About Asia

Here you find some selected articles from different sources to give you a bit an overview over some topics we find interesting.
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Arabian Peninsula

The history of the Arabian Peninsula goes back to the beginnings of human habitation in Arabia up to 20,000 years ago. The region has twice in world history had a global impact. The first was in the 7th century when it became the cradle of Islam. The second was from the mid-20th century when the discovery of vast oil deposits propelled it into a key economic and geo-political role. At other times, the region existed in relative obscurity and isolation, although from the 7th century the cities of Mecca and Medina had the highest spiritual significance for the Islamic world, Mecca being the destination for the Hajj annual pilgrimage.
For much of its history most of the Arabian Peninsula has been controlled by a patchwork of tribal rulers.
The Tribes of Arabia at the time of the Rise of Islam
The seventh century saw the introduction of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. The Islamic prophet Muhammad, was born in Mecca in about 570 and first began preaching in the city in 610, but migrated to Medina in 622. From there he and his companions united the tribes of Arabia under the banner of Islam and created a single Arab Muslim religious polity in the Arabian peninsula.
He established a new unified polity in the Arabian peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Arab power well beyond the Arabian peninsula in the form of a vast Muslim Arab Empire with an area of influence that stretched from the northwest Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, southern Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, to the Pyrenees.
Muhammad began preaching Islam at Mecca before migrating to Medina, from where he united the tribes of Arabia into a singular Arab Muslim religious polity. With Muhammad's death in 632 AD, disagreement broke out over who would succeed him as leader of the Muslim community.
Following Muhammad's death in 632, Abu Bakr became leader of the Muslims as the first Caliph. After putting down a rebellion by the Arab tribes (known as the Ridda wars, or "Wars of Apostasy"), Abu Bakr attacked the Byzantine Empire. In a matter of decades Muslim armies decisively defeated the Byzantine army and destroyed the Persian Empire, conquering huge swathes of territory from the Iberian peninsula to India. The political focus of the Muslim world then shifted to the newly conquered territories.
The Middle Ages
Despite its spiritual importance, in political terms Arabia soon became a peripheral region of the Islamic world, in which the most important medieval Islamic states were based at various times in such far away cities as Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo.
Modern history
The provincial Ottoman Army for Arabia (Arabistan Ordusu) was headquartered in Syria, which included Lebanon, Palestine, and the Transjordan region. It was put in charge of Syria, Cilicia, Iraq, and the remainder of the Arabian Peninsula. The Ottomans never had any control over central Arabia, also known as the Najd region.
The Damascus Protocol of 1914 provides an illustration of the regional relationships. Arabs living in one of the existing districts of the Arabian peninsula, the Emirate of Hejaz, asked for a British guarantee of independence. Their proposal included all Arab lands south of a line roughly corresponding to the northern frontiers of present-day Syria and Iraq. They envisioned a new Arab state, or confederation of states, adjoining the southern Arabian Peninsula.
Late Ottoman rule and the Hejaz Railway
In the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottomans embarked on an ambitious project: the construction of a railway connecting Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the seat of the Islamic Caliphate, and Hejaz with its holiest shrines of Islam which are the yearly pilgrimage destination of the Hajj. Another important goal was to improve the economic and political integration of the distant Arabian provinces into the Ottoman state, and to facilitate the transportation of military troops in case of need.
The Hejaz Railway was a narrow gauge railway (1050 mm) that ran from Damascus to Medina, through the Hejaz region of Arabia. It was a part of the Ottoman railway network and was built in order to extend the previously existing line between Istanbul and Damascus all the way to the holy city of Mecca.
The railway was started in 1900 at the behest of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and was built largely by the Turks, with German advice and support. A public subscription was opened throughout the Islamic world to fund the construction.
The Arab Revolt and the unification of Saudi Arabia
The major developments of the early 20th century were the Arab Revolt during World War I and the subsequent collapse and partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The Arab Revolt (1916–1918) was initiated by the Sherif Hussein ibn Ali with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Empire and creating a single unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen. During World War I, the Sharif Hussein entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans in June 1916.
Oil reserves
The second major development has been the discovery of vast reserves of oil in the 1930s. Its production brought great wealth to all countries of the region, with the exception of Yemen.
Kuwait and the Gulf War
The British proposed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1913 to establish Kuwait as an autonomous kaza. It was a district of the vilayet of Basra. The treaty was never ratified due to the outbreak of World War I. In 1990 Iraq made claims upon Kuwaiti territory, and insisted that the borders had never been properly delimited by the British in 1951.
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces led to the 1990–91 Gulf War. Egypt, Qatar, Syria and Saudi Arabia joined a multinational coalition that opposed Iraq. Displays of support for Iraq by Jordan and the Palestinians resulted in strained relations between many of the Arab states. After the war, a so-called "Damascus Declaration" formalized an alliance for future joint Arab defensive actions between Egypt, Syria, and the GCC member states.


