Archive for June 18, 2015

29 May 2015 Friday

Mehmet Tezcakin, a Turkish expert on banknotes and coins, found an Ottoman-era 50-kurus (piaster) banknote in a lot sent by a collector living in Germany for valuation.

An adviser to an international London-based auction company Spink, Tezcakin said the banknote was dated 1876 with a picture as a watermark.

“I cannot tell the excitement I felt at that moment as all the numismatists in the world are after this banknote,” said Tezcakin.

“That a banknote with a picture watermark was printed has been known for over a hundred years, but it had never before been seen,” said Tezcakin.  Few of such watermarked banknotes with pictures were minted.

He said when the banknote was held up to the light, a man is seen, whose eyebrows and nose resemble Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II inside a crescent on the banknote.

“During the Ottoman era, no picture could be found on banknotes for religious reasons,” he added.

Tezcakin said he made this historic find public with the permission of the collector who asked not to be named.

“This invaluable unique piece will be put up for sale abroad soon and, in particular, American, Arab and Israeli collectors will show interest in the banknote,” said Tezcakin.

He called for bringing the banknote, which he said was the most precious banknote of Turkish finance history, back to Turkey.

Tezcakin said he currently had 7,500 out of 12,000 Ottoman era banknotes.

Source: World Bulletin.


28 May 2015 Thursday

‘Rise and revival’ are the themes which will mark Istanbul’s upcoming celebration of the 562nd anniversary of its conquest by the Ottomans.

The city has moved its annual celebration for the first time from the traditional Balat district to the seaside Yenikapi area; events will be held on Saturday, rather than the actual anniversary date of Friday, to encourage more participation.

On May 29, 1453, Ottoman Fatih Sultan Mehmed  conquered Istanbul, then called Constantinople, from where the Byzantines had ruled the Eastern Roman Empire for more than a 1,000 years.

The conquest transformed the city, once the heart of the Byzantine realm, into the capital of the new Ottoman Empire.

A 450-strong team has been working hard to finish the final preparations at the Yenikapi venue, which is being furnished with advanced technology.

“We will hold unique and comprehensive celebrations, which will be followed by all Istanbulites, all citizens in Turkey and foreigners on TV,” Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas told reporters on Wednesday. “We want to have an atmosphere where our citizens share the enthusiasm comfortably and peacefully.”

According to the municipality’s program, the event will start at 5.30 p.m. local time with attendance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

State officials — political, military and administrative — and political parties have also been invited to the event, said Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin. “I hope it will be a celebration worthy of its meaning,” he said.

The event comes one week before the country’s 25th general election to be held on June 7.

During the event, a 3D film about the conquest will be screened on a giant TV.

An Ottoman janissary band, which will consist of 562 people for this anniversary, will play conquest songs.

Turkey’s national aerobatic team – the Turkish Stars – is scheduled to perform a special show in the sky.

Speeches to be delivered during the event will be translated into English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian and sign language.

One-and-a-half million people are expected to attend, where they will enter through 120 gates amid tight security.

On that day, the coastline and historic walls of Istanbul, which were built by the Byzantines to protect the city, will be illuminated. Firework and laser shows are scheduled to color the area. Pyrotechnics will also be used during the celebrations.

The Panorama 1453 History Museum, near the city’s historic walls and which depicts the conquest with a 360-degree panoramic painting, will also present commemorative coins to every visitor on the anniversary day.

The 562nd visitor will get a painting depicting the conquest.

With the conquest of Istanbul, a new era started politically and administratively in Turkey and the wider world. Sultan Mehmed II became a commander that the Prophet Mohammed mentioned decades ago.

“One day, Constantinople will be conquered. How wonderful and blessed are the commander of its conquest and his soldiers!” he had said.

Source: World Bulletin.


June 01, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — For decades, the mere mention of Tadmur Prison was enough to send chills down a Syrian’s spine.

