Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Turkey's Ongoing Kurdish Question

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
Anthropologist Deniz Duruiz, a specialist on the politics of the Kurdish minority in Turkey, spoke at the University of Prince Edward Island on March 13, the week before the university shut down.

Now a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Duruiz earned her PhD in anthropology from New York’s Columbia University in 2019.

She studies seasonal agricultural labour practices in western Turkey, performed by over one million migrant workers from the Kurdish region of the country and by Syrian refugees. 

She is currently working on a book on Kurdish and Syrian migrant farm workers in Turkey. The book explores how a migrant labour practice categorized as “informal labour” is in fact heavily regulated by racialized class structures, family and kinship used as mechanisms of labour discipline and social control, regional economic isolation, and the normalization of securitization in the lives of the marginalized. 

She uses labour as an ethnographic lens to observe the multiplicity of practices through which migrants build, or re-build, their lives.

About 30 to 35 million Kurds today live across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran; they constitute 18 per cent of Turkey’s population.

After World War I, the Kurdish people were left stateless. As a result, the new Turkish government systematically tried to eliminate Kurdish cultural influences from the nation. 

These efforts led to the renaming of Kurdish towns with Turkish names, as well as forcing the Kurds to take Turkish names. Kurds could not use their own language in public until 1991.

The label “terrorist” is relatively new in the history of racialization of Kurds. It marks the state’s response to no longer being able to deny the existence of the Kurds, as a result of the thirty-five-year-long armed resistance of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The unstable relationship between the Kurds and the Turkish government continued throughout the 20th century, intensifying in the 1990s. The PKK’s leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was captured in 1999 in Nairobi and is currently in prison in Turkey.

Following a temporary 2015 ceasefire, Turkish military forces invaded multiple cities in Kurdistan, killing around 1,000 people, reducing buildings to rubble, and vandalizing homes, Duruiz remarked.

That tension further intensified in July 2016 after an attempted coup on the government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was quashed.

“The dominant Turkish ethnicity is predicated upon the Kurd’s being a colonized and racialized other, whose potential for equal citizenship disturbs not only the status quo of the Turkish state order but the entire social order,” she explained.

The Syrian Civil War next door has also worsened relations. In October 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from northern Syria, an area predominantly occupied by Kurdish forces, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from the Turkish military.

Turkey is now attempting to ‘”control the lifestyle in those areas,” in Erdogan’s words, and attacking Kurdish-controlled northern Syria.

The study of the Kurdish question is just beginning, Duruiz said. In the 1990s it was almost impossible to conduct ethnographic work in Kurdistan because researchers were jailed.

“I think we are the first generation of anthropologists who are educated in the United States, and who can translate this knowledge into an understandable, digestible form,” Duruiz told her listeners.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Don't Ignore China's Role in Pandemic

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph Journal
The COVID-19 pandemic began in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in China, and was allowed to spread, unreported, for weeks. Now that the worst is over in China, the country is trying to rehabilitate its image.

Yes, there has been an outburst of “hate China” articles in the West, which are reprehensible. But we should also acknowledge that China bears a lot of responsibility for what the world is now experiencing. It has succeeded in controlling the virus domestically because its authoritarian government can force people to follow instructions. 

Despite the initial bureaucratic bungling, China has mobilized effectively to bring the rate of infection down to virtually zero. It has announced it will lift the lockdown on Wuhan on April 8. 

The first case there was confirmed last Dec. 1 and, since little was known about the virus, the authorities kept quiet in an effort not to cause panic. 

Not until Dec. 31 did China first report cases of a “mysterious SARS-like pneumonia” to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The now-celebrated Dr. Li Wenliang had already raised concerns about the virus and was detained by the authorities and forced to sign a confession of making “false comments” and disturbing “the social order.” The virus would eventually take his life on Feb. 6. 

China allowed a large political gathering to take place in Wuhan from Jan. 11 to 17, even as concerns grew. It refused to let in major foreign epidemiological teams, including from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

The WHO bought into China’s narrative. In a statement on Jan. 14, the body asserted that “the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” Such lies helped the virus spread more quickly than it otherwise would have.

In fact, Taiwan has accused the WHO of failing to heed the country’s early warning in December because it is too cozy with China. Taiwan, meanwhile, took swift and early actions and has had less than 300 cases and two deaths. 

Only on Jan. 20 did Chinese President Xi Jinping finally give orders to take measures to stop the spread of the virus. And before he finally acknowledged the gravity of the situation, some five million people had left Hubei, allowing the disease to spread. 

Some Chinese propagandists also promoted a bizarre story about the outbreak being caused by the United States Army. 

