N & P : Padre Possibility Edition

 Friday, October 9, 2020

While I'm a stalwart supporter of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, I occasionally engage in flirtations with various National League temptations. This occurred for the first time when I was a university student in Montreal. The 1$ (Canadian) bleacher tickets in the late 80s-early 90s at Olympic Stadium and easy access via the metro made the Expos my National League mistress of choice for some time. These loyalties, such as they were, were eventually transferred to the Washington Nationals. 

This year I've been meeting up furtively with another team in the hours after the Detroit Tigers have lost yet another game. While Dan Dickerson and Jim Price are packing up their microphones in Detroit, I've been listening to a different radio broadcasting team on the Pacific coast. I've been fooling around with the San Diego Padres.  

Why the Padres? Family connections--my maternal grandparents lived there for many years. Moreover, because the Tigers crushed the Padres in the 1984 World Series, I've always felt a certain patronizing magnanimity toward their squad. I've never feared them, and the Tigers rarely play them anyway. 

And I've always liked the idea of San Diego. It seems like a nice place to live. It reminds me vaguely of the Crimea. Nice weather, a lot of Navy people, proximity to the ocean, little green men. That kind of vibe. 

Out here in Montana, moreover, I like listening to the West coast radio broadcasts late at night. The Padres tend to be one of the last games of the evening to finish up, so I usually end up with them. A lot of great relationships have started off with far less. 

So don't call it an affair: I was just enamored by the lure of possibility. 

Alas, while the Padres made the playoffs this year and extended their season beyond Detroit's, they lost in the--which series was this again?--to the Dodgers. So now I've lost my baseball mistress as well.


And what about the Eurasian Borderlands, you might be asking? A lot has been going on this past week, including: 


I've seen a lot of hand-writing this week regarding Azerbaijan's offensive to regain territory. For example, in this Washington Post editorial:
...what seems clear is that Azerbaijan’s autocratic ruler, Ilham Aliyev, has launched an offensive to regain the territories his country lost in the 1990s — and that he is doing so with the direct support of Turkey. It’s a reckless gambit that reflects both the shrinking influence of the United States under President Trump and the mounting ambitions of his sometime-friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s autocratic ruler...

...it is in the U.S. interest to stop the fighting and restart negotiations. That will require reining in Mr. Aliyev and Mr. Erdogan and their exaggerated ambitions. 

I don't mean at all to sound glib about this, but I wonder how these people and others imagine that 20% of Azerbaijan's territory happened to fall into other people's hands in the first place?  

It reminds me of how some people discuss the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations--as if everything had been fine until the PLO inexplicably decided one day to start killing people. 

Azeris fleeing the Khojaly massacre, 1992

Where were these all of these enemies of aggression 30 years ago when hundreds of thousands of Azeris were getting chased out of their homes and lands in Karabakh and elsewhere?

I'm not saying that the government in Baku is right to have launched an attack. It's a cynical move that is designed to externalize domestic tensions and will likely bring no good to anyone. It's also quite risky, I think, for the government in Baku, should things not go smoothly on the battlefield or the negotiating table. 

But how many other countries would be so widely criticized for trying to regain their own territory? Would we be so critical of Ukraine, for example, if the government in Kyiv were to attempt to retake the Crimea--or, more realistically, re-establish control over its eastern territories? What about when Georgia tried to regain control of Southern Ossetia? The US didn't let that get in the way of a developing friendship. 

Why is attempting to re-take land that is almost universally recognized as your own a sign of "aggression" or "exaggerated ambitions?" It depends, I think, on who's doing it, and--in this case--who they are up against. 

I remember when I was a college student in Montreal in the late 80s and early 90s and reading about Armenian-Azeri fighting in the New York Times

For some reason, I had always felt vaguely sympathetic to the Armenian side, without ever really thinking about why. It wasn't until years later, when I was living in Istanbul, that I realized that these sympathies had largely sprung from the fact that I probably felt like I was a little more familiar with Armenians than with Azeris. When I was living in Paris with my parents in the 8th grade, one of my classmates had been a Soviet Armenian girl. In the US and Canada I'd known people of Armenian origins. I wasn't much less ignorant than most Americans regarding Armenians, but I felt at least a basic familiarity that I did not have for Azerbaijan or Azeris. I considered myself a pretty liberal-minded person during all of those years, but I still had prejudices that I wasn't the slightest bit aware of--despite having lived in a foreign country, learned a foreign language, and seen something of the world by then.  

Anyway, I'm not saying that people should support Aliyev and Erdoğan in this mess. But there are some people--Azeris, if not the Azeri government--who have been genuinely wronged here.  

They, at least, should be remembered. 

And so should the Armenians who were forced to flee Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan in the late 80s and early 90s, as well as Azeris who had to leave Armenia at this time. Both sets of populations are victims of the recent policies of states that folks are cheering on now. 

So, as bad as I feel about what's happening in Nagorno-Karabakh right now, let me ask this: what did people expect? Those individuals who are today screaming about unjustified warfare--how do they think Nagorno-Karabakh became "Armenian" in the first place? And what did they think would happen to all of those hundreds of thousands of Azeris who lost everything 30 years ago? Were they supposed to just disappear? 

There have been many accusations that mercenaries who had fought in Syria are now fighting on the Azeri side. 

