Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ceramic Shards of Singapore: Porcelain 'blue and white ware'

'Blue and white' porcelain: Porcelain is different from other types of ceramics because it is made from a pure white clay called kaolin which is found mainly in the Jingdezhen area in Jiangxi province in China. This place therefore became an important place for producing high quality porcelain which was exported to Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

China stone from open pits are smashed by water driven pestles as raw materials for making porcelain.


During the later half of the Song Dynasty, cobalt blue was painted on the surface of the white body of the porcelain before they were put in the kiln. The blue and white design made it popular throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

This process was refined during the Yuan and Ming dynasty. It grew popular all the way to Europe and was widely traded by Euroepean traders from the 15h century onwards.

Because Chinese ceramics are easily broken and fragile, they are rare and very expensive. Some records exist to show that some Southeast Asian communities used Chinese ceramics as gifts to rulers. They also used them as gifts to celebrate the birth of a child within the community.

Description of finds in Singapore:Blue and white porcelain shards were found mostly at Fort Canning. They were also recovered from any 14th century shipwrecks around the waters of the South China Sea.


References


Miksic, J.N. Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800. Singapore: NUS Press and National Museum of Singapore, 2013)

Miksic, J.N & Low, Cheryl-Ann Mek Gek (Eds). Early Singapore 1300s – 1819. (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004)


Picture credits


http://www.thewanlishipwreck.com/Jingdezhen.html

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ceramic Shards of Singapore: Greenware

More about Greenware pottery: Greenware pottery is called celadon. 'Celedan' is a western word used in the 17th century to describe the green glaze which is applied to ceramics before they are put into kilns to be baked.

 Celadon wares are expensive and produced mainly in Longquan, in Zhejiang, near the mouth of the Yangzi River. By the Song Dynasty (960-1280 AD), the potters were able to produce green are which looked like jade.

Green was a valuable Chinese porcelain because the colour green was a symbol of royalty. In various parts of Southeast Asia, green ware is used in religious ceremonies and also buried with the dead in different parts of Ancient Southeast Asia





.Description of Singapore findings: Most of the green ware shards found in Singapore are brownish green or greenish blue. Many of them date back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD). Most are found at Fort Canning. Why do you think they are found at Fort Canning? What does it suggest about who lived in this place? 
Celadonware being uncovered at St Andrew's Cathedral

 Picture Credits
http://www.seaantique.com/S13008m.JPG
http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/RL/00205)

References


Miksic, J.N. Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800. Singapore: NUS Press and National Museum of Singapore, 2013)

Miksic, J.N & Low, Cheryl-Ann Mek Gek (Eds). Early Singapore 1300s – 1819. (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004)


 

Ceramic Shards of Singapore: Stoneware

Stoneware pottery: Stoneware pottery is made of clay which is baked in a kiln until it is thick, dense and hard.

(Kiln in Singapore: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-VIBsd7C0W5w/UHbpagshhoI/AAAAAAAAEKQ/w0h5EZFJ9t0/s1600/Dragon-Kiln-Thow-Kwang-Pottery-Jungle.jpg)

In December 2011, Cambodian archaeologists recently uncovered Southeast Asia’s largest kiln site to date at Torp Chey which measured 21 meters in length and almost 3 eters in width. There were also many pieces of large brown-glazed jars, roof tiles, animal-shaped figurines, and sandstone chips found at the site.

Description of Singapore finds

Many of the stoneware shards found in Singapore come from the southern Chinese province of Guangdon. They are called 'Guangdong Ware'. Some of them are also made from northern Vietnam.

(Stoneware items found at St Andrew's Cathedral: http://www.seaarchaeology.com/v1/html/sg/st_andrew_photo_gallery.htm)

The stoneware jars are usually large and seem to be suited to tore large amounts of liquids. They are also quite durable.


Other stoneware items have a thick, flat and narrow base. It tapers upwards. The walls of the jar also get thinner until it ends with a small round mouth at the top. These stoneware items are called mercury jars. They store liquid mercury which is a poisonous substance which can be used to purify gold. It was also used as medicine.. Do you think it was also used for ceremonial and religious purposes?

Ceramic Shards of Singapore: Earthernware


Earthernware: Eartheware ceramics are made locally in many parts of the Malay Archipelago. They were traded all across Southeast Asia and widely used. Most of them have very thin walls and may not be very durable.


Earthern pots of Thailand
Description of finds in Singapore.:
The Earthernware pottery found in Singapore are made from local clay found in areas in inland Singapore. It is made of fine paste clay. Some of the walls of the pottery are decorated with paddle-marked decorations found throughout the Malay Archipelago. Some have burnt or scorched marks along the outer walls of the pottery. Others are broken shards from kendis. These are kettle-shaped earthern pots with spouts (minus the handles). Kendis were sometimes also used for religious purposes like water rituals or incense burning in Hinduism and Buddhism

 Picture credits
www.seapots.com/home/index.php?page=malaysia-and-singapore

www.rooneyarchive.net/articles/kendi/kendi_album/kendi.htm to learn more about Kendis

 www.poskod.sg/Content/AppFiles/images/images/people/Archaeology3_500x665.jpg

 http://www.seaantique.com/S19003m.JPG

 References
  
Miksic, J.N. Singapore and the Silk Road of the Sea 1300-1800. Singapore: NUS Press and National Museum of Singapore, 2013)

Miksic, J.N & Low, Cheryl-Ann Mek Gek (Eds). Early Singapore 1300s – 1819. (Singapore: Singapore History Museum, 2004)



Monday, November 11, 2013

Kristallnacht 75 years on

Kristallnacht 75 years on: How strong is anti-Semitism in Germany?
By Stephen Evans BBC News, Berlin



It's 75 years since the pogroms that became known as Kristallnacht - the night of broken glass. It was the outbreak of mass violence against Jews which was to end in their mass murder. As the anniversary is marked, how strong - or weak - is anti-Semitism in Germany today?

Ruth Recknagel remembers the feral looting. Even today, 75 years later, she recalls people swarming around the broken windows of Jewish shops in Berlin and then snatching what they could.

Ruth was born in 1930, so on 9 November 1938 she was only eight years old. She walked around the shattered glass at Potsdamer Platz with her Jewish father. What she witnessed remains imprinted on her mind.

"It was a decisive break," she says. "It was the start. From then on, everything got worse."

Others remembered the way the pogroms unfolded into an organised orgy of violence. There was unrestrained grabbing from shops as well as attacks on schools and even hospitals. The Daily Telegraph correspondent in Berlin at the time, Michael Bruce, recounted "one of the foulest exhibitions of bestiality" he had ever witnessed when rioters broke into a hospital for sick Jewish children.

Tiny children were being chased "over the broken glass, bare-footed and wearing nothing but their nightshirts," Bruce wrote. "The nurses, doctors, and attendants were being kicked and beaten by the mob leaders, most of whom were women."

The November pogroms marked the start of the Holocaust. After it, the gloves were truly off. Jews had been persecuted from 1933 - barred from ever more jobs, routinely insulted and attacked. But Kristallnacht was the step-change in escalation. Any pretence and restraint vanished. The shattered glass of Kristallnacht led to the death camps.