By early March, a complete shutdown of most daily life nationwide and the upscaling of hospital capacity were credited with having stemmed the tide.

But critics say such extreme measures were only required because its initial response was slow. 

Having botched its reaction at the start of the outbreak, China is now mounting a campaign to present itself as a model of effective government. Beijing is working to turn these signs of success into a larger narrative – one that makes China the essential player in a coming global recovery. 

“China’s signature strength, efficiency and speed in this fight has been widely acclaimed,” declared Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian March 5. China, he added, set “a new standard for the global efforts against the epidemic.” 

Xi’s government fears that the world may reassess modern China, and that its global image may crumble if nations around the globe start paying attention to China’s lax public health care, incompetent and intrusive government, and generally less-developed domestic conditions. 

Beijing wants to shift blame away from China for the outbreak and the botched initial response. At stake is China’s global reputation, as well as the potential of a fundamental shift away from China for trade and manufacturing. 

Foreign corporations already are reconsidering their operations in China. They no longer can be assured that it will be a stable supplier. 

And those who assumed that global markets were the optimal economic model, which would always work, now may reconsider whether globalization is the best system for dealing with pandemics like coronavirus, and so will question the world’s relationship to China. 

Responsibility is exactly what the Chinese Communist Party government has been avoiding since the initial outbreak in Wuhan. Transparency and openness are threats to its continued rule. 

The regime at first engaged in a massive cover-up – exposing the world to global pandemic and economic meltdown. Now it’s trying to portray itself as its saviour. 

Can you spell chutzpah? It’s not a Chinese word. One thing is certain, though: this is a turning point for China and the world.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Post-Soviet Republics

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PE] Journal Pioneer

It’s been almost two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of 15 new sovereign entities. Yet the boundaries of the Soviet Union’s successor states seem especially unnatural. Like most state borders, they are not coterminous with the nations that claim them and so make little geographic or ethnic sense.

As befitted the boundaries of administrative units, republican borders, as well as the very status of some of the republics, were subject to over two hundred alterations between 1921 and 1980.

Yet territorial changes are not an issue. Estonians refuse to consider the possibility that it might be a more efficient and secure nation-state without the Russian north-east.

Ukrainian elites won’t leave their eastern provinces in the Donbas, home to a large portion of Ukraine's ethnically Russian and Russian-speaking population.

Abandoning the Crimea, the autonomous peninsula now annexed by Moscow, is considered even less of an option by Kyiv.

Irredentism, however – the desire to incorporate into the new states areas deemed to be their rightful territory – flourishes in the former USSR.

Some Estonians demand that Russia cede territory granted to Estonia by the 1920 Treaty of Tartu that created an independent Estonian nation.

Some Lithuanian nationalists claim Kaliningrad province, currently Russian and formerly Prussian, as historically theirs; Armenians have declared and established by force of arms a mini-state in Karabakh; and Tajiks point to parts of Uzbekistan.

Soviet republics were both administrative units and ideologically sanctioned national homelands that provided non-Russian communist elites with power-bases and legitimacy during the USSR's existence and, even more so, at the time of its disintegration in the late 1980s.

Endowed with flags, hymns, constitutions, capital cities, and other symbolic accoutrements of sovereignty the republics stood at the top of the USSR’s homeland pyramid.

Communist ideology emphasized that all of the Soviet nationalities had found fulfilment and liberation in the Soviet motherland. The so-called national question had been solved by the Communist Party, which enabled the non-Russian nations to attain both national sovereignty and international harmony through the republics.

Non-Russian elites developed a cult of statehood that, in the absence of functioning states, boiled down to a glorification of their former status as symbolically sovereign republics and, hence, to a reification of the former republican borders that gave their polities coherence.

When Soviet power began to disintegrate in the mid to-late 1980s, Soviet-base legitimacy proved increasingly undesirable, and republican elites wrapped themselves in the cloaks of national symbolism.

The non-Russian republics emerged from Soviet collapse without genuine state apparatuses, civil societies, markets, democracy and rule of law, genuinely autonomous cultures and, hence, without mass modern national identities.

They were almost purely creatures of a legacy of Soviet nationalities policies.

The most pressing issue facing the non-Russian elites was state-building. But the institutional poverty of many of the non-Russian states precluded the development of genuine democratic institutions.

So the field was open for groupings of powerholders to seize control of the emerging polities. They grabbed economic assets and forged alliances with political bosses and regional clans.

All that post-Soviet statehood could accomplish was a reification of the boundaries that alone gave the new states political meaning, something especially true in the central Asian republics.

Will the European Union Survive COVID-19?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
Fifteen years ago, the European Union was riding high. It seemed set to begin creating a superstate.

