Columbus Day, Discoverers Day,  Día de la Resistencia Indígena, Día de las Culturas, Fiesta Nacional, Native American Day

October 12 marks the anniversary of the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus’s expedition made landfall in the Caribbean, specifically in The Bahamas. although the explorer believed he has reached India.This date is celebrated in Many countries in the New World and elsewhere as the anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus’ in the Americas, as an official holiday. The landing is celebrated as Columbus Day in the United States, as Día de la Raza in many countries in Latin America, as Discovery Day in the Bahamas, as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional in Spain, as Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity) in Argentina, as Day of the Americas in Belize, and as Día de las Américas (Day of the Americas) in Uruguay. These holidays have been celebrated unofficially since the late 18th century, and officially in various areas since the early 20th century.Columbus Day first became an official state holiday in Colorado in 1906, and became a federal holiday in the United States in 1937, though people have celebrated Columbus’ voyage since the colonial period. In 1792, New York City and other U.S. cities celebrated the 300th anniversary of his landing in the New World. President Benjamin Harrison called upon the people of the United States to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th anniversary of the event. During the four hundredth anniversary in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets and politicians used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress.Many Italian-Americans observe Columbus Day as a celebration of their heritage, the first occasion being in New York City on October 12, 1866. Columbus Day was first enshrined as a legal holiday in the United States through the lobbying of Angelo Noce, a first generation Italian, in Denver. The first statewide Columbus Day holiday was proclaimed by Colorado governor Jesse F. McDonald in 1905, and it was made a statutory holiday in 1907. April 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made October 12 a federal holiday under the name Columbus Day.Since 1970, the holiday has been fixed to the second Monday in October, coincidentally the same day as Thanksgiving in neighboringCanada. It is generally observed nowadays by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, other federal agencies, most state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts. Some businesses and some stock exchanges remain open, also some states and municipalities abstain from observing the holiday. The traditional date of the holiday also adjoins the anniversary of the United States Navy (founded October 13, 1775), and thus both occasions are customarily observed by the Navy (and usually the Marine Corps as well) with either a 72 or 96-hour liberty period.

Actual observance varies in different parts of the United States, ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. Most states celebrate Columbus Day as an official state holiday, though many mark it as a “Day of Observance” or “Recognition” and three do not recognize it at all. Most states (including states where it is not a legal holiday) close schools and other state services, while others operate as normal. San Francisco claims the nation’s oldest continuously existing celebration with the Italian-American community’s annual Columbus Day Parade, which was established by Nicola Larco in 1868, while New York City boasts the largest. As in the mainland U.S., Columbus Day is a legal holiday in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. In the United States Virgin Islands, the day is celebrated as both Columbus Day and “Puerto Rico Friendship Day.Virginia also celebrates two legal holidays on the day, Columbus Day and Yorktown Victory Day, which honors the final victory at theSiege of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War. Some States such as Hawaii, Alaska, and South Dakota do not recognize Columbus Day at all, though Hawaii and South Dakota mark the day with an alternative holiday or observance. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date, the second Monday of October though the name change has not ended protest related to the observance of Columbus’ discovery. The state government does not treat either Columbus Day or Discoverers’ Day as a legal holiday; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business. South Dakota celebrates the day as an official state holiday known as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day. Iowa and Nevada do not celebrate Columbus Day as an official holiday; however, the governor is “authorized and requested” by statute to proclaim the day each year In Nevada, this probably has less to do with any objection to the celebration of the day than the fact that it is relatively close to Nevada Day, and schools and banks can only be closed for so many day. Several other states have removed Columbus Day as a paid holiday for government workers while still maintaining it either as a day of recognition or a legal holiday for other purposes. These include California and Texas. The city of Berkeley, California has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day since 1992, a move which has been replicated by several other localities including Sebastopol, Santa Cruz and Dane County, Wisconsin. South Dakota renamed the holiday “Native American Day”.Various tribal governments in Oklahoma designate the day “Native American Day”.

