Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Contemporary World

1945 to the present

After World War II, a new world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the developing nations of the Third World.

The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the year 1969.
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for new
possibilities of using space continues.



The Arab World and the Near East

SINCE 1945


see also: United Nations member states - Jordan,
Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon,
Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman,
Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan


After gaining independence from European colonial rule the Arab states looked to the USSR and Pan-Arabism as alternative paths to nation-building. However, authoritarian rulers soon established themselves in the region. Since the 1970s a growing educated population lacking employment opportunities has begun to undermine many regimes, and this frustration has been exploited by politically radicalized Islamic groups. Ironically, the only freely elected Arab government in the region is that of the Palestinians, who do not have their own state.


Afghanistan to the Civil War

Effective central government in  Afghanistan has long been hindered by the powerful tribal culture. The monarchy was overthrown in 1973. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded in support of an embattled left-wing regime, which led to a bloody occupation and civil war.


2 Mohammad Zahir Shah ruled in 1 Afghanistan, a country of traditional and autonomous tribal structures, from 1933, although the actual power rested with his three uncles, brothers of Nadir Shah who was murdered in 1933.

Their efforts to 3 centralize power failed due to the resistance of the tribes.

2 King Mohammad Zahir Shah of Afghanistan on a vist to the US in 1973

1 Two Afghan women carrying wood back to their village, ca. 1965

3 Training teachers in Afghanistan:
prospective teachers taking classes,

From 1953, however, Prime Minister 4 Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan, brother-in-law of the king, succeeded in introducing several social reforms with assistance from the Soviet Union.

4 The Afghan prime minister Prince
Sadar Mohammad on a state visit to the Federal
Republic of Germany, July 3, 1961

When Daud was ousted in 1963, moderate political forces introduced a constitutional monarchy in 1964 and in 1965 free parliamentary elections were held for the first time.

Daud deposed the king in a coup on July 17,1973, and proclaimed a republic. As prime minister, he began a cautious program of land reform and the nationalization of banks. He secured the support of the Arab world and in February 1977 established an authoritarian presidential regime. Then in April 1978, the Communist-oriented People's Democratic party organized a coup with the help of the army, murdered Daud, and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan under Prime Minister Nur Mohammad Taraki. The new republic had close ties to the Soviet Union. The government's left-wing secularist course led to a 1979 revolt among many of the
tribes and parts of the army, causing anarchy in many regions of the country.

Increasingly under pressure, the new prime minister, 5 Hafizullah Amin, called on the Soviet Union for aid.

Soviet troops 6 entered Afghanistan on December 27,1979, and helped to install the loyal exiled politician Babrak Karmal as head of state and government.

Although the new government generally respected Islam and Afghan traditions, a number of Islamic and nationalist groups were immediately formed to resist the Soviet occupation.

Collectively known as the mujahideen, they began a 7 guerrilla war against the regime in Kabul and the Soviet troops.

The guerrillas were supported financially and militarily by the United States and many Arab countries.

5 Embattled Afghan prime minister Hafizullah Amin requested Soviet aid

6 Soviet tank patrols the streets of Kabul looking for insurgents, February 1980

7 American-armed Mujahideen rebels fighting
the Soviet occupation forces near the Pakistan boarder,
February 14, 1980



Afghanistan from 1979 to the Present

After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops following heavy losses, the Islamic groups fought among themselves. First the mujahideen dominated the country and then the Taliban. The latter were driven from power in 2001-2002.


The Afghan tribal council increasingly proved to be as powerless as the government, and the mountain regions in particular became centers of a radical Islamic resistance that had extensive ties to Pakistan and to underground fundamentalist groups. By 1983, 20 percent of the population had fled to neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan; several UN peace initiatives failed to end the conflict. Atrocities committed on both sides further damaged the prospects of a peace accord. In response to Soviet pressure. Karmal was replaced by Sayid Mohammad Najibullah as secretary-general of the People's Democratic party in 1986, and in 1987 Najibullah became president. He championed a policy of national reconfiliation.

With the radical Islamic mujahideen increasingly winning ground, the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev, having suffered heavy losses, 9 withdrew its troops in 1988-1989 following a peace treaty negotiated in Geneva.

9 Mujahideen pose before a Soviet tank
abandoned during the Red Army's withdrawal,

With the Soviet troops gone, Najibul-Iah's power base collapsed. Following an attempted coup in 1990, he was finally driven out of Kabul in April 1992 by the mujahideen. The new mujahideen government, with Scbghatullah Mujaddedi as head of state and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as prime minister, failed to gain recognition from the other resistance groups in much of the rest of the country, and the civil war thus continued.

In September 1996, the Islamist Taliban militia conquered Kabul and established an oppressive regime that enforced 8, 11 fundamentalist form of Islam through coercion, while also allowing 10 Afghan opium cultivation to reach 75 percent of the world's total production.

8 Colossal 170 ft-high statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan, dynamited by the Taliban in 2001

11 A Taliban militia forcibly shaves the head of a passenger in a bus

10 Poppy farming in Afghanistan, April 2005

The warlords in the north, who became known as the Northern Alliance, resisted Taliban attempts to conquer the remainder of the country.
In 1997-1998, the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, began to expel Western aid organizations and demonstrated their open support of Islamist terrorists, particularly Osama bin Laden.

In August 1998, following an attack on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the United States launched 12 missile strikes against terrorist training
camps in Afghanistan.

After September 11, 2001, when the Taliban refused to comply with the US demand for bin Laden's extradition, coordinated 13 offensives were launched by US and British troops and the Northern Alliance, led by the Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Kabul was retaken on November 13 and the Taliban were soon driven toward the border with Pakistan.
NATO troops remain in the country to support the government of President Hamid Karzai.

12 A Taliban fighter carries a wounded comrade, 1997

13 US special forces on patrol in
Afghanistan, November 15, 2001



Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai studied international relations in India. During the 1990s he was deputy foreign minister in two mujahideen governments. As head of state, he has promised to halt opium cultivation and strengthen the rights of women. His government is still dependent on an international military presence in the main cities. His deputy, Hadji Abul Kadir, was assassinated in Kabul in July 2002, and he, too, barely escaped an attempted assassination in September of that year. Initially appointed as interim President, he won the November 2004 elections to gain a new mandate.

Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan since
the US-led invasion, November 4, 2004


see also: United Nations member states - Jordan,
Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon,
Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman,
Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan



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