Geopolitics

Erdogan’s Purge Moves Next Door To Georgia <div></div>

Burning Gulen in effigy in Istanbul after failed July 15 coup
Burning Gulen in effigy in Istanbul after failed July 15 coup
Lucia Sgueglia <div style=

TBILISI â€" The Georgian capital is built upon a hill, sandwiched in the midst of towering peaks. The same can be said about this country, wedged between powerful regional neighbors. As Georgia's economy and aspirations rise, Tbilisi's growing middle class is flocking to private schools to educate its children. There's just one problem: some of them belong to the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Georgia, a former Soviet republic, lies strategically between the Caucasus and the Black Sea. Its leaders have long dreamed of joining the European Union and NATO, but its ambitions are checked by two prominent neighbors: Russia (which invaded in 2008) to the north, and to the south, its largest trading partner, Turkey.

Now that Ankara and Moscow have seemingly made peace, Georgia's future looks rather more complicated.

After purging tens of thousands at home believed linked to Gulen, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to last month’s coup attempt has landed in Georgia. The movement founded by Fethullah Gulen â€" who resides in Pennsylvania â€" is present in 140 countries today, but his expansion from Turkey began right here in the Caucasus after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Caucasian and Central Asian countries, many of them speaking Turkic languages, proved fertile ground for "Gulenist" schools, which flowered in the region and attracted local elites for their high quality and secular nature.

Two decades later, Erdogan wants them closed, as he blames Gulen for the failed July 15 coup. Azerbaijan has shut them down, but Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have refused. As for Russia, Vladimir Putin expelled Gulenists in the early 2000s during the war in Chechnya and banned Gulen's books in 2012, accusing him of fostering extremism.

Georgia, home to seven Gulenist schools, finds itself in a tight spot. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili was the first foreign leader to visit Ankara after the attempted coup, declaring: "Turkey is our strategic partner, and a stable and democratic Turkey is important for us."

The energy corridor linking Turkey to the Caspian Sea hangs in the balance, affecting the fates of all the countries in the region. A day before Kvirikashvili's visit, the Turkish consul in Batumi â€" a city close to the Turkish border known as the "Turks' Ibiza" for its beaches and casinos â€" denounced the city’s Gulenist Sahin Friendship School as following "terrorist ideology."

"We have nothing to hide, we follow Georgian law and are open to investigations by the authorities," says Mustafa Ozdesh, the Turkish director of Sahin. In his office hang the Georgian flag and a portrait of Suleyman Demirel, the former Turkish president deposed twice by coups in 1971 and 1980.

Sahin Friendship was the first Gulenist school to open in Georgia back in 1993, with the approval of then-President Eduard Shevardnadze. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R, quality education was a prized asset in Georgia, now home to a record 300 private schools.

"Gulen? A parallel state? We have no financial ties with him, he’s just a thinker and promoter," says Ozdesh. "Our Turkish founders are Gulen sympathizers, and we have investors that follow his way of peaceful communication among cultures, ethnicities, and religions."

When asked what role Islam plays in his school, Ozdesh replies "this is a secular school, we don’t teach any religion."

His claims mirror those of Gulenist institutions in the West, although some in the United States have come under scrutiny from the FBI for alleged "radical" ties. Georgia is an Orthodox Christian-majority country, but is also home to a sizeable Muslim minority â€" largely moderate, except for the troublesome Pankisi Gorge, home to deceased Islamic State leader Omar al-Shishani.

The Sahin Friendship school's curriculum focuses on mathematics, physics, and chemistry â€" all taught in English â€" along with foreign languages like Russian and Turkish. Yearly tuition fees for the 400 students vary between 3,800 and 4,500 Georgian lari ($1,630 to $1,920) in a country where the average monthly wage is $400, but the school offers scholarships for academic merit. "Our target is the middle class," says Ozdesh.

Few Georgians have any idea who Fethullah Gulen is. "Sahin Friendship has an excellent reputation. I wanted an international and non-Soviet education for my two kids," says Maia Chitashvili. "Turkey has always been our bridge to Europe, but now we too are victims of this war."

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Ozdesh says Georgia is the most democratic country in the region. "It respects human rights and is on its way to joining Europe," he says. "If the government closes or represses us, then it will veer towards authoritarianism." On his laptop, he opens a link to the website turkeypurge.com.

"Did you know that Turkey now has the world’s second-largest prison population after China? They’ve closed 1,043 Gulenist private schools, 1,229 foundations and charities, and 35 hospitals," he says. Gulen’s followers around the world risk becoming an army of exiles, never to return home.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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