The date Columbus arrived in the Americas is also marked in many countries in Latin America. The most common name for the celebration in Spanish (including in some Latin American communities] in the United States) is the Día de la Raza (“day of the race” or “day of the [hispanic] people”), commemorating the first encounters of Europeans and Native Americans. The day was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917, Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, Chile in 1922, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad (“Hispanity Day”), and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance). Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by some in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas and of the native races and cultures. In the U.S. Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Latino activists, particularly in the 1960s. Since then, La Raza has served as a periodic rallying cry for Hispanic activists. The first Hispanic March on Washington occurred on Columbus Day in 1996. The name has remained in the largest Hispanic social justice organization, the National Council of La Raza.

Between 1921 and 2002, Venezuela celebrated Día de la Raza along with many other Latin American nations. The original holiday was officially established in 1921 under President Juan Vicente Gómez. In 2002, under president Hugo Chávez, the name was changed to Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance) to commemorate the Indigenous peoples’ resistance to European settlement. On October 12, 2004 a crowd of pro-government activists toppled the statue of Christopher Columbus in Caracas and sprayed allusive graffiti over its pedestal. The pro-Chávez website Aporrea wrote: “Just like the statue of Saddam in Baghdad, that of Columbus the tyrant also fell this October 12, 2004 in Caracas. Since 1994, Costa Rica had changed the official holiday from Día de la Raza to Día de las Culturas (Day of the cultures) to recognize the mix of European, American, Africanand Asian cultures that helped to compose Costa Rican (and Latin American)Since 1987, Spain has celebrated the anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas as its Fiesta Nacional or “National Day”.Previously Spain had celebrated the day as Día de la Hispanidad, emphasizing Spain’s ties with the Hispanidad, the international Hispanic community. In 1981 a royal decree established the Día de la Hispanidad as a national holiday.However, in 1987 the name was changed to Fiesta Nacional, and October 12 became one of two national celebrations, along with Constitution Day on December 6.Spain’s “national day” had moved around several times during the various regime changes of the 20th century; establishing it on the day of the international Columbus celebration was part of a compromise between conservatives, who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain’s history, and Republicans, who wanted to commemorate Spain’s burgeoning democracy with an official holiday. Since 2000, October 12 has also been Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces, celebrated each year with a military parade in Madrid. Other than this, however, the holiday is not widely or enthusiastically celebrated in Spain; there are no other large-scale patriotic parades, marches, or other events, and the observation is generally overshadowed by the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar (Fiestas del Pilar).

free thought day

Freethought Day is celebrated on October 12th. It is an annual observance by freethinkers and secularists of the anniversary of the effective end of theSalem Witch Trials.The seminal event connected to Freethought Day is a letter written by then Massachusetts Governor William Phips in which he wrote to the Privy Council of the British monarchs, William and Mary, on this day in 1692. In this correspondence he outlined the quagmire that the trials had degenerated into, in part by a reliance on “evidence” of a non-objective nature and especially “spectral evidence” in which the accusers claimed to see devils and other phantasms consorting with the accused.

Contrary to what has been claimed by some, there was no specific order or edict by Phips to ban “spectral evidence” from all legal proceedings. Rather, this was one concern that brought about Phips’ stopping the proceedings. When the trials ultimately resumed, “spectral evidence” was allowed but was largely discounted and those convicted were swiftly pardoned by Phips.In the time leading up to the trials being stopped, it was actually clerics including the famous Cotton Mather, often portrayed as the chief villain in the hysteria, who took the lead in advising cautions against the use of “spectral evidence.” The Rev. Increase Mather, Cotton’s father, specifically condemned “spectral evidence” in his book ‘Cases of Conscience’, in which he stated that:”It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one Innocent Person should be Condemned.”It was this shift in sentiment, the escalating hysteria and the fact that accusations were beginning to reach higher into the Massachusetts Bay Colony hierarchy, that led to Phips’ action.

