Cities and Syndromes

To dwell in a city of historic importance like Jerusalem, Istanbul and Belgrade is undoubtedly a matter of pride, chauvinism and glory. But when these cities, with rich past, national aspirations, geostrategic locations etc, fall prey to ambitious empires, kings and expansionists these senses evaporate as quickly as possible. Cities of such scale were either besieged, razed to the ground or their fabrics were totally changed. On top of all repeated occupation, trouble and ideological war may cause some medical problems that commonly go together, which might show the existence of a particular disease or mental condition. Baghdad or Sanaa could have been included in the list of the handpicked cities to be discussed today. In spite of their being two of the oldest cities in the world they are excluded because they are neither on the periphery of the Muslim world nor at the cultural crossroads as Jerusalem is. These trio cities — Jerusalem, Istanbul and Belgrade —represent some characters in common, having multi-cultural heritage, multi-ethnicity, demographic diversity etc. Apart from all these there are some syndromes associated with the trio. One more common thing among these cities is that they provide the cultural frontiers, fault lines and the confluence of the different cultures. These frontier cities will be one of the precursors of civilizations in future.

The history of civilizations, as determined by the study of archaeological and written records, says ancient history begins with the invention of writing. However, the roots of civilization predates it. Prehistory begins in the Early Stone Age, which is followed by the New Stone Age, and the Agricultural Revolution preceded the Industrial Revolution before today’s domination of Service Sector. The agricultural period marked a shift in human history, as humans began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals. Agriculture advanced and the farmers started settling permanently. Organised farming developed and prompted a division of labour to store food. Labour divisions then led to the rise of a leisured upper class and the development of cities. Many cities developed on the banks of River Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Jordan, Danube and the major rivers in China.


On the basin of River Jordan Jerusalem city sprouted and it hosts Masjidul Aqsa, Mount Temple and Dome of the Rock. It is one of the oldest cities of the world, so is its history. Since the time immemorial Jerusalem has been destroyed twice and besieged 23 times. It was attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times down the history. The city was settled in the 4th millennium BC, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world. With the city’s central position in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the city is testimony to 5,000 years of inhabited history. It is often influenced by ideological bias or background. It is a place of contention for Judaism, Christendom and Islam. For example, the Jewish periods of the city’s history are important to Israeli nationalists, whose discourse states that modern Jews descend from the Israelites and Maccabees. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, is not far from Jerusalem headquarters. The Islamic periods of the city’s history are important to Muslims, whose narratives suggest that modern Palestinians descend from all the different peoples who have lived in the region. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)’s night journey towards heaven right from the Dome of the Rock. These three parties claim but after the consecutive crusades the Christians apparently stopped warring with the Muslims to occupy the holy land. But it never ceased to be a bone of contention to Israelis and Palestinians representing two religions. Both sides claim the history of the city has been politicized by the other in order to strengthen their relative claims to the city, and that this is borne out by the different focuses the different writers place on the various events and eras in the city’s history. The city visitors sometimes suffer from Jerusalem syndrome. Jerusalem syndrome is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem.


Unlike often-aggressed Jerusalem Istanbul is one of the fortunate cities. It is not ravaged repeatedly by the emperors, war lords or occupiers. It is the real Eurasia which connects between Asia and Europe. Historically Constantinople was capital of Byzantium, Roman and Ottoman empires for 1600 years. On 29th May in 1453 the most populous city came under the rule of Ottoman Turks. Even the Ottoman rule extended up to Hungary including Italy, Greece. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical centre lies on the European side and about a third of its population lives on the Asian side. The city is the administrative centre of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul ranks as world’s 5th-largest city proper and the largest European city with a population of around 14 million.

Founded under the name of Byzantium on the Sarayburnu promontory around 660 BCE, the city developed to become one of the most significant cities in history. After its reestablishment as Constantinople in 330 CE, it served as an imperial capital during the Roman and Byzantine (330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin (1204–1261), and the Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. It was instrumental in the advancement of Christianity during Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and transformed it into an Islamic stronghold and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate.