The word petroleum comes from Greek: πέτρα (petra) for rocks and Greek: ἔλαιον (elaion) for oil. The term was found (in the spelling "petraoleum") in 10th-century Old English sources. In the 19th century, the term petroleum was frequently used to refer to mineral oils produced by distillation from mined organic solids such as cannel coal (and later oil shale), and refined oils produced from them.
Petroleum, in one form or another, has been used since ancient times, and is now important across society, including in economy, politics and technology. The rise in importance was due to the invention of the internal combustion engine, the rise in commercial aviation, and the importance of petroleum to industrial organic chemistry, particularly the synthesis of plastics, fertilizers, solvents, adhesives and pesticides.
More than 4000 years ago, according to Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, asphalt was used in the construction of the walls and towers of Babylon; there were oil pits near Ardericca (near Babylon), and a pitch spring on Zacynthus. Great quantities of it were found on the banks of the river Issus, one of the tributaries of the Euphrates. Ancient Persian tablets indicate the medicinal and lighting uses of petroleum in the upper levels of their society. By 347 AD, oil was produced from bamboo-drilled wells in China. Early British explorers to Myanmar documented a flourishing oil extraction industry based in Yenangyaung, that in 1795 had hundreds of hand-dug wells under production. The mythological origins of the oil fields at Yenangyaung, and its hereditary monopoly control by 24 families, indicate very ancient origins.
In 1847, the process to distill kerosene from petroleum was invented by James Young. He noticed a natural petroleum seepage in the Riddings colliery at Alfreton, Derbyshire from which he distilled a light thin oil suitable for use as lamp oil, at the same time obtaining a thicker oil suitable for lubricating machinery. In 1848 Young set up a small business refining the crude oil.
By the end of the 19th century the Russian Empire, particularly the Branobel company in Azerbaijan, had taken the lead in production.
Access to oil was and still is a major factor in several military conflicts of the twentieth century, including World War II, during which oil facilities were a major strategic asset and were extensively bombed. The German invasion of the Soviet Union included the goal to capture the Baku oilfields, as it would provide much needed oil-supplies for the German military which was suffering from blockades. Oil exploration in North America during the early 20th century later led to the U.S. becoming the leading producer by mid-century. As petroleum production in the U.S. peaked during the 1960s, however, the United States was surpassed by Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.
Today, about 90 percent of vehicular fuel needs are met by oil. Petroleum also makes up 40 percent of total energy consumption in the United States. Petroleum's worth as a portable, dense energy source powering the vast majority of vehicles and as the base of many industrial chemicals makes it one of the world's most important commodities.
The top three oil producing countries are Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. About 80 percent of the world's readily accessible reserves are located in the Middle East, with 62.5 percent coming from the Arab 5: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait. A large portion of the world's total oil exists as unconventional sources, such as bitumen in Canada and oil shale in Venezuela. While significant volumes of oil are extracted from oil sands, particularly in Canada, logistical and technical hurdles remain, as oil extraction requires large amounts of heat and water, making its net energy content quite low relative to conventional crude oil.


