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Americas World

Celebrated Abroad, Juan Guaidó Faces Critical Test in Venezuela


BOGOTÁ, Colombia — When the leader of Venezuela’s opposition landed in Caracas this week following a world tour meant to drum up support for regime change, his country’s authoritarian ruler handed him neither an arrest, which would have galvanized supporters, nor the chance for a hero’s welcome at the airport.

Instead, President Nicolás Maduro appeared to greet his rival, Juan Guaidó, with the same policy of slow strangulation that has drained the opposition of much of its momentum over the past year, cracking down on his movement enough to wear down its members, but without going so far as to spur the world to action.

Moments before Mr. Guaidó arrived, Mr. Maduro’s supporters attacked journalists who were there to cover his arrival, punching them and dragging at least one woman by the hair. Once Mr. Guaidó landed, government backers chased him out of the airport, cutting off any plans he had to make a speech, and then attacked his car with traffic cones and at least one metal pole.

And as Mr. Guaidó slipped through, authorities arrested his uncle, accusing him, without presenting evidence, of bringing explosives into the country.

Hours later, Mr. Guaidó stood with a few hundred supporters in a plaza in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas and declared victory.

“I defied the dictatorship and I entered the country,” he said. “Venezuela is going to be democratic and free.”

Mr. Guaidó also said he would be announcing the creation of a “Venezuela Fund,” a multilateral program meant to help the country recover from its long and devastating economic crisis.

[Update: The U.S. has imposed sanctions on the Russian oil company supporting Venezuela’s leader.]

But he offered no other plan to remove Mr. Maduro. That, along with his chaotic arrival and the growing frustration among his base caused by the glacial pace of change, spoke eloquently about the challenges Mr. Guaidó is facing at home.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Guaidó arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, Mr. Maduro’s most powerful ally, Diosdado Cabello, mocked the size of the crowd that had come to receive him at the airport and belittled his movement.

Mr. Guaidó issued a direct challenge to Mr. Maduro a year ago, when he pointed to irregularities in Mr. Maduro’s re-election and claimed to be the country’s interim president, earning the support of millions of Venezuelans and dozens of foreign governments, including the United States.

Since then, despite the United State’s use of crippling sanctions to hurt the country’s economy and try to force the ouster of Mr. Maduro, Mr. Guaidó has not managed to seize power and call new presidential elections — his stated goals.

On Jan. 19, he left the country to shore up greater support abroad, defying a travel ban imposed by Mr. Maduro’s government. On his trip, he made headlines when he sat down with President Trump and was given a prominent place at the state of the union address. There, Mr. Trump championed the opposition leader’s efforts.

Mr. Guaidó also met with Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France, and was welcomed by thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, signaled that substantive action could be on the way, including sanctions on Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft.

Oil buoys the Venezuela economy, and Rosneft has been the country’s main shipper of crude.

Internationally, Mr. Guaidó looked strong.

But at home, nothing had changed, and Mr. Maduro remained firmly in control of the country, playing what appears to be a long game of attrition.

Mr. Guaidó is also barreling toward a crisis point that poses a critical threat to the opposition, and to his claim to being the country’s interim president.

The National Assembly, the legislature, is the last major political body in the country that the opposition claims to control. But 2020 is an election year for the assembly, and Mr. Maduro’s opponents are divided over whether to participate.

If the opposition does take part, they risk legitimizing a potentially rigged election. If they don’t, they risk handing control to Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Guaidó, so far, has not declared a position.

Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said no matter what the opposition decides, Mr. Maduro is likely to take over the assembly this year.

But if Mr. Guaidó does not make a decision — and soon — he risks irrelevancy.

“There can be no more beating around the bush,” Mr. Gunson said. “He has to be a leader.”



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Dining & Wine

Pancake Day: What is Shrove Tuesday and why is it celebrated?



Get your eggs, butter, sugar and lemon juice at the ready, for Pancake Day is nearly here.

Whether you find delight in crepe-style pancakes or you prefer the fluffy variations typically found in Scotland and the US, Pancake Day is an annual celebration enjoyed by many across the world in the lead up to the Christian festival of Easter.

From its religious significance to delicious recipes that you can try, here’s everything you need to know about Pancake Day:

What is it and when does it take place?

Shrove Tuesday, also commonly referred to as Pancake Day, is a celebration that’s observed the day before Ash Wednesday.


Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Christian observance of Lent, a 40-day period of abstinence that precedes Easter.

As such, Ash Wednesday is the last day on which those who observe Lent can enjoy richer foods before abstaining for them, should they choose to.

Throughout the centuries it’s become tradition for people to eat pancakes to mark the beginning of Lent so as to use up ingredients that they wouldn’t be allowed to eat during the 40-day period, which is how Pancake Day obtained its name.

As Pancake Day always takes place 47 days before Easter Sunday, its actual date on the Gregorian calendar can vary.

This year, the annual food-filled event is taking place on Tuesday 25 February.

According to Historic UK, the term Shrove Tuesday derives from the act of Anglo-Saxon Christians confessing their sins before Lent, and thus being “shriven” of them.

In some countries, including France, Germany and the United States, the day before the start of Lent is recognised with a celebration called Mardi Gras.

Translated as meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, the festivities often involve Carnival activities such as extravagant parades.

How did it start?

The tradition of eating pancakes to see in the beginning of Lent has been observed in Britain since around the 16th century.

The Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sport outlines that this occurred because the ingredients that make up pancakes – namely eggs, butter and fat – would typically be banned during Lent.

“In some parishes it was the custom for the church bell to ring at noon as the signal for people to begin frying their pancakes,” the authors of the book state.

This bell became known as the “Pancake Bell”, Historic UK explains, and is still used in parishes today.

While pancake eating on Shrove Tuesday has been a custom for the past few centuries, the act of marking the beginning of Lent prior to Ash Wednesday has been around for far longer.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes, a text reportedly translated by writer Abbot Aelfric around 1000AD, in the week preceding Lent it was custom for Christians to confess their sins so that “the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”

Centuries later, around the time of the 16th-century Western Christian Reformation movement, “Shrovetide”, the period of celebration before the fast of Lent, would last around a week.

How is it celebrated?

First and foremost, the primary focus of many people on Pancake Day is the excessive consumption of palate-pleasing pancakes.

Some also take part in an activity called “pancake racing”, which, as the name suggests, involves participating in a race while flipping pancakes in a frying pan.

It’s believed this tradition originated in 1445, when a woman lost track of time while making pancakes on Pancake Day.

As she heard the church bell ring, calling for the community to head to the church for confession, she ran out of her house to make her way to church, all the while still holding her frying pan with the pancake on top.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

In the UK, some also celebrate Pancake Day by taking part in “mob football” matches.

This centuries-old tradition used to be more common, and involves teams kicking a ball around on public roads.

While many no longer partake in the activity, some villages, such as Atherstone in Wawrickshire, continue to uphold the tradition.

Some pancake recipes you can try

From simple crepes topped with sugar and lemon juice, to fluffy pancakes adorned with chocolate spread and banana, there’s no end to the creative pancake recipes you could fry up on Pancake Day.

If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than The Independent‘s list of appetising recipes below:

  • For five of the best vegan and gluten-free pancakes, click here.
  • For tips on how to perfect British and American pancakes, click here.
  • To learn how to make French toast pancakes, click here.
  • For the chocolate-lovers out there, click here for a recipe for chocolate, coconut and banana pancakes.
  • For a variety of seven healthy sweet and savoury pancake recipes, click here.

If you’re in need of a decent frying pan, click here to take a look at 10 of the best varieties on the market.



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Dining & Wine

Pancake Day: What is Shrove Tuesday and why is it celebrated?



Get your eggs, butter, sugar and lemon juice at the ready, for Pancake Day is nearly here.

Whether you find delight in crepe-style pancakes or you prefer the fluffy variations typically found in Scotland and the US, Pancake Day is an annual celebration enjoyed by many across the world in the lead up to the Christian festival of Easter.

From its religious significance to delicious recipes that you can try, here’s everything you need to know about Pancake Day:

What is it and when does it take place?

Shrove Tuesday, also commonly referred to as Pancake Day, is a celebration that’s observed the day before Ash Wednesday.


Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the Christian observance of Lent, a 40-day period of abstinence that precedes Easter.

As such, Ash Wednesday is the last day on which those who observe Lent can enjoy richer foods before abstaining for them, should they choose to.

Throughout the centuries it’s become tradition for people to eat pancakes to mark the beginning of Lent so as to use up ingredients that they wouldn’t be allowed to eat during the 40-day period, which is how Pancake Day obtained its name.

