A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

"Gates of Nineveh" Assesses Damage to Hatra Galery

The Astrobiology website Gates of Nineveh continues its assessment of the damage to the Mosul Museum with a post on the damage to statues in the Gallery dealing with ancient Hatra. (I previously linked to their Part I report here.)

The short version: "The damage by ISIS to the artistic legacy of Hatra has been catastrophic."

"Memories of Mosul's Libraries"

The Arabic Literature (in English) offers reminiscences: "Memories of Mosul's Libraries."

Of course it can't un-burn the books and irreplaceable manuscripts, but it can help those of us (like me) who never got to Mosul appreciate what is being destroyed.

I notice people keep comparing ISIS to the Visigoths, the Huns, etc. (This is particularly unfair to the Visigoths, IMHO). Are we forgetting that during 1933-1945 the country of Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven embarked on an insane wave of genocide, tyranny, and especially book-burning, not to mention looting the great art of Europe?

I guess we are.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Melhem on "The Twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity."

My old friend Hisham Melhem has written some cogent columns recently for Al-Arabiya, but I particularly want to call your attention to his recent "The twilight of Middle Eastern Christianity."

It's lament for what the Middle East stands to lose as Christian communities dwindle, illuminated by personal anecdotes (Hisham's background is Lebanese Christian). I considered providing some excerpts but on reflection I think I should just encourage readers to click through and read the whole thing.

Gates of Nineveh on the Mosul Damage

The Assyriology blog Gates of Nineveh has Part I of its assessment of the damage done by ISIS in Mosul.

From the conclusion:

It is worth noting that in 2003 around 1,500 smaller objects from the Mosul Museum were relocated to the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad in order that they may be better protected. Nevertheless, many statues otherwise too large or delicate to be moved remained.
When it comes to the Assyrian artifacts, by far the most important losses are the lamassu at the Nergal Gate, one of which was exceedingly well preserved. They were some of the few lamassu left in their original locations to greet visitors to Nineveh the same way they would have greeted visitors in ancient Assyria.
As for the items inside the museum, a number are replicas of originals held elsewhere, while others are likely genuine.
The destruction of sculptures from Hatra [a Seleucid foundation - MCD] appears to be even more devastating, and I will have another post on this damage shortly.

Flashback 1996: Netanyahu Accuses Peres of Political Grandstanding for Visiting Washington the Month Beore an Election. I Guess Two Weeks Before an Election is Different.

I will have only two comments at this point on Mr. Netanyahu's visit. Here's the first:

The Associated Press, May 1, 1996:
(AP) _ Less than a month before Israel's presidential [sic] election, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Shimon Peres of exploiting his close relations with President Clinton and several Arab leaders to improve his chances for re-election.
Netanyahu is Peres' only challenger in the May 29 vote.
``With all due respect, I want to say to Mr. Peres ... that foreigners do not decide the outcome of the Israeli elections, not the American government, the king of Morocco or Yasser Arafat,'' Netanyahu told parliament. The criticism came after Peres wrapped up a three-day U.S. visit during which he and Clinton signed a defense pact and agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism.
I guess Peres was playing electoral politics because he visited the US just four weeks before the Israeli election, whereas Netanyahu's speech to Congress is only two weeks before the election, which in no way constitutes partisan grandstanding. I guess. Not only is he here again, this time to speak to Congress,

The second point is to cite this piece Marsha B. Cohen wrote for LobeLog in 2012: "Purim: When Bad History Makes Bad Policy."

That was the year Netanyahu gave President Obama a copy of the Book of Esther, presumably as an indicator of Persian perfidy. (Hat tip to Marsha Cohen for reviving this.)

Not only is he here again on a similar mission, to Congress this time, but Purim starts Wednesday at sundown. Will he hand out Hamentaschen to the Congress?

Friday, February 27, 2015

If Only Mosul Had Been So Lucky: How Maurice Chehab Saved the Beirut Museum During the Civil War

Note: I'll be in an MEI staff retreat all day today. This will be my only post unless I have something this evening. 

Yesterday's shocking videos of ISIS destroying antiquities in the Mosul Museum again underscored the threat war and instability pose to irreplaceable historical and archaeological heritage. Not since the Nazis looted Europe of art treasures during World War II (many of which have never been seen again, despite the efforts of Allied forces as depicted in the film The Monuments Men), have so many historical and archaeological treasures been threatened. The civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, all saw cases of looting of museums and archaeological sites, as well as collateral damage from artillery of ancient and medieval monuments. But ISIS is embarked on a campaign to destroy antiquities not as a casualty of war but as a matter of direct policy. Shi‘ite, Christian, and Yazidi religious sites and libraries were first, but now the ancient heritage of ancient Mesopotamia is being targeted: the walls and gate of Nineveh and the Mosul Museum.

Source: phoenicia.org
It's a good time to remember the work of the late Maurice Chehab, Director of the Lebanese Antiquities Department and Curator of the Museum during the Lebanese Civil War, and a man who saved much of the collections even though the Muesum was quite literally on the front lines: the division between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut (the Green Line) was the street in front of the museum, and a key but dangerous checkpoint between the two sides was called the Museum Crossing. Lebanese know this story and have honored him; I suspect it's less well known outside.

Emir (Prince) Maurice Chehab was a scion of the Chehab or Shihab dynasty which once ruled Mount Lebanon; originally Druze, the family today has both Maronite and Sunni branches; the former produced Maurice, as well as former Lebanese President Fouad Chehab.

The National Museum, Beirut
Born in 1904, Chehab attended the Jesuit St. Joseph University in Beirut and then did graduate work in France at the Louvre. He became an accomplished archaeologist and specialist on Ancient Phoenicia, and dug at Tyre most famously but also elsewhere; from 1928 onward he held various official posts under the French Mandate and after independence, heading what evolved into the Directorate-General of Antiquities.He taught at the Lebanese University and was designated as the first Curator when Lebanon's National Museum was being organized in the years after 1928; it opened in 1942.

Wartime Museum Damage
He was a distinguished scholar and already past 70 when the Civil War broke out in 1975, when the grim twist of fate brought the war quite literally to the Museum's doorstep. Eventually, the Museum would not only be the target of artillery but would become a frontline bunker for militiamen and a death trap for anyone else. The card catalog, photographic archive and much else were lost.

But not the prize collections. Early in the war, using a rear entrance as the story goes, Chehab and his wife Olga (with a few other senior people) gathered the smaller objects on display and moved them to basement storage to avoid looting. The area was sealed off with steel-reinforced concrete. The larger objects, including the best-known objects, the stone sarcophagus of Ahiram and the other Phoenician sarcophagi, were also encased in wooden or concrete coverings.

Maurice Chehab retired in 1982 and died in 1994. In 2013 the Museum rededicated one of the key galleries as the Maurice Chehab Hall.