Islam, one of the three major monotheistic faiths, was founded in Arabia by Muhammad between 610 and 632. There are an estimated 1.57 billion Muslims worldwide.
Muhammad was born in A.D. 570 at Mecca and belonged to the Quraysh tribe, which was active in the caravan trade. At the age of 25 he joined the trade from Mecca to Syria in the employment of a rich widow, Khadija, whom he later married. Critical of the lax moral standards and polytheistic practices of the inhabitants of Mecca, he began to lead a contemplative life in the desert. In a dramatic religious vision, the angel Gabriel announced to Muhammad that he was to be a prophet. Encouraged by Khadija, he devoted himself to the reform of religion and society. Polytheism was to be abandoned. But leaders of the Quraysh generally rejected his teaching, and Muhammad gained only a small following and suffered persecution. He eventually fled Mecca.
The Hegira (Hijra, meaning "emigration") of Muhammad from Mecca, where he was not honored, to Medina, where he was well received, occurred in 622 and marks the beginning of the Muslim era. After a number of military conflicts with Mecca, in 630 he marched on Mecca and conquered it. Muhammad died at Medina in 632. His grave there has since been a place of pilgrimage.
Muhammad's followers, called Muslims, revered him as the prophet of Allah (God), the only God. Muslims consider Muhammad to be the last in the line of prophets that included Abraham and Jesus. Islam spread quickly, stretching from Spain in the west to India in the east within a century after the prophet's death. Sources of the Islamic faith are the Qur'an (Koran), regarded as the uncreated, eternal Word of God, and tradition (hadith) regarding sayings and deeds of the prophet.
Islam means "surrender to the will of Allah," the all-powerful, who determines humanity's fate. Good deeds will be rewarded at the Last Judgment in paradise, and evil deeds will be punished in hell.
The Five Pillars, or primary duties, of Islam are profession of faith; prayer, to be performed five times a day; almsgiving to the poor and the mosque (house of worship); fasting during daylight hours in the month of Ramadan; and pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj) at least once in a Muslim's lifetime, if it is physically and financially possible. The pilgrimage includes homage to the ancient shrine of the Ka'aba, the most sacred site in Islam.
Muslims gather for corporate worship on Fridays. Prayers and a sermon take place at the mosque, which is also a center for teaching of the Qur'an. The community leader, the imam, is considered a teacher and prayer leader.
Islam succeeded in uniting an Arab world of separate tribes and castes, but disagreements concerning the succession of the prophet caused a division in Islam between two groups, Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Shi'ites rejected the first three successors to Muhammad as usurpers, claiming the fourth, Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, as the rightful leader. The Sunnis (from the word tradition), the largest division of Islam (today more than 87%), believe in the legitimacy of the first three successors. Among these, other sects arose (such as the conservative Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia), as well as different schools of theology. Another development within Islam, beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, was Sufism, a form of mysticism. This movement was influential for many centuries and was instrumental in the spread of Islam in Asia and Africa.
Islam has expanded greatly under Muhammad's successors. It is the principal religion of the Middle East, Asia, and the northern half of Africa.
Countries with the Largest Muslim Populations
1. Indonesia
2. Pakistan
3. India
4. Bangladesh
5. Egypt
6. Nigeria
7. Iran
8. Turkey
9. Algeria
10. Morocco