Dr. Tim Gorski, Pastor of the North Texas Church of Freethought observed:”that people suddenly realized that there are no witches, no demons, no evil spells and the like? maybe the Phips edict came about with the complicity of all the devout fundamentalist believers that constituted the community of Salem and the Colony of Massachusetts because they had to. Winston Churchill once remarked that ‘What the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end.’ Churchill also said that ‘You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else!’ For, you see, eventually, at some point, and to some degree, people simply have to act rationally. You have to open doors before walking through doorways. You have to turn the key in your ignition before you drive home today. No amount of faith and prayer can allow anyone to do otherwise. And despite all the rhetorical flourishes of the superstitious believers, that’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Indeed, this truth is becoming more and more important every day.It’s also the essence of the role of the law: to hold people to a standard of dealing with one another that’s based on reason. That’s the basis of every shall and shalt not that there is, not some divine command of ‘do it or else.'”Freethought Week is often observed during the week in which October 12th falls or Freethought Month during October which, of course, culminates in the holiday of Halloween.

 

Luciano Pavarotti

Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI was born 12 October 1932  After abandoning the dream of becoming a football goalkeeper, Pavarotti spent seven years in vocal training. Pavarotti’s earliest musical influences were his father’s recordings, most of them featuring the popular tenors of the day – Beniamino Gigli, Giovanni Martinelli, Tito Schipa, and Enrico Caruso. Pavarotti’s favourite tenor and idol was Giuseppe Di Stefano. He was also deeply influenced by Mario Lanza, saying, “In my teens I used to go to Mario Lanza movies and then come home and imitate him in the mirror”. At around the age of nine he began singing with his father in a small local church choir.  He graduated from the Scuola Magistrale and After training to be a teacher he  subsequently began teaching, but finally allowed his interest in music to win out and began the serious study of music in 1954 at the age of 19 with Arrigo Pola, a respected teacher and professional tenor in Modena who offered to teach him without remuneration.In 1955, he experienced his first singing success when he was a member of the Corale Rossini, a male voice choir from Modena that also included his father, which won first prize at the International Eisteddfod in Llangollen, Wales. He later said that this was the most important experience of his life, and that it inspired him to become a professional singer.At about this time Pavarotti first met Adua Veroni. They married in 1961.

Pavarotti began his career as a tenor in smaller regional Italian opera houses, making his debut as Rodolfo in La bohème at the Teatro Municipale in Reggio Emilia in April 1961.with Joan Sutherland in I puritani (1976). He made his first international appearance in La traviata in Belgrade, Yugoslavia anddebuted at the Vienna State Opera in the same role. In 1963  Pavarotti again played Rodolfo and Duca di Mantova in Rigoletto in  vienna and also sang in Dundalk, Ireland for the St Cecilia’s Gramophone Society and made his Royal Opera House debut, as Rodolfo.He got a lucky break when  Joan Sutherland (and her conductor husband, Richard Bonynge), were looking for a young tenor taller than herself to take along on her tour to Australia.With his commanding physical presence, Pavarotti proved ideal.The two sang some forty performances over two months, .Pavarotti made his American début with the Greater Miami Opera in February 1965, singing in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor opposite Joan Sutherland on the stage of the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in Miami. Sutherland  recommended the young Pavarotti as he was well acquainted with the role.,

Pavarotti made his La Scala debut in the revival of the famousFranco Zeffirelli production of La bohème, with his childhood friend Mirella Freni singing Mimi and Herbert von Karajan conducting. Karajan had requested the singer’s engagement. After an extended Australian tour, he returned to La Scala, where he added Tebaldo from I Capuleti e i Montecchi to his repertoire , with Giacomo Aragall as Romeo. His first appearance as Tonio in Donizetti’s La fille du régiment took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. It was his performances of this role that would earn him the title of “King of the High Cs”.He scored another major triumph in Rome when he sang in I Lombardi opposite Renata Scotto. Early commercial recordings included a recital of Donizetti (the aria from Don Sebastiano) and Verdi arias, as well as a complete L’elisir d’amore with Sutherland.His major breakthrough in the United States came on 17 February 1972, in a production of La fille du régiment at New York’sMetropolitan Opera, in which he drove the crowd into a frenzy with his nine effortless high Cs in the signature aria. He achieved a record seventeen curtain calls

Pavarotti sang his international recital début at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri,  1973, as part of the college’s Fine Arts Program, now known as the Harriman-Jewell Series.He began to give frequent television performances, starting with his performances as Rodolfo (La bohème) in the first Live from the Mettelecast in March 1977, and  won many Grammy awards and platinum and gold discs for his performances.In 1976, Pavarotti debuted at the Salzburg Festival, appearing in a solo recital on 31 July, accompanied by pianist Leone Magiera. Pavarotti returned to the festival in 1978 with a recital and as the Italian singer in Der Rosenkavalier in 1983 with Idomeneo, and both in 1985 and 1988 with solo recitals.In 1979, he was profiled in a cover story in the weekly magazine Time. That same year saw Pavarotti’s return to the Vienna State Opera after an absence of fourteen years. With Herbert von Karajan conducting, Pavarotti sang Manrico in Il trovatore. In 1978, he appeared in a solo recital on Live from Lincoln Center.

At the beginning of the 1980s, he set up The Pavarotti International Voice Competition for young singers, performing with the winners in 1982 in excerpts of La bohème and L’elisir d’amore. The second competition, in 1986, staged excerpts of La bohème and Un ballo in maschera. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of his career, he brought the winners to  gala performances of La bohème in Modena and Genoa, and then to China where they staged performances of La bohème in Beijing (Peking). To conclude the visit, Pavarotti performed the inaugural concert in the Great Hall of the People before 10,000 people, receiving a standing ovation for nine effortless high Cs. The third competition in 1989 staged performances of L’elisir d’amore and Un ballo in maschera. The winners of the fifth competition accompanied Pavarotti in performances in Philadelphia in 1997.In the mid-1980s, Pavarotti returned to, the Vienna State Opera and La Scala. Vienna playing the role of Rodolfo in La bohème with Carlos Kleiber conducting and again Mirella Freni was Mimi; as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore; he was also cast as Radames in Aida conducted by Lorin Maazel; as Rodolfo in Luisa Miller; and as Gustavo in Un ballo in maschera. In 1996, Pavarotti appeared for the last time at the Staatsoper in Andrea Chénier.In 1985, Pavarotti sang Radames at La Scala opposite Maria Chiara in a Luca Ronconi production conducted by Maazel, recorded on video. His performance of the aria “Celeste Aida” received a two-minute ovation on the opening night. He was reunited with Mirella Freni for the San Francisco Opera production of La bohème in 1988, also recorded on video. In 1992, La Scala saw Pavarotti in a new Zeffirelli production of Don Carlos, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

Pavarotti became even better known throughout the world in 1990 when his rendition of the aria “Nessun Dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot was taken as the theme song of BBC’s TV coverage of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. The aria achieved pop status and remained his trademark song. This was followed by the hugely successful Three Tenors concert, held on the eve of the World Cup final at the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome with fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras and conductor Zubin Mehta, which became the biggest selling classical record of all time. A highlight of the concert, in which Pavarotti hammed up a famous portion of di Capua’s “O Sole Mio” and was mimicked by Domingo and Carreras to the delight of the audience, became one of the most memorable moments in contemporary operatic history. Throughout the 1990s, Pavarotti appeared in many well-attended outdoor concerts, including his televised concert in London’s Hyde Park, which drew a record attendance of 150,000. In June 1993, more than 500,000 listeners gathered for his free performance on the Great Lawn of New York’s Central Park, while millions more around the world watched on television. The following September, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, he sang for an estimated crowd of 300,000. Following on from the original 1990 concert, the Three Tenors concerts were held during the Football World Cups: in Los Angeles in 1994, in Paris in 1998, and in Yokohama in 2002.In 1995, Pavarotti’s friends, the singer Lara Saint Paul (as Lara Cariaggi) and her husband showman Pier Quinto Cariaggi, who had produced and organised Pavarotti’s 1990 FIFA World Cup Celebration Concert at the PalaTrussardi in Milan produced and wrote the television documentary The Best is Yet to Come, in which  Pavarotti spoke candidly about his life and career. On 12 December 1998, he became the first (and, to date, only) opera singer to perform on Saturday Night Live, singing alongsideVanessa L. Williams. He also sang with U2 in the band’s 1995 song “Miss Sarajevo” and with Mercedes Sosa in a big concert at theBoca Juniors arena La Bombonera in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

