Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Alice in Wonderland (or Syria)

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

So, the West is going to bomb the facilities that contain Syria’s poison gas, but very carefully avoid “regime change.” Think of how absurd this is: it’s as if the Allies in World War II only bombed the Nazi death camps but left Hitler in power.

Actually, in World War II it was precisely the opposite – they only fought the German military while leaving the gas chambers intact.

Obviously, the United States and its allies could overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime in a matter of weeks, if not days, and stop him from continuing to massacre his own people. So I guess they think it’ s fine to kill unarmed civilians, as long as it’s done by bullets, bombs and shrapnel, not gas. At least 100,000 have already died, and some two million have fled the country, languishing in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries.

It is very well to hope that the United Nations Security Council would approve a mission against Syria. Under the UN Charter, the use of force is permitted only when authorized by the Security Council, or for self-defence.

But the Great Powers must be unanimous for such an action to proceed, as they all have vetoes. And we know that Russia and China will block such action.

Some officials at the United Nations and other experts say the use of force against Syria, absent a Security Council resolution, would be illegal. Since we know Russia will veto any such resolution, it would mean, then, that Obama's so-called “red line,”  promising that the U.S. would punish Syria for using chemical weapons, is worthless.

And that would also be the case with the “red line” warning Iran not to develop nuclear weapons -- since Russia would use its veto in that case too. So, really, American guarantees in this instance would also be meaningless.

Before the drafting of the UN Charter, and various other international conventions and treaties, state sovereignty was deemed to be absolute. The lessons of World War II put an end to that. But if a country on the Security Council can prevent outside intervention into a civil war such as is taking place in Syria, aren’t back to square one?

Not necessarily, because there is a precedent: The U.S. and its allies ignored the Security Council when they attacked Serbia in 1999. Russia then, too, opposed any moves against its ally Serbia. Concerns over ethnic cleansing and mass murder in Kosovo trumped the worries about UN approval.

There was a lot of fanfare and self-congratulation by countries such as Canada when the UN in 2005 adopted the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) initiative. This doctrine adds humanitarian intervention as a category of lawful war. It is not, however, in the UN Charter, and it lacks the force of international law.

Several countries have argued that R2P should not allow the international community to intervene militarily, because to do so is an infringement upon sovereignty. Others argue that this is a necessary facet of R2P, and is justified as a last resort to stop mass atrocities.

Isn’t it truly immoral to quibble over such matters as thousands die every day?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The "Grand Bargain" Between Left and Right in America

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Sometime in the 1980s, it seems that an unspoken "grand bargain" somehow emerged between the Left and Right in America. The Left would get control of culture and education and drive the historical narrative, in such a way that Martin Luther King Jr. was "canonized" and the Stonewall Riots of 1969, demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York, became a world-historical event.

Meanwhile, on the Right, "real existing capitalism" would face little economic or ideological opposition, resulting, within a few decades, of some Chief Executive Officers of corporations making up to 500 times that of the average worker, while tens of millions lost decent jobs and ended up working at minimum wage at places like Burger King and Walmart.

My question is: how exactly did this come about?

Well, to quote one wag, "the rebels of the New Left took over, not the economy, but the English Department" -- in other words, university humanities faculties. In the United States, as many of these elite, selective colleges were in rural communities, far from manufacturing and heavy industry, the students able to afford tuition, including on-campus living, running into the tens of thousands of dollars. So these "tenured radicals" ended up teaching the children of the well-off, rather than the poor and working-class in the big cities whom they never even saw.

Their upper class students regurgitated all of the dogmas fed to them, on tests and term papers, but after graduation they went off to positions in the "real world" of business, where all of the "critical" and "subversive" materials could be conveniently shelved, so to speak the way earlier generations ignored their Sunday School lessons. Few would become community organizers or labour union officials!