And that is not forgotten in Germany today. It is taught in schools and remembered from podiums occupied by the chancellor of Germany down. But how much anti-Semitism lingers despite the knowledge of what happened?



It is a complex picture. There is, for example, a growing Jewish population in Germany. It is small at less than 1% of the total population (and much smaller than the 5% of the population with a Turkish background, for example). But it is a community which is growing rapidly, and people don't tend to migrate to a more hostile environment than the one they left.

he Israeli embassy in Berlin estimates that there are about 10,000 Israelis in Berlin alone, many of them drawn by the cultural life. The city abounds with Israeli sculptors, painters and musicians who often say they have found a home conducive to artistic creation.

There is, though, sometimes resentment from other Jews. I've been in a meeting where a visiting American-Jewish author rounded on the Israelis there who had moved to Germany to live and work. How could they look at themselves in the mirror, the angry author taunted the Israeli immigrants to Germany.

Jews in Germany often say, though, that they find much more anti-Semitism when they go abroad. One person told the BBC she had experienced far worse prejudice in Britain than she had at home in Germany - in a Cambridge college, ham was sometimes placed in her postbox.

The widely accepted research into attitudes to race across Europe was done by the University of Bielefeld. It teased out deeper attitudes by asking indirect questions about, for example, whether respondents thought Jews "have too much influence" or "try to take advantage of past persecution".

The study, published in 2011, and based on thousands of interviews done in 2008, concluded: "The significantly strongest agreement with anti-Semitic prejudices is found in Poland and Hungary. In Portugal, followed closely by Germany, anti-Semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries. In Italy and France, anti-Semitic attitudes as a whole are less widespread than the European average, while the extent of anti-Semitism is least in Great Britain and the Netherlands".

In all the countries studied apart from Italy, a majority answered that "Jews enrich our culture". In Germany, nearly 70% said so, about the same as in Britain.

But nearly half of German respondents said that "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era". That's compared to 22% for Britain, 32% for France, 40% for Italy, 68% for Hungary and 72% for Poland.

A separate study published by the German parliament in 2012 concluded that 20% of Germans held at least "latent anti-Semitism" - some sort of quiet, unspoken antipathy towards Jews.

Rabbis often praise the German government for its outspoken condemnation of anti-Semitism. "Germany is certainly doing a lot to fight anti-Semitism," says Prof Walter Homolka, the director of Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam. "Whether it is ever going to be enough, that's a big question. We can only hope to keep this figure of 20% in check."

He says the public statements and the presence of people such as Chancellor Angela Merkel at big Jewish events is important as a signal to the rest of the population. Chancellor Merkel has said that an attack on Jews is an attack on everyone.

What does seem to be clear is that anti-Semitism is rising in Germany.

"Anti-Semitism is acceptable again," says Anetta Kahane director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, which campaigns against racism. "It must be said clearly - those who say something anti-Semitic tacitly legitimise physical attacks on Jews."

The foundation has collated official figures which say that in 2011, there were 811 attacks on Jews. These were of various degrees of intimidation, from verbal attacks to physical assault, and included 16 violent attacks. In 2012, that rose to 865 attacks in total, with 27 of them being violent. In the first half of this year, the rise seems to have continued, with 409 attacks, 16 of them violent.

A year ago, Rabbi Daniel Alter was attacked by a group of youths of Middle Eastern appearance as he walked with his young daughter. "They made threats of violence against female members of my family, including my seven-year-old daughter who was by my side," he says.

One man confronted him very aggressively before striking him: "With his first hit he broke my cheek bone. There was another man hitting me from behind, hitting me either with his fist or something else on my head, and I fell to the floor. The next thing is I saw them running away."

It has made him change his life. Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht, he feels he can no longer wear his skullcap openly in some areas of Berlin, and covers it with a hat. And he has re-doubled his efforts to visit schools and talk to children - often alongside an Imam from a mosque.

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Q and A with John Miksic


Q&A Archaeologist JOHN MIKSIC

Singapore had a thriving community long before the British set foot here. And, going by historical records, it was fairly sophisticated, even in the 1300s.

Dr John Miksic, an archaeologist from the South-east Asian Studies Department of the National University of Singapore, reveals this in his new book, Singapore And The Silk Road Of The Sea, launched on Nov 5. My Paper caught up with him last week.

What was your most memorable excavation here?

This had to be the first excavation in 1984. We had received a grant from Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum and had mobilised NSmen, labourers and staff from the National Museum of Singapore, with no proof that we would find anything.

The first layers of soil had only artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not until the third or fourth day that we broke through into a different layer and started finding 14th-century objects.

That was a major relief.

What is your latest finding on Singapore’s history?

I found an old British report that described the demolition of the old Malay Wall along Stamford Road in the 1820s. The diggers reported finding ancient Chinese coins in the earth wall. This proves that the wall was built on top of the first phase of the settlement.

There must have been a warning of a threat of attack after Singapore was already settled in around 1300.

Your book reveals that Singapore was a thriving city, even before Sir Stamford Raffles landed. Why is that important information?

This means that early Singapore’s existence did not depend on the protection of a foreign power. It also shows that Raffles chose Singapore as a site for his port precisely because he was right in believing that Singapore had a long history among the South-east Asians before Europeans arrived.

This gives Singapore an identity which is independent of European influence, and should give the population greater confidence that their country can survive in the longer run, as a 700-year-long history suggests considerable continuity with the past and potential long-term stability in the future.

Newspaper article: http://newshub.nus.edu.sg/news/1109/PDF/GROUND-st-19sep-pB7.pdf

Doolittle Raid: One Last Toast

WWII mission was a turning point back home.

DAYTON, Ohio — The last of the Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90s, offered a final toast Saturday to their fallen comrades, as they pondered their place in history after a day of fanfare about their 1942 attack on Japan.

“May they rest in peace,” Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James “Jimmy” Dolittle, who was born in 1896.

In a ceremony Saturday evening at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of people, including family members of deceased Raiders, watched as the three Raiders each called out “here” as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.

The three in attendance were Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93; Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92; and Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98. Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn’t travel because of health problems.

A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the museum. Museum officials estimated 10,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before “these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.”

“It was what you do … over time, we’ve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,” Saylor said in an interview. Thatcher said that during the war, the raid seemed like “one of many bombing missions.”

After Thomas Griffin died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.

Review of “Singapore & The Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800″


Review of “Singapore & The Silk Road of the Sea, 1300-1800″ by Asad Latif for The Straits Times
Posted on November 11, 2013

Pre-Raffles S’pore: A thriving port. It was a centre of commerce and culture in 14th century, The Straits Times, Saturday 9 November 2013.

Think of a Singapore which has defences against invasion. Money is a fixture of everyday life. The economy is diversified. Workers specialise in different occupations. The government and the people are honest. The population is multi-ethnic and multinational. People live together peacefully.

Which Singapore is this? To-day’s?

It actually is 14th-century Singapore, a rich and cosmopolitan trading port that was a key node on the maritime Silk Road that connected South-east Asia west-wards to India and eastwards to China.

This “Silk Road of the Sea” was, if anything, more important commercially and culturally than the fabled land route from the Mediterranean through Central Asia to China on which the trade in silk epitomised the extremely profitable exchange in precious commodities. The port of Singa-pore prospered on that sea.

Much of this information is not new. But what this book – written by John Miksic, the eminence grise of Singapore archaeology, based on 25 years of research – does is to add the empirical evi-dence of excavations to the histori-cal knowledge that Singapore ex-isted long before the age of Euro-pean colonialism and the arrival of Stamford Raffles.

In fact, Raffles, the founder of contemporary Singapore, did not create it out of nothing but saw himself as reviving an ancient cen-tre of commerce and culture. He drew on the island’s enduring attributes: its strategic location, a fair and liberal government, and a hardworking population (which included residents from China, oth-er parts of South-east Asia, and the Indian Ocean) that was able to cohere socially in spite of its cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.

Ironically, Raffles acknow-ledged Singapore’s pre-colonial provenance, in contrast to those who believe today that Singapore began with him.

Pre-Rafflesian society exempli-fied the possibilities of multi-eth-nicity.

Malays and Chinese lived together and not in different quarters in Singapore, “the oldest known site where archaeology and history combines to confirm the existence of an overseas Chi-nese community”, the author says. Even unlike Melaka, a Chi-nese stronghold where they had their own ward in 1500, there was no Chinese kampung here because they were safe and had no need for a stockade.

The realities and rhythms of life in pre-colonial Singapore come to life in this book, which cites early archaeological efforts before moving on to describe excavations made since 1984. In Janu-ary 1984, the first systematic ar-chaeological excavation began on Fort Canning Hill.

“By 1988, various groups had become interested in the possibili-ty that Singapore’s ancient past was not a closed book, but a story which was only beginning to be told,” Miksic says.

Organisations such as the Southeast Asian Ceramic Society, the Lee Foundation, and the Friends of the National Museum were interested in supporting this research.

“By 1990, a true archaeological community had begun to develop in Singapore,” he writes. “No oth-er city in South-east Asia, and few in the world, can show a record of such active grassroots involvement in urban archaeology,” he says of the 1,000 volunteers who came forward to claim the city’s due: at least 700 years of history.

Excavations, in which Miksic was intimately involved, expanded to the Parliament House Com-plex, Empress Place, Colombo Court, Old Parliament House, the Singapore Cricket Club and St An-drew’s Cathedral.

A chapter evaluates the value of the evidence unearthed: earth-enware pottery, bronze and cop-per, and small fragments of gold. The significance of these finds lies in the proof the provide that ear-ly Singaporeans processed raw ma-terials to make finished products. Far from being a primitive society of fishermen and pirates, Singa-pore was a place where “planning and technological skills combined to create businesses dependent on long-term planning and investment”.

Its golden age ended just before 1400, but the island was not abandoned. A settlement that trad-ed with other lands survived along the Singapore River till 1600 or so. Then, a historical and archaeo-logical “vacuum” ensued till around 1800. Around 1811, the riv-er was re-occupied by a small pop-ulation affiliated to the Riau Sul-tanate on Bintan island.

This was the Singapore that Raffles encountered on arrival.

Singapore’s journey up to that point is the ambit of this encyclo-paedic book, which includes more than 300 maps and colour photo-graphs. It bears testimony to the determination of the author, an associate professor in the Depart-ment of South-east Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, to expand historical hori-zons beyond the Age of Raffles.

Also head of the Archaeology Unit at the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of South-east Asian Studies, he places this longer history of Singapore in the context of Asia’s long-distance maritime trade between 1300 and 1800. In the process, he examines how Singapore functioned in its immediate regional context, which included Johor, Melaka, Java, Riau and Siam.

This is familiar territory, but the book serves to chart it through hard archaeological evi-dence that buttresses historical claims about the economic and diplomatic ingenuity of early Singaporeans.

The same ingenuity will be re-quired of today’s Singaporeans as they navigate their way in a possi-bly post-Western age inaugurated by the rise of China and India. America and Europe will play an essential role in Singapore’s desti-ny, but the new terms of interna-tional relations in Asia will be set increasingly by Asian powers.

Sadly, the author ends on a plaintive note: “It will be interest-ing to see whether new evidence of Singapore’s antiquity will con-tinue to be perceived as anything more than a curiosity of minor im-portance to the formation of the nation’s modern identity.”

It would be a national pity if that occurred. Singapore’s identi-ty is an evolving one. The fact that the identity has been seven centuries in the making surely should give today’s Singaporeans greater hope in their collective fu-ture. We are not a here today, gone tomorrow kind of people. At least, our national ancestors, liv-ing 700 years ago, were not.

The book was launched at the National Museum on Tuesday.

By Asad Latif for The Straits Times, stopinion@sph.com.sg

The writer, a former Straits Times journalist. The book is available at S$58 (paperback) and S$68 (hardback), both before GST.

Aiming to change the outcome of World War One By Kevin Connolly BBC Middle East correspondent

Even at moments of remembrance the origins of World War One seem as distant as the fall of Rome. The steps in the doomed diplomatic dance in the summer of 1914 are hopelessly remote to the modern mind.

It's not just the imperial ambitions and the strategic balances - this was a world where politicians still wore frock coats and the seditious syncopations of ragtime were an affront to Christian decency.

But there are places where the furtive manoeuvrings of the politicians - which went on in parallel with the fighting - still feel like unfinished business.

Very few Western Europeans could tell you what the main result of World War One really was - except that it led directly to World War Two.

It brought countless indirect changes too of course, but they are hard to measure

The role of women in parts of Europe and North America at least, was transformed. And, perhaps, a habit of deference vanished too.

Before the Great War domestic service was the biggest employer in British society. After it everyone but the very rich had to learn to make their own tea and iron their own jodhpurs.

In Irbil though, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, everyone knows what the main result of World War One was - and everyone sees it as unfinished business.

When the guns fell silent the Kurds were left without a homeland. And they're still without one. The Kurds were divided between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, their dreams of statehood crushed.

But as the rest of the world prepares to remember the start of the war, there are people in Kurdistan who think it's possible that they might be about to change the outcome.

The principal architects of the post-world-war order in the Middle East were a pair of British and French diplomats, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. To them fell the task of dividing up the empire of Germany's most important ally - Turkey, an empire which included much of the Middle East.

The goal was not, of course, to improve the lot of the Arab peoples struggling under the Turkish yoke - it was to make sure that Britain and France emerged from the costly carnage in Europe with some sort of tangible benefit.

Their secret talks were concluded about a month before the Battle of the Somme began in 1916. In many ways the world still lives with the consequences of the decisions made and the promises given around that time.

There were assurances to Arab leaders about the post-war rewards Britain could offer in return for fighting the Turks. And there was the Balfour Declaration, which committed the British to the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.

It could have been even more complicated. If Imperial Russia had survived to take a share of the spoils, it might have got Istanbul.

But for the Kurds there was to be nothing.

Now though, 100 years on from the Great War, the self-serving map on which the victorious powers sketched out new countries like Iraq and Syria is fraying at the edges

Syria, which was given to the French, may not survive the grinding misery of its own civil war as a unitary state. And the prosperous Kurdish part of Iraq feels more and more like a different country from the troubled Arab south.

It has a flag, an anthem, armed forces and it's got oil too. Businessmen who trade there compare it to the Dubai of 20 years ago. Might that growing autonomy one day crystallise into statehood?