The Iron Curtain was a memory. In 2004 10 new countries were admitted to the EU, with three more to come. It ballooned to 28 members. But then the wheels started to come off.

The financial crisis of 2008 brought economic austerity and high unemployment, especially in the Mediterranean states of Greece, Italy, and Spain, fuelling mounting dissatisfaction.

The euro, the official currency of 19 of the EU’s members in the monetary union known as the Eurozone, came under attack, as these countries could no longer manage their own fiscal responses to the damage.

Then came the refugee crisis of 2015, as millions of people fleeing wars and chaos in Africa and the Middle East attempted to enter Europe.

The reaction to this massive wave asylum seekers was at first quite welcoming, but it was not to last. It led to the surge in support for populist and far-right parties throughout the EU, including France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, four of the six original member states. In newer members such as Austria, Hungary, and Poland, illiberal parties came to power or entered government coalitions, something hitherto unthinkable.

Finally, in 2016, the United Kingdom, one of its most important members, voted in a referendum to leave the EU; it departed this past January.

And now the COVID-19 has hit Europe; it is especially viral in France, Italy and Spain. “Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic,” noted Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. Will the coronavirus kill the EU itself?

European leaders voted March 17 to close off 26 EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland to nearly all visitors from the rest of the world for at least 30 days in a bid to arrest the spread of the coronavirus.

In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said there had been “a unanimous and united approach” to the decision.

Belgium, Italy and Spain have virtually locked down their populations. In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel has banned religious services and most other venues will also be closed. In France tough new restrictions have come into force. No one can now leave home without a government form to justify their reason.

And the walls are going up between EU nations as well. The European system of open internal borders, a cornerstone of European integration, is on the brink of collapse.

The so-called Schengen Area, which comprises 26 European countries, in 1995 abolished the need for passports and other types of control. A key practical and symbolic achievement of European integration, it is now falling apart.

On March 10, Austria announced controls along the border with Italy and a ban on the entry of most travelers from there. A day later, Slovenia closed some border crossings with Italy.

The president of Italy’s hard-hit Veneto region, Luca Zaia, in turn said that Europe’s borderless zone was “disappearing as we speak.” He lamented that Schengen “no longer exists and will be remembered in the history books.”

On March 13, Poland announced that only Polish citizens or people with a Polish residence permit would be allowed to enter the country. That same day the Swiss government imposed border controls with other European countries. Denmark followed a day later.

Germany on March 16 introduced border controls with Austria, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, later extended to Italy and Spain, while Hungary stated that all passenger traffic into Hungary would be halted.

The British government on March 17 advised citizens against all non-essential travel worldwide. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia, and Spain also imposed border controls.

The days of welcoming Middle Eastern refugees with open arms are also long gone, as evidenced by Greece’s resistance to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent funneling of thousands of Syrian refugees right up to the Greek border. Some refugee camps have even been set alight and people killed.

Migrants and refugees are in great danger from the virus; if they start feeling ill they have nowhere to live and no way of getting food. Europe has gone back to the future.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Third World Countries Could be Decimated by COVID-19 Outbreak

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

Last October, researchers from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the John Hopkins University Centre for Health Security, and the Economist Intelligence Unit created a Global Health Security Index to assess the health security of 195 countries.

The report illustrates how prepared a country will be if an infectious disease outbreak, like the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, or other biological catastrophe happens.

The overall Global Health Security Index of each country was calculated from six categories: prevention of pathogens and toxins, early detection and reporting for pandemics, rapid response to pandemics, strong health system, compliance with international norms, and risk environment and vulnerability to biological threats.

The report indicated that most countries are not fully prepared for a widespread disease outbreak -- 72 countries fell into this category.

It’s no surprise to learn that the least-prepared states with the worst health care systems are found in the global south, mainly in Africa and the South Pacific.

Much of Africa has substandard health care. There are few hospital beds for acute respiratory illness. Even basic sanitation is absent in some of the rural areas.

Equatorial Guinea was the least-prepared country for an epidemic, based on the health scores from the report. Other African countries in major trouble were Somalia, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, South Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi, Djibouti, Republic of the Congo, and Algeria.

In the South Pacific, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Niue, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, and Palau all scored in the bottom 25.

The World Health Organization has warned that health systems in many African countries are not equipped to respond to the pandemic.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on African Union member states “to come together to be more aggressive in attacking” the virus. The ability to procure diagnostics in a timely fashion will be limited.

Africa is awakening to COVID-19, according to Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But countries in Africa have little capacity to contain and track people infected.

