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February 12 2014

VIDEOS: Argentina's Melting Pot of Culinary Traditions

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

The diverse migratory flows that have reached Argentina from the 1880′s and until now contributed to the richness and variety of the typical [en] cuisine in the country.

The various ‘ferias de colectividades’ (cultural fairs) that take place throughout Argentina are good illustrations of this. In these fairs we can witness not only a display of each community's traditions, folkloric dances, beauty pageants and souvenirs but also their traditional dishes. For instance, during the Fiesta de Colectividades in the city of Rosario that takes place every year, a varied menu is offered representing the multiple communities (Latin, European and Asian) that compose the Argentinian society. In this video, we can see how typical Paraguayan food is prepared and sold during that same fair in Rosario.

On Facebook, the page Encuentro Anual de Colectividades (Annual Gathering of Communities) shows some dishes that will be sold during the 2014 program in the city of Alta Gracia [es]. The city, located in the Córdoba province, is quite famous because it is where the revolutionary Che Guevara [en] lived for 12 years.

Imagen de la página de facebook Encuentro Anual de Colectividades

Photo posted on the Facebook Page of the Encuentro Anual de Colectividades event

Every September, the Misiones province [en] also celebrates its traditional Fiesta Nacional del Inmigrante (National Feast of the Immigrant). For the occasion, the Polish community, among other migrant groups, cooks Kursak Polski na Royezaj, better known as Polish chicken.

1 pollo
1 cebolla grande
2 ajo puerro
1 morrón rojo mediano
1 morrón verde mediano
200 gramos crema de leche
200 gramos champiñones
sal y pimienta

Preparación de la salsa
Picar la cebolla bien fina, rehogar con una cucharada de aceite, agregar los morrones cortados en daditos, agregar el ajo puerro picado muy fino. Revolver muy bien, agregar crema de leche y los champignones.
Cocinar durante cinco minutos, agregar sal y pimienta a gusto.
Optativo nuez moscada.
Si queda muy espesa la salsa agregar leche para suavizar. Servir acompañado con pollo a la parrilla o al horno


1 Chicken

1 Large Onion

2 Leeks

1 Medium Red Pepper

1 Medium Green Pepper

200 g. Cream

200 g. Mushrooms

Salt and Pepper

Preparation of the sauce

Chop the onions very finely. Fry lightly with one tbsp of oil. Add the peppers after they've been diced followed by the leeks finely cut. Stir well. Add the cream and mushrooms.

Cook for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add some nutmeg if you wish. If sauce gets too thick, add some milk. Serve with grilled or roast chicken.

In addition there are community-specific celebrations, such as the one by the Volga Germans [en], who settled mostly in the province of Entre Ríos. The Volga Germans lived in the region of southeastern European Russia, close to the Volga river [en]. They came to Argentina in 1878 and preserved their traditions as well as their language. Cuisine is naturally at the heart of these traditions. This video produced by the Asociación Argentina de Descendientes de Alemanes del Volga (Argentinian Association of the Volga Germans Descendants) demonstrates how to prepare a Kreppel:

There also many restaurants serving foreign food. The Croatian community in Argentina, for instance, keeps its culinary traditions with restaurants like Dobar Tek, offering a rich Croatian menu. This video shows the “art” of preparing an apple strudel.

The Armenian community is also quite influential in Argentina. Romina Boyadjian suggests the 5 best dishes in Armenian cuisine while pointing out that the Community in the diaspora has reinvented the typical dishes:

Algo curioso es que la comida armenia que se come en Argentina es muy distinta a la que se consume en Armenia. Esto tiene que ver con las reinvenciones que hacen los diferentes pueblos al partir de su tierra natal, las costumbres que traen consigo y lo que termina siendo valorado en la nueva comunidad. Hay comidas que acá se consideran típicas y que allá apenas se conocen.

It's quite intriguing that the Armenian cuisine we eat in Argentina is quite different from the one actually consumed in Armenia. This has to do with the reinventions done by the different populations based on their homeland, the traditions that they bring and what ends up being valued in the new community.  Some dishes are considered traditional yet they are barely known there (in Armenia).

One of the cities symbolizing the Jewish immigration to Argentina is Moisés Ville [en], established by the first immigrants who reached the country. On the YouTube account of the initiative Señal Santa Fe we can see the city and get to know how traditions are preserved through well-known dishes such as the strudel or the Knish [en] among others:

But which dish was quickly adopted by immigrants upon their arrival to the country? The asado [en] without any doubt, especially because the majority of the newcomers were peasants and meat was quite cheap. The Club Argentino de Asadores a la Estaca (Argetinian Club of Rotisseurs) has some photos for you to enjoy.

Asado a la Estaca - Imagen. Laura Schneider

Asado – Photo by Laura Schneider

January 23 2014

Goodbye Alexandros Petersen, Prodigious Guide to China in Central Asia

With a sprinkle of humor, Alex slipped seamlessly and gracefully into a region of stories and storytellers, abundance and poverty, toasts and toast-makers. 

The 29 year-old go-to-scholar and commentator was eloquent and big-hearted in everything he did. 

It was with great shock that I comprehended the loss of Alexandros Petersen, co-author of the excellent Eurasian affairs blog, in a suicide bomb attack carried out by the Taliban at a restaurant in central Kabul on January 17, 2014. 

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Alexandros Petersen at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

This is not an obituary.

Alex was so well-traveled and well-affiliated that compiling his biography would probably be a task beyond any single person, and certainly the author of this post. A great number of people knew Alex in a great number of capacities, all of whom lost something in this brutal, highly coordinated and premeditated attack.

America-born to a Greek mother and a Danish father, he had friends and admirers across the world, with a notable concentration of both in lands sandwiched between the shores of the Black Sea and the sands of the Taklamakan desert.

As an occasional journalist, I had known ‘Alex the source’ – always reliable for an astute and erudite quote – for some time before I knew Alex the person.

While the first Alex will leave a gaping hole in the rolodex of many analysts and reporters covering Central Asia and the Caucasus, it is the second Alex, known by family, friends, colleagues and students, that will be missed even more. 

