N & P: Christmas at the Borderlands Lodge Edition

Saturday, December 26, 2020

On the heels of last week's International Monkey Day edition, now we've got still more special days this week and next. All of these holidays just keep coming.

While I enjoy getting a tree and putting it up in my place here in Bozeman, Christmas has never been a particularly big holiday for me in this part of the world. As an adult, I've appreciated Christmas most of all during the years when I was abroad. As I've written elsewhere, back when I was living full-time in Turkey in the 1990s, Christmas felt like my own personal secret holiday of sorts, something most of the people around me were not celebrating, or even aware of. That's how I like my holidays sometimes: in isolation.  

And indeed, Christmas this year was spend largely in isolation. I made ribs and mashed potatoes, with margaritas on the side. A friend came by to eat and drink on the landing leading up the stairs to my balcony. So, we were distanced by about 10-12 feet and outside. Otherwise, I spent the day the way that I've spent most of the past nine months: working on my book, reading, and taking an hourlong walk. 

In other words: exciting times, all around. The other day I found a can of split-pea soup in my cupboard and literally thought to myself: "Oh, split-pea soup. That might be fun."   

So yeah, on second thought I guess nothing exciting is happening here, after all. 

And what about the Eurasian borderlands, you are asking, what's been going on there? Well, let's have a look...


Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that 2021 will be a year of reform in Turkey


"As promised, I hope 2021 will be a year of democratic and economic reforms," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at an opening in Ankara via video link from Istanbul.

"We'll present the preparations for this to the discretion of our nation and parliament as soon as possible," Erdoğan added.

Call me a cynic, but when RTE begins talking about 'reform' it usually ends up as a power grab for himself. See, for example, this post from 2010, this one from 2012, or this one from 2015.

Reform indeed. As was the case with the "reforms" of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) from the 1920s and 30s, Erdoğan's reforms are intended to shape the country in a particular way. As we move closer to 2023--the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic--I think we'll see more attempts by Erdoğan to put his personal political stamp on the country. 

Every focuses upon how different these two figures are, but they actually have a lot more in common with one another than is typically assumed. Sure, their respective visions of Turkey are very different, but Erdoğan strikes me as very much a product of Kemalism and of Atatürk's republic


Ankara and Athens still bickering over the Mediterranean. Like I always say to my students whenever disputes like this take place, follow the money. 

As the Turkish Daily Tattler reports

Amid recent tensions in the region, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration have increased their pressure on other EU members to impose sanctions on Turkey during the EU leaders’ summit on Dec. 11.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration and stressed that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara has sent several drillships in the past weeks to explore for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its own rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Disputes like these have little to nothing to do with "ancient hatreds." It's about money, natural resources, and power. 


There's a pretty cool-looking exhibition taking place right now at SALT Istanbul: Between Empires, Beyond Borders. Sounds like the sort of thing I'd like, no? 

Between Empires, Beyond Borders delves into the memories of the Köpe family, who witnessed Ottoman Empire’s modernization period as well as its withdrawal from the world stage. The visual narrative of the exhibition is based on detailed archival records spanning the Second Constitutional Era, the First World War and the Armistice Period that followed. Carefully preserved personal documents of the family members, whose lives took shape across Brassó, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, Edirne and Konya, shed light on the milestones of political, social and diplomatic history.


Ex-USSR: Nagorno-Karabakh

Here is an interesting Nagorno-Karabakh post-mortem from Al-Jazeera. 

Azerbaijan placed its bets on sophisticated, pricey weapons and new tactics battle-tested in the Middle East, while their foes relied on old Russian-made arms and obsolete stratagems they mastered in the 1990s, analysts say.

Armenia-backed troops moved around in large groups or in trucks, their trenches were wide, but not deep, their artillery was barely disguised and stayed put for days, becoming an easy target for air raids.

Their weapons were hopelessly dated, their fighter jets did not fly a single sortie, and their Russian-made Osa and Strela anti-aircraft missile systems were powerless against Baku’s most lethal battlefield upgrade – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as drones.

Obviously, the money and the hardware are important. Whereas in the early 1990s, when Armenian separatists first manage to wrest control of Nagorno-Karabakh from Baku, Azerbaijan was an economic basket case. Today the country is a major oil producer which has had ample time to beef up its military over the past three decades. 

But I think there's something else that played a role in Armenia's relative lack of preparation regarding something like this: the unwritten rule that Muslim territories, once conquered by a Christian neighbor, almost never get returned. If you look at the 19th century history of the Balkans, you'll see once genocide after another that was perpetrated against Muslims in southeastern Europe, but what is the one case of genocide from these times that everybody remembers? That which was carried out by the Young Turks against Armenians in 1915. 

The Ottomans lost territory time and again, but even when they were attacked--and successfully fought off their attacker--the empire was still obliged to surrender territory, as was the case when Greece invaded in 1897, and was awarded with Crete's independence despite losing badly to Ottoman forces.

In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, I think Armenian complacency likely stemmed from a certain confidence that, now that this territory was under the control of Christians, it would never be returned to Azerbaijan. That's why both Yerevan and local Armenians in Stepanakert made no effort whatsoever to finding a real solution to this problem for nearly 30 years. They knew, from historical precedent, that the world would never allow that to happen. All they had to do was stonewall, and that's what they did. 

