Other People's Countries: Partition Talk re Syria & Iraq

Monday, November 30, 2015

In recent days, I've seen a fair bit of talk relating to the idea of partitioning Syria. John Bolton, who was the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, made the argument for partition recently in a NY Times editorial. Observing that "Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone,"  Bolton wrote the following:
The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.
Notice how Bolton uses the term that an "independent Kurdistan" is "emerging?" Phrased this way, this process sounds very natural and organic--and not at all like the result of political decisions made in places like Washington, DC, London, and elsewhere--decisions that influence the lives of millions of people. Anyway, here's more from Bolton:

Erdoğan vs. Putin: The Streetfighter and the Agent Face Off

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Man, I woke up feeling stuffed this morning. For the third straight year, I cooked my own Turkey this Thanksgiving. It was good fun, with good company, but with lots of food left over, course. 

Cookin' up the bird at the Borderlands Lodge


Slowly, I've been making my way through at least some of the leftovers. For example, today and yesterday I started my day off with the Borderlands Breakfast of Champions: coffee, croissants, and stuffing.  

All in all, it's been an easy and relaxing holiday.  

More on Turkey-Russia conflict

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I went out shopping last night for Thanksgiving. I'd already picked up the Turkey, but there were a few more things that I needed. Despite the snowfall and the rather cold temperatures, it seemed like a good idea to go get the extra ingredients now, rather than later. One reason was to help walk off the pizza that we'd ordered and eaten. The other was a hedge against recent events. If Tayyip Erdoğan was going to drag my country into World War III, I figured, I at least wanted to make sure that I had an extra bottle of prosecco on hand

All we're trying 2 do is party like it's 1999


Turkey Shoots Down Russian Warplane

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I woke up this morning at the Borderlands Lodge to be greeted by the news that the Turkish Air Force had shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Turkish-Syrian border. 

Bad times. Very bad times. 

According to reports, at least one of the Russian pilots is dead, while the other is still unaccounted for. Some Turkish sites, meanwhile, have been reporting that both of the Russian pilots were killed by Turkmen Syrians as they descended in their parachutes. 

Thoughts and Questions re France & ISIS

Friday, November 20, 2015

Re the events of the past week, I have some points and questions--both rhetorical & genuine.

1) Jeb Bush and others have commented on how ISIS is waging war on "western civilization and freedom." Meanwhile, one of the closest allies of the United States in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, has already beheaded dozens of its own citizens this year for crimes including adultery, 'sorcery,' and drug possession. A recent guest opinion piece in the New York Times describes Saudi Arabia as the "white Daesh."

It seems like the main reason why the US and other countries are against ISIS is not necessarily because of the group's brutality, but rather because they are revolutionary. If that is indeed the case, why should we assume that conflict with ISIS is going to be any more permanent than it has been with any other revolutionary movement (such as in post-1979 Iran) that eventually becomes part of the established order of things?   

Thinking about Paris: Let's not compound tragedy with stupidity

Sunday, November 15, 2015

While the past week has been a bloody one in a number of places, most of the world's attention has been fixed on Paris.  All I can say is that I hope that people in France react to last Friday's attacks in a much smarter way than Americans did after 9/11

It's a point worth keeping in mind. I realize that it's popular in some circles to blame the Iraq debacle solely upon the administration of George W. Bush and the numerous falsehoods that the president, vice-president and other high-ranking officials made when leading the US into war in the months and years following the 9/11 attacks. But it was also the case that Americans were ready to believe the lies they were told. The idea of starting a war in someone else's country based upon what was, at best, quite ambiguous evidence, wasn't a very large point of concern for most Americans in the wake of the attacks. I think that what a lot of people thought was that, even if the evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 turned out to be wrong, an American invasion and US-sponsored regime change in Baghdad would still be salubrious to Iraq and the Middle East more generally. 

Well, we all know how well that worked out. 

Feeling Autumnal at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, October 30, 2015

Some people have written in, asking what's going on in the Borderlands. A lot, to tell you the truth, or at least it seems that way. I've been officially given tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor, for one thing. This is a multi-step process at Montana State which began with my department submitting my research file for external review in May of 2014. 

Getting tenure isn't something that takes place overnight. After sending out my file to external reviewers, the next big step--in September of 2014--was to submit my tenure file, followed by my department's vote the next month. From my department my case went up the food chain to a college committee, then a university one, then the provost, and then the university president. 

There was even a big dinner held at one of the university ballrooms in the spring of 2015. We were each handed a "certificate of recognition" that nevertheless could not explicitly tell us that we were getting tenure or being promoted. But even after getting my letter from MSU's president in April of this year informing me that I'd made it through all of the votes (without a single vote against) at the university level, and even after the nice dinner, the decision wasn't official until the board of regents of MSU could confirm it at their meeting in the middle of September. This vote, which was apparently retroactive to the beginning of this 2015-2016 school year, is mainly a formality--the regents vote on all of the cases for tenure and promotion as a bloc, as far as I understand it. That's the vote that makes everything official here, and then only in November of this year do I actually see my raise (back-dated, I've been told, to August of this year), a year and a half after first sending out my file to the external reviewers.  

So, I guess you could say that it's been something of a drawn-out process.  

More Thoughts on Russia and Syria

Friday, October 2, 2015 

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times the other day about Russia's involvement in Syria. Loyal readers of the Borderlands know what I think about this. Nevertheless, I couldn't help chiming in a bit more in response to this article. 

Something that Vladimir Putin said, which is quoted in this piece, struck my interest.  
In his Monday address at the United Nations, Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, alluded to reports that thousands of volunteers had left Russia to join the Islamic State. “We cannot allow these criminals who have already felt the smell of blood to return home and continue their evil doings,” Mr. Putin said.
Does that remind you of anything? 

Russia, Syria, and the Not-So-Great Game

Friday, September 11, 2015

This past week there's been a lot of hand-wringing in the US media regarding the Kremlin's recent efforts to get more involved on the ground in Syria. Here's a typical take on the situation from the Washington Post's editorial board:

The US, Turkey, ISIS and the Kurds: What's Going On?

Friday, July 31, 2015

The big story this week has been the deal that the US and Turkey worked out regarding US use of the Incirlik NATO base in the southern Turkish city of Adana. Officials on both sides insist there's no secret deal, but from the outside it looks like Turkey has given the US a free hand in bombing ISIS targets while the US has given Turkey a free hand in bombing Kurdish ones. 

On the face of it all, the story goes like this: a bomb set off by ISIS in the city of Suruç convinced the Turkish government to play a more active role in the anti-ISIS coalition. So, as a result, the Turkish government has decided to allow the United States to bomb ISIS positions from the Incirlik air base located outside Adana, in southern Turkey. Oh, and while we're bombing ISIS, Turkey will be carrying out attacks against Kurdish-held positions in Iraq and, perhaps, northern Syria as well.

But there is, of course, more to the story than this. 

The Home Stretch: Bodrum-Budapest-Cluj-Istanbul-Salt Lake City-Bozeman

Friday, July 24, 2015

Back in the days when I was working as an English teacher in Istanbul, I used to spend 6-8 weeks traveling every summer. One year I made my way through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel before flying back to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. On another occasion I flew one-way up to Moscow, then made my way back to Istanbul overland through eastern Europe and the Balkans. The trips got longer and more grandiose with each passing year up to 1999, when I flew from Istanbul to New Delhi, then traveled overland--albeit skipping over Burma--to Beijing before flying to Budapest and traveling back down to Istanbul. 

Macedonia was one of the places I enjoyed visiting in the 90s


Friday, July 3, 2015 

Back when I was spending time in Russia more frequently in the first decade of this century, I used to fly out of Moscow in the evening to Amsterdam, where I’d have a one-night stop-over prior to continuing on to the United States the next afternoon. It was great. I’d order a double gin as soon as the drinks were served and breathe a sigh of relief that I’d made it through Russian passport control without something horrible happening to me. Just the way travel was meant to be! 

Passport control once resembled this Onion story

Week 4 in Russia: Yekaterinburg, Tula, Leo Tolstoy's Estate

Friday, June 26, 2015

My train from Kazan pulled into Yekaterinburg right on time at 12.37 pm last Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless, it was two hours later than I'd expected. I hadn't anticipated that the departure and arrival times written on my ticket would be according to Moscow time, rather than local. This wasn't an issue in Kazan, which is in the same time zone as Moscow, but created confusion for me regarding my arrival in Yekaterinburg, which is two hours ahead of Moscow. So, the arrival time written on my ticket was 10.37 am. They were right, of course. It was 10.37, in Moscow. 

Unlike Kool Moe Dee, I had absolutely no idea what time it was 

Week 3 in Russia: Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Samara

Friday, June 19, 2015

Well, Borderheads, we meet again. This week has been spent in central Russia, a.k.a. the middle Volga region. More specifically, I've been hanging out in Kazan, Ulyanovsk, and Samara.

It's been fun, and at times exhausting--especially during those long bus rides down poorly maintained roads. In fact, I was feeling so beaten up at times that I was a little bit reminded of this video by Bi-2: 

Sure they're getting a bit long in the tooth, but Bi-2 can still rock

Nevertheless, it's been a good time. Here are some of the things I saw this past week: 

My take on the Turkish elections

Friday, June 12, 2015 

Note: this is an excerpt taken from another post 

Turkish Elections

The day of my departure for Kazan coincided with the holding of parliamentary elections in Turkey.

The big story was that, while the ruling AKP party still got the most votes at 41%, they lost their majority in parliament. This is important mainly because President Tayyip Erdoğan had been hoping to gain a "super-majority" that would allow the AKP to call a referendum putting new powers into the hands of the president. 

From the Turkish Daily Tattler

Week 2 in Russia: Nizhnii, Kazan, and my take on the Turkish election results

Friday, June 12, 2015

As usual, this has been a busy week in the Eurasian borderlands. The big story, of course, has been the Turkish elections from last Sunday (jump down to see my take on them), with the (premature, in my view) celebrations of President Erdoğan's political detractors capturing much of the media attention surrounding Turkey over the past week. 

Read the subtitles to learn how to say 'heave-ho' in Russian

Personally, this week has been a really pleasant and interesting one as I've continued my travels through the Volga region of central Russia. I'm currently nursing a pulled muscle in my thigh as a result of some serious stair-climbing that I was involved with back in Nizhnii, as well as some very sore feet. That's okay, though--it's playoff time, and everyone is hurting. 

In any case, below are some photographs and comments about my trip, as well as my observations regarding events taking place now in Turkey.