As a noted expert in energy politics, Alex's scope was global, yet like many that have traveled through, lived and worked in, or wrote about the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus, there was a specific set of countries he found infectious. As he emphasized in his book The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and later through the ChinainCentralAsia blog and book project, this is a region that western policy-makers ignore at their peril.

Many people that knew Alex, even as briefly as I knew him, will know that he had an aptitude for anecdotes. Through the warm fuzzy memory of one of several excellent dinner evenings at a well-known Georgian restaurant in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (a dash of the Caucasus in Central Asia) I can still hear his tale of the duplicitous Azerbaijani ambassador that summoned him for a dressing down after he had written a critical article about that country, only to promptly stop, smile, and break out a teapot and tea cups. The dressing down, it emerged, had been recorded for the benefit of a political high-up in Baku, while the teapot and tea cups were symbols of the perennial hospitality with which any visitor to the region rapidly becomes familiar. 

On a good night, Alex could reel off a dozen such recollections from his years traveling through countries in Europe and Asia, nearly all of which were outrageously funny. A Petersen punch line could leave your ribs hurting from laughter, a potent and particular gift that the Taliban stole from the world.

China in Central Asia

Through, one of the most readable English-language blogs covering geopolitics in the Eurasian region, Alex had begun in combination with co-writer Raffaello Pantucci and photojournalist Sue Anne Tay, to document what he was convinced, with good reason, would be one of the stories of the 21st century, namely China's giant economic push through the countries lying west of its own restive Xinjiang province. These countries, cobbled together as “the stans” by the western media, lie at the historical heart of some of the greatest land empires the world has known, but are now isolated states increasingly shorn of options. Hamstrung by geography, corruption and various other internal problems, they have few reasons to reject Chinese largesse, and even fewer means to resist it.

Belatedly the chronicle of exponentially increasing Chinese trade and investment in Central Asia has started to turn heads beyond the region and its regular gaggle of foreign observers. Last September, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's whirlwind tour through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan raised eyebrows across the world by virtue of the sheer size of the deals struck for oil, gas and other giant infrastructure projects in the region. For Petersen, Pantucci and others, this is a plot that has been bubbling for some time, and one that is increasingly central to the epic that is China's rise towards superpower status.   

While Alex diligently tracked every stretch of pipeline built by the Chinese in the region, he also knew that China's influence in Central Asia could not be measured in kilometers of road, barrels of oil, and cubic meters of gas alone. Many of the articles on are enjoyable to read precisely because they gather the testimonies of ordinary Central Asians being affected by the changes that have accompanied China's expanding clout; from university teachers observing the installation of Confucius Institutes in their places of work, to local businessmen whose bank accounts have been swelled by trade with China, and villagers who believe the roads Chinese companies are building in their country – paid for by cheap Chinese credit – are designed to support the weight of Chinese tanks in a future military invasion.

The practitioners of Beijing's westward pivot, and the protagonists in the emergence of what ChinainCentral has labelled China's “inadvertant empire” are also human beings rather than mere pawns on a chessboard, a fact Petersen captured in an October article in the Atlantic: 

These actors include Chinese owners of market stalls in Central Asia’s largest bazaars. One I spoke to had lived for years in a shipping container he shared with four other men at the back of a clothes market in Kazakhstan’s largest bazaar. A multi-millionaire, he provided for his children’s Western education, multiple apartments in Shanghai, and even overseas property investments. To him, Central Asia is the land of opportunity. These actors also include Chinese teachers sent to staff the many Confucius Institutes sprouting up around the region. Some I spoke with missed home, but many said they preferred the exciting “frontier life.” CNPC engineers across the region know that they are in for the long haul, as their company and its many subsidiaries build imposing structures in every Eurasian capital. The immense pipeline network CNPC is threading through the region consists of infrastructure set to last half a century.

Alex the Guide

Beyond his writing Alex also inspired as a teacher, and it was during his semester-long stint at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that I got to know him on a personal level. Among the juniors and seniors in the International and Comparative Politics department (many of whom have written articles for Global Voices) that took his elective courses, and freshmen of all departments undertaking the First Year Seminar, Alex was a universally admired guide and friend, as well as a teller of fantastic stories. To both students and colleagues at the university, he was open, approachable, and a great person to bounce ideas off.

We are thinking of his family.  

A man of many temporary homes, Alex was in Kabul to embark on another research and teaching stint at the American University of Afghanistan. Writing to him a few days before he died I told him I was looking forward to a new series of dispatches on the nature and shape of Chinese influence in this fascinating, beautiful, tortured country. Now those dispatches will never be written and the students he was teaching will miss out on the tremendous wealth of knowledge, experience and color he brought to a classroom. When the Taliban cut his life short so brutally, it was fellow Afghans they punished. 

As his friend and writing partner Raffaello Pantucci communicated via email, “a bright light has gone out.”

Chris Rickleton manages the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

January 12 2014

Hockey, Diving for Crosses and Other Christmas-in-January Traditions

For Christians of the Western hemisphere, Christmas comes a little earlier than for their counterparts in Eastern Europe, North Africa and other countries. According to the Gregorian calendar, one of many man-made concepts to measure time and the calendar the globe uses today, Christ was born during the night between December 24 and December 25 just a little over 2,000 years ago. According to the Julian calendar, still used by many religious organizations in the world, those dates correspond to January 6 and January 7.

Among those who celebrate Christmas on those January dates are most Orthodox and Coptic Christians, from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Ethiopia. We called on the wonderfully diverse team of over 700 Global Voices authors to share their favorite local Orthodox and Coptic Christmas traditions and learned that the world is indeed a festive place, long after the Western world has taken down their Christmas stockings and stripped their Christmas trees.

Markos Lemma from Ethiopia explains how a game of hockey is the centerpiece in this North African country's Christmas celebrations:

Christmas falls on December 29 of the Ethiopian calendar (January 7 according to the Gregorian calendar). Ledet (Christmas), it is celebrated seriously by a church service that goes on throughout the night after 43 days fasting known as Tsome Gahad (Advent), with a spectacular procession, which begins at 6 a.m. and lasts until 9 a.m. After the mass service, people go home to break the fast with the meat of chicken or lamb or beef accompanied with injera and the traditional drinks (i.e. tella or tej). Traditionally, young men played a game similar to hockey called genna on this day and now Christmas has also come to be known by that name.