You can find other retellings of this story here, and at the museum's Wikipedia page, and even fuller accounts at several tribute pages: here and here and here..

Mosul could have used a Maurice Chehab.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

More on the Destruction in the Mosul Museum

Following up on those videos  of ISIS smashing Assyrian antiquities in the Mosul Museum, here's a roundup of commentary and detail from several websites around the preservationist community. And let me emphasize that I am not giving more weight to the destruction of antiquities than to the slaughter of human beings, but that barbarity is already well known.

At the blog Conflict Antiquities, where Sam Hardy regularly tracks the illicit traffic in looted and smuggled antiquities from war zones, he makes a major point: the videos show the Islamic State destroying large statues that are too large to smuggle out and sell; smuggled artworks and artifacts are a major source  of revenue for ISIS. He notes:
There is no doubt that the Islamic State is profiting from the illicit trade in antiquities. Although the criminals have destroyed some ancient artefacts, the have also destroyed a lot of modern reproductions – as is visible, for example, around 00h03m58s. All this video really shows is that they are willing to destroy things that they can’t ship out and sell off.

A post by Lynda Albertson for the Association for Research into Crimes against Art  has some "before" photos from a UNESCO report, identifying the gallery shown in the photo.

An AP story by Sinan Salaheddin quotes a professor from the Archaeological College of Mosul as saying that most of the artifacts are genuine and not replica; the story also confirms that the sites shown are the Mosul Museum and the Nergal Gate in the ruins of Nineveh.

Another heritage preservation website, Gates of Nineveh, has not yet posted on the video, but you can find a summary of earlier destruction here.

Videos Show ISIS Smashing Assyrian Statues in the Mosul Museum

ISIS is not just kidnapping Assyrian Christians today; it is also destroying the heritage of Ancient Assyria. Videos of ISIS followers smashing the statuary in the Mosul Museum are circulating today:



Many reports, including here.

While some of the statues are said to be plaster casts, they have destroyed the famed winged bull of Nineveh. I hope to have more detail in a later post.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Adventures in Bad Viral Journalism: Did it Really Rain Money in the Gulf, and if so, Where? Dubai? Asir in Saudi Arabia? Kuwait?

A viral YouTube video that shows money falling from the sky has variously been described as happening in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait, and involving sums anywhere from a few thousand dollars to half a million pounds sterling. Before we embark on the competing claims, let's see the video itself:


Certainly, the video shows some amount of money falling from the sky, somewhere. Since there are multiple incompatible stories, we need to start with a control version of this urban legend/social media viral story. I'm not sure any of the multiple reports describing this event in Dubai/Kuwait/the Asir Province of Saudi Arabia can be called totally reliable. So let's make our control one that can be called dependably unreliable, The Daily Mail:
 Fact checking: yes the statement that It is estimated that notes valued between two and three million Dirham were loose - meaning up to £500,000": As of yesterday, three million dirhams would have been about £527,000. or US$817,000. Even if the total number of notes is misstated, each 500 dirham note is just under the £88 pounds cited (£87.95 yesterday) Not a bad "windfall," so to speak.

If it happened.

The Emirati press says it didn't happen in the UAE. No doubt Dubai's reputation for extravagant expenditures and outrageous building projects fueled the idea that this happened in Dubai.

Emirates 25/7 News offers a thoroughly different story:
A wave of sand and thunderstorms in Saudi Arabia brought dust, rain and snow across the desert Gulf Kingdom except one place, where it rained money.
Residents of a neighbourhood in the Southern Asir province could hardly believe their eyes when they were flooded with hundreds of Saudi riyal notes.

Unlike in rainfall, instead of seeking shelter they welcomed the money storm with open hands, open hearts and a big smile on their faces.

They apparently were very curious as to where the money came from but not to the extent they would return it to the source. They simply picked the notes and vanished happily inside their homes.

In a report from Asir, ‘Sabq’ newspaper explained the phenomenon. “Two bank employees were supplying the ATM machine with notes during a sandstorm when nearly SR10,000 in SR100 notes were blown away.”

“The two called the police, who called back-up to search for the money, but not a single note was found.”

The story says these were Saudi Riyal  SR100 notes, each worth a bit over US $26  or £17.20 Sterling, so SR10000 would be $2600 dollars or £1720, an amount that may be credible for loading an ATM machine, but hardly The Daily Mail's half a million Sterling.

The quoted Saudi newspaper Sabq is an electronic one, and i haven't yet found the alleged story, but let me also note that the Emirati report cited above is illustrated with a man holding up a  Saudi 50 Riyal banknote as if it were one of those that fell from the sky, but the story says they were 100 Riyal notes.

Also, Asir is the Saudi Province just north of Yemen. I've never been there, but both the tall buildings and the spoken Arabic in the video make me think this is somewhere in the Gulf.

Skeptical yet, Watson? It gets better. Multiple reports noting background buildings say it's filmed in Kuwait.

Abu Dhabi's The National: "'Raining money’ video was filmed in Kuwait - not Dubai"
notes:
A building, Burj Jasim, can be seen near the car park, where a Fatburger restaurant is also located. Both indicate that the incident happened in Al Murqab area’s Al Soor Street, in Kuwait City. 
Arabian Business adds:
A video of the incident has gone viral on Youtube and social media websites. While some reports have claimed the incident took place in Dubai or Saudi Arabia, verification of the buildings where the video was filmed, it appears that the incident happened in Kuwait. Midway through the video, the name Burj Jassim (Jassim Tower) appears on a building outside where people are gathering the money. The presence of a FatBurger outlet, also located at Burj Jassim (pictured below) would support the belief that the video was shot in Kuwait.

So what are we dealing with here? Clearly such conflicting stories can't all be true, and no one in Kuwait even seems to have reported it. Possibilities:
  1. Perhaps this is real, but misattributed. The Gulf has been windy and unseasonably cold and maybe a crew reloading an ATM did lose some currency but not some huge mount.
  2. Perhaps the video was done for some sort of commercial promotion, or as a commercial for television.
  3. It could also be a hoax.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

You May Know of the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. But Do You Know About the Quake and Tsunami That Day in Morocco?


The Great Lisbon Earthquake and fire of 1755 remains one of the iconic disasters of modern Europe; it devastated the Portuguese capital and sparked debates between religious folk who saw it as the judgment of an angry God (it occurred on All Saints Day, November 1), and Enlightenment philosophes who saw it as a sign of the arbitrariness of fate, most famously Voltaire, who subjects the eponymous hero of  Candide to it and makes him wonder if Pangloss is right about this being the best of all possible worlds. (Voltaire also wrote a separate essay on the earthquake.) Since I assume my readers are well-read, you probably know about the Great Lisbon Earthquake of November 1, 1755, but let me ask if you've heard of the destructive Tsunami that hit Morocco less than an hour later, and may have been as deadly there as in Portugal?