The notorious facility in the desert of central Syria was where thousands of dissidents were reported to have been beaten, humiliated and systematically tortured for opposing the Assad family’s rule. This weekend, it was demolished by the Islamic State group, which took over the site near the ancient town of Palmyra last month, bringing mixed emotions from many Syrians who wanted it to remain standing so future generations would know its horrors.

“They destroyed our memories, our catastrophe and the walls that we leaned on and told our stories to,” said Ali Aboudehn, a Lebanese who spent four harrowing years in Tadmur. “They destroyed the land that absorbed our blood because of torture.”

The sprawling prison — once one of Syria’s darkest secrets — is located a few miles east of Palmyra, a desert oasis famous for its Roman-era colonnades, temples and artifacts. There were fears that the Islamic State militants might destroy the 2,000-year-old heritage site.

Instead, over the weekend, they focused their destructive efforts on Tadmur Prison. The extremists released photos that showed men carrying plastic containers apparently filled with explosives. A video showed parts of the prison in rubble.

Osama al-Khatib, a Syrian opposition activist who fled Palmyra for Turkey three weeks ago, said the militants destroyed only the part of the prison that held members of the military, including army defectors. He said the facility where political prisoners were held is still intact. His report could not be independently verified.

Located about 250 kilometers northeast of Damascus, Tadmur Prison is part of a walled-off military complex that includes military and civilian units as well as an air base. Former prisoners say it could hold up to 7,000 inmates, although the number fell in recent years. By the time IS swept into Palmyra last month, the inmates had been moved elsewhere and the prison was empty.

Under President Bashar Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, the prison held mostly members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, pro-Saddam Hussein Baathists and loyalists of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The bloodiest incident in Tadmur’s history came in June 1980, a day after members of the Muslim Brotherhood staged a failed assassination attempt against Hafez Assad. In retaliation, troops belonging to Assad’s brother Rifaat reportedly entered the prison and shot up to 1,000 prisoners who belonged to the Brotherhood.

Al-Khatib, who was not born at the time, said his parents told him about the incident, recalling that they heard shooting for much of that night. Afterward, the government took bulldozers from Palmyra to dig mass graves in the nearby Oweimer Mountain just north of the town, he said.

“People would pass by the prison, but no one dared look inside,” al-Khatib said. Aboudehn recalls the first day he entered Tadmur in 1988, nearly a year after he was detained in Damascus for allegedly having contacts with Israel, Syria’s archenemy.

He had to walk blindfolded and handcuffed between two rows of men who kicked, pushed and beat him with clubs and metal rods. His nose was broken and he bled profusely. Aboudehn showed the torture marks on both his legs, as well as his permanently dislocated right arm.

He recalls the warden telling a gathering of detainees shortly after they arrived: “You have come to your end, there is no mercy here. God is prohibited from entering the jail. We are God. We decide if you live or die.”

Aboudehn said he was regularly beaten and humiliated during the four years and eight months he spent there. The jailers never referred to him with his real name, calling him “No. 13” instead. He was held in a cell with about 150 inmates who all shared one bathroom. For food, each prisoner received three loaves of Arabic bread, an olive and a teaspoon of marmalade a day, as well as one egg that was shared among five inmates.

Prisoners were completely cut off from the outside world, Aboudehn said, recalling that the first time he knew the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed was in 1993, well after those events happened.

Aboudehn broke down when he recalled looking through a keyhole and seeing a soldier urinating in the food that he and those in his cell were about to eat. He refused to eat but didn’t have the courage to tell the others what he had seen for fear of being killed by his jailers. Instead, he told his fellow inmates that he wasn’t feeling well.

“I decided I will not say anything then, but one day I will go out and tell what the regime used to do with us,” said Aboudehn, bursting into tears. “May God curse this regime and those people who despised humanity!”

When he was moved to Sadnaya Prison, a facility near Damascus where dissidents also were known to have suffered mistreatment, he said it was like “a five-star hotel” in comparison. Aboudehn, who heads the Committee of Lebanese in Syrian Prisons, regretted the destruction of Tadmur by the Islamic State militants.