The case in Serbia is far from similar, but followers of the Orthodox faith in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrate Christmas Eve on January 6, the last day of the same 40-day fast observed in Ethiopia, and then break that fast on Christmas Day, January 7, with a similar family feast abundant with meats of all sorts and special Christmas dishes. Different regions of these countries have somewhat different traditions, but this author chose to share one particular tradition that the vast majority of Orthodox families still uphold in this part of Southeast Europe:

On Christmas Day, January 7 according to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Serb households welcome a young male or male child, called a Položajnik, into the house in the early morning. The young male is usually a younger cousin, grandson or neighbor and he should be the first to enter the house that day. He brings in a wreath or bundle of small well dried oak branch tips, hay and such, called a Badnjak, with him and uses it to light the fire. In urban households, most of which don't have a fireplace, the stove is used to light the Badnjak. As sparks from the dried leaves and branches float around, he chants “As many sparks, that much health; as many sparks, that much wealth; as many sparks, that much love; as many sparks, that much luck…”, in no particular order. Different communities and families have their own versions of this ditty. The položajnik is considered a representation of health, prosperity and all things good. He brings luck, health, and love into the home. He then receives a gift from the family and joins them for Christmas breakfast.

Expat blogger David Bailey, better known as “An Englishman in the Balkans”, posted this video explaining the traditional breaking of the Christmas bread, known as the Česnica, on Christmas day in an Orthodox home in Bosnia. The Česnica, however, takes on different shapes throughout the region and in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, for example, is very sweet, resembling baklava more than bread.

The traditional Christmas greeting in Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro is “Christ is born!”, to which the proper response is “Truly He is born”. Coincidentally, Lebanon, a country relatively far from Eastern Europe, now uses the same Christmas greeting. Thalia Rahme explains:

In Lebanon … its becoming more and more trendy to say the formula you just mentioned as in reaction to the secularization of Christmas

While usually we used to say that in Easter – Christ is risen, Indeed he is risen – now we also say [it on] Christmas – Christ is Born, Indeed He is born.

Lebanon seems to be a particularly special case when it comes to calendars and Christmas celebrations, with a plethora of faiths and traditions truly all its own. Thalia managed to unravel some of the marvels of Lebanese Christmas for us:

Lebanese Orthodox celebrate Christmas with Catholics on December 24.

Only Armenians Orthodox do have it on January 6 and, since it happens to be Epiphany for us Catholics [marking the baptism of Jesus], it's a kind of double celebration and an official holiday in Lebanon as part of giving each community its rights.

We have a small Coptic and Orthodox community and [an] Ethiopian one who celebrate it on January 7.

On the other hand, Armenian Orthodox choose to celebrate their Easter with us Catholics, but this is not the case for other Orthodox communities [...] but this year Easter for both Catholics and Orthodox is falling on the same date

At the mention of the marking of the Epiphany, many other Eastern Europeans chimed in with their stories of this frequently forgotten, not-so-minor Christian holiday. Global Voices’ veteran author from Bulgaria Rayna St. wrote in to say this:

For the French, January 6 is Epiphany so people eat Galette des Rois (and yes, it's yummy).

For Bulgarians, January 6 is also Epiphany, also called Yordanovden, when everyone named Yordan/ka, Daniel/a, Bogomil/a, Bojidar/a celebrate. The day's name is also Bogoyavlenie (God's appearance) and it is believed to be the day when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River. When He came out of the waters, the skies opened and there was a voice saying, “You are my beloved Son, all my good will is in You” or something along these lines.

The most exciting moment of this nowadays is the ritual that accompanies this day: the priest throws a cross in the river and young men jump in to fetch it. As you may imagine, it's quite sporty as temperatures in Bulgaria differ from Jordan… :) So, when a guy catches the cross, he is believed to be blessed, fortunate, and to have iron health for the coming year. The priest also goes through houses and, in my region at least, fills in the rooms with tamyan smoke (a specific kind of wax mixture) so it chases away bad spirits. Bogoyavlenie is actually the last one of the Dirty Days and only meatless dishes are served for dinner.

Interestingly enough, while a common Christmas date may not be something all Eastern European Christians share, swimming for crosses in ice cold waters on Epiphany is. This tradition is also the same as Rayna describes in Russia, Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the region. The dates of when they mark the Epiphany and break the January ice, however, do differ, with those who follow the Julian calendar coming in 13 days “late” again.

But back to Christmas in that region. Busy with following Ukraine's 2013 Euromaidan protests, which continued throughout the Christmas holidays and into 2014, Tetyana Bohdanova set aside a few moments from these worrying events to fill us in on how Christmas is traditionally celebrated by Orthodox followers in this country when they aren't out in the streets holding anti-government rallies by the hundreds of thousands:

In Ukraine most people celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January, according to the Julian calendar. On Christmas Eve, January 6, we gather for a traditional dinner that consists of 12 meatless dishes honoring the 12 Apostles. The dinner may begin only after the first star appears in the sky indicating that Christ has been born.

Another Christmas tradition is Vertep, which originally included a puppet theater representing Nativity scenes. A contemporary version, however, refers to a group of people acting out the story of Christ’s birth. Vertep also commonly includes folk characters and singing of Christmas carols. This year Ukrainian Vertep has been influenced by the political turmoil in the country. Among dressed up actors one may recognize Biblical and folk figures along with contemporary politicians, who are not necessarily represented by the good characters!

Tetyana Lokot, also from Ukraine, echoed what Tetyana Bohdanova had to say about caroling and added video evidence of this community holiday tradition:

One [tradition] is caroling – going around singing carols and bringing people the good news, for which carolers sometimes get candy and small change. It is typical for carolers to dress up in national costumes and go in groups, and the carols’ tunes and texts have been carried through generations. One of the most popular ones, and certainly my favorite, is Schedryk (known in English as Carol of the Bells), an old Ukrainian song. [The video] is a recent version from 2011 by Oleh Skrypka, a Ukrainian musician. The cartoon that goes along with it is strangely hinting at the Euromaidan spirit of 2013 and 2014, but also reminds us that we are all kids at heart :)

While Orthodox Coptic Christians account for the largest Christian community in Egypt, they form an even larger percentage of the Ethiopian community. Befekadu Hailu from Ethiopia reminds us that many of us may not even be in the same year, much less on the same date:

As you may know, our [Ethiopian] calendar is also different so we didn't start a new year with most of you. We started 2006 in September and this is the 2006th birthday of Jesus. We are just celebrating Christmas tomorrow [January 7] – which is a public holiday. The Orthodox Christians will also complete their 40 days of fasting season tomorrow. So, it will also be a day of eating much meat products. People spend it at home and as usual coffee ceremony, holiday food, family gatherings are the features of the holiday.

