Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Friday, October 21, 2011

Still Trying to Figure out why Quebec Chose the NDP

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer 

Almost six months after last May’s federal election, I’m still trying to figure out why the francophones of Quebec, en masse, suddenly switched from the Bloc Quebecois to the New Democratic Party, in the process decimating the former.

It had nothing to do with the NDP itself, or its charismatic standard-bearer, Jack Layton. It wasn’t as if the NDP had a new leader Quebecois could suddenly relate to.

After all, Layton had already fought two previous elections, in 2004 and 2006, as head of the party, and had not a single measly seat in the province to show for his efforts. (Thomas Mulcair, the only NDP member from Quebec before 2011, was elected MP for Outremont in a by-election in 2007.)

The NDP had no base in Quebec – they had virtually no party members nor any historic support in the province. The party had in its entire existence, in fact, elected only two Quebec MPs. Insofar as it had any loyalists at all, it was in anglophone parts of Montreal.

Nor was the “Orange Crush” due to the quality of the local NDP candidates, most of whom were unknowns or sacrificial lambs who had little presence in their ridings – one was in Las Vegas during the campaign and had never even visited her constituency!

As well, the electorate’s move away from the Bloc was not a result of that party’s miscues. Gilles Duceppe ran his usual decent campaign, made no gaffes, nor did any scandals attach to the party.

So what happened?

Clearly, Quebecois en masse decided they still needed to continue punishing the Liberals, thanks to the sponsorship scandal, and simply couldn’t countenance voting for the Conservatives, whom they perceive to be an anglophone, western-based party, the successor to the Reform Party, and home to many whose ancestors may have been members of the ultra-Protestant Orange Order. But why not, then, continue sending Blocistes back to Ottawa?

As a minority within Canada, in federal elections Quebecois vote, first and foremost, on the basis of protecting their culture and powers within Confederation.

The Bloc and NDP had platforms that were, as usual, fairly similar. Both are left-of-centre parties whose domestic agendas are not all that different.

And while the Bloc is sovereigntist, the NDP’s attitude towards Quebec nationalism is far more friendly than that of the Conservatives and Liberals.

The party, for example, supports legislation that would extend Quebec’s French Language Charter to employees in the province who work in sectors covered under federal law.

And their interim leader, Nycole Turmel, is a former member of the Bloc.

Fearing the continued advances of the Harper Conservatives, Quebecois felt the need to seek allies outside Quebec who could oppose the Tories.

The Bloc could not provide that, but the NDP, as a national party, fit the bill – this time around, anyhow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Locked in Ethnic and Territorial Disputes

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The collapse of Soviet power in the southern Caucasus and central Asia in the 1990s opened up a political space for the re-emergence of the nationalist ideology known as pan-Turkism.

This political movement, which originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had as its goal the political union of all Turkic-speaking peoples in the Ottoman lands, the Crimea and other parts of tsarist Russia, eastern Turkestan in western China, and parts of Iran and Afghanistan.

Some 170 million people speak a Turkic language, with the largest, Turkish, used by about 85 million people.

The Turkic world encompasses a huge portion of southeastern Europe and central Asia. Today there are six independent Turkic countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, as well as Turkey itself.

There are also several Turkic national entities in the Russian Federation, including the Altai Republic, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia, Tatarstan, and Tuva.

The Crimean Tatars inhabit the Ukrainian peninsula that borders the Black Sea, and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of western China is home to the Uighurs, another Turkic people.

A main "fault line" between the Turkic Muslim and pro-Russian Christian peoples has always run through the southern Caucasus.

The nation of Armenia has been at odds with its Muslim Turkic neighbours for centuries and hence welcomed Russian rule in the region.

It has suffered whenever the Russians and Turks were at war.

During World War I, the Armenians within the Turkish Ottoman Empire were accused of aiding Russia, and in 1915 upwards of one million of them were massacred.

Between 1918 and 1920, Armenia and neighbouring Azerbaijan were sovereign countries, and fought an indecisive war over territory. But both soon became part of the new Communist-ruled Soviet Union.

During the Soviet period, Armenia and Azerbaijan were full Soviet republics. But the 4,400-square- kilometre area known as Nagorno-Karabakh, though inhabited mainly by Armenians, became an autonomous oblast (region) within the borders of Azerbaijan, cut off from Armenia proper.

By the late 1980s, as Soviet rule in the Caucasus disintegrated, and the two countries once again became independent states, old enmities resurfaced.

There were massacres of Armenians in the Azeri capital, Baku, and killings of Azeris in Yerevan in Armenia.