Some African countries are more familiar with epidemics, their transmission and containment as a result of Ebola, but the lessons learned, he maintained, have been more on paper than in practice.

Many African countries are shutting their airports and land borders to keep out people from countries with a high number of coronavirus cases. Hundreds of international flights have been canceled, and schools have been closed.

Africa’s largest air carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, is experiencing at least a 25 per cent reduction in passengers during the outbreak.

Ethiopia, Senegal and Kenya have announced school closures and bans on public assemblies to check the spread of the virus.

 “We are imposing a travel ban on foreign nationals from high-risk countries such as Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and China as from 18 March 2020,” President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa announced March 15.

Other countries imposing a travel ban on foreigners from countries with cases of coronavirus include Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda. “All travel to Ghana is strongly discouraged at this point in time,” said Ghana’s Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah the same day.

The stress on already fragile economies in many African countries, could be “catastrophic,” stated Arkebe Oqubay, a senior minister and special adviser to Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, predicting that sinking oil prices will affect Africa’s oil producing countries.

In the South Pacific, most island nations cannot screen for the virus, potentially masking its spread. So they are imposing strict lockdown measures to combat the outbreak, denying access to vessels and prohibiting human-to-human contact during aircraft refuelling.

Coral atolls in the northern Cook Islands are even turning away supply ships in an attempt to prevent infection. Island residents understand that coronavirus infection could be catastrophic due to a lack of medical facilities.

The Marshall Island suspended all incoming air travel, while cruise ships have been denied port calls in New Caledonia, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa, among others, as local authorities tighten controls.

Meanwhile, Fiji opened its first facility capable of testing for the coronavirus, one of only four such facilities in the region, Radio New Zealand reported.

While the wealthy Global North is struggling to contain COVID-19, it’s worth remembering that the Third World is even more vulnerable to its impact.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Ethnic Civil Wars and Security Dilemmas

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

In many countries people perceive politics and security in ethnic terms. So civil wars, especially those of ethnic origin, are hard to end. How a party defines security is of decisive importance that determines whether a conflict can be resolved through a peace settlement or will be solved militarily.

Generally, all peace talks sooner or later reach a point of paradox: on the one hand each party wants peace; on the other hand they block or delay talks just when it seems possible to lower the potential of violence through treaties and demilitarization. 

The idea of defining their own position and security no longer by weapons, but by talks, causes strong feelings of uneasiness, and the demilitarization that inevitably has to follow the talks or the peace treaty is felt as a threat.

Trying to ensure their own security, the parties involved in a conflict cause a chain reaction: if one side arms itself, the other one follows suit.

Maintaining security is of course the decisive factor in determining the success of peace talks, but it is the behaviour of an ethnic group as a product of its past and present relations and its ethno-cultural perceptions that determines whether the goal – lasting peace – is achieved. So every case is different. 

Ethnic conflicts are the most prominent intrastate wars in the world now. For ethnic groups, security means saving their ethnic existence and, if necessary, defending it. Ethnic concepts of security are defined by military strength as well as by political, economic and social factors.

Demilitarization during peace talks is a very delicate matter. Without a third party providing security, demilitarization is very risky. Worried that the other side may cheat leads to mistrust towards the enemy and increases the danger of renewed fighting.

Changing deep-seated ethnic concepts is difficult and protracted, but effective conflict management requires a change in the hostile attitudes of antagonists towards each other.

However, in most cases this is very hard to achieve. Security for one side (usually ethnic predominance in the state) means increasing insecurity for the other. In-group biases can exacerbate levels of mistrust between groups.

Hence conflict deepens and violence escalates. The longer the civil war lasts, the more the antagonistic concepts harden in both groups.

Attempts to mediate and resolve the conflict fail, as both parties seek to win the war militarily; negotiations are only of secondary importance.

Very often, when there are attempts by either or both sides at concessions, such as creating an interim government, cease-fire agreements, or a temporary cessation of hostilities, more militant “outbidding” parties, derail these moves and violence escalates. 

These hardline groups sometimes have their own paramilitary formations or armed civilians to intentionally sabotage the negotiations. 

They are also reluctant to join any peace deliberations, even those convened by outside mediators.
This type of scenario has been played out in any of the very numerous conflicts around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia.

One need only think of Angola, Bosnia, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, and so many others, where intermittent attempts at negotiations and unity governments give way to renewed warfare.

It’s the reason such conflicts are so intractable and seem never-ending.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

How Russia, Saudi Falling Out Prompted This Week's Oil Crash

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, NB] Telegraph-Journal 

A coronavirus-fueled oil price war has sent crude prices plummeting. Prices tumbled into the $30s, the biggest drop since the 1991 Gulf War, as Saudi Arabia slashed prices in a battle for market share after Russia rejected calls from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for deep output cuts.

It was widely reported that the group had hoped to come to an agreement to reduce oil production by 1.5 million barrels per day.

At a meeting of OPEC on March 6, Saudi Arabia headed a push to reduce output -- but non-member and major oil producer Russia refused, looking to preserve its own market share. 

Angered by the move, Riyadh responded a day later by driving through the biggest cuts to Saudi prices in 20 years, while raising output. The cut added further uncertainly to global markets already roiled by the coronavirus.

The Saudis had been pushing for the cut in output to prop up prices, but did a reversal when Russia balked and decided, instead, to flood the market with hundreds of thousands of additional barrels per day at a steep discount.

The Saudi price drop “might be a shot across the bow to bring producers, notably Russia, back to the negotiation table,” according to Harry Tchilinguirian, a commodities analyst at BNP Paribas.

“A combination of a policy aimed at market share and a COVID-19-induced negative demand shock might see oil prices move lower still,” he warned.

“Cheap oil is one thing. Super cheap oil is another,” John Kilduff of Again Capital told the Washington Post.

“The stock market is looking at the oil price plunge as a canary in the coal mine of a disinflationary one-two punch, driven partly by cratering demand for transportation fuels and a wanton price war among the major oil producers” that will result in big losses for U.S. and Canadian producers.

Saudi Arabia cut its price for April delivery by $4-6 a barrel to Asia and $7 to the United States. At the same time, the kingdom said it would hike its own oil production to more than 12 million barrels per day from April on. In doing so, Saudi Arabia has launched a new price war for market share.

But the problem they face as they enter into a price war is that Russia is better positioned to sustain a stretch of cheap oil.

Moscow indicated it could withstand oil prices of $25-$30 per barrel for 6-10 years. Riyadh, meanwhile, can afford oil at $30 a barrel, but would have to sell more crude to soften the hit to its revenue, according to Reuters sources familiar with the matter.

The Russians had previously signaled their resistance to additional production cuts in February when OPEC floated the idea.

It had been widely expected they would go along with the plan, because the alternative seemed much worse. So what changed?

From Russia’s point of view, all this strategy was doing was propping up U.S. oil producers at the expense of everyone else. The only way to counter this work would be for OPEC and its partners to keep cutting until U.S. shale oil production began to decline.

“The Russians see this as an opportunity to break the back of the American oil industry because many sectors of the industry don’t have access to capital and have a lot of debt,” said Peter Tertzakian, Calgary-based executive director of ARC Energy Research Institute.

Robert Rapier, a chemical engineer in the energy industry, believes Russia will probably eventually decide that the pain is too great, and come back to the table. In the interim, many American shale oil producers may be forced into bankruptcy.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that the world is set for its first annual decline in oil consumption in more than a decade.

A production-cut agreement could still happen. An advisory-level OPEC meeting is scheduled for later this month, and the Russians have said they are open to further talks.

As the battle plays out, the collateral damage will be felt worldwide. As the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, Canada will be greatly affected.

And no matter who wins this game of chicken between Russia and the Saudis, the American shale gas industry will be the loser.

Monday, March 09, 2020

The Wider Turkic World of Central Asia

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the formation of independent states in Central Asia and the Caucasus has transformed Turkey’s role in the world.

The newly independent Turkic states constituted 85 per cent of the former Soviet Union’s Muslim population, which is predominantly Sunni, as is Turkey. 

The main Turkic groups in these states are Uzbeks, Kazaks, Tatars, Azeris, Turkomans, Kyrgyz, Chivash, Bashkirs, Kumyks, Balkars, and Nogais.

All of these peoples are linked to Turkey in many ways, including by the ties of their various languages linked to Turkish, enabling Turkey to project its “soft power” in the region.

With the threat of antagonizing and provoking the Soviet Union no longer an issue, feelings of kinship with Turkic peoples living outside the boundaries of the Turkish state became more widespread, especially under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Iran, too, has viewed these new countries as a potential sphere of influence, though both linguistically and religiously – the central Asians are mainly Sunni, not Shi’a – Tehran is at a disadvantage in relation to Turkey.

Also, there are various issues in which Iran and Turkey may find themselves at odds. Iranian Azerbaijan may turn out to be such an area since Turkey is sympathetic to those Azeris who would like to unite northwestern Azerbaijan, located in Iran, to Azerbaijan. 

The world’s largest number of ethnic Azerbaijanis actually live in Iran, followed by the Republic of Azerbaijan itself.