Thus, we end this quick journey through what may be a belated Christmas to some, where we began – in North Africa, with a traditional Christmas song performed by an Ethiopian choir. May your Christmases be as plentiful, warm, and well-rehearsed as theirs, wherever and whenever you choose to celebrate them. In the meantime, some of us are off to prepare for Orthodox New Year's Eve, coming up on January 13 – and you're all invited!

July 17 2013

Russian Blood on the Asphalt, Armenian Hands on the Wheel

It’s not every day in Russia that over a dozen people die in a single traffic collision, so when an Armenian national crashed a freight truck into a bus full of passengers last weekend, killing eighteen, it caught people’s attention. The incident was even captured on amateur dashcam video (see below). Two days after the accident, on July 15, 2013, a Moscow court sanctioned the arrest [ru] of the truck driver, 46-year-old Grachia Arutiunian, whom authorities had recently awakened from an artificially induced coma, which doctors decided was unnecessary, after determining that his injuries (while significant) were not life-threatening. The Armenian driver stands accused of negligent homicide and faces up to seven years in prison.

In conversations online, Arutiunian’s case has stoked the fires of Russia’s unabating nationalist debate, which most recently flared up in the city of Pugachev, where the July 5 murder of an ethnic Russian local by a Chechen youth provoked anti-immigrant street demonstrations.

With Pugachev still fresh in the public’s mind, Russian nationalists have seized on last Saturday’s tragic crash as another government failure to protect the country from lawless immigrants. For example, Vladimir Tor complained [ru] on LiveJournal that people like Arutiunian represent a danger to the public:

Но главное – надо решительно менять ситуацию на дорогах: масса диких шахид-такси, джихад-газелей, камаз-бабаев в ужасающем техническом состоянии и с дикими шоферами за рулём – это постоянная угроза нам всем. Так жить нельзя – этому необходимо положить предел.

But the main thing is that we have to change the situation on the roads decisively: all these wild shakhid-taxis, jihad-shuttles, and truck-babevs [slurs directed at Russia’s Muslim migrant-worker drivers] are all in terrible technical condition and operated by wild drivers behind the wheel. It’s a constant threat to us all. We can’t live like this, and we must put a stop to it.

Writing on the National-Democratic Party’s website, Rostislav Antonov made a similar argument [ru], faulting federal lawmakers for allowing foreign nationals to operate motor vehicles in Russia without obtaining Russian driver licenses, which Arutiunian indeed lacked. (As it happens the government already in April 2013 adopted new legislation [ru] to close this loophole, though it doesn’t take effect until November 5, 2013.)

Many Russian bloggers have also taken issue [ru] with the Armenian community (both its diaspora in Russia, which provided Arutiunian with two defense lawyers, and Armenian bloggers [ar]) for its outpouring of support for the now incarcerated driver. In truth, several dozen Armenians did stage a rally [ru] outside Russia’s embassy in Yerevan on April 16, demanding an end to Arutiunian’s degrading treatment while in custody. Bloggers, too, have reacted sharply to photos of Arutiunian in court, where he appeared on July 15 in a women’s hospital robe and rubber slippers. Covering his tear-strewn face and relying on a translator to understand the court’s Russian-language proceedings (a necessity despite his living in Russia for a decade, nationalists are eager to point out), Arutiunian did appear to be a man thoroughly humiliated.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 6.26.45 PM

Grachia Arutiunian in court, 15 July 2013, screenshot from YouTube.

LiveJournal user maggel offered his own deeply unsympathetic suggestion [ru] for “rehabilitating” the man:

1. Халат снять.
2. Выдать белые тапки.
3. Отвезти в Подольск на тот самый перекресток.
4. Положить обиженного под вот это-

5. Дать порулить агрегатом родственникам погибших.

1. Remove the robe.
2. Issue him some white slippers.
3. Take him to Podolsk, to the same intersection [where the crash occurred].
4. Place the offended [Arutiunian] under this thing:
[an image of a steamroller]
5. Let the victims’ relatives steer the steamroller.

Another LJ user, pavell, attacked expressions of compassion for Arutiunian, but admitted a certain envy for the community’s solidarity. Posting excerpts of a letter [ru] from Armenia’s human rights ombudsman to his Russian counterpart that condemned Arutiunian’s treatment, pavell called [ru] the text arrogant, but wondered aloud which if any state officials were working as devotedly for the protection of Russians:

И всё же, несмотря на плевки в лицо Лукину, завидно. Армянина, убившего в России 18 человек, есть кому защищать. А кто защитит русского? Я не говорю в Армении, а просто в России?

And, yet, despite the [Armenian official] spitting in the face of Lukin [his Russian counterpart], I’m jealous. An Armenian who’s killed 18 people in Russia has someone to defend him. But who would defend a Russian? I’m not even talking about in Armenia—what about just in Russia?

Even if the Moscow court convicts Arutiunian and sentences him to several years in prison, the decision isn’t likely to calm fears that ethnic Russians are a persecuted majority. The prominence of criminal groups tied to certain ethnicities and the ongoing tensions between Russia’s native population and migrant workforce—two of the most significant root causes of the country’s nationalist fervor—aren’t going anywhere. Whether Arutiunian is given back his clothes or executed under a cement truck, Russia’s troubles with race and assimilation haven’t claimed their last victim.

February 24 2013

"History and Identity in the Late Antique Near East", edited by Philip Wood

Egypte actus's curator insight, Today, 8:23 AM


History and Identity in the Late Antique Near East gathers together the work of distinguished historians and early career scholars with a broad range of expertise to investigate the significance of newly emerged, or recently resurrected, ethnic identities on the borders of the eastern Mediterranean world. It focuses on the "long late antiquity" from the eve of the Arab conquest of the Roman East to the formation of the Abbasid caliphate. The first half of the book offers papers on the Christian Orient on the cusp of the Islamic invasions. These papers discuss how Christians negotiated the end of Roman power, whether in the selective use of the patristic past to create confessional divisions or the emphasis of the shared philosophical legacy of the Greco-Roman world. The second half of the book considers Muslim attempts to negotiate the pasts of the conquered lands of the Near East, where the Christian histories of Hira or Egypt were used to create distinctive regional identities for Arab settlers. Like the first half, this section investigates the redeployment of a shared history, this time the historical imagination of the Qu'ran and the era of the first caliphs. All the papers in the volume bring together studies of the invention of the past across traditional divides between disciplines, placing the re-assessment of the past as a central feature of the long late antiquity. As a whole, History and Identity in the Late Antique Near East represents a distinctive contribution to recent writing on late antiquity, due to its cultural breadth, its interdisciplinary focus, and its novel definition of late antiquity itself.

Oxford University Press, USA, April 1, 2013, 272 pages





Contents via ;


Sophronius of Jerusalem and the end of roman history / Phil Booth -- Identity, philosophy, and the problem of Armenian history in the sixth century / Tara Andrews -- The chronicle of Seert and Roman ecclesiastical history in the Sasanian world / Philip Wood -- Why were the Syrians interested in Greek philosophy? / Dan King -- You are what you read: Qenneshre and the Miaphysite church in the seventh century / Jack Tannous -- The prophet's city before the prophet: Ibn Zabala (d. after 199/814) on pre-Islamic Medina / Harry Munt -- Topoi and topography in the histories of al-?ira / Adam Talib -- "The crinkly haired people of the black earth"; examining Egyptian identities in Ibn 'abd al-?akam's futu? / Hussein Omar -- Forgetting Ctesiphon: Iran's pre-Islamic past, ca. 800-1100 / Sarah Savant -- Legal knowledge and local practices under the early Abbasids / Mathiew Tillier.


Reposted byiranelection iranelection

January 14 2013

Armenian Blogger on Trial for Satire Photo of Politician

The first hearing in a defamation lawsuit against blogger, Edgar Barseghyan, was held in Armenia on December 24, 2012.

Barseghyan, the creator of satire photo website, is on trial for publishing a photo of a model's body with the superimposed face of Tigran Urikhanyan, an MP and spokesperson for Prosperous Armenia Party, with the caption “Stylish Politician of the Year”.

Demotivator - Stylish Politician of the Year

Demotivator - Tigran Urikhanyan as ‘Stylish Politician of the Year'

Urikhanian considered the image offensive and sued Barseghyan for “damaging the honor, dignity and business reputation of the plaintiff with the photo.”

According to a Facebook post by Barseghyan, the politician demands for Demotivator to be removed from the web, a public apology, and legal fees and damages of 1,000,000 AMD (about $2,500 USD).

Edgar Barsegyan

Edgar Barsegyan (used with permission)

According to blogger Edgar Barseghyan (also known under the Livejournal username “alkhimik” ), the Demotivator photo was created in response to the news that Tigran Urikhanian was recognized by an Armenian-Italian holding “Amore” as the most stylish Armenian political figure of the year.

Edgar Barseghyan wrote in his Livejournal blog:

“Կարդալով նյութը էլ ավելի զարմացա, որ լինելով քաղաքական գործիչ, պարոն Ուրիխանյանը ոչ միայն համաձայնվել է այդ կոչումը իրեն շնորհելու հետ, այլ նաև հպարտորեն կիսվել է այդ լուրով իր ֆեյսբուքյան էջում։…  Այո, ես կարծում եմ, որ լուրջ տղամարդու համար, որի մասնագիտական գործունեությունը կապված չէ իր մարմնական, ֆիզիկական տեսքի հետ (օրինակ՝ մոդելի, դերասանի) ընդհանրապես սազական չէ ի ցույց աշխարհի դնել սեփական «նվաճումները» այդ ոլորտում:”

“After reading the news, I was surprised that the politician not only agreed with this award but moreover proudly shared the news on his Facebook page… Yes, I believe that serious man shouldn't be proud of “achievements” in such a field, as long as his professional activity is not related to his physical appearance (such as models or actors).”

Flashmob Emoticon

Flashmob emoticon to protest threats against free speech

The trial in court later evolved into a battle on the Internet. Online activists, bloggers, and representatives of mass media showed their support for the blogger by changing their Facebook profile pictures to an icon (an emoticon), symbolizing the lack of freedom of speech.

Also to protest against the lawsuit, Facebook users organized a virtual flashmob “I am suing Edgar Barseghyan for …”, coming up with all sorts of absurd reasons for which a blogger “can be sued”.

Meanwhile, Edgar Barseghyan also received negative comments and threats from supporters of Tigran Urikhanyan.

RadioVan blog

“Этот случай уникальный. Здесь судят блоггера за демотиватор. У суда ноль практики …. “

“It is a unique case. Blogger sued for Demotivator. The court has zero experience in such cases …”

Mark Grigoryan

“Не знаю, кто посоветовал ему обратиться в суд, но совет этот был, как мне кажется, плохим. Причем не важно: дойдет ли дело до суда, и если да, то как закончится суд. Политик уже проиграл”.

“I don’t know who advised him to go to court, but, I think, it was the wrong advice. Whether the case goes to trial, and if so, how it will end up - it doesn’t matter. The politician has already lost”.

Hasmik Hambartsumyan

“Բլոգերների համար վատ նախադեպ ա առաջանում…”

“It sets a bad precedent for bloggers”.

Tehmina Harutyunyan

“Մեկ միլիոն դրամով դատել բլոգերին, նշանակում է բլոգային գրառումների 90 տոկոսը դնել վտանգի տակ”.

“To fine a blogger for 1 million means that 90% of blog posts will be under threat”

Marine Shahbazyan

«Շատ էլ ճիշտ ա արել, դատի ա տվել.. մի հատ էս նկարին յաեք էլի.. դուք լինեիք, դատի չէիք տա, տղաներ? սա ինչ ա նշանակում, վիրավորանք ուրիշ ոչ մի բան… ասլեիքը կարելի էր ավելի խոր ու հետքրքիր ձևով ասել, ոչ թե վիրավորելով.. 1 միլիոնը քիչ ա, 2 միլիոն պետք ա պահանջեր Ուրիխանյանը».

“It is very good that he was sent to court. Look at the picture, guys, would you not sue if this happened to you? What is it? Insulting and nothing more. It is possible to express the same message in another, more interesting manner, without resorting to insults. I think Urikhanian should demand even 2 million.”

Susanna Tumasyan

“ Էդգար Բարսեղյան,եթե քեզ թույլատրված է գրիչ վերցնել,դա դեռ չի նշանակում,որ դու այնքան իրավունք ունես քեզ թույլ տալ աջ ու ձախ շռայլել անմիտ ձեռագիրտ”:

“Edgar Barseghyan, just because you are permitted to write, it does not mean that you have the right to spread your foolish writing everywhere”.

According to a Facebook post by Tigran Urikhanian, the case has a political context. He considers the Demotivator image as a response to his “bold statements about the problems in the country and the need for system changes.”

Tigran Urikhanyan. Profile photo from Facebook.

Tigran Urikhanyan. Profile photo from Facebook.

In an interview on he said that the law on his side, and if the court will not follow the law, “the judge will be subjected to public opinion and evaluation of his work, after which it will be difficult for this judge to work in Armenia.”

This statement was interpreted by many bloggers as indirect threat to the judge.

A second court hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2013, however it was postponed to March 5 because of Urikhanyan's absence from Armenia.

November 07 2012

September 29 2012

Armenia: Government Pressure on NGO

The Washington Post blog features an entry by David Ignatius detailing pressure on an Armenian NGO particularly active online. Founded by former Foreign Minister of Armenia Vartan Oskanian, government pressure on Civilitas is believed linked to his involvement with a former party of power now actively challenging the incumbent president and his ruling Republican Party.

September 27 2012

Armenia: A New Response to Hate Crime?

Unzipped: Gay Armenia comments on news of an attack on transsexual sex workers in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. The blog notes that not only did the victims report the crime, but that the police formerly accepted it as such while also using ‘acceptable non-discriminatory wording.' The blog implies that if the culprits are arrested, charged and prosecuted, this would represent significant change in the country.

September 26 2012

Armenia: Reflections on Homosexuality and Fascism

Unzipped: Gay Armenia reflects on Brotherhood, a 2009 Danish film about homosexuality and fascism, in the context of the neo-Nazi firebombing of D.I.Y., a gay friendly bar in Yerevan, earlier this year.

September 22 2012

Azerbaijan: Political Forces United on Pardoned Axe Murderer

In Mutatione Fortitudo says that the two main opposition parties in Azerbaijan have united behind the government in its criticism of a European Parliament ruling condemning the 31 August pardon, release, and promotion of an Azerbaijani soldier who axed to death a sleeping Armenian counterpart on a NATO Partnership for Peace program in Budapest, Hungary, in 2004.

September 05 2012

Armenia: Students Pen Letter to Hungarian Prime Minister

The blog, An Armenian Journalist Notes, posts about a letter from a collective group of Armenian students addressing their frustration and disappointment about recent events involving the extradition of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani military officer serving a life sentence for killing Armenian military officer Gurgen Margaryan in 2004 while both were in Hungary. The note, which also contained signatures from the students, questions Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his country's European values and morality given that the murder was driven by ethnic hatred.


September 03 2012

August 31 2012

Armenia: Ties With Hungary Severed Over Prisoner Row

Following Hungary's  release of an Azerbaijani army officer convicted of murdering an Armenian soldier, Armenia has severed diplomatic ties with the Central European country.

Lt. Ramil Safarov, who was serving life in prison, confessed to killing 26-year-old Lt. Gurgen Margaryan when both were in Hungary for a 2004 NATO language course.

The Hungarian government released Safarov after being informed by the Ministry of Justice of Azerbaijan that his sentence, which was life in prison, would continue to be enforced.

However, EurasiaNet's Tamada Tales blog reports that Safarov, who beheaded Markarian with an axe while he was sleeping, wasn't exactly treated like a man who had committed murder:

Extradited from Hungary, Lt. Safarov is not only walking freely, but also taking bows in front of the cameras.

Upon arrival in Baku, he spoke of his sufferings “in a prison in a foreign land” and thanked Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for pardoning him.

The release caused fury to erupt in Armenia, where tomatoes were pelted at the Hungarian Consult as a crowd shouted “Shame, Shame!” in Armenian:

Meanwhile images emerged of Safarov as he surfaced in Azerbaijan:

@vgratian: This is sick: #RamilSafarov honored in Azerbaijan

Photo via Twitter/@vgratian


And on Facebook, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's cover photo was changed to an image of Safarov soon after:


@Haroutoin: Azeris openly celebrating the pardon of ax murderer Safarov shakes my faith in humanity. #Armenia #Azerbaijan #Hungary

@KevorkO: The release of a racist killer is always disgusting. #Armenia #Azerbaijan #Hungary #Safarov

@remy_g: Well, #Azerbaijan has just sparked my facepalm of the year…

After a press release was posted to Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan's website followed the release, where he warned “we will not tolerate that and have to decide on our future steps,” Armenia severed ties with Hungary.

Hungary claimed the Azerbaijani government had lied to them about ensuring Safarov's sentence would be upheld:

@ralakbar: #Hungary: “#Azerbaijan lied to us” - BBC Azeri … (It's in Azeri thougth) #SouthCaucasus #Azerbaijan #Armenia

@Babken: Really #Hungary? #Azerbaijan lied to you?Pathetic. Is this what passes as an independent judiciary in an EU member state? #Safarov #Armenia

The row adds new fuel to the nationalistic fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are still essentially at war  in a “frozen conflict” over the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh region, while diminishing hope that the two countries can ever reach any type of agreement.

The release and subsequent discussion of the murder managed to conjure up past crimes both countries have committed against each other and rhetoric on what the future holds for the South Caucasus, an area ruled more by the past than anything else.

@TurallM: @GoldenTent how come you so sure it was a crime? Yes, if it was me and a guy would try to abase my flag and abused my nation I would do same

@arzugeybulla  @VusalAlisoy i know we are at war. i know innocent people die. but we must reconcile. atrocities bring only more atrocities
Though some of the exchanges on Twitter were polarizing, many engaged in discussion that seemed to unite both sides in agreement:

‏@arzugeybulla  @VusalAlisoy unfortunately we have same people against peace on both sides, and thats why people like me will be called prostitute & traitor

@Taniel_Shant  @arzugeybulla saddened to hear that, stay strong, hate cannot penetrate truth

@PhilGamaghelyan @arzugeybulla you & a few others today helped everyone to see the human face of Azerbaijan, which is tarnished by the likes of @Cerrard113



August 24 2012

Chessmaster Gary Kasparov's Arrest During Pussy Riot Trial

Perhaps the most surprising thing to emerge out of the media saturated Pussy Riot trials other than the trial itself, was the attendance and subsequent arrest of the former Chessmaster of Caucasian descent, Gary Kasparov, at the reading of the verdict on August 17, which saw the three women accused of illegally performing  a “punk prayer” in a church receive a two year prison term.

Kasparov, born in Baku, Azerbaijan, to an Armenian mother and Jewish father, adapted his last name from his mother's Armenian maiden name, Gasparyan, after the death of his father. Kasparov and his family escaped the pogrom of Armenians in Baku  during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and settled in Moscow. He went on to become the youngest World Chess Champion and is considered to be the greatest chess player of all time.

The news of his arrest was posted by admins on Kasparov's Facebook page, which saw a sharp increase in activity after news spread of the events.

[Editors] Garry Kasparov has just been arrested outside the Moscow courthouse where the Pussy Riot trial is taking place. He was not there to protest, simply to attend, and the police cornered him and dragged him into the police van. This photo shows the police assaulting him inside the van. We hope he is all right and we will provide updates when we have them.

The first photo to come out of the arrest, which the page posted was taken by  Moscow-based journalist Olaf Koens, who tweeted it with a caption:

@obk: This is the police wrestling with Garry Kasparov inside the paddy van. Are they beating him?

Garry Kasparov after he was detained by police outside the Pussy Riot verdict hearing/Photo by Olaf Koens via Twitter

Those close to him were quick to dispel rumor that he had been protesting.

Mig Greengard, Kasparov's “aide-de-camp,” was the first to clarify:

@chessninja: At least one report that Garry Kasparov has been arrested at the Pussy Riot courthouse. He wasn't protesting, just trying to get in!

The tweet was followed by a post on chessmaster's Facebook page:

 [Editors] We just spoke to Garry on the phone. He is at the police station. He was beaten but says he is okay. He isn't sure what will happen next. It seems the police are waiting for orders from above. He says he was standing calmly speaking with journalists when police pushed through and grabbed him. Thanks to everyone for the support.


Many took to Twitter to praise Kasparov, a political activist and outspoken Putin critic  who took part in setting up The Other Russia, an anti-Kremlin coalition.

@johnhm5235: Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion & current Russian democracy advocate, on CNBC. He is a hero to people who love freedom.

@RSiljanoski: Just imagine if Garry Kasparov was president of Russia what a smart country Russia would be! #FreePussyRiot girls!

Kasparov was accused of biting an officer's hand during the scuffle and was yelling slogans such as “Russia Without Putin,” as The Other Russia suggests in a post on alleged falsified reports in Kasparov's arrest. Video taken during the scuffle, in which biting or yelling cannot be seen or heard, seem to tell a different story., in a recent blog post, also refutes the allegations:

Our contacts tell us that he was outside the court house speaking to Radio Svoboda journalists when police pushed through to seize him. The 49-year-old Kasparov insisted he was not protesting, but the police grabbed him and violently dragged him into a police van, where he was further physically assaulted by the police, as documented by a photographer.

Earlier this week, Kasparov told fans on Facebook that he had gone to the Investigative Committee of Russia to submit complaints on his “illegal arrest, assault and libel” and also saw the officer he is accused of having bitten:

Unfortunately I did not have the chance to give him a strong handshake, but his hands looked fine to me… A full updating coming here tonight, with more photos and videos coming out. I am fighting bites with bytes!

Follow BBC's Moscow correspondent, Daniel Sandford, who is live tweeting from Kasparov's trial taking place today.



August 19 2012

Armenia: Reflections on National Psyche

Life in the Caucasus, a blog by Peace Corps volunteer John, posts reflections on Armenia as his service comes to an end after two years. The blog summarizes a few key points and opinions on how Armenia's potential is often clouded by the country acting as its own worst enemy, including the national psyche when it comes to Turkey, Azerbaijan, Mount Ararat and distrust for one another that has led to corruption and apathy. Amid foreign aid and diasporan remittances,  it also notes the large lack of self-sufficiency Armenia is faced with.




August 18 2012

The South Caucasus at the 2012 Olympics

Arsen Julfalakyan of Armenia, Roman Vlasov of Russia, Aleksandr Kazakevic of Lithuania and Emin Ahmadov of Azerbaijan after the Men's Greco-Roman 74 kg Wrestling match/ via London 2012

The three South Caucasus countries have been participating  independently in the Olympics since 1996, and they each followed up their records in Beijing this summer in London to walk away with gold, silver and bronze in the physically strenuous activities the region generally excels in, much to the enjoyment of fans and fellow country men and women.

Armenia walked away with one silver and bronze in Men's Greco-Roman wrestling and a surprise bronze medal in women's weightlifting by Hripsime Khurshudyan, which caused a flurry of social media activity. The win even elicited a comment, albeit in transliterated Armenian, from  a member of America's most famous Armenian family, the Kardashians.

@RobKardashian: Yes shat hupart yev uraxem mer bolor Hye marsiknerits vor masnaktsumen 2012 tvi Olympiadayum. #Armenia

 ”I am very proud and happy with all of our Armenian athletes who are participating in the 2012 Olympics.”