Though far from the deadliest earthquake by world standards, the 1755 shock, fire and Tsunami in Lisbon (the largest Tsunami on record for the North Atlantic) had a major impact in Europe, but many overlook the impact on Morocco.

The epicenter, as shown in the map at right from Wikipedia, was west of the Strait of Gibraltar; this is at a point where he Eurasian tectonic plate meets the African plate, though of course  plate tectonics were unknown  at the time. Although Lisbon's destruction is famous, the Algarve in southwestern Spain and Portugal and the coastal cities of Morocco may have suffered even worse from the quake itself and the resulting Tsunami, though Lisbon was in part destroyed by an accompanying fire. We know they were devastated, though casualty counts are slippery, in Morocco as in Portugal. Totals in the tens of thousands dead, however, are often cited for both sides of the Strait, with some going to six figures. But Voltaire didn't put Candide in Tangier or Rabat. Most estimates put the total dead in Morocco at at least 10,000, perhaps higher. The quake was also felt in Algiers.

Of course, the highly useful Japanese word tsunami was unknown in Europe in 1755; in Portuguese it was known as a maremoto, a movement of the sea.

While the earthquake is historically known as the Great Lisbon Earthquake, its effect, and that of the following tsunami, also took a toll on Spain and Morocco, particularly but not exclusively the coastal areas.

The sources for the Moroccan damage are scattered, including native Moroccan writers, Spanish and Portuguese priests living in those country's enclaves in Morocco, and European consuls. Because Morocco also suffered another earthquake wave the same month, November 18-19 centered in the Rif Mountains, some have argued (for example P.L.Blanc, cited below) that the reports of intense damage to the interior cities of Meknes (badly hit), Marrakech, and Fes may have conflated the November 1 earthquske with the later ones, but this is still debatable. Discussion and citation of these source can be found in online studies such as Evaluation du risque tsunamique sur la littoral Atlantique, a doctoral thesis by Samira Mellas in French; and  P.L. Blanc, "Earthquakes and tsunami in November 1755 in Morocco: a different reading of contemporaneous documentary sources."

Without studying each of the sources more carefully, I can't judge whether the damage from two separate quakes has been conflated, but in any event, both coastal and interior cities in Morocco suffered severe damage in November, 1755.

Along the coast, the Tsunami was devastating, though a reported height of 75 feet for the waves at El Jadida (then known by its Amazigh namd Mazagan or in Portuguese as Mazagão) is debated as being a likely exaggeration. Some reports claim that at Tangier the waves submerged the city walls. In Assila, the water entered the streets of the city, and along with the force of the earthquake, many houses were destroyed.

At the twin cities of Rabat and Salè, which face each other across the Bou Regreg River ships were sunk in he river and many drowned. Farther south at Safi there was also extensive damage. Agadir was also affected.

In the interior, there was certainly earthquake damage in Meknès, Marrakesh, and Fes; columns at the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis also fell. Blanc argues that the damage in the interior was from the later November 18-19 quakes (the dates given by European reports; Mor0ccan reports date hem November 27-28). This is not established and reports written before those dates do refer to damage and deaths in the interior cities.

Casualty figures may be exaggerated (and the European ones distinguish between casualties among Christians, Jews, and "Moors," but certainly most accounts place the dead in multiple thousands. Though what made Lisbon so destructive was the combination of earthquake, Tsunami, and fire, the Moroccan accounts do not appear to speak of fire as a destructive force. Still, it seems clear that the Great Lisbon Earthquake was also the Great Moroccan earthquake.

Here's a modern simulation of the Tsunami:

Turkey Rescues its Soldiers, Body of Ottoman Ancestor from Turkish Enclave inside Syria

Location
Twice on this blog, in 2012 and again last year, I've noted the fact that the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of Osman from whom the Ottoman Empire takes its name, is an enclave considered sovereign Turkish territory deep inside Syria, and guarded by Turkish troops.

No longer. Over the past weekend Turkey sent a substantial armored military force through Syrian territory to the site, rescuing 38 Turkish soldiers threatened by ISIS. They also destroyed the site and retrieved the remains of Suleyman Shah.

A new site is planned just 200 meters inside Syria, retaining its claim to territory inside Syria but moving it closer to Turkey. (In fact, the tomb had been relocated before, when Lake Asad was built.

The Asad government has denounced the operation, and some Turkish opposition parties have denounced it as surrendering national territory.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ptah! Humbug!

Speaking of the Oscars, from this site:

#Egyptian #inspiration They say that the Oscar statuette represents a knight standing on a reel of film gripping a crusader’s sword but it is just looks so similar to the representation of Ptah (Ancient Egypt God) holding the scepters...!!

Vanished States: the Mahabad Republic and the Azerbaijan People's Government, 1945-1946

It's time for another post on "Vanished States" in the Middle East in the 20th century. Previous posts dealt with the Republic of Hatay (1938-39), the Syrian Arab Kingdom under Faisal (four months in 1920), the Hashemite Kingdom of the Hejaz (1916-1925), and the Rifian Republic (1921-1926). 

(Wikipedia)
Today let's deal with two Soviet satellite states declared on Iranian territory in 1945, at the and of World War II and in the midst of the opening moves of the Cold War: the Republic of Kurdistan in Mahabad  (usually referred to as the Mahabad Republic) and the Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan (or Azerbaijan People's Government). By late 1946, both were gone after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The two emerged from the occupation of Iran by Britain and the Soviet Union in 1941, when Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son Muhammad Reza, in order to facilitate Allied supplies to the USSR. The Allies pledged to evacuate their forces from Iran within six months after the end of the war. These assurances were repeated when Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met at the Tehran Conference in 1943.

But as World War II ended and the Cold War began, the Soviets encouraged these two states to declare independence, and Soviet forces remained in northwestern Iran. The Azerbaijani state, which had its capital at Tabriz, was rather different from the Kurdish one: it was run by veteran Communists and closely tied to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, while the Mahabad Republic, with its capital at Mahabad, as led by Iranian Kurdish nationalists of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), in alliance with a military force led by the Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, founder of the Iraqi KDP and father of the Kurdish Regional Government's President Mas‘oud Barzani.

Ja'far Pishevari
The Azerbaijanis declared their state first. A group of longtime Communists led by Ja‘far Pishevari declared the formation of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party on September 3, 1945, the day after the surrender of Japan. The Tudeh Party, the official Communist Party of Iran, ordered its Azerbaijani branch to join the new movement. The group formed a "peasant's militia" and on November 18, 1945, staged an de facto coup, declaring an "autonomous republic." (Since Iran was a monarchy, how could a republic be autonomous within it?") Pishevari served as President and Ahmad Kordari as Prime Minister.

Azerbaijan Republic Flag
During the approximately one year before its dissolution, there were clearly close links between the Soviet Republic and the "Autonomous Republic" in Iran and Azeri Turkish was made official and Persian banned.  A Soviet-style judicial code was enforced.