As Pancake Day always takes place 47 days before Easter Sunday, its actual date on the Gregorian calendar can vary.

This year, the annual food-filled event is taking place on Tuesday 25 February.

According to Historic UK, the term Shrove Tuesday derives from the act of Anglo-Saxon Christians confessing their sins before Lent, and thus being “shriven” of them.

In some countries, including France, Germany and the United States, the day before the start of Lent is recognised with a celebration called Mardi Gras.

Translated as meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, the festivities often involve Carnival activities such as extravagant parades.

How did it start?

The tradition of eating pancakes to see in the beginning of Lent has been observed in Britain since around the 16th century.

The Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sport outlines that this occurred because the ingredients that make up pancakes – namely eggs, butter and fat – would typically be banned during Lent.

“In some parishes it was the custom for the church bell to ring at noon as the signal for people to begin frying their pancakes,” the authors of the book state.

This bell became known as the “Pancake Bell”, Historic UK explains, and is still used in parishes today.

While pancake eating on Shrove Tuesday has been a custom for the past few centuries, the act of marking the beginning of Lent prior to Ash Wednesday has been around for far longer.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes, a text reportedly translated by writer Abbot Aelfric around 1000AD, in the week preceding Lent it was custom for Christians to confess their sins so that “the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”

Centuries later, around the time of the 16th-century Western Christian Reformation movement, “Shrovetide”, the period of celebration before the fast of Lent, would last around a week.

How is it celebrated?

First and foremost, the primary focus of many people on Pancake Day is the excessive consumption of palate-pleasing pancakes.

Some also take part in an activity called “pancake racing”, which, as the name suggests, involves participating in a race while flipping pancakes in a frying pan.

It’s believed this tradition originated in 1445, when a woman lost track of time while making pancakes on Pancake Day.

As she heard the church bell ring, calling for the community to head to the church for confession, she ran out of her house to make her way to church, all the while still holding her frying pan with the pancake on top.

Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

In the UK, some also celebrate Pancake Day by taking part in “mob football” matches.

This centuries-old tradition used to be more common, and involves teams kicking a ball around on public roads.

While many no longer partake in the activity, some villages, such as Atherstone in Wawrickshire, continue to uphold the tradition.

Some pancake recipes you can try

From simple crepes topped with sugar and lemon juice, to fluffy pancakes adorned with chocolate spread and banana, there’s no end to the creative pancake recipes you could fry up on Pancake Day.

If you’re looking for inspiration, look no further than The Independent‘s list of appetising recipes below:

  • For five of the best vegan and gluten-free pancakes, click here.
  • For tips on how to perfect British and American pancakes, click here.
  • To learn how to make French toast pancakes, click here.
  • For the chocolate-lovers out there, click here for a recipe for chocolate, coconut and banana pancakes.
  • For a variety of seven healthy sweet and savoury pancake recipes, click here.

If you’re in need of a decent frying pan, click here to take a look at 10 of the best varieties on the market.



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Americas World

Celebrated Abroad, Juan Guaidó Faces Critical Test in Venezuela


BOGOTÁ, Colombia — When the leader of Venezuela’s opposition landed in Caracas this week following a world tour meant to drum up support for regime change, his country’s authoritarian ruler handed him neither an arrest, which would have galvanized supporters, nor the chance for a hero’s welcome at the airport.

Instead, President Nicolás Maduro appeared to greet his rival, Juan Guaidó, with the same policy of slow strangulation that has drained the opposition of much of its momentum over the past year, cracking down on his movement enough to wear down its members, but without going so far as to spur the world to action.

Moments before Mr. Guaidó arrived, Mr. Maduro’s supporters attacked journalists who were there to cover his arrival, punching them and dragging at least one woman by the hair. Once Mr. Guaidó landed, government backers chased him out of the airport, cutting off any plans he had to make a speech, and then attacked his car with traffic cones and at least one metal pole.

And as Mr. Guaidó slipped through, authorities arrested his uncle, accusing him, without presenting evidence, of bringing explosives into the country.

Hours later, Mr. Guaidó stood with a few hundred supporters in a plaza in an opposition stronghold in eastern Caracas and declared victory.

“I defied the dictatorship and I entered the country,” he said. “Venezuela is going to be democratic and free.”

Mr. Guaidó also said he would be announcing the creation of a “Venezuela Fund,” a multilateral program meant to help the country recover from its long and devastating economic crisis.

