Self-Declared States

The End of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Continuing Reduction of Armenian-Populated Lands

Let us begin with a paradox: “On September 20, 2023, the world political map underwent a significant change, but that change is not reflected on the world political map.” This seemingly nonsensical statement makes sense with the addition two Latin terms: “On September 20, 2023, the de facto world political map underwent a significant change, but that change is not reflected on the de jure world political map.” The de facto map, which shows actual power on the ground, was transformed by the defeat of the self-declared Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and its impending annexation by Azerbaijan. But as Nagorno-Karabakh was already part of Azerbaijan according to diplomatic convention, the official de jure map of the region registered no change.

From its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 until late September of this year, Azerbaijan did not exercise power over its full internationally recognized territory. Its southwestern corner was instead under the power of the self-declared and unrecognized state called Artsakh, better known as Nagorno-Karabakh. This Armenian-populated region functioned as a client state of the Republic of Armenia, if not as an appendage of it. In 2020, Azerbaijan defeated Armenia/Artsakh in a brief war and took control of most of the disputed territory, leaving only the core region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was connected to Armenia proper by the narrow Lachin Corridor, patrolled by Russian troops. Earlier this year, Azerbaijan cut-off access to the corridor, putting great pressure on Artsakh. On September 19-20, Azerbaijan’s military overran the entire area, after which Artsakh’s leadership announced that their statelet would be dissolved on January 1, 2024. As a result, Azerbaijan will for the first time control its entire territorial extent as recognized by international convention. But the de jure and de facto maps remain out of alignment elsewhere in the Caucasus, as two official parts of Georgia are still under the control of two Russian client states, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

An extended New York Time headline of September 29 nicely captures the current geopolitical situation of the losing country: “Armenia: Cast Adrift in a Tough Neighborhood. While the Caucasus nation might want to reduce its reliance on Russia for a more reliable ally, Western nations have offered moral support but little else.” After independence in 1991, Armenia turned to Russia for military support, hosting a Russian military base and joining the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan). But Russia was of little help in its 2020 war with Azerbaijan, in which Azerbaijan’s Turkish- and Israeli-made drones outperformed Armenia’s Russian-made armaments. Armenia then began edging away from Russia and toward the West, a process that accelerated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. Just before Azerbaijan conquered the rest of Artsakh in late September 2023, U.S. military personnel were helping train Armenian troops in Armenia. But the U.S. offered nothing beyond vaguely smoothing words after Azerbaijan’s military assault. As reported by the New York Times, the United States “has so far resisted placing sanctions on Azerbaijan for a military assault that the State Department previously said it would not countenance.”

The lack of support for Armenia by the United States is not surprising. The U.S., like most countries in most circumstance, stands in favor of the official de jure world political map, and is thus reluctant to acknowledge any alternative arrangements. (Although there are certainly exceptions, such as Washington’s recognition of the independence of Kosovo, which seceded unilaterally from Serbia and is thus unrecognized by the United Nations.) Brute geopolitical realities also favor Azerbaijan, as it is much more populous and economically developed than Armenia. As a relatively secular Shia Muslim nation, moreover, Azerbaijan is also a useful counterweight against Iran (more Azeri speakers live in Iran than in Azerbaijan).

Immediately after the fall of Artsakh, ethnic Armenians began streaming out of the region, seeking refuge in Armenia proper. It is expected that by the end of the year there will be few if any Armenians left in the region. Azerbaijan claims that Armenians could remain in place as Azerbaijani citizens. Armenians, however, point to Azerbaijan’s threats and purported atrocities, arguing, with some international support, that genocide would be the more likely outcome if they were to remain. Azerbaijani apologists, for their part, point to the fact that many Azeris once lived in what is now Armenia, but were themselves victims of Armenian-led expulsions (see the map below). It also true that ethnic Kurds, who were formerly the dominant population between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh proper, fled or were expelled after the expansion of Armenian power following the fall of the Soviet Union (see the map below). (Other Kurdish populations from both Armenia and Azerbaijan had been deported by Soviet authorities to Kazakhstan in 1937.)

From a world historical perspective, Azerbaijan’s conquest of Artsakh and the subsequent removal of the Armenian population from the region represents one more chapter in the long history of the diminution of the Armenian territorial sphere. As the paired maps below show, Armenians once constituted either a majority or a large minority over a broad zone extending across what is now eastern Turkey and beyond (unfortunately, the Vivid Map posted here has no key). Ottoman expulsions of Armenians before and especially during World War I, recognized by most historians as an episode of genocide, vastly reduced the extent of Armenian populated land. After the downfall of the Soviet Union, Armenian communities were either expelled from or voluntarily left many former Soviet lands. With the downfall of Artsakh, the contiguous zone of Armenian-populated territory is now reduced to the small rump state of Armenia.

Understandably, many Armenian-Americans have been enraged about the lack of U.S. action on this issue. As reported in the Guardian:

Everything that is happening today is utterly predictable, and much of it could be avoided with more forceful American action,” Paul Krekorian, the first Armenian American president of the Los Angeles city council, told the Guardian.

It’s a catastrophic situation. Genocide is happening before our very eyes,” Krekorian said. “And my country is doing essentially nothing.” Memories of the 1915 Armenian genocide, when 1 million to 1.5 million Armenians died under the Ottoman Turkish empire, remain strong in the community and many of the signs held outside the Ronald Reagan library referenced it and what the protesters saw as its echoes.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, few American media outlets have done much substantive reporting on this issue. At one time, something like this would have been a major news story. Over the past half-century, however, the U.S. new media have become increasingly insular, tightly focused on American politics, society, and culture, and hence little concerned with most events occurring outside the country. Economic globalization has oddly coincided with journalistic deglobalization.

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Who Are the Gagauz, Where Is Gagauzia, and Why Are They in the News?

The “Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia,” located in southern Moldova, rarely makes the news. On September 25, 2023, however, the New York Times ran a full-page article on the region under the vague title “Fugitive Oligarch Gaines Surprise Foothold in Moldova.* The article describes Gagauzia as an “enclave” within Moldova. That is not technically correct, as a geopolitical enclave is part of one country that is surrounded by the territory of another, whereas Gagauzia is merely an autonomous region of Moldova. Fear of losing that autonomy lies behind the ethnic tensions that have given this obscure region international attention.

The New York Times article focuses on the shady activities of Ilan Shor, a disgraced financier who was “convicted in 2017 for his role in ransacking Moldova’s banking system.” In the summer of 2023, a follower of Shor, Evghenia Guțul (Yevgenia Gutsal), was elected governor of Gagauzia, allowing Shor to gain considerable power in the autonomous unit. This victory was internationally significant because Guțul and Shor support Russia and oppose the E.U. The United States accused Shor in 2022 “of working with ‘Moscow-based entities’ to undermine Moldova’s efforts to join the European Union and engaging in ‘persistent malign influence campaigns on behalf of Russia.’” (Note: direct quotes in this paragraph are from the Times article.)

The description of Gagauzia in the New York Times’ article is minimal. It notes only that Gagauzia is a “Russian-speaking region wary of the largely Romanian-speaking authorities in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital,” and that “the enclave, with around 140,000 people, mostly members of the small Turkic community of Orthodox Christians, remained out of step with the rest of the country.” Although largely accurate, this depiction is not adequate for understanding the tensions in the region. One might wonder, for example, how Gagauzia can be “Russian-speaking” when its majority ethnic group, the Gagauz, are “Turkic,” indicating that they speak a Turkic language. Yet both assertions are essentially true. The Gagauz tongue, the territory’s official language, is indeed in the Turkic language family, but its use is rapidly declining, especially in cities and towns, in favor of Russian, long used as Moldova’s main language of inter-ethnic communication. While the Gagauz are turning to Russian, they are also rejecting Romanian (or “Moldovan,” as it is often locally called), their county’s official** language. Such attitudes do not augur well for Moldova’s national future.

The origin of the Gagauz people is obscure, owing in part to their combination of speaking a Turkic language and following Eastern Orthodox Christianity. As the Wikipedia article on the Gagauz notes, “In the beginning of the 20th century, a Bulgarian historian counted 19 different theories about their origin. A few decades later the Gagauz ethnologist M. N. Guboglo increased the number to 21.” The most intriguing, if highly unlikely, theory is that they are descendants of the original Balkan Bulgarians, who were a Turkic-speaking people who conquered the area now known as Bulgaria beginning in the late seventh century. The Bulgars subsequently adopted the Slavic language widely spoken in their new kingdom, which became known as Bulgarian, and also converted to Christianity under influence from the neighboring Byzantine (East Roman) Empire.

Whatever their origins, the Gagauz stress their affinity with the Bulgarians. In early times they generally called themselves “Hasli Bulgars” (True Bulgarians) or “Eski Bulgars” (Old Bulgarians), Under Russian Empire, they were usually called “Turkic-speaking Bulgars,” as the term “Gagauz” was at the time often considered offensive. Most Gagauz today live near Bulgarian-speaking settlements in southern Moldova and the adjacent Ukrainian region of Budjak, as can be seen on the map posted below. (Since I cobbled this map together from separate and questionable language maps of Moldova and Ukraine, its accuracy is probably not very high.)