Perhaps the mistake made by the New Left was in focusing on identity politics and "diversity," rather than socialist economics, the forte of the pre-1950s Marxists and social democrats. (The collapse of Soviet Communism also made it harder to advocate socialism of any sort.) In this they have succeeded: affirmative action and other legislation helped put an end to overt discrimination and opened the doors to previously marginalized ethnic and gender groups. African-Americans, women, and others could now, as individuals, gain access to positions previously denied to them.

As one academic has observed, "Maybe one part of the story is that nothing the left wanted was incompatible with what a capitalist state requires. It can't hurt matters that the same people running the economy are coastal elites, highly educated, with no deeply embedded phobias about race or gender."

So, to a large extent, today’s American economic rulers include more people who, in generations past, would not have been able to "make it" into a wealthier stratum of society. The problem though, is that the economic gap between this entire class of people, and those less fortunate, has become a chasm.

The top one per cent of Americans earn twenty per cent of all income, twice the 1980 figure (and they now pay far less in taxes).The rich continue to do well even in hard times -- CEO pay in 2012 increased by sixteen per cent over the previous year, with the median compensation package now at $15.1 million.

Incomes rose more than 11 per cent for the top one per cent of earners during the economic recovery, but not at all for everybody else, according to data produced by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

For the other 99 per cent, earnings declined by 0.4 percent. This ongoing increase in income disparity is not unrelated to the fact that the percentage of workers in unions stands at 11.3 per cent, its lowest level since 1916.

U.S. median household income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 4.4 per cent in the last four years. The country still has two million fewer jobs than before the Great Recession, and most jobs created since have been at the low end of the wage scale. The number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million, about one in five Americans.

While four million homes have been foreclosed since 2007, and millions of others are "underwater," meaning their proprietors owe more on their mortgages than the current market value of their houses, a one-floor residence in a building on New York’s Park Ave. recently sold for $23 million. Although there have been a number of protests, such as the "Occupy" movement, they have accomplished little and petered out.

Some studies suggest that upward social mobility has now slowed so much in the United States that it is worse than in many European countries and Canada. The "American dream" is becoming, for far too many, just that -- a dream. And the large cohort of left-wing academics and intellectuals can't seem to do much about it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Newfoundland's French Neighbours

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Apart from the longstanding boundary dispute with Quebec over Labrador, which remains unresolved, Newfoundland has also had problems with two remnants of the once-vast French empire in the Americas.
Some 20 kilometres off Newfoundland’s southern coast are the French islands of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the only part of the old New France still under French control -- in fact, they were returned to France at the Treaty of Paris in 1763, when the rest of New France was transferred to Britain.

Possession of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon passed back and forth between France and Great Britain for the next 38 years; they finally became permanently French in 1815. The islands today are an “overseas collectivity” (collectivité d’outre-mer) and officially part of France.
There was a long history of smuggling of liquor from the islands to Canada and the United States, particularly during prohibition. Even today, spirits are cheaper on the islands and there continues to be smuggling of alcohol (and tobacco) from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon to Newfoundland.

More recently, there have been the important issues of fish and oil. In 1972, Canada and France delimited the maritime boundary between Newfoundland and Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, but left open a dispute about the extent of the two countries’ economic exclusion zones. The principal overlap was in the area south of the French islands, extending to the Saint-Pierre Bank, rich in fish and with a potential as well for oil.
When Canada tried to reduce the cod fishing around Newfoundland in the 1970s and 1980s, out of fear of seriously damaging the fish population, the French continued to fish in areas that were forbidden to Canadians. Ottawa inspected French fishing trawlers and jailed some fishermen.

It was only solved in 1992, when the International Court of Arbitration awarded the French islands an exclusive economic zone of 12,348 square kilometres to settle the longstanding territorial dispute with Canada, although it represented only 25 per cent of what France had sought.

The zone granted to France consisted of a 38-kilometre extrusion west of Miquelon, and a corridor southward from the islands, only 18 kilometres wide, but 348 kilometres long. The intention was to allow access to Saint-Pierre et Miquelon from the high seas; otherwise, they would have been surrounded by the Canadian exclusion zone. As well, in 1994, France and Canada mutually agreed to reduce the fishing industry in Saint-Pierre et Miquelon.