Turkey was the first country to recognize the independence of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s then Foreign Minister, Tofik Gasymov, in Ankara in August 1992 stated that “Turkey is our greatest helper. We want Turkey’s aid in establishing links with the world.”

Politically, Turkey ardently defends the Azeri position regarding the conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave within Azerbaijan. Economically, both countries have linkages for energy transmission routes such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project. 

Turkish-Kyrgyz relations followed a similar track.  Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev called Turkey a “North Star” to be looked to for guidance. Kyrgyz students came to Turkey to further their education, and Ankara helped the new state create two new universities in the 1990s.

Bilateral relations between Turkey and Turkmenistan have been strong since the declaration of independence by Turkmenistan. In fact, Turkey was the first country to recognize its independence. Trade, investment by Turkish firms, and cooperation in educational ventures have cemented the relationship. 

Uzbekistan is the most important of the central Asian states, and Turkey’s close linguistic, historical, and cultural linkages with Uzbekistan have served Ankara well. Islam Karimov, the country’s first president, was also the first Turkic leader to visit Turkey.

In October 2017, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited Ankara. Agreements between the two countries committed them to 35 joint projects, worth over $3.5 billion, in the construction of power facilities, road infrastructure, manufacturing of textiles, electrical equipment, building materials, food and agro-industry.

Of course, Russia is still an influential player in the region and Russian politicians in the Putin era do their best to retain ties with these former Soviet republics. Hence, Ankara and Moscow will most probably compete, rather than cooperate, in central Asia, each seeing it as part of their respective “near abroads.”

Is Canada a "Settler-Colonial" State?

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
The past few weeks have underscored the troubled nature of the Canadian state’s relationship to the more than 600 pre-contact ethnic groups in the country.

Our academic, media, and political elites are moving towards defining Canada as a “settler-colonial” enterprise, one that illegitimately quashed the sovereign rights of the nationalities that inhabited its space and largely replaced and marginalized its indigenous populations with an invasive settler society. 

To many indigenous people, we are in fact genocidaires and they consider Canadian law “Eurocentric.”

Many public events across the country now begin with a statement that we are gathered on “unceded” land belonging to one or another native people. 

Are we going to conceive of Canada as a “Rhodesia?” That was the African country governed by the minority white settlers until being returned to native inhabitants through multi-racial democracy in 1980 as Zimbabwe.

According to its website, the mandate of the Crown-Indigenous Relations department is to “renew the nation-to-nation, Inuit-Crown, government-to-government relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis; [and] modernize Government of Canada structures to enable Indigenous peoples to build capacity and support their vision of self-determination.”

In their July 5, 2018 document, the department stated that the concept of an aboriginal nation in Canada refers to “a sizeable body of Aboriginal people with a shared sense of national identity that constitutes the predominant population in a certain territory or collection of territories.” 

There is much irony here. Although for the “settler” state, any form of ethnic nationalism is now considered anathema, aboriginal entities constitute ethnically-based homeland nations. As well, although non-indigenous Canadians are long past rule by unelected officials, we accede to indigenous groups traditional forms of governance, including a hereditary chiefly caste.

Indigenous peoples are now engaged in a form of irredentism – the desire to regain territory historically or ethnically related to it but under the political control of another jurisdiction.

Like irredentists everywhere, they seek to reclaim and occupy land that they consider to be a “lost” (or “unredeemed”) territory unjustly appropriated from them by force.

Examples around the world are numerous. Armenians wishing to expand into areas of Azerbaijan and Turkey formerly theirs; Ireland’s desire to reunify the island; Hungary trying to gain Hungarian-populated areas in Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia; Pakistan’s claim to Muslim-majority Kashmir, and so forth.

These are all ethnically or religiously-based homeland nations and they base their irredentist claims on that fact.

In few instances do irredentists wish to absorb the entirely of another state. The only one that comes to mind is the “maximalist” Palestinian claim to all of Israel.

But ours is a similar case. Since every indigenous nation on the Canadian land mass can claim some part of the country’s territory, what we have is a “super-irredentism.” 

You can easily find through Google numerous maps outlining the regions belonging to the various indigenous nations. And since every last square kilometre of this country is the homeland of one or another indigenous people, all of Canada becomes open to reclamation.

After all, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) logically flows from the recognition that indigenous governmental, legal, and political orders have existed from time immemorial, long predating the arrival of European settlers.

The federal government is moving forward with proposed legislation on UNDRIP, with the goal of passing it by the end of 2020.

Justice Minister David Lametti and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the government’s plan to chiefs gathered in Ottawa last December at the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. “You are setting the path for decolonization and reconciliation,” remarked Bennett.

The only pushback has come from Quebec – itself, of course, an ethnic nation. The rest of Canada has no such national cohesion. 