But he offered no other plan to remove Mr. Maduro. That, along with his chaotic arrival and the growing frustration among his base caused by the glacial pace of change, spoke eloquently about the challenges Mr. Guaidó is facing at home.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Guaidó arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, Mr. Maduro’s most powerful ally, Diosdado Cabello, mocked the size of the crowd that had come to receive him at the airport and belittled his movement.

Mr. Guaidó issued a direct challenge to Mr. Maduro a year ago, when he pointed to irregularities in Mr. Maduro’s re-election and claimed to be the country’s interim president, earning the support of millions of Venezuelans and dozens of foreign governments, including the United States.

Since then, despite the United State’s use of crippling sanctions to hurt the country’s economy and try to force the ouster of Mr. Maduro, Mr. Guaidó has not managed to seize power and call new presidential elections — his stated goals.

On Jan. 19, he left the country to shore up greater support abroad, defying a travel ban imposed by Mr. Maduro’s government. On his trip, he made headlines when he sat down with President Trump and was given a prominent place at the state of the union address. There, Mr. Trump championed the opposition leader’s efforts.

Mr. Guaidó also met with Angela Merkel of Germany and Emmanuel Macron of France, and was welcomed by thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans in Florida.

Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, signaled that substantive action could be on the way, including sanctions on Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft.

Oil buoys the Venezuela economy, and Rosneft has been the country’s main shipper of crude.

Internationally, Mr. Guaidó looked strong.

But at home, nothing had changed, and Mr. Maduro remained firmly in control of the country, playing what appears to be a long game of attrition.

Mr. Guaidó is also barreling toward a crisis point that poses a critical threat to the opposition, and to his claim to being the country’s interim president.

The National Assembly, the legislature, is the last major political body in the country that the opposition claims to control. But 2020 is an election year for the assembly, and Mr. Maduro’s opponents are divided over whether to participate.

If the opposition does take part, they risk legitimizing a potentially rigged election. If they don’t, they risk handing control to Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Guaidó, so far, has not declared a position.

Phil Gunson, a Caracas-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said no matter what the opposition decides, Mr. Maduro is likely to take over the assembly this year.

But if Mr. Guaidó does not make a decision — and soon — he risks irrelevancy.

“There can be no more beating around the bush,” Mr. Gunson said. “He has to be a leader.”



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Video

Burns Night 2020: When is it, how is it celebrated and what makes up the traditional supper?



Burns Night might readily conjure up images of revellers washing down forkfuls of peppery haggis with wee drams of scotch but the historical origins of the festivities are often taken for granted.

The Burns Supper is a celebration of the life and enduring legacy of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns. While it was first organised by his close friends and family as a memorial dinner, the night has since morphed into a country-wide event, cheering Scotland’s distinctive culture and heritage.

People celebrate the evening in their homes or in restaurants with traditional Scottish fare, folk music and renditions of Burns’s poetry.


Who was Robert Burns?

The poet, also popularly known as Rabbie Burns, penned more than 550 poems and songs before his death in 1796.

A massive source of inspiration to the founders of Liberalism and Socialism, the 18th-century writer is known for his astute social commentary and focus on all things political. Scotland’s national poet is considered a revolutionary figure, both in his homeland and beyond.

Dubbed the “greatest Scot of all time” by STV in 2009, the writer from Ayrshire died of rheumatic fever at the age of just 37.

His funeral was held on the same day his son Maxwell was born. Burns’s body was later transferred from a churchyard grave to a mausoleum in Dumfries, where his wife Jean Armour was also laid to rest after her death in 1834.

When is Burns Night?

Burns Night falls on 25 January every year.

The date was chosen to coincide with the poet’s birthday, who was born on 25 January 1759.

The first Burns supper hosted by the Burns Club was held on 29 January 1802, on what was thought to be Burns’ birthday.

However, the following year the discovery of parish records revealed that the late poet’s birthday was actually four days prior.

How is it celebrated?

The main attraction of Burns Night is the Burns Supper. This traditionally involves participants donning tartan, listening to bagpipes, crooning Auld Lang Syne – also sung at New Year’s Eve – and reciting the great writer’s songs and poems. 

The song Auld Lang Syne was derived from a poem penned by Burns in 1788, which he originally sent to the Scots Musical Museum.​

Burns Night celebrations commonly incorporate the Saltire, the national flag of Scotland. 

