Snowy Springtime N & P

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's been snowy up here lately in the northern Rockies. After a very mild winter which saw far colder temperatures and much more snow out east than out here, springtime has been snowy so far in Bozeman. It's getting better though. Today is a bluebird day, the first of several, apparently, to arrive over the next week or so. It's an encouraging development, to say the least, for denizens of the Borderlands Lodge.

Sign of spring: the return of the prairie dogs

Even outside of Bozeman and the greater Gallatin County area, however, things have been busy lately. Apparently, the world won't wait for spring to come to the MT, so it seemed like the best thing to do would be to try to catch up with a little N & P

Baathists and the Islamic State

One news item that caught my eye lately was a WAPO report on the presence in the Islamic State leadership of ex-Baathist officers from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. From the article: 
Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group...
In Syria, local “emirs” are typically shadowed by a deputy who is Iraqi and makes the real decisions, said Abu Hamza, who fled to Turkey last summer after growing disillusioned with the group. He uses a pseudonym because he fears for his safety.
“All the decision makers are Iraqi, and most of them are former Iraqi officers. The Iraqi officers are in command, and they make the tactics and the battle plans,” he said. “But the Iraqis themselves don’t fight. They put the foreign fighters on the front lines.”
The article is a pretty good one--fascinating, actually--although the author does twist herself into knots somewhat trying to explain, in ideological terms, why military officers from Saddam's secular nationalist forces would join up with the Islamic state.  
At first glance, the secularist dogma of Hussein’s tyrannical Baath Party seems at odds with the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of the Islamic laws it purports to uphold.
But the two creeds broadly overlap in several regards, especially their reliance on fear to secure the submission of the people under the group’s rule. Two decades ago, the elaborate and cruel forms of torture perpetrated by Hussein dominated the discourse about Iraq, much as the Islamic State’s harsh punishments do today. 
Like the Islamic State, Hussein’s Baath Party also regarded itself as a transnational movement, forming branches in countries across the Middle East and running training camps for foreign volunteers from across the Arab world...
Well...I think the answer here has less to do with ideology than with the fact that these ex-Baathist figures were out of a job and unemployable in the new Iraq. Nevertheless, they had marketable skills with respect to fighting and causing mayhem. Failing to integrate these individuals into post-Saddam Iraq was one of the biggest of the many mistakes that American decision-makers made in 2003. 

There's simply a lot more to all of this than just ideology. By pursuing a policy of "de-Baathification" during the occupation of Iraq, American decision makers played a key role in growing the opposition by forcing ex-Baath party members out of the power structure. One of the sources for the story, a former Iraqi officer named Hassan Dulaimi, recounted the following:
He cited the case of a close friend, a former intelligence officer in Baghdad who was fired in 2003 and struggled for many years to make a living. He now serves as the Islamic State’s wali, or leader, in the Anbar town of Hit, Dulaimi said.
“I last saw him in 2009. He complained that he was very poor. He is an old friend, so I gave him some money,” he recalled. “He was fixable. If someone had given him a job and a salary, he wouldn’t have joined the Islamic State.
“There are hundreds, thousands like him,” he added. “The people in charge of military operations in the Islamic State were the best officers in the former Iraqi army, and that is why the Islamic State beats us in intelligence and on the battlefield.”
The British actually did something similar vis-a-vis the (Ottoman) Committee of Union and Progress after World War I, seeking to arrest former CUP members and put them on trial. This move, in turn, only increased the determination of former CUP figures to resist the British occupation, rather than accommodate it. In combination with a number of other factors, the anti-CUP campaign of the British contributed to the success of the resistance movement led by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) during the war's aftermath. 

Turkey, the Pope, and the G-word

Speaking of Turkey, a big story in the news this week related to Pope Francis' use of the term "genocide" to describe the massacres of Armenians in eastern Anatolia in 1915. In response, the Turkish government recalled its representative to the Vatican

There was an interesting interview about this subject on NPR with Fatma Müge Göçek (referred to as "Cocek" in the link). Robin Young, the NPR host who interviewed Göçek, predictably makes a big deal out of the fact that Göçek is Turkish and uses the g-word. That's noteworthy, I suppose, but I think that there's a bit too much emphasis here (and elsewhere in discussions of the issue) on the use of one word, and not enough focus on the broader context. Still, good for Göçek for wading into this fray--most of the scholars I know who work on the Ottoman Empire or Turkey run as fast as they possibly can from this issue.

Part of the problem with talking about this is that everyone has their own definition of the term 'genocide.' Generally, Americans use this term to mean, more or less, the attempted murder of an entire population. If you look, however, at the UN definition of the term "genocide," you'll see that it's actually quite broad and describes events that are part of the history of many countries.

The Armenian genocide is usually described as a precedent for the genocides to be committed by Germans during the Nazi era. In many ways, however, what happened to the Armenians in 1915 had a lot more in common with a series of conflicts that had been taking place between Muslims and Christians over land in the regions stretching between the Balkans and the Caucasus from the late 18th century onward. 