Ottawa is already dealing with aboriginal peoples “nation to nation,” as though these were summits between equally sovereign jurisdictions.  

Perhaps in retrospect they will be regarded as such, the way liberation movements in Africa and Asia negotiated for independence with European imperialists.

“Non-indigenous” Canada, as it continues down this road, is becoming a self-dissolving state. As genuine indigenous self-determination comes to pass, “settler” Canadians will in effect become squatters on the sovereign territories of the many nations that constitute pre-contact Canada.

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds today. After all, world history is full of such change.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Namibia's Strange Border Region

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The products of European imperialism, the boundaries of most African countries make little ethnic or geographic sense. And one of the strangest is a border region in Namibia that separates Angola and Zambia from Botswana. 

And though the Caprivi Strip doesn’t border Zimbabwe, less than 200 metres of the Zambezi River separates the two countries.

The panhandle is about 32 kilometres wide and protrudes eastward for about 450 kilometres from the north-eastern corner of the country. 

With the exception of its northern border with Angola, it is bounded by rivers: the Zambezi River on the northern border with Zambia, the Chobe and Linyanti rivers on the southern border with Botswana, and the Kwando River on the western border. 

The population is approximately 90,000 people, and the region comprises 19,531 square kilometers. 

It was named after Leo von Caprivi, the German Chancellor who negotiated for the land, then part of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), with the United Kingdom in an 1890 exchange for Zanzibar. 

Count von Caprivi annexed it to German South-West Africa in order to allow Germany access to the Zambezi River, which flows east into the Indian Ocean and to Germany’s East African territories -- modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi.

It would have given Germany an Atlantic to Indian Ocean southern African empire. But this never came to pass.

After the First World War, German South-West Africa was ruled by South Africa under a League of Nations mandate. Pretoria refused to leave the territory after the Second World War and retained control until Namibia became an independent state in 1990.

Botswana and Namibia had a longstanding dispute over the strip's southern boundary at the International Court of Justice. The centre of the territorial dispute pertained as to which irrigation channel of the Chobe River was the thalweg, or main channel, and so the bona fide boundary.

This was important, as, depending on the decision, a large island, known as Kasikili by Namibia and Seddudu by Botswana, would fall into one or the other’s national territory.

The Botswana government considered it part of the Chobe National Park, whereas the Namibian government, and other inhabitants of the Caprivi Strip, claimed that the island in question was a part of the 1890 British-German agreement.  

In December 1999, the Court declared that the thalweg, and therefore the international boundary, was to the north of the island, making the island part of Botswana.

The Caprivi Strip, apart from being remote from the rest of Namibia, is mainly inhabited by the Lozi people, who share a common language and history, and often feel more connected with, Lozi in neighbouring countries -- Zambia, Angola, Botswana, and South Africa.

Namibia’s main ethnic group, the Ovambo, comprise half the country’s population and dominate the state; other important groups are the Herero, Kavango, and Damara.

This has led to separatism in the Caprivi Strip. The Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) was established in 1994. In August 1999 it launched attacks on police stations and military posts in the eastern part of the panhandle.

The Namibian Government imposed a state of emergency and the separatists were defeated. Although they declared an independent nation in 2002, the CLA has apparently vanished as a fighting force.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Democracy is in Trouble in Western Countries

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
Dissatisfaction with democracy is at its highest level in almost 25 years, according to University of Cambridge researchers in Britain. The report, “Global Satisfaction With Democracy,” was released by the university’s Centre for the Future of Democracy at the end of January.

Academics have analysed what they say is the biggest global dataset on attitudes towards democracy, based on four million people in 3,500 surveys. The research covered 154 countries around the world.

They tracked views on democracy since 1995. The figures for 2019 showed the proportion dissatisfied rising from 48 per cent to 58 per cent, the highest recorded level.

“We find that dissatisfaction with democracy has risen over time, and is reaching an all-time global high, in particular in developed countries,” stated the report’s lead author Roberto Foa.

Many American political scientists have reached the same conclusion. At a conference held at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, last November, Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University professor, argued that American democracy is facing challenges similar to those that brought down Latin American democracies in coups during the last century.

A key turning point for many democracies was the moment when political rivals began to see themselves as enemies rather than competitors, losing a key norm Levitsky calls “mutual toleration.” This often plays directly into the hands of authoritarians.

Yascha Mounk, who teaches at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Studies in Washington D.C., locates the current democratic crisis in the rise of social media, the growth of identity politics, and economic stagnation in general-- social inequality in particular. 

Much of this has been fuelled by economic uncertainty since the Great Recession of 2008, along with the migration crisis in Europe a few years later. 