“They demolished a historic symbol that should have stayed, because in every room there were people who were killed,” he said. A 2001 report by Amnesty International titled “Syria: Torture, Despair and Dehumanization in Tadmur Military Prison” catalogued routine abuses against prisoners, including the use of iron bars, whips and cables.

“Tadmur Prison appears to have been designed to inflict the maximum suffering, humiliation and fear on prisoners and to keep them under the strictest control by breaking their spirit,” it said. Blowing up the facility may have been part of attempts by the extremists to gain popularity among those who suffered at the hands of the Syrian government. But residents and former prisoners called it a huge mistake.

Yassin Al Haj Saleh, who spent 16 years in Syrian prisons and wrote a book about his experiences, said he was saddened by the news, “as if they have destroyed my home.” “I dreamt that I would visit it someday. … I had imagined that visiting the prisons where I spent time would serve as closure,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“The destruction of a prison that was the symbol of our slavery is the destruction of our freedom as well. Of course, it’s a huge service to the Assad regime of slavery,” he added. Al-Khatib said he and his friends used to dream of entering the prison one day and documenting what happened inside.

“Now that Daesh destroyed the crime scene, it is more difficult to know what happened,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “I am totally against destroying it, although it represents a dark page of Palmyra and Syria’s history. It should have stayed as a witness to this dark period.”

Syrian opposition figure Radwan Ziadeh wrote on his Facebook page that Tadmur Prison “should have been kept as a museum for future generations as evidence of degradation of human beings during the Assad rule.”

“Daesh turned it into rubble today.”

29 May 2015 Friday

The Moroccan government is in the process of building a 100-kilometer fence along the Morocco-Algeria border as a result of the complicated relationship between the two countries, which have closed land borders since 1994, when Morocco made visas a requirement for Algerian travelers.

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane said on Tuesday that the fence finally came to be following “differences” between Morocco and Algeria.

Morocco has repeatedly accused Algeria of being the source of the illegal hashish, contraband gasoline, and psychotropic substances found in the country.

In addition, Morocco criticizes Algeria’s regulation of irregular emigration and its tolerance for Syrian and other Sub-Saharan emigrants to enter the country.

The Moroccan government is also working on adding another 14 kilometers to the fence.

Source: World Bulletin.


29 May 2015 Friday

North of the holiday resort region of Issyk-Kul region, any speech making reference to Islam has been forbidden.

Local media reports that this law introduced by the local Biskek government. The report mentioned that “any form of religious preaching or sermons by visitors in the touristic region of Issyk Kul is against the law. Any religious sermons and religious education are to be performed by Islamic vocational preachers”.

Bishkek government officials also said that local towns and villages have been given orders to prohibit the visit of any preachers or anyone who will give sermons to prevent the danger of a religious nature.

It it has been common in Kyrgyzstan and other independent nations of Central Asia for people from the Tablig Jamaat and Hizbut-Tahrir representatives to be active in the preaching of Islam.

Source: World Bulletin.


29 May 2015 Friday

Qatar will open an embassy in Baghdad, Iraq’s foreign minister said on Friday, in the latest sign of improving relations between Gulf Arab countries and Iraq.

Tensions between the Muslim-ruled states of the Gulf and Iraq have eased since Prime Minister Haider Abadi took office last year.

A rapprochement could help strengthen a regional alliance against ISIL militants who have seized vast areas in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.

“We have agreed to open the Qatari embassy in Baghdad to begin resuming diplomatic work,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told a news conference.

Saudi Arabia also signalled its intention to reopen an embassy in Baghdad earlier this year and has invited Abadi to visit the kingdom.

Some Gulf states have viewed Iraq as being too close to their main regional rival, power Iran.

Source: World Bulletin.