Offshore oil and gas exploration in both exclusive economic zones continues as well and the French feel they were short-changed by the 1992 agreement. In 2009, France submitted a letter of intent to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf claiming an extended continental shelf for Saint-Pierre et Miquelon. Canada has rejected the demand, which may end up in further arbitration.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Egypt's Spring Reverts to Unpleasant Winter

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Between a rock and a hard place. Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Between Scylla and Charybdis (mythical sea monsters depicted in Homer’s epic, the “Odyssey”).
Take your pick. They all refer to the situation the Egyptian people finds itself today.

Egypt has been the scene of almost unprecedented violence since July 3, when President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup – although for political reasons relating to the annual American delivery of $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, the Obama administration refuses to call it that. (Not that Egypt would miss the money that much -- Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia together have pledged $12 billion to Egypt, and they have done so without the conditions that the U.S. Congress places on American-appropriated funds.)
The government installed last month by General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi seems to be reverting to the autocratic rule Egyptians knew under the 30 year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak, the dictator deposed by mass demonstrations in February 2011 and in detention since April 2011.

Ironically, most of the people who engineered the ouster of Mubarak in order to transform Egypt into a democracy, now, two years later, had called on the army to overthrow Morsi.
Commented one observer, “The problem in Egypt is that the democrats aren’t liberals, and the liberals aren’t democrats.”

Morsi won a fairly free and fair election in June 2012, with 51.7 per cent of the vote in a runoff; the turnout was 51 per cent of eligible voters. That’s actually a little more than Barack Obama received in November 2012, and far more than the Conservative Party obtained in the Canadian federal election of May 2012.
But the people who demanded Morsi’s resignation and almost goaded the army into moving against him were clearly dissatisfied with his Islamic agenda and wished to be rid of him, by any means. They refused to wait until the next election.

Of course many Americans hate Obama, and many Canadians detest Stephen Harper – but no one has advocated their removal by force. That’s not how democracy works.
On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood has no ideological love for democracy; they would prefer a state run by the precepts of Islam (with no voice for those opposing “God’s will”)  and so when in power, Morsi alienated all those Egyptians – at least half the country – who feared he might turn the country into some kind of theocracy.

The Brotherhood, founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, has often suffered repression, arrests and torture. But its solidarity network and the genuine self-denial of its activists gave it credibility for many people. This vanished once they were in power.
Last November, Morsi issued a declaration that gave him full executive and legislative authority. It’s possible there might not have been another election – many of the people backing Morsi only support the electoral process when it suits their purposes, nor do they have much use for due process, pluralist democracy, or the rights of minorities. Hence the total polarization.

More than 1,000 Brotherhood members and other supporters of Morsi have died since Aug. 14, and his ouster has set off a wave of retaliatory violence from his supporters, mainly targeting churches around the country and security forces in the northern Sinai.
New regulations now in place include an “emergency law” removing the right to a trial and curbs on police abuse, the appointment of generals as governors across the provinces and moves to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist threat. Most leaders of the organization have now been arrested, including its spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie. He will be tried later this month on charges of complicity in the killing in June of eight protesters outside the Brotherhood’s national headquarters in Cairo.

On the other hand, a court has now ordered the release from prison of Mubarak, which certainly serves to symbolize the return of the ancient regime. General Sisi, the defence minister, was Mubarak’s head of military intelligence, and the figurehead president, Adli Mansour, a judge, was appointed to a top court under Mubarak.
Will Egypt’s choice always be between two forms of authoritarianism?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Question of Labrador

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It had been a proud, self-governing British dominion after 1931, but fell on very hard times during the Depression and ended up being again governed by London, which wanted to rid itself of the colony after the Second World War, and so engineered its amalgamation with Canada in 1949, in what many in the province still consider an act of betrayal.

We are talking, of course, about Newfoundland.