After a brief period of decline after the Second World War, inequality measured as concentration of wealth and income is rising. Less than 100 billionaires now own as much as does 50 per cent of world’s population, down from around 400 billionaires a little more than five years ago. The ultrarich represent an emergent global aristocracy.

A working aristocracy of politicians, business leaders, professional and bureaucrats dominate public affairs. These include graduates of elite educational establishments such as America’s ivy league schools or Britain’s Oxbridge. Class, privilege and wealth still determine life chances.

On the other hand, in many countries today, there are entire regions of desolation, and large sections of the population are impoverished. This world is far removed from the democratic capitalism that dominated the era after 1945.

Political polarization, based on economic and political problems, has led to, among other outcomes, the Brexit vote in Britain and Donald Trump’s election in the U.S. They were an outcry and protest by those who feel alienated in their own country. 

The fracturing of the United Kingdom into regional political constituencies, each with their own leaders and policies, has gained momentum and the union may break apart within the foreseeable future.

The last decade was an economic disaster in the United States. It experienced the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Unemployment spiked to 10 per cent, and it took most of the last ten years for it to come back down.

Employment may be widely available again, but a lot of that employment is fundamentally worse than it was in decades past. Americans’ wages still aren’t growing as fast as they were before the crash.

The American project rested on the hope that deep divides can be bridged by a culture of compromise, and that emotion can be defeated by reason. But this seems increasingly a forlorn hope.

Over the past couple of decades in America, the divides of ideology, geography, party, class, religion, and race have mutated into something deeper and more ominous.

All these differences have created two tribes, balanced in political power, fighting not just to advance their own side but to defeat the other.

The intellectual elites are now little better. The intellectual right and the academic left have dispensed with the idea of a mutual exchange of ideas.

Even though liberal democracy remains the official ideology, intellectuals on both the right and left are dissociating themselves from its legacy. This year’s coming election will only make things worse.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
As the war in Afghanistan, though now in its 19th year, continues to wind down, we read less about the country.

It exists in its present configuration because it was a 19th century borderlands separating the Russian Empire in central Asia from the British one in the Indian subcontinent. 

This rivalry between these two powers became known as the “Great Game,” a term immortalized by Rudyard Kipling. 

The delineation of the final borders of the buffer state of Afghanistan would end a period of enmity between them. 

In the north, an agreement between the empires in 1873 effectively split the historic region of Wakhan by making the Panj and Pamir Rivers the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire. It was finalized by the 1895 Pamir Boundary Commission.

In the south, the Durand Line agreement of 1893 between Britain and Afghanistan marked the boundary between British India and Afghanistan. This left a narrow strip of land ruled by Afghanistan as a buffer between the two empires, which became known as the Wakhan Corridor.

It stretches from Afghan Badakhshan to the border with China, between modern-day Tajikistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan was considered by the British as an independent state at the time although the British controlled its foreign and diplomatic relations.

Though extremely remote and largely inaccessible, this odd border construction essentially served one important purpose in the geopolitical struggle between the two European powers by ensuring that the British and Russian Empires did not touch at any point.

The Wakhan Corridor, covering 8,936 square kilometers but in some places barely 15 kilometers across, is a part of the Pamir Mountain region. Its average elevation is about 5,400 metres.

Due to its altitude and extreme isolation, one author, Johannes Humlum, has characterized the corridor as “the most elevated, the wildest, the most inaccessible, and the least populated” place in Afghanistan.

The Panj River, 1,125 kilometres long, forms a considerable part of the Afghanistan–Tajikistan border.

Effectively, this border, stretching across most of northern Afghanistan, divided every ethnic group that depended on this river and its tributaries. Wakhi, Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Uzbeks all were divided between Russian (and later Soviet) Central Asia and Afghanistan, thus severing family and economic ties.

Today, official estimates by the United Nations put the population at approximately 10,590, of which about 1,200 are Kyrgyz.

The native Wakhi are of Iranian origin and, unlike the generally Sunni Kyrgyz, follow the Ismaili Shiite sect of Islam.

The Wakhjir Pass, 5,000 metres above sea level at the eastern end of the Corridor, serves as the 76-kilometre border with China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. It was historically part of the Silk Road trade route between China and Europe.

In 1895 it became the border between the British and the Russians, although the Chinese and Afghans did not finally agree on the border until 1964.

There is no road across the pass, though in 2009 the Chinese constructed a new road to within 10 kilometres of the border for use by border guards. No other traffic is allowed, though there is some smuggling across the pass.

Remote both physically and politically, the Wakhan population feels alienated and economically marginalized within Afghanistan.