While the first Burns Supper was first held way back in 1801 and new rituals have since been appended, the crux of the celebration remains unchanged and revolves around paying tribute to Burns in whatever way feels most fitting. 

What’s in the traditional dinner?

The jewel in the crown of any Burns Supper is always haggis. For the uninitiated, haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, which is minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, stock and a selection of spices. It is traditionally bound in the animal’s stomach. 

Burns describes haggis as the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-‘race” and a traditional Burns Night kicks off with a host reading his “Address to a Haggis”.

Haggis is served with the classic side of mashed neeps and tatties (swedes and potatoes). The food is, of course, accompanied by the finest domestic whisky. 

Vegetarians and pescetarians – or those who want to try something a little different – can choose haggis made without meat. Also popular is seafood dishes like Cullen Skink soup, made from smoked haddock.

To discover how to make classic haggis, neeps and tatties, click here.



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Lifestyle Style

Hogmanay 2019: What is it, what does it mean and how is it celebrated?



One of the largest and most exuberant New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world, Hogmanay will see tens of thousands of people attend street parties that are held in Scottish cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. 

Some will continue the revelry well into the next day. 

Here’s everything you need to know about Hogmanay, where the word comes from and how it is celebrated:

What is Hogmanay?

An annual event that takes place in Scotland to see in the New Year, it is observed over the course of several days, the pinnacle being New Year’s Eve.


The festivities often continue on 1 and 2 January, both of which are bank holidays in Scotland.

Although its exact origins are unknown, some believe that the celebration may have been introduced to Scotland by the Vikings, who invaded Scotland in the 8th and 9th Centuries. 

The Norse raiders would celebrate the Winter Solstice with lively parties, a tradition that’s continued throughout the years for Scots celebrating the New Year.

Where does the word Hogmanay come from?

Defined as “the 31 December”, “New Year’s Eve” or “the last day of the year” in the Dictionary of the Scots Languagethe etymology of the word is nonetheless a topic of debate. 

Some believe the word originated in France, while others believing that it has Anglo-Saxon origins.

“The name could come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘haleg monath’ meaning holy month,” Dr Donna Heddle, director of the Institute for Northern Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, told the BBC. “But the most likely source seems to be French. In Normandy presents given at Hogmanay were ‘hoguignetes’.”

It’s believed that the word “Hogmanay” became more widespread after Mary Queen of Scots returned to her home country after visiting France in 1561.

How is it celebrated?

Festivities begin on 30 December with a traditional torchlight procession that passes through the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

With thousands of spectators looking on, dancers and musicians make their way down the city’s Royal Mile, starting from Edinburgh Castle. 

A huge ticketed street party then takes place. This year’s event is going to feature music from The Snuts, Vanives and Mark Ronson.

Similar festivities will also take place across the rest of Scotland, with cities including Glasgow and Aberdeen holding parties.

After midnight, Scots take part in a good luck tradition called “first-footing”, which involves being the first person to enter the home of a friend or neighbour.

The person entering the home of another is expected to bring them gifts such as whisky, shortbread or black bun, before being presented with food and drink by the host.

One Hogmanay tradition that’s spread across the world is the synchronised singing of Auld Lang Syne to see in the New Year.

The song derives from a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns.

It is custom to link arms with the people on either side of you when singing the song, the title of which can be translated as meaning “old long since”.



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Lifestyle Style

Winter Season: What is the winter solstice and how is it celebrated?



As the southern hemisphere celebrates the start of summer, those north of the equator will experience the shortest day of the year, known as the winter solstice.

For the first time in four years, that event falls on 22 December this year, and also ushers in the beginning of astronomical winter.

The word “solstice” derives from sol, the Latin word for sun, and sistere, which means “to come to a stop or make stand”.


Arriving on the same day across the globe, a solstice occurs when the sun reaches its lowest or highest point in the sky during the year as a result of the Earth’s axis tilting to or away from the sun.

Historically, the winter solstice has been of great importance to many cultures, such as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, often as a marker for the passing seasons, and a possible time of rebirth.

In northern Europe, from the Faroe Islands to Estonia, Germanic peoples have long celebrated the event, which became known as Yule.

While Yule dates back to the Norse people, who celebrated the sun’s rebirth for 12 days, it was also celebrated by Anglo-Saxon pagans.

According to Pliny the Elder, in Britain, druid priests would mark the important date by gathering mistletoe and sacrificing bulls – which was also likely a practical measure to limit the number of mouths to feed during months of famine.

In addition to mistletoe and 12 days of festivities, several Christmas traditions, such as Yule logs and decorating trees, date back to Yule, which were later adopted and adapted by Christians.

But the winter solstice is still celebrated in parts of the UK. The most popular annual tradition sees druids, pagans and enthusiasts gather at Stonehenge to watch the sun rise.

Thousands gathered on Sunday morning at the Wiltshire monument, the stones of which were placed and shaped to frame the sun as it rises during both the summer and winter solstices.



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Europe World

Goar Vartanyan, Celebrated Soviet Spy, Dies at 93


Goar Vartanyan, a Soviet spy who forged a formidable espionage partnership with her husband and helped protect Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during their historic meeting in Tehran in 1943, died on Nov. 25 in Moscow. She was 93.

Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the S.V.R., confirmed the death in a statement last month to the news media, praising Ms. Vartanyan and her husband, Gevork Vartanyan, who died in 2012.

“He is a Hero of the Soviet Union!” the statement said. “She is the heroine of all his achievements! He passed away first. She passed away today.”

Without them, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “the history of our world could have been different.”

The Kremlin did not specify how Goar Vartanyan (pronounced Go-AR Var-tahn-YAHN) might have altered the course of history. Nor did it provide any details regarding her accomplishments.

What is clear is that she and her husband were highly decorated Soviet agents who worked on numerous secret missions for 30 years in Europe, Asia and the United States. Ms. Vartanyan, whose code name was Anita, was still involved in active intelligence work when she died, the S.V.R. said.

She had a friendly relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He regarded her as someone who had heroically served the Soviet intelligence service from which he later sprang, and they visited each other periodically.

She never revealed what they discussed and always remained mum about what exactly she did.

“I helped my husband a lot at work,” is all she said in a 2015 interview with RIA Novosti, the official news agency of the Russian government. “I participated in secret operations. Together we shared failures and joys.”

Among their missions was protecting the “Big Three” Allied leaders — the British prime minister, Winston Churchill; the Soviet premier, Joseph Stalin, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt — at their 1943 strategy summit in Tehran, where they discussed the timing for opening up a second front in the war against Germany.

The S.V.R. statement about Ms. Vartanyan’s death said that “in 1943 she took part in a group that carried out operations to provide for security of the Tehran conference.”

This was no small task. The summit marked a rare wartime trip for Stalin out of the Soviet Union.

Moreover, there were reports — at least from the Soviets — that the Nazis were planning to assassinate or abduct the three leaders under a plan they called “Operation Long Jump.”

Mr. Vartanyan told his own story about the plot in a 2007 interview with RIA Novosti. He said that he and his team in Tehran had foiled “Operation Long Jump” by exposing the Nazi agents and that Hitler then aborted the plan.

Mark Kramer, a historian of the Cold War at Harvard, cautioned in an interview that while Mr. Vartanyan’s account may bear “some connection to reality,” it came more than 60 years after the fact and without supporting evidence.

Based on his own study of declassified Soviet and British documents, Dr. Kramer said he believed that “Operation Long Jump” was a fiction concocted by the Soviets to enhance their image in the eyes of the British and American intelligence services.

“Even if the Germans did have a plan at some point,” he said, “there is no indication that it ever got to the operational stage.”

Goar Pakhlevanyan was born on Jan. 25, 1926, in Leninakan, now known as Gyumri, in what was then Soviet Armenia.

In the early 1930s she moved with her family to Tehran, where she met her future husband, Gevork, who was also originally from Armenia.

His father was a Soviet intelligence agent in Tehran posing as a merchant, and Gevork — code-named Amir — began working for Soviet intelligence as a teenager.

Goar met him when she joined an anti-fascist group that Gevork was leading. She spoke Armenian and he spoke Russian; they communicated in Farsi and soon learned each other’s language.

When she turned 16, she joined the Soviet intelligence service. She and Gevork were married four years later. (They would be married three different times as they took on new identities.)

By the middle of World War II, the pair had helped expose Nazi agents living in Tehran. They were thus well positioned to play a role in security operations during the 1943 summit — along with thousands of other Soviet agents.

“We know both of them worked in Tehran,” Dr. Kramer of Harvard said of the couple. “But what precisely they did and what their division of labor was is unknown and hasn’t been discussed accurately in the Russian press.”

