The War Diaries

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Archive for the ‘Greece’ tag

The Heartbeat of the World

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Katerados village where I’ve been coming before or after many a war zone.
©2019 Derek Henry Flood

Thera- Having come to Greece, or the Hellenic Republic as it’s actually called in English or Hellas more colloquially, for over two decades, I have a deep attachment to the place. But my personal history and relationship is a very narrow one involving just Athens and the port town of Piraeus as they relate to going back and forth to the Cyclades island group. I always have the best of intentions of visiting other parts of the country but that rarely works out. Back in 2015 in the heady summer of refugees welcome, I had finally resolved to visit Thessaloniki (aka Salonika). After paying for an airbnb in the city centre up there, I didn’t realise there were no seats on either trains or buses as genuine refugees lumped in with political asylum seekers and throngs of economic migrants posing as either of the two former heading toward Macedonia (since renamed North Macedonia to appease Greek nationalists and thereby open the door to possible EU assimilation) in their collective exodus to reach Germany or Sweden . Then there were no flights from Athens as there was an election whereby people were going home to cast votes and see family. An extreme example to be sure, but alas I’m in my content, utterly familiar Cycladian rut.

The island I may be on at any given time is a signifier of age to some degree. For much of my youth, I traveled to Ios which is situated neatly midway between here and Naxos. The island was a notorious party place since perhaps the early 1980s and so by my arrival in the late 1990s its place as a rite of passage was well established. Its pin to the ancient world was that it is said to be the burial site of Homer. Homer, if one believes he was an actual individual person depending on what side of the Homeric question the reader falls on, was born in Ionic-era Smyrna (today’s Izmir in modern Turkey), lived on Chios in the North Aegean, and perished on the “insignificant island of Ios” according to the 1965 work of the late English classicist Geoffrey Stephen Kirk entitled Homer and the Epic: A Shortened Version of The Songs of Homer.

Ios never became as developed as some of the other islands here because it had no airport and was only promoted as a fairweather destination. It was the haunt of Australian backpackers and Irish seasonal workers as I remember it. But this little place known mostly for summertime debauchery was what lured me into Greece to begin with. At night, walking back from the Chora (town) to Mylopotas beach, I would hear the bells jingling around the necks of a goat flock in the nearby brush as I trundled down the donkey path toward wherever I had a bed for the night. Beyond the red bull-fueled (and brand new thing at the time) bacchanalia in the main square, I somehow felt connected to the ancients. The constellations shone above the shimmering blue sea to give the feel of an epic, uninterrupted continuum where history never ended.

The rugged beauty of Ios on the way to Manganari beach. How I loved this place.
©2005 Derek Henry Flood

This time around I ended up on an unplanned, extended stay on Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. It doesn’t have the mass global tourism of here or Mykonos owing at least partly to that it doesn’t have an international airport nor a reputation as a bucket list destination around the world. A more provincial feeling place, the tourists there were entirely mainland Greeks or Westerners and the island only had a tiny handful of male Pakistani migrant workers. Here on Thera, primarily referred to as Santorini (Santa Irini-Saint Irene), it is back to a more bustling cosmopolitan reality with huge numbers of Chinese, and now Indian, tourists who come for short, busy, selfie-laden stays. There used to be large numbers of Russians as well until sanctions were set in place for the Russian president’s war in Ukraine in 2014 and the ruble plummeted in due course. Though only a 1-2 hour ferry journey apart, it is as if Thera and Naxos are on two different planets in terms of the numbers and national demographics of visitors.

As it sit and type this rather simple blog post, the Turkish military and its Syrian Arab and/or Türkmen epigones are reportedly beginning to attack northern Syria. I’m constantly flipping back and forth from WordPress to Twitter to keep up/see what I’m missing. But Thera, as the late British novelist Lawrence Durrell once wrote about Corfu, with the encompassing Ionian sea “being like the heartbeat of the world itself.” For me that is the Aegean and Thera is my 21st century Corfu.

