 CE, the Byzantine Emperor Constans II was far away from his capital trying to deal with a threat that had been menacing his borders for his entire reign – advancing armies of Muslim warriors coming out of the deserts of Arabia.  Constans had been thrust into power at the tender age of 11 in the year 641, a mere five years after Muslim armies started sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa.  The young emperor, however, was not having much success in maintaining his empire and his subjects were beginning to tire of the challenges and hardships that the prolonged war caused.  On September 14, Constans took what was supposed to be a nice relaxing bath before a long day helping to run the defense of his empire from the port city of Syracuse on Sicily.  One of Constans’ disgruntled subjects was his own chancellor who snuck into the bathroom and picked up a large, heavy soap dish and smashed it over the head of his monarch.  The blow knocked Constans out and caused him to sink below the waters in the tub.  He would never rise again.

Featured Image: “Hexagram of Constans II.” By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., CC BY-SA 3.0.
Source: Brownworth, Lars. “A Soap Dish That Changed History.Wall Street Journal. 24 October 2009.

TDISH: Breaking Into the “Man’s World”

On July 14, 1868, a girl was born to a Progressive family of successful ironmasters in County Durham in the North of England.  Throughout her life, this girl, Gertrude Bell, would break through many barriers that restricted women in Victorian Era Britain.  For example, in 1886 she became the first woman to earn a first-class degree in history at Oxford.  During the 1890s and early 1900s she spent much of her time climbing mountains in the Alps – a theatre reserved almost entirely for men.  In fact, during this time she recorded 10 new paths or first ascents of peaks.  Quite an achievement!

During this same period, Bell began to get study Arabic and archaeology, focusing on the Middle East.  She was in the Arabian Peninsula when World War I broke out in 1914 and was caught up with T.E. Lawrence and the famous Arab Bureau of spies run out of Cairo.  Throughout the war, she sent intelligence on Ottoman movements to the British military leaders and helped to maintain good relationships with Britain’s Arabic nomadic allies such as Prince Faisal.  At war’s end, Gertrude Bell was the one woman at a conference held in Cairo to determine what to do with the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra that were now mandated to Britain by the League of Nations.  Bell was among the leaders of a movement to unite the provinces into a new state, Iraq, under Prince Faisal who would rule as king.  This is exactly what happened!

True, she firmly believed in colonialism and the superiority of British society, but there is no doubting that Gertrude Bell was an important figure in women asserting their abilities to engage in “men’s” activities.

Source: Buchan, James. “Miss Bell’s Lines in the Sand.” The Guardian. 11 March 2003.
Featured Image: “Gertrude Bell.” Public Domain.

Places in History: Hattusa

In the highlands of north central Anatolia is located the capital of a long-forgotten civilization that, even today, is relatively little-known.  This site, Hattusa, was the center of the Hittite state that dominated much of modern Turkey and Syria during the second millennium BCE.  Hattusa was occupied from the third millennium BCE and went through several stages of occupation – each built atop the ruins of a previous settlement.  The most impressive remains date from the 16th – 11th centuries BCE when the city became the capital of the mighty Hittite empire.  The origins of the Hittite Empire remain lost to the mists of history, but their capital demonstrates an advanced state of city-building and urban planning.  The city was surrounded by a wall with five gates, the most famous of which are called the “Lion Gate” and the “Sphinx Gate” – so named due the sculptures that adorn them.  Hattusa was unknown to historians and archaeologists until it was first discovered in 1834.  The site has been under excavation for much of the 20th and 21st centuries – interrupted primarily by the two World Wars.  It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 due to its historical importance in the history of Western Asia.

Featured Image: “Great Temple.” By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Hattusa.”(Flickr/CC BY 2.0)
Hattusa.” By China Crisis, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Lion Gate.” By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.
Hattusa.” Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The Republic of Turkey.

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TDISH: A Secret Agreement

May 16, 2016 is the one hundredth anniversary of one of the most controversial secret agreements in history – the Sykes-Picot Agreement.  This document, drawn up at the height of the First World War, was drawn up by the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.  This agreement, drawn up by the British and French, gave the two countries zones of control in the Ottoman provinces of the Middle East, should the Allies win the war.  The pact, which was singed on May 16, 1916, was agreed upon by the British and 800px-MPK1-426_Sykes_Picot_Agreement_Map_signed_8_May_1916.jpgFrench and authorized by the (still-tsarist) Russia.  However, no local concerns were taken into account upon drawing the lines.  Arab tribesman, who helped the Allied War effort, had been promised an independent state of their own – they would not receive one, but rather a second-tier state overseen by British and French benefactors.  You can only imagine how upset the nations who found out that they had been duped became when the existence of this agreement leaked out in 1917 when the Russian government (now Bolshevik) leaked the agreement from the tsar’s archives.

Why should we care about a 100-year old secret agreement?  Because it basically went into effect, drawing the borders of the modern Middle East: Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, etc.  Many historians believe that this agreement, unintentionally, has led to many of the problems in the Middle East today.  The reality of this on-the-ground can be shown by simply looking at Twitter.  When the Islamic State (ISIS) crossed the border between Syria and Iraq, the Sykes-Picot line, they tweeted in celebration #SykesPicotOver.

Image 1. Sykes-Picot Map. By Royal Geographical Society (Map), Mark Sykes & François Georges-Picot (Annotations) – This file is from the collections of The National Archives (United Kingdom), catalogued under document record MPK1/426. Public Domain.
Black, Ian. “Middle East still rocking from first world war pacts made 100 years ago.” The Guardian. December 30, 2015.
Black, Ian. “Isis breach of Iraq-Syria border merges two wars into one ‘nightmarish reality.’” The Guardian. June 18, 2014.