The island of Newfoundland became England’s very first colony, in 1583, but mainland Labrador was part of New France until its conquest by the British in 1760. In 1763, the coast of Labrador was granted to Newfoundland "to the end that the open and free fishery may be extended and carried on upon the coast of Labrador and the adjacent islands."

The 1774 Quebec Act re-transferred Labrador to what was formerly New France but in 1809 it reverted to Newfoundland. The 1825 Labrador Act fixed Labrador’s southern border with Quebec at the 52nd parallel.

But title to the large interior of the territory remained unclear. Finally, on behalf of Quebec, in 1922 Ottawa submitted the dispute to the Judiciary Committee of the Privy Council in London, since both Canada and Newfoundland were then separate and equal members of the British Empire.

In 1927, the Privy Council fixed Labrador’s inland border on the watershed between the Atlantic Ocean and Hudson Bay. It coupled this to the 1825 straight-line border. When Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, it made sure to cement its Labrador border in the Terms of Union.

Quebec still regards this decision as unfair and refuses to accept Labrador’s southern, straight-line border. Some maps published by the Quebec government show the straight line as "non-definitive" and place the actual border further north. I have also seen non-official outline maps of Quebec which incorporate all of Labrador into the province.

So who owns Labrador? Newfoundlanders want to make sure the world knows its theirs. On December 6, 2001, an amendment to Canada's Constitution officially approved a name change from the province of "Newfoundland" to the province of "Newfoundland and Labrador." Now our newspapers and television broadcasts have to use the clumsy term "Newfoundlanders and Labradorians" to describe its inhabitants.

But that re-naming prompted the government of Quebec to reiterate its position regarding its land border with Labrador: "No Québec government has ever formally recognized the course of the border between Québec and Newfoundland in the Labrador Peninsula, as defined by the judgment made by the judiciary committee of the Privy Council of London in 1927. For Québec, this border has never been definitively defined."

In 2007, a map posted on the website of Quebec’s Natural Resources Department showed large parts of southern Labrador as being inside the Quebec boundary. "We don't like it," John Ottenheimer, at the time Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, told CBC News. "We've seen this over the years -- it happens time and time again." And there the matter stands.

Labrador is ethnically as well as geographically quite different from the island of Newfoundland, and some of its people would prefer it became a separate province. A 1999 resolution of the Assembly of First Nations claimed Labrador as a homeland for the Innu, much as Nunavut, created that year, is for the Inuit.

Perhaps all this seems somewhat arcane today -- but no one 30 years ago would have predicted that Abkhazia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Transnistria would someday become war zones. But they did, after the countries they had been part of, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, broke apart. Borders that don’t matter much when they are internal lines on a map suddenly assume tremendous importance when they become international frontiers.

One thing is certain: Newfoundlanders will do their utmost to retain Labrador within its present borders. "Je me souviens" ("I remember"), Quebec’s motto, could just as easily be theirs.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Deteriorating Relationship

Henry Srebrnik, [Toronto] Jewish Tribune

Turkey’s relations with Israel have always been somewhat ambivalent. Although Turkey, a Muslim country, recognized Israel in 1949, Ankara did not want to worsen its relations with the Arab world, which it had ruled for centuries prior to 1920.

Though the Turks were not pleased with Israel’s role in the Suez crisis of 1956, or the two Arab-Israel wars of 1967 and 1973, relations remained relatively "correct." Turkey was run by secularists, often military men, who subscribed to Kemal Ataturk’s separation of politics and religion.

Indeed, relations grew warmer in the 1990s, with increased cooperation between the two countries’ militaries. As well, cooperation in areas such as investment, manufacturing, technical cooperation, and joint enterprises began to expand as a result of agreements.

But the coming to power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) following the November 2002 elections brought a more Islamic tone to Turkish foreign policy. This became more pronounced as the Oslo Peace process between Israel and the Palestinians began to falter.

Following the Palestinian parliamentary election in January 2006, a Hamas delegation headed by Khaled Mashaal visited Ankara unexpectedly. As a result of this visit, Turkey became the first country to meet officially with Hamas. Israel, obviously, was not pleased.

