political geography

Alania re-emerges from history, Georgia pist

Russian state propaganda outlet Sputnik is crowing about the referendum results in Georgia's separatist enclave of South Ossetia, which has just voted to change its name to "Alania"—technically, the hybrid name of "Republic of South Ossetia—State of Alania.” As Civil Georgia website explains, the political logic here is that it is a move toward union with the adjoining Russian province of North Ossetia-Alania. Pravda openly boasts in a headline: "South Ossetia wants to join Russia like Crimea." Kyiv Post informs us that Ukraine is not recognizing the "pseudo-elections in South Ossetia." NATO is also rejecting the "illegitimate elections and referendum in Georgia’s occupied territories." The US State Department likewise issued a statement condemnining the "illegitimate elections and referenda in Georgia's occupied territories." So it is pretty clear how the autonomist aspirations of the Ossetians (however legitimate) have been successfully exploited in the Great Game.

Anti-terror 'security state' in Xinjiang

The Uighur people of China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region are coming under unprecedented surveillance and militarization amid official fears of terrorism in the far-western territory. In the latest draconian measure, residents of one prefecture are being ordered to install a government-developed GPS tracking system in their vehicles. By June 30, all motorists in Bayingolin Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture must have the BeiDou navigation satellite system installed in their vehicles, under an order aimed at "ensur[ing] stability and social harmony." Gas stations will only be permitted to serve cars that have the system. Installation is free, but vehicle owners will be charged 90 yuan a year for the Internet fees.

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. 

UNESCO nomenclature wars in Jerusalem

UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova issued a statement Oct. 14 repudiating a resolution approved by the body's member states that had been harshly condemned by Israel. The resolution concerns threats to East Jerusalem's holy sites under Israeli occupation, and calls on UNESCO to appoint a permanent representative there to observe. What made it an easy target for Israeli criticism was its reference exclusively to "Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif"—not the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall. Israel froze cooperation with UNESCO after the resolution passed. Wrote Bokova: "The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city. To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list."

Great Game for Arctic in Ukraine struggle?

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Western allies charge that Moscow has sent at least 1,000 regular army troops into the two easternmost oblasts of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, to back up the separatist rebels there. Russia's President Vladimir Putin responds with an outburst of presumably unintentional irony. He compared Kiev's encirclement of rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk to the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad in which 1 million civilians died. Speaking at a pro-Kremlin rally at a lakeside youth camp, he also told supporters—some waving banners bearing his face—that Russia remains a strong nuclear power and therefore "it's best not to mess with us." He added that Russians and Ukrainians "are practically one people"—recalling his recent references to the disputed areas of southeastern Ukraine as "Novorossiya." So, let's get this straight... he accuses his enemies of being like the Nazis while enouraging a fascistic personality cult around his own leadership, while making claims to the territory of a neighboring country on ethno-nationalist grounds, and while threatening use of nuclear weapons. This is another example of what we call the Paradoxical Anti-Fascist Rhetoric of Contemporary Crypto-Fascism. Although in Putin's case, it is barely crypto.

Ukraine and Palestine: geography denial

This is pretty funny. Israel's progressive +972 mag reports March 7 that a delegation from the group Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation organization made up of Israeli army veterans, recently arrived in Hebron to be greeted with two prominently placed banners raised by local settlers, reading: "Palestine never existed! (And never will)". Both the banners, which were very professionally produced (no hand-painted job), were hung on sections of Shuada Street that Palestinians are barred from entering under restrictions imposed in the wake of Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre at Hebron's al-Ibrahimi Mosque. 

China: Han-Tibetan solidarity emerging

Police in Sechuan's Aba county on Dec. 11 detained two Tibetan men—a monk at the local Kirti monastery and his nephew—on charges of "inciting" self-immolations. Four days earlier, the self-immolation of a 17-year-old girl at Rebkong monastery town in Qinghai brought the total number of such cases to 95. Chinese authorities again accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging the practice. (The Hindu, Dec. 11) The following day, the New York Times ran an op-ed, "Tibet is Burning," by prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who has defended peasants struggling to keep their lands before China's onslaught of "development."  Xu writes about his journey in October to pay respects to the family of Nangdrol, an 18-year-old self-immolation martyr. Paraphrasing the note left by Nangdrol, Xu calls the current situation in Tibet "scarless torture." He writes about his fellow passengers on his ride in a car packed with locals to Nangdrol's hometown of Barma in northeast Tibet:

Eid terror in Ingushetia

At least seven police officers were killed Aug. 19 in a suicide bomb blast in the Russian Caucasus republic of Ingushetia. The blast occurred in Sagopshi village of Malgobek district in northwest Ingushetia, at the funeral of a police officer who was killed in a shootout with militants the day before. According to Ingush Security Council, all the dead except the bomber were police officers. The attack came hours after gunmen in Dagestan, another Russian republic of the North Caucasus, opened fire in a mosque, injuring several people who had gathered to celebrate Eid, the holy day marking the end of Ramadan. A bomb discovered at the site was deactivated. (Voice of Russia, RIA-Novosti, BBC News, Aug. 19) (See map.)

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