Written by derekhenryflood

October 9th, 2019 at 7:13 am

The Uncertainty

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A Popular Unity rally in central Athens this week. This party is a splinter from Syriza whose members felt betrayed the idea of railing against harsh austerity measures. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

A Popular Unity rally in central Athens this week. This party is a splinter from Syriza whose members felt betrayed the idea of railing against harsh austerity measures. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

Athens- I’ve just spent the last three weeks in Greece and it felt as if I visited two distinct worlds between the whitewashed and azure Cyclades and the gritty bustle of Athens on the mainland. Greece is enduring simultaneous crises with debt issue with its tug of war with the so-called troika of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission and the refugee-migrant situation located primarily in the Dodecanese island chain and the Macedonian border.

With 19 parties competing for votes in Greek parliament, the election, like to conflation of genuine war refugees (Syrians) with ordinary economic migrants (Bangladeshis) and political asylum seekers (Eritreans), is likely to be a muddled affair. Greece like other Mediterranean states, has a rather extreme political pendulum that swings widely between right and left. The middle ground often seems vacant, at least to an outside observer.

A leftist bookstore in the Exarcheia neighborhood in Athens. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

A leftist bookstore in the Exarcheia neighborhood in Athens. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

In the docile Cyclades however, the feel of political and economic instability is buffeted by the massive annual influx of summer tourism which now includes a significant number of BRIC nation visitors, many of whom are traveling the Mediterranean world for the first time. Where once stylish Japanese backpackers with shredded jeans and long hair mimicking the original Western travelers of the sexual revolution plodding along solo or in pairs, in their place today are huge Chinese tour groups from the emerging middle class donning flat colored outfits with huge visors and umbrellas to shade their fair skin from the unrelenting sun. The shift of the economic balance in northeast Asia coupled with the Greek isles’ appetite for mass market tourism has ushered in a new era. From the small prism of visiting Greece over two decades I have seen the world change.

Athens has a distinctly different, hyper politicized feel about it than the island chain to the south. The city is plastered with an unending stream of posters from anarchists, traditional communists, and anti-fascists supporting the YPG in northern Syria’s Jazira canton. Graffiti is ubiquitous as is mainstream Greek political bric-a-brac. But one thing united the people making a living from tourism on the islands and Athenians in a maze-like urban grid: a good number of people I spoke with seemed certain Greece was destined be booted out of the eurozone to return to the drachma. Several Greeks told me the inevitable currency reversion was on the horizon and that much of the uncertainty was not about if this would happen but when.

Popular Unity supporters make their voices heard. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

Popular Unity supporters make their voices heard and sing along to Greek patriotic songs being played (very loudly I must add) by the array of politicians onstage.. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

People were slightly less concerned about the refugees and migrants arrive by the thousands because of the meme that they all desired to be in central or northern Europe. of course I didn’t go to Kos, Lesvos, Samos, Rhodos are any of the islands directly affected so the sentiments in the Dodecanese may wary greatly from those in the more isolated Cyclades or cosmopolitan Athens. Whoever I spoke with in the last three weeks in the Hellenic Republic felt that their nation-state was going through a painful, humiliating period of political and economic uncertainty that must end at some point. Resentment is directed everywhere form Angela Merkel and Germany writ large, to eurocrats in Brussels, to corrupt local politicians who failed to protect Greek citizens from becoming so vulnerable to market diktats.

A giant banner of former PM Alexis Tsipiras hangs at dusk in downtown Athens. braces for snap parliamentary election on Sunday amidst the debt and migrant crises. The elections will then lead to the selection of a new Prime Minister following the resgination of former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in August.

A giant banner of former PM Alexis Tsipiras hangs at dusk in downtown Athens. Greece braces for snap parliamentary election on Sunday amidst the debt and migrant crises. The elections will then lead to the selection of a new Prime Minister following the resgination of Tsipras in August. ©2015 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

September 18th, 2015 at 9:12 am

Posted in Greece

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The 1980's-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein's daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus' Old City. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The 1980’s-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein’s daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus’ Old City. While I hung out there Iranian pilgrims quietly milled around the site in awe. I dug this image up while mentioning Damascus in my writing today. So many places I’ve traveled to may be inaccessible now due to war or the ability of regimes to google journalists perhaps. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”-Homer, The Odyssey

Thira- Back on Santorini after two months in Barcelona doing some long form writing and not near the bustle of any major city, although some of the drivers here think they’re racing to beat a red light in Athens. I’m keeping my head down from the constant news out of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, West Africa or even Scotland or Catalunya.

