What converting Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque really means

10th July 2020, a Turkish Court order approved Hagia Sophia’s convertion from a museum to an operational mosque.

For many Christians around the world, aborting a historical monument that represented the centuries of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox with Ottoman faith-inspired culture in the region, to having it reclaimed as a faith space for Islam, is a vilifying act of disrespect. The region has been affected by territorial tensions for millenia and many in the Balkan and Western Asia Minor, have experienced relocations, marginalisation, faith based extradition, torture and incarceration.

It is a non surprise western Turkey struggles with their record on human rights abuses, and corruption has been developmental to the Greek economy even in modern times.

Looking past the historicity of the region, and the unsettled air Erdoğan’s latest move has created, I can attest to the following:

– Erdoğan has three years left before the next election.

– The Hagia Sofia move was his check mate to Europe beyond the Greco-Turkish spats.

– Erdoğan doesn’t want to join EU (and all the monitoring and regulations), the EU will not have Turkey as it is today, but to make sure they don’t interfere, he needed to growl over his territory.

– Putin will turn a blind eye, despite Russia’s Orthodox Church affinity. Faith is only useful when it serves one’s interests by masking transparency. Christian links to the European church history are problematic for Putin’s and Erdoğan’s dark and underhanded populist and divisionary operations.

– Unmonitored, anyone challenging Erdoğan like the Kemalists, will end up in jail or dissappear.

– Turks in Turkey, Germany and the UK love Erdoğan. He took power and water to the favelas. He is making profits from the Syrian refugees that have no labour rights but plenty of will to do whatever yet not get paid or paid scraps of peanuts when they do (a 10th of the Turkish labour rates according to reports).

Noone wants drama on their doorstep. Turning adversity to positive stories is a way for populist governments to get away with the uttermost abuse of human rights.

Minorities and culture are the capital nasty regimes use for political coercion.

Coercion to domestic opposition, and coercion in international relations contexts.

Threatening securities makes vulnerable populations anxious and puts actor resources at high risk and alert. This costs actors money and make populations more predatory between them. Double win.

Hagia Sophia is the starting line of an incredibly narcissistic performance we will expect to see from Erdoğan in the next three years.

I can only hope there will be limited loss and blood lost in the process, but not set on having any hopes at this point.

In the middle of a pandemic, reclaiming a museum to a faith institution is a bold move.

To be continued…

Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with…

Tim Hakki is a Londoner of Turkish Cypriot and Guyanese descent. He lives two floors below me, and studies at Oxford University. Amongst the many conversations we have, the Greco-Turkish conflict in Cyprus is a central interest to him, and as I am of Greek and Anatolian descent, we have been analysing the situation, in view of new governments, regional investment initiatives and international cooperation. The following article is Tim’s thesis on the issue, followed by my response.

**************************************************************

Athena. I’m sorry I have just been obsessed with Greco-Turkish history since I told you I began to study it. I have formed my conclusions based on a fuckton of new knowledge.

I love the Greek people and the Greek culture but that church is a real dirty piece of work. I just wanted to get them to stop dehumanising Muslims through their propaganda. It’s obvious that they don’t see them as humans but as infidels.

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The same can be seen in many Islamic fringe groups today, but the difference is that the majority of Islamic religious authorities denounce the use of violence. I have never seen any effort on the part of the church to do the same with their leaders.

The man who divided the Cypriots was archbishop Makarios. A man with three jobs. He was the leader of the Christians in Cyprus, he was the president of every Cypriot, and he was the commander of a large private army of ultra-nationalist Greeks. At one point, instead of my writing my novel, I told myself I wanted to understand, truly understand, what happened in Cyprus, rather than relying on the account of my family or the various Cypriots spewing lies at each other on various forums in a never-ending ethnic battle.

I watched documentaries made by Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and British filmmakers and tried to get the most comprehensive view I could. It’s a very sad story what happened to the Cypriot people. The political context of these events was British rule. My grandmother grew up in a British dictatorship. It was a very efficient dictatorship. In the end, they made the island the fastest growing economy in the region.

The troubles started when the mainland church suddenly got expansionist ideas. Through Makarios, they convinced the Christians of the island that they belonged to Greece. Britain tried cracking down on dissent by hanging Cypriot youths who were encouraging Enosis. The murderous rage of the nationalists just grew and grew. Soon Cyprus was crawling in random acts of brutality towards its British citizens. The Muslim Cypriots at this point were not in the equation. They were viewed as a silent minority. Until Britain assembled an anti-terror force comprised exclusively of Turkish Cypriots. When the Christians saw their community leaders being arrested by Muslims they decided that they now had two enemies. Cue the massacres, rapes and ethnic cleansing of the island by Makarios’s private army EOKA. This, in turn, provoked Turkey to invade cuing massacres and rapes of their own by the occupation forces.