I think that this is what was behind the absolute shock with which a number of individuals on my Facebook feed responded to the events of this autumn. They couldn't believe that a) Baku could actually invade and defeat Armenians, and that b) Moscow, Europe, and the US would allow it to happen, as if any of these entities had anything at stake in keeping that territory under Armenian rule. 

Well, it happened. And while I don't take sides in this matter, there was an original sin committed in the early 1990s when more than half a million Azeris were chased from their homes by Armenians. As terrible as I feel for innocent Armenians who lost everything this year, I'm also able to recognize that a different set of victims likewise lost everything when Yerevan-backed fighters were turned upon them in the late 80s and early 90s. 

And don't forget: Armenian forces still control parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is almost universally recognized as completely part of Azerbaijan. Why don't we hear anything about that these days? Why is Baku supposed to be satisfied with regaining most, as opposed to all, of their previously lost territory? 



Has anyone heard anything about the new Russian film "Beanpole?" It was recently recognized as the best foreign film in a pre-Oscar award. 

The film is set in the Soviet city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) right after WWII. The narration focuses on the tragic relationship between two young women veterans, Iya and Masha, who are trying to start their peacetime life in the ruined city after the long and devastating Nazi blockade. Iya, a tall blonde woman nicknamed “Beanpole,” is trying to adapt to a difficult new life with challenges she must overcome in order to survive in the complex post-war reality. 

 It would be nice to see a movie again. In Russia, especially. 


A former double-agent from Britain who defected to the Eastern Bloc after a dramatic escape from prison died this week in Russia

Prominent Cold War-era double agent George Blake has died in Moscow at the age of 98, Russian authorities have reported.

“The legendary intelligence officer George Blake has passed away today,” a spokesman for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency told the state TASS news agency. He added that Blake “sincerely loved our country and admired our people’s achievements during World War II.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his “heartfelt condolences,” according to a statement on the Kremlin’s website.

For me, the most interesting part of the story was this: 

He was posted to Seoul and was captured by North Korean forces in 1950. During his three-year captivity, Blake became a communist and was recruited by the Soviet KGB.

So was Blake a real-like Manchurian spy, or did his conversion to communism reflect his actual beliefs?  


Speaking of spies and Moscow, the Moscow Times reports:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday hailed the country's "courageous" spies as he visited the headquarters of the Foreign Intelligence Service to mark its 100th birthday.

Putin, who has spent most of the coronavirus epidemic at his residences outside the Russian capital and on the Black Sea, visited the SVR headquarters in southern Moscow amid the controversy surrounding the work of the country's security services.

SVR, Russia's external intelligence agency, which succeeded the First Chief Directorate of the KGB in 1991, marks its centenary on Sunday. But December 20 is also the day in Russia when the country fetes all members of the security services including those from the FSB domestic intelligence agency.

Speaking outside the SVR headquarters, Putin, himself a former KGB officer, thanked all those who protect Russia from "external and internal threats" and called them "reliable and courageous people."


On a related note, here's a list of agencies and companies that were hacked in the alleged Russian cyberattack. 


And oh yeah, there's this, too: word on the street is that Navalny was poisoned through his underwear: 

Leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said Monday that he tricked one of the several security officers linked to his poisoning into outlining the details of the operation in a phone call.

A media investigation said last week that Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) chemical weapons experts shadowed Navalny on dozens of his trips since 2017, including on the day he was poisoned in August 2020. It identified Konstantin Kudryavtsev as one of the suspected agents from the FSB’s Criminalistics Institute, also known as its poisons factory.

Scientists from Germany, France, Sweden and the global chemical-weapons body have established that Navalny was exposed to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok when he fell into a coma on Aug. 20. 

A man identified as Kudryavtsev outlined key details of the poisoning in a 49-minute phone call with Navalny, who disguised the call as coming from the FSB headquarters and posed as a senior Russian Security Council official.

What item of clothing was the emphasis on? What is the most risky piece of clothing?” Navalny, using an alias, asked Kudryavtsev as Bellingcat journalists involved in the joint media investigation listened nearby.

“The underpants,” Kudryavtsev replied, specifying that the nerve agent was applied on “the insides, the crotch” area.


Moldova: New president Maia Sandu inaugurated. 

Sandu, a Harvard-educated former World Bank economist who favors closer ties to the European Union and the United States, was elected last month after a clear runoff victory against Russia-backed Igor Dodon.

During her inauguration ceremony, Sandu, 48, promised to be a “uniting” president.

We'll see how that works out. 



An out-of-touch, discredited president is still insisting that he has won the election. Yes, demonstrators are still turning out regularly to protest against Alexander Lukashenko. 

In the US, meanwhile, we have a president who is still regularly insisting that he won an election that he clearly lost and how do we respond? Most of us are just shrugging our shoulders, hoping for the best, and telling ourselves that he's probably just trying to pull off one last scam over his gullible supporters. 

We shouldn't be complacent. At the same time, it does seem clear that having strong, long-lasting institutions helps--I guess we'll see how much they help over the course of the next four weeks.  


Bear News

Wildlife-related news in the greater Montana area this week included: 

  • Shhhh! Be quiet! A wilder view: Studying Montana's hibernating bears.
  • $2K reward in unsolved Wyoming grizzly bear case.  
  • This is a very old story that I stumbled across while looking for fresh bear news, but seems worth noting: Moose attacks and kills Bozeman man near cabin.

  • ***
    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