January 27, 2010

A Special Event in Elmhurst

Domenic Giampino (center) posing with his students 
Photos courtesy of Niccoló Graffio
By Niccolò Graffio
Queens, NYC (January 26) – Yesterday was a milestone in more ways than one.Domenic G. Giampino, a Sicilian-American activist based here in Queens, had previously begun teaching an introductory course in the Sicilian language (probably the first of its kind in the United States).  Monday, January 25 was the day his students received their certificates for successful completion of the course.  Yesterday was also the first time yours truly decided to go out and “push the flesh” (i.e. get off my rear end and actually meet people) since making the commitment a few months back to take a proactive approach in helping to disseminate and perpetuate the culture and history of my people.
Both of these milestones occurred at the same location: Italian Charities of America, 83-20 Queens Blvd. Elmhurst, Queens.  I am grateful to Domenic for informing me of this event, and for introducing this neophyte to some wonderful people.  I am also grateful to the folks at Italian Charities of America for maintaining an island for the cultures of the peoples of Italy in the veritable ocean of cultures and peoples that is the City of New York.
The evening started off with an important talk by Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa, the Founder and President of the Italian-American Museum in Manhattan (the only museum of its kind in the country!).  Dr. Scelsa gave those in attendance a brief history on the activities of the museum, as well as its plans for the future.  He also updated us on the movement to drive the racist, anti-Southern Italian effluvium known as Jersey Shore from the airwaves.
Domenic Giampino awards certificate of completion
to student Rose Ann Pusateri-Rowe
Sadly, the news at this time is not good.  Dr. Scelsa informed us the show is so popular that for every sponsor we scare off, another is waiting in the wings to take its place.  It appears H.L. Mencken was correct when he wrote: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”  Rather than discourage me, however, this only solidifies my resolve to run that show off the air!
Immediately following Dr. Scelsa’s talk, Domenic invited his students up to receive their certificates of completion.  It was noteworthy that three of the seven students were obviously in their early 20s.  A hopeful sign for the future, perhaps?
Domenic Giampino posing with "the flag”
Afterwards, the folks at Italian Charities held a raffle while delicious finger food was served.  It was during this time I mingled and got to know some of the others in attendance, including Vincent Titone, an operatic tenor, and organizer of a popular Sicilian Meetup group.
Needless to say, I should have done this years ago!  Rather than cry about what should have been, though, it’s time for me to get busy.  This foray into ethno-cultural issues is as much a learning experience for me as it is a teaching one.The more I spoke with those in attendance last night the more I realized how much I still needed to learn, starting with my own people’s language!

My Name is Not Guido

By Lucian
Recently there has been a lot of debate about the legitimacy of the term “Guido” and the lifestyle it is supposed to represent, much of it stemming from the MTV show "Jersey Shore." Some have claimed that the term is either inoffensive, or the reaction to it is overblown. It doesn’t surprise me that many of those defending the term are somehow connected to the media, since it is the media’s use of the term that has caused so much noise lately. It is difficult to argue that something is not offensive, because as long as enough people find it so, it becomes so. In the case of a term like “Guido,” we have precedents.
Guido is an Italian name, like Mario or Carlo. When you use a single name to label an entire ethnic group, it becomes derogatory; for example, when Irish workers are called “Paddy,” or when Hispanic men are addressed as “Pedro” when it is clearly not their name. Those claiming to be “Guidos” are not the only ones addressed that way, the term has been used to describe working-class Italians, and sometimes Italians in general.
As I have said many times before, many other ethnic groups do not normally tolerate things like this and I respect them for it. People who say that we can't compare ourselves to other groups have no right to dictate to us. No one has a monopoly on suffering, it isn't a contest and should have no bearing on whether or not something is offensive. Also, those who complain about censorship can be very selective about their targets; I do not see why Italians can be offended when other groups cannot. When different standards are used for different people then any claim of fairness or equality has no substance.
The defamation of Italians, especially Southerners, is so consistent that it cannot be ignored. The defense that "Italians are OK with it" isn’t accurate because many of us are not, and it doesn’t make it any less derogatory because some of us accept the abuse.
Ethnic or racial slurs are sometimes used by their target communities among themselves, particularly in music or comedy. I don’t happen to agree with the practice but I have noticed that if outsiders use the same terms they are usually held accountable for it, and they’ll be lucky if an apology is enough to settle the insult.
Any Italians who identify with being “Guidos” should take a lesson from this. Using the term with each other is one thing, even if it is in poor taste, but there is no good excuse for allowing other groups to disparage them with it.
In Brooklyn we used to use the terms “Cugine” or “Goomba” to describe the fellows who dressed a certain way and listened to disco music, but both terms have other, older meanings. If my memory serves me correctly, some of these guys weren’t even Italian. I understand that a form of this sub-culture survives today with modern club music, but claiming that it represents Italian culture is like saying that punk rockers represent English culture.
The "Cugines" that I remember were mostly good people, but the "Guido" stereotype that I'm seeing in the media today mocks them. It is regrettable that some of them are willing to adopt an ethnic slur as a label. What they wear and what music they listen to is none of my business, but neither is it my cultural heritage.