My Magyar friend Patrik gave me an impromptu motivational talking to in Barcelona mid-summer. He’s off to Turkmenistan this week to see the Darvaza Crater a.k.a. the Door/Gate to Hell and view the absurdities of Ashgabat. When I was in Turkmenistan 13 years ago I didn’t dare take my camera out of the hotel due to the pervasive paranoid there. That’s one place, like Damascus pictured above, I’d very much like to return to.

I read yesterday that cruise ship traffic to this island is down because of “political instability in the eastern Mediterranean.” Santorini is nowhere near Syria. Are people worried about Achille Lauro redux? It kind of reminds me of being in Budapest in 1999 and the drop in tourism was credited to the NATO campaign in Kosovo. I understand people being risk averse. But sometimes boundless precautions are a bit over the top. I doubt IS is going to suddenly overwhelm Tartus and then begin a Somali pirate economy. But what do I know.

The shooting down of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine may have seemed unlikely until it happened. Weird to think a place as tranquil as this is somehow affected by Syrian chaos in a butterfly effect for lack of a more original term.

On an unrelated note, my 2011 biography on Khalifa Haftar was cited in Libya: from Repression to Revolution: A Record of Armed Conflict and International Law Violations, 2011-2013 edited by M. Cherif Bassiouni, Emeritus Professor Law at DePaul University.  A 2012 article I authored from Mali for CNN was cited in Fragile Stabilität – stabile Fragilität (Fragile stability – stable Fragility) in a chapter written by Scott G. McNall, professor of sociology at the University of Kansas and George Basile, Professor of Practice, School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Very pleased to learn of these citations.

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today's inescapable news cycle. of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today’s inescapable news cycle. Sometimes one has to shut down and look into longer term trends.  of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Written by derekhenryflood

September 22nd, 2014 at 5:44 am

Posted in Europe,Syria

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The Futility of Battling Ideology at War’s End

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A massive piece of art in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section celebrating Bradley Manning, the Army private who passed a massive United States government document trove onto the anti-secrecy site Manning, currently in detention at Fort Leavenworth, disclosed information which today is classified as secret but will one day very likely simply be part of the collective historical record. Lessons from history are rarely if ever learned by government. Perhaps it is finally time to reexamine our methodology. The balance between state secrecy and open governance almost invariably tilts towards further secrecy. Yesterday's release of yet more Nixon tapes and testimony-more than 17 years after his death-reinforce this idea. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

New York- I saw one of these living, contrasting images on the subway here the other day where I wonder if I am the only one observant or nosey enough to notice these things. An older man boarded the train donning a black leather vest with a green outline of Viet Nam divided rather starkly between North and South by a US Marine Corps rank insignia. I was born the year Viet Nam’s indigenous war ended and two years after it effectively ended for the United States. The political fervor of the Johnson and early Nixon era, where fighting Communism was deemed as an existential fight for America’s values at home as well as the biggest external challenge to American supremacy in the Pacific and Eurasian rimland realms, defined the imagery of my upbringing. We were all “All Along the Watchtower.”  Standing next to this man was a smartly dressed, city chic thirty-ish woman reading a fresh paperback.

Curious to know what others are reading to pass the commute time, I glanced over her shoulder to see who the author was and noticed it was a novel by a Vietnamese writer called Aimee Phan. The book was titled The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, a post-Viet Nam war odyssey of sorts. Looking it up on Amazon when I got home, I saw it won’t be out for some time, meaning the reader on the subway either worked for the publisher or a media outlet provided an advance copy to review the book. So here was a man representing the blood, death, and tears of a futile war with an invisible, unreachable goal and next to him a confident post-feminist woman born after his war’s end reviewing a book putting the war more firmly in history rather than the still very present tense of the vest wearer. Both of them appeared to stand oblivious to one another.

Sure perhaps we can revise our view and say that the war was either to buffer the vehemently anti-Communist but far from democratic South Vietnamese state or overturn its Communist peer competitor in the North. But in the context of the era, the American public was often extolled of the virtue of defeating such an evil ideology. That must not be forgotten. In 30 years, will there be a young person reviewing a book-in whatever form books will be in 30 years (assuming they still exist)-written by a second generation Iraqi-American author putting that war in the appropriate perspective with a grizzled yet proud Iraqi Freedom veteran nearby looking off the other direction?

Militaries and sometimes insurgencies can be defeated on the battlefield with overwhelming force and a scorched earth campaigns respectively (think Operation Desert Storm for the former and the Filipino insurgency in Luzon during the Spanish-American war for the latter). Though it may be possible to let the gun barrels cool down once both sides have exhausted themselves through the implementation of physical and psychological violence, it is impossible to kill ideas. Ideas can only be bested by more innovative, successful ideas, not columns of tanks and harsh secrecy laws. This is the eternal struggle between the short and long views of the intellectually ill-equipped men who describe themselves as “history’s actors.”

Tens of thousands of Americans died fighting to contain the spread of Asian Communism in the Korean and Viet Nam wars. Countless Americans served in Europe during the Cold War to stem the westward geographic creep of Soviet Communism. Today in troubled European cities like Athens (pictured here) rife with economic disquiet, the symbols of Marxism and Leninsim have failed to disappear. One has to ask, what was it all for? And was it all really such a success? Or did American triumphalism confuse Soviet and Warsaw Pact economic state collapse with the death of an ideology? Did America provide a security umbrella in Europe for decades only to allow for the freedom to espouse Communist ideology in the EU's economically devastated "olive belt" countries? ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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November 11th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Sunrise on Thira

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Took a very early morning walk down to one of Santorini's volcanic beaches. Complete calm. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Something about the light in the Mediterranean keeps forcing me to return as often as I can after nearly two decades. There is just no other place like it on earth. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

Black sand, white surf, high contrast. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My footprint in the pure volcanic sand. Good times here. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

But the best thing about staying at Caveland? Puppies! Romping in my room even at 5am. I felt like C. Montgomery Burns in the episode '101 Greyhounds.' ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

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October 2nd, 2011 at 3:24 am

Posted in Europe

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From Paris to Piraeus

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Underneath the innards of Le Tour Eiffel. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood

My place on stage at Maison de la Chimie on Rue St Dominique.

Paris & Athens- Firstly I want to thank Jean-Luc Marret and the staff of his Fondation de la Recherche Stratégique for hosting me and allowing me to speak at their global terrorsim conference yesterday. The title of my talk was Western Boots on Eastern Ground: A Comparative History of Western Intervention in the Muslim World in the Post-911 Decade (Which I may very well transform into an upcoming article). My only regret is that I had virtually no time to enjoy the city on my sleepless, croissant fueled whirlwind. I was happy to be part of the trans-Atlantic political continuum if only for a moment in time.

Asia Times Online reproduced my article on Said Bahaji from the August edition of Militant Leadership Monitor.

I left a gleaming, well functioning Paris this morning, full of shimmering life and bustling with tourists to arrive in a sullen, deserted Athens. I found out upon arrival at the nearly empty airport that the Greek capital is bracing for yet another paralyzing transport strike to show union and neo-Communist displeasure at the austerity measure being imposed on them by the Papandreou government. It was told that if I had flown in tomorrow rather than tonight it would not have been possible for me to reach to port of Piraeus-where I am holed up in a budget hotel for the night to catch the morning ferry to Santorini-except if I had hitchhiked. The few locals I was able to talk said this next day of direct action is meek compared to others earlier this year where the port was blockaded and tourists were apparently prevented from reaching their intended ferries by burly union types. I was assured that ferries will be running despite the possibility that most of Athens proper will reach a tense standstill rather quickly.  But I have left my big DSLR behind on this trip in order to take away the temptation that is always there to jump into the fray (though I do have one hell of a point and shoot should the mood strike). Heading to Santorini at the outset of its long, quiet (I think?) off season to get my nose to the grindstone on some long overdue long form writing.

Written by derekhenryflood

September 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm