East Asia
Sinitic language map

Podcast: the linguistic struggle in China

In Episode 154 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg conducts an in-depth interview with Gina Anne Tam, author of Dialect and Nationalism in China, 1860–1960 (Cambridge University Press) on how Mandarin (Putonghua) became the official language of China, and what has been the role in China’s national identity of the regional “dialects,” or fangyan. In a dilemma that has vexed China’s bureaucracy for 2,000 years, the persistence of fangyan raises questions about conventional notions of nationalism and state formation. What can the tenacious survival of Shanghaihua (Wu), Fujianese (Min), Cantonese (Yue), Toisan and Hakka tell us about the emergence of an “alternative Chinese-ness” in the 21st century? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map via Wikimedia Commons)

Southern Cone
Rio Loa

ICJ rules in Chile-Bolivia water dispute

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered its judgment in a water dispute between Chile and Bolivia. The court found that the contested RĂ­o Silala is governed by international law, meaning that Bolivia cannot assert complete control over the waterway, and that Chile is entitled to the “equitable and reasonable use” of its waters. Bolivia asserted that Chile should not have rights to the river because the Silala’s waters only flow into Chile’s RĂ­o Loa through artificial channels. Chile, in turn, claimed the Silala is an international river and noted that the artificial channels at issue were built more than 100 years ago. The court urged that a “shared resource can only be protected through cooperation,” allowing both Chile and Bolivia to claim victory. The decision comes at a time when both Chile and Bolivia are experiencing severe drought. (Photo of RĂ­o Loa: Norberto Seebach via Aprendo en lĂ­nea, Chile)

Europe
Smyrna

Erdogan invokes burning of Smyrna

Amid rising tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan explicitly invoked the burning of Smyrna at the end of the Greco-Turkish War. “We have only one word to tell Greece: Do not forget Izmir,” Erdogan warned, using the Turkish name for the coastal city that was the scene of atrocities targeting the substantial Greek populace after it was taken by Turkish forces in September 1922. “We may come suddenly one night,” Erdogan added. The current dispute stems from a treaty signed the year after the attack on Smyrna/Izmir, which gave offshore islands to Greece on condition that they remain unarmed. Ankara charges that Greece is militarizing the islands, in violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. (Photo via HALC)

The Caucasus
Nakhchivan

‘Cleansing’ of Armenian culture in Azerbaijan exclave

New clashes broke out on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. Fighting was first reported near the Lachin Corrdior, which connects Armenia to the autonomous ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh. But attacks on Armenia have also been launched from the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, which is cut off from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory. A land corridor through Armenia to Nakhchivan is one of Azerbaijan’s outstanding demands in the conflict. Days before the fighting erupted, a report was released by the group Caucasus Heritage Watch at New York’s Cornell University, accusing Azerbaijan of “a systematic, state-sponsored program of cultural erasure” targeting Armenian heritage sites in Nakhchivan. (Photo: CHW)

The Caucasus
georgia

South Ossetia suspends referendum to join Russia

The de facto president of South Ossetia, Alan Gagloev, suspended a planned referendum to determine whether the breakaway region of Georgia should join the Russian Federation. The referendum, scheduled for July, had been ordered by decree of Gagloev’s predecessor Anatoly Bibilov, and was widely seen as a play to cement his grip on power. However, Bibilov lost his bid for reelection, bringing his rival Gagloev to the presidency. In calling off the vote, Gagloev said that the Kremlin must be consulted on “issues related to the further integration of South Ossetia and the Russian Federation.” Georgian officials had denounced any moves by South Ossetia to join Russia as “unacceptable.” (Map: PLC)

Palestine
temple mount

Israel high court approves Temple Mount development

The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government’s planned cable car over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The ruling was met with approval by proponents such as Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion, who claimed the project will reduce air pollution and “allow comfortable and efficient access to the Western Wall and the Old City.” However, the project has been met with condemnation by many, including city planners and architects,environmental groups, and Karaite Jews, a minority sect with a cemetery located along the proposed cable car’s path. Palestinian groups have especially criticized the proposed path through East Jerusalem, an area ceded to Arab control in the 1949 armistice but occupied by Israel in 1967. Advocacy group Ir-Amim tweeted: “Folks will hop in in [West Jerusalem] and have no idea they’re cabling over the heads of occupied Palestinians.” (Photo: Adam Teva V’Din)