The biggest tragedy of Cyprus is how little control the Cypriots had over their own destiny. If Cyprus became a part of Greece then Britain would potentially lose their military bases there. This was a land grab by Greece which became an excuse for a land grab by Turkey. The Greeks were in the pockets of the Russians and the Turks were being backed by the British because of Cyprus became a part of Greece they would lose their military bases on the island. The Americans were backing both horses. At the end of the day, Cyprus happened because five nations that had nothing to do with the lives of the Cypriots saw the island as a giant fucking aircraft carrier. This has been to be of the most profound courses of study I’ve ever embarked on, and it’s really shown me the sickness of nationalism and its myths.

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Their point about the lives of Jesus and Muhammad took me a very long time to come back to. Though we can’t pretend to know the details, it’s generally accepted that Jesus was a pacifist and Muhammad was a war leader. 

Religion led division.jpg

The big thing now is reunification. Both sides of Cyprus want it. But they have no idea what it would look like. I believe the best answer is a federal government, with two zones, north and south. Both Greece and Turkey have occupation forces there.

If I’m dead next morning it was the Eastern Orthodox Church that did it.

Tim

 

My response:

The diplomatic dynamics in the region will not volunteer discussions on reunification.

In Turkey, Erdogan is strengthening his political power with human rights abuses, effectively distancing his government from the prospect of European cooperation.

In Greece, you have a far-right state pushing orthodox Christianity as a fundamental representation of Greek identity and anything Muslim (including the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Syrian refugees) as a threat. The days of Nobel Prizes won by greek islands for their humanitarian work in the refugee crisis are long gone. The current government is shrinking the state like any populist conservative government does, reducing the role of education, institutions, health and welfare in development, whilst pointing the finger of blame to those outside the power held by political elites, or power to influence or inflict any damage in corrupt undertakings.

The last positive diplomatic action in the region, between North Macedonia and Greece, under the centrist-left governments, saw Tsipras loose the elections (albeit by a close margin) because Greeks were sold the lie the Prespa agreement signed-off their land over to Macedonians, and at risk of losing their national identity too.

The Road and Belt investments in Eurasia are being too China and Russia-centric for Europe and the Brits to feel comfortable with. The loaning conditions to fragile European and African economies are a point of  contest, and reinforcing China’s soft power diplomacy.

I don’t think the British, or Europe, will allow Greece (even if Greece was in a position to ie. under a politically different government) to sign-off a reunification deal. Turkey wouldn’t want it too. As recent as 2018, tensions quickly grew on the identification of sources of gas near the island. Turkey was not shy attempting to claim it. 

If you really think about it, the island itself has little value to economies, so its population is worthless to politicians too. Not big enough to produce anything at scale (apart from Haloumi cheese the Chinese love and have been ordering by the ton).  Yet it has a geopolitical position of importance, and in combination with the potential of natural resource explorations and the  further tensions arising from common pool resource governance debates, it is very unlikely either side of the diplomats would bring up the idea of reunification.

Because at the end of the day, even under miraculous conditions, a local leader/President/PM will still need to identify with either of the two main religions to even stand a chance of being listened to by either camp. Likewise, any extractive generated wealth will need split between one, or another camp, to serve the interests of the political donors.

And more so, how likely is that, for a post-colonial little island surrounded by strategically positioned near dictatorship run neoliberal governments aspiring to Thatcherism structured on theological approaches to socio-economic development inspired by Adam Smith’s mythological ‘Invisible hand of the economy’ economics?

Unless of course, they ban religious representations.

But really, how likely is that in a place that has been defined by religious conflict ever since it went into conflict with itself?

Chances are slim.

Love,

Athina

 

Consulting for the not for profit/civil society, some business development thoughts

Fourteen years of experience have brought me a number of realisations when working with clients in the third sector.

In development, the expectations are to build networks and to ‘cultivate’ the relationships. Then build a case for Support, aka business plan, for various programmatic areas stemming from the organisation’s theory of change.

It should be a straight forward mutually dependable action. You may have a highly skilled team, lots of contacts but outcomes are reliant on the exec team’s understanding of business development and willingness to incorporate in the day to day business outputs for it to succeed.

Grants and donors may be willing to support the cause however unless the programme teams have longer term plans and the exec team are open about discussing them with donors, there’s little scope for sustainable business.

Often, without integration, organisations suffer in the longer term.

In campaigning it is often hard to know how lobbying will affect policy. Excluding assumptions, teams know the topics and focus of the work, and may incorporate emerging trends an themes in the broader proposition. This is a inclusive way of indicating awareness of things businesses are talking about. This is paramount to bridging the slower pace of civil society to the faster paced corporate environment.

Organisational resilience can only successfully survive when the relationships, both internal and external, have a clear understanding on today’s expectations with an eye on spotting opportunities to lay the brick work for the future.