To the West, the Kurdish region of Iran also sought to declare itself a Kurdish Republic. The USSR does not seem to have been as enthusiastic there since the Kurdish leadership were more traditional Kurdish nationalists rather than veteran Communists. The Soviets sought to encourage the Kurdish leadership in Mahabad, which during the period of Soviet occupation had been formed of traditional tribal and religious elements, to join the Azerbaijani Republic, but instead they declared thgeir own autonomous state on December 15, 1945 and on January 22, 1946, announced the formation of the Kurdish Rrpublic in Mahabad.

Qazi Muhammad
Its President was Qazi Muhammad, from a family of religious judges, and its Prime Minister Hajji Baba Sheikh, both members of the KDPI rather than traditional Communist Party (Komala) cadres. The Defense Minister was Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the Iraqi Kurdish leader. Historians claim that there was considerable resentment of the Barzani clan's presence in Iranian Kurdistan, where they had fled after fleeing Iraq. But Barzani's forces clearly were a mainstay of the Mahabad Republic's defense forces. Though the Kurdish Communist Party (Komala) supported the Mahabad Republic, the republic's leadership was officially KDPI.

Mustafa Barzani in 1946
Mahabad's more traditional leadership, though it included elements from Komala, resisted merger with the Communist government in Tabriz, and while the Soviets supported it in their efforts to remain in Iran, they seem to have been less trustful of the independent-minded Kurdish state than of the more Moscow-lining regime in Tabriz.But Mahabad was small, since significant parts of Iranian Kurdistan were in the Anglo-American rather than the Soviet-occupied zone, and were thus easily held by the government in Tehran.

The United Nations 

Mahabad Republic Flag
The West saw the Soviet efforts to remain in northwestern Iran in terms of the Cold War and viewed both mini-states as Soviet satellites. The newly formed United Nations was soon wrestling with what came to be called the Iran Crisis, and in fact, three of the first five resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council (UNSC Resolutions 2, 3, and 5) dealt with Iran; the Soviets were absent for the later resolutions.

Qazi Muhammad (l.) and Mustafa Barzani
In March of 1946, the USSR promised to withdraw its troops from Iran. (Eastern European domination took precedence over Iran, and the US had a nuclear monopoly until the first Soviet test in 1949.) While they sought as many delays as possible, they did indeed withdraw. By June the Pishevari government in Tabriz negotiated an agreement with the Shah's government to replace the "Autonomous Republic" with a Provincial Council. Although Iranian troops did not move into Azerbaijan until November and December 1946, the withdrawal of the Red Army meant the Azerbaijan Communists had no real source of support. Once the Iranian Army returned, Pishevari fled to Soviet Azerbaijan and Kordari was jailed.  In 1947, Pishevari was killed in an automobile accident, which many have found suspect. (We are talking about the Stalin era, after all.)

The end of Mahabad was messier and bloodier. Even as the withdrawal of Soviet support undercut his government, and many traditional tribal shaykhs and aghas were deserting the republic, Qazi Muhammad and his war council pledged armed resistance on December 5, 1946. With the Soviets leaving and Azerbaijan falling back under Tehran's control, this was a futile and rather puzzling gesture, especially given the fact that Qazi Muhammad agreed to the occupation of Mahabad by Iranian troops. During this period, Qazi Muhammad's brother, Sadr Qazi, had been serving as a Deputy in the Iranian Majlis in Tehran and serving as a go-between in negotiations. Nonetheless, after the fall of Mahabad, the Iranian government hanged Qazi Muhammad, Sadr Qazi, and their cousin Seif Qazi. This seems particularly unjust in the case of Sadr Qazi, who had been the go-between negotiator.

Mustafa Barzani and his Iraqi Kurdish forces tried but failed to cut a deal with Tehran and then conducted a fighting retreat toward the Iraqi and Soviet borders, bloodying the Iranian forces. To his credit, Stalin [as much as it pains me to write those four words about Stalin] allowed the Barzani forces into exile in Soviet Azerbaijan. In the 1950s, after the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, they would be allowed to re-enter Iraq.

The Azerbaijan Soviet satellite is largely forgotten, but Kurdish nationalists sill remember the Mahabad Republic as an evanescent moment of Kurdish independence. Unfortunately, they were dependent on Stalin to make that independence last, and Uncle Joe was not a man to depend upon. A YouTube video of the declaration of the republic:

Friday, February 20, 2015

George Washington Writes a Letter to the Sultan of Morocco: Our Oldest Treaty Always in Force

Surely this needs no caption
Sunday (February 22) will be George Washington's actual birthday (adjusted for the Gregorian calendar), though we celebrated last week on the President's Day holiday. Back in 2013, I posted a 1789 letter Washington wrote to the Sultan of Morocco,  but this is not a rerun of that post, but rather a fuller contextualization of the origins of US-Moroccan relations.

The US-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship of 1786, ratified by the Confederation Congress under the Articles of Confederation (before the US Constitution), has been renegotiated on occasion but is said to be the oldest US treaty still in force and never broken.
Sultan Muhmmad III ibn ‘Abdullah
I've noted more than once that Morocco had actually been trying to get our attention since 1777, when, on December 20, 1777, the Sultan of Morocco, Sidi Muhammad bin ‘Abdullah, also known as Sultan Muhammad III, issued a decree allowing any ship bearing the flag of the new United States of America, to put in at Moroccan ports. Both Morocco and the United States now retroactively see this as the first recognition of the US by a foreign power. (France would be the second, but not until 1778; in 1776, a port in the Dutch East Indies fired a salute to a US-flagged ship, but that did not represent the Dutch home government, which eventually followed the French lead.)

I suspect the painting of the Sultan is not contemporary; it's from Wikipedia.

The problem was, the US didn't immediately notice. In fact the day before the Sultan's decree, on December 19, 1777, George Washington and the Continental Army went into winter camp at a place called Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and spent a winter when the sunny shores of Morocco doubtless seemed terribly remote and the prospects of winning the war seemed almost as remote.

The Sultan's move came at a time when most European powers were paying tribute to the North African ("Barbary") states to permit them to trade; the American Declaration of Independence meant that the British tribute no longer granted them privileges.

In 1778 the Sultan appointed  a French merchant in Salé, next to Rabat, as consul for those countries not represented by consuls in Morocco. Caille wrote to Benjamin Franklin, the American representative in Paris, in 1778, suggesting negotiations for a treaty with the United States.

Late in 1780, according to a history published by the US Embassy in Morocco, the Continental Congress approved the idea, telling Caille to move toward such a treaty. But only after the 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain did the project move forward. In May 1784 Congress authorized Franklin, John Adams (US envoy to London), and Thomas Jefferson (the new envoy to Paris) to negotiate the deal. In October 1784, a Moroccan corsair seized an American merchantman in the Atlantic, and the Sultan pointedly noted that he had been asking for a treaty for several years. In 1785, Thomas Barclay, US Consul-General in Paris, was sent to Morocco to negotiate the terms. Adams in London wrote to Jefferson in Paris, "If Mr. Barclay will undertake the voyage, I am for looking no farther. We cannot find a steadier, or more prudent man." Barclay reached Marrakesh, then the Sultan's capital, on June 19, 1786. On June 28 the treaty was signed and sealed by the Sultan; you can read the English text here.

It was valid for 50 years and was indeed renewed in 1836. An additional article was added on July 6, 1786. Jefferson signed it in Paris on January 1, 1787; Adams signed in London on January 25, and the Confederation Congress ratified it and it entered into legal force on July 18, 1787. It remains in force.

Before getting to Washington's letter to the Sultan, a side note: in 1821 the Sultan's successor gave the US the property which became the US Consulate in Tangier. (The first Consul had arrived in 1797.) That site is now the oldest US diplomatic property abroad in continuous use, and it was the first overseas extraterritorial property named to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Site. It served as the US Legation until 1956, when with Moroccan independence an Embassy was opened in Rabat, and today is the he Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, with a museum and cultural center.

But I started this out as a George Washington's birthday post, so let's focus. In the same year, 1787, of the Treaty of Marrakesh, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia produced a new US Constitution which, after due ratification by the states,entered into force in 1789.  In that year, too, as anyone who lives in Washington or has ever seen a dollar bill knows, George Washington was elected President. On December 1, 1789. he responded to a 1788 letter from the Sultan to which no one had replied.

The text, from the Mount Vernon website (image of original above):                                             
City of New York December 1, 1789

Great and Magnanimous Friend,
           Since the date of the letter which the late Congress, by their President, addressed to your Imperial Majesty, The United States of America have thought proper to change  their government and institute a new one, agreeable to the Constitution, of which I have the honor, herewith, to enclose a copy. The time necessarily employed in the arduous  task, and the disarrangements occasioned by so great though peaceable a revolution, will apologize, and account for your Majesty’s not having received those regularly advised marks of attention from the United States which the friendship and magnanimity of your conduct toward them afforded reason to expect.
           The United States, having unanimously appointed me to supreme executive authority in this Nation. Your Majesty’s letter of August 17, 1788, which by reason of the dissolution of the late-government, remained unanswered, has been delivered to me. I have also received the letters which Your Imperial Majesty has been so kind as to  write, in favor of the United States, to the Bashaws of Tunis and Tripoli, and I present to you the sincere acknowledgements and thanks of the United States for this important  mark of your friendship for them.
           We greatly regret the hostile disposition of those regencies toward this nation, who have never injured them, is not to be removed, on terms of our power to comply with. 
           Within our territories there are no mines, wither of gold or silver, and this young nation just recovering from the waste and dissolution of a long war, have not, as yet, had time to acquire riches by agriculture and commerce. But our soil is bountiful, and our people industrious, and we have reason to flatter ourselves that we shall gradually become useful to our friends.
           The encouragement which Your Majesty has been pleased, generously, to give to our commerce with your dominions, the punctuality with which you have caused the Treaty with us to be observed, and the just and generous measures taken in the case of Captain Proctor, make a deep impression on the United States and confirm their respect for and attachment to Your Imperial Majesty.
           It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity of assuring Your Majesty that, while I remain at the head of this nation, I shall not cease to promote every measure that may conduce to the friendship and harmony which so happily subsist between your Empire and them, and shall esteem myself happy in every occasion of convincing Your Majesty of the high sense (which in common with the whole nation) I entertain the magnanimity, wisdom and benevolence of Your Majesty.
           May the Almighty bless Your Imperial Majesty, our Great and Magnanimous friend, with His constant guidance and protection.  
                                                                                              - George Washington

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Useful Way to Track Israeli Opinion Polling During This Election

Israeli elections, with their proliferation of parties and shifting alliances,  further complicated by the fact that there are multiple polling agencies getting differing results, can be confounding. A hat tip to Avner Cohen for drawing attention to a rather useful Wikipedia entry: "Opinion Polling for the Israeli Legislative Election, 2015." 

It has useful comparative tables party by party, and appears to be updated almost daily.

Sedra on the Coptic Massacre

At Jadaliyya, "Quick Thoughts:  Paul Sedra on the IS Massacre of Egyptian Copts in Libya" does a useful job of distinguishing the ISIS massacre in Libya from the context of Egyptian domestic politics and Christian-Muslim relations. It's short but important.

Churchill's Turn: Meeting "Ibn Saud," Fayyoum, February 1945

Yesterday I (belatedly) noted the 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's meeting with King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa‘ud (usually referred to by Westerners at the time as "Ibn Saud") aboard the USS Quincy in February 1946. After meeting the King on February 14, FDR departed for Alexandria and there, on February 15, met Winston Churchill, who was also returning from Yalta. Then FDR departed for home. It was the last time Churchill and FDR met; Roosevelt died in April.

Auberge du Lac in the 1940s
Churchill proceeded from Alexandria to the Fayyoum Oasis, while the King's party was driven from the Suez Canal. Churchill hosted a lunch at the Auberge du Lac Hotel, a former hunting lodge of King Farouq converted to a hotel with views of Lake Qarun. (The hotel in 1945 was not the present one, built in 1954 on the same site.)

As is often the case with Churchill, the best storyteller in this case is himself, The story is told in Volume VI of The Second World War, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 397-398 of the US edition:

After the departure of our American friends I had arranged  meeting with Ibn Saud. He had been transported to the conference with the President in he American destroyer Murphy, and travelled with all the splendour of an Eastern potentate, with an entourage of some fifty persons, including two sons, his Prime Minister, his Astrologer, and flocks of sheep to be killed according to Moslem rites. On February 17 his reception was organised at the Hôtel du Lac at Fayum oasis, from which we had temporarily removed all residents.
 Churchill then relates an anecdote his biographers frequently cite:
A number of social problems arose. I had been told that neither smoking nor alcoholic beverages were allowed in the Royal Presence. As I was the host at luncheon I raised the matter at once, and said to the interpreter that if it was the religion of His Majesty to deprive himself of smoking and alcohol I must point out that my rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after, and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them. The King graciously accepted the position. His own cup-bearer from Mecca offered me a glass of water from its sacred well, the most delicious I had ever tasted. 
And there were other issues:
It had been indicated to me beforehand that here would be an interchange of presents during the course of our meeting. I had therefore made what I thought were adequate arrangements. "Tommy" Thompson [Churchill's aide] had bought for me in Cairo for about a hundred pounds, at the Government's expense, a little case of very choice perfumes which I presented. We were all given jewelled swords, diamond-hilted, and other splendid gifts. Sarah [Churchill's daughter] had an enormous portmanteau which Ibn Saud had provided for "your womenfolk." I appeared that we were rather outclassed in gifts, so I told the King, "What we bring are but tokens. His Majesty's Government have decided to present you with the finest motor-car in the world, with every comfort for peace and every security against hostile action." This was later done.
I assume it was a Rolls-Royce.
King Ibn Saud made a striking impression. My admiration for him was deep, because of his unfailing loyalty to us. He was always at his best in the darkest hours. He was now over seventy, but had lost none of his warrior vigour. He still lived he existence of a patriarchal King of the Arabian desert, with his forty living sons and the seventy ladies of his harem, and three of the four legal wives, as prescribed by the Prophet, one vacancy being left.
Churchill omits the awkward fact that one key topic of conversation was Palestine, where Churchill hoped to extricate Britain from its Palestine Mandate through peaceful partition and hoped for Saudi support. That was not forthcoming.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