After the war, the couple moved to the Soviet Union. The S.V.R. said they were involved in active intelligence work in “extreme conditions in many countries” but did not elaborate.

She retired in 1986 and continued to train young agents.

Upon her death, Sergey Naryshkin, head of the S.V.R., praised Ms. Vartanyan as “an example of wholehearted service to the motherland.”

“We will not forget what this seemingly fragile, but strong, courageous and selfless woman has done in covert intelligence,” he said in a statement.

She was buried in Moscow’s prestigious Troyekurovskoe cemetery, alongside her husband.



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Asia Pacific World

For Filipino Seafarers, a Lonely Life Celebrated in Song


ABOARD THE UBC CYPRUS IN THE NORTH PACIFIC — On his first ocean voyage seven years ago, Jun Russel Reunir was sent deep into the bowels of a cargo ship, where he shoveled iron ore until his muscles ached — then continued shoveling for a dozen hours more.

“I cried in my cabin three times that month,” Mr. Reunir said.

Filipinos like Mr. Reunir, now 27, have for decades powered the global shipping industry, helping to move 90 percent of global trade.

A few months ago, he and 18 other Filipino men crewed a cement carrier traveling from Japan to the Philippines.

For a visitor along for the ride, the ocean voyage meant fresh sensations. The sound of the waves drowned out by the roar of the engines. The deck scattered with dead flying fish after a storm. The breeze filled with the smell of cheap bunker fuel.

But for the seamen, perhaps the only thing worse than the repetitive drudgery of their harsh labor was the boredom that came when they were done, any romance with the sea long since faded.

Jayson Guanio, 29, the ship’s cook, recalled that once, on a two-month voyage carrying bauxite from Montenegro to China, he ran up to the bridge to peer through binoculars at the flat rise of a distant island, just for the chance to look at something other than the sea.

Still, Arnulfo Abad, 51, the engine-room fitter, who has spent most of the last three decades on cargo ships, said he was grateful for the work. “The sea gave me my life,” he said.

The men on the ship are the sons of fishermen, carpenters and rice farmers. To be an officer — which most men aspire to — requires a college degree. Some who graduated paid for those degrees on the earnings from backyard piggeries, or made their pocket money selling Popsicles on the street.

They left behind lives in provincial villages where they could expect to make $100 a month. They earn 10 times that amount, often more, at sea.

They came home with thick, gold chains around their necks, built tall cement houses among their neighbors’ bamboo huts, provided for their parents and sent siblings, nieces and nephews to college. Marriage proposals poured in.

The country’s dominance of the arduous but well-paid work on cargo ships began in the 1980s, when an organized campaign began to train Filipinos for careers at sea. Employment agencies marketed Filipino seafarers to international shipping companies. Government agencies stepped in to manage their deployment.

An industry of marine colleges emerged to serve the class of strivers seeking the jobs.

In recent years, ships have been hiring more seamen from Vietnam, Myanmar and China. But about 400,000 of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers are Filipino. In 2018, these workers sent $6 billion back to their country in remittances.

In the Philippines, songs are written about their heroic sacrifices, legendary exploits and Lothario lifestyles.

In a karaoke staple, a lover laments that “I endured everything because you’re a seaman,” but in the end, discovers that “you’re a seaman-loloko,” a play on the Filipino word for a womanizer.

Aboard the UBC Cyprus, Filipino culture dominates, as it does on many ships.

Rodrigo Soyoso, the Filipino captain, started as an apprentice on a commercial fishing boat where three dozen men were allowed to bathe once a week, and he slept on deck, tied to a vent by the ankle to keep from sliding into the sea.

He crewed rusting tugboats, a putrid livestock carrier and cruise ships, working his way up to officer rank.

As captain, Mr. Soyoso ensures compliance with international maritime regulations, avoids collisions with other ships, and monitors cold fronts and monsoon winds. He tries to fend off corrupt customs officers, and stocks cartons of cigarettes for the ones he can’t.

Both the ship’s food and free time remind the sailors of home.

One night, the men roasted a whole pig on a spit and broke open fresh coconuts. On the aft deck, there was a basketball hoop. Basketball is the unofficial national sport of the Philippines.

Another Filipino tradition carried on by seafarers are bolitas, metal bearings or bits of melted plastic shaped into balls, then implanted under the skin of the penis. Bolitas are meant to increase sexual pleasure for women, and the practice of implanting them is widespread enough among seafarers that they are required to declare how many bolitas they have at predeployment medical exams.