In a smoky tea room, dug like a cave into the heart of the ancient market in Irbil, the disappointments of history have made men cautious.

But a sense of optimism now pervades the atmosphere as palpably as the thick fug of tobacco smoke, which stains the old photographs on the wall a darker shade of sepia.

Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot - largely forgotten in their own countries, and not much admired by those who do remember them - would blush to know how often their names crop up in conversation in Kurdish cities like Irbil.

At times of remembrance in Western Europe most of us, perhaps, tend to focus on the small things and the personal - the fighting, for example, brought the first of my relatives to Britain to fight its wars and then dig its roads.

The bigger questions - was there anything to show for all that suffering? - are just too big and too bleak.

But in Irbil, and in other Kurdish cities too, there's a growing feeling that a change in the outcome of the fighting which has been a century in the making might finally be within reach.

Aiming to change the outcome of World War One

Aiming to change the outcome of World War One
By Kevin Connolly BBC Middle East correspondent

Even at moments of remembrance the origins of World War One seem as distant as the fall of Rome. The steps in the doomed diplomatic dance in the summer of 1914 are hopelessly remote to the modern mind.

It's not just the imperial ambitions and the strategic balances - this was a world where politicians still wore frock coats and the seditious syncopations of ragtime were an affront to Christian decency.

But there are places where the furtive manoeuvrings of the politicians - which went on in parallel with the fighting - still feel like unfinished business.

Very few Western Europeans could tell you what the main result of World War One really was - except that it led directly to World War Two.

It brought countless indirect changes too of course, but they are hard to measure.

The role of women in parts of Europe and North America at least, was transformed. And, perhaps, a habit of deference vanished too.

Before the Great War domestic service was the biggest employer in British society. After it everyone but the very rich had to learn to make their own tea and iron their own jodhpurs

In Irbil though, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, everyone knows what the main result of World War One was - and everyone sees it as unfinished business.

When the guns fell silent the Kurds were left without a homeland. And they're still without one. The Kurds were divided between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, their dreams of statehood crushed.

But as the rest of the world prepares to remember the start of the war, there are people in Kurdistan who think it's possible that they might be about to change the outcome.

The principal architects of the post-world-war order in the Middle East were a pair of British and French diplomats, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. To them fell the task of dividing up the empire of Germany's most important ally - Turkey, an empire which included much of the Middle East.

The goal was not, of course, to improve the lot of the Arab peoples struggling under the Turkish yoke - it was to make sure that Britain and France emerged from the costly carnage in Europe with some sort of tangible benefit.

Their secret talks were concluded about a month before the Battle of the Somme began in 1916. In many ways the world still lives with the consequences of the decisions made and the promises given around that time.

There were assurances to Arab leaders about the post-war rewards Britain could offer in return for fighting the Turks. And there was the Balfour Declaration, which committed the British to the establishment of a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people.

It could have been even more complicated. If Imperial Russia had survived to take a share of the spoils, it might have got Istanbul.

But for the Kurds there was to be nothing.

Now though, 100 years on from the Great War, the self-serving map on which the victorious powers sketched out new countries like Iraq and Syria is fraying at the edges.

Syria, which was given to the French, may not survive the grinding misery of its own civil war as a unitary state. And the prosperous Kurdish part of Iraq feels more and more like a different country from the troubled Arab south.

It has a flag, an anthem, armed forces and it's got oil too. Businessmen who trade there compare it to the Dubai of 20 years ago. Might that growing autonomy one day crystallise into statehood?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sculpture of ancient Rome: The shock of the old - Alistair Sooke

Sculpture of ancient Rome: The shock of the old


This fragment of a wall painting from Pompeii shows a man reclining to drink. Violence, sex and indulgence pervaded Roman culture. (British Museum)

It must have been bliss to be an archaeologist during the 18th Century, when the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were rediscovered. Take the Villa of the Papyri outside Herculaneum: 85 sculptures were uncovered at this site alone between 1750 and 1761.

But it could be awkward too. Imagine how the excavators must have felt when they unearthed the most infamous of these sculptures in the presence of the king of Naples and Sicily on a spring day in 1752. Carved from a single block of Italian marble, it showed the wild god Pan making love to a goat. With his right hand, Pan grabs the nanny goat’s tufted beard, yanking forward her head so that he can stare deep into her eyes. The king was not amused.



One of the most infamous art works in antiquity, this statue of Pan and a female goat was uncovered in Herculaneum in 1752. (Ray Tang/Rex Features)

Unlike most of the 18th-Century finds from Herculaneum and Pompeii, the sculpture was hidden away, available to view only with the monarch’s permission. Yet, from the moment of its discovery, the statue generated curiosity as well as horror. It quickly became a fashionable sight for Englishmen gallivanting around Europe on the Grand Tour. The 18th-Century English sculptor Joseph Nollekens produced a terracotta replica from memory – though his bug-eyed animal is far more surprised by Pan’s attentions than the Roman goat, which seems almost complicit.

Without realising, Nollekens had stressed the scene’s undertones of bestiality and rape – even though the original may have appeared much less violent to the Romans. Different cultures view the same things in different ways. Art that we consider shockingly erotic or violent was commonplace in the Roman world.

Now, the sculpture of Pan and the goat is setting pulses racing once again. On loan from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, where it is usually shown in the ‘Secret Cabinet’ alongside other erotic material from the ancient Roman world, the statue features in the British Museum’s major exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, currently on show in London. A discreet label forewarns visitors that the exhibition “contains sexually explicit material”.

Grim gardens

Today it is tempting to view the sculpture as a piece of vile erotica – but I’m not so sure. The Villa of the Papyri also contained a library full of hundreds of scrolls, suggesting that the man who owned the sculpture was sophisticated and well-read.

Perhaps he was also a provocative pervert who enjoyed scandalising his guests. But even a cursory acquaintance with the Roman world suggests that this wasn’t necessarily the case. Today some people decorate their gardens with gnomes. The Romans preferred sexier, gutsier, more bloodthirsty subjects. Elsewhere in the British Museum’s exhibition, we encounter two sublime marble sculptures depicting tense stags hollering with fear as they are overcome by snarling hunting dogs. The hounds gnash at the ears of their prey, using their claws to gouge deep into flesh.


A typically violent work, from Herculaneum, AD 1-79, showing two tense stags whose flesh is being clawed by hunting dogs. (Ray Tang/Rex Features)

These sculptures aren’t lewd, but they are extraordinarily violent. While we can appreciate the way in which the sculptor arranged a chaotic subject into coherent forms, they still seem like strange choices for garden ornaments, by our standards. So does a nearby marble statuette of a pot-bellied Hercules, clearly the worse for wear following a drunken banquet, about to take a pee.

But the Romans couldn’t get enough of this sort of stuff. One of my favourite Roman sculptures is the Hanging Marsyas. This presents the bearded satyr, Marsyas, bound to a tree. He is about to be flayed alive as punishment for challenging the lyre-playing god Apollo to a musical contest (inevitably, he lost). Several sculptures depicting this scene have survived, including a handful carved from purple-veined marble, which offers a grisly sense of the bloody flesh about to be revealed by the torturer’s knife.