Aliyev with his wife and vice-president,
Mehriban Aliyeva
If this is true, it's an incredible escalation. It would also be a very risky move politically for Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, whose regime--secular, national, and brutally authoritarian-- frankly resembles a number of those which were overthrown in the so-called "Arab Spring." If this war doesn't go right for Baku, Aliyev could face some real troubles, but even if it does go right...where does that lead him? It would seem to be incredibly dangerous politically--never mind anything else--to Aliyev's regime itself. 

It seems that both sides are digging in deep.  

Azerbaijan will not stop its offensive until Armenia formally agrees to withdraw its forces from Azerbaijani territory, President Ilham Aliyev has said. The condition is inconceivable for the Armenian side to accept, suggesting that the ongoing war has no clear end in sight.

Aliyev laid out the condition even before the fighting started, on September 25, but he repeated it more explicitly in an address to the nation on October 4. 

In the speech, he said that world leaders have been calling him and asking him what it will take for Azerbaijan to restore the ceasefire. “My condition is the same – to leave our lands,” he said

An important point in this piece is the connection between "a near diplomatic vacuum" (i.e. lack of interest by the US and Europe) and the refusal of Baku and Yerevan to step back: 

Aliyev made his maximalist claims in a near diplomatic vacuum around the conflict. There has been little apparent international effort to bring the two sides together to stop the fighting, the heaviest since the Armenians and Azerbaijanis signed a ceasefire ending the first war in 1994. 

Russia, traditionally the most active diplomatic player in the conflict, has been conspicuous by its absence. The United States, even more so. The Minsk Group of the OSCE, the diplomatic body tasked with mediating the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, hasn’t issued a statement since September 29

By far the most active international player has been Turkey but it has only been fanning the flames of the conflict. Senior Turkish officials are regularly cheering on Azerbaijan’s military offensive and Ankara is providing military assistance, though the scope of the latter is still unclear

Armenia would never have accepted Aliyev’s unilateral conditions, and even less so under what is effectively a violent ultimatum. 

And Armenia appears to be going in the opposite direction, repeatedly floating the idea that it might formally recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country.

Something else I've noticed, at least informally on FB and elsewhere, is a desire to change the narrative away from "Armenians and Azeris fighting over territory that everyone recognizes as part of Azerbaijan" to "Armenians versus Turks." But the Armenians who were murdering and driving Azeris out of Nagorno-Karabakh in the late 80s and early 90s were not  victims of Ottoman genocide. Indeed, they were committing genocide themselves. 


Kyrgyzstan: The Overlooked Revolution

Not that many people have noticed, but political tensions in Kyrgyzstan have been escalating considerable over the last week in response to disputed parliamentary elections that were held earlier this week. 

For the third time in fifteen years, much of Kyrgyzstan has been gripped by mass protests and, possibly, revolution. President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has been in negotiations with parliament regarding what to do next. The results of the election have been voided.

Kyrgyzstan, unlike its fellow ex-Soviet Central Asian neighbors, has a democratic tradition of sorts. Yes, there is a recent history of political instability. But one reason for that is due to the fact that Kyrgyzstan has also had a more open political process. Compared to one-party states like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, or war-torn Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan has endured a messy transition to independence, but at least it has been marked by genuine efforts at achieving some form of political transparency. 

According to Eurasianet

The trouble began with the protests held the day after the October 4 parliamentary elections were marred by large-scale vote-buying. That demonstration turned violent after riot police used force to stop gangs of men from trying to force their way into the compound of the White House government headquarters.  

Hours of disarray followed and culminated in rioters seizing the White Houseand releasing a number of prominent imprisoned politicians, including Japarov, who was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison in 2017 on kidnapping charges.   

Aljazeera reports, meanwhile, that a state of emergency has been declared, and gunfire has been reported fired in the capital, Bishkek.  


More Russia  

Alexei Naval'ny blames Putin for his poisoning. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov begs to differ


The Moscow Times recounts: mushrooms and the thrill of the chase.

Forget football, disregard hockey, and abandon judo; the season of “tikhaya okhota” or silent hunt is upon us, when stalkers armed with long sticks and bark and twig “lukoshki” baskets set out through misty mornings to run their quarry to ground in the damp undergrowth of Russia’s forests.  This is mushroom hunting, a national pastime — dare one call it a passion — which grips Russians from late August and holds them in its grip until well into October.

I'm not a bit fan of mushrooms generally, but I've always enjoyed eating them in Russia for some reason. Must be the "passion" with which they are collected. 


Hogweed is infesting Russia. As Maria Antonova writes in this opinion piece in the New York Times, the problem reflects a broader population crisis in rural Russia that has been taking place for years. 

It seems the government doesn’t know what to do with the land, or the people on it: Rural Russians are twice as poor and jobless as those living in urban areas. Research has shown that the number of farms in the country halved between 2006 and 2016. The top 1 percent of all agricultural companies receive two-thirds of all investment — just 61 companies collectively own over 14 million hectares of farmland and prefer to use seasonal migrant labor. Rural Russians are shut out of economic opportunity.


From Moscow to St. Petersburg by bike in just sixteen days. Apparently, the idea is to create a bike route between the two cities. 

Anna Kuzmina, 29, works at Yandex and is a Let's Bike It! Activist. She was also really moved by nature. "I went crazy in a good way from the sky on Seliger Lake in the Tver region. We jumped into the lake after the banya. I felt I was swimming in a space with stars above and around me, reflecting in the dark water," Anna said. Although she admits that there were tensions in the team and people had to be very patient with each other, she said, "In the end, you got used to being very open and talking candidly about your own needs.”


Bear News

Wildlife-related news items from 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.  

No comments:

Post a Comment