June 15, 2015

MYTILENE, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including women and children, protested Monday on the eastern Greek island of Lesvos, demanding better living conditions, the faster processing of their registration and to be housed separately from Afghan arrivals after a fight broke out in one of the island’s camps.

Lesvos has been bearing the brunt of a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa crossing from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands. More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in Greece already this year, compared to 6,500 in the first five months of last year.

The United Nations’ refugee agency says half of all arrivals in Greece are to Lesvos, where they either sail to shore or are picked up at sea. On Monday, the Greek coast guard said it had picked up 901 people between Friday and Monday in 27 separate incidents at sea off the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Agathonisi, Farmakonisi, Pserimos and Kos.

The refugees in Lesvos said the fight broke out in a rudimentary camp used to house the refugees and migrants and that police who intervened beat both groups indiscriminately. At least three people were injured and treated at a local hospital, a doctor there said.

About 300 people marched to the island’s main port of Mytilene to protest, saying the living conditions in the camp were intolerable, with no electricity or access to decent sanitation or water. “It’s not a camp. It’s a disaster. It’s a zoo,” said Sameer, an Iraqi who arrived on a small boat with dozens of others from the Turkish coast three days earlier. “There is fighting every day. We can’t protect our people, our women.”

Sameer, who would give only his first name for fear of jeopardizing his registration process, said none of those protesting knew how long it would take to get their papers. Migrants arriving in Greece from countries at war or in conflict are given refugee status and renewable papers that allow them temporary residence. But the sheer numbers arriving daily has led to a backlog, with some spending days either sleeping on the streets or in camps waiting to be processed.

“We don’t want to fight with anyone. We just want our papers,” said Faadi, a Syrian from Damascus who also would only give his first name for fear his family would face persecution. “We are all exhausted. We can’t wash. We can’t shave.”

Authorities later moved the protesting Syrians and Iraqis to a larger camp on the island.

June 18, 2015

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Muslims around the world will mark the start of Ramadan on Thursday, a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar and a moon-sighting methodology that can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramadan a day or two apart. However, this year religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Indonesia and most other parts of the world announced based on their sightings of the moon that daily fasting would begin Thursday.

Authorities in Pakistan have yet to announce the sighting of the moon. During Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset for the entire month. A single sip of water or a puff of a cigarette is considered enough to invalidate the fast.

The fast is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate. Muslims often give to charities during the month, and mosques and aid organizations organize free meals for the public every night.

Fasting also is seen as a way to physically and spiritually detoxify through exercising self-restraint. Sexual intercourse between spouses also is off-limits during the day, while Muslims also are encouraged to be mindful of their behavior and to avoid gossiping, cursing and quarreling.

This year, Ramadan falls during the summer, which means long and hot days of fasting. Mainstream scholars advise Muslims in northern European countries with 16 hours or more of daylight to follow the cycle of fasting of the nearest Muslim majority nation to them to avoid impossibly long hours without food or water.

Chairwoman Pia Jardi at the Finnish Muslim Union in Helsinki said Muslims there will be fasting for 21 hours and have just three hours — or even less — for eating, drinking and prayer before the sun rises again.

“The good thing is that you’ll eat with moderation and that you’ll stick very much into the true, simple spirit of Ramadan,” Jardi said. “Long fasting time means you rarely want to eat heavily.” In a statement, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle extended their “warmest greetings to all those observing the month of fasting in the United States and around the world.”

The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims traditionally break their fast like the Prophet Muhammad did around 1,400 years ago, with a sip of water and some dates at sunset. Then family and friends gather for a large feast. Part of the evening is often spent at the mosque in prayers called “taraweeh.”

Children, the elderly, the sick, women who are pregnant or menstruating and people traveling are not obligated to fast. Non-Muslims or adult Muslims not observing the fast who eat in public during the day in Ramadan can be fined or even jailed in some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, home to large Western expatriate populations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity and performing the hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr.

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, contributed to this report.