@RobKardashian: Armenian Woman KHURSHUDYAN just medaled in Women's Weightlifting (Clean & Jerk)! #ArmenianPride#LondonOlympics2012

Azerbaijan on the other hand took 10 medals home, including two gold in men's freestyle wrestling by Toghrul Asgarov and Sharif Sharifov. This year's Eurovision host country also earned two silver (both in wrestling) and six bronze (wrestling, weightlifting and boxing).

@Farida_Aliyeva: London brought us luck! Azerbaijan got its greatest number of medals - 10 with 2 gold, 2 silver and 6 bronze. #Azerbaijan #AZE#Olympics

@RogerMamedov:  #Azerbaijan wrestling team did really in the Olympics. Maybe now people will know where I'm from.

Georgia won seven medals, with three silver and three bronze (all of them in wrestling) and one gold in Judo, thanks to Lasha Shavdatuashvili

@MirianJugheli: 20-year old Judoist Lasha Shavdatuashvili becomes an olympic champion! #georgia #caucasus #tbilisi #judo #london2012

The Caucasus Tumblr, in a photo montage and round up of the Olympics made an astute observation based on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia's superior abilities in strength sports:

Never ever, under no circumstances pick up a street fight in the Caucasus.

Athletes with South and North Caucasian descent also participated in London 2012 for Russia as the tumblr notes. Three of Russia's gold medals in judo were won by Tagir Khaybulaev, Mansur Mustafaevich Isaev , both ethnic Avars and Arsen Galstyan, an ethnic Armenian.
The wins prompted an “outpouring of hate from Russian nationalists,” wrote Global Voices author Andrey Tselikov in a post titled, “Russia: The Ugly Side of Olympic Nationalism.”

August 06 2012

August 03 2012

Georgia: Civil Society Mobilizes After Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes

With tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan on the rise in recent weeks, civil society activists and journalists from both countries last month convened in a small ethnic Azeri village in neighboring Georgia to elaborate an independent mechanism for monitoring clashes on the Line of Contact (LOC).

Despite a ceasefire signed in 1994 which put the conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh on hold, thousands have died in frontline skirmishes in the 18 years since. And, with no lasting peace agreement in sight, the International Crisis Group (ICG) continues to warn of the danger of an ‘accidental war‘ breaking out.

The event held in Tekali was co-organized by Armenian actor and director turned peace activist Georgi Vanyan, himself recently targeted by nationalists for attempting to screen non-politicized films from Azerbaijan in Armenia, was a small step in trying to defuse tensions and to prevent civilian casualties along the LOC.

Writing on the Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism, Armenian journalist and editor Yura Manvelyan commented on the initiative.

There was something else that set the meeting in Tekali apart from many other Armenian-Azerbaijani projects: None of the speakers took on the role of spokesperson for official policies, no-one took up the positions held by the presidents, ministers and their spin doctors. The speakers' statements seemed not to target their “opponents” from the other side, but mostly focussed on themselves and their “own people”. The recent deaths on the border were a stark reminder of the high price paid for the atmosphere of hatred and showed the distance between those who shed the blood and others who give the orders and seek to consolidate their power and wealth by exploiting the “external enemy” and delaying justice.


The overwhelming majority of those present voted in favour of action by citizens. Moreover, they reached an initial agreement on creating a rapid reaction group that will take steps to prevent armed clashes on the border and to investigate the situation in the area directly around the border. If necessary, Georgians might also be included in the group. To start with it might include the residents of two border villages: Doctors, taxi drivers, farmers and village elders, who would establish and stay in constant contact with each other. Due to the open nature of the project, anyone who wanted to could become a part of it.

Georgi Vanyan, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Yura Manvelyan, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Ilgar Velizade, a journalist and analyst from Azerbaijan, also made a blog post.

This meeting saw the first urgent discussion of the prospects of public intervention to manage the Karabakh conflict. In the opinion of the participants, society has, to this day, taken no steps to end hostilities, and remains far removed from what goes on at the border. Participants emphasized that over the course of the 24 years of conflict, a huge divide has emerged between the two peoples, and that Armenian and Azerbaijani civil society organizations now need to cooperate with one another in order to resolve the situation.


And so the meeting in Tekali demonstrated once more the Armenian and Azerbaijani public desire for peace to be established in the conflict zone as quickly as possible – and that hope for an effective means to regulate the conflict lives in the hearts of many of the two countries' citizens. As we say, hope never dies.

Malkhaz Chemia showing a design for a new peacebuilding center, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

Azerbaijani analyst Zardusht Alizade, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

The International Crisis Group's Sabine Freizer also remarked on Twitter about the event, as did others observing the peace building processes underway in the South Caucasus.

@peaceforsale: an innovative effort for peace - create a zone for it

@SabineICG: […] @onewmphoto whether war or peace between Armenia + Azerbaijan, civil society can play a key bridging role. Great idea: […]

Global Voices' Caucasus Editor was also in attendance, and commented on Velizade's post along with Vanyan's initiative for Ararat Magazine.

Whether that intent is as widespread, as Velizade says or as much as Vanyan hopes, remains to be seen, but the first meeting to establish the Monitoring and Rapid Reaction Group was held in Tekali on July 21. Present were representatives from the NGOs and the International Crisis Group. So too were Bernard O’Sullivan and Stephen Young from the Brussels-based Nonviolent Peaceforce, an organization already working in Georgia, Mindanao/Philippines, South Sudan, and elsewhere. O’Sullivan spoke to Ararat Magazine following the public discussion.

“The Tekali Process first of all attracts our interest because clearly people have a need for civil society to act amongst and protect themselves,” he said. “However, we work on the principle of acceptance. We only go to conflict zones where we’re accepted and obviously this includes civil society, but critically it also means the political leadership, i.e. the governments, of all sides. What will come out of the Tekali Process? I see there is very good will here. The Tekali group said it’s not in their interest to get involved in military or political outcomes, but it is for civilians across ethnic groups to protect themselves in a non-violent way. That’s why we’re very interested.”

According to the organizers of the Tekali event, a Caucasus Film Festival will be staged this month in the small village turned regional peacemaking center.

Ethnic Azeri child, Tekali, Georgia © Onnik Krikorian

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