It might be surprising that so many Bulgarians live in southern Moldova and southwestern Ukraine, considering how far this area is from Bulgaria. Before population exchanges in the early twentieth century, however, many Bulgarians lived in the intermediate coastal region of Romania, thus forming a nearly continuous swath of settlement in an admittedly highly mixed area (see the first map below). The language map of the Bessarabia Governorate of the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century, posted below as well, is also revealing. Bessarabia, which included what is now Moldova, the Budjak region, and a small section of northwestern Ukraine, was highly ethnically mixed. Note the sizable German-speaking area and the prominent positions of Jews in the towns and cities (visible in the pie charts). Today there are probably fewer than 20,000 Jews in Moldova, and its German population is negligible.

The Gagauz in Moldova identify with Bulgarians and Russians rather than with ethnic Moldovans in part because they are concerned about cultural domination by Romanian-speaking people. When the Soviet Union began to fracture in 1990, Gagauz leaders declared the formation of a Gagauz Republic, which gained de facto independence when the Soviet system collapsed in the following year. A similar situation emerged in eastern Moldova, where the heavily Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking region called Transnistria also separated from the rest of the country. Unlike Transnistria, however, Gagazia was peacefully reunited with Moldova in 1995 after its people accepted limited self-rule within their own spatially reduced Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (see the map below). Importantly, the Gagauz were promised that if Moldova were ever to unite with Romania, they would be able to opt out of the union. Unification with Romania, however, has little support in Moldova; in the country’s most recent parliamentary election, the pro-unification party AUR (Alliance for the Union of Romanians) received less than one half of one percent of the vote. In Romania, in contrast, AUR got over nine percent of the vote in the most recent election, finishing in fourth place.

But if union with Romania is unlikely, the Moldovan government has still been emphasizing the use of the Romanian (“Moldovan”) language and deemphasizing that of Russian. In protest, as noted in a Balkan Insight article, “Gagauzia adopted a regional education code that implied a greater use of the Gagauz language in school, as well as a more detailed study of Gagauz history and culture” in 2016. The Moldovan government, however, declared this new policy to be “unconstitutional and provocative.” Today, a more immediate concern of the Gagauz is Moldova’s quest to join the European Union (official candidacy was gained June 2022). If that were to happen, Gagauzia could lose its autonomous status. To guard against this possibility, Gagauz leaders have been seeking support from Moscow, a dangerous gambit indeed.

Reports on feelings of national identity in Gagauzia are mixed. One recent article cites a Gagauz informant as stating that “anyone who lives in our autonomy feels like a citizen of Moldova, because the Gagauz have no other homeland. For example, Bulgarians can go to Bulgaria, Greeks to Greece, Russians to Russia… But the Gagauz have no other homeland.” The same person also stated, however, that few Gagauz students seek higher education elsewhere in Moldova, preferring to study instead in the break-away statelet of Transnisria, where Russian is the main language of instruction. Other sources, moreover, claim that anti-Moldovan sentiments are so pronounced that most Gagauz do not even want to learn Romanian, their “national” language. In response, many Moldovan observers fear that the autonomous territory is planning outright secession, in concert with Russia.

In the Ukrainian region of Budjak, Bulgarian and Gagauz speakers have generally supported Russia-friendly candidates over their Ukrainian nationalist rivals. As can be seen on the paired maps posted below, in the first round of the 2019 election, Ukrainian-speaking areas in Budjak generally supported Volodymyr Zelensky, whereas the Bulgarian- and Gagauz-speaking areas supported Yuriy Boyko. Boyko’s party, Opposition Platform – For Life, has been banned by the Ukrainian government for its pro-Russian leanings. But as the Wikipedia article on Boyko notes, after the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine he reversed most of his pro-Russian stances and now supports Ukraine’s proposed ascension to the European Union. Not surprisingly, the political environment of Ukraine changed much more dramatically than that of Moldova after the 2022 invasion.

* That is the title in the print edition. In the on-line edition it isCash, Mules and Paid Protests: How a Fraudster Seized an Ethnic Enclave”

** Moldova also recognizes Belarusian, Bulgarian, Gagauz, German, Hebrew, Polish, Romani, Russian, and Ukrainian as minority languages

Who Are the Gagauz, Where Is Gagauzia, and Why Are They in the News? Read More »

Grim News from Kurdistan

Recent news from Kurdistan – often regarded as forming the world’s largest “nation without a state” – has been bleak. Protesting Iranian Kurds have been under attack from their own government, as have many other Iranians. Iran has also launched assaults on the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, which it accuses of harboring Iranian Kurdish insurgents in the rugged borderlands between the two countries. The Turkish government has been attacking its own Kurdish insurgents in the same mountains. These strikes are not precisely targeted and have killed a number of civilians. Turkey (Türkiye, officially) has also been launching attacks against Kurdish forces in the Kurdish-led autonomous region of Rojava in northeastern Syria, and has been indicating for some time that an outright invasion might be forthcoming.

The situation in Rojava is becoming precarious. Rojava, an autonomous region that is nominally part of Syria, is a unique experiment in political organization. It first emerged in 2012, just after the “Arab Spring” uprisings, and gained control over substantial territories a few years later as its militias drove out the forces of ISIS (ISIL/Daesh), with help from the U.S. military. Although largely Kurdish-led, Rojava is an explicitly multi-cultural and multi-linguistic polity, with Kurmanji Kurdish, Arabic, Syriac, Turkish, and Adyghe (or West Circassian) all serving in an official capacity in all or part of the region. Rojava is highly decentralized, divided into seven semi-autonomous regions, or cantons. Its governance is based of what might be called “bottom-up libertarian socialism.” As the Wikipedia article on the region notes in one breathless sentence:

The supporters of the region’s administration state that it is an officially secular polity with direct democratic ambitions based on an anarchist, feminist, and libertarian socialist ideology promoting decentralization, gender equity, equality, environmental sustainability, social ecology and pluralistic tolerance for religious cultural and political diversity, and that these values are mirrored in its constitution, society, and politics, stating it to be a model for a federalize Syria  as a whole, rather than outright independence.

This unparalleled political system is based on the ideas of Murray Bookchin, an American environmental writer and political theorist who died in 2006. Bookchin’s theories were adopted and reinterpreted in the early 2000s by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant organization of Kurds in Turkey, officially classified as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, and the United States.) During the Cold War, Öcalan and his followers adhered to Marxism-Leninism and sought to create an independent Kurdish state. After abandoning authoritarian leftism, Öcalan turned instead to the equally left-wing but decidedly libertarian vision of Bookchin, melding it with several reformulated traditional Kurdish socio-cultural practices. At the same time, the PKK abandoned its goal of outright independence, seeking instead mere Kurdish political autonomy. Many experts think that it has also rejected the tactics of terrorism, and hence no longer deserves the “terrorist” designation.

Whether Rojava’s idealistic system of governance can work in practice is an open question. I was certainly skeptical when I first learned of its existence. But the leaders of Rojava have been employing it for a decade, and evidently with some success. To be sure, they have been subjected to harsh criticism, with some writers claiming that they have authoritarian tendencies of their own and favor Kurds over members of other ethnic groups. The “Libertarian Communist” website goes so far as to condemn Rojava as a fraudulent revolutionary organization that has allied itself with the Syrian Assad regime, Russia, and the United States – viscously attacking it, in effect, for doing what has been necessary for its own survival. Overall, what I find remarkable is how little actual reporting has been done on this intriguing political experiment. Considering Rojava’s de facto alliance with the United States, the possibility of an ISIS resurgence in the region, and the existential threat to region’s autonomy posed by the Turkish military, one might expect Western journalists to be keenly interested in what is happening there. But this is not the case. The world at large seems oddly unconcerned about Rojava and its travails.

Rojava’s leaders are worried that their regional autonomy and security might be sacrificed by the United States in the interest of maintaining its own alliance with Turkey, a fellow NATO member. As they point out, Rojava already lost a large strip of land after the Trump Administration acquiesced to the Turkish military occupation of part of northeastern Syria in 2019. A weakened Rojava was also forced into a power-sharing arrangement with the official Syrian regime over most of its northern lands (see the map below). This could hardly have been an easy compromise: in earlier years, Syria’s Assad regime had denied citizenship to many if not most of the country’s Kurdish residents, based on its ideology of Arab nationalism and supremacy.

Although the United States has condemned recent Turkish incursions into Rojava, many residents of the region feel betrayed by the U.S. and the West more generally. As Nadine Maenza recently tweeted, “Turkey is targeting the very people that destroyed the ISIS caliphate, losing 11,000 lives so the United States did not have to put boots on the ground.” This sense of betrayal is a common motif in Kurdish historical thought – and for good reason. As early as 1919, U.S. diplomats offered some support for Kurdistan, including a proposal for an autonomous and eventually independent Kurdish state in what is now southeastern Turkey (see the map below), but they have never followed through. Since 1991, the Kurds of Iraq have generally upheld American political interests in the region, sacrificing many lives in the process. Although a few U.S. politicians, including New York Senator Chuck Schumer, have offered some support for Kurdish independence, the State Department remains deeply hostile to the idea, and the U.S. government more generally prioritizes its alliance with Turkey.

One of the biggest problems confronting Kurdish political aspirations has been their own lack of unity. Although the Kurds of northern Iraq have their own autonomous region that verges on independence, it remains geographically divided along the lines of political party, clan leadership, and dialect/language. In the mid 1990s, the Talabani-led, Sorani Kurdish-speaking Patriotic Union of Kurdistan fought a civil war against the Barzani-led, Kurmanji Kurdish-speaking Kurdish Democratic Party (see the maps below). Although this division was soon patched up, with U.S. help, the two sub-regions of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish polity often find themselves at loggerheads. In 2017, the Kurdish peshmerga military had to retreat from Kirkuk, a city commonly deemed the “Kurdish Jerusalem,” and allow the Baghdad government to regain control. This humiliating withdrawal reportedly occurred after the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan covertly pulled out from the operation, reportedly in connivance with Iran. In the process, the Iranian position in Iraq was strengthened, harming U.S. interests. As the Institute for the Study of War reported at the time,

The Iraqi Government and Iran likely signaled their intent to use military force to compel the Peshmerga withdrawals in those provinces, if necessary. The Kurdish retreat is a win for both the central Iraqi government and Iran, whose proxies have seized new key terrain and consolidated control over previously contested cities. Iran has downplayed the role of its proxies in order to legitimize them as instruments of the Iraqi state. Western media coverage and statements from US officials have assisted Iran with this deception by denying the role of Iran’s proxies in Kirkuk.

The deeper problems in Iraqi Kurdistan these days seem to stem more from political corruption and mismanagement than from internal conflict. A hard-hitting article from Kurdistan Source focuses on the recent surge of migrants out of Iraqi Kurdistan, blaming it largely on misgovernance. As the author writes

The new model [of governance] is premised on high taxation, aggressive privatisation, authoritarian governance, and eliminating nearly all social welfare. Since 2019, while household income and industrial output have stagnated, the government has increased taxes and service bills by 400% to over 1000%. This has led to nearly 70% of the region’s factories closing within just two years. While on paper, the new model is supposed to encourage private-sector driven growth, in reality, most entrepreneurs and private enterprises are driven out of business by the creation of hurdles. The majority of businesses I have talked to believe the government wants to drive them out of business to help certain companies monopolise each sector. These potential monopolies are often owned by members of the two ruling families* or people close to them.

The Kurdish tragedy will be explored in more detail in coming posts.


* Meaning the Barzani and Talabani clans.

Grim News from Kurdistan Read More »

Lecture Slides on ISIS

ISIS LectureDear Readers,

For the next 10 weeks I will be teaching a lecture course on the history and geography of current events, which is offered in two versions, one for Stanford students and the other for the community at large through Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. This class is very demanding on me, as I must come up with new 70-minute lectures each week on a wide variety of topics. As a result of such burdens, I will not have time to put up regular GeoCurrents posts during this period. I will, however, post my weekly lecture slides. At the link below, one can get my images from last night’s talk on ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. These slides were made in Keynote but were exported to the more commonly used PowerPoint format. The conversion process is not perfect, however, and as a result some details have been lost and some text has been slightly altered.

The slides themselves cannot of course convey the full scope of the lecture, but I do hope that they can be useful for some readers.

Class TopicsNext week’s lecture will be on the current crisis in Brazil. After that, topics have not yet been determined. I have posted a list of possible topics, however, and I am polling students on what they would like to learn about, whether on the list or not. GeoCurrents readers should feel free to offer their own suggestions as well. (You can now vote on your favorite topics here.)







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Future Islamic State Mapping and Computer-Game Cartography

Future Islamic State Map?As mentioned in the previous post, several maps purporting to show plans for an enlarged caliphate by the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL) have been circulating on the Internet. The oddest of such maps has ben posted here. As noted by Media Matters, this map “was reported on, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, … [and] appears to have originated in part from a video game called Victoria 2.”

Victoria 2 MapIn actuality, the map undoubtedly originated from a Victoria 2 base-map, as it is structured around the same idiosyncratic regional divisions used in the game; this can be seem by examining an actual map connected with the game, posted here. Apparently, an amateur cartographer has simply taken a Victoria 2 map and blackened in all of the regions that he (or, unlikely, she) envisages as future portions of an enlarged Islamic State. In doing so, the mapmaker reveals his own ignorance of the geography of Islam, as a number of important Muslim areas are excluded from the realm (such as Xinjiang in northwestern China), while a number of non-Muslim (and never-Muslim) areas are included, such as Burma.

Little is anything can be inferred about the visions of ISIS and its supporters from this map. Alex Jones, after all, is “often described as America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” according to the Wikipedia, and thus there is no telling where the map actually originated. I find the map interesting, however, because it shows the significance of game-oriented fantasy geography for perception of the actual world.

In general, I strongly support geography- and history-based games, as they can be a fantastic way for students to learn the basic structures of the world. Pedagogical scolds often tells us that learning basic facts is intellectually stultifying, as it relies on “rote memorization,” but the process can just as easily be accomplished from playing games, as long as the games in question are adequately connected to the real world. From what I have seen of Victoria 2, the historical mapping used in the game is sophisticated and relatively accurate. But that still does make it a serviceable base-map for geopolitical aspirations or fantasies. In the end, it is best to reserve gaming maps for gaming purposes.


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The Islamic State’s Aspirational Map?

Future Islamic State MapThe geopolitical entity that calls itself the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has generated some interesting maps. Today’s post examines a map that ostensibly shows the area designated for conquest and rule by ISIS leaders. Widely disseminated across the Internet, it evidently originated on Twitter, but its creator remains unknown. Media Matters for America has advanced some skeptical claims about the map:

On June 3 [2014] ABC News published a map — also cited by — which was “purportedly published” by ISIS and “widely shared on Twitter.” According to ABC, the “terrifying” map was “published at the same time that ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate.” But ABC News didn’t actually trace the image to ISIS, and instead relied on a tweet of the image from American Third Position (A3P). …

As iO9 pointed out, “This is one of those ‘garbage in, garbage out’ stories, since ABC News’ source was Twitter.” The outlet cited to analysis from Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who explained, “It’s an old image put out by fans of the group … There is nothing official about it nor is there some alleged 5-year plan.”

Future Enlarged Islamic State MapRegardless of its ultimate provenance, two versions of this map have been widely put forward, which vary mainly in their treatment of South Asia. The territorial divisions and labeling system used in both versions are curious, indicating a poor understanding of historical geography. The following discussion focuses on the second map, which shows the Islamic State of the future as including India.

Extreme Islamists generally claim that any lands that were ever under Muslim rule must be redeemed to Islam. A good example of such a vision is evident in the map posted here that was produced by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Lebanon-based organization “associated with the goal of all Muslim countries unifying as an Islamic state or caliphate ruled by Islamic law (sharia) and with a caliph head of state elected by Muslims.” It is no surprise, therefore, that the maps associated with ISIS depict Spain and Portugal as parts of the future Islamic State, as they were once under the rule of the Umayyad Caliphate, or Hizb ut-Tahir Caliphate Mapthat they include the Balkan Peninsula, which was long ruled by the Ottoman Empire. But in neither case does the ISIS map get the boundaries quite right, unlike the map made by Hizb ut-Tahrir. Far northern Spain, for example, was never conquered by Muslims, nor were modern Austria and Slovakia — both of which are nonetheless placed within the fantasized Islamic State. Yet at the same time, other parts of Europe that had once been under Muslim power, such as Sicily and southern Ukraine, are excluded from the realm. So too is the important Muslim zone of Tatarstan in Russia’s central Volga region.

Similar problems are encountered in the depictions of Africa and Asia. Vast areas of sub-Saharan Africa that have small Muslim populations at present and were never under Muslim rule are depicted as parts of the future Islamic State, yet the historically Muslim Swahili Coast of Tanzania is excluded, as are the Comoros (the Hizb ut-Tahrir map gets this wrong as well). In Asia, virtually all of India and Tibet are mapped within the Islamic realm, but Muslim Bangladesh is left out, as are Malaysia and Indonesia. A few scattered exclaves and enclaves, such as the small, unmarked area in eastern Kazakhstan, are less explicable still.

The labeling is also unusual. Some of the terms used are common, but the areas that they depict extend beyond the normal designations. The Maghreb, for example, is pushed down to the sea in West Africa, while the Hijaz swallows both Oman and the UAE. “Habasha,” which refers to Ethiopia and especially its core region that was once called Abyssinia, is also greatly expanded.* The sizable area designated as “Kordistan” is noteworthy, as it roughly covers the Kurdish-speaking area, making it the map’s only ethnically defined territory; such a cartographic depiction is usually limited to Kurdish nationalists — who are now at war with the Islamic State. Other labels on the map are seldom encountered, such as “Alkinana” for Egypt and environs. This term perhaps goes back to the initial Muslim conquest of Egypt in the seventh century.

Khorasan MapThe most striking feature of the map to my eyes is the vast expansion Khurasan, a term conventionally limited to eastern Iran and adjacent areas in Central Asia. This oddity perhaps stems from the Muslim prophesy about “black flags from Khorasan,” emblems referenced by the Islamic State’s own black banners. As explained in the website appropriately called Black Flags from Khorasan:

According to the prophecies of prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), a non-stop army will rise from the land of Khorasan holding Black Flags of Islam in the end times. This army will conquer several occupied lands of Muslims till it reaches to Jerusalem. Then it will pledge its allegiance to Imam al Mahdi (alyhe salam).

It must also be noted, however, that many Muslims doubt this story. As argued in Islam Today:

The hadîth about the army with black banners coming out of Khorasan has two chains of transmission, but both are weak and cannot be authenticated. If a Muslim believes in this hadîth, he believes in something false. Anyone who cares about his religion and belief should avoid heading towards falsehood.

All told, these maps of the future Islamic State are amateurish productions that should not be taken too seriously. They do indicate, however, some odd and intriguing ideas about historical, contemporary, and future geography.

* This feature of the map has generated an odd controversy in Ethiopia. One website in the country claims that this map “shocked the Oromo Community” by depicting “the dream of every amhara and tigre,” as the Amhara and Tigre ethnic groups formed the core of historical Abyssinia. But a substantial majority of the Amhara and Tigre are Christian, whereas almost half of the Oromo are Sunni Muslims.

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Cyprus: Between East and West?

(Note: This is the second of two articles by Stanford student Claire Negiar that together contrast the situations of two geopolitically divided islands: Saint Martin and Cyprus)

Cyprus and Saint Martin – two very different islands sharing one key property: both are split by their “mother countries,” Greece and Turkey in the case of Cyprus, France and the Netherlands in the case of Saint Martin. However, these two islands have known very different fates over the past several decades, which are worth exploring in greater depth. What makes Saint Martin successful in its division, while Cyprus has remained in a stalemate since 1974? Why have France and the Netherlands been able to coexist and build an amicable system despite the division, while Greece and Turkey still struggle over finding an agreement for Cyprus, with Nicosia remaining the last divided capita around the globe, the only militarily-divided city of Europe, and a seeming vestige of the past?

The earlier colonization of Saint Martin has given time the chance to blow over some of the initial tension that resulted from this dual presence, enabling the emergence of a stable border and the near-assimilation of the people of Saint Martin into a common identity. In many ways, however, the population of Saint Martin is much more diverse that of Cyprus, where the indigenous population remains starkly split between Greeks and Turks. Yet in such diversity, a degree of unity is also found. The difference in geopolitical tension may also be related to the much greater distance separating the island from its mother countries: if Saint Martin were as close to France and the Netherlands as Cyprus is to Greece and Turkey, would the two have been more inclined to have resisted their gradual relinquishing of control? Or is it that they do not see Saint Martin as enough of an economic asset, while Cyprus has just discovered great gas reserves that both Greece and Turkey desperately want to exploit?

On Saint Martin, over time the majority of the island’s population essentially became European, identifying closely with France and the Netherlands, but on Cyprus the colonial power, Britain, had “nothing to do” with the local population of Greeks and Turks and hence was never able to achieve such results. With the initial annexation of the island by the British Empire, the “Cyprus dispute” corresponded to the conflict between the people of Cyprus and the British Crown regarding the Cypriots’ demand for self-determination. The dispute was however soon shifted from a colonial to an ethnic register between the Turkish and the Greek islanders. The international complications of the dispute stretch far beyond the boundaries of the island of Cyprus itself, also involving the guarantor powers (Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom alike), and eventually the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. To what extent has the presence and interference of several international organization complicated the conflict rather than helping smooth it over?

With the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état’s installment of a pro-Enosis (the union of Cyprus and Greece) president and the responding Turkish invasion that same year (formally condemned by UN Security Council Resolution 1974/360), Turkey occupied the northern part of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. As the Greek and Turkish Cypriots had been interspersed across much of the island a significant amount of “ethnic cleansing” and relocation  subsequently occurred. Northern Cyprus soon unilaterally declared independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a sovereign entity that lacks international recognition—with the exception of Turkey, with which the TRNC enjoys full diplomatic relations. The United Nations has since created and maintained a buffer zone (the “Green Line”) to avoid any further inter-communal tensions and hostilities. This zone separates the Greek Cypriot-controlled south from the Turkish Cypriot-controlled north, passing directly through Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital since the fall of the Berlin Wall, though many also view Jerusalem as a divided city as well (a poll conducted in June 2013 found that 74% of Israeli Jews reject the idea of a Palestinian capital in any portion of Jerusalem, although 72% of the public regarded it as a divided city).

Ethnographic_distribution_in_Cyprus_1960 (1)

I visited Nicosia and walked by the wall and along the divide in 2003, which was the first year it was open to the public: it seemed to me like an odd vestige of the Cold War, frozen in time, absurd in the twenty-first century with the graffiti, the barbed-wire, and the sand bags at its foot, yet standing there still.

Another crucial factor is the intense cultural difference between the Greek and the Turkish populations. This split looms large in my memory as well. As a ten-year old child, I walked past the checkpoint from the Turkish to the Greek parts of Cyprus, and as soon as I reached Greek territory I was handed a small bottle of traditional Greek liquor, Ouzo. The two sides of the island seemed like a microcosm that revealed patterns of a much larger, global scale. Caught between the Western World and realm of Islam, at a crossroads of civilizations, Cyprus is split between the autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, and Sunni Islam.


According to a Eurobarometer report, Cyprus is one of the most religious states in the European Union, alongside Malta, Romania, Greece, and Poland. What is more, it is linguistically divided between its two official languages, Greek and Turkish, which do not even share the same alphabet. (English is, however, well spread across the island).  This deep cultural divide makes the situation much more difficult for Cyprus than in the case of Saint Martin, where the two sovereign powers, France and the Netherlands, share many cultural similarities and have a long history of mutual understanding, unlike the two countries which ‘share’ the island of Cyprus. Walking between the Dutch and French sides of the island of Saint Martin, the biggest difference is scale: while the Dutch side boasts very large hotels, nightclubs, casinos, and cruise-ship tourist populations, the French side is home to smaller-scale hotels, restaurants, and in true French form, a few topless beaches. As I remember it, walking between the Greek and the Turkish sides of Cyprus was more like changing worlds: while the Greek side boasted a variety of international brands and had the lively feel of a capital city, the side-streets in the Turkish part of Nicosia were dominated by variety of repair shops selling hardware, pipes, and steel. There were more little stores, with a less touristy and more industrious ambiance, and the crux of the energy was concentrated around the very lively Souk. We visited a Turkish hammam, or public bath, located in a converted Catholic church, where the women and the men were sent to different parts of the edifice. We also enjoyed a honey-filled Turkish variation on a crepe in a  lovely courtyard. It was pleasant, but all the time I remember feeling a distinct sense of unease, my ten-year old, pale and blonde self, walking around in these streets, feeling quite out of place. While the Greek side seemed open for leisure and tourism, the Turkish side seemed made for the local inhabitants.

This cultural rift lay at the heart of many debates after Turkey posted its candidacy to the European Union. Indeed, while Greece and Cyprus are members of the European Union, Turkey was and is still seen as a much more controversial candidate, due in part to fear of interethnic and inter-religious conflict between Christian Europeans and immigrant Muslim Turks, as well as concerns that Turkey would not integrate harmoniously into the European political system, as perhaps evidenced by the situation in Cyprus. The lack of resolution of the Cypriot conflict has long burdened Turkey’s candidacy, and if Turkey is serious about its integration of the union, it will most likely need to come to a better settlement with its Greek counterpart on the island. Equally problematic is Greek Cypriot recalcitrance on reunion. A 2004 UN-organized referendum on reunification was rejected overwhelmingly on the Greek half of the island but was supported on the Turkish side.

Any possible settlement of the Cyprus issue seems unlikely given the history of fear and mistrust between the two sides. The unrecognized Turkish Northern Cyprus territory covers only 36% of the island’s overall territory, thus starting Turkey out with weaker hand and giving the conflict an unequal feel. This 36% of land is, however, crucial to Turkey due to its proximity to its own ports. Indeed, Cyprus is only 65 kilometers from Turkey, and the island is close to Turkey’s southern harbors, such as Mersin. As such, all Turkey’s southwestern ports are under the cover of Cyprus and whoever controls the island is able to exert pressure on them. It should be of no surprise, then, that it has been a prime and long-standing Turkish objective that the island does not succumb to any potentially hostile power, especially its traditional enemy, Greece. Common membership of Greece and Turkey in NATO has never diminished Turkish concerns about these geo-strategic issues, nor will Turkey’s possible accession to the EU.

As such, reasons for the different fates of Saint Martin and Cyprus extend from historical to geographic, demographic, geopolitical, and cultural factors. The easy coexistence of two states on the former island and the on-going conflict on the latter, however, result from processes that are as multi-faceted as these islands are diverse, and truly pinpointing what could be learned from one situation to apply to the other is difficult at best. From an island in the Caribbean with significant self-determination and hundreds of years of colonial history, to an island in the Mediterranean split between its two native populations, significant situational differences which may not allow for comparison at all. However, as history tends to repeat itself, with a little bit of imagination and a little bit of creativity, there may be some lessons that each can learn from the other’s situation.

Regardless of such comparisons, the geopolitical situation on Cyprus remains extraordinarily complex. According to the diplomatic establishments of most countries, the Republic of Cyprus has de jure sovereignty across the island, yet in de facto terms Cyprus is of course split, with Northern Cyprus forming a separate state.  But this is just the start of the complexity, as the United Kingdom still controls two military bases on the island over which it exercises sovereign power. These sovereign military bases, moreover, encompass several exclaves of the Republic of Cyprus, while Northern Cyprus has its own exclave on the northwestern coast.


And the U.N. Buffer Zone itself makes up yet another unit, as it is not a mere “line” but rather a territory in its own right that cover 346 square kilometers (134 sq mi) and is home to some 10,000 people. Parts of this buffer zone are essentially off-limits to people, and have thus become a haven for wildlife, much like Korea’s so-called demilitarized zone. Another complication of geopolitics on Cyprus is that the island has been as a tax haven for many international investors, especially the Russians, which has a significant effect on the Cyprus-Russia relations. Many Russian investors withdrew their funds when the Cypriot government forced bank depositors to pay their share of an international bailout in the spring of 2013, but now Russian investors are returning. There is also a fairly sizeable Russian community on the island, with its own online forum .

Finally, it is important to note that Cyprus plays an unusual international role in regard to Israel, as Israelis who want to be married in civil rather religious ceremonies generally do so on Cyprus. But recent discoveries of off-shore gas deposits in Israel’s waters may change the hereto peaceful relations between Israel and Greek Cyprus. Both Greek Cyprus and Turkey desperately want to import Israeli off-shore gas. According to one plan, Israeli gas would be exported directly to a facility to be set up in Vassilikos, in southern Greek Cyprus. Alternately, the gas could be delivered via an underground pipeline to the port of Jihan in southern Turkey, but en route the pipeline would have to cross under the territorial waters of Greek Cyprus to avoid crossing Lebanese and Syrian territory. Unsurprisingly, Turkey and Greek Cyprus cannot agree on this issue. All in all, it is difficult to find more geopolitical complexity and ambiguity than on Cyprus.



Cyprus: Between East and West? Read More »

Russian Envelopment? Ukraine’s Geopolitical Complexities

The current issue of Time magazine features an article by Robert Kaplan that emphasizes the geographical aspects of what he refers to as “endless chaos and old-school conflicts,” especially in regard to Ukraine. In general, I appreciate Kaplan’s insistence on the abiding importance of geography and I am impressed by his global scope of knowledge, although I do think that his analyses tend to be a bit too simple. My reaction to his most recent article is much the same.

Ukraine Not Encircled MapHere Kaplan stresses Ukraine’s military and economic vulnerability imposed by its relatively flat terrain and its proximity to the Russian heartland. His assessment is clear: “the dictates of geography make it nearly impossible for that nation to reorient itself entirely to the West.” Kaplan reiterates this point in the caption of his map of “Ukraine/Crimea”: “Ukraine is too enveloped by Russia to ever be completely tied to the West. Crimea gives Russia its only access to a warm-water port.”

Many works on the current conflict emphasize the significance of warm-water ports, the pursuit of which have been a historical mainstay of Russian geopolitics. It is essential to note, however, that the naval value of Crimea’s Sevastopol is rather seriously compromised by the fact that its access to the high seas is constrained by Turkey’s—and hence NATO’s—possession of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Yet Sevastopol certainly is of regional strategic value, as became evident in August 2008, when Russian ships based there were used to blockade Georgian ports.

Kaplan’s emphasis on Russia’s envelopment of Ukraine is less often encountered, and for good reason, as it is hardly evident on the map. As can be seen from Kaplan’s own visualization, only about a third of Ukraine’s border fronts on that of Russia. Further analysis, however, along with more detailed mapping, strengthen Kaplan’s envelopment argument. Consider, for example the position of Belarus, which sits across Ukraine’s northwestern border. If Belarus is counted as a Russian satellite, as it often is, then Russian-dominated territory does come much closer to encircling Ukraine. Yet the actual geopolitical position of Belarus is hotly debated. According to the title of Andrew Wilson’s recent article in Foreign Affairs, “Belarus Wants Out”—out of the Russian embrace, that is. As Wilson perceptively writes, “Above all, [Belarussian leader Alexander] Lukashenko wants to avoid having to make a decision between Russia and the West. He has always been happy to be Russia’s ally, but only as the leader of a strong, independent state capable of steering its own course.” The fact that Belarus, unlike Venezuela and Nicaragua, has not recognized the independence of the Russian-dominate statelets of Abkhazia and South Ossetia underscores the independence of its foreign policy. Lukashenko’s avoidance of choosing between Russia and the West is also evident from his recent actions. While accepting the results of the Crimean referendum, he has also initiated negotiations with NATO.

Ukraine Encircled MapBut Belarus is not the only territory unmapped by Kaplan that contributes to potential Russian envelopment of Ukraine. Crimea, of course, is now under effective Russian control, and thus should be depicted as such on maps aimed at showing the de facto rather than the de jure geopolitical situation. Equally significant but more often overlooked is the self-declared state of Transnistria, which is situated along Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Transnistria, like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is often regarded as a Russian puppet, although its actual situation is complex, as will be seen in a forthcoming GeoCurrents post. The main point, however, remains: if one were to include all of these additional Russian-influenced territories, then it would appear that Ukraine is almost encircled by powers potentially hostile to its current government.

In fleshing out his argument, Kaplan foresees Russian ascendency over eastern Ukraine, owing to its proximity to Russia, its economic importance, and its demographic domination by pro-Russian groups. He does not, however, anticipate annexation of the region:

Putin is not likely to invade eastern Ukraine in a conventional way. In order to exercise dominance, he doesn’t need to. Instead, he will send in secessionists, instigate disturbances, probe the frontier with Russian troops and in other ways use the porous border with Ukraine to undermine both eastern Ukraine’s sovereignty and its links to western Ukraine.

A similar prognosis is made by James Traub of Foreign Policy:

Putin has so many lower-cost options available to him that a large-scale invasion — even one limited to border areas — still seems unlikely. Putin may calculate that he can destabilize Ukraine, and thus turn its dalliance with the West into a failure, by using Russia’s immense economic power to squeeze Ukraine, by blanketing the east with propaganda from Russian media and by sending agents provocateurs to whip up popular discontent. Putin doesn’t “need,” as he put it, to divide Ukraine by force; he just needs to keep it out of the Western orbit.

Ukarain's Fears mapIt remains to be seen, of course, whether such events will occur, although Kaplan’s warnings do seem justified. But Putin does not need to “send in” secessionists, as plenty of them are already present, and it does seem odd that Kaplan would write about eastern Ukraine’s “sovereignty,” a quality that the region does not possess.

Such concerns, moreover, are by no means limited to eastern Ukraine. Although the far east is the most Russian-oriented part of the county, pro-Russian sentiments are also widespread over southern Ukraine, including the southwest. Consider, for example, Odessa (both the city and the oblast). Odessa figures prominently in the Russian historical-geographical imagination, and the local Russian minority is substantial. According to The Voice of Russia, thousands of people have recently taken to the streets of Odessa to demand “that the authorities hold a referendum on de-centralization of power in Ukraine, grant the status of a state language to the Russian language and change the country’s foreign policy course.” In recent elections, moreover, the pro-Russian Party of Regions has trounced all other parties in Odessa Oblast. But such Russia-oriented sentiments are far from uniform here, as even The Voice of Russia admits that the protestors that it highlighted were “opposed by local pro-European supporters who asked a court to forbid the march.” By the same token, the Party of Regions handily won the most recent Ukrainian election in Odessa Oblast only because the opposition was divided; as a result, it easily took first place with only 41.9 percent of the vote. In contrast, the Party of Regions won over half of the votes in Crimea and over 65 percent in the eastern oblast of Donetsk.

Odessa Oblast makes an interesting case, as its population is relatively heterogeneous, and in the recent past it was more cosmopolitan than it is today. As of the 2001 census, Ukrainians constituted 62.8 percent of its population, with Russian making up a fifth. Bulgarians, Moldovans, and Gagauz (the latter a Turkic-speaking, traditionally Christian people) together accounted for more than twelve percent of the oblast’s population. Numerous other groups are also found in the region, some of which (Jews, Greeks, and Belarussians) were formerly much more numerous. The Russian population has also been declining, having dropped from 27.4 percent in 1989 to 20.7 percent in 2001. Russian nationalist in the region are no doubt concerned about this decline.

Even far western Ukraine presents a challenge for Ukrainian nationalists. The region in question here is Zakarpattia Oblast, also known (from the Russian perspective) as Transcarpatia and (from the Hungarian perspective) as sub-Carpathian Ukraine (a more neutral term is Carpathian Ruthenia). In terms of physical geography, this is a crucial region, as it lies on the far side of the formidable Carpathian range from the rest of Ukraine, its core area situated in the lowland Danubian basin. Part of Czechoslovakia between the world wars, Carpathian Ruthenia subsequently passed to Hungarian control and then, in 1945, to the Soviet Union and hence Ukraine. Gaining the region gave the Soviet Union a geo-strategic advantage in the Cold War, although Soviet annexation was justified on the basis of its mostly Ukrainian population. But, like that of Odessa, the population of Zakarpattia Oblast is ethnically mixed, although, again, such diversity has long been declining. According to official figures, its population in 1921 was 62 percent Ukrainian, 17 percent Hungarian, and 13 percent Jewish (with significant numbers of Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Germans, and others), whereas by 1991 the Ukrainians had increased to over 80 percent while the Hungarians had dropped to 12 percent. The Jewish population, on the other hand, was no longer even tabulated. Russians currently constitute only about 2.5 percent of the population of the oblast.

Despite its large Ukrainian and small Russian populations, Zakarpattia’s voting patterns deviate substantially from those of the other regions of western Ukraine. The pro-Russian Party of Regions, for example, took a plurality (31 percent) of the oblast’s votes in the 2012 legislative election, as opposed to taking less than five percent in the Ukrainian-nationalist stronghold of Lviv. One of the main problems for the Ukrainian nationalist movement here is the presence of the so-called Ruthenian or Rusyn ethnic group. According to Ukraine’s government, such a community does not exist, as its members are merely Ukrainians who refuse to admit as much. Ruthenian partisans, not surprisingly, strongly object to such a classification, and some of them have long advocated independence for their region. According to the Ukrainian source Radio Svoboda, “Moscow has recently been fueling separatist sentiments among the Ruthenians in order to weaken Ukraine.”

The Ruthenian issue is complicated enough to deserve its own post, which will be forthcoming. But as we have seen from this post, the geopolitical situation of Ukraine is complicated indeed.  Further posts this week will explore such complexities in greater detail.

(Note on Maps: In this series of maps, color is crudely used to show the degree of potential Russian domination. Russia itself is shown in the darkest shade of red, with Crimea, now under Russian control, in a slightly lighter shade of the same color, and Transnistria in a still lighter shade. Belarus, being a sovereign state, is depicted in red-orange on the final map rather than a shade of red, in order to signal this difference. In the last map, Ukrainian Oblasts with Russian-speaking majorities are shown in a still lighter shade of red, and those with Ukrainian-speaking majorities that nonetheless exhibit major challenges for Ukrainian nationalism are shown in the lightest shade or red.)


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Transnistria Open to Freight Traffic

In early May, the European Union welcomed the resumption of railroad freight traffic through the break-away state of Transnistria*, sandwiched between Ukraine and Moldova. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, described the event as “a crucial step forward for restoring confidence between the sides to the Transnistrian issue.” Freight traffic across the region had been suspended for the past six years, owing largely to the unsettled dispute between Transnistria and Moldova; Moldova claims the entire territory of the unrecognized state, and most of the international community backs the Moldovan position. Seemingly endless negotiations, however, have finally brought some progress. Recently, the two sides:

[A]nnounced they had reached common ground on other issues that will be soon translated into life, such as building cooperation on healthcare between the two banks of Nistru River in order to deliver quality health services, resumption of the phone connection between the two banks of the river, suspended a couple of years ago, resumption of road traffic on the bridge in Gura Bicului; simplification of transit of Transnistria in summer ; arrangements for 100 children on the right bank of the Nistru River to spend the summer holidays in camps.
The experts named in charge of these areas are expected to identify real solutions in the near future.

Transnistria is widely regarded as a Russian client state that is a center of human trafficking, the arms trade, and drug transshipments. Its international diplomatic standing is highly limited. As the Wikipedia article on the “Foreign relations of Transnistria” reads in its entirely:

The Transnistrian republic is currently recognized by three states with limited recognition [South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh], and is member of one international organization, the Community for Democracy and Human Rights, that was established by these four states. Russia maintains a consulate in Transnistria, but hasn’t recognized it as independent state. During a visit to Kiev, President Dmitri Medvedev said he supported “special status” for Transnistria and recognised the “important and stabilising” role of the Russian army.

On the cultural front, Armenia recently announced that it would “build a church in honor of great Armenian Enlightener Gregory Illuminator in Grigoriopol, Transnistria.” Armenians settled extensively in the Romanian-Moldovan-Transnistrian area in earlier centuries, and Grigoriopol was founded by Armenian immigrants in 1792. In recent years, the city has seen been the focus of Russian-Moldovan tensions. Although Transnistria as a whole has a clear Russian-Ukrainian majority, Moldovans constitute the largest community in Grigoriopol. As the Wikipedia article on the town explains:

[L]ocal Moldavian inhabitants [wanted] to use Romanian language and Latin script in the local Moldavian school, which is against the policy of the government of Transnistria. The Transnistrian press attacked the local authorities “that allowed the fifth column of Moldova in Transnistria to operate.

* Officially, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

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The Ethnic Diversity of the Self-Declared State of Azawad

On April 6, 2012, the Tuareg rebels declared the independence of the territory under their control in northern Mali, deeming the country “Azawad.” Within hours, the Wikipedia had posted an article on The Independent State of Azawad, which it describes as “an unrecognised state that was unilaterally declared in 2012 after a conflict in which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and other groups drove the Malian Army out of the territory claimed by Tuareg-led separatists.” Maps of Azawad immediately began to appear in numerous internet sites. On April 7, the New York Times ran an informative article by Lydia Polgreen on the break-way state, noting parallels with other unrecognized states and separatist movements in Africa. Without a doubt, Tuareg Rebellion and its self-declared state of Azawad have gained the attention of the global media.

Unmentioned in most reports, however, is the fact that the relatively densely inhabited southern part of “Azawad” is occupied largely by non-Tuareg peoples, which complicates the political situation considerably. As in-depth reporting, such as that of National Public Radio’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, shows, the Songhai, Fulfulde, and other indigenous residents of the middle Niger region are not happy with the self-declared country. As she reports:

[W] e think of the north and the Sahara Desert as being Tuareg country, but there are many, many other tribes who live there, the biggest being the Songhai, but there are also the Bella who used to be the slaves of the Tuaregs, and other smaller ethnic groups also live in the north. They held a meeting, those living in Bamako, the capital, yesterday to say, no. We are – we don’t want independence. We are part of Mali. We want to remain part of Mali.

To illustrate the situation on the ground, I have taken a Wikipedia map of Azawad and added the main non-Tuareg linguistic groups, based on the language maps found in Muturzikin also shows northwestern Mali as Arabic- rather than Tuareg-speaking (Tamasheq), but sources vary considerably on this score. Also of note is the fact that most of the Tuareg-speaking region lies outside of the boundaries of Azawad, as can be seen on the inset map. Finally, it is also significant that the declared capital of Azawad is the city of Gao, which was historically the capital of the Songhai Empire.

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Stalled Negotiations in Western Sahara

Yet again, talks on Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara collapsed without agreement. Representatives from Morocco, the independence-seeking Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania recently met for three days in a suburb of New York; in the end, “‘Each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a solution.” Representatives from same groups will convene again in Europe in June. As the conflict has essentially been stalled since the Moroccan annexation of the former Spanish colony in 1975, little is expected.

The Western Sahara conflict generates diplomatic complications for the United States. Although the U.S. seeks good relations with Morocco, it is concerned about Western Sahara. A pending Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act (S.1601), would have the U.S. withhold some scheduled military assistance for Morocco until the Secretary of State “submits a report on steps taken by the government of Morocco to respect the rights of individuals to peacefully express their opinions regarding the status and future of the Western Sahara, and to provide unimpeded access to human-rights organizations, journalists and representatives of foreign governments to the Western Sahara.” The Moroccan foreign minister Saad Eddine Othmani reportedly views the bill as “an unfair judgment about his country — and a simplistic approach to a highly complicated issue.”, however, claims that this complex bill has only an eight percent chance of being signed into law.

Meanwhile, NGOs and humans rights organizations have criticized the recent decision of the German company Siemens to build and maintain a number of electricity-producing windmills in Western Sahara. The wind farm is scheduled to become commercially operational in the summer of 2013. According to a March 21 article in Newstime Africa, “The problem is that, according to international law, it is illegal to trade or dispose of resources in occupied Western Sahara without the consent of Western Sahara’s indigenous population, the Saharawis, who also have to benefit from any such dealings.”

Kidnappings have recently turned up the pressure in Western Sahara. Two Spanish and one Italian aid workers were recently kidnapped in Tindouf, the Algerian refugee camp that also serves as the seat of the government-in-exile of the dispossessed Saharawi people.  The abduction was evidently carried out by an al-Qaeda splinter group that calls itself the “Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa,” which is demanding $37 million (30 million Euros) to free the three aid workers.


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No New State for the Beleaguered Garo People of India

India’s Economic Times recently noted that the demand by the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) for the creation a new Indian state for the Garo people was not going to be met, dashing hopes that a negotiated settlement could end one of northeastern India’s numerous “tribal” insurgencies. India’s former home secretary G. K. Pillai dismissed the Garo call for a new territory to be hived off from the state of Meghalaya, noting that a number of larger, better organized activist groups elsewhere in India have been unable to gain their own states. Pillai concluded by noting that, “The GNLA is more like a bunch of criminals and therefore the state government must put efforts to neutralise it.”

Demands for new state creation in India are indeed numerous, as indicated on the map. A number of these movements are based on ethnic tensions, as many of India’s smaller ethnolinguistic groups want to acquire their own political territories. Others are rooted in historical and economic issues, as is the case in regard to the would-be state of Telangana, the subject of the very first GeoCurrents post. Some Indian states are simply too massive to be effectively governed, some argue. Uttar Pradesh, which faces separatist movements on both its eastern and western flanks, would be the world’s fifth most populous country if it were independent.

Several specific issues lie behind the Garo insurgency, but mining figures prominently. The Wikipedia article on the state of Meghalaya provides a pithy summary: “Meghalaya is also notorious for illegal mining that is creating havoc in the state. Balpakram National Park located in South Garo Hills District is constantly being encroached as forest areas are cleared for coal mining. The Garo Hills Anti-Mining and Conservation Forum are constantly shutting these illegal mines, which the government has so far simply ignored.” In the same vein, the Times of India notes understatedly that, “The land in Meghalaya is rich – with minerals, flora and fauna in abundance — but the people of the state are still languishing in poverty.” The International Business Times recently reported that Indian mining companies are intensifying their efforts to establish uranium production facilities in Meghalaya.