February 1945: Roosevelt Meets "Ibn Saud"

Admiral William D. Leahy, Bill Eddy translating, the King and FDR
I've been so preoccupied with the 100th anniversary of World War I that I let slip a critical 70th anniversary: the meetings between Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Farouq, Haile Selassie, and King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa‘ud ("Ibn Saud") in the Suez Canal in February 1945. FDR was returning from the Yalta Conference on the the cruiser USS Quincy. The conference took place February 12-14, 1945, so I'm a couple of days late in noting its anniversary. Roosevelt arrived by air from Yalta and then traveled to join the Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake of the Suez Canal. The next day he met with King Farouq and Haile Selassie.

On February 14th the the destroyer USS Murphy, which had been sent to Jidda to bring the King and his party to Egypt, arrived. In the negotiations that followed, Roosevelt sought to obtain King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz' cooperation on Palestinian partition (unsuccessfully), but also negotiated the right to build an air base at Dhahran and secure access to Saudi oil supplies for the West, the beginning of the long Saudi-US security relationship. (The US was already involved through US oil companies' partnership in the Arabian American Oil Company, ARAMCO.)

You can find Eddy's own account of the meeting here.

The first film clip is partially in color; though the two clips show the same events there are some differences in detail.

The US Marine Corps colonel appearing in the meetings with Roosevelt and Ibn Saud is Colonel Bill Eddy, the US Minister to Saudi Arabia. You can find an account of the meeting written by Eddy here. For more about Eddy, see Tom Lippman's 2008 book, Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East.

 I note that both newsreels say that this is the first time Ibn Saud had left his Kingdom. I guess they mean since he became King; he spent his youth in exile in Kuwait until he led the raid on Riyadh that expelled the Rashid family and restored the Sauds, beginning the formation of the Kingdom.



Some Useful Reads on the Islamic State

The Islamic State or ISIS, is a serious challenge deserving serous attention, and I don't mean scare headlines like this one in The Daily Mail.

Here are some thoughtful approaches:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Egypt Pushing for International Action on Libya

In addition to its on Monday airstrike against Islamic State elements in Libya in retaliation for the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians, Egypt appears to be urging wider international intervention in Libya, possibly including Italy, the former colonial power, This is the latest instance, among many, of the emerging alliance of Gulf States and Egypt in taking proactive military measures against radical jihadist movements.

 It is probably no coincidence that Egypt also just  ordered Rafale multirole fighters from France, a deal which may be underwritten by Gulf funds.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Holiday Note

Today is the Presidents' Day holiday in the US. Normal blogging resumes tomorrow.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Zeppelins in the Middle East, Part II: The Graf Zeppelin's Visits in 1929 and 1931 to Paletine and Egypt

1933 Egyptian Stamp Marking 1931 Visit
In yesterday's first part of this two-part post,we dealt with the use of Zeppelins in the Italo-Turkish War in Libya and the bizarre 1917 adventure of German Zeppelin L59 attempting to cross British-occupied Egypt and Sudan to resupply troops in German East Africa.

Dr. Hugo Eckener
As mentioned in yesterday's post, after the death of Count von Zeppelin in 1917, the Zeppelin enterprise was headed by Dr. Hugo Eckener, When the Versailles Treaty force Germany to give up all military Zeppelins, Eckener began to seek permissions for civilian passenger Zeppelin airships, and by the late 1920s there began the age of luxury airship travel, when these luxury liners in the sky offered elites a way to cross the oceans faster than ships, at a time when heavier-than-air crossings were still he realm of adventurers like Charles Lindbergh and passenger aircraft with such range were still in the future (though the first passenger flying boats were beginning to challenge them).

Eckener's crown jewel was the Graf Zeppelin, named for the founder Count von Zeppelin. It remains one of the best-known Zeppelins, its memory eclipsed only by the ill-fated Hindenburg, whose end was so memorably captured in newsreels in 1937. (The Hindenburg was not one of Eckener's. He hated the Nazis and the feeling was mutual, and he was removed from his position after Hitler came to power and the Zeppelin works nationalized by the Nazis. Hindenburg, with its bright swastikas on its tail, was Hitler's attempt to impress the world. Well, it's certainly remembered.)

Returning, though, to Graf Zeppelin. Designated LZ 137, she was built at the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshaven am Bodensee between 1926 and 1928, she was 776 feet long (the largest airship built to that time) and could reach a top airspeed of 80 mph, though it normally did not reach that speed. During its lifetime (1928-1937)  it would make 590 flights and cover a million miles, including one round-the-world trip (Weltfahrt). She was Weimar Germany's pride and joy, and she was meant as a demonstration of German aviation prowess.

As a result its trips were often intended to impress, and therein lies the theme of this posts: its Middle East visits, to Palestine in 1929 and to both Palestine and Egypt in 1931. It would also visit Tangier during one of its Mediterranean voyages, as well as I believe on its trips to Latin America.

The  1929 Visit to Palestine

For a good summary of both the 1929 and 1931 visits, let me refer you to zan  article by Alan McGregor in a 1994n issue of Saudi ARAMCO World: "Contrary Winds: Zeppelins Over the Middle East." 

Originally, the 1929 trip was supposed to include both Palestine and Egypt, but as the article notes, while Britain approved overflying the Palestine Mandate, it vetoed the visit to Egypt, worried about Egyptian nationalism and determined that the first dirigible to visit Egypt should be the British R-101, and intending that it make a visit in 1930 to India, making a stop in Cairo. Nevertheless, an Al-Ahram reporter, Mahmud Abul-Fath, was going to make the voyage. The ARAMCO World article quotes dispatch he publish on March 24, 1929, the day before the flight:
"The Egyptian people, through no fault of their own, are being prevented from witnessing a magnificent spectacle. This is due to [British] envy of the thoughtful, hard- working German nation, which is developing so quickly and outclassing most other countries, particularly in aviation. As a result, the people cannot see the [Graf Zeppelin], and it will not see the Suez Canal."
Below is a German map of the 1929 route (in which rhe Zeppelin did not land):
Route of the 1929 Visit
Leaving Fridrichshafen on March 25, 1929, tthe Graf passed over Italy, Crete and Cyprus before reaching Palestine in the evening.