In these conflicts, Muslims had generally been on the losing end, with hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed and forced out of their homelands over the course of a series of genocides taking place in places like the Crimea, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the northern Caucasus (today's Chechnya) in Russia. To a large and generally unacknowledged extent, the events of 1915 constituted one of the final chapters in a long line of battles, often but not always between Christians and Muslims, over territory during the course of an extended period of imperial disintegration. In all of these cases, including the Armenian one, enormous numbers of innocent civilians were treated brutally.

A late imperial conflict zone

The fact that Muslims had already been the victims of a series of genocides in the late imperial era changes absolutely nothing about 1915. However, it does raise the question of why the Armenian genocide is the only one that people seem interested in remembering. Numerous countries (such as France and Russia) and 43 US states officially recognize the Armenian genocide. Are state legislatures in places like Rhode Island and Ohio interested in commemorating events like the Chechen genocide of 1859-1864, the extermination of Muslims in Bulgaria during the Balkans wars of 1912-1913, the deportations of Crimean Tatars and Chechens in 1944 or, for that matter, the ethnic cleansing of Azeris at the hands of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 1980s/early 1990s? 

A counter-factual, but still: If it had been the Armenians who had emerged victorious in 1915, with the Muslim populations of eastern Anatolia on the losing end, would anyone today even know or care? Or do genocides from the late imperial era only deserve recognition when the victims happen to be Christian?

Sachs and Russia

The other day I saw a link to an interesting interview with Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who worked with representatives of some of the transitioning economies of eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Here is some of what Sachs had to say about US policymaking vis-a-vis Poland and Russia at the time:  

In 1989, I made recommendations for Poland. I said several unusual things, like “Don’t pay your debts, get debt cancellation. You need emergency, a billion dollars on this date,” and so forth. Everything I recommended actually ended up happening with US government support.
Then in Russia two years later I was asked by Gorbachev and then by Yeltsin to help them, because they saw what was happening in Poland. They liked that. They wanted something similar. So I said exactly the same things, and the US government kept saying, “No, no way, no way.” I kept saying, “But that kept working there."
OK. What’s the lesson of this? Quite important, actually. It’s a little bit off-topic, but very important. We didn’t want to help Russia in 1991. We wanted our unipolar world. I didn’t know that at the time. For me, I wanted to help Russia. This is a chance for freedom, democracy, market economy, normalcy. Yeltsin defined, he said December 11, when I met him the first time, 1991, “We want to be a normal country.” I said, “I will help you, Mr. President.”
We didn’t want that in this country. What I didn’t understand was everything I said about Poland was immediately accepted because it was good advice and because Poland was going to be a bulwark of NATO. Everything I said about Russia didn’t matter whether it was good advice or not. Russia was on the other side.
Who knows how true this account is, but none of this seems very surprising. It does make me wonder, though, what the world would look like today if policymaking toward Russia had been handled differently then.     

Your move, Wyoming

On a lighter note, legislators in my neighboring state of Idaho have killed a law that would bring the state's "deadbeat dad" legislation into accordance with international norms. The reason? Fear of Sharia

Idaho state senator Sheryl Nuxoll, speaking against the bill, argued that international courts “have recognized Sharia courts as quasi-courts” which could pave the way for the recognition of Sharia in Idaho.  

I think the conflation here of "international law" and Sharia-as-bogeyman is an interesting one. I remember, back when I was a freshman in college attending Purdue University, frequently driving past an enormous billboard in northern Indiana that demanded that the US leave the UN. Back then, people were worried about the UN spreading communism. Today's it's Islam. What remains the same, apparently, is the usefulness of scary bogeymen such as these, no matter what the issue. 
Tigers moving forward 

In sports, the Detroit Tigers have begun their inexorable climb toward October glory, getting off to an 8-1 start prior to taking the field this afternoon against the lowest form of baseball life, the Chicago Sox of White.



The Tigers are more of a small-ball team these days, a contrast with the big-bopping teams they've had in recent years. It's now been more than 30 years since our last World Series championship--but I have a feeling this year is going to be different. In any case, it's nice to listen to the games via online radio out here.

Record Store Day

Tomorrow is Record Store Day! I plan to hit both of my local stores here in Bozeman. Lately I've been buying up a number of old Gabor Szabo albums from the 60s and 70s, but I imagine that for RSD I'll end up just getting some of the limited-edition stuff that will be available tomorrow. 


Snow Daze 

Finally, here are a few shotz from Bozeman and the Montana State University campus from this week: enjoy, and may your N & P stay fresh! 

The Bridger Mountains from campus

Montana Hall

From my bike on the way home
More photos, analysis, and links can be found, comme toujours, at the Borderlands Lounge

Like the Borderlands? You'll love the book! Order your copy of Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or on Amazon

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