N & P: Farewell, Tigers Edition

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Detroit Tigers' season has come to an end, and I sure will miss them. True, the team hasn't been good in recent years. And this season was something of a joke--just 60 games, with all sorts of weird rule changes and a couple of franchises swimming up to their necks in Covid. 

Nevertheless, listening to the Tigers on the radio--or at least an internet-based radio feed--has been so great this summer. As I mentioned in a post devoted solely to baseball this summer, I've always preferred baseball on the radio over TV, and this year especially. For long stretches, it's been great to these games, piped-in crowd noise and all, and forget about everything that's been going on. 

No, it hasn't been perfect. But Dan Dickerson and Jim Price, the Tigers' radio broadcasting duo, have done a great job this season. As I've written elsewhere, I love listening to them--they seem to genuinely like one another and always talk about the Tigers--and even their opponents--in a generous, positive, yet quite nuanced manner. Even though the Tigers have been pretty bad in recent years, listening to their games with Dan and Jim has been such a pleasure. They're great. 

I was listening to an interview the other day with Tiger Pitcher Daniel Norris. The "Van Man" is one of my favorite players on the team. Somehow, he was able to talk about how this was a good year for him because he regained confidence in his arm and developed a new pitch. It was so great to hear someone describe their life in terms other than the relentlessly negative narratives that--understandably, of course--have dominated this year. 

But that's baseball for you--it's a game of yearly rejuvenation, even as we get older--and even if the seasons don't always go the way we'd like them to.  


All of this fun and games notwithstanding, a lot has been going on in the Eurasian borderlands over the past week: 

Armenia-Azerbaijan Fighting

The big story relates to fighting that's broken out over Nagorno-Karabakh. 

So what's a Nagorno-Karabakh, anyway? Nagorno-Karabakh is a region of the former USSR that Azeris and Armenians have been fighting over since the late 1980s. 

The "Fab 15" Union Republics
of the USSR

The USSR was divided into 15 "union republics," that were all established on the basis of national identity. Inside some of these union republics were entities that I refer to as "mini-republic," a term I use to describe the former territorially demarcated subsections of former "union republics" of the Soviet Union. 

I've written a fair bit about Nagorno-Karabakh on this blog. It was an "autonomous region" inside the Azerbaijani SSR, a union republic of the USSR. The majority of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh was, in late Soviet times, Armenian, but not exclusively so. Even before Azerbaijan became independence in 1991, there had been considerable violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Armenian separatists seeking to break away from Azerbaijan. 

Since 1994, this has been a "frozen conflict." About 860,000 Azeris are believed to have been forced from their homes in Nagorno Karabakh or Armenia in the final years of the USSR's existence and early post-Soviet era. Thousands of Armenians were similarly driven out of Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan at this time. Most countries, including the US, recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. Altogether Azerbaijan lost control of about twenty percent of its recognized territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh as well as some of its surrounding areas, such as a land corridor connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. 

While clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan have occasionally broken out since 1994, they seem to have been mostly accidental. Here is a particularly good primer on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in recent years, including the recent events. The impression I've gotten so far, Azerbaijani government denials notwithstanding, is that this is an Azeri offensive geared toward retaking territory that it lost in the conflict from the late 80s and early 90s. 

Why do this now? It might have something to do with protests that broke out this summer in the aftermath of a funeral of a soldier killed in clashes with Armenia in July. In a summer of worldwide pandemic-era protest, the authorities in Baku may well have gotten quite freaked out by the site of thousands of angry protesters in the streets. So why not remind them of an external enemy to get outraged over? 

It's a dangerous game, though, if things don't go according to plan. 

A second answer to the "why now?" question might be the same one that I proffered as a possible explanation for why Alexei Naval'nyi was poisoned. The US is currently distracted. There could, moreover, soon be a change in administration--one that would likely be more outspoken with respect to international matters than that of DJT. If NATO member Turkey is actually involved in this business to even half the degree that has been rumored, such a scenario is even more plausible. It's hard to imagine a Biden administration just letting this go on without some kind of response. So, that means there's no time like the present.  

I spent a memorable four months in Azerbaijan in 2004 and another one in 2005, doing dissertation research as a PhD student at Brown. Those were good times. I loved working at the archives on Karl Marx Street, then heading back home to my apartment, drinking a quick gin and tonic, and taking a taxi out to Crescent Beach to swim amid the oil derricks. There were lots of fun things to do, and interesting people to meet.  

At the archive where I was researching, a number of the women working in the library were refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. They had pretty horrific stories to tell regarding their expulsion from the towns and villages in which they'd grown up. In 2005, one woman was still living in the hotel room she'd been temporarily relocated to after arriving in Baku fifteen years earlier. She shared the room with her dad and her son. Her husband had been killed in the fighting
. She told me she'd first come to Baku with no shoes on her feet. Hers was hardly an isolated incident: 
here's a story about Azeri refugees from Karabakh who are still living in an abandoned movie theater. 

Fifteen years spent sharing a hotel room with her father and son. And fifteen years have passed since then. I have no idea what's happened to her since my last trip to Baku--perhaps her conditions have improved. But it doesn't take much imagination to begin to understand how, even after thirty years have passed, revenging the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh would remain a potent issue in Azerbaijan. 

Turkey & Russia

It's interesting to watch the very different reactions to the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh that have been exhibited by political leaders in Moscow and Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been cheering on the Baku government's offensive, and why not? RTE is risking nothing, and it provides red meat to throw to the chest-beaters in Turkey. Even the opposition has gotten in on the act.  

Gee, it seems like just recently that Turkey was on the brink of war with Greece. Oh wait--that actually was just two weeks ago

Meanwhile Moscow--which has closer relations with Armenia than Azerbaijan but actually is on pretty good terms with both countries--has been pressing for a cease-fire. And for good reason. Maintaining decent relations with both Yerevan and Baku requires no small amount work and resources. The longer this goes on, the more pressure there will be on Moscow to support one side over the other.  

Russia and Armenia signed a treaty in 2010, an upgrade of an earlier agreement. According to the 2010 deal, Russia pledges to defend the security of Armenia. However, Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognized as part of Armenia. The Armenian government itself insists that Nagorno-Karabakh is actually independent, which means that this treaty would technically only come into play now if Azerbaijan were to attack Armenia proper--which seems highly unlikely at this stage.  


In other news, 82 people were arrested in Turkey this past week, in connection to protests in 2014 over the seizure of the Syrian border town of Kobane by ISIS (some background here)

According to Aljazeera: 

Ankara accused officials of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of urging people to take part in the protests across Turkey that left 37 dead. The HDP blamed Turkish police for the violence.

In a statement on Friday, the Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office said police were on the hunt for the suspects in the Turkish capital and six other provinces.

“The Ankara Prosecutor’s Terror Crimes Investigation Bureau has launched an investigation on the PKK terrorist organisation and its so-called executives, as well as certain political party executives and members … and, at the current stage, ordered the detention of 82 suspects,” the office said.


Here's something I can't wait to see: flying cars in Turkey.

As the Hürriyet Daily Bugle reports: 

The vehicle will make every user a pilot but should have tight security features, Selçuk Bayraktar told Anadolu Agency during Turkey's largest aerospace and technology event Teknofest, taking place in the Gaziantep province...Today, people only travel on planes flown by trained pilots, he said, but with flying smart vehicles, all people will become pilots.

It does sound very democratizing. What could go wrong?


Bear News

Bear-related news items in Bozeman and elsewhere in Montana this week include:  


Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge. 

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