Masters degree as a mature student, a review

I’m writing this blog to help you understand what to expect from studying a masters degree later in life. Did I find it useful? I met some really interesting people that I hope to keep in my life in the future. Would I recommend it? Only if you’re super bored with your life and work but expect no easy ride. If you want a break from life, you’ll be better off spending that money travelling and taking up surfing lessons.

I have to admit I was super excited to have secured a place in one of the top universities in the world. As a senior management professional, I knew others that had tried but didn’t get in. The only thing I hadn’t realised was the amount of work it required.

On a weekly basis, I’d have four to five classes to attend in lectures, read 100 plus pages for each to discuss in small group tutorials as well as hold in-class presentations twice per term and write 2,000 – 3,000 word assignments per module/class twice a term.

Another thing I was not prepared for was academic writing. The way arguments are framed, in perspective of other arguments and how limited your own poetic license is. This is predominantly a British education system approach to teaching which hints to post colonial education, drawing out what has been laid out before.

At the university I went to, I also realised each module had its own parameters for good framing and presentation, largely set out by the lead tutor. Irrespective of how many additional classes I took for example on how to write a book review, how to write a critique etc the central student learning and development was misaligned to the individual module requirements. That left me frustrated and as a paying student, annoyed at the power game academia has over the students, and leaving its huge weaknesses unacknowledged.

This last point was a point of discussion throughout my studies. Academics thinking they got it all worked out whilst they lack real-life experience in the field of their expertise. More dangerously, they advise and often participate in political life based on what they read by someone who written something fifty years ago. Academia is a dangerous ground to walk on when seeing right through its weaknesses yet having to abide by its rules.

That transcribed to loving some classes, those mainly taught by open-minded people who not only loved their craft but they loved teaching and interacting with their student debates too. In too many cases, the majority of the academics failed to do that. They focused too much on point scoring, coming across like some sort of activists despite being solely research based, and pushing arrogance in their game.

Lastly but not least, consider and ask what practical skills a masters will provide you with. I got stuck into a situation where the theory was central to most discussions but excluded current affairs unless it was Trump or neoliberalism bashing or glorifying Marxism.

This is how anachronistic academia can be, and yet it is expected we build a future through it.

In all truth, it’s not more than another subscription service, that will get you more views and remove the ads.

It’s good for visibility, but it can also make you feel invisible at the same time.

Post Graduate funding

Open Society Foundation’s Civil Society Leadership Awards for postgrad studies open for applications now via Check the list of eligible countries.

SEE FULL DESCRIPTION BELOW

The Civil Society Leadership Awards (CSLA) provide fully-funded scholarships for master’s degree study to individuals who clearly demonstrate academic and professional excellence and a deep commitment to leading positive social change in their communities.

Eligibility Criteria

Applicants must meet all of the following criteria:

  • be a citizen of an eligible country;
  • demonstrate maturity, flexibility, and civil society leadership potential
  • have an earned bachelor’s degree as of May 15, 2019 with an excellent academic record;
  • demonstrate professional experience related to your chosen field of study;
  • demonstrate proficiency in the language of instruction (English, German or French) at a level required for admission by host universities;
  • be able to participate in an intensive pre-academic summer school in July or August 2020 and start their degree program in August or September 2020;
  • be able to receive and maintain a visa or study permit as required by the host country; and
  • demonstrate a clear commitment to their home country or region to strengthen open society development.

The awards are available to citizens of the following countries:

  • Afghanistan
  • Azerbaijan
  • Belarus
  • Cambodia
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Egypt
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Laos
  • Libya
  • Myanmar/Burma
  • Republic of Congo
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

Awards are available for study in the following areas:

  • Communications, Journalism & Media
  • Culture, History & Society
  • Development Studies
  • Economics
  • Education Management & Leadership
  • Environment & Natural Resource Management
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • Law (including Human Rights law)
  • Politics & International Studies
  • Public Health Policy & Health Management
  • Public Administration
  • Public Policy
  • Social Policy
  • Social Work

The Open Society Foundations and Scholarship Programs are committed to equal opportunity, and exercise that policy in relation to all admissions processes. CSLA does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.

Purpose and Priorities

Competition for the Civil Society Leadership Awards is open and merit-based. Selection is based on an applicant’s fit with the program’s objectives as well as the graduate admissions criteria of the participating universities. Academic excellence, professional aptitude, leadership potential in the field of specialization, proven commitment to open society values, and appropriate language proficiency are all important factors in evaluation.

All eligible applicants will be reviewed by an international selection committee. The proposed field of study should be logical for the goals expressed, and the application itself should be well-organized and complete. Compelling candidates will be interviewed by a selection committee comprised of university representatives, CSLA staff, and partner organization representatives, such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Guidelines

Selection and Notification Cycle

  • Applications must be submitted by midnight, May 15, 2019, Eastern Daylight Time.
  • Uncompetitive and/or ineligible applicants will be notified in late August.
  • Applicants who pass external review become semi-finalists and will be invited to an interview to be scheduled in late September or October.
  • Semi-finalists are required to secure two (2) letters of recommendation which must be submitted directly to CSLA by referees by October 1, 2019.
  • Semi-finalists will be required to take an official language test by the end of October 2019; all candidates invited to an interview are entitled to one (1) language test, arranged and paid for by CSLA.
  • Final selection will be held in November; results will be sent via email by January 2020.
  • Successful semi-finalists are now CSLA finalists, and CSLA staff will initiate their host university placement process.
  • The CSLA university placement process takes time; CSLA will strive to confirm placements for finalists by late April 2020.
  • Once placement is secured, CSLA finalists will be notified that they are now CSLA grantees, and will be asked to sign and return a formal grant document before any further actions can be taken.

Interested applicants must complete an online or paper CSLA application and submit along with supporting documentation to be considered for CSLA support.

Online Application

All candidates are strongly encouraged to apply online if possible using the Open Society Foundations grant portal, an online platform. To apply online, please register on the portal and then follow instructions.

Paper Application

Paper applications may be accessed in the Download Files section of this page. Please download the application form before completing or printing, and review the accompanying materials before submitting your application.

If you are applying in French, you must download and email or mail in an application form. Please consult How to Apply for further information.

If you have further questions, please consult the Frequently Asked Questions.

All application materials in French will be available on this page from March 21, 2019.

 

https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/grants/civil-society-leadership-award

Karma, and kindness, is a bitch

I’m one to preach loudly and stand for what I believe.

I’m the one that I will point to injustice.

I am the one that tonight also feel bad for pointing the finger at someone who I have contrary views to while they put themselves in the public eye to defend those views even though they are ‘out there’.

I don’t like confrontation but learning to present what I believe in more confidently.

Yet that’s only possible when the other party stretches out so they can hear clearer.

Because without that, nothing would ever be possible.

The post is devoted to my day today at the School of Oriental and African Studies, yet it is written with an individual in mind, unrelated to my day at the university, yet being a member of the uni.

They surprised me beyond all expectations.

I suppose, that’s the true Soasian style.

Facebook smearing the Open Society Foundations

Friday evening arrived with this in my inbox. I will likely be revisiting tactics used by Facebook to test our patience further. The next question is how to stop Zuckerberg from exerting so much uncontrolled energy into current affairs.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Patrick Gaspard <contact@opensocietyfoundations.org>
Date: 16 Nov 2018 11:48 am
Subject: Our Response to Facebook’s Smear Tactics
To:
Cc:

Dear friends,

Earlier this week, in response to a New York Times storydetailing how Facebook had used a PR firm to smear the Open Society Foundations and George Soros, I sent a letter to Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, which you can read below.

She followed up with a phone call yesterday and I appreciated the chance to speak with her and tell her that we need a thorough and independent inquiry on Facebook’s lobbying and PR work, and that the results should be made public within three months.

Our hope is to turn this disappointing moment into an opportunity for debate about how Facebook can be used to push out fake news and hate and the threat disinformation campaigns pose to democracy more broadly.

At this time of upheaval, uncertainty, and fear, it is imperative that the stewards of the world’s most powerful information platform act responsibly. We’re honored to stand with our grantees, partners, and friends—and we’re dedicated to making sure that the kind of destructive behavior outlined by the New York Times does not go unaddressed.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gaspard
President
Open Society Foundations

11/14/18

Sheryl Sandberg
Chief Operating Officer
Facebook
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Ms. Sandberg:

I was shocked to learn from the New York Times that you and your colleagues at Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to stir up animus toward George Soros.

As you know, there is a concerted right-wing effort the world over to demonize Mr. Soros and his foundations, which I lead—an effort which has contributed to death threats and the delivery of a pipe bomb to Mr. Soros’s home. You are no doubt also aware that much of this hateful and blatantly false and anti-Semitic information is spread via Facebook.

The notion that your company, at your direction, actively engaged in the same behavior to try to discredit people exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Facebook’s role in disseminating vile propaganda is frankly astonishing to me.

It’s been disappointing to see how you have failed to monitor hate and misinformation on Facebook’s platform. To now learn that you are active in promoting these distortions is beyond the pale.

These efforts appear to have been part of a deliberate strategy to distract from the very real accountability problems your company continues to grapple with. This is reprehensible, and an offense to the core values Open Society seeks to advance. But at bottom, this is not about George Soros or the foundations. Your methods threaten the very values underpinning our democracy.

I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you in person, and to hear what steps you might take to help remediate the damage done by this deeply misguided—and dangerous—effort carried out at Facebook’s behest.

Sincerely,

Patrick Gaspard
President
Open Society Foundations