He has received an enormous number of awards and honours, including Grammy Legend Award. and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2001. He also holds two Guinness World Records: one for receiving the most curtain callsand another for the best-selling classical album (In Concert by The Three Tenors). (The latter record is thus shared by fellow tenors Plácido Domingo and José Carreras.)In late 2003, he released his final compilation—and his first and only “crossover” album, Ti Adoro. Most of the 13 songs were written and produced by Michele Centonze, who had already helped produce the “Pavarotti & Friends” concerts between 1998 and 2000.[20] The tenor described the album as a wedding gift to Nicoletta Mantovani. That same year he was made a Commander of Monaco’s Order of Cultural Merit.[21]Pavarotti began his farewell tour in 2004, at the age of 69, performing one last time in old and new locations, after more than four decades on the stage. On 13 March 2004, Pavarotti gave his last performance in an opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, for which he received a long standing ovation for his role as the painter Mario Cavaradossi in Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. On 1 December 2004, he announced a 40-city farewell tour. Pavarotti and his manager, Terri Robson, commissioned impresario Harvey Goldsmith to produce the Worldwide Farewell Tour. His last full-scale performance was at the end of a two-month Australasian tour in Taiwan in December 2005.In March 2005, Pavarotti underwent neck surgery to repair two vertebrae. In early 2006, he underwent further back surgery and contracted an infection while in the hospital in New York, forcing cancellation of concerts in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.On 10 February 2006, Pavarotti sang “Nessun Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy, at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was prerecorded weeks earlier. “The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful,” he wrote. Pavarotti’s manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee’s invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the subzero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by prerecording the song.

Pavarotti annually hosted the “Pavarotti and Friends” charity concerts in his home town of Modena in Italy, joining with singers from all parts of the music industry, including Andrea Bocelli, Jon Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, Bono, James Brown, Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton,Sheryl Crow, Céline Dion, Anastacia, Elton John, Deep Purple, Meat Loaf, Queen, George Michael, Sting and the Spice Girls, to raise money for several UN causes. Concerts were held for War Child, and victims of war and civil unrest in Bosnia, Guatemala, Kosovo and Iraq. After the war in Bosnia, he financed and established the Pavarotti Music Centre in the southern city of Mostar to offer Bosnia’s artists the opportunity to develop their skills. For these contributions, the city of Sarajevo named him an honorary citizen. He performed at benefit concerts to raise money for victims of tragedies such as the Spitak earthquake that killed 25,000 people in northern Armenia in December 1988, and sang Gounod’s Ave Maria with legendary French pop music star and ethnic Armenian Charles Aznavour.He was a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. They raised money for the elimination of land mines worldwide. He was invited to sing at her funeral service, but declined to sing, as he felt he could not sing well “with his grief in his throat”. Nonetheless, he attended the service.In 1998, he was appointed the United Nations Messenger of Peace, using his fame to raise awareness of UN issues, including theMillennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS, child rights, urban slums and poverty.In 1999, Pavarotti performed a charity benefit concert in Beirut, to mark Lebanon’s reemergence on the world stage after a brutal 15 year civil war. The largest concert held in Beirut since the end of the war, it was attended by 20,000 people who travelled from countries as distant as Saudi Arabia and Bulgaria.In 2001, Pavarotti received the Nansen Medal from the UN High Commission for Refugees for his efforts raising money on behalf ofrefugees worldwide. Through benefit concerts and volunteer work, he has raised more than any other individual.Other honours he received include the “Freedom of London Award” and The Red Cross “Award for Services to Humanity”, for his work in raising money for that organization, and the 1998 “MusiCares Person of the Year”, given to humanitarian heroes by the National Academy of Recording Arts and SciencesHe was a National Patron of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity.