The ARAMCO World article is a little confusing in its sequencing:
By early evening they were over Palestine, dropping a bundle of 5000 letters to the large German colony at Jaffa. They found Mount Carmel bedecked with German flags and the word "Willkommen " spelled out in 8-meter-height letters; then they flew along the coast to Tel Aviv, where a passenger showered confetti on the crowds below.
Since Jaffa and Tel Aviv adjoin each other, while Mount Carmel towers above Haifa, this is confusing. Mail drops were in fact made at both Haifa and Jaffa, and in fact franked postcards from both are collectors' items, frequently seen on E-Bay and philatelic sites. Both Haifa and Jaffa had large German colonies (actually Jaffa's was at Sarona, now a part of Tel Aviv), but oher accounts and the map make clear that after the mail drop at Haifa, he Zeppelin proceeded down the coast to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I'm unsure if this photo of the Zeppelin over Sarona is from the 1929 or the 1931 visit (most photos are from 1931, since most of the 1919 flight was after dark):
Over Sarona
The ship then sailed east to Jerusalem, stopping its engines to hover over the Old City, then proceeding eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea. Over the sea, the captain  descended to close to the surface before rising and proceeding back over Jerusalem, now visible in bright moonlight.

Proceeding out over the Mediterranean, the Zeppelin proceeded along the Egyptian coast, where Dr. Eckener, off Rashid, sent birthday greetings to King Fuad I, regretting that "contrary winds" prevented him from visiting Egypt. Graf Zeppelin then passed over Greece, circled the  Acropolis, and proceeded via Vienna to Friedrichshafen and home. The first Middle East visit had lasted four days, May 25-28. Her next Middle East visit would be in 1931.

Meanwhile,  the British completed their challenger to he Graf Zeppelin, the R-101. On October 5, 1930, on its first trip outside Britain, R-101 crashed and burned in France, killing 48 of the 54 people aboard including Britain's Air Minister. That marked the end of British dirigible building. It also brought Dr. Eckener to the funeral of those killed. At that point, the British Air Ministry invited Eckener to visit Egypt with the Graf.

On April 9, 1931, Graf Zeppelin left Friedrichshafen at 6:10 AM and proceeded south over Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily, and reached the Libyan coast at 5:15 AM the next day and proceeded eastward over Benghazi, crossing into Egypt at Sollum and continuing to Alexandria at 12:55 PM. The Zeppelin spent 40 minutes circling over Alexandria while much of the population watched.
Over Alexandria
From Alexandria, the ship followed the Nile to Cairo, arriving around 3:30 PM. Eckener brought it over the  Qubba Palace, where King Fuad I and Queen Nazli were watching from a balcony. He dipped the great Zepplin's bow three times to the monarch.

So much of the 1929 trip had been in the dark that there were few photo opportunities, But the 1931 trip offered plenty of the sort of publicity photos Eckener and Germany had been hoping for.
Over the Cairo Citadel and Muhammad ‘Ali Mosque
After cruising over Cairo, Graf Zeppelin then proceeded to the Pyramids at Giza, providing multiple photo ops and descending to only a short distance above the Great Pyramid of Khufu. These were to become some of the most iconic pictures of the visit:


The Zeppelin proceeded south to the Step Pyramid at Saqqara and then cruised northward over the cities of the Delta overnight, while the passengers slept. At the coast it turned back towards Cairo and its first landing in the Middle East.

At 5:15 AM,the ship reached Cairo and the old Almaza airfield, which was Cairo's original civil airport and is today an Air Force Base some distance south of Cairo International Airport which replaced it. There, at 6:10 AM, British troops stationed in the area manned the mooring cable and also formed  a cordon around he airship to hold back surging crowds, estimated at 30,000, who had flocked to Almaza to see it Firehoses were reportedly used to hold back the crowds when it took off later. An account of that visit can be read here.
Troops Guarding the Zeppelin
Eckener and some of the crew disembarked in Cairo, as did others wishing to see Cairo. Eckener had lunch with dignitaries and an audience with King Fuad. Meanwhile,  the Zeppelin took off for a voyage over Palestine, passing over the Suez Canal, gaza, ajd Tel Aviv-Jaffa, then turning east toward Jerudalem.

Arriving this time in clear daylight at 11 am, the Zeppelin took several circuits over the city, stopping her engines 100 meters over the Church ofthe Holy Sepulchere, and also unfurling the German flag over the (German-run) Augusta Victoria Hospital on the ridge east of the Old City. And, of course, again providing great photo opportunities:
Over the Old City of Jerusalem

Over the Old City of Jerusalem
Over David's Tower and the Jerusalem Citadel


The Graf Zeppelin then returned to Cairo, landing at Almaza at 5 PM. After picking up Eckener and the other, and departed over the desert, passing over Siwa and exiting over Libya. The second Middle East visit of the Graf Zeppelin was over. She returned to Friedrichshafen after 97 hours (four days plus an hour).

The ARAMCO World article cited earlier claims that for years Egyptians used the phrase "zayy al-zeppelin" (like the Zeppelin) to refer to something very large.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Zeppelins in the Middle East: Part I: Military Use in Libya and the Improbable Tale of "Das Afrika-Schiff"

Graf Zeppelin at the Pyramids, 1931
(This replaces an earlier version of this post which was corrupted.)

The great age of luxury Zeppelin travel was a brief one in the 1920s and  1930s, memorably concluding with the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. The rigid dirigible airship, designed by Count (Graf in German) Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the 1890s, originally was used for military applications through World War I; Count von Zeppelin died in 1917,and the Zeppelin company was taken over by Dr. Hugo Eckener. Barred by the Versailles Treaty from building military Zeppelins, Eckener eventually won the right to build Zeppelins for civilian transport, and created the idea of these luxury liners of the sky for European and American elites, that could carry people across the Atlantic in comfort faster than a ship, at a time when heavier-than air aircraft were not yet ready to carry passengers so far.

Dr. Eckener's gem was the Graf Zeppelin, named for Count von Zeppelin and intended to demonstrate the Zeppelin's capabilities as the airborne version of a luxury liner. As the Weimar Republic struggled to recover from World War I, she became a major showpiece for the reputation of German aeronautical engineering. Later that year she made her first Transatlantic trip, to the US. She would make other high-profile flights, including a round-the world-flight in 1929, but here I wish to discuss her two visits to the Middle East, in 1929 and 1931.

But those trips, including photos, will appear in Part II of this post. Here in Part I, I want to discuss military Zeppelins in the Middle East.

