“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (The Communist Manifesto, 1848)
Between July 28 and August 2, 2015, the city of Boise (Idaho, United States) will held one of the largest Basque cultural festivals outside the Basque Country, Euskal Herria. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people will attend Jaialdi. This is the story of homeland visitors and alike encountering their fellow people of the diaspora, perhaps, for the first time in their lives. It would be an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of “home” and “homeland” for diasporans’ identity as well as notions of “authenticity” and “cultural (re)production”. Where is the Basque Country in the imagery of those who left their land of origin? Where is “home” for Basque Americans? How the homeland imagines the expatriates as part of their “imagined community”?
Homeland visitors coming to Boise should, if I may, prepare themselves to embrace the many different expressions of Basque identity and culture that will encounter, which may depart from pre-conceived ideas of what Basque culture and identity are as produced at home. Paraphrasing the friendly summer reminder for tourists, posted through many towns across the region, “You are neither in Spain nor in France. You are in the Basque Country,” please remember “Basque America is not the Basque Country” or is it? What do you think?
Despite the growing number of Basques residing outside the European homeland, the existing emotional distance and knowledge gap between the Basque Country and its diaspora have unfortunately not narrowed (“#BasquesAbroad,” February post). Significantly, the 20th anniversary of the Public Law 8/1994, which is the present legal framework of institutional relationship between Euskadi and the diaspora, passed unnoticed (“Decide,” May post).
If it is possible to argue that the Basque diaspora is for the most an invisible community to the eyes of the majority of the Basque society, what can be said about those others less fortunate people who arrive at our coasts? Within the context of the 10th anniversary of Al-Qaeda attacks in Madrid, we remembered the horrendous death of 15 young sub-Saharan people who perished attempting to swim to the Spanish autonomous city of Melilla (“¿Verdad?”—“Truth?” March post). Migrants are indeed an invisible but worldwide transnational community of over 232 million people. In an increasing interconnected world, at some point in our lives all of us will become a stranger in a foreign land.
For the past years, the blog has reflected on our historical and social memory. On this occasion, I explored the meaning of “forgiveness” as rooted in the memory of those who suffered prosecution and exile (“Perdonar”—“Forgiving,” December post).
Thank you all for being there. Also, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that, as of January 2015, I will write the blog “Diaspora Bizia” at EuskalKultura.com—the only specialized media on the Basque diaspora and culture.
I would love to hear from you. Happy New Year!
Eskerrik asko eta urte berri on!
(NOTE: Remember: If you cannot understand English, you may use Google Translate).
Within the context of the swell and unparalleled power that we individuals are able to exercise in the so-called Western society regarding the ability to choose from an unborn baby’s sex to religion, citizenship and even physical aspect, it is incomprehensible how difficult it becomes when addressing the issue of exercising the rights of political national groups and their capability to decide on a collective basis.
From the 28th to the 30th of May, international experts debated the meaning of Basque nationhood in a globalizing worldin Bilbao. Organized by the International Catalan Institute for Peace, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and the University of the Basque Country, the meeting explored the meaning of sovereignty from many different angles as it is everyday practiced. On the last day of the conference, local social groups shared their experiences on practicing “sovereignty” by acting upon it on their daily decisions, for instance, about promoting the use of the Basque language, Euskera, the respect for our environment, and defending the workers’ rights. Among those groups, Gure Esku Dago(It’s in our hands) embodies this theoretical concept of “sovereignty” as an initiative in favor of the right to decide. On the 8th of June, this popular initiative will organize a human chain of 123 kilometers uniting the cities of Durango (Bizkaia) and Iruña (Navarre). As of today, more than 100,000 people are supporting the event, in the homeland as well as in the diaspora.
“Gure Esku Dago” in Argentina. Supported by the Federation of Basque-Argentinean Entities (FEVA).
Coincidentally, on the 29th the Basque Autonomous Community Parliament (Basque Parliament, hereafter) adopted, by a majority vote, a resolution on the right of self-determination of the Basque People as a basic democratic right as it previously did in 1990, 2002 and 2006. Two days and 20 years earlier, the Public Law 8/1994, passed by the Basque Parliament, became the current legal framework of institutional relationship between the Basque Autonomous Community and the diaspora, which was established in order to “preserve and reinforce links between Basque Communities and Centers on the one hand, and the Basque Country on the other hand,” and to “facilitate the establishment of channels of communication between Basque residents outside the Basque Autonomous Community, and the public authorities of the latter.” Indeed, the passing of the law itself became a clear act of sovereignty, which legally recognized the existence of a large population of Basque people outside its administrative borders—a true transnational community of citizens—and provided a formal framework for collaboration. Looking back there is a need to acknowledge the visionary work done by Karmelo Sáinz de la Maza—the main person behind the law—or the late Jokin Intxausti—the first government delegate in charge of re-establishing contacts with the various Basque diaspora associations and communities—among many others.
Carmelo Urza, Jokin Intxausti, and William Douglass, at the then Basque Studies Program, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), 1986. Photo Source: Basque Library, UNR.
Also, the anniversary of the Law 8/1994, which surprisingly has passed unnoticed, offers us an opportunity to rethink our identity in terms of a borderless citizenship within the context of the current Basque presence in the world. The fact is that the reality of today’s mobility and return to the Basque Country is quite different from past emigration waves. It is necessary, in my opinion, to adequate the law to the new flows of migration and return, while enhancing and strengthening the programs towards the needs and demands of individuals and associations with the goal of intertwining a solid global network based on common interests.
“Someone said that forgetting is full of memory, but it is also true that the memory does not give up”
(Mario Benedetti, Echar las Cartas, 2002)
In 2013, the number of Basques abroad, registered with a Spanish consulate from a municipality in the Basque Autonomous Community (Euskadi), was nearly 72,000. As shown in the map, they are living in over 50 countries, being France (13,000), Argentina (11,000), Venezuela (6,500), Mexico (6,300) and Chile (5,000) the countries that host the majority of them. All evidence indicates that Basques will progressively go abroad. A recent survey points out that nearly half of the Basque young population are willing to look for a job in a foreign country. Sixteen percent of Basques between 15 and 29 years old believes that in the future they will be forced to “emigrate abroad to work, unwillingly.” For instance, from 2009 to 2013, the number of Basques registered with a Spanish consulate has increased by 35%. They preferred destination was the European Union, followed by Asia and America.
“Number of Basques residing abroad.” Source: Spanish National Statistics Institute, 2013.
On December 18, 2013, the University of Deusto presented the results report of its first social survey on Euskadi (DeustoBarómetro Social / Deusto Gizarte Barometroa, DBSoc). According to the report, in relation to the attitudes toward the welfare policies, the five areas where the majority of Basques believed that there should not be budget cuts under any circumstances were “health” (86%), “education” (79%), “pensions” (68%), “unemployment benefits” (49%), and “Science and R+D” (36%). That is to say, while nearly three quarters of the Basque society’s priorities focused on health, education and pensions, the five areas that obtained the least support were “embassies and consulates” (7%), “defense” (6%), “equality policies” (6%), “development cooperation” (5%), and “support for Basques abroad” (5%).
After taking into account the internal degree of relevance established by comparing the response options, the result of the question related to the welfare policies in the Basque society seems logical, particularly, within the context of a prolonged and deep socio-economic and financial crisis and extreme public budget cuts. When reflecting on the possible reasons behind such low support, it comes to my mind the existing distance between the Basque society and its diaspora, the knowledge that homeland Basques might have on the diaspora, and above all their interest on the Basques abroad.
The respondents established a degree of significance regarding the option “support for Basques abroad” in relation to their own quotidian and vital world. It can be considered the “emotional distance” that exists between the respondents and the “Basques abroad”, which goes together with the existing geographical, temporal and/or generational distances. Secondly, evidences suggest that the degree of knowledge that homeland Basques (especially the youngest generations) might have on diaspora Basques and the degree of proximity to the diaspora issue is marginal. This knowledge has been relegated to the confines of the intimate memory of migrants’ family members and close friends and to the micro-history of villages and valleys. To a great extent, the history of Basque emigration, exile and return is not adequately socialized, for instance, through formal education (e.g., textbooks and didactical materials). Consequently, the collection, preservation and public dissemination of the testimonies of Basque migrants is not only necessary but urgent. This indicates that there is a wide “information and knowledge gap” between the Basque society and the Basques outside the homeland. But, beyond the inquiry regarding such a lack of awareness about the Basque diaspora, a fundamental question remains open. Is there a motivation or interest to know?
Finally, in addition to the aforementioned gaps, the absence of the issue of the Basque diaspora in the public debate in Euskadi impedes it for being even discussed or included in the Basque political parties’ list of priorities. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the diaspora lacks of a voice and of an organized lobby, preventing the penetration of any of its potential official discourses into the Basque society. In other words, nowadays, the Basque diaspora is defined by a high degree of invisibility and silencing in the daily life as well as in the imaginary of the Basque homeland rather than the opposite.
What all this tell us about the Basque identity and the homeland’s collective imaginary? Do you believe that the integration of the history of the Basques abroad and the returnees into the official homeland history and collective memory will have an effect on its visibility and recognition? Do you believe that emergent technologies of information and communication have a role to play in narrowing the gap between the Basque Country and its diaspora?
Please leave us your opinion or alternatively follow the conversation in Twitter, #BasquesAbroad, @deustoBarometro and @oiarzabal
Similar to the imminent art of improvising verses in the Basque language, or bertsolaritza, our life, especially in the digital world, is ephemeral. This oral tradition reaffirms and expresses an identity rooted in a specific area but with a global projection thanks to the emergent technologies of information and communication. Since its inception Basque Identity 2.0 has assumed the challenge of its own fugacity by exploring different expressions of Basque identity, understood in transnational terms, through a global medium. Perhaps, this comes down to accepting that our ephemeral condition is what really helps to shape our collective memory and identity, and which are constantly revisited and reconstructed.
Maialen Lujanbio, bertsolari or Basque verse improviser, sings about the Basque diaspora. Basque Country Championship, Barakaldo (Bizkaia), December 15, 2013. Source: Bertsoa.
We began the year reflecting on our historical memory, which has increasingly become a recurrent topic in the blog for the past two years. Through the stories of Pedro Junkera Zarate—a Basque child refugee in Belgium from the Spanish Civil war—Jules Caillaux—his foster dad while in Belgium, and one of the “Righteous among the Nations”—and Facundo Sáez Izaguirre—a Basque militiaman who fought against Franco and flew into exile—I attempted to bring some light into a dark period of our history. Their life stories are similar to some extent to many others whose testimonies are critical to understand our most recent history of self-destruction and trauma (“Algunas personas buenas”—“Some good people,” February post). Some of these stories are part of an ongoing oral history project on Basque migration and return. As part of the research I was able go back to the United States to conduct further interviews and to initiate a new community-based project called “Memoria Bizia” (“#EuskalWest2013,” November post).
In addition, May 22 marked the 75th anniversary of the massive escape from Fort Alfonso XII, also known as Fort San Cristóbal, in Navarre, which became one of the largest and most tragic prison breaks, during wartime, in contemporary Europe. This was the most visited post in 2013 (“The fourth man of California,” March post).
On the politics of memory, I also explored the meaning of “not-forgetting” in relation to the different commemorations regarding the siege of Barcelona 299 years ago, the coup d’état against the government of Salvador Allende 40 years ago, and the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States. Coincidentally, September 11th was the date of these three historical tragic events (“El no-olvido”—“Not-to-forget,” September post).
The Spanish right-wing newspaper ABC led the destruction of the persona of the late Basque-American Pete Cenarrusa, former Secretary of the State of Idaho (United States), by publishing an unspeakable obituary. Nine blogs from both sides of the Atlantic (A Basque in Boise, About Basque Country, Basque Identity 2.0, Bieter Blog, 8 Probintziak, Nafar Herria, EuskoSare, Blog do Tsavkko – The Angry Brazilian, and Buber’s Basque Page) signed a common post, written in four different languages, to defend Cenarrusa (“Pete Cenarrusaren defentsan. In Memorian (1917-2013)”—“In defense of Pete Cenarrusa. In Memorian (1917-2013),” October post). It was a good example of digital networking and collaboration for a common cause. However, this was not an isolated event regarding the Basque diaspora. Sadly, nearly at the same time, ABC’s sister tabloid El Correo published a series of defamatory reports against the former president of the Basque Club of New York. Once again, ignorance and hatred laid beneath the personal attacks against public figures, for the only reason of being of Basque origin.
Basque literature, in the Spanish and English languages, was quite present in the blog throughout the year. Mikel Varas, Santi Pérez Isasi, and Iván Repila are among the most prolific and original Basque artists of Bilbao, conforming a true generation in the Basque literature landscape of the 21st century (“Nosotros, Bilbao”—“We, Bilbao,” April post). The year 2013 also marked the 10th anniversary of “Flammis Acribus Addictis,” one of most acclaimed poetry books of the late Sergio Oiarzabal, who left us three years ago (“Flammis Acribus Addictis,” June post). The blog also featured the late Basque-American author Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton’s book, “Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees”, which is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the younger readers (“Yes!” July post).
This has been a year filled with opportunities and challenges. Personally, I have been inspired by the greatness of those who keep moving forward in spite of tragedy and unforeseen setbacks, and by those who are at the frontline of volunteering (“Aurrera”—“Forward,” December post).
Thank you all for being there. Now, you can also find us on Facebook. I would love to hear from you. Happy New Year!
Eskerrik asko eta Urte berri on!
(NOTE: Remember to use Google Translate. No more excuses about not fully understanding the language of the post).
Against the backdrop of the secular Basque immigration history to the United States of America, a five-year-old girl, Maite Echeto, awaits the return of her father to the Old Country with her mother. In a visit to her cousins’ farm Maite meets a new-born goslin, by the name of “Oui Oui Oui,” that she ends up adopting. As one could imagine this is the beginning of their numerous and unexpected adventures throughout the colorful countryside of the Basque Country in France (Iparralde). Maite and the goslin are the main characters of the children’s book Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees.
Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is the posthumous and first short story of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton. As a well-known local artist she also illustrated the book with original drawings. Mary Jean was born in 1921 in Reno, Nevada, and passed away in 2008 in Verdi, Nevada. She lived in Iparralde for a number of years in the 1950s. According to her family, “Mary Jean had a vehicle and was popular with the family because the roads then were in bad shape. She lived most of the time in a little house named Bakea, in Laxia of Itxassou [Itsasu], Lapurdi.”
Mary Jean’s parents were Jean Pierre Etcheberry and María Simona “Louisa” Larralde. Jean Pierre was born in 1891 in the small town of Saint-Just-Ibarre (Donaixti-Ibarre), in the Basque province of Lower Navarre, Nafarroa Beherea. He arrived in New York City at the age of 18. He worked as a sheepherder in Flagstaff, Arizona, and later on in the Winnemucca area. Jean Pierre arrived in Reno around 1914 and worked for the Jeroux family, a successful rancher at that time. María Simona “Louisa” was born in 1896 in Erratzu in the province of Nafarroa. She was the seventh of ten children, of whom six migrated to Nevada and California. Louisa arrived in New York City in 1914. Upon arrival in Reno, she worked as a maid in the mansion of the Jeroux family. “No doubt this is where she met her future husband Jean Pierre Etcheberry,” Paul Etxeberri, a nephew of Mary Jean, states. They married in 1917 in Reno and had three children: St. John, Paul John and Mary Jean. A decade later, Jean Pierre and Louisa bought a sheep ranch in southwest Reno and managed the Santa Fe Hotel, a successful Basque boardinghouse in downtown Reno, for over thirty years. Jean Pierre passed away in 1943, and Louisa in 1989 at the age of 93.
Mary Jean has now become part of Basque-America’s literary legacy, alongside Frank Bergon (Jesse’s Ghost), Martin Etchart (The Good Oak, The Last Shepherd), Robert Laxalt (Sweet Promised Land, The Basque Hotel…), Gregory Martin (Mountain City), and Monique Urza (The Deep Blue Memory), among others.
Before passing away Mary Jean entrusted her great-nieces, Marylou and Jennifer Etcheberry, with her precious manuscript, although it was just recently published.
Book cover of Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees alongside the original type-written manuscript. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Reno Nevada.
Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees was published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2012, the second book of its Juvenile Literature collection. It follows Mark Kurlansky’s The Girl Who Swam to Euskadi, published in 2005 in English and Basque. With more than eighty titles ranging from diaspora and migration books to graphic novels it is by far the largest publishing house in the world on Basque topics for the English-speaking audience. Not shy to admit that academic presses should welcome other types of non-academic quality literary works, the Center for Basque Studies has issued a call for the first annual Basque Literary Writing Contest. (Please note: Entries closed on September 15, 2013.)
Marylou Etcheberry, proud great-niece of Mary Jean Etcheberry-Morton, poses with a copy of Oui Oui Oui. Photo by Pedro J. Oiarzabal, July 2013, Elko, Nevada.
Oui Oui Oui of the Pyrenees is a welcoming breath of fresh air for the English-speaking reader, and especially for its younger members, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. I hope that many more titles would follow the adventures of Maite and her goslin.
“My dearest darlings,” Jacque, Maite’s father, writes. “This is the letter I’ve dreamed of writing for four long years…Our future in America looks bright, and I can look forward to having my darlings with me…” This might well echo the wishes of many families that became strangled due to the physical separation upon leaving their homes and their loved ones behind. It very much resembles the family histories of our recent past. For Maite and her mother, it marks the beginning of a new quest.
Many thanks to Paul Etxeberri for gathering information on the Etcheberry family.
The year 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of thousands of Basque children as a result of one of the darkest periods in European contemporary history—i.e., the Spanish Civil War. Its consequences in Basque soil were shattering, particularly for the civil society and its children. In 1937, over thirty small towns and villages in Bizkaia were intentionally bombarded by Generalissimo Francisco Franco´s Nazi allies to demoralize the Basque resistance. This provoked a massive organized departure of its youngest population. Some of the children were exiled to the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, having to endure, also, the outbreak of World War II. Many of them even enlisted in the Red Army (“No place for children,” March post).
Some of the children´s testimonies were collected in an oral history video—“Gure Bizitzen Pasarteak—Fragments of our Lives”—as part of an ongoing project that also took me to the land of the Basques in the United Sates (“#EuskalWest2012,” September post). The research attempts to uncover the lives of Basque migrants and exiles who had returned to the Basque Country as a way to make sense of the “injured” collective memory of an entire generation, which, undoubtedly, needs to be healed by acknowledging their sacrifice and suffering (“Mundos invisibles”—“Invisible worlds,” November post).
America was quite present in the blog throughout the year. It is well known the historical significance of this continent for the Basques as it has become a second home for hundreds of years, weaving a tight web of emotional geographies (“Etxea”—“Home,” April post). It is also known, to a certain extent, the relevance of some of the Basque migrants and descendants in the history of their countries of residence as in the cases of Julián Irízar (Argentina) and Jean Esponda (United States). Basque-Argentinian Lieutenant Commander Irízar led a successful rescued expedition in 1903 to the Antarctica, which also became the first official voyage of Argentina to the continent. One of the islands in the Antarctic Argentine Islands was named in his honor (“The Irízar Island,” February post). On the other hand, Johnson County, Wyoming, designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair´s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag in order to honor the county´s Basque origins. This goes back to the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 from the Old Country. The Johnson County´s flag is the first official Basque flag outside the European homeland (“The Flag,” August post).
Also, we commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Basque Fellowship Society “Euskal Erria” (Sociedad de Confraternidad Vasca) from Montevideo (Uruguay), the Basque Center Zazpirak-Bat from Rosario (Argentina), and the Basque Home (Euzko Etxea) from Santiago de Chile (Chile). These diaspora associations as many others worldwide are good examples of tenacity and steadiness (“ehun”—“100,”May post; “En nuestro propio mundo”—“In our own world”, June post, respectively).
Similar to last year, the most visited post also happened to refer to politics (“Tiempo de promesas”—“Time for promises,” October post). In the occasion of the elections to the Parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community, I attempted to explain the reasons behind the traditional low participation of diaspora Basques, and the importance, in my opinion, for the diaspora to be involved in homeland politics. It is there where diaspora politics are designed and shaped. It is there where the voices of the Basques abroad need to be heard.
Confronted with one of the most acute crisis that recent generations have witnessed, let´s remember Viktor Frankl´s— a Holocaust survivor—words, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Indeed, new but difficult times are ahead of us (“Tiempos nuevos”—“New times,” December post).
“Johnson County, Wyoming– encompassing the rolling plains of the Old West and the towering peaks of the Bighorn Mountains. It’s a land rich in both history and scenery. A place of sheep herders and cattle barons, renegades and rustlers. Where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid holed up after their outlaw exploits. Where miners consumed with gold rush fever passed through on the Bozeman Trail. Where some of the most famous Indian battles in American history occurred. And where the Johnson County Cattle War, a rangeland dispute which historians often deem one of the most notorious events in our history, left its mark here in the late 1880s…and that Owen Wister wrote about in his epic American novel, The Virginian.”
Within this grand introduction to the singular history of the Johnson County in the State of Wyoming, surrounded by wild beauty and its frontier origins, lie the story of the Espondas from Baigorri; the Harriets, the Etchemendys, the Urrizagas, and the Caminos from Arnegi; the Iberlins from Banca; the Ansolabeheres, the Iriberrys, and many others. All these Basque pioneers came from the tiny province of Nafarroa Beherea (approximately 511 square mile), in the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees in France, and with a current population of 28,000 people. On the other hand, Johnson County, established in 1879, and its main city Buffalo, has a population of over 8,500 people on an area of 4,175 square mile.
The history of the Basque presence in the Johnson County begins with the arrival of Jean Esponda in 1902 as reported by Dollie Iberlin and David Romtvedt in their book “Buffalotarrak”. Most Buffalo Basques originated in the village of Baigorri, because Jean Esponda, a successful immigrant from Baigorri, settled in that area of Wyoming. Esponda immigrated into California in 1886 and then moved to Wyoming in 1902, where he set up a thriving sheepherding operation, claiming many Basques from his own natal village and neighboring villages for nearly two decades. Esponda became known as the “King of the Basques”. He passed away in 1936. By the end of the 1960s, Basque sheepmen owned over 250,000 acres (approximately 390 square mile) of Johnson County land, which was about 76% of the land of the entire province of Nafarroa Beherea. According to the United States Census, in 2000 there were only 869 Basque people in Wyoming, being the smallest, but nonetheless vibrant, Basque community in the American West.
Basque group photograph at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Buffalo, Wyoming, in the late 1960s. (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Basque Studies Library, University of Nevada, Reno)
110 years have passed since Jean Esponda set foot in Wyoming, and much of the Basque heritage is still flourishing. It has become part of the social and cultural fabric of Wyoming. In this regard, Johnson County designed a flag to commemorate the State Fair’s 100th anniversary, which depicts the Ikurriña or Basque flag (originally designed in 1894 in Bilbao, Bizkaia) with the county’s seal in the center, as a way to honor the county’s Basque origins. The Johnson County’s “Basque” flag is the first official Basque flag outside the Basque Country, and the first in the nation. Its symbolism will definitely help to preserve and assure the continuity of the Basque history in the State of Wyoming. It will be publicly displayed, for the first time, at the State Fair that is going to be held on August 11-18 in Douglass.
“Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire”
(John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy, 1950)
When does history become legend and myth? What is real and factual and what is imagined and fictional in History? If History as the discipline to analyze the past means time—chronological and historical time—and memory is essentially the mechanism to remember or not-forget it, then what role do written and oral memory play in our understanding of history?
What happens when the transfer of our knowledge and collective memory get lost and buried in the mists of time, waiting to be awaked? How can we make sense of our history when some of the oldest vestiges of our common past are considered unreliable and non-scientific sources by Western academic standards?
With the development of History as a modern academic discipline during the 19th century in Western Europe, it was generally agreed that the events and stories narrated, for instance, in the Bible, in the Ancient Greek literature, and in many of the Medieval chronicles never had happened. These are, for example, the stories of the biblical “cities of the plain,” which included Sodom and Gomorrah, the Homeric’s city of Troy in Ancient Greece, and Monmouth’s story about the population of Ireland by the “Basclenses”—the ancient Basques, according to author Julio César Santoyo. That is to say, Sodom and Gomorrah, Troy and its famous Trojan War and the romantic story between Paris and Helen had never existed, and obviously Ireland’s current inhabitants had nothing to do with the Basclenses, whoever they might be. These historical sources were defined as literary, epic, and mythical manuscripts that described supposedly factual events that had taken place several hundred years before recording them. Consequently, these documents and other many similar ones were thought to be untruthful and unreliable sources of history.
However, some historians and archaeologists believed that there might be some truth to these myths and legends, though they did not faithfully represent actual events. There was also some degree of attraction of finding something it was thought to be lost forever or discovering some scientific evidence that could question some historical unadulterated truth it was thought to be unchallengeable. In this regard, in the 1870s Heinrich Schliemann, following Homer’s geographical descriptions, discovered some ruins that were identified with Homer’s Troy (2,500 BC) in the northwest of Anatolia (Turkey). The mythological city where a war took place between the Trojans and the Achaeans as described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (900-800 BC) had actually existed.
The Hebrew Bible (200 BC) mentions how Yahweh punished and destroyed by fire and brimstone the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their unrepentant sins. In the 1960s, the Early Bronze Age (3,200-1,950 BC) sites Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira, located nearby the Dead Sea in Jordan, were identified as the possible places for Sodom and Gomorrah, respectively. Although there is no scientific consensus on the cities’ real location, most historians do not question their existence. According to geologists their destruction could have been most likely caused by an earthquake as the settlements were suddenly abandoned.
The History of the Kings of Britain (ca 1136) is a compilation of various earlier books, being the oldest from the 6th century, and which were expanded by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It recounts the history of Britain from its foundation by Trojan War exile Brutus, and it includes a detailed chronology of legendary kings of Britain. In the Chapter XII of the Book III, Monmouth recounts the story between the King Gurguit Barbtruc and Partholoim (or Partholón) and his people settlement (2,000 BC) in today´s Ireland:
“When Gurguit Barbtruc was returning home via the Orkney Islands after his victory, he came upon thirty ships full of men and women. Gurguit asked what they were doing there. Their leader, whose name was Partholoim, went up to Gurguit, did obeisance to him and asked for his pardon and peace. Partholoim then described how he had been expelled from certain regions in Spain and how he was now cruising in those waters in search of a land where he might settle. When Gurguit Barbtruc learned that these men came from Spain and were called Basclenses, and when he understood just what they wanted of him, he ordered his representatives to go with them to the island of Ireland, which at that time was a completely uninhabited desert. He granted the island to them. They have increased and multiplied there and they still hold the island today.”
Could the Basclenses be identified with today’s Basques? Do the Irish and the Basque share a common origin? Despite the fact that the historicity of many of the events described in historical sources including The History of the Kings of Britain are still subject to heated debate, the passage of time has also given scientists the opportunity to develop new tools to unearth the past.
The Genographic Project Basque Map: “Basque genetic uniqueness predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula some 7,000 years ago” (Map source: The Genographic Project, National Geography, March 2012)
Here, for instance, is The Genographic Project, which was launched in 2005. The project aims at carrying out research on Y-chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA with the goal of tracing genes to reconstruct past human mobility in order to understand how our ancestors populated the planet. Back in 2010, Brendan Loftus’ research team have sequenced the first entire genome of an Irish person. By comparing common similarities between the Irish and the Basques, the genetic evidence shows that “The Irish and Basques share by far the highest incidence of the [Y-DNA] R1b gene in Europe, which has a frequency of over 90% in Basque country and almost 100% along parts of Ireland’s western seaboard.” In other words, “both, the Irish and the British are Basques.” According toscientist Stephen Oppenheimer, the ancestors of current Basques had settled in this part of northwestern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age (15,000-7,500 BC) by just walking at the time when the sea levels were low. Evidence also suggests that there is a genetic continuity between contemporary Basques and the population that lived in the same region at least for the last 8,000 years.
Could these findings corroborate Monmouth’s story about the Basclenses migrating from Iberia to ancient Ireland? What do you think?
“A child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person below 18 years of age who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, spies or for sexual purposes. It does not only refer to a child who is taking, or has taken, a direct part in hostilities.”
(Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, United Nations, 2007)
The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1959. This international norm was followed, three decades later, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 20, 1989)—the first legally binding instrument “to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights”—and by the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (May 25, 2000). This protocol “establishes 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities.” It entered into force on February 12, 2002, marking the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Since then, more than 140 countries have ratified the protocol.
As of February 2012, 27 United Nation Member States have not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol, while another 22 have signed but not ratified it. According to the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research 2011 has been the most violent year since World War II, with twenty more wars than in 2010. Currently, it is estimated that tens of thousands of boys and girls under the age of 18 take active part in armed conflicts in at least 15 countries. The children, once again, are powerless to escape from such violence. They are forced to fight or participate somehow “voluntarily” in popular insurrections that have taken place within the context of the Arab Spring, for instance. However, the military use of children is not a new phenomenon and goes hand by hand, almost inevitably, with our tragic history of human self-destruction. This was the case of some of the children caught at the outbreak of the war between Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Russia in June 1941. The children had previously been evacuated from Spain—immersed in a fratricide war—to Russia.
It is estimated that 30,000 Spanish children were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War, and 70,000 more left after the end of the war in 1939. Among them 25,000 Basque children went also into exile. Most of the children were temporarily sent to France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well as Switzerland, Mexico, and Denmark. They became, and are still, known as “los niños de la guerra” (“the war children”) and the “Gernika Generation,” in the specific Basque case.
Between March 1937 and October 1938 nearly 3,000 children, between 5 and 12 years old, were evacuated from Spain to then the Soviet Union in four expeditions. Most of the children were from the Basque Country (between 1,500 and over 1,700), and Asturias and Cantabria (between 800 and 1,100). In the majority of the cases their parents were sympathetic to the anarchist, socialist, and communist ideals. On June 12, 1937 over 1,500 children and 75 tutors (teachers, doctors, and nurses) left the Port of Santurtzi in the Basque province of Bizkaia on board of the ship “Habana.”
From the moment of the children’s arrival to the German invasion of Russia they lived in good care in the so-called “Infant Homes for the Spanish Children.” There were 11 homes located in the current Russian Federation—including 1 in Moscow and 2 nearby Leningrad—and 5 in Ukraine—including 1 in Odessa and another in Kiev. Soon, their lives were, once more, dramatically turned upside-down. The homes had to be evacuated.
During the Siege of Leningrad, the children Celestino Fernández-Miranda Tuñón and Ramón Moreira, both from Asturias, were 16 and 17 years old respectively at the time of enlisting as volunteers to defend the city, while Carmen Marón Fernández, from Bizkaia, worked as a nurse and dug trenches at the age of 16. Over 40 children were killed before they could be evacuated in 1943. It is considered the longest and most destructive city blockade in history. It resulted in the deaths of 1.5 million people and in the evacuation of 1.4 million civilians.
The survivors of Leningrad together with the rest of the children were taken to remote areas such as today’s republics of Georgia and Uzbekistan, and Saratov Oblast in southern Russia. It is during this time when it is reported that some children were victims of sexual assaults and exploitation, and a few of them ended up in delinquent gangs in order to survive.
According to the Spanish Center of Moscow, over 100 “niños de la guerra” voluntarily enlisted in the Red Army, while many others had to carry out some type of work to support the war efforts alongside their schooling time. For instance, Begoña Lavilla and Antonio Herranz, both from Santurtzi, worked at an arms factory in Saratov at the age of 13 and 14, respectively. Eight of the Basque niños—six of them from the “Kiev home”—entered in combat after receiving flight training courses in a military academy. It has been said that some of the children were able to pass themselves off as older men such as Luis Lavín Lavín who was just 15 years old at the time. The eight young Basques were Ignacio Aguirregoicoa Benito (born in Soraluce in 1923), Ramón Cianca Ibarra, José Luis Larrañaga Muniategui (born in Eibar in 1923), the aforementioned Luis Lavín Lavín (born in Bilbao in 1925), Antonio Lecumberri Goikoetxea (born in 1924), Eugenio Prieto Arana (born in Eibar in 1922), Tomás Suárez, and Antonio Uribe Galdeano (born in Barakaldo in 1920). Larrañaga, Uribe, and Aguirregoicoa died in 1942 (Ukraine), 1943 (Dnieper), and 1944 (Estonia), respectively. Aguirregoicoa took his own life in order to avoid being captured by the enemy.
Between 207 and 215 Spaniards were killed as active combatants at the Eastern Front of World War II (also known as the Great Patriotic War; June 22, 1941-May 9, 1945), while another 211 people died of extreme starvation, disease, and the intensive bombardments. According to Lavín, 50 of the enlisted “children” out of a total of 130 were killed during the war.
After two long decades of exile, the first convoy of “children” was allowed to return to Francisco Franco’s Spain in 1957. As of 2012, it is estimated that 170 “niños de la guerra,” all of them over 80 years old, live in the former Soviet Union. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Basque cities and villages and the evacuation of their children—fatidic preamble to World War II.