While undertaking an international “farewell tour,” Pavarotti was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2006. The tenor fought back against the implications of this diagnosis, undergoing major abdominal surgery and making plans for the resumption and conclusion of his singing commitments.he died at his home in Modena on 6 September 2007 at the age of 71. Within hours of his death, his manager, Terri Robson, noted in an e-mail statement, “The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer which eventually took his life. In fitting with the approach that characterized his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness”.Pavarotti’s funeral was held in Modena Cathedral. Romano Prodi and Kofi Annan attended.The Frecce Tricolori, the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Air Force, flew overhead, leaving green-white-red smoke trails. After a funeral procession through the centre of Modena, Pavarotti’s coffin was taken the final ten kilometres to Montale Rangone, a village part of Castelnuovo Rangone, and was entombed in the Pavarotti family crypt.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons wins Nobel Peace Prize 2013

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2013 is to be awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.During World War One, chemical weapons were used to a considerable degree. The Geneva Convention of 1925 prohibited the use, but not the production or storage, of chemical weapons. During World War Two, chemical means were employed in Hitler’s mass exterminations. Chemical weapons have subsequently been put to use on numerous occasions by both states and terrorists. In 1992-93 a convention was drawn up prohibiting also the production and storage of such weapons. It came into force in 1997. Since then the OPCW has, through inspections, destruction and by other means, sought the implementation of the convention. 189 states have acceded to the convention to date.The conventions and the work of the OPCW have defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law. Recent events in Syria, where chemical weapons have again been put to use, have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons. Some states are still not members of the OPCW. Certain states have not observed the deadline, which was April 2012, for destroying their chemical weapons. This applies especially to the USA and Russia.Disarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will.The Norwegian Nobel Committee has through numerous prizes underlined the need to do away with nuclear weapons. By means of the present award to the OPCW, the Committee is seeking to contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons.

The international chemical weapons watchdog has become the surprise choice for this year’s Nobel peace prize, a decision the Oslo committee said recognised both its current, hazardous mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks and 16 years of wider global efforts.The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a relatively new global body, set up in 1997 in The Hague, with a relatively tiny annual budget of around £60m, trumped the established bookmakers’ favourites of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl-turned advocate for female education, and Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynaecologist who has helped huge numbers of rape victims.The announcement by the chairman of the Nobel committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, at 11am Oslo time (10am BST) was, nonetheless, not especially tense given Norwegian state TV had reported the OPCW’s success more than an hour beforehand.The OPCW, which has 500 staff, is the 25th institution among the 94 winners in the prize’s history, and the second in succession, after the controversial choice of the EU in 2012. When news of its win leaked there was initial scepticism, with some Middle East analysts warning it was premature to honour the OPCW just a matter of weeks into its mission to assess and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks. The mission – which has already seen OPCW inspectors come under sniper fire – was agreed as a means to avoid US-led military action against Syria following a gas attack blamed on forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in August which killed more than 1,400 people

However, the Nobel committee’s citation said the prize was a more general one, to mark “its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons” and nudge the few remaining nations which have not yet signed up to the organisation. The work of the OPCW, which has 189 member states, had “defined the use of chemical weapons as a taboo under international law”, the committee said, adding that events in Syria “have underlined the need to enhance the efforts to do away with such weapons”.It concluded: “Diarmament figures prominently in Alfred Nobel’s will. The Norwegian Nobel committee has through numerous prizes underlined the need to do away with nuclear weapons. By means of the present award to the OPCW, the committee is seeking to contribute to the elimination of chemical weapons.”Addressing reporters, Jagland said the award was a reminder to nations with remaining chemical weapons, like the US and Russia, to get rid of them, “especially because they are demanding that others do the same, like Syria”. He added: “We now have the opportunity to get rid of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction…That would be a great event in history if we could achieve that.”In a echo of the inability this week to track down the winners of the prizes for physics and literature, Peter Higgs and Alice Monro, the Nobel committee tweeted that it had been unable to immediately speak to the OPCW to formally let it know of the win

.At a later press conference in The Hague the OPCW’s director-general, Ahmet Üzümcü, a Turkish former diplomat, said events in Syria had acted as a “tragic reminder” of the necessity of its work. The organisation’s “hearts go out to the Syrian people who were victims” of the August attack, he added. The £780,000 prize would be spent furthering the organisation’s work, he added.The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the watchdog responsible for preventing the use of chemical weapons.  The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), is working to destroy Syria’s massive chemical weapons stockpile after a sarin gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus killed more than 1,400 people in August.