Things would go from bad to worse. On Dec. 27, 2008, a three-week armed conflict between Hamas and Israel began, following continuous rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel. The Turkish government, following public opinion, came out strongly against Israel.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan had an angry exchange with Israeli president Shimon Peres during a panel discussion on Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January 2009. "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill," Erdogan told Peres, and walked off the stage.

In late May of 2010, the Mavi Marmara, a ship purchased by the Turkish-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), an NGO with Islamic ties, left Istanbul to break Israel’s Gaza blockade as part of a Gaza Freedom Flotilla. The ship was boarded by Israeli commandos in international waters on May 31, following warnings to the ship by Israel to turn back. In the resulting melee, nine activists were killed and several more wounded. Seven Israelis were also injured in the skirmish.

The raid drew widespread condemnation and resulted in the further deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations. In September 2011, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador; Hamas praised the decision. That same month military agreements between Turkey and Israel were suspended.

A renewed week-long war between Israel and Hamas between November 14 and 21 of last year again drew Turkish condemnation of Israel, with the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemning it as "the latest example of the aggressive policy of Israel." Erdogan denounced Israel as a "terrorist state" that "massacres innocent children." He later called Zionism a "crime against humanity" while speaking before a Vienna forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN framework for West-Islam dialogue last February.

Turkey welcomed a UN General Assembly vote last November giving Palestine non-member statehood in the world body, saying the dramatic gesture would bolster the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "The reality of Palestine is a bleeding wound in the conscience of all humanity," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the delegates.

Of late, there has been a slight thaw in the relationship. On March 22, 2013, in a half-hour telephone exchange between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Erdogan, the former apologized about the Mavi Marmara raid on behalf of Israel. Netanyahu acknowledged "operational mistakes" and made it clear that the loss of life was unintentional.

Erdogan told Netanyahu that he thought the deterioration of ties between the countries was regrettable, especially given "the shared history and centuries old ties of strong friendship and cooperation between the Jewish and Turkish peoples."

Despite these words, ties between the two countries will probably never return to the pre-2002 level. Israeli-Turkish talks have stalled, and there has been no normalization of relations or exchange of ambassadors. Erdogan’s Islamic-oriented foreign policy in a turbulent Middle East makes a rapprochement almost impossible.



Are Political Dynasties un-American?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Here we are, still more than three years away from the next American presidential election, and already, among Democrats, the drums are beating for Hillary Clinton to get the nomination.
Many assume that she is next in line to the throne, so to speak, as if the Clintons were royalty. NBC-TV is already planning a four-hour miniseries named “Hillary,” timed to precede the 2016 presidential election.

Bill Clinton was president for eight years. He defeated sitting president George H.W. Bush in 1992. When Clinton left office in 2000, he was succeeded by George W. Bush, son of George H.W., and he served a full two terms.
Even so, the Republicans seem less inclined to monarchical politics. Since 2008, two non-Bushes have run for the top job. Barbara Bush, wife of George H.W., has herself dampened expectations that another of her sons, Jeb, might seek the presidency. “There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes,” she told NBC’s “Today” show in April.

Not so with the Democrats. Indeed, of late there have been a number of articles wondering whether the Clintons’ 33-year-old daughter Chelsea might enter the political arena, despite her rather undistinguished career thus far. (She has worked at a Wall Street hedge fund, as an Assistant Vice Provost at New York University, and as a “special correspondent” for NBC News, all sinecures obtained through her family name.)
“I’m attempting to lead a purposely public life,” Chelsea Clinton told CNN recently, while on a trip to Africa with her father on behalf of their Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, which, according to a statement, works to improve “economic growth and empowerment, equality of opportunity, and health access.”