The Opium Highway

Central Asia is a major transit route for the global trade in heroin, most of which comes from the neighboring Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium. Somewhere between 100 and 200 tons of heroin passes through Tajikistan each year via the 1300km Afghan border. In fact, Tajikistan seizes roughly 90% of all drugs captured in Central Asia and stands third worldwide in seizures of opiates (heroin and raw opium), after Iran and Pakistan.
Warlords and criminal gangs control most of the business, although the army, police, Afghan Taliban and border guards are alleged to have fingers in the opium bowl. Drugs have even turned up in Kazakh diplomatic bags and on Russian military flights. In 2005 a homemade aircraft (a parachute with a motor attached) was shot down flying above the border with Tajikistan with 18kg of heroin. In 2009 Russian police seized 80kg of heroin from smugglers on the Dushanbe-Moscow train, a line well known to antinarcotic police as the “Heroin Express”. Over the years drug money has financed everything in Tajikistan from weapons for the civil war to the poppy palaces that line the Varzob Valley north of Dushanbe.
In modern Central Asia, camel caravans of silks and spices have been replaced, it seems, by Ladas and train carriages packed with heroin. The Silk Road has become an opium highway.

The Silk Route

The Silk Road, or Silk Route, is a series of trade and cultural transmission routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time.
Extending 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers), the Silk Road gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade which was carried out along its length, and began during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The Central Asian sections of the trade routes were expanded around 114 BC by the Han dynasty, largely through the missions and explorations of Zhang Qian. They took great interest in the safety of their products being traded and extended the Great Wall to ensure the protection of the trade route.
The main traders during Antiquity were the Persian traders, the Romans, the Indians and Bactrian traders had involvement, then from the 5th to the 8th century the Sogdian traders, during the coming of age of Islam Arab traders became prominent.
Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Persia, Europe and Arabia. It opened long-distance, political and economic interactions between the civilizations. Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other goods were traded, and various technologies, religions and philosophies, as well as the bubonic plague (the "Black Death"), also traveled along the Silk Routes. In addition to economic trade, the Silk Road served as a ways of cultural trade between the networking civilizations.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan (1162? – August 1227), born Temujin, was the founder and Great Khan (emperor) of the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history after his demise.
He came to power by uniting many of the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia. After founding the Mongol Empire and being proclaimed "Genghis Khan," he started the Mongol invasions that resulted in the conquest of most of Eurasia. These included raids or invasions of the Kara-Khitan Khanate, Caucasus, Khwarezmid Empire, Western Xia and Jin dynasties. These campaigns were often accompanied by wholesale massacres of the civilian populations – especially in the Khwarezmian controlled lands. By the end of his life, the Mongol Empire occupied a substantial portion of Central Asia and China.
Before Genghis Khan died, he assigned Ögedei Khan as his successor and split his empire into khanates among his sons and grandsons. He died in 1227 after defeating the Western Xia. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in Mongolia at an unknown location. His descendants went on to stretch the Mongol Empire across most of Eurasia by conquering or creating vassal states out of all of modern-day China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asian countries, and substantial portions of modern Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Many of these invasions repeated the earlier large-scale slaughters of local populations. As a result Genghis Khan and his empire have a fearsome reputation in local histories.
Beyond his military accomplishments, Genghis Khan also advanced the Mongol Empire in other ways. He decreed the adoption of the Uyghur script as the Mongol Empire's writing system. He also promoted religious tolerance in the Mongol Empire, and created a unified empire from the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia. Present-day Mongolians regard him as the founding father of Mongolia.
Vilified throughout most of history for the brutality of his campaigns, Genghis Khan is also credited with bringing the Silk Route under one cohesive political environment. This increased communication and trade from Northeast Asia to Muslim Southwest Asia and Christian Europe, thus expanding the horizons of all three cultural areas. Historians have noted that Genghis Khan instituted meritocracy, and encouraged religious tolerance.

Alexander the Great

The son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, he had Aristotle as his tutor and was given a classical education. Alexander had no part in the murder of his father, although he may have resented him because he neglected Olympias for another wife. He succeeded to the throne in 336 B.C. and immediately showed his talent for leadership by quieting the restive cities of Greece, then putting down uprisings in Thrace and Illyria. Thebes revolted on a false rumor that Alexander was dead. The young king rushed south and sacked the city, sparing only the temples and Pindar's house.
Greece and the Balkan Peninsula secured, Alexander then crossed (334) the Hellespont (now the Dardanelles) and, as head of an allied Greek army, undertook the war on Persia that his father had been planning. The march he had begun was to be one of the greatest in history. At the Granicus River (near the Hellespont) he met and defeated a Persian force and moved on to take Miletus and Halicarnassus. For the first time Persia faced a united Greece, and Alexander saw himself as the spreader of Panhellenic ideals. Having taken most of Asia Minor, he entered (333) N Syria and there in the battle of Issus met and routed the hosts of Darius III of Persia, who fled before him.
Alexander, triumphant, now envisioned conquest of the whole of the Persian Empire. It took him nearly a year to reduce Tyre and Gaza, and in 332, in full command of Syria, he entered Egypt. There he met no resistance. When he went to the oasis of Amon he was acknowledged as the son of Amon-Ra, and this may have contributed to a conviction of his own divinity. In the winter he founded Alexandria, perhaps the greatest monument to his name, and in the spring of 331 he returned to Syria, then went to Mesopotamia where he met Darius again in the battle of Guagamela. The battle was hard, but Alexander was victorious. He marched south to Babylon, then went to Susa and on to Persepolis, where he burned the palaces of the Persians and looted the city.
He was now the visible ruler of the Persian Empire, pursuing the fugitive Darius to Ecbatana, which submitted in 330, and on to Bactria. There the satrap Bessus, a cousin of Darius, had the Persian king murdered and declared himself king. Alexander went on through Bactria and captured and executed Bessus. He was now in the regions beyond the Oxus River (the present-day Amu Darya), and his men were beginning to show dissatisfaction. In 330 a conspiracy against Alexander was said to implicate the son of one of his generals, Parmenion; Alexander not only executed the son but also put the innocent Parmenion to death. This act and other instances of his harshness further alienated the soldiers, who disliked Alexander's assuming Persian dress and the manner of a despot.
Nevertheless Alexander conquered all of Bactria and Sogdiana after hard fighting and then went on from what is today Afghanistan into Northern India. Some of the princes there received him favorably, but at the Hydaspes (the present-day Jhelum River) he met and defeated an army under Porus. He overran the Punjab, but there his men would go no farther. He had built a fleet, and after going down the Indus to its delta, he sent Nearchus with the fleet to take it across the unknown route to the head of the Persian Gulf, a daring undertaking. He himself led his men through the desert regions of modern Baluchistan, Southern Afghanistan, and Southern Iran. The march, accomplished with great suffering, finally ended at Susa in 324.
At Susa Alexander found that many of the officials he had chosen to govern the conquered lands had indulged in corruption and misrule. Meanwhile certain antagonisms had developed against Alexander; in Greece, for instance, many decried his execution of Aristotle's nephew, the historian Callisthenes, and his other acts of seemingly senseless murder; and the Greek cities resented his request that they treat him as a god. Alexander's Macedonian officers balked at his attempt to force them to intermarry with the Persians (he had himself married Roxana, a Bactrian princess, as one of his several wives), and they resisted his Eastern ways and his vision of an empire governed by tolerance. He was also distrusted for his extremely heavy consumption of alcohol. There was a mutiny, but it was put down. In 323, Alexander was planning a voyage by sea around Arabia when he caught a fever and died at age 32. After his death his generals fell to quarreling about dividing the rule. His only son was Alexander Aegus, born to Roxana after Alexander's death and destined for a short and pitiful life.
Whether or not Alexander had plans for a world empire cannot be determined. He had accomplished greater conquests than any before him, but he did not have time to mold the government of the lands he had taken. Incontestably, he was one of the greatest generals of all time and one of the most powerful personalities of antiquity. He influenced the spread of Hellenism throughout the Middle East and into Asia, establishing city-states modeled on Greek institutions that flourished long after his death. There are many legends about him, e.g., his feats on his horse Bucephalus and his cutting of the Gordian knot.