Istanbul’s geostrategic position on the historic Silk Road, rail networks to Europe and the Middle East, and the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have produced a cosmopolitan populace. Overlooked for the new capital during the interwar period, the city has since regained much of its prominence. The population of the city has increased tenfold since the 1950s, as migrants from across Anatolia have moved in and city limits have expanded to accommodate them. Arts, music, film and cultural festivals were established at the end of the 20th century and continue to be hosted by the city today, and infrastructure improvements have produced a complex transportation network.

Approximately 12.56 million foreign visitors arrived in Istanbul in 2015, five years after it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world’s fifth most popular tourist destination. The city’s biggest attraction is its historic centre, partially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its cultural and entertainment hub that can be found across the city’s natural harbour, the Golden Horn, in the Beyoğlu district.

Today’s Istanbul is sprouting, with a constantly growing skyline which is one of the most prominent in all of Europe and Western Asia. New developments are constantly being implemented including new metro lines, residential buildings and underground transportation projects such as the Tunnel under Marmara Sea — the deepest one in the world. Along with these developments, the city is increasingly becoming the centre of operations for many international organizations such as the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Turkic Council and D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation.

After the revival of political Islam and the success of a number of Islamist parties in election in some of the Middle East and North African countries, a new term is being coined— the Turkish model. Some Islamists are suffering what can be called ‘Istanbul Syndrome’. Istanbul Syndrome is an idolization of some-sort of Turkey’s leading Islamist political party and what it represents. The Muslim Brothers in Egypt, for instance, are still referring to the possibility of applying the Turkish model.


As Baghdad sprawled in between two rivers and was ravaged repeatedly so is Belgrade. Baghdad sprouted on the River Tigris and Euphrates but Belgrade city developed on the banks of Danube and Sava. It dates back to at least 7000 BC. One of the largest prehistoric cultures of Europe, the Vinča culture, evolved from the Belgrade area in the 6th millennium BC. In antiquity, Thraco-Dacians inhabited the region, and after 279 BC Celts conquered the city, naming it Singidūn. It was conquered by the Romans during the reign of Augustus, and awarded city rights in the mid-2nd century. It was settled by the Slavs in the 520s, and changed hands several times before it became the capital of King Stephen Dragut in (1282–1316). In 1521 Belgrade was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and became the seat of a sanjak. It frequently passed from Ottoman to Habsburg rule, which saw the destruction of most of the city during the Austro-Ottoman wars. Belgrade was again named the capital of Serbia in 1841. The north of Belgrade remained a Habsburg outpost until 1918, when it was merged into the capital city. As a geostrategic location, the city was battled over in 115 wars and razed to the ground 44 times. Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia from its creation in 1918, to its final dissolution in 2006. To me Balkan is almost synonymous with battleground and Belgrade is the most beleaguered belt where battle cry was heard over hundred times in history. If any city suffer like Belgrade suffer dozens of war may be called a city suffering from ‘Belgrade Syndrome’ and that may be Baghdad not New York or Bern. Because Baghdad has that prospect of being second to Belgrade in the number of wars and Iraqis are braving thousands of kilometres in between Baghdad to Bavaria.

Thank Allah there is nothing like ‘Dhaka Syndrome’ like that of Jerusalem Syndrome. There is no possibility for Bangladeshis to suffer from Jerusalem Syndrome because they are prohibited to visit Israel. But Bangladeshis have every possibility to have Istanbul Syndrome because the Muslims have every right to go and visit Turkey and import political Islam though the present govt is very harsh on the Islamists here in the country. Last but not the least Dhaka may have Belgrade Syndrome if it is attacked by its hostile neighbours 114 times, though in near past it suffered one war in 1971 when Pakistanis played havoc with Dhaka. To reach the mark of Belgrade’s war tally Dhaka will have to go a long way having more wars with misfortunes, disasters and, of course, warring attitudes with its neighbours. Hope the capital of Bangladesh won’t follow the course of war, destruction, genocide and a total collapse.