Dynastic politics are a feature of political life in many countries. India has been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family, Pakistan by the Bhuttos and Sharifs, Bangladesh by the Mujibur Rahmans and Ziaur Rahmans, and Sri Lanka by the Bandaranaikes.
All four states have had women as leaders – but they have been daughters or widows of male rulers. These are traditional societies, where high-status families expect and receive deference from their “subjects.” The United States, on the other hand, was founded as an egalitarian republic that repudiated aristocracy.

Every now and then, as in a monarchy, there is an “interregnum” – right now Barack Obama, who, to the shock and horror of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, beat her for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, occupies the White House. But it’s interesting that nobody mentions his wife or two daughters as potential future presidents.
Isn’t it time, though, that a woman became commander-in-chief? Of course. But even apart from the “baggage” Hillary Clinton carries – her husband Bill’s notorious sexual peccadilloes; her close personal assistant Huma Abedin’s current problems with spouse Anthony Weiner, who has been caught “sexting” with various women across the country – there are two women who come to mind who should be more politically attractive to Democrats.

Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, elected to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts and New York, respectively, both have had distinguished careers.
Warren has taught law at several universities throughout the country, while researching issues related to bankruptcy and middle-class personal finance; she is currently a law professor at Harvard University Law School. She also set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011 for Obama as a response to the financial crisis that began in 2007.

Senator Warren has written several books, including “All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan” and “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke,” coauthored with her daughter, Amelia Tyagi.

“The ability to evoke genuine, organic passion in potential voters is the rarest and most critical of all candidate characteristics,” noted Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza recently. “Warren has that ability.”
Gillibrand is another liberal Democrat. She has been lauded for her work advocating for same-sex marriage, and she was active in the opposition to the now-defunct federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” which had prevented same-sex married couples from being recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal laws, or receiving federal marriage benefits.

She also was instrumental in the movement to repeal the federal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law, which had barred gays and lesbians from military service. And the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence has “enthusiastically” endorsed her work on behalf of gun control.

This year, responding to an epidemic of sexual assaults in the U.S. military – the Pentagon estimates that 26,000 troops were sexually assaulted last year, but only 3,400 attacks were reported -- Senator Gillibrand has proposed legislation that would remove military commanders from the process of deciding whether sexual misconduct cases should be prosecuted.
“The fact that only one in 10 go to trial, those statistics are highly concerning,” she stated in a recent interview on the PBS “Newshour.”
These are all issues dear to the hearts of Democrats. Warren and Gillibrand don’t have Hillary Clinton’s “rock star” status, or the millions of dollars she has amassed from various “donors,” but they are far more preferable if the Democratic Party is not to become a Clinton “family business.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Turks Have a Proud History

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

No one doubts that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey since 2003, is a very tough man. He has demonstrated that in recent years, in run-ins with Israel, Libya, Syria, the United States, and his own citizens. In that sense, he epitomizes the Turkish character.
Historically a warrior people, the Turks are a proud nation. And why shouldn’t they be? Since the “entered” medieval history, they are virtually the only people in the entire world who have never been conquered and subjugated for any length of time by others.

Think about it: in the Western Hemisphere, all aboriginal peoples were overpowered by Europeans. The same holds true for all of Africa, with Ethiopia the last to come under foreign rule when defeated by fascist Italy in the 1930s.
With the exceptions of Great Britain, Sweden and Switzerland, every country in Europe has at some time been vanquished and occupied by another – particularly in the Second World War. The Russians may only have been partially conquered by Napoleon and Hitler, but they fell under Mongol rule for some 250 years during the 13-15th centuries.

In the Middle East, all the Arab peoples, from Morocco to Iran, came under first Ottoman Turkish, and later western, rule, except for Saudi Arabia. Central Asia fell to the Russians. The Jews of Israel are the descendants of people who lived without sovereignty, at the mercy of others. Iran remained nominally sovereign but effectively under British and Russian control; this was also true of Afghanistan.
In Asia, only Japan held out, until occupied after 1945 by the United States. China lost immense amounts of territory to Japanese, Russian and western imperialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course the entire Indian subcontinent was gobbled up piecemeal by the British.