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Lozi (Barotse) Nationalism in Western Zambia

Political Map Southern Africa 1750, Detail from DK Atlas of World HistoryThe deeper roots of dissatisfaction in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip (discussed in the previous post) extend to the colonial dissolution of the Lozi Kingdom of Barotseland. Centered in what is now western Zambia, Barotseland was one of the strongest indigenous polities of southern central Africa, controlling a broad swath of territory that encompassed the Caprivi Strip. Although the Strip was never predominantly Lozi in terms of ethnicity, the Lozi tongue (Silozi or Rozi) did become its common language. Barotseland also developed an incipient sense of national identity, which extended beyond the Lozi proper to include some of the kingdom’s affiliated ethnic groups. As a result, some Caprivi people look north to western Zambia rather then southeast to Namibia proper as the heartland of their political affiliation.

The Barotse issue, not surprisingly, burns much hotter in Western Zambia than it does in Namibia. In January 2011, clashes between Zambian security forces and demonstrators linked to a pro-secession group resulted in several deaths. Lozi leaders have demanded an apology from president Rupiah Banda for the killings, and they accuse him—like previous national leaders—of ignoring the developmental needs of the region. Such grievances are exacerbated, they maintain, by the fact that Banda won the last presidential election in part through the support of the Lozi electorate. A militant group called the Linyundangambo has discussed declaring the independence of Barotseland. Tensions are currently running so high in western Zambia that one risks a beating for singing the Zambian national anthem in public rather than the Barotse anthem.

The Zambian government, not surprisingly, stresses the need to maintain national unity, proclaiming “Nobody breaks away from Zambia; it’s a legal entity. Secession is not part of our constitution.” In attempting to defuse tensions in July 2011, President Rupiah Banda met with the Litunga of Barotseland, the region’s traditional monarch, who maintains a largely ceremonial position bolstered with extraordinary cultural prestige. Although many Lozi have hoped that the Litunga himself would advocate secession, his position has been more moderate. Instead, the BRE—the “Barotse Royal Establishment”—has demanded a review of the Barotse Agreement of 1964 that brought the kingdom into the newly established Republic of Zambia. The BRE claims, in a complex argument, that while the agreement did establish a unitary state, such a state was supposed to allow a regional government in Barotseland and reserve significant powers for the Litunga and his staff. Such legal claims, even if accepted by the Lusaka government, seem unlikely to satisfy demands of the more adamant Lozi nationalists.

Image of Barotseland FloodplainThe Lozi kingdom is historically rooted in the distinctive environment of the Barotse Floodplain, a vast wetland some 230 kilometers long and 40 kilometers wide, located along the middle stretch of the upper Zambezi River. In the pre-colonial period, few areas of southern central Africa offered an environment productive enough to support the concentrated settlements and surplus foodstuffs necessary to underwrite a powerful, centralized polity. Soils are poor over much of the region and tsetse flies abound, preventing intensive cattle production. The Barotse floodplain, however, presents a different kind of environment. The river floods annually, turning the basin into a shallow lake and depositing a fresh layer of fertile silt. Flooding also prevents tree growth, which in turn precludes tsetse flies. Farming, fishing, and especially cattle herding on the Barotse Plain are quite productive, allowing relatively dense settlement. Flooding presents its own challenges, of course, as entire villages must seasonally relocate from the center to the margin of the plain. Intriguingly, Lozi oral traditions link the establishment of such annual migrations to the transition from female to male royal authority.*

Map of Mfecane Once the Lozi, themselves 17th century immigrants to the region, learned how to take advantage of the floodplain, they were able to establish a powerful kingdom that exercised authority over a broad area. As was typical for the region, the Lozi polity was ethnically inclusive, able to fold various groups into its proto-national formation. The state was not without rivals, and in the early 1800s it fell to the Makololo, a southern people propelled north in the Mfecane, the scattering of southern African peoples occasioned by the rise of the Zulu kingdom and the depredations of the Europeans. The Makololo were overcome in 1864, but not before spreading their language. The modern Lozi tongue, Silozi, is closely related to Sesotho (the language of Lesotho and adjoining areas of South Africa). The original Lozi language seems to persist only in the rituals of the royal court.

Map of Barotseland; Lozi Kingdom at Its Height The British established relations with the Lozi during the Makololo interregnum. The famed doctor, explorer, and missionary David Livingstone was impressed with Barotseland and especially its monarch. In the late 1800s, the British South Africa Company gained an early mineral concession from the kingdom, which Cecil Rhodes and company regarded as tantamount to annexation. As the scramble for Africa reached its final stages at the turn of the century, Britain imposed a protectorate over the Lozi kingdom, allowing its monarchy to retain circumscribed authority.

The subsequent relationship between Britain and Barotseland remained ambiguous; as Wikipedia puts it, “Although having features of a charter colony, the treaty and charter gave the territory protectorate status although not as an official protectorate of the United Kingdom Government.” In any event, Barotseland was affiliated with other British holdings in an area known as Northern Rhodesia, which became Zambia when it gained independence in 1964. Throughout the colonial period, Lozi leaders pressed for autonomy as well as separation from the rest of Northern Rhodesia. As independence was being discussed in the early 1960s, some Lozi leaders expressed a preference for remaining under British “protection” rather than joining the new country of Zambia. Accession to Zambia came in 1964 with the signing of the Barotseland Agreement, but its terms were not followed. In 1968, the Zambian government changed the name of Barotse Province to Western Province, a move widely seen as deliberately insulting the Lozi people.

Lozi authorities would like to encourage tourism in the region, but they are hampered by its extremely poor infrastructure. As unflinchingly puts it, “Vehicles on [the road from Lusaka] vary in reliability. Journey time can vary between 6 and 10 hours. Breakdowns are a frequent problem but this is still the most reliable mode of transport into the heart of Barotseland.” Zambia is currently trying to build a causeway across the Zambezi floodplain to increase accessibility, but thus far the project has been stymied by flooding and the lack of local rock and gravel. Much of southwestern Zambia, however, is slated for inclusion into the massive Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, a development that could substantially augment its tourism prospects. For such potential to be realized, infrastructure would have to be improved and security enhanced. Considering the frustrated aspirations of the Lozi people, such developments do not seem likely in the near term.

*Female royal authority is still found elsewhere in Zambia. In recent weeks, Zambian papers have been running multiple stories on the on-going feud between President Rupiah Banda and Chieftainess Nkomeshya Mukamabo II of the Soli people. The comments on the article linked to above from the Lusaka Times make interesting reading.

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Border Delineation and Geopolitical Wrangling between India and Bangladesh

Map of Indian and Bangladeshi enclavesProgress on the India-Bangladesh border barrier has been slower than expected, due in part to difficulties in determining precisely where the border runs. Such problems might seem surprising. In the standard model of geopolitics, international borders are clearly delineated, one-dimensional lines that absolutely separate sovereign states. In practice, however, borders are often contested and sometimes indistinct—and few are as fraught as the boundary separating India from Bangladesh. The conflict is serious enough to have produced a micro-war in 2001, which according to some reports took 100 lives.

The origins of the Indo-Bangladeshi border dispute predate British colonialism. As in Europe, traditional polities in South Asia often consisted of dispersed territories. Lands sometimes passed back and forth among different rulers and dynasties, generating intricate arrangements that might eventually be inherited by modern countries. Such was the case in a large swath of the India-Bangladesh boundary. According to an often-told story, two rulers, the Raja of Cooch Behar and the Nawab of Rangpur, divvied plots of land with abandon. As related in a Time magazine story:

the rulers … staked games of chess with plots of land. To settle their debts, they passed chits — pieces of paper representing the territory won or lost — back and forth. When Sir Cyril Radcliffe, the law lord who partitioned India, drew the 1947 border, Cooch Behar went to India and Rangpur to Bangladesh — including the people who lived on the two kings’ 162 “chit mahals,” or paper palaces.

Detail of map of Indian and Bangladeshi enclavesRegardless of the story’s accuracy (see Editstreet for an alternative view), the Indo-Bangladeshi border in the vicinity of Cooch Behar remains staggeringly complex. On the Indian side of the main demarcation line, one finds 92 pieces of Bangladesh, while on the Bangladeshi side one finds 106 Indian exclaves. (The map posted here predates Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan, but the same situation obtained afterward.) As can be seen, some plots are doubly enclaved: in other words, a few Bangladeshi territories are wholly surrounded by Indian territory, which in turn are wholly surrounded by Bangladeshi territory. Although not easily visible on the map, another level of complexity is encountered as well. As Evgeny Vinokurov recounts in his A Theory of Enclaves (2007, Lexington Books), Dahala-Khagrabari is a sliver of India (a jute field, more or less) engulfed by Bangladeshi land that is enclosed by Indian land that is encircled by Bangladeshi land, thus forming, in technical parlance, a counter-counter-enclave.

India and Bangladesh agreed to clean up their border with land swaps as early as 1974, since a politically fractured landscape creates humanitarian as well as geopolitical concerns. Initial talks came to nothing, however, and the resulting tensions provoked the 2001 border clash. That conflicted ended with promises of renewed negotiations, but subsequent progress was minimal. The Wikipedia describes conditions in the enclaves today as “abysmal,” while Sujit Roy depicts them as hellish places where “looting, arson, rape, [and] murder, is all in a day’s work.” Construction of the border barrier raised the stakes, resulting in a resumption of talks in 2010 and 2011. Resulting land exchanges may clarify the divide between the two countries, but they will not necessarily benefit the inhabitants of the aberrant territories. According to Sujit Roy, “As soon as news of settlement arrived…, land sharks became active and started evicting people forcibly, especially in the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh.” The result, Roy claims, is “a new chapter of woes” for the roughly 200,000 inhabitants of the enclaves.