One of several surviving sculptures of the satyr Marsyas. He is bound to a tree and flayed after losing a musical contest with the god Apollo. (Alinari Archives/Corbis)

It is a similar story with the famous Laocoon, that tangle of thrusting limbs, lightning-quick sea serpents and agonised expressions that has haunted the Western imagination ever since it was discovered in Rome and deposited in the Belvedere courtyard of the Vatican by Pope Julius II in 1506. This moving marble sculpture of the Trojan priest Laocoon and his two sons struggling to escape from the coils of their fate, forever frozen in the throes of anguish, has inspired countless artists and writers, from Michelangelo to Dickens.



This moving marble sculpture shows Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons struggling to escape from snakes sent by Poseidon to strangle them. (David Pearson/Rex Features)

It puzzles me that the Romans, who valued integrity and gravitas, were so obsessed with gore. After all, their gladiatorial games and spectacles in the arena involving wild beasts and condemned criminals were nothing but a form of ritualised human sacrifice. Ancient Rome was a curious mixture of civilisation and barbarism.

Saucy sculpture

As the sculpture of Pan and the goat attests, sex pervaded Roman culture as much as violence. A year and a half ago, I visited Pompeii, while filming a BBC documentary series called Treasures of Ancient Rome. While it wasn’t surprising that one of the town’s brothels was painted with sexually explicit frescoes, I did find it bizarre that so many buildings were decorated with plaques depicting erect phalluses.

It used to be thought that these pointed the way to one of Pompeii’s many brothels: according to some estimates there were as many as 35 in a town with a population of around 12,000 people. But most scholars now believe that the phallus functioned as a kind of amulet, warding off evil forces.


The tintinnabulum or wind chime is a phallus with wings, lion’s feet and hanging bells. (Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei)

This would explain its ubiquity in contexts that we might find surprising: in the exhibition at the British Museum, for instance, there is a curious object known as a ‘tintinnabulum’, or wind chime, consisting of a winged phallus (with lion feet, as well as its own phallus and phallus tail), from which five bells have been suspended. Although it was discovered in Pompeii, a similar object would not have looked out of place in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, tinkling from the boughs as visitors looked at the sculpture of Pan having sex with a goat.

Exhibitions such as Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum offer the tantalising impression of proximity to our ancient forebears. A bronze bust of a Roman banker is so creased and lifelike that we believe we can grasp his character. A bone vessel still contains pink pigment that a Roman matriarch probably used to rouge her cheeks.



This AD 1-79 marble statuette depicts an undignified Hercules relieving himself while under the influence of Bacchus, the wild god of wine. (Mike Kemp /In Pictures/Corbis)


But then a sculpture such as that of Pan making love to a goat plunges us back into darkness and uncertainty, and makes the chasm of two millennia feel as abyss-like as ever. We will never be able fully to comprehend what the sculpture meant to the Romans who first saw it. Where we see smut or rape, perhaps they saw comedy or even tenderness. All we can say with certainty is that their attitudes towards sex and violence differed radically from ours. Understanding the past is an elusive, ever-changing quest.

Alastair Sooke is an art critic for The Daily Telegraph

How Bruce Springsteen rocked the Berlin Wall



http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20130626-how-springsteen-rocked-the-wall

Bruce Springsteen delivered a message of freedom to a huge concert in East Berlin in July 1988 – and the Berlin Wall fell the following year. Was it the spark that started the fire?

Stephen Evans reports.

Nobody claims that rock music shook the Berlin Wall to destruction. It’s the people of East Germany who must get the credit for that, with a bit of help, perhaps, from the politicians of the West who turned up the pressure and the leader of the Soviet Union who ordered that guns not be fired.

But might rock music have helped? And might one concert by one particular musician have helped a great deal?

On the night of 19 July 1988, Bruce Springsteen played to what seemed like the whole of East Berlin. Just over one year later, what seemed like the whole of East Berlin flooded through the holes the people themselves had knocked in the notorious Wall.

Was there any connection between the two events? Did the concert provide that extra ounce of push? After all, as the great Springsteen lyric puts it: You can't start a fire without a spark”.

A new book, Rocking the Wall, claims that that concert, and in particular a short speech which Springsteen gave in German from the stage, galvanised attitudes. As the author, Erik Kirschbaum, tells the BBC: “Three-hundred-thousand East Germans were there – young, enthusiastic East Germans who had never had the chance to see a big Western rock star like that.

Chimes of freedom?

“Springsteen played an amazing concert – four hours long. It went straight to their hearts.” But what added the political impetus was that in the middle of it, Springsteen defied the authorities and gave a speech no more than a paragraph long. He spoke in German, which he had written out phonetically: “I am not for or against a government. I’ve come to play rock and roll for you, in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down.” He was greeted with a roar of approval.

The moment he had spoken, he took off into Chimes of Freedom: “Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake/ Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an' forsaked/ Tolling for the outcast, burnin' constantly at stake/ An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing”. The concert was transmitted with a time delay on East German television and radio channels and the short but utterly powerful speech never made it to air – but those in the concert knew exactly what “barriers” meant, and their word of mouth later travelled the nation.

Of course, those words did not cause the collapse of communism. If they had not been spoken, East Germany’s communist regime would still have crashed. The forces of change were too strong. But those forces didn’t move on their own. Some factors pushed them further and some held them back. Some fanned the flame – and Springsteen gets credit for that, according to Erik Kirschbaum: “They had never heard a message like that. Here was this big, famous American rock star who came into the middle of East Germany, into East Berlin, and told them he hoped that the wall would come down one day.

“I think it really contributed to fuelling the sentiment in East Germany for change. They were unhappy in East Germany. A lot of reforms were going on in other Eastern European countries in '88, but in East Germany it was a very stagnant situation. Springsteen came there and spoke to their hearts. He got them enthusiastic about change, and in the next 16 months we all know what happened,”

Tougher than the rest

Why did he do it? His manager, Jon Landau, said that Springsteen felt he had been tricked by the East German authorities. The two of them had met an official of the Free German Youth (the FDJ, an arm of the Communist Party) in the lobby of the hotel and learnt that the concert was to be “in aid of Nicaragua”. They expressed surprise to the official and threatened to pull out.

Erik Kirschbaum explains: “They said ‘this isn't going to work. We don't play for Nicaragua’. And the FDJ official said it was no big deal in East Germany – just like doing a concert for Pepsi Cola in America. Springsteen’s manager said: ‘We don't do concerts for Pepsi Cola in America and we aren’t going to do a concert for Nicaragua. We're leaving.’”

With people on their way to the concerts by their thousands, there was much negotiating and the East German authorities agreed to take down the political posters around the stage. “They managed to calm Springsteen down but because the ticket still said ‘Concert for Nicaragua’, he was still determined to have the last word. And he knew he had the microphone on stage to say what he wanted to say.”

The East German authorities had played with fire – and got burnt. They had, over the decades of rock ‘n’roll, not quite known how to deal with a phenomenon of such popular potency. Artists were banned. The Rolling Stones, for example, were on the East German authorities’ index of censored musicians for radio time until 1982, when four songs were allowed.

But you can’t ban a flood. More and more East Germans were turning their dials to the West. A survey showed that by the ‘80s, virtually all East Germans were tuning to West German radio and television stations (though not in the south east of the country, too far from the border – Dresden, for example, was too far to get the Western sound). The authorities sanctioned some East German rock bands. But this wasn’t quite the genuine article to the ears of the people.