Oceania
solomon islands

Solomon Islands uprising in the New Cold War

Australia has dispatched some 100 police and military troops to the Solomon Islands following days of rioting and looting in the capital Honiara. Calling for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to resign, protesters set the parliament building ablaze, and torched and looted shops, causing millions of dollars in damages. The looting centered on the city’s Chinatown, where three charred bodies have been found amid the ruins. Tensions between Guadalcanal and Malaita islanders have been enflamed by massive Chinese capital flows into the former island, while the latter remains comparatively impoverished. The two provincial governments are bitterly at odds over Sogavare’s recent decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the People’s Republic. (Map: University of Texas Libraries)

East Asia
kurils

Podcast: 007 in the New Cold War

In Episode 97 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg dissects the geopolitics of the new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, and how the Daniel Craig reboot of the series has finessed the cultural icon’s role in the New Cold War. Famously, the film was produced pre-pandemic, with its release postponed a year due to the lockdown—and its key plot device is a mass biological warfare attack, anticipating the conspiranoid theories about COVID-19. Yet it could also be prescient in warning of a superpower confrontation over the Kuril Islands—disputed by Russia and Japan, and an all too likely flashpoint for global conflict. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: International Kuril Island Project)

Africa
Djibouti

Djibouti: Horn of Africa’s next domino?

At least three people are dead following an outbreak of inter-communal violence in Djibouti. Fighting erupted in several areas between members of the Afar ethnic group, which straddles Djibouti’s borders with Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Issa, the country’s other main ethnicity, which is a sub-group of the Somali people and straddles the borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. Issa protesters blocked the rail line and road connecting Djibouti’s port to Ethiopia, a key artery for the landlocked Horn of Africa giant. The violence came in response to a deadly attack on Somali Issa civilians four days earlier within Ethiopia. Fighters from Ethiopia’s Afar region raided the town of Gedamaytu (also known as Gabraiisa) in neighboring Somali region, reportedly killing hundreds of residents. The two regions have long been at odds over three contested kebeles (districts) on their shared border, which are predominately inhabited by Issa but located within the regional boundaries of Afar. (Map: ISS Africa)

Europe
Dardanelles

Strategic strait at issue in Turkish naval purge

Turkish prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 10 senior navy officers a day after 104 officers released a letter defending the Montreux Doctrine—a 1936 agreement protecting passage of international shipping through the straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. The letter was critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄźan’s Istanbul Canal project, a plan to construct a waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, running parallel to the Bosphorus. ErdoÄźan insists that the new canal would not be subject to the Montreux Doctrine. The officers were arrested on charges of conspiring to commit “a crime against the security of the state.” (Map: French Navy via PopulationData.net)

Oceania
torres strait

Strategic strait at issue in Australia-China rift

Amid trade wars, diplomatic tiffs and propaganda sniping, the ugliness between China and Australia seems set to escalate as Beijing enters an agreement with Papua New Guinea to establish an industrial foothold within the narrow Torres Strait. Radio Australia reports that community leaders in North Queensland, just across the strait from New Guinea, fear that China’s plan to construct the facility will jeopardize border security and threaten the commercial fishing sector. There are also concerns that Beijing will attempt to militarize the outpost, seeking to counterbalance the new US-Australian naval base planned for PNG’s Manus Island. (Map: Torres Strait Regional Authority)

Iraq
ezidikhan

Yazidis betrayed in Kurdish-Baghdad deal

The leadership of Ezidikhan, the Yazidi autonomous territory, are protesting a deal reached between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on the political future of northern Iraq, saying they were not consulted. Ezidikhan Prime Minister Barjis Soso Khalaf said in a statement: “Without the consent of the Yezidi people of Ezidikhan, the Baghdad-Erbil deal is illegitimate and illegal. It tramples upon the right of Yezidis to govern themselves as they see fit.” The pact between Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al–Kadhimi and the KRG administration at Erbil calls for joint exploitation of the region’s oil resources, ending years of conflict over the question. But Ezidikhan authorities see their exclusion from the talks as a threat to their hard-won autonomy. “Yezidis were not even invited to the table to discuss the future of their own homeland!” said the statement. It also criticized the US for acquiescing in the deal: “The United States shares complicity in this colonial-style act that wantonly tramples upon Iraqi Yezidis’ right to self-determination and self-government, once again sacrificing its vaunted democratic principles on the altar of realpolitik.” (Map: Ezidikhan.net)