linguistic front

Right-wing populist slammed in Iran

As the votes came in on Iran's May 19 elections, populist hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi reluctantly accepted incumbent president Hassan Rouhani's 57% victory, after a bitter campaign. The rhetoric was so heated that a week before the poll, Rouhani even challenged Raeesi, a sitting judge, to issue an arrest warrant for him. Media organizations affiliated with Iran's hardliners, like Tasnim and Fars, went to bat for Raeesi, publishing rumors about the death of Rouhani's son 20 years ago, alleging the apparent suicide was carried out with the father's personal firearm and calling for a new investigation. Meanwhile, Basiji pro-regime militia forces (which played a critical role in violence following the disputed 2009 elections) attacked a number of Rouhani campaign offices in Tehran, Mashhad, Qazvin, Babolsar and Isfahan.

Women, Berber rights at issue in Libya constitution

The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)

Linguistic struggle heats up in Pakistan

A bill is advancing in Pakistan's Senate that would amend the coonstitution to give Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi the status of "national languages" along with Urdu. The bill this week cleared the Senate's Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Under Article 251 of the 1973 constitution, Urdu is recognized as the only "national language," with text calling for it to become the "official" language within 15 years. The text states that English can be used provisionally for official purposes until the transition to Urdu is complete. Other tongues may be promoted as "provincial languages," but this is a clearly subsidiary position. Urdu is actually a minority language itself, as Punjabi has the most speakers of any language in Pakistan. Urdu, long used as a lingua franca by various peoples, was chosen above Punjabi as the "national language" so as not to unduly favor Punjab province, the country's most populous. But English is still used for most administrative functions, and the transition to an "offically" Urdu state was never completed. The proposed amendment would make the other languages equal to Urdu, and "establish a fund for the development and promotion of national languages." It would also allow the provinces to promote other local languages, forseeing their eventual adoption as "national languages."

'Jewish state' bill approved for Knesset vote

An Israeli cabinet committee approved a contested bill on May 7 seeking to enshrine Israel's status as a Jewish state into the country's central legislation, sparking concern the heightened discrimination Palestinians would face should it become law. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted unanimously to move the "Jewish State" bill—which is also being referred to as the "Nationality" or "Nation State" bill—to a preliminary vote in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. The bill declares that Israel is "the national home of the Jewish people," and that "the right to realize self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people," Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Great Power betrayal to re-unite Syrian revolution?

On Dec. 27, leaders of the Kurdish autonmous administration in northern Syria, meeting as a Constituent Assembly at the town of Rmeilan (Rimelan), voted to remove the name "Rojava" from the federal system that governs the region. Initially called the "Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria-Rojava," it is now to be named simply the "Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria." (Kurdish Question, Jan. 3) The dropping of the traditional Kurdish name for the region is something of an about-face, following a campaign to revive Kurdish-language toponymy. This would appear to be motivated by the current political re-alignment in Syria, and the final breaking of what some have seen as a de facto alliance between the Kurdish forces and the Bashar Assad regime against Turkish-backed rebel militia.

Erdogan revives Ottoman-era designs on Iraq, Syria

An Oct. 23 AFP story relates how Syria's Kurds are restoring ancient names to "Arabized" towns in the country's north (where the regime has collapsed an a Kurdish-led autonomous administration holds power). Writer Delil Souleiman reports from a small town in the "official" governorate of Hasakeh known for decades as Shajra but now once again by the older Kurdish name of Joldara. Said one elderly resident: "Joldara in Kurdish means a plain covered in trees. This was the name of the village before it was Arabized by the Syrian government in 1962 and changed to Shajra," which means tree in Arabic. Joldara is one of hundreds such towns where new road-signs have been raised by the autonomous administration, with the Kurdish names in both Latin and Arabic script. 

Peru: satellite to monitor rainforest

Peru launched its first satellite into space this month, to monitor illegal mining, logging and other extractive activities in the country's vast stretch of the Amazon rainforest. The Peru SAT-1, developed with French aid and the most sophisticated in Latin America, was launched Sept. 15 from Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana and monitored from the Satellite Images National Operations Center (CNOIS) in Pucusana, south of Lima. The satellite bears the logo of Peru's space agency, CONIDA, with the words "Kausachun Peru" (Viva Peru in Quechua). (Peru This Week, Nature, Sept. 15)

Peru: indigenous leaders cleared in Bagua massacre

Following a trial lasting seven years and four months, a court in Peru's Amazonas region on Sept. 22 absolved 52 indigenous leaders in charges related to the 2009 Bagua massacre. Initially, charges were brought against 53, but one defendant died over the course of the proceedings. The Penal Chamber of Bagua district found insufficient evidence that the accused indigenous protesters had handled firearms at the scene of the massace, in which at least 32 lost their lives. The defendants faced charges in the deaths of 12 police officers at the scene. The violence began when National Police troops attacked protesters blocking the road at Devil's Curve on June 5, 2009—yet no police officer or commander has served time for the massacre. The incident came amid indigenous protests over changes to Peru's land tenture system pushed through in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement with Washington and aimed at opening the rainforest to oil exploitation.

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