Earlier Zeppelins in the Region

But first, a few words about military Zeppelin use in the Middle East prior to the golden age of luxury Zeppelin travel.  During the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912, Italy became not only the first country to drop an aerial bomb from a heavier than air airplane, but probably also the first to use dirigibles for bombing. (Some use "Zeppelin" for all rigid dirigible airships, others only for the German products).

Italian Dirigible Bombing in Libya
During the bombing of Libya in 2011 I noted this on this blog, and posted this photo of Italian dirigibles dropping bombs on Turkish positions in Libya.

L59: "Das Afrika-Schiff"

At least as far as I am aware, the next use of a Zeppelin over the Middle East was an abortive German attempt to relieve its beleaguered forces in  German East Africa (Tanganyika, now the continental part of Tanzania) during World War I. General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck's force in German East Africa was caught between British forces in Kenya and South African forces under General Jan Smuts. (Film buffs may note that this campaign is the context of the great, fictional, Bogart-Hepburn movie The African Queen.)

Determined to resupply their forces n East Africa, the Germans sent Zeppelin L59 to Bulgaria (a German ally) in November 1917. Its ambitious mission was to overfly British-occupied Egypt and Sudan without being detected, carrying some 25 tons of weapons and supplies to von Lettow-Vorbeck's Schutztruppe. Because hydrogen would be unavailable in East Afrika, it was intended to dismantle her there,  cannibalizing her parts to supply troops, including making her skin into tents. (The narrative which follows is based on numerous published and online accounts of the mission.)

Postwar German Brochure
It would be a dangerous mission: her top speed would be only 50 mph, making her a sitting duck for British fighters based in Egypt, Sudan, or Kenya. The Zeppelin, whose production designation from the Zeppelin works was LZ 104, was redesignated the L59 in German Naval service. Her sister ship, L57, had originally been chosen for the Africa flight, but crashed and burned during trials.

The Zeppelin works' Dr. Eckener himself piloted her to Jamboli airfield in Bulgaria, a German ally, where  command was handed over to KapitanLeutnant (Lieutenant Commander) Ludwig Bockholt of the German Navy.

Ludwig Bockholt
Bockholt, earlier in 1917, had drawn attention when, in command of Zeppelin L23,  he had lowered a prize party from the Zeppelin to capture the Norwegian sailing ship Royal, still the only incidence in history in which a Zeppelin captured a surface ship. So he may have seemed the right man for a daring mission.

Zeppelin LZ 104/L59
After two false starts,she took off on November 21, 1917. She passed across Turkish airspace (allied with Germany) and headed out over the Mediterranean. Over Crete she encountered a thunderstorm and, as was standard practice, retracted her radio antenna to avoid lightning strikes. Meanwhile in East Africa, von Lettow-Vorbeck had suffered a defeat and was withdrawing into rough terrain where the Zeppelin could not land (he eventually crossed into Portuguese East Africa/Mozambique. The German Colonial Office tried to recall the L59 but with her antenna retracted she missed the signal.

Route of L59 in Africa and After
At 5;15 AM on November 22, L59 crossed the African coast near Mersa Matruh. As the morning sun heated the Sahara below, the airship experienced considerable turbulence; the heat of the days and bitter cold of the desert nights also affected the crew adversely, some even experiencing hallucinations.

She passed over the Farafra and Dakhla oases on course to parallel the Nile from Wadi Halfa. On that afternoon, however, her forward engine seized up. She continued to make good time on her remaining engine, but the forward engine controlled the power to her radio transmitter, so she was from that point on unable to transmit, though she could receive with some difficulty.

While the loss of the transmitter made it impossible to contact Germany, it may have had another benefit: British Intelligence knew the Germans planned to make the attempt, but were unsure of the timing; British fighters in Egypt and stations in Sudan and Kenya were ordered to watch for and intercept her, and were listening for her radio transmissions. Her inadvertent radio silence may have helped her evade detection.

Sundown on the 22nd found L59 over Sudan; she had reached the Nile and was following it southward. the sharp drop in desert temperatures at night caused her hydrogen bags to lose buoyancy and she lost altitude.

At 12:45 AM on the 23rd, L59 finally received the German recall order. There was some debate as some preferred to go on, but Holbock decided to turn back. Meanwhile, about 3 am, her loss of buoyancy due to the cold caused her to stall and nearly crash in the desert, but control was regained.

Finally, about 125 miles west of Khartoum, L59 turned around and headed for home.he had passed over Egypt and half of Sudan, and now had to pass over them again without being detected.

There has been some controversy over the recall message. British Intelligence operative Richard Meinertzhagen would claim that it was a British ruse, broadcast in German naval code and claiming von Lettow-Vorbeck had surrendered. The British may have transmitted recall messages (though days later they were still looking for Zeppelin in East Africa, so they apparently did not know where it was. The recall message was not about a surrender, but a retreat, and the message recorded in L59's log reportedly matches the one sent by the German Navy. Meinertzhagen's recent biographers have called into question his once famous diaries, which appear to be full of fabrications.

L59 successfully avoided detection and reached the Mediterranean. She was not quite home free, having another loss of altitude after night fell and nearly crashed in western Turkey, which was at least friendly ground, but recovered, and landed back at Jamboli at 7:45 am on November 25. She had flown for 95 hours and 4,200 miles without landing, a Zeppelin record that would stand until the great ocean-crossing passenger Zeppelins of the 1920s and 1930s.

Since the original plan was to dismantle L59 once in Africa, and with Lettow-Vorbeck now in Mozambique, the Germans had no immediate plans for L59, so they decided to modify it to carry bombs and keep it in the Mediterranean theater. On March 11-12, 1918, she raided Italy, bombing Naples.

Its next mission was an attempt to bomb Port Said and the Suez Canal.later in March reached a point about three miles from the target, when contrary winds forced a retreat. Unfavorable winds also forced abandoning the backup target, Suda Bay in Crete.

On April 7, 1918, L59, still commanded by Bockholt, took off from Jamboli to bomb the British base at Malta. She crossed the Straaits of Otranto and headed towards Malta. The German submarine UB-53, running on the surface, witnessed her passing low overhead; the U-Boat commander estimated her altitude at 210 meters and reported he could see the details of the Gondola.

A bit after the Zeppelin passed over, the U-Boat commander reported hearing two explosions and then witnessing a giant flame descending into the sea. She was listed as lost to an accident since neither the Italians nor the British claimed to have brought her down; none of the crew of 21, including Bockholt, survived.

Some in the German Navy's Zeppelin service reportedly suspected that UB-53 might have mistaken L59 for an Italian airship and shot her down, then realized their error. This is unproven, and UB-53 herself went down after hitting a mine in Otranto in August 1918.

That's the strange tale of Zeppelins in wartime in the Middle East. Tomorrow, the luxury liners of the sky era: Graf Zeppelin's 1929 and 1931 visits to the region.