Tag Archives: Iraq

Where is the Anthropology? April 2008: Tal’Afar, Iraq

Tal’Afar, Iraq is April’s picture!  Good guessing.




This image was taken by a soldier who spent a tour in Iraq and has seen a very different world than many people. This soldier was kind enough to let me use one of the pictures taken of everyday life currently in Iraq to help show some middle eastern anthropology and to get a soldiers view of the Iraq culture, customs, and history.




“Tal’Afar is located in the Middle East in Iraq. It is approximately “30 miles west of Mosul and 120 miles north west of Kirkuk”, which are major cities in Iraq. While no official census has been taken, the city’s population was estimated to be approximately 420,000 people prior to the war. With current U.S. occupations, the assessment is closer to 200,000, nearly all of whom are Iraqi Turkmen. The population is “mostly Sunni Muslims with a Shiite presence. While most residents do speak Arabic, a dialect of Turkish is used nearly universally throughout the city.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tal_Afar)


During the Ottoman Empire reign of power, the Ottoman Turkish Army founded the city on a hill as a military outpost. “Remains of the fortress can still be seen today. Also garrisoned at the fortress were Turkmen members of the Daloodi tribe who following the withdrawal of the Ottoman Army became the first civilian occupants of the town build around the fortress. … Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Tal Afar became part of Iraq.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tal_Afar)


Over the years, much of the original fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt as needs of the people, military and governments have dictated. “Local history states that British administrators augmented the structure of the original fortress. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fortress was further augmented and made to house the city’s mayoral, municipal and police headquarters.” The castle continues to be used by military forces occupying the city. The local Iraqi military headquarters is also located there. The British occupied this area for years, further evidence of this can be seen in a large defensive structure just east of town and in the genetic features of the younger generation. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tal_Afar)


Though Iraq is consider by some to be the “cradle of civilization”, it has not advanced much since then. There are modern convinces found among the city. Many of the citizens have cell phone, as they are relatively inexpensive to get and use. Cars are used, but not everyone can afford them, hence why they continue to use donkey carts for everyday needs. Indoor pluming is virtually nonexistent in this city and raw sewage runs down the street freely. Few residences have computers and internet access. In a region that can reach temperatures of 130 degrees, central air is few and fair between.


The culture here is very different from the American way of life. The men there are allowed to have more than one wife and the women there are not treated the same as in America. It is common to see a man walking from the market with a few women trailing behind him carrying everything and the guy just strolling along smoking a cigarette.


The unemployment rate is really high. When asked what he did all day, one resident responded he plays volleyball or soccer. When asked why he does not work, he said why bother. He gets everything he needs for living from the government. The thought process is just completely different, the items Americans use everyday and think are necessary for life are considered major luxuries.


The young boys are pretty bold in asking for things from the soldiers, a little to often. The girls on the other hand stay back. They are very timid and when the boys are around they will not come near. If a girl did get anything from a solider with boys around, the boys would often take it away as fast as they could and the girls would not be able to do anything about it. Because of this, for at least this soldier, he would try to give things to the girls because they were less annoying and it was more rewarding.”



Written by a Soldier



These are some of the stories and experiences this soldier had personally during the soldier’s tour in Iraq.  This added understanding, showed cultural differences and allowed the soldier to see into a different world that is normal closed off to the masses.




Editor-Adrienne Elder


Have Five Years of War Taught Americans NOTHING?: Food for Thought


From the Culture Inscribed blog, I read a write up they did on a Panel at California State University of Fresno where they had professionals and students engaging the issue of what has been learned about the five-year war in Iraq.  Go and read the blog and see if you think Americans have learned anything from the War on Terror.

I think that the topic of the Iraq war is often filled with raw emotion and not enough personal thought and research.  People want others to do the work for them in how they understand the war.  Developing thoughts and ways to “help solve and end the war” causing people to find themselves talking about other peoples opinions and other peoples facts and information.  They have not really done any real thinking about the Iraq war, war on terrorism, or America helping to rebuild Iraq.  People listen to what others say and I have found that there are many that have not talked to the soldiers or heard the people working on the different special projects in Iraq in the efforts to try to help them rebuild their great nation without the chaos of the past repeating itself.


People need to be better informed by their own efforts instead of relying on the mass media, politicians not personally involved, protestors or supporters that have nothing, but emotion drive fed by their favorite movie star.  Find the real stories from the people living it or do something about it over the past five years.  I believe that more of their voices need to be heard and considered valuable to see what people and Americans have really learned from this war.  Americans are in this war if they like it or not and too, many of them listen and learn from the masses sitting safely on the sidelines.


Article: Cultural-Cleopatra’s Cosmetics And Hammurabi’s Heineken: Name Brands Far Predating Modern Capitalism

This article talks about commodity brands and the debates the origins possibly not coming form the western civilization.  The article blends cultural and archaeological anthropology together to arrive at the conclusion of where fashionable name brands started.  I find it interesting how fashion and brands have been cultural important for centuries, based on this article.  This brings to mind a different observation about fashion and style in different cultures and the social significances and labels that seeming become attached.  The example that I have observed is the fashion clash of Europeans and the tourists.  But then again, outsiders to a culture never look like they real fit in, something about them causes them to stick out.

The article comes across as a think piece.  So read it and think about the connections it has to what you have noticed or read, it could be anthropological without you even realizing it.  Enjoy.

ScienceDaily (Feb. 19, 2008) — From at least Bass Ale’s red triangle–advertised as “the first registered trademark”–commodity brands have exerted a powerful hold over modern Western society. Marketers and critics alike have assumed that branding began in the West with the Industrial Revolution. But a pioneering new study in the February 2008 issue of Current Anthropology finds that attachment to brands far predates modern capitalism, and indeed modern Western society. 

In “Prehistories of Commodity Branding,” author David Wengrow challenges the widespread assumption that branding did not become an important force in social and economic life until the Industrial Revolution. Wengrow presents compelling evidence that labels on ancient containers, which have long been assumed to be simple identifiers, as well as practices surrounding the production and distribution of commodities, actually functioned as branding strategies. Furthermore, these strategies have deep cultural origins and cognitive foundations, beginning in the civilizations of Egypt and Iraq thousands of years ago.

Branding became necessary when large-scale economies started mass-producing commodities such as alcoholic drinks, cosmetics and textiles. Ancient societies not only imposed strict forms of quality control over these commodities, but as today they needed to convey value to the consumer. Wengrow finds that commodities in any complex, large society needs to pass through a “nexus of authenticity.

Through history, these have taken the form of “the bodies of the ancestral dead, the gods, heads of state, secular business gurus, media celebrities, or that core fetish of post-modernity, the body of the sovereign consumer citizen in the act of self-fashioning.” Although capitalism and branding find in each other a perfect complement, they have distinct origins. Wengrow shows that branding has for millennia filled a deep-seated need for us humans to find value in the goods that we consume.

Sure to be provocative, “Prehistories of Commodity Branding” is necessary reading for a wide range of people, from those interested in the workings of ancient societies to anyone who is interested in understanding how marketing has developed into a powerful force in our lives.Journal reference: Wengrow, David “Prehistories of Commodity Branding” Current Anthropology 49:1 .

Adapted from materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals.