The Turkish Flag

You’ll never be confused about what country you’re in when you’re visiting Turkey. The Turkish flag is everywhere – on government buildings, of course, but also on mosques, businesses, and private homes. Large ones can serve as awnings over street markets. I thought Americans loved their flag but we have nothing on the Turks.

Why should this be? Well, one of the main reasons is that it is a great design, simple and recognizable. I’ve referenced this video before, but it’s worth doing so again, particularly its invocation of Ted Kaye’s Five Basic Principles:

  1. Keep It Simple. The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism. The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.
  3. Use Two or Three Basic Colors. Limit the number of colors on the flag to three which contrast well and come from the standard color set.
  4. No Lettering or Seals. Never use writing on any kind or an organization’s seal.
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related. Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

As you can see, the Turkish flag certainly follows all of these principles, surely one of the reasons why it has “complete buy-in from an entire cross-section of the [country],” and produces a “positive feedback loop between great symbolism and civic pride” (4:35 and 5:45 in the video). I would add that the flag’s field is a dark color, which contrasts nicely with the sky as it flies, and furthermore the way the star is positioned makes it impossible to fly the flag upside-down – always a useful thing to remember when designing a flag!

But I think there’s even more to the flag than just the cleanness of its design. The fundamental political divide in Turkey right now is between Kemalists and “Erdoğanists” – that is, between those who favor a secular Turkey, as established in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and those who want more official acknowledgement of Islam, the religion of 99% of Turks, as currently promoted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey since 2014 (and Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014). An Islamic state, of course, was the previous dispensation, the state ruled by the Ottoman sultans from Constantinople until 1923. Yet the flag is not seen as the flag of either the secular or the religious faction, but as the birthright of every Turk. For as much of a modernizer as Atatürk was, he retained the Ottoman flag as the flag of the Republic of Turkey, with only minor modifications in the shape of the star and crescent.

Nineteenth-century Ottoman flag. Wikipedia.

Thus, I would say that the flag bridges the gap between Turkey’s two political poles, and even its specific symbols work on more than one level. To most Americans, the star-and-crescent device instantly evokes “Islam,” and indeed it appears in many Islamic flags: Tunisia, Pakistan, and Algeria all come to mind. But the star-and-crescent does not actually have Islamic origins. Apparently it derives ultimately from Anatolian paganism, specifically the cult of Artemis, protectress of Ephesus. So the symbolic progression seems to be: Anatolia > Ottoman > Islam. As religious as the device may now be, it seems that secular Turks can take pride in it as well, as representing the heritage of their land.

As an emblem you can also have a little fun with it:

 

Mexican Flag Day

According to my daily planner, today is Día de la Bandera, that is, flag day in Mexico. Wikipedia states that “The date was selected [in 1937] because more than a century earlier (February 24, 1821), the “Plan of Iguala” or “Plan of the three guarantees” was proclaimed by Agustin de Iturbide and General Vicente Guerrero. This plan was based on three principles: Religion, Independence and Unity, which were represented by the flag’s colors.”

Also from Wikipedia, a photograph of a collection of Mexican flags on display at the Mexican History Museum of Monterrey, Nuevo León:

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The central device on the flag is the Escudo Nacional, that is, the national shield (even if it isn’t a shield as such). Here is the current standard depiction:

Coat_of_arms_of_Mexico.svg

That is, it shows a Mexican golden eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake, an image that has resonance in both Aztec and European culture.

The Confederacy in the National Cathedral

I wanted to attend the 9:00 service at Washington National Cathedral. Unfortunately, and contrary to the cathedral’s website, there was no 9:00 service this Sunday. However, I did get to sing the last hymn of the 8:00 service! It was a good hymn, and I enjoyed exploring the place afterwards. It is immense, with all sorts of details to notice. I confess that I was particularly keen to see what had happened to the Confederate stained glass windows. A parishioner named Jared kindly showed me where they were. One was dedicated to Robert E. Lee, and the other to Stonewall Jackson. I reproduce the windows, and their inscriptions:

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“To the Glory of God, all righteous and all merciful and in undying tribute to the life and witness of Robert Edward Lee, servant of God, leader of men, general-in-chief of the armies of the confederate states whose compelling sense of duty serene faith and unfailing courtesy mark him for all ages as a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach this memorial bay is gratefully built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.”

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“To the glory of the Lord Jesus whom he so zealously served and in honored memory of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Lieutenant General C.S.A. Like a stone wall in his steadfastness, swift as lightning, and mighty in battle, he walked humbly before his creator whose word was his guide this bay is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and his admirers from south and north.”

The sharp-eyed reader will notice that some Confederate flags remain in the windows above: there are two instances of the Stars and Bars, and one of Hardee’s Battle Flag (the blue one with a white circle in the center). Other flags include the U.S. flag, the flag of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (red field, white castle) and the flag the U.S. Army Field Artillery (red field, crossed cannons).

But you’ll notice that no Confederate Battle Flags are in evidence. These were replaced with blank flags, a blue one in the Robert E. Lee window, and a red one in the Stonewall Jackson window.

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For reference, from NPR.org, here are what they looked like in 2015, before the Charleston shooting:

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What to say? In general I am not in favor of the Confederacy, but I am not in favor of Jacobinism either. And yet, monuments like these express endorsement of their subjects – it’s a little bit more than a case of acknowledging “our heritage,” as supporters would have it. Apparently the former dean wanted to get rid of the entire stained glass display, and the inscriptions, on the principle that no Confederates should be memorialized, certainly not in the National Cathedral. But then people raised the usual objections – near these windows, for instance, is the tomb of Woodrow Wilson. Should we dig him up and bury him elsewhere, on account of his unfortunate racial views? Should we not celebrate important people, warts and all, particularly when reincorporating the defeated southern states was at one point a major priority, and if that meant honoring Confederates, so be it? On a practical level, does the Cathedral not have better things to worry about, particularly the $34 million dollars worth of damage caused by an earthquake in 2011?

Frankly it does seem like the choice here should have been all or nothing. Either leave the windows alone, or get rid of all traces of them. Blanking out the one “offensive” image seems somewhat faint-hearted.

Failing that, why not replace the Battle Flags with other, proper flags, and not just blank spaces?

In the meantime, note that the Cathedral displays the flag of Mississippi, with its canton of the Battle Flag, in the nave.

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Flaggery in DC

The CHS is in the part of Washington DC known as Embassy Row, so it was fun to walk around and see all the different flags flying, especially as these are often state flags which can be different from the national flags one sees otherwise. The trouble with taking pictures of them is that the lighting isn’t always good, and you sometimes have to wait quite a while for the wind to blow the flag out. Some that I noticed:

• Right next door to the CHS is the Danish Embassy, which flies a swallow-tailed Dannebrog.

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• The Polish Embassy flies a variant of the Polish flag with the national coat of arms on it. It also flies the European Union flag; the embassies of other EU countries also do this.

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• Except the United Kingdom, of course! I do not believe that the absence of the EU flag over the British Embassy is a result of Brexit – the placement of the single pole suggests that they never flew the EU flag. The Union Flag is here defaced by a roundel featuring the Royal Arms, signifying the presence of an ambassador.

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• The Plurinational State of Bolivia, I discover, has two flags: a traditional one consisting of a horizontal tricolor (here featuring the national coat of arms), and a newer one featuring a seven-color checkerboard design. This is known as the Wiphala and it is an emblem of the native Andeans. It has had equal status to the tricolor since 2009.

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• The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has no diplomatic recognition, but that will not prevent its flag from appearing outside the Islamic Center of Washington.

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• As European Union members do with the EU flag, member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, like the Philippines, fly the ASEAN flag. I did not know about this one.

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Flaggery

As regular readers know, I am a great fan of heraldry, flags, and identifying emblems in general. On a recent road trip from Georgia to Texas and back again, I was pleased to note a lot of historic flags in use.

1. As we passed into Texas on I-10, we saw six flags flying at the Welcome Center, representing the six sovereign entities that have ruled Texas in the past.

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These are, from left to right: the United States, Texas, the Confederacy, Mexico, France, and Spain. Some notes:

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Flag of Texas (Wikipedia).

• Texas, of course, acted as its own country from 1836 to 1845, between its secession from Mexico and its joining the USA. It retains this former national flag as its state flag. The design is wonderfully simple, even striking, and consequently flown quite a lot by Texans (including massive ones at car dealerships). This positively reinforces civic pride, as Roman Mars notes.

flag_of_the_confederate_states_of_america_march_1861_-_may_1861-svg

First national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Confederate Flag flown is the first national flag with seven stars, which is appropriate as Texas was one of the original seven signatories to the CSA in early 1861. Displaying the Stars and Bars helps to avoid the appearance of the ever-controversial Confederate Battle Flag, which appears on the canton of the second and third national flags.

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Second national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

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Third national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Mexican Flag (Texas was a Mexican state between 1821 and 1836) is actually the version flown in the 1820s, i.e. this:

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Flag of the Mexican Republic, 1823-1864 (Wikipedia).

And not this:

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Flag of the United Mexican States, from 1968 (Wikipedia).

I appreciate such attention to detail!

• Bourbon France is represented by Argent semé de lys Or, i.e. a white field strewn with gold fleur de lys, one of the flags that the regime used:

Pavillon_royal_de_France.svg

Wikipedia.

The “Six Flags” display is popular in Texas; other royal French flags employed elsewhere include Argent three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a white field with only three gold fleur de lys on it) and Azure three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a blue field with three gold fleur de lys). This last one makes for the best flag in my opinion – you want a dark color to contrast with the sky, and with the fleur de lys, even though this one is technically a banner of arms, and not a flag. Here it is at the Alamo:

france

• Finally, there are several options for the flag of royal Spain. The flag displayed, according to Wikipedia, is Spain’s “navy and coastal fortifications flag 1785-1843, and national flag 1843-73 and 1874-1931.”

750px-Flag_of_Spain_(1785-1873_and_1875-1931).svg

Ensign of Spain, 1785-1843 (Wikipedia).

Elsewhere, Texans fly a quartered flag of Castile and Leon:

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Outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

An elaborate war ensign:

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From a display at a Spanish mission in San Antonio.

Or, best of all in my opinion, the Cross of Burgundy Flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and historically accurate.

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At Misión San José in San Antonio.

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From a display in Misión San Francisco de la Espada in San Antonio.

2. The Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 flies two flags, the current Louisiana flag, and the Bonnie Blue Flag (apparently upside down!).

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The Bonnie Blue Flag was used by some Confederates as an unofficial emblem; it is immortalized in a song. What people tend not to realize, however, is that this flag had been used earlier by Fulwar Skipwith’s breakaway Republic of West Florida for a few months in 1810, and the I-10 welcome center is in one of these so-called Florida Parishes.

Interestingly, in the Louisiana State Capitol, the Bonnie Blue Flag is shown as light blue. Apparently this was the actual shade of the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Thus, it appears that the RWF and Somalia have something in common.

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3. To the immediate left of the Bonnie Blue Flag in the photo above is a flag the reader has probably not seen before.

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Flag of Louisiana, 1861 (Wikipedia).

This is the flag flown by Louisiana between its secession from the Union, and its joining of the Confederacy, in 1861. Not a bad design – I wish they had kept it as their state flag, in the mode of Texas.

(You’ll also note the flag of Republican France on the right in the photo above – Napoleon reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, but then sold it to the United States in 1803.)

(You’ll also note the third national flag of the CSA. It would not surprise me if this gets changed sometime soon.)

4. A similar situation prevails in Mississippi. We drove most of the way from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. along a coastal scenic route. We thus passed Beauvoir, President Jefferson Davis’s retirement home and now Presidential Library. I did not get any pictures, but Beauvoir doesn’t mess around: flying out front are large versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the three national flags of the CSA, the Confederate Battle Flag, the current Mississippi flag, and the Magnolia Flag:

Wikipedia.

Magnolia Flag (Wikipedia).

According to Wikipedia, this flag was Mississippi’s official flag from 1861 until 1865; it remained in unofficial use until 1894, when the current state flag was adopted. And we all know the problem with the current flag.

mississippiflag

The Confederate Battle Flag on the canton survived a referendum in 2001, but I would have no problem with the governor changing it by fiat anyway, because Confederate symbols have no place connected to current symbols of sovereignty. Furthermore, the Confederacy lasted all of four years, was in defense of a horrible cause, and went down in flames. (Why not a canton of the Union Jack, or the Cross of Burgundy? Those were also episodes in Mississippi’s history – and probably happier ones.) The Magnolia Flag is a nice design and especially appropriate to the state: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State.

In the meantime, when displays of all the state flags are needed, the Mississippi flag should probably be placed a little more discreetly than it was at the Superbowl this year:

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Or at this citizenship ceremony:

immigration5. The City of New Orleans has a nice flag, even if it has gold fleurs de lys on a white background:

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6. In 1965, Thomas J. Arseneaux designed the flag of Acadiana, that is, a flag for those of Cajun ancestry:

acadiana

I was pleased to learn about this one, because there is a similar flag in Canada: the flag of Acadia is a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star.

Flag-of-Acadia

Wikipedia.

7. We spent the night in Gonzales, Texas, and thereby discovered the existence of the Gonzales Flag.

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Wikipedia.

In 1831, the Mexican government had given the residents of Gonzales a cannon for defense. At the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835, however, the Mexicans sent a force to take it back, and the Gonzalans replied with a suitable Laconic phrase, embroidered on an improvised flag. The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement in the Revolution, and inspiring for the Texans, as the Mexicans were forced to retreat without their cannon.

I’m surprised that this flag is not more popular among right-leaning Americans (cf. “Don’t Tread On Me“). Current residents of Gonzales certainly cherish it:

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8. Finally, the Louisiana state history museum exhibits an unofficial flag celebrating Louisiana’s admission as the eighteenth state of the Union in 1810.

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You’ll notice that this flag has eighteen stars – and eighteen stripes! Actually the official flag of the United States stopped with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes when Kentucky was admitted in 1792, but people kept adding both stars and stripes anyway out of pride. Only in 1818 did official word come down that the number of stripes should revert to thirteen, and the number of stars increase to twenty, for the number of states by that time.

UPDATE

An update to a post from last year: NPR reports “No new flag for New Zealand”

More than 2 million New Zealanders voted to keep the Union Jack on their national flag, ending a 10-month process and squashing a move Prime Minister John Key said would make it easier to distinguish from Australia’s flag and bolster national pride.

The current flag has been the national symbol for 114 years, according to The Associated Press. The rejected design, which featured a silver fern, was selected from more than 10,000 submissions from the public.

Some people called a flag on the play over the estimated price tag: NZ$26 million, which is about $17 million in U.S. currency.

“Naturally I’m a little bit disappointed the flag didn’t change tonight,” Key told reporters on Thursday. But he accepted the decision.

St. Louis, Mo.

A visit to the great city of St. Louis has reminded me that the Gateway Arch is not its only symbol. The city’s flag is also one of the best designed in the United States. From Wikipedia, here it is:

600px-Flag_of_St._Louis,_Missouri.svg

St. Louis himself is Louis IX, king of France between 1226 and 1270 (he was canonized in 1297). It is only appropriate that his namesake city be represented by a fleur de lys, the royal symbol of France, situated at the confluence of wavy lines, representing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. The flag, the brainchild of Yale art professor Theodore Sizer, turned 50 last year.

Correspondent Duncan Sutherland brought this TED talk by Roman Mars to my attention: Why city flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed. His primary positive example is Chicago’s flag (which is indeed very good) but he could also have been talking about St. Louis’s.

UPDATE: Here it is in action, outside the Missouri History Museum:

 

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St. Paul’s, Richmond

My friend Scott Meacham, a resident of Richmond, Virginia, tells me that the anti-Confederate flag movement has reached the cathedral of the Confederacy itself: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, where both Lee and Davis worshiped (and which we had visited this summer). According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The measure includes six plaques with various versions of the Confederate flag, the church’s coat of arms with the flag on kneelers at the high altar, and bookplates in some books in the church’s library.

The coat of arms will be retired, and the church will start to dig deeper in its history, the role of race and slavery in that history, and how parishioners can engage in conversations about race in the Richmond region, church leadership announced Sunday, three months after conversations began with the congregation.

The elected church leadership also said it hopes to erect a memorial to honor slaves in Richmond, especially slaves who were members of St. Paul’s Episcopal.

“While the Vestry does not believe that St. Paul’s should attempt to remove all symbols reflecting St. Paul’s past during the Civil War, the Vestry is united in agreement that it is not appropriate to display the Confederate battle flag in the church,” a church statement said.

The needlepoint kneelers have already been removed from the sanctuary. The two plaques on opposite walls of the sanctuary honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy’s president Jefferson Davis will be removed and placed in a not-yet-determined exhibit. Also in the exhibit will be a plaque installed in 1961 memorializing Confederate soldiers.

The plaques honoring Davis’ wife Varina Howell and daughter Varina Davis will be modified to remove the battle flag without removing the plaque from the church walls. A plaque honoring Frederic Robert Scott, an Ireland-born Confederate major, also will be modified to remove the battle flag.

More at the link, including an illustration of the coat of arms, which is really well designed.

Paris

Generally I don’t like participating in Media Events, but the recent attacks in Paris have shocked me more than most jihadist activity in recent years. One thing to think about, though, if you’re going to Do Something about it on Facebook: the French tricolor is symbol of France – but a secular, republican symbol, like Marianne or the Coq gaulois. By all means change your profile picture if you wish, but be aware that it is somewhat incongruous to display a French flag with “pray for France” written on it. 

(St. Louis, St. Joan or St. Denis might be better choices here. Or Charles Martel himself!)

Given that the attacks took place in Paris, the arms of Paris might also be a good choice to show at this time. The motto, translated as “She is tossed by the waves, but does not sink,” seems especially appropriate.

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Via Wikiwand.com

New Zealand

The World Cup of Rugby is going on as I write this, and defending champions New Zealand look like they just might win it again. This is within the natural order of things: the New Zealand “All Blacks” (from the color of their strip) are one of the consistently best teams in the world, the only one with a winning record against every other national team. So far, in this tournament, they have defeated Argentina 26-16 and Namibia 58-14, and will likely make short work of Georgia and Tonga, their two next opponents.

One honored tradition of the All Blacks is that of the haka, a Maori war-dance that the team performs before every game as a challenge to the other team. I confess that I was taken aback when I first heard about this: I attended a college that dropped its Indian mascot in 1974 for the familiar reasons, but here are a bunch of white people performing an actual native ritual?! (Although the All Blacks usually do include numerous players of Maori descent.) And yet, every New Zealander I’ve ever met says that it is not controversial at all, that it’s something that all New Zealanders, Maori or otherwise, take great pride in (this includes a Maori dance troupe that performed at Reinhardt back in 2004). The custom provides a very interesting contrast to North American anxiety about cultural appropriation.

One national symbol that many New Zealanders would like to change, however, is their flag, a relic of the glory days of the British Empire. From Wikipedia, here it is:

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Not only is this flag not reflective of New Zealand Today, it is famously quite close to the flag of Australia, the only differences being the number, color, and shape of the stars:

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A shortlist of four alternatives to the current NZ flag has been announced (there were originally forty). New Zealanders will vote on which of these they like, and the winner will go head-to-head in a referendum against the current flag next year.

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Clockwise from top left: Silver Fern (Black and White), Silver Fern (Red, White and Blue), Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue), Koru. Photo: EPA/NZ Flag Consideration Panel, via the Telegraph.

The silver fern is a classic New Zealand symbol (the All Blacks bear it on their jerseys), and the koru is a Maori design element reminiscent of a fiddlehead. Two of the designs retain the Southern Cross, although this is too common in Southern Hemisphere heraldry in my opinion – and I’ve always thought that the red stars outlined (“fimbriated”) in white don’t contrast enough with the blue background. Furthermore, black might make for an intimidating sports uniform, but you’d think that for a flag a country would want something a little more colorful.

But I’m not a New Zealander and this is not my decision to make. (Although I am sympathetic with the impulse, given that my own country changed its flag fifty years ago, for many of the same reasons.)