Human touch

As the appetite for Western rock heightened in the late ‘80s, the authorities decided to allow a few big names in. Bob Dylan played. So did David Bowie and Joe Cocker. But it was Springsteen who set East Berlin alight. Apart from anything, his performance was electric. By all accounts, Dylan had underwhelmed – but Springsteen soared from the first raucous guitar chord. The authorities might have thought he was safe because his songs were dissident and working class in the US. But they misjudged the politics.

Those who were there were electrified by the event. Michael Steininger was a welder in East Germany who had become a fan of Bruce Springsteen (he once spent a month’s wages on a set of albums). “It was fairly hot,” he recalls. “It was a time when things in East Germany started to shift, when you could start saying and thinking things which had been impossible up to then.

“And then Springsteen came. It was a big, pretty dusty field that was completely crammed with people. They did sell tickets but pretty well anyone who wanted to get in got in. I can't remember any security to speak of. I remember it was one of those rare occasions where I could actually lift my feet and get carried on by the crowd.

"I was blown away by his presence and the way he was not just playing fantastic music but performing and interacting with the audience and he did do that at this concert. Even where you have hundreds of thousands of people, he manages to relate to people as though he's speaking to each of us.

“And he did mention "freedom" probably risking not being invited again - but I don't think he cared about that.”

One year later, it didn’t matter. Springsteen is still with us. The regime of the German Democratic Republic is not.
Home towns struggle with legacy of Stalin and Hitler



By Bethany Bell BBC News

The birth towns of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler are divided on the issue of how to deal with the legacy of the dictators who slaughtered millions.

In some ways it would be hard to imagine two more different places than Gori in Georgia and Braunau am Inn in Austria.

Gori, with its crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks, is set in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains.

You can still see scars from the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, when Russian troops entered the town.

It is poor. Even in winter, pensioners try to earn a few pennies, helping cars to park.

Braunau, by contrast, is a comfortable little Austrian town, with a beautifully preserved medieval centre.

Cross the bridge over the Inn river, close to the main square, and you find yourself in Germany, in Bavaria -one of the wealthiest parts of Europe.



Hitler spent the first three years of his life in this house in Braunau

But the towns have one thing in common - they have become known for their most notorious sons.

Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau in 1889. Joseph Stalin was born in Gori a decade earlier.

"Some people here will be very upset if you compare Stalin with Hitler," one Georgian told me.

"They see him as our local hero, the Georgian boy who won World War II and changed the world. But other people - especially the Westernisers - hate him, as a bloody dictator who suppressed Georgian independence."

"I am not trying to equate the two men," I replied. "I am just curious to see how each town deals with the legacy."

In Gori, the row over Stalin has changed the town's appearance.

For years, the main boulevard, Stalin Street, was dominated by a huge statue of Stalin.

But in 2010, it was taken down by the pro-Western government of Mikhail Saakashvili, much to the dismay of many in Gori.

"I used to ride my bicycle round it when I was a kid," Lella, who is 39, told me as she served me tea.

She showed me a photo of the statue taken in the 1950s, which she keeps on her mobile. "We need it back," she said. And her wish is about to come true - partly because of a political upheaval in Georgia.

Last year Saakashvili's party was defeated in parliamentary elections by the Georgian Dream coalition, which wants to repair Georgia's relations with Russia.

A few weeks ago, Gori city council, now run by Georgian Dream, allocated funds to re-erect the statue.

It will not be returned to Stalin Street, but will be put in Gori's main tourist attraction, the Stalin museum, which is still a shrine to the dictator and scarcely touched since it was built in 1957.



The statue of Stalin in Gori's main square was removed in 2010

In Braunau, having a Hitler Street would be unthinkable.

The 17th Century former inn where he was born, is unmarked. All that links it to Hitler is a stone on the pavement, which says, "Never again Fascism. In memory of millions of dead." Hitler's name does not appear.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

In Braunau, Hitler is largely hidden - while in Gori, Stalin is very much on display”

"We thought about putting up a plaque on the house - just to mark the historical fact," a town official told me. "But the owner would not let us."

He lowered his voice. "She is difficult," he said. "And so is the subject of Hitler."

Braunau is torn between those who think Hitler should be more openly discussed, and those who just want the issue to go away.

"We are not guilty because Hitler was born here," one man told me. "We do not need to apologise for our town."

But Florian, a local historian, disagreed. "Even though Hitler only spent three years of his life here, Braunau is contaminated," he said. "We have to speak out against Nazism."

During the Third Reich, the Nazis bought the house from the owners, a family named Pommer. After the war, the Pommers bought it back.

Since the 1970s, the Austrian interior ministry has rented it from the current owner, Gerlinde Pommer, to prevent neo-Nazis using it as a shrine.

Until 2011, the house was used as a day-care centre for disabled people.

But they had to move out because Mrs Pommer did not agree to renovations. The simmering debate over how to deal with Hitler's legacy burst into a fully fledged row.

Some want the house to become a centre of responsibility, confronting the Nazi past. Others say it should be used for flats, or a college for adult education.

One far-right politician says it should become a clinic, where women can give birth. A Russian MP even offered to blow it up.

When I phoned Mrs Pommer's lawyer for comment, the secretary hung up on me.

In Braunau, Hitler is largely hidden, while in Gori, Stalin is very much on display. Opposing reactions to a difficult legacy.

When I asked one man in Braunau which was best, he shrugged. "You get criticised whatever you do," he said, "but it is usually better to talk."


Some Georgians visited churches in Gori this week to mark the 60th anniversary of Stalin's death
Is Wagner’s Nazi stigma fair?
Clemency Burton-Hill



http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20130509-is-wagners-nazi-stigma-fair

The world is celebrating 200 years since the birth of Richard Wagner – but not Israel, where his music is taboo. Is it fair that Wagner’s works are tainted by his anti-Semitism and the Nazis’ enthusiasm for them?

“Egoism, overweening ambition, opportunism, deceit, spite, jealousy, arrogance, philandering, profligacy and racism.” Such is the “formidable catalogue” of personal attributes, according to scholar Barry Millington, of which Richard Wagner stands accused.

Certainly there are few cultural figures as divisive as the composer, polemicist, dramatist and conductor born in Leipzig on 22 May 1813. Yet nobody, whatever their thoughts on the man, can overstate Wagner’s significance to music. The extremity and the force of his genius altered forever the course of the art form in a way that only a handful of others – Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg – have ever done.

Wagner’s output is already recognisable to millions who have no interest in classical music. This year it will be harder than ever to avoid not just the Ride of the Valkyries and the Bridal March, but everything else besides. From Sydney to London, New York to Berlin, Melbourne to Seattle, Milan to Bayreuth, his work – which is not exactly neglected in other years – is at the forefront of programming everywhere.

Brand new complete Ring Cycles, gala concerts, debates, discussions and documentaries are all scheduled, many with stellar casts. And operas such as Parsifal, the Mastersingers of Nuremberg, The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin will be presented countless times – along with the soaring five-hour epic Tristan and Isolde, whose evocation of sex, love and infatuation was so radical that Wagner once told his muse Mathilde Wesendonck that if the work were ever to be “performed well” he feared “it would be banned.”