Fencing off India from Bangladesh does not require the elimination of all enclaves, or even a precise delineation of the border. By international convention, barriers between countries are not supposed to follow the actual borders, but are rather to parallel them 150 meters inside the country responsible for the fencing. By honoring this provision, India has walled off some of its own territory. A number of Indian hamlets now find themselves on the Bangladeshi side of the fence, generating serious hardships for their residents. Farmlands are also being partitioned. According to the revenue and finance minister of the Indian state of Tripura, in his state alone “over 8,730 Indian families’ homes, paddy fields, lands, farms and other assets had fallen outside the fence,” encompassing “over 19,359 acres of land.”

Due both to such dislocations and to topographical constrains, India has been negotiating with Bangladesh for leeway. In early 2011, Bangladesh agreed to let India run the barricade along the official border in certain areas. But any such “zero-line” partitioning, Bangladesh insists, can only entail a single line of barbed-wire fencing. Indo-Bangladeshi negotiations also led to a recent announcement that the two countries would agree to “joint inspection of 20 out of the 46 unfenced patches along the border.”

Map of Hindus in BangladeshBangladesh’s cooperation with India is likely linked to its desire for concessions on related issues. Dhaka’s economic concerns were discussed in last Thursday’s post; also to note is its call for New Delhi to crack down on opponents of the Bangladeshi government active on Indian soil. Of particular concern is Bangabhumi Andolan, an organization dedicated to carving out a Hindu-dominated country from southeastern Bangladesh. Although Hindus are relatively numerous in this region (see map), they are still clearly outnumbered by Muslims. Bangabhumi Andolan hopes to create a Hindu majority through the immigration of those who left or were forced out of the region during and after the partition of 1947, although the removal of Muslims would probably be necessary as well. In 2003, movement organizers symbolically declared the independence of the Hindu Republic of Bangabhumi (alternatively called Bir Bango).

Map of proposed state of BangabhumiAlthough Bangabhumi Andolan does not seem to be very potent, Bangladesh is worried. According to Bangladeshi sources, “the movement has set up more than a dozen training centres with clandestine supply of money and arms … with the objective of arms struggle for creation of the Hindu land.” It has also staged public rallies on Indian territory, most recently in July 2010. Both Bangladeshi and Pakistani sources have accused India of supporting Bangabhumi Andolan in order to destabilize Bangladesh. According to Pakistan Defense, the Indian external intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) created the group in order to “disintegrate Bangladesh.” Several hard-core Hindu nationalist groups have rallied to the cause. A 2003 article on an extremist website asks, “how long can the Hindus live under House-Arrest in the Barbaric Bhoot-Bangla of Bangladesh?” The article itself is tellingly entitled, “Recognize The New Hindu State As You Cowards Recognize Islamic Bogusdesh.” (According to the website in which it appears, Bangladesh is a “bogus” country—hence “Bogusdesh”—originally “created by the British … [as East Pakistan] to cut off direct land, spiritual, trade and cultural communications between Hindu Bharat and Buddhist Myanmar.”)

If the Indian intelligence agency RAW has indeed created Bangabhumi Andolan to use against Bangladesh, it could be playing with a two-edged sword. Recent reports claim that the organization also wants to hive off a section of the Indian state of West Bengal for its proposed country, thus potentially diminishing India. It is entirely possible, however, that Bangladeshi partisans would regard such claims to Indian territory as a mere smokescreen, designed to superficially distance Bangabhumi Andolan from its handlers in Indian intelligence. In South Asian geopolitics, such allegations of subterfuge are hard to escape.

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Geopolitical Complexities in the Twin Insurgencies of Balochistan

Map of Baloch provinces in Pakistan and Iran

Map of Baloch provinces in Pakistan and IranBalochistan, spanning the border between Pakistan and Iran, is a deeply troubled region, beset with rebellion and split by a barrier. Pakistan’s Balochistan province has been in rebellion as often as not since the founding of the country. Wikipedia lists five distinct “Balochistan conflicts” since 1948, but it is not always clear when one conflict ended and another began. The Pakistani military has hit hard in recent years, killing noted Baloch leader Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006 and building new military strongholds. Among the demands of the most recent Baloch uprising is a moratorium on new base construction. As militarization proceeded, a Baloch council formally declared independence from Pakistan in 2009, a symbolic and provocative move. Significantly, the leaders of the self-proclaimed country include Iranian Balochistan within its boundaries, giving it representation on the separatist council.

Balochistan flag and map of proclaimed countryPakistani Balochistan is a vast province, covering forty-four percent of the country’s territory. It is also one of the poorest regions of an impoverished country, having experienced little development despite its extensive reserves of natural gas and other resources. The arid province is lightly inhabited, its eight million people forming five percent of Pakistan’s total population. Only about forty percent of its people are ethnic Baloch; another twenty percent belong to the culturally, although not linguistically,* similar Brahui group. Northern Balochistan is mostly Pashtun, and the Pashtun presence has been expanding since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Quetta, the provincial capital, is a largely Pashtun city and a Taliban nerve-center. The influx of non-Baloch people into the province helps propel the insurgency.

Spring 2011 has been politically eventful in Balochistan. In early May 2011, Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, summoned Balochistan’s chief secretary to court; in the subsequent grilling, another judge demanded, “Is there any government in Balochistan?” A few days later, protests erupted over much the province, incited by the discovery of five “decomposed and mutilated bodies” of Baloch activists—not an uncommon occurrence. In April, the Pakistani government tried to defuse tensions by cancelling base construction, pledging that, “no new cantonments will be built unless the people agree to it.” Few Baloch consider the offer genuine. Shortly afterward, the Pakistani government was embarrassed by revelations that the Shamsi airbase in Baluchistan has been under the control of the United Arab Emirates since the 1990s.

Baloch anger focuses on the targeted killings of the ethnic group’s leaders, usually blamed on the Pakistani government. Anti-insurgency opinion counters that Baloch militants have been slaughtering non-Baloch residents of the province, particularly Punjabis—a view that is well represented in the Wikipedia article on the conflict. Local authority figures play down the ethnic angle, but not very convincingly. As Pakistani senator Ikram Khan put it:

Pakhtuns [Pashtuns] and Baloch are brothers and will have to wage a joint struggle against the usurpers. Some elements are hatching conspiracy to create differences between Baloch and Pashtuns but they will not succeed as both nations have had a long history based on trust and sacrifices for each other.

Iran’s Baloch area covers most of the province called “Sistan and Baluchestan.” Although more highly developed than its Pakistani counterpart, it is still “the most underdeveloped, desolate, and poorest of Iran’s provinces.” Grievances here are more religious than economic. The largely Sunni Baloch claim discrimination and persecution by the Shi’ite government and clerical establishment. Attacks by the militant group Jundallah have thus targeted not just the Iranian state and military but also Shia religious observations. The blog IntelliBriefs describes Jundallah as “unrelenting.”

The border-spanning nature of the Baluch rebellion results in knotty geopolitics. Although Pakistan and Iran have cooperated in fighting the insurgency, the Iranian government accuses Islamabad of doing little against Jundallah, and more generally of tolerating if not abetting anti-Shi’ite extremists. Such accusations intensified in late 2010. As reported in IntelliBriefs, one Iranian official claimed that “This counter-revolutionary group [i.e. Jundallah] which is based in Pakistan and is supported from there must be pursued and crushed in Pakistani territory…” Iran, not surprisingly, has also accused the United States, Israel, Britain, and Saudi Arabia of lending support. In early 2010, Iranian television paraded a captured Jundallah militant, Abdolmalek Rigi, who claimed—just before his execution—that he had taken funds from the United States. The same allegation had previously been made by several American critics of US foreign policy, most notably Seymour Hersh. The United States government has denied involvement, and in late 2010 placed Jundallah on its list of foreign terrorist organizations, surprising Iran.

Pakistan accuses India of supporting its Baloch insurgency. Pakistani popular opinion, true to form, also blames Israel and the United States. In public forums, the issue is often debated with extraordinarily harsh invective and profanity. The comments on the YouTube clip of an Al Jazeera report on the Iran-Pakistan border barrier are telling; many fairly drip with hatred, and both pro- and anti-Baloch comments often target the United States. The first comment below is from an opponent of the insurgency, the second from a supporter; both are copied verbatim.

Raw,Mossad,CIA brain washing all you balochis n pashtuns to retaliate against ur own ppl so that they can start a civil war in the country and divide it wake the fuck up balcohis n pashtuns dnt forget there divide and rulse policy that west always use to rule the world to invade a country.

Baluchis have only recieved death,suffering,stealing of their resources in last 60 yrs. Even killing of their greatest hero : Nawab Bugti. Pakistan oppresses and kills their own people for USA sake.

The one thing that holds Pakistan together, it often seems, is hatred of the United States. The Baloch and the Punjabis may not have much use for each other, but they can bond over denouncing the US. In the United States, hostility to Pakistan is an increasingly easy sell, embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet the United States and Pakistan remain military allies. Is such a relationship sustainable?


* Brahui is Dravidian, hence related to the languages of southern India, such as Tamil. That said, it does share a much of its vocabulary with neighboring Indo-European languages

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