“They show them off,” said Mr. Guanio, the cook.

Aboard this ship, the crew was entirely male. About 1 percent of the world’s commercial seafarers are women.

During Saturday night karaoke in the mess hall, the men sang songs of longing with lines like “How long will my heart wait, longing for you?”

The internet has made ship life a little less lonely, but the men are given a free allotment of only 50MB to download on the ship. “Open Facebook and it disappears,” Mr. Soyoso said.

The internet is down on this voyage.

The men set their alarms for when they passed an island. They gathered between coils of mooring rope and a life raft at the port-side rails to try to siphon enough signal to receive text messages.

Before the internet, when seamen arrived at port, they elbowed each other to get to the phone booth first, trying to find out if a child had been baptized while shipmates banged on the plexiglass.

Back then, they also had a custom known as “over-over.” Seamen called their wives and girlfriends over a radio channel, saying, “I love you, over.”

The ocean is a dangerous place to work. In the last 10 years, 1,036 ships have been lost at sea, including another cement carrier that capsized in bad weather near Scotland with no survivors.

A mooring rope could snap with enough force to rip off a man’s head, or a falling grate could shear off fingers. A large swell breaking over the side could slam a man against pipes or wash him into the sea.

There are electrocutions, burns and appendicitis. The nearest hospital could be hours, or days away, by rescue helicopter.

The biggest challenge for seafarers, though, is enduring the mental strain of isolation, said Mr. Soyoso, the captain.

On a ship, with time to turn over your problems and no way to do anything about them, it’s easy to become despondent. Mr. Soyoso said he had seen men become too depressed to work, and others die by suicide.

The months away from family exact a heavy toll.

In April, Mr. Reunir was at port when his pregnant wife called. She was in labor. It was a girl.

“On her first birthday, I probably won’t be there either,” he said.

Mr. Reunir said he had wanted to be a seaman since childhood. Since achieving his dream, he has relished the adventure of sailing pirated waters in the Gulf of Aden, accepted the risks of North Sea storms, and endured 10-month long stretches of separation from everyone he loved.

But since he left for the sea, the Philippine economy has grown, and there are more opportunities on land.

After seven years onboard cargo ships, he’s now dreaming of buying some farmland and raising goats and pigs in the town where he grew up.

In the meantime, he asks his wife to show his baby daughter photos of him, so she’ll know who he is, when they finally meet.



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World Children’s Day 2019: What is it and why is it celebrated?



The aim of World Children’s Day, which is celebrated annually on 20 November, is to raise awareness of and support children’s welfare across the globe.

The observance can trace its origins back to the mid-19th century, when a sermon delivered by a pastor in the US inspired the conception of a day in honour of children.

Here is everything you need to know about World Children’s Day:

What is it’s significance?

World Children’s Day, the United Nations (UN) states, is an event that promotes “international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare”.

The event was formally inaugurated as an international occasion by the UN in 1954. 

It subsequently became associated with the UN General Assembly’s 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the organisation’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 30 years later.

Sixty years ago, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child set in stone a key universal value for the first time, stating unequivocally that “mankind owes to the child the best it has to give”.

1990 marked the first year that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and Convention on children’s rights.

The date of World Children’s Day can vary between nations, as countries including China, the Czech Republic and Portugal celebrate it on 1 June.

Unicef, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, outlines that World Children’s Day is a “time to celebrate and a time to demand action”.

“Kids are taking a stand around the world to say: it is time for every child, to have every right,” the organisation states.

How did it begin?

On the second Sunday of June 1856, a pastor of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Massachusetts, US named Reverend Dr Charles Leonard delivered a service dedicated to children.

Reverend Leonard’s sermon proved so popular that it inspired a day in honour of children called Rose Day, which was later renamed Flower Sunday. 

The observance of Flower Sunday eventually led to the creation of Children’s Day.

The first official declaration of Children’s Day was made by Turkey on 23 April 1929, having already been celebrated across the country for nine years.

When is Children’s Day celebrated in the UK?

While World Children’s Day falls in November every year but the UK’s National Children’s Day is celebrated on 17 May in an effort to encourage children to spend time outdoors in nature.

“National Children’s Day UK is all about the importance of a healthy childhood, and how we need to protect the rights and freedoms of children in order to ensure that they can grow into happy, healthy adults,” states the National Children’s Day UK website.



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