January 22, 2010

Meridionalismo: a Hellenic perspective

Guest Op-Ed
Submitted by Ioannis Fidanakis

As a Hellenic-American many may wonder why I would have an opinion on what Italians refer to as meridionalismo. What these people do not realize is that my mother is of partial Southern Italian descent, a Riso descendent from a line which fled Italy due to religious persecution. It is with this Southern Italian heritage combined with my Hellenic roots which gives me what I would like to perceive as a sincere and unique perspective on the issue of Southern Italian independence compared to my contemporaries. Like early Meridionalists, I agree with the belief that the forced unification of Italy was a form of military and economic colonialism, but I go further. I go as far as to declare it also a form of cultural colonialism, a form of colonialism that has taken an entire people and replaced their very identity with that of an artificial nationality.

Today the various Southern Italian autonomist movements cover the entire political spectrum, yet fail to gain popular support and realize their dream of self-determination. They are fragmented and continue to hold on to arguments that will never result in the realization of their dream. There is the Movement for Autonomies, the Sicilian AllianceSud, the Southern Action LeagueNew Sicily, and the most promising Lega Sud Ausonia. Why would I call Lega Sud Ausonia the most promising one may I ask? The answer is simple; they have at least developed the idea of an independent ‘Ausonia’. Although I may not agree with the name of this state or the identity they are attempting to establish, they are at least heading in the right direction.

These small regionalist political parties are not alone though in their vision of an independent or autonomous Southern Italy. The other major players in this cause are those who are dedicated to the restoration of the Bourbon Kingdom of Two Sicilies. The last true independent Southern state, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies holds obvious potential as a rallying call for any type of movement which dreams of Southern Independence. The Neo-Bourbon movements are also very promising with their objective of reconstructing pride in being Southern Italian.  However attempting to create an identity around the Bourbon Monarch is just as weak as trying to base one on ancient italic tribes to establish a different identity or origin from Northern Italians.

The only solid and logical argument Southern Italian patriots could use which would result in the realization of Southern autonomy or independence would be to harness and reestablish their Italiote and Siceliote identities. Who were the Italiotes and Siceliotes you may ask? They were the pre-Roman Hellenic populations of Magna Graecia. Now all genetic evidence aside, which proves the shared heritage of Southern Italians and Hellenes, the Italiote consciousness establishes a distinct ethno-cultural identity, hence the strongest available strategy for Southern Italian patriots.

The Italiote argument merges creditable ancient and medieval claims creating the only one continuous legacy that justifies southern aspirations for autonomy or independence. It is supported by ancient Hellenic colonization of Southern Italy and the rise of independent Italiote city-states that rivaled those of mainland Hellas and fully participated in Pan-Hellenic games and ceremonies. An argument strengthened by the waves of Hellenic immigration during the early middle ages and after the fall of Constantinople. In fact one could even argue that Italiote claim could rival in legitimacy to that of the Neo-Bourbons. Thanks to the Catepanate, the former province of the Eastern Roman Empire that was comprised of southern Italy. Although not as recent as the Neo-Bourbons claims it does help to establish a continuous claim from ancient times up until the middle ages something in which the Neo-Bourbons are unable to provide, since they have no ancient legacy in Southern Italy.

The Hellenic character of Southern Italy through genetics, culture and strong linguistic influences in southern Italian dialects demonstrate the potential of the dormant Italiote consciousness. A consciousness that has a distinct and indigenous identity to the region from ancient until modern times as the dominant cultural, political and linguistic identity, unlike the Neo-Bourbons whose claims are based on a brief period of control and lack any ancient or indigenous claims. This continuous existence and dormant consciousness is still evident through the existence of Katoitaliotika or Grekanika, the modern indigenous Hellenic dialect of Magna Graecia still spoken by those who have not been fully Italianized. The struggle for the survival of the language of Magna Graecia goes hand in hand with the cultural colonialism suffered due to the North’s continued occupation.

In Salento, speakers of Katoitaliotika are recognized by the Italian parliament as an ethnic and linguistic minority. When this is considered, the Italiote claim offers one thing the Neo-Bourbons or minor regionalist parties do not, a precedent for instant minority recognition which would strengthen claims for autonomy. By far the awakening of the Italiote consciousness is the most logical strategy Southern Italian patriots could adopt. Not Lega Sud Ausonia, but rather Lega Sud Magna Graecia, adopting the cause of saving the Katoitaliotika language and pushing for its usage on administrative levels, in literature and ecclesiastical matters.

Today such a strategy could be taken on by first building bridges between Neo-Bourbon movements and regionalist parties with organizations like La Ionica, a cultural association for speakers of Katoitaliotika which attempts to protect bilingualism. Next by adopting the Italiote or Siceliote identity, for the struggle is larger than church affiliation or political ideology. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian-Democratic or Monarchist, it’s the consciousness you identify with and the language you speak that are at the heart of it all. The only hope of autonomy or independence lies on Southern Italian patriots’ willingness to immerse themselves in their Hellenic heritage and relight the flame of Italiote consciousness.

[Mr. Fidanakis occasionally writes about Southern Italy on his blog, Enotitan Revolution. He is also the former president of the Panthracian Union of America "Orpheus" and a member of the Hellenic League of America HLA and Cyprus Action Network of America.]

* * *
A RESPONSE

I was very interested in Mr. Fidanakis' strategy of Italiote/Siceliote identity, and the idea of preserving the language of Katoitaliotika. Southern autonomy is not just a political or cultural concept but an ethnic one, and language is an important part of it. The suppression of native languages is a hallmark of the cultural leveling that is symptomatic of both Communist and Imperialist ideologies, neither of which are friendly to ethnic identitarians.

I also agree in principal with most of what he said; however, it must be recognized that while the Neo-Bourbons may not represent a majority of Southern Italians, they certainly represent a significant number of activists that are fighting for Southern autonomy. I myself am not a monarchist, but I have to admit that in most respects I find myself allied with Neo-Bourbons. I would also add that I do not believe that we are dealing with an either/or situation. The concept of Italiote is not incompatible with that of the Neo-Bourbons. It correctly portrays Southern Italians as an ancient and distinct people, a people who were last ruled independently by the Bourbon dynasty.

Katoitaliotika should be preserved and treasured for its cultural and political value, but so should other indigenous tongues, such as Sicilian. It may be strategically ideal to choose one as a rallying point, but the various peoples of Southern Italy who embrace their regional heritage are attached to their "dialects," and may not feel entirely comfortable with such an action. Katoitaliotika needs to be marketed as something to complement their heritage, and not appear as something to replace it with. After all, with a history as long and rich as the South, we have a lot to work with.

The idea of using our ancient heritage as a bridge between the Neo-Bourbon movements and the regionalist parties is excellent, and Mr. Fidanakis is quite correct in asserting that our ethnic identity is larger than our church affiliation or political ideology. I do believe that most of the secessionist movements in Southern Italy are doing more to promote their common cultural heritage than Mr. Fidanakis realizes, especially the Partito del Sud, which he neglected to mention. However, when it comes to such efforts more is always better. I would like to thank him for his efforts to familiarize both Southern Italians and the Hellenic people with their common ancestral roots.

– Lucian

January 19, 2010

A Most Illustrious Corpse: Judge Paolo Borsellino Remembered*

Judge Paolo Borsellino
By Niccolò Graffio
“Times of heroism are generally times of terror.” – R. W. Emerson: Heroism, 1841
Paolo Borsellino was born in Piazza Magione, a middle-class neighborhood in the heart of the city of Palermo, Sicily on January 19, 1940. His parents, both pharmacists, were supporters of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and its exploits in Africa. This was a factor in his decision to study recent history as well as his later political orientation.

Growing up, he befriended a fellow soul who, like himself, would one day become a legend in the Italian judiciary: Giovanni Falcone. Years later, Falcone would once recall how he and Borsellino would spend their youth in Palermo’s popular Albergheria quarter playing ping-pong with other young men who grew up to become Mafia capos.

While studying law at the University of Palermo, Borsellino joined the Fronte Universitario d'Azione Nazionale (FUAN), a right-wing student organization affiliated with the neo-Fascist Movimento Italiano Sociale (Italian Social Movement). The soft-spoken Borsellino never tried to hide his political affiliations. Unlike many other magistrates around the world, he never allowed his ideas to get in the way of his work, and his honesty and integrity won him the trust and admiration of all his colleagues, including those on the other side of the political spectrum. Falcone (whose own politics were slightly left of center) once said of him: ‘One can trust Borsellino and he is a tireless worker.’ 

He graduated with honors in 1962, passing the judiciary exam the following year. In 1968 he married Angela Piraino Leto, the daughter of the President of the Sicilian Tribunal. In the interim he worked in many cities in Sicily, building up his reputation as a tough Mafia fighter. In 1975 he transferred to Palermo with another tough anti-Mafia judge, Rocco Chinnici, to begin in earnest his campaign against the Cosa Rostra.


It was Chinnici who, together with Paolo Borsellino, Giovanni Falcone, Giuseppe Di Lello and Leonardo Guarnotta, created the Anti-Mafia Pool; a group of prosecuting magistrates who worked closely together sharing information about the activities of the Cosa Nostra. The pool was created to prevent any one person from becoming the sole institutional memory and a sole target.

The strategy devised by these brave men was a simple but highly effective one. They would round up dozens if not hundreds of Mafiosi at a time, from the capofamiglie to the soldati, and try them simultaneously. The theory being that by doing so they would be able to chip away at the wall of omertà that surrounded the Cosa Nostra. The strategy would prove to be successful, but at a cost. The Sicilian Mafia was far more ruthless in its dealings with law enforcement than its American cousin. This no doubt was the pivotal factor in Benito Mussolini’s decision to unleash Cesare Mori, “The Iron Prefect of Sicily”, on the Cosa Nostra in 1926.

The 1980s would be remembered in Sicily as the “Years of Lead”. Rocco Chinnici was murdered (together with his two bodyguards and the concierge of his apartment block) in a car bomb explosion in Palermo on July 29, 1983. He was replaced as head of the Anti-Mafia Pool by Antonino Caponnetto. In spite of Chinnici’s murder, the activities of the Anti-Mafia Pool proceeded with full steam.

One of the first “big fish” brought down subsequent to the death of Chinnici was Vito Ciancimino, the former public works commissioner for the city of Palermo and the architect of the infamous “Rape of Palermo”, the systematic destruction of numerous landmarks around the city so that construction contracts could be “awarded” to Mafia-owned construction companies. The end result is that now large swaths of Palermo are nothing but an ugly concrete jungle. Though never actually convicted of any major crimes, Ciancimino was placed under “house arrest” in 1984 and allowed to live out his life in retirement, but never able to dabble in politics again.

Borsellino and Falcone were no fools. Both knew their days were numbered; yet they were unwavering in their dedication to what they were doing. In fact, they even joked about it! Falcone once wrote: “My colleague Paolo Borsellino came to see me at home. 'Giovanni,' he said, 'You must give me the combination of your safe, otherwise we'll never be able to open it when they kill you.’”

The magnum opus of the Anti-Mafia Pool was the so-called “Maxi-Trial” (Italian: Maxiprocesso) that began on February 10, 1986 near the Ucciardone (the Palermo prison) in a specially constructed bunker. The trial lasted until December 16, 1987. The most critical evidence presented hinged on the testimony of Tommaso Buscetta, a former Mafioso turned pentito (informant). Of the 474 defendants, both those present and those tried in absentia, 360 were convicted. Borsellino and Falcone continued to handle the case even after the end of the trial, turning down appeals and even getting previously successful appeals overturned. This sealed their fates.

On May 23rd, 1992 Giovanni Falcone, together with his wife Francesca (herself a magistrate) and three policemen were blown to bits by a powerful bomb that had been placed in trenches dug by the side of the road they were travelling over. Just two days previously, Borsellino, in his last video interview, spoke out about the possible links between the Cosa Nostra and rich (Northern) Italian businessmen such as Milanese billionaire and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Surprisingly (said with tongue in cheek), the interview was given little media coverage on Italian TV (half of which, by the way, is owned by Berlusconi). On July 19, 1992, less than two months after the murder of his dear friend, Paolo Borsellino was himself murdered in a car bomb attack, along with five police officers.

The murders of Falcone and Borsellino provoked an outcry among citizens all over Italy against the activities of the Cosa Nostra, and numerous arrests shortly followed. There can be no doubt the “Maxi-Trial” and subsequent arrests and convictions have put a crimp on the activities of the Sicilian Mafia, but what good is attacking the Cosa Nostra when organizations like the Camorra, Mala del Brenta and ‘Ndrangheta are waiting in the wings to take its place? Only a concerted attack on all these parasites (and the corrupt politicos and businessmen who protect them) will solve the problem once and for all. Sadly, that doesn’t appear likely as our beloved country, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, has long been submerged into the corrupt morass known as the Republic of Italy, which itself has been submerged into the globalist monstrosity known as the EU.

Gangsterism, together with its twin sister, Corruption, once having rooted themselves into a society, are almost impossible to root out, at least with the half-hearted methods currently employed by the effete West. If history is any guide (as it usually is), any society that wishes to free itself from these twin evils must first see them for what they are – sociological cancers. As any doctor will tell you, the “gold standard” in cancer care is surgery. The surest way to cure any cancer is to cut it out of the body entirely!

If we in the West are willing to put aside for one moment our sense of superiority about ourselves we would have to admit we need to look elsewhere for solutions to these twin problems. It is the opinion of this author the only nation on earth today with a sane national policy towards the problems of gangsterism and corruption is the tiny Republic of Singapore. Though surrounded by nations riddled with organized crime and corruption, Singapore is remarkably free of both.

Why? The Singaporeans maintain a zero-tolerance policy to crime. Capital punishment is meted out to the worst offenders (regardless of the perpetrator’s background) while long prison stretches await many of the rest. The Singaporeans also do not hesitate to administer corporal punishment (in the form of a good old-fashioned caning) to less serious offenders. Though Western elitists often pish-posh Singapore’s criminal justice system, or decry it as “barbaric”, the results speak for themselves.

Critics of the rebirth of Due Sicilie maintain such an entity would invariably wind up being the poorest country in Europe. I say the existence of Singapore, a tiny country with virtually no natural resources, proves otherwise! In addition to being a relatively crime-free society, its citizens enjoy a fairly high standard of living. If we employ many of the methods they use there is no reason why we cannot do the same! We have the talent, as previous articles posted on this blog should clearly have shown!

The choice, as always, is ours. Do we take control of our own national destiny, our own future as an ethnos, or do we leave it in the hands of those who clearly have shown themselves utterly incompetent (or worse) to the task? If the answer is the latter then men like Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone died for nothing!

*- “Illustrious Corpses” (or Excellent Cadavers) in Italian slang refers to personages (judges, prosecutors, police officers) murdered by the Mafia.

Further reading:
1) Excellent Cadavers (1995) Alexander Stille, Vintage.
2) The Antimafia: Italy’s fight against organized crime (1999), Alison Jamieson, Palgrave Macmillan

3) Cosa Nostra (2004) John Dickie, Coronet

January 13, 2010

The Song of the Shepherds in NYC

Musicians (L-R): Wilson Montouri (guitar), Susan Ebenz (wind instruments), John LaBarbera (guitar, battante), 11 year-old Sebastion (violin) and Antonio Romano (Calabrian bagpipe).  (Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last Sunday I had the good fortune of attending Alessandra Belloni's rendition of La Cantata dei Pastori (The Song of the Shepherds) at the Church of Most Precious Blood, in Manhattan's Little Italy.  It was only fitting that this classic Neapolitan tale be told in the heart of this once vibrant Neapolitan neighborhood at the shrine to San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples.  Credit must be given to the Neapolitan Federation and the Region of Campania for organizing the show and generously providing a wonderful meal afterwards.  

In this age of high tech special effects and over the top theatrics it was refreshing to see a performance reminiscent of traditional Opera Buffa.  One gets the feeling that we witnessed a show performed the same way it has been for centuries in Campania.  The performers' passion and talent, not technology, breathe life into the story and created a wonderful illusion. 

Ms. Belloni, an accomplished percussionist and vocalist (mezzo soprano), was accompanied by her usual ensemble of talented musicians and performers.  The troupe is a rare and unique example of Southern Italian folk music outside the Mezzogiorno.  In addition to this, they put on the most spectacular performances, filled with capricious dance, acting and story telling.

The show began with a tune from a zampognaro (bagpiper). This was a special treat for me because I never heard the zampogna live before. For the life of me I can't understand why this ancient and wonderful instrument isn't more popular. As heard at the show, in the hands of a professional, this instrument is highly versatile and enchanting. 

For those who didn't understand Italian, Le Befana, the Epiphany witch, narrated the story line in English in-between songs.  With the benevolent crone's account it was easy the follow the plot.

What I found most interesting about the story is how the Neapolitans, in an ethnocentric display of piety, not only included themselves in the birth of the Messiah they gave themselves a prominent role.  Much like they do with the presepio, the Nativity is given an unmistakable Neapolitan twist.  If one didn't know any better, one would believe that Christ was born in Napoli.

Razzullo, dressed like Pulcinella (the representative character of Naples in the commedia dell'arte tradition), is the story's protagonist.  Lost, the foolish but likable Neapolitan finds himself in Bethlehem.  During his sojourn he repeatedly crosses paths with the Virgin Mary. The unlikely hero, with the help of the Archangel Gabriel (of course), thwarts Satan's plan to murder the Madonna.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the show was the death of Razzullo.  The crowed was in stitches as the endearing buffoon, amidst the wailing mourners lamenting the loss of their hero, kept rising from the dead to sing his part of the dirge.  (Members of the audience were still singing it after the show.)

The show came to a close with the entire troupe singing a somber ballad honoring the birth of Christ.  During the adoration celebrating motherhood and life, Ms. Belloni held in her arms, in a touching moment of tenderness, a beautiful infant representing the Christ child.
Actors (L-R): Giuseppe De Falco (Razzullo), Max McGrath (La Befana), James Karcher (il Diavolo), Mark Mindek (Archangel Gabriel), Alessandra Belloni (Madonna), Luisa Silvano (Baby Jesus) and Francesca Silvano (Dancer)

January 2, 2010

How the Turks Stole Christmas?

Saint Nicholas in Bari 
For now this is only in the talking stage, but if the Italian government timidly caves in to this absurd demand, will a future Dr. Seuss write of… How the Turks Stole Christmas?

Monday 28, December 2009 – A Turkish archaeologist is calling on his government to demand the return to Turkey from Italy of the bones of the late Christian Saint Nicholas of Myra (i.e. Santa Claus).

Speaking to the Anatolian News Service, Prof. Nevzat Çevik (who seems to have a knack for pointing out the obvious) stressed that St. Nicholas is widely revered in the Christian world and many churches have been built in his honor.

According to Prof. Çevik, Turkey’s claim to St. Nicholas’s earthly remains rests on the following:

•  Nicholas of Myra was born, lived and died in Anatolia, and made it quite clear he wished to be laid to rest there.
•  Anatolia, of course, now (sadly) lies under the dominion of the Turks.
•  His bones were stolen (!) by Barese sailors in 1087 AD and taken to the city of Bari, where they were reinterred in a church dedicated to him.  

There are several flaws in Prof. Çevik’s argument, which I shall be more than happy to expose.  For starters:

•  At the time of Nicholas’s birth (December 6, 270 AD), Anatolia rested comfortably within the borders of the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  At the time of his death (346 AD), the Empire, while plunged into civil war (hardly an aberration if you know anything about Roman history), still from the perspective of its denizens looked stalwart against foreign invasion.
•  There were no Turks in Anatolia during his lifetime, none whatsoever!  Not one square inch of Anatolian real estate was in Turkish hands.  Case closed in that regard.
•  In the year 1087 AD the Byzantine (Greek) Empire, the successor state to the Roman Empire in the East, was fighting for its very life!  Caught between an invasion of Seljuk Turks to the East and Normans to the West, it was only due to the able leadership of Alexios I Komnenos, one of the greatest emperors Byzantium ever had, that it survived at all.  Some historians have tried to paint the Barese sailors as “pirates and thieves”, but taking into account the fact that Nicholas of Myra was already widely revered in Christian Europe, it is more likely the so-called “theft” was in fact an attempt to prevent the bones of one of Christendom’s greats from falling into the hands of heathens.

Given the fact Nicholas of Myra was most certainly an Anatolian Greek, the only people with a legitimate claim to his bones are the Greek people themselves.

One also has to ask why the Turks have waited this long to lay claim to something they suddenly feel was theirs all along.  The answer, ironically enough, comes to us from the mouth of Prof. Çevik himself.

‘Çevik has also urged state authorities to take steps to contact their Italian counterparts. “The ministries should work to move the bones back to Turkey.” The scholar also emphasized the significance of St. Nicholas’s grave in terms of tourism and said that the number of tourists visiting the church in Demre will drastically increase when the bones are returned.’

There you have it: money!  Turkey’s economy is a basket case!  That’s the reason they want his bones, and that’s also the reason they want EU membership, because they’re utterly incapable of governing their own economic affairs (and to provide a place to dump their surplus population).  It remains to be seen whether the native peoples of Europe still have some of the backbone of their forefathers to stop both of these outrages.

By Niccolò Graffio

Further reading:

January 1, 2010

Trying to cash in on St Nick's bones

On December 27, Ertuğrul Günay, the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, announced his intension to demand the return of Saint Nicholas’ bones from the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Southern Italy, to the Church of St. Nicholas in Antalya, Turkey.  “Some of our richest historical assets are on display at different museums all around the world,” said Günay.  “We want all of them back, because every piece should be displayed where it belongs.”  Turkish archaeologist Professor Nevzat Çevik of Akdeniz University has also appealed to his government to demand the Saint's return.  He argues that Nicholas was born and lived in Turkey therefore he belongs in Turkey. 

I have no problem with returning antiquities to their rightful place; Lord knows Italy has serious problems with stolen artifacts herself.  Many of her missing treasures illegally grace museums and private collections around the world and I, more than anyone, would like to see them where they rightfully belong.  Obviously, Italy is not alone in this regard, nor is she free of her own transgressions.  Admittedly, even Italy, which has no shortage of "historical assets" of its own, has acquired ill-gotten gains and had to return looted items.
Provincia di Bari stemma
For example, in April 2005 Italy returned to Ethiopia the Axum obelisk – a 78-foot-tall, 160-ton stele, taken during the Fascist conquest (1937).  The toppled and badly damaged monolith was discovered, restored and displayed in Rome as a trophy.  The 1,700-year-old monument was erected by Emperor Ezana to commemorate Ethiopia’s adoption of Christianity and is considered by many Ethiopians to be their national symbol.  After years of lobbying, the spoils were returned to Ethiopia, at great cost to Italy ($8 Million), where it rightfully belonged.

However, in Turkey’s case, they are demanding the return of antiquities from a land (Byzantium) and people (Greeks) they conquered and displaced.  Quite honestly, much of what Mr. Günay claims to be “historical assets” actually belonged to the pre-Turkish Civilizations of Asia Minor and were taken by force.  Technically, Turkey's many "historical assets" are in the right spot but the people who created them aren't.  Considering Turkey's bloody past and its poor record with human rights and religious tolerance I take great exception with Mr. Günay who had the gall to say, "These bones should be exposed here and not in a town of pirates."

St. Nicholas was a Christian Greek, born in the Greek colony of Patara in Asia Minor in 270 AD.  He served as the Bishop of Myra and many miracles have been attributed to him.  (Time traveling to Turkey was not one of them.) He was revered as Nicholas the Wonderworker and modern day Santa Claus is based on the pious and generous deeds of this venerable holy man.  In 1087 Nicholas’ relics were taken to Bari by Apulian merchants afraid to let his sacred remains fall into the hands of the conquering Seljuks, who routinely desecrated Christian shrines and icons.  It should also be remembered that Bari was still (at least nominally) part of the Byzantine world at the time, alternating between the Empire and the Normans of Southern Italy.  

Cevik’s claim that St. Nicholas said, “I was born here, I have lived here, and I will be buried here” before his death is a flimsy argument that holds little weight.  I certainly don’t believe the Saint would have wanted his remains to be used as a tourist attraction for pilgrims to put money into Muslim coffers, which, by the way, is the real reason why they want his bones.  What's next; will they demand the return of the skull tower of Nîs in Serbia or the remains of the 800 martyrs of Otranto?  Also, consider the millions of Europeans enslaved and carted off to Anatolia over the centuries.  How many of them got their wish to be buried in their beloved homelands?  To be sure Turkey wont be returning what it stole from Europe.

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