On Macedonians, “noble” origins, and how Alexander the Great is a Muslim figure
Macedonian children, acting as Alexander’s soldiers…
After the fall of Communism and the dismantling of Yugoslavia, Balkan nations were flooded by an exotic range of national beliefs with a mystical and messianic tinge. It thus became fashionable for Balkan Slavs nowadays to pretend that they are not actually Slavs. The Slovenes prefer to suggest that they are a mixture of Italians and Austrians (don’t they say “ja“, instead of “da“?), Croats pretend that they live in Mitteleuropa, and not in the Balkans, Bulgarians prefer to come from central Asia, and remind you about Khan Asparuh, Bosnians have managed, through stubborn insistence, to make it an accepted fact that there exists such a thing as a Bosnian language, while the Serbs don’t know who they are anymore. In these circumstances, some Macedonians, who felt that they needed to show something bigger and more imposing than the others, have found for themselves some relatives in the glaciers of Northern Pakistan.
The “logic” is the following: Alexander was the greatest hero of the… Macedonians. Right? [We leave aside the wrath of the Greeks, who have been blocking this small country for more than two decades for “usurping the Greek historical heritage”. Anyway, historical Macedonians would have been rather some proto-Albanians… in any case, we don’t know anything about the Macedonian language other than it was not Greek. It certainly wasn’t a Slavic language, like the Macedonian from today, which is mutually intelligible with Bulgarian.] Alexander, therefore, say the Macedonians conquered every known land from Greece to India… It is legitimate to assume that legions of Macedonian warriors remained there, on the fringes of the empire, in what is Pakistan today, so it would make sense to look there for descendants, for cousins of the Macedonians… from FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).
Said and done! The sad and gray Skopje airport was baptized “Alexander the Great” (regardless of the fact that the Greeks have already one with the same name, in Kavala). But that was not enough, and the government went to find Macedonians in the Himalayas.
Envoys from Skopje found a tribe in the glaciers of northern Pakistan (Hunza) where bizarre languages are spoken (Khowari and Burushaski) and they even brought to Skopje the “king” and “queen” of one of the tribes, greeting them at the Skopje airport “Alexander the Great” with a guard of honour composed of extras dressed as “Macedonian soldiers of old”, out of the naive “peplum” movies of the 50s.
The language of the prince Ghazanfar Ali Khan of Hunza (who landed at the airport in Skopje reciting, in English: — “I am honored to be in my country, Macedonia“) is an archaic language, indeed, a link, like the languages of the neighbouring Kafiri polytheists from the same region, between Iranian and Indian languages. As for the Burushaski language, spoken in the same valley, this is a completely isolated, non-Indo-European language, with rare features, about which I wrote here:
Sǫʼ Baaʼ – Star Wars in Navajo, with a reflection on capitalist languages…
One argument that nationalists in Skopje bring forth is that the speakers of Burushaski claim to descend from Alexander the Great.
This is only partially true. Simply put, the speakers of Burushaski claim to descend from Alexander the Great because they are Muslims!… Indeed, Alexander is an important figure in Islamic mythology, and there is nothing in common between the muslim Alexander and the historical one. Although appearing in only one chapter (sura), Alexander is an important figure in the Koran. Obviously, Muhammad thought that Alexander had been invested by Allah with a divine mission. The Muslim Alexander is thus, together with Moses and Jesus, or King Solomon, one of those figures who lived before the birth of Islam but who are considered as being a kind of “honorary Muslims”.
That this Alexander from North Pakistan is just a simple Muslim mystical symbol, and not the historical Alexander, is shown by the fact that the greatest authorities in Muslim theology always situated Alexander as having lived in the times of the Prophet Abraham/Ibrahim. Thus, al-Qastalani, a commentator of the traditions of Islam (hadith), says that Alexander (to whom he gives the correct Muslim name of Sikandar) made a pilgrimage to Mecca (a delicious anachronism).
This Sikandar appears thus in the chapter 18th of the Koran, where he is called Dhu-l-Qarnain, the “One with Two Horns”. Following Muhammad, Muslim commentators try to explain this name by the fact that he had two horns on his crown, or because he united the East and the West, or simply because, as a supernatural being… he had two horns!… This obscure tradition could explain the fact that Moses, another mythical being for the Muslims, was also thought to have had two horns, which he is clearly wearing on his forehead in a Michelangelo sculpture.
Alexander the Great (Dhu-l-Qarnain, the “One with Two Horns”) on a 100 Manat bill from Turkmenistan…
Moreover, the speakers of Burushaski are only one of the numerous Muslim mountain populations of central Asia who claim to be descended from Alexander. Another such ethnic group are the Kalash Kafirs, living in the Pamir mountains. The Kafirs speak a language which in turn is not related to Burushaski, and which, as I said, seems to be the link between Iranian and Indian languages (again, nothing to do with today’s Macedonian language from the Balkans).
Such legends have no more value than the Roman tradition, made famous by Virgil in the Aeneid, according to which the Romans were descendants of Trojan refugees, who fled to Italy after the destruction of their city by the Greeks. The emperor Augustus needed this legend as a justification for the incorporation of the Greek lands into the Roman Empire. The idea was: the Greeks have exterminated our Trojan ancestors; Eneas then fled from Troy to Italy and created the Roman race, and today, with the submission of Greece, we take a just revenge. This kind of a foundation myth is commonplace in history and in the end very banal. It is the daily bread of popular history and popular wisdom.
There were even some amateur European anthropologists of the 19th century, in a time when anthropology and linguistics were not yet sciences, who came with the idea that the Pashtuns, the main ethnic group in Muslim Afghanistan, were actually the descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel (the “proofs” being that the Pashtuns have big aquiline noses “like the Jews”, and that they always wear a skull cap which looks like a Jewish kippa). Of course, there is nothing in Pashtun, an Iranian language, showing any Jewish influence. In general, this kind of theory has behind it a dangerous confusion between ethnicity and language, and those who promote such ideas seem to forget that linguistics is a science, and that one cannot prove that two populations are related because they both think that the sun is a male, and the moon a female being, or vice versa, or because they wear the same king of headgear.
All in all, bringing a group of Burushaski-speaking people to Skopje and trying to pretend that they descend from Alexander the Great is a gesture which exposes a very naïve (or pretending to be so) tissue of errors: nothing in the Greek sources from the Antiquity tells us that the bulk of Alexander’s armies was made up of Greeks and Macedonians. Most likely, the army was, for the bigger part, composed of people drafted forcibly, or of mercenaries gathered along the road.
Again, Alexandre’s Macedonians were not speaking the South-Slavic language that in modern times came to be known by the geographical name of “Macedonian”. And, on top of it, there is nothing in common between today’s Macedonian and the Burushaski language. In the end, beyond the inescapable truth that Macedonian is a Slavic language, lingers the question: where does this need come from, the need for an exotic and, apparently, following a twisted logic, more “noble” origin?
I wrote a whole book about this disturbing phenomenon, “Dacopatia și alte rătăciri românești” (“Dacopathy and other Romanian oddities“, Humanitas, Bucharest, 2015). This is a book of essays on the Romanian identity and on cultural myths. It contains studies on the new mythologies of the Romanian collective psyche, from a linguistic and cultural point of view.
It is focused mainly on the national obsession with the Dacians, the people from the Antiquity conquered by emperor Trajan’s legions and who, assimilated by the Romans and adopting their language, were the ancestors of today’s Romanians, in the same way in which, let’s say, the Gauls are the ancestors of the French… but Romanians would not accept so little. The obsession with the Dacians became a national craze. The Dacians were perfect, almost more than human, they invented everything, and a world conspiracy is trying to hide from us the real historical facts.
Hence: the “Dacopathy”. In its extreme forms, the Dacopathy pushes its faithful to amazing distortions of the realia. Those afflicted by Dacopathy pretend that Romanian is an Adamic language, from which have sprung all other languages. The Romans themselves spoke only a Dacian dialect. In support of their aberrations, Dacopaths bring in the Roman tradition, made famous by Virgil in the Aeneid, according to which the Romans were descendants of Trojan refugees, who fled to Italy after the destruction of their city by the Greeks. Exactly what I said above: the emperor Augustus needed this legend as a justification for the incorporation of the Greek lands into the Roman Empire. The idea was: the Greeks have exterminated our Trojan ancestors; Eneas then fled from Troy to Italy and created the Roman race, and today, with the submission of Greece, we, Romans, take a just revenge.
Here is a French presentation of my book “Dacopatia și alte rătăciri românești” (“Dacopathy and other Romanian oddities“, Humanitas, Bucharest, 2015):
Dan Alexe, pourfendeur des égarements roumains
Sǫʼ Baaʼ – Star Wars in Navajo, with a reflection on capitalist languages…