Where is Mitribah?


Temperatures the last couple of days in Kuwait and southern Iraq broke long-standing records for Asia with reaching 54 centigrades (129 F) in Mitribah and Basrah (on July 21 and 22, respectively), see here. Weather historian Christopher C. Burt even made the claim that the Kuwaiti reading may be the hottest temperature ever measured reliably on Earth.

In the above table, temperatures are displayed for the previous day. One may observe that Mitribah is right now hit by another heat wave, the third this summer with temperatures beyond 50 degrees.

When I lived in Kuwait between 2001 and 2007, never temperatures rose (officially) to or beyond 50 degrees (122 F). But people distrusted official announcements then. There seems to be a vividly discussed article in the Labor Law that nobody has to work outdoors if it is 50 degrees plus (as if it would make a difference if it was 49), and on one of the tall towers downtown the actual temperature was prominently displayed (in a way cheating the public since at 50 meters altitude it is considerably cooler anyway).

But where is Mitribah?


At the right longitude and latitude, GoogleEarth indicates in fact an outpost in the middle of the desert. It is actually located 34 km west to Highway 80, the road to and from Basrah. On that Iraqi armored divisions invaded Kuwait exactly 16 years ago in August 1990. And on that road the infamous turkey shoot happened six months later, when US and Canadian aircraft and ground forces attacked retreating Iraqi military personnel attempting to leave Kuwait on the night of February 26–27, 1991. Since then, the road is known as Highway of Death.

At the latest, since last year when probably thousands died in devastating heat waves in Pakistan (this year the same happened in India before the monsoon), the hottest places on Earth have ultimately been taken captive by global warming.

4 August 2016 @ 4:16 am.

Last modified August 4, 2016.

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Bazm wa Razm

Update below


I have written about the two Kharraqan towers before, see here. Both had been heavily damaged in a 2002 earthquake. They are located about one km west to the village of Hisar-i Valiasr and 33 km west to Ab-i Germ on the Qazvin-Hamadan road in the Qazvin province.

The towers are basically octagonal with a height of about 15 meters and a width of 4 meters. They are considered the earliest examples of double-domed buildings in Iran.

Due to their extraordinary ornamental brickwork the Kharraqan towers belong to the finest Seljuq monuments found in Iran. Execution of artistic ambition directly relates to that of the Maraghah towers, see here. They were built by Muhammad b. Makki al-Zanjani in 1068 and 1093 CE. It is amazing that they had been discovered in the west not before 1963 by William Miller and described shortly afterwards by archeologists David Stronach and T. Cuyler Young Jr.

The Kharraqan towers are tombs, and the occupants are most likely unknown Seljuq chieftains. The towers resemble in fact typical trellis tents, then so-called khargahs, which are still in use by Turkmen tribes.

Structure of a trellis tent of the Yomut Turkmen of Iran. (Courtesy Durand-Guedy, 2013.)

Structure of a trellis tent of the Yomut Turkmen of Iran. (Courtesy Durand-Guedy, 2013 [1].)

Nomad Rulers and Cities in Iran

After a successful siege of Isfahan in 1050/51 by Toghril Beg it is usually held that the city had been made a capital of the Seljuq empire under one of his successors, Malikshah I. One might wonder, though, what “a capital city” actually means for nomads such as the Seljuqs. It is amazing to read that this question has largely been ignored until very recently.

Isfahan is still home of most impressive Seljuq monuments. I have written about the stunning Friday mosque many times on this blog, see, for instance, here and here. While construction of the larger south dome had been commissioned by Malikshah in 1087, the awesome and almost perfect north dome was built on request of Taj al-Mulk, arch enemy of vizir Nizam al-Mulk, just one year later.

In addition to the Friday mosque, which displays an amazing plurality of Seljuq, Il-Khanid, Timurid and Safavid architecture, Isfahan’s old city is home of a couple of surviving Seljuq minarets, for instance the minaret of the Ali mosque (ca. 1200), the Sareban minaret (both 50 meters tall) and the 29 meters tall Chehel Dokhtaran minaret (1107/08). Far more of such buildings can be found in the countryside.

But where has the palace of the sultan been? A recent study considerably substantiated the hypothesis that Seljuq chieftains did not live in cities at all [2]. They lived in luxurious tents pitched in vast camps outside the city walls.

In the first half of the 11th century, Isfahan had been ruled by local Kayukid emirs, in particular Ala al-Dawla Muhammad (d. 1041) who had invited Ibn Sina (Avicenna, d. 1037) to his court. Since 1029, the city had been under attack several times by Turkish military powers, first the Ghaznavids, then the Seljuqs.

When the Isfahanian citizens finally opened the gates in 1051, Toghril had decided to spare the city. One of the main reasons was that he strove for the title of sultan conferred to him by the Abbasid caliph al-Qa’im in Baghdad. The conquest put an end to twenty years of war.


