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Articles in Ethnicity

Dams and the Ignored Ethnic Conflict of Northern Burma

By Martin W. Lewis | October 10, 2011 | 8 Comments
Map of Cease-Fire Armies in Burma

Recent news reports have trumpeted Burma’s (Myanmar’s) decision to suspend construction of the massive, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in the northern reaches of the country. The Economist magazine, for example, claims that the cancellation provides “mounting evidence that the new government in Yangon is serious about reform.” That assessment may well be

Botswana and the Plight of the San (Bushmen)

By Martin W. Lewis | September 9, 2011 |
Map of the Kalahari

Botswana is often lauded as sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest success, noted for its well-run government, low levels of corruption, and high levels of human well-being. Rather than enriching a narrow elite, its rich deposits of diamonds have underwritten broad-based national development. Botswana is also known for its spectacular wildlife and dedication to conservation, with eighteen percent

Ethnic Dimensions of the Conflict in Ivory Coast

By Martin W. Lewis | April 28, 2011 | 3 Comments
Map of Ethnic Groups in Ivory Coast

Careful map analysis reveals that the conflict in Ivory Coast cannot be reduced to a split between the Muslim north and Christian south, as is routinely suggested in the press. But it is structured around ethnic differences that have religious aspects. Today’s post seeks to demonstrate the struggle’s cultural parameters by comparing maps of electoral

Syria’s Ethno-Religious Complexity – and Potential Turmoil

By Martin W. Lewis | March 31, 2011 | One Comment
Map of Languages in Syria

Most Americans would be surprised to learn of the ethnic and religious diversity that exists in present-day Syria. Standard references sources give an impression of clear domination by Arabic-speaking Sunni Muslims. The CIA World Factbook summarizes Syria’s cultural make-up as follows:

Why Russian Jews Are Not Russian

By Martin W. Lewis | January 21, 2011 | 116 Comments

In twenty years of university teaching I have discovered a few features of global geography that consistently flummox students, contradicting their preconceptions about how the world works. Russian nationality is one. How could it be possible for Russian-speaking Jews, born in Russia and descended from the Russian-born, not to be considered Russian by

The Ignored Plight of the Yezidis

By Martin W. Lewis | November 8, 2010 | 4 Comments

According to an October 24, 2010 report by al Jazeera, the worst suicide bomb attack during the seven years of the Iraq war occurred “when multiple truck bombs devastated two villages of the Yazidi minority sect.” The August 2007 blast, which killed almost 800 people, has by no means been the only attack on the Yezidis.

Syria Is Not a Nation-State: The Baath Party’s Denial of Kurdish Identity

By Martin W. Lewis | November 4, 2010 |

The official Syrian credo of Arab nationalism may allow safe haven for Christians, provided that they do not defy the state or attempt to convert Muslims. But it gives no such concessions to the Kurds, whose very identity challenges the Baath ideology of the Syrian state, which is based on the political priority

Iraqi Assyrians and Other Christians in Syria

By Martin W. Lewis | November 3, 2010 | 2 Comments

As Assyrian Christians have been forced out of their homes, they have had to seek sanctuary elsewhere. Many have migrated overseas, primarily to the United States, Germany, Australia, and Sweden, but visas are difficult to obtain, costs are formidable, and subsequent expulsions are not uncommon; even asylum-friendly Sweden has been vigorously deporting Assyrians after somehow

Anna Eshoo and the Ignored Plight of the Assyrians

By Martin W. Lewis | November 1, 2010 | 11 Comments

In looking over the sample ballot for the 2010 November election, my mind turned to the Assyrians as I came to the name of Anna Eshoo, their champion in the U.S. Congress. By “Assyrians” I mean not the ancient empire-builders, but rather the modern community, several million strong globally, that claims to be their

The Basques of Saint Pierre and Miquelon

By Martin W. Lewis | September 8, 2010 | 4 Comments

The world’s most unlikely center of Basque culture is probably Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a windswept group of islands covering 93 square miles (242 square kilometers) located twelve miles (19 kilometers) off the shore of Newfoundland. The Basque presence on the islands is of long standing, dating back to the first European exploitation of the

Catalonia: Nationality or Nation?

By Martin W. Lewis | September 2, 2010 |

The Spanish policy of preserving national unity by devolving power to the regions faces three main challenges. First, some groups remain unsatisfied, pressing for enhanced self-rule or even outright independence. Second, members of several smaller unrecognized groups seek to hive off their own autonomous communities. Third, the borders of the existing autonomous communities poorly correspond

The Nation, Nationalities, and Autonomous Regions in Spain

By Martin W. Lewis | September 1, 2010 |

In everyday speech, “nation” and “nationality” are largely synonymous terms. “Nationality,” my desktop dictionary informs me, is “the status of belonging to a particular nation.” In Spain, however, the Spanish equivalents of the two terms have come to convey distinct meanings through political fiat. The official differentiation of the Spanish nation from several distinct Spanish

Ethnic Strife and Cultural Solidarity in Melanesia

By Martin W. Lewis | June 24, 2010 | One Comment

In trying to separate from Papua New Guinea, the people of Bougainville have sought full independence rather than union with Solomon Islands,* the country that encompasses the rest of the archipelago in which their island is located. The sentiment is not difficult to understand; Solomon Islands is a poor and unstable state beset with

Election Controversies and Ethnic Complexities on the Not-So-Tiny Island of Bougainville

By Martin W. Lewis | June 23, 2010 |

In June 2010, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) voted out three quarters of its parliamentary representatives along with its president. Whereas the outgoing leader was a former revolutionary committed to independence, the newly elected chief executive favors continuing ties with PNG. Most sources, however, do not see a loss of

Why Iran’s Azeris Are Iranian

By Martin W. Lewis | May 10, 2010 | 2 Comments

The weakness of Azeri nationalism in Iran (discussed last week) seems surprising at first glance. Iranian Azeris form a large, distinctive, and relatively cohesive ethnic group that has been deprived of basic educational rights in its own language. Similar situations in neighboring countries have resulted in serious unrest if not prolonged insurgency – think of

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