One country that will not be partaking of the birthday celebrations is Israel, where Wagner’s music is, effectively, banned. The boycott has little to do with the searing psychological realism attained in Tristan and Isolde though, and everything to do with the fact that for many Israeli Jews, Wagner’s music carries irrevocably the taint of its association with and appropriation by the Nazis.

Guilty by association

The conflation of Wagner and Hitler has always posed difficulties for any principled listener, Jewish or otherwise. And with Wagner in everyone’s eyes and ears this year, a litany of vexing questions beckons. Can we listen to, watch or perform Wagner’s music with a clear conscience? Was Wagner’s music despicably perverted by the Nazis, or did their adulation merely expose its inherent perversions? And in what circumstances can Wagner conscionably be performed by or for Jews?

No easy answers ensue – but some facts stand. It is incontrovertible that, like many Germans of his day, Wagner was virulently and unapologetically anti-Semitic. If the 1873 stock market crash and attendant agricultural crisis of the mid-1870s further poisoned the climate against Jews and their supposed economic liberalism, Wagner had already made his monstrous sentiments clear, beginning with his infamous 1850 treatise On Jewishness in Music. Although the musicological and academic jury is still out as to whether the music dramas can themselves be described as anti-Semitic, there is little doubt as to their composer’s ideology.

But another fact is equally inescapable: Wagner was not, as we understand the term, a Nazi. “I am sure there are people in Israel who support the ban who think that Wagner was around in 1940,” comments the Israeli Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim, who will conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle in a complete Ring Cycle at this summer’s BBC Proms in London. Wagner died in 1883. Hitler was born in 1889.

‘Use, abuse and misuse’

Barenboim is also quick to point out that widespread recognition of Wagner’s anti-Semitism did not prevent his music from being performed by Jews even after Hitler came to power. In Tel Aviv in 1936, for example, the Palestine Philharmonic – precursor to today’s Israel Philharmonic – memorably performed the prelude to Act 1 and Act 3 of Lohengrin under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. “Nobody had a word to say about it,” Barenboim remarks. “Nobody criticised [Toscanini]; the orchestra was very happy to play it.”

A Jewish prohibition on playing Wagner only came into effect later due to what Barenboim describes as the “use, misuse and abuse” of his music by Hitler, who had related in Mein Kampf the experience of seeing Lohengrin as a 12-year-old: “In one instant I was addicted. My youthful enthusiasm for the Bayreuth Master knew no bounds.”

Today, as Barenboim knows all too well, any attempt by a composer to perform Wagner in Israel invites outrage. In 2001, his considered decision to offer a piece of Wagner as an encore led to widespread condemnation – particularly regrettable, he says, because the audience had been asked beforehand, during a measured 40-minute discussion, if they would like to hear it. Those who did not were invited freely to leave; they were less than five per cent of the audience. “The idea this was a scandal was started the next day by people with a political agenda, not those in the concert hall,” he tells me, stressing his respect for “anybody’s right to choose not to listen to Wagner.” But, he says, “in a democratic society there should be no place for such taboos.”

The Wagner issue is particularly nettlesome for many listeners because invariably the music itself engenders precisely the opposite feelings. For overwhelming emotion, love, passion and humanity there is little comparable to Wagner. But perhaps this inherent contradiction is where the composer’s most radical value lies. Referring to the famous “Tristan Chord”, that paved the way for the great untethering of tonality in the 20th Century, Barenboim says: “A composer with less genius and with a poorer understanding of the mystery of music would assume that he must resolve the tension he has created. It is precisely the sensation caused by an only partial resolution, though, that allows Wagner to create more and more ambiguity and more and more tension as this process continues; each unresolved chord is a new beginning.”

As the birthday parties commence this month, expect the ambiguities and the tensions to rumble on.

Why chemical weapons provoke outrage

Why chemical weapons provoke outrage
Frank Gardner


By Frank Gardner BBC security correspondent, 11 Sept 2013

It has been nearly three weeks since the world woke up in horror to what appears to have been a mass chemical attack on residential areas in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August.

Yet some are asking why, in a conflict that has already killed at least an estimated 100,000 people, many in the most barbaric way, should the use of chemical weapons be any more abhorrent?

After all, long before that dreadful early Wednesday morning in August, Syria's ever-growing list of atrocities already included reports of the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, suicide bombings, beheadings, fatal torture, even napalm dropped on a school playground. So why the crescendo over chemical weapons?

Legacy of WWI

"Chemical weapons are unacceptable," says Thomas Nash, an arms monitor with Article 36, a UK-based body "working to prevent unacceptable harm caused by certain weapons".

"But it's equally unacceptable, I would say, to be shelling areas with explosive weapons where people are living.

"I think we should remember that all of these rules and regulations about which weapons are allowed are a means to an end. They are a means to alleviating and preventing humanitarian suffering that we've been seeing. And it applies to cluster munitions, incendiary weapons, explosive weapons in populated areas, as well as chemical weapons," Mr Nash adds.

But chemical weapons hold a special horror, partly because poison gas is often invisible, partly because of the indiscriminate way it can seek out every hiding place, and partly because of the agonising death it can cause.

The horrors of gas attacks in the trenches of World War I were supposed to teach the world: "Never again".

Yet Britain used chemical weapons soon afterwards against rebel tribesmen in Iraq and Afghanistan, before they were outlawed by the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

Winston Churchill was said to be an advocate and it was feared Hitler would use them against Britain. In the end, this country was spared but others were not.

Japan used poison gas against the Chinese in the 1930s, Mussolini used it in Ethiopia during World War II, and the Egyptian air force used it in Yemen in the 1960s.

Miracle escape

But nothing compared with what happened at Halabja. In March 1988, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein ordered a Kurdish town in northern Iraq to be drenched with mustard gas and nerve gas, killing over 5,000 people almost immediately.

Kamaran Haider was 11 at the time. When the bombardment began, he, his family and others rushed to their shelter.

Mr Haider told me that at first it was conventional bombs that fell. Then they smelt a strange odour of fruit and garlic and they knew at once what had happened.

"When we felt that smell, especially my mum and dad when they smelt it, we knew that's a chemical weapon.

"Then they started shouting and crying. It was very horrible because chemical weapon is very different from other bombs. Other bombs you can hide yourself in a shelter or mountain or somewhere but chemical is mixing with the air, you cannot hide.

"So when my mum knew that it was chemical weapon she ran up to the kitchen which was upstairs and she brought some towels... with a bucket of water. And she said: 'Put it on your face... to prevent from burning', because chemical burns the skin or makes you go blind."

Mr Haider's mother rushed outside with his brother to try to find a boy who had run outside.

They found him lying already dead and seconds after she came back into the shelter she too succumbed to the effects of the poison gas. That day Haider lost his father, mother, only sister, both brothers and a cousin.

"It's a miracle I survived," he said, "because of the 35 people in that shelter only me and my friend Hoshyar survived.

"Because I stayed in the shelter among the bodies for 3 days without water, food, electricity, nothing in the shelter and I was severely poisoned by chemical weapons, I was completely blind, my skin burned, and I felt many times sick and lost consciousness," Mr Haider says.