The Ottoman Turks, themselves an imperial power in large parts of Europe and virtually the entire Middle East for many centuries, were defeated in the First World War. They lost their Mideast Arab holdings.
But plans were afoot to partition the ethnic Turkish heartland itself. The terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, signed by the defeated Ottomans in 1920, were severe, and involved dismembering Anatolian Turkey itself.

The Greeks were to obtain almost all that was left of European Turkey, while the lands on either side of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, which link the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, would come under international control. The great Ottoman capital city of Istanbul was included in this zone.
Greece was also awarded a substantial area of western Anatolia facing the Aegean Sea, including the city of Smyrna (now Izmir). The rest of western and southern Turkey, including the port of Antalya on the Mediterranean, would become an Italian zone of influence.

France would take under its direct control a section of the country north of Syria (which was becoming a French Mandate, or colony), plus a very large zone of influence in the centre of Turkey. Britain would have a smaller zone, north of what was becoming the British mandate of Iraq.
Finally, the Armenians were to acquire an independent state that would consist of most of eastern Turkey, from the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea in the north down to Lake Van. Only a rump Turkish state centred around Ankara would retain its sovereignty. Some Kurds were also advocating an independent state of their own in eastern Anatolia.

None of this came to pass. A nationalist movement led by Mustapha Kemal, who became Kemal Ataturk (“Father of the Turks”), defied the Allied powers and refused to accept the loss of ethnic Turkish lands.
His armies defeated Armenian, French and Greek forces, reoccupying the entire Anatolian peninsula within a few years, and forcing the Allied powers into signing the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. It led to the international recognition of the sovereignty of the new Republic of Turkey as the successor state to the defunct Ottoman Empire.

The Greeks were forced out of all Turkish territories, and the Armenians, too, saw their dream of a greater Armenia evaporate. A small Armenian region that was already under Russian control before 1914 eventually became part of the Soviet Union. The Kurds in Anatolia remained under Turkish rule.
Since that difficult time 90 years ago, no one has tried to acquire any territory at the expense of Turkey.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Where is Erdogan Leading Turkey?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who heads the moderately Islamic Justice and Development Party (the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP), is turning back the country’s clock.

In power since 2003, he has taken to glorifying the Ottoman imperial past, undoing the work of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who created the Republic of Turkey 90 years ago.

In the early 1990s, Erdogan was an Islamic politician in Istanbul, rising to become a successful mayor of the city. He was then a junior member of an earlier party, the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, or RP) that had ruled briefly but was banned in 1998 after a secular, military-led coup. Erdogan himself was jailed for citing a militant Islamist poem.

Then, in 2001, he formed the AKP, which has won three successive parliamentary victories with ever-increasing margins.

Erdogan called the 2011 AKP election triumph a victory not just for Turkey, but for its Ottoman heritage. Indeed, back in October 2009, his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu had explicitly invoked Turkey’s former imperial grandeur.
“As in the sixteenth century,” he declared, “when the Ottoman Balkans were rising, we will once again make the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Middle East, together with Turkey, the center of world politics in the future. That is the goal of Turkish foreign policy and we will achieve it.”

The architect Ahmet Vefik recently presented his blueprint for a large mosque and that would honour the country’s Muslim and Ottoman heritage, to be located in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, a project that has met with fierce opposition from secularists. As well, a new bridge over the Bosphorus will be named after Sultan Selim I, the 16th-century Ottoman ruler.
The Turkish movie “Conquest 1453” (“Fetih 1453”), recounting the conquest of the Byzantine capital by Sultan Mehmet II, has become the highest-grossing film in Turkey’s history. A number of other new films portray the battle of Gallipoli, the First World War clash between the Ottomans and Allied forces over the straits of Dardanelles.

“The Ottoman revival is good for the national ego and has captured the psyche of the country at this moment, when Turkey wants to be a great power,” remarked Melis Behlil, a film studies professor at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.
As a consequent of this tilt in domestic politics, Turkey has been moving away from Europe and is less interested in joining the economically troubled European Union. In any case, as long as the Cyprus issue remains unresolved, Turkey knows that Greece will prevent it from entering the EU.

As Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, observed,  “It’s easy to argue that the E.U., with its sclerotic economies, has nothing to offer Turkey or that Turks, disgusted at Europe’s prejudice against Muslims, are no longer interested in joining a club that doesn’t want them anyway.”
“A great nation, a great power” was the theme of the fourth General Congress of the AKP, held in the fall of 2012. Foreign aid has risen 27-fold in the past decade and a resurgent Turkish state is making its voice heard in the Muslim regions of the Mideast and central Asia.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Multiethnic Afghanistan is at the Crossroads of Asis

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Afghanistan, as most readers know, comprises a number of ethnic groups other than the Pashtuns, who make up about 45 per cent of the country’s 30 million people and are the backbone of the Taliban.
Before 2001, while the Taliban were in power in Kabul and large areas of the south and west, they never managed to control the regions where the other ethnic groups live. The Hazara, Tajiks, Turkmen, and Uzbeks, who together account for another 48 per cent of the population, resisted Pashtun control with their own military formation, the Northern Alliance.

The Shi’a Muslim Hazara live mainly in the west, bordering Shi’a-majority Iran, while the other groups, mainly Turkic Sunni peoples (except for the Shi’a Tajiks, also of Iranian origin), are found in the borderlands next to the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Then there are the Kyrgyz, also aTurkic Sunni people, who have lived in the northeastern corner of the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow stretch sandwiched between some of the highest mountains in Asia. On maps, it looks like a tongue or panhandle between Pakistan in the south and Tajikistan in the north. It meets China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, also home to Kyrgyz and Tajiks as well as the Muslim Uyghurs, in the east.

A geographical aberration, 210 kilometres long and between 20 and 60 kilometres wide, the Wakhan Corridor belongs to Afghanistan only because the British and Russian empires created it as a buffer zone after fighting for influence in central Asia the mid-19th century in the so-called Great Game.
The Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission awarded the area to Afghanistan in 1895-1896. What is now Pakistan was within British India, while Tajikistan, which had been part of a Muslim state, the Emirate of Bukhara, had been conquered by tsarist Russia.

People in the corridor suffer from a range of problems including poverty, ill health, lack of education, food insecurity and opium addiction, according to the United Nations.

In 1978, some three to five thousand ethnic Kyrgyz in the corridor fled to Pakistan in the aftermath of a Communist regime coming to power in Kabul, and only some 1,300 remain. The corridor’s total population has been estimated at about 10,000, now mostly Pamiris, a Shi’a group Iranian in origin and related to the Tajiks.
In the 1980s, when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, the Russians built a dirt road through part of the Wakhan Corridor, but it isn’t of much use today. And while the Americans have poured tremendous sums of money into the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, in an effort to win “the hearts and minds” of Pashtuns and entice them away from the Taliban, in the Wakhan there’s never been an insurgency, so it has been ignored. It’s too remote to matter.

The part of the Wakhan Corridor that abuts China is 76 kilometres in width and includes the Wakhjir Pass crossing the Hindu Kush mountains at an elevation of more than 16,000 feet. In recent years, Afghanistan has asked China to open the border as an alternative supply route to help forces battling the Taliban.

In 2009 the Chinese Ministry of Defence constructed a new road to within 10 kilometres of the frontier, for use by border guards. But the border itself remains closed, partly because China fears it might lead to Uyghur separatists in Xinjiang getting help from Muslims in Afghanistan.
Still, as western countries ready themselves to exit Afghanistan, China is increasing its influence in the country. Its state-owned enterprises have made billion dollar investments, including the acquisition of major oil and copper mining concessions.

China has also established security ties with Kabul. Last year Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Beijing, where he signed a bilateral “strategic and cooperative partnership” agreement.

The mountainous area at “the top of the world,” where the countries of east, central and south Asia meet, still remains a site of contestation between the great powers.