In 1991, Azerbaijan unilaterally abolished the autonomous status of Nagorno-Karabakh. In response, the Armenians in the enclave declared their independence.

Full-scale fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan ensued, and by the time a cease-fire ended major hostilities in 1994, the Armenians were in control of almost all of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as a considerable amount of Azerbaijani territory outside the enclave.

More than 30,000 people were killed in the fighting from 1992 to 1994. As many as 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris from Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh were displaced as a result of the conflict.

The war also drew in the two major powers in the region, Russia and Turkey. In 1993, as Armenia's forces were routing the Azeris, Turkey demanded that the Armenians pull out of Azerbaijani territory, and thousands of Turkish troops were sent to the border between Turkey and Armenia. Russian in response warned Turkey against any military involvement.

Though there has been little fighting since 1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan are still technically at war and the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations.

Turkey imposed a blockade on Armenia in 1993, resulting in a total shutdown of land and air communications between the two countries; they also have no formal diplomatic relations.

In May 2009 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Azeri parliament that Turkey and Azerbaijan were "one nation with two states." He added that there would be no normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations unless "the occupation of Azerbaijani territory ends."

Armenia's Defence Minister Seyran Ohanian in turn stated in January 2010 that defence fortifications have been beefed up significantly in recent years. "We are maintaining the balance of forces vis-à-vis the Azerbaijani armed forces."

The Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is one of several "frozen" conflicts in the cultural zone separating the Turkic peoples of the Caucasus from their neighbours, and Nagorno-Karabakh remains a de facto independent republic of some 140,000 people, protected by Armenia.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cypress Could Be New Flashpoint

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal-Pioneer

The island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean has been a bone of contention between Greece and Turkey for decades.

Independent from Great Britain since 1960, for the past 37 years it has been divided between a self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by its patron Turkey, and a southern Republic of Cyprus, governed by Greek Cypriots, which claims sovereignty over the entire island.

The capital, Nicosia, is also partitioned between the two entities. But as far as the United Nations and other international bodies are concerned, the Greek Cypriot government is the legitimate ruler of the island.

Indeed, the Greek Cypriot state has since 2004 been a member of the European Union, despite its unwillingness to grant concessions to the Turkish population in the north, and so keeping the island split in two.

Now, thanks to Turkey’s new assertiveness, the already troubled island is being dragged into the Middle East conflict.

The Greek Cypriot government has licensed U.S.-based Noble Energy Inc. to search for oil and gas near recently-discovered Israeli offshore fields that contain more than 450 billion cubic metres of natural gas. The distance by sea between Cyprus and Israel is about 200 kilometres.

Israel and the Republic of Cyprus last December signed an agreement defining their maritime border, thus allowing them both to search for energy sources in the eastern Mediterranean. Noble Energy began exploratory drilling for offshore oil and gas deposits off Cyprus in mid-September.

In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Dervis Eroglu, the president of the Turkish Cypriot state, describing this as a “provocation,” in late September signed a deal paving the way for their own offshore drilling.

Turkey maintains the Greek Cypriots are disregarding Turkish Cypriot rights and it sent a warship-escorted research vessel, the Koka Piri Reis, to also look for gas off Cyprus. Ankara claims the natural resources around Cyprus belong to both the Turkish and Greek parts of the island.

But President Dimitris Christofias of the Republic of Cyprus in the south has insisted that exploration will continue despite Turkey’s strong opposition.

He asserted the right to search for potential deposits inside the Republic’s exclusive economic zone is non-negotiable and any foreign meddling is unacceptable. (His government does not, of course, recognize any such rights for the Turkish Republic in the north.)

Greece and Israel, too, argue the Turkish vessel has no business being in the area.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou urged “restraint” by all countries in the region, but added Greece supports the Greek Cypriot activities.

Greece also hopes Israel will want to export its own natural gas resources to European markets via a pipeline running through Greek Cyprus to Greece, and that the Turks will not interfere.

Just to make sure, Athens and Jerusalem signed a mutual defence pact in September.

Still, Israeli diplomats worry the Turkish threat could prove dangerous.

“Israel and Cyprus reached agreement dividing the water between the two of them for gas drilling,” Alon Liel, a former ambassador to Turkey remarked.

He worried that things could escalate.

“If Israel and Turkey come to face each other in the Eastern Mediterranean,” it may even require direct American involvement, according to Sinan Ulgen, director of EDAM, a center for economics and foreign policy studies in Istanbul. Then what?