So it's the prospect of another Halabja - or indeed another attack like the one in those Damascus suburbs - that is spurring so much of the international community to prevent it recurring.

Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former chemical weapons inspector, fears that what happened last month around Damascus could set a precedent for worse to come.

"I think the urgency is the future potential. In the attack of 21 August maybe 100, maybe 200 litres of sarin were used," Col de Bretton-Gordon says.

"We believe that he [President Bashar al-Assad] has anywhere between 400 to 1,000 tonnes of sarin remaining, which could kill many tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people if used. So it's the future potential that we must guard against".

Syria's chemical weapons

CIA believes Syria's chemical weapons can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"

Syria believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, and also tried to develop more toxic nerve agents such as VX gas

Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)

Sources: CSIS, RUSI

Chemical attacks: what we know

Syria chemical attacks: What we know

Since the early hours of 21 August when graphic footage started to flood social media sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians living in the agricultural belt around Damascus, experts have been piecing together the evidence to try to establish what happened.

A report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch is the latest to blame Syrian government forces for carrying out the attacks, which left hundreds of people dead in the Ghouta area on the outskirts of Damascus.




Human Rights Watch says 330mm surface-to-surface rockets were used to attack Zamalka in Eastern Ghouta on 21 August. At least four strike sites have been found.

From remnants of the weapons, HRW has reconstructed the characteristics of the rocket, which, it says, was capable of carrying up to 60 litres of chemical nerve agent.

The payload of the rocket consisted of a large, thin-walled container. A small explosive charge at the front detonated on impact and ruptured the skin of the payload, dispersing the chemicals.

What happened

The first reported use of chemical weapons came at 0245 (local time) in Ein Tarma and again at 0247 in Zamalka.



Shortly after, dozens of videos were uploaded of distressed and visibly sick adults and children in makeshift hospitals but with no external injuries.

In some of the most graphic footage, dozens of bodies, including many small children and babies, were seen laid out in rows on the floor of a clinic.

While opposition activists initially said 300 people were killed in the attack, the casualty figure they gave quickly rose to over 1,000 people.

Casualties were reported in the areas of Irbin, Duma and, to the west, Muadhamiya, among others.

While opposition activists initially said 300 people were killed in the attack, the casualty figure they gave quickly rose to over 1,000 people.

Casualties were reported in the areas of Irbin, Duma and, to the west, Muadhamiya, among others.

Allegations

Opposition activists accused the Syrian government of carrying out the attack as part of a wider scale operation to edge the rebels further outside the capital. They said army rockets had dropped toxic agents onto civilian areas.

The Syrian government, however, has strenuously denied that it has ever used chemical weapons.

Immediately after the attack, the Syrian army denied using poisonous gas, describing the claims as "false and completely baseless".

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said such an attack would not have been possible because of the presence of the government's own forces in the area allegedly affected.

Syrian officials have suggested that the opposition were behind any such attacks and that they were encouraged in this by Western powers.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad insisted it was a tactic by the rebels to turn around the civil war which he said "they were losing".

The government had previously admitted to having stocks of chemical weapons, however, they stated they would never be used "inside Syria".

Evidence

Initial reports and video footage of the attack emerged from social media sources, making the claims difficult to verify and causing many to reserve judgement on whether chemical weapons were actually used.

Despite this, chemical weapons experts said the large volume of visual evidence would be difficult to fake.

Three days after the attack, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres confirmed that three hospitals it supports in Damascus had treated about 3,600 patients with "neurotoxic symptoms" on the day of the attack. They said 355 of these had died.

Medical experts said large numbers of patients displayed convulsions, pinpointed pupils, excessive saliva and difficulty in breathing - all tell-tale signs of nerve agent poisoning thought most likely to be sarin. They were treated with atropine and other known antidotes, which the medics said worked in many cases, despite the hospitals running out of treatments.

A team of UN chemical weapons experts already in Damascus to investigate separate allegations of chemical weapons use managed to gain access to the sites near Damascus on 26 August, five days after the attack occurred.

For four days, they spoke to survivors, nurses and doctors and took blood and urine samples from the districts affected.

They have since returned to The Hague and are awaiting the results of their findings, which they will then present in a final report to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But the UN team is only responsible for investigating whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them.

Western intelligence gathering

Western governments have also been trying to substantiate the claims of chemical weapons use in Syria.

The British government made public a UK Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment into the attack on 29 August, in which it clearly stated a chemical weapon attack had taken place, saying it was "highly likely" the Syrian authorities were responsible.

The assessment said confidently that the Assad government was behind 14 separate chemical attacks in Syria, and that it had "some intelligence to suggest regime culpability" in the Damascus attack.

The intelligence analysis also suggested the rebel forces did not have the capability to deliver chemical weapons. It did, however, admit it did not understand why the government would deploy chemical weapons while the UN team was in the capital.

The Obama administration then weighed in with its own intelligence analysis the next day. US Secretary of State John Kerry has accused Syria of using chemical weapons to kill 1,429 people, including 426 children, citing a US intelligence assessment.

It said Syrian military chemical weapons personnel were operating in the area over a three-day period before the attack and satellite evidence shows rockets launched from government-held areas 90 minutes before the first report of chemical attack.

US intelligence services also intercepted communications between a senior Damascus official who "confirmed chemical weapons were used" and was concerned about UN inspectors obtaining evidence.

Shortly after this intelligence release, Mr Kerry said he had firm evidence sarin was used in the attack, namely from samples of hair and blood from emergency workers who attended the scene.

On 2 September the French government released a declassified summary of its intelligence on the attack, as well as assessments of video footage.

It concluded that there had been a "massive use of chemical agents" against civilian populations, that "the launch zone for the [delivery] rockets was held by the regime while the strike zone was held by the rebels", and that only the Syrian government had the stock of chemical weapons and the means of delivering them.

"We believe the Syrian opposition does not have the capacity to carry out an operation of such magnitude with chemical agents," the report said.

It said, based on video reports, that it had counted at least 281 dead, but that such an attack might easily have killed a higher number.

On 5 September, the UK government said British laboratory tests on clothes and soil samples from the attack site in Damascus had confirmed that sarin had been used.

"The evidence is growing all the time," Prime Minister David Cameron said during the G20 summit in Russia.

"We have just been looking at some samples taken from Damascus in the Porton Down laboratory in Britain which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb."

On 10 September Human Rights Watch produced a report, based on evidence from eyewitnesses and doctors, as well as video footage and images from the scene. It concluded the attacks were carried out by Syrian forces using two different types of rockets, both capable of carrying chemical agents.

The first type of rocket, found at the site of the Eastern Ghouta attacks, is a 330mm rocket that appears to have a warhead designed to be loaded with and deliver a large payload of liquid chemical agent. The second type, found in the Western Ghouta attack, is a Soviet-produced 140mm rocket which has the ability to be armed with one of three possible warheads including one that can carry and deliver 2.2Kg of sarin.

The report concluded that Syrian government forces "were almost certainly responsible" for the 21 August attacks.

Russia - which, alongside China, supports the Syrian government - has challenged the US to present its evidence, with President Vladimir Putin describing claims the government was behind the attack as "utter nonsense".

Russian officials instead suggest Syrian rebels were behind the attack to try to provoke the international community to respond with military action.