Court and Cosmos

When hordes of Seljuq Turkmen invaded the high plateau in the early decades of the 11th century Iran experienced an unexpected blossoming of art and science. An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with just 250 objects (for instance gold and silver-inlaid brass ewers, basins or candle stands, glazed fritware, gold coins and jewellery, illuminated Qur’ans) on display until 24 July paints a picture of the rather pleasant and luxurious life of noblemen and members of the middle class alike who engaged in hunting, fighting and feasting (bazm wa razm).

One may in fact ask (as the New York Times does), What is actually genuinely nomad Seljuqian?

“While all of this testifies to an aesthetically and technologically sophisticated culture, a nonspecialist might wonder what is distinctively Seljuqian about it — what distinguishes it from, say, medieval Islamic arts and crafts in general. Nomadic invaders from Central Asia, the Seljuqs did not impose on their subjects a traditional aesthetic or religion of their own. Rather, they commissioned artistic and decorative works from artisans of various subject peoples. They built palaces, mosques, madrasas and hospitals in Islamic architectural styles. But what the Seljuqs created most consequentially was a relatively peaceful, prosperous and unified world wherein indigenous literature, arts and sciences were able to flourish in urban centers throughout the region.”

The beautifully written and carefully edited catalog of the exhibition [3] provides invaluable further information about this rather short-lived dynasty of sultans who had conquered much of the then known world.



[1] Durand-Guedy D. Tents of the Saljuqs. In: Durand-Guedy D (ed.) Turko-Mongol Rulers, Cities and City Life. Brill: Leiden, Boston 2013, pp. 149-190.

[2] Durand-Guedy D. Iranian Elites and Turkish Rulers: A History of Isfahan in the Saljuq Period. Routledge Studies in the History of Iran and Turkey. Routledge: London, New York 2010.

[3] Canby S, Beyazit D, Rugiadi M, Peacock ACS et al. Court and Cosmos. The Great Age of the Seljuqs. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2016.

13 July 2016 @ 6:52 pm.

Update 29 August 2016

See Deniz Beyazit’s introduction to the amazing exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art below.



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An Angry and Uninformed Obama

As Juan Cole has pointed out, President Obama seems not to be aware of the likely real motives of Omar Mateen, who had killed at least 49 guests of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last weekend, when mentioning “self-radicalization on the internet”. This hateful man now appears having been first and foremost self-hating. A “closeted gay man” and frequent visitor of the gay nightclub himself. Rather than addressing GOP’s likely presidential candidate Donald Trumps usual rants (“Where does this stop?”), it would have been more appropriate to publicly rectify that is wasn’t self-radicalization, ISIS, not even terrorism, but probably sad personal motives and baseless self-hate of a confused young Muslim man who could not accept his own sexual orientation. Facilitated by dangerous American gun politics (“Second Amendment”).

Where does this stop? Well, the still sitting president and Nobel laureate of 2009 should have a lower profile, really. Obama has escalated a drone war to an extent nobody could ever imagine. He once joked, “Turns out, I’m really good at killing people.” In a constitutional democracy that would have prompted prosecutor investigation. He should have asked himself, “Where does that stop?” Sad conclusion, that won’t stop, neither with Trump or Clinton, rather the opposite.

16 June 2016 @ 7:15 am.

Last modified June 16, 2016.


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The Real Power of Satire

Thank you Jan Böhmermann! The German comedian is now being threatened with prosecution. That has Turkish President and wannabe sultan, notorious Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, demanded. Böhmermann had made clear, in sort of poem which was broadcast in his late-night show (largely hidden in an offshoot of Germany’s second public service television broadcaster ZDF and immediately removed from the internet) what is allowed under German law, namely all kinds of satire, and what is not, namely blatant revile, or schmähkritik, in particular of a foreign government representative. So, after all and, in particular, under German law (based on rather obscure §103 of Germany’s legal code), it is not satire to call Erdogan, for instance, homosexual, a pedophile or a zoophile. Probably with a tiny dick. All that is not allowed.

But the real satire is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems to get completely confused of all her recent turns,  has stepped in, in a telephone call with Turkish Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and called the poem in a hurry and quite obedient “intentionally transgressing”.

Well, enlightenment has always been transgressing.

12 April 2016 @ 9:10 am.

Last modified April 15, 2016.

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When Angela Merkel Changed Her Mind

In July last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel shocked the public with a cold-hearted response to a Palestinian refugee girl who expressed (go to 0:30), in perfect German after having lived there for four years, her wish for a normal life including studying in Germany. Merkel noticed too late that her answer (“Das können wir auch nicht schaffen”, or “We can’t make it”) would create nothing else than utter despair. The girl started to cry and Merkel ineptly tried to comfort her. Respective videos of the awkward scene went quickly viral and, for a moment, completely deteriorated Merkel’s reputation.

Only a few months later, Merkel had changed her mind, restored her reputation as superwoman and cordially welcomed unprecedented numbers of refugees in particular from Syria. “We’ll make it” sparked hatred among far-right racist Pegida, in particular in East Germany where Merkel actually came from. It ultimately earned her London Times’ Person of the Year 2015.

Is that realpolitik or does it indicate that politicians may sometimes reflect on what went wrong and how it could be done better?

2 January 2016 @ 6:55 pm.

Last modified January 2, 2016.

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