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Articles in Southwest Asia and North Africa

Azerbaijan: Warming to Iran, Cooling to the U.S.

By Martin W. Lewis | May 7, 2010 | 2 Comments

Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan are rapidly warming. In early May 2010, the two countries signed a security memorandum, promising to cooperate on issues ranging from drug smuggling to human trafficking to terrorism. Iran’s foreign minister framed the bilateral relationship as one between “friendly, fraternal and neighboring countries.” On May 5, Azerbaijan’s defense minister pledged

Ralph Peters: Thinking the Unthinkable?

By Martin W. Lewis | May 6, 2010 | 2 Comments

Ralph Peters’s “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look” is more than a troubling and provocative work. The article and the controversies surrounding it illustrate the central paradox of contemporary geopolitical discourse: as malformed as existing borders may be, mere talk about changing them can be harmful. Peters prods us to “think the

Blood Borders and Their Discontents

By Martin W. Lewis | May 4, 2010 |

In 2006, Armed Forces Journal published a short, map-illustrated article by retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel, novelist, and pundit Ralph Peters. In “Blood Borders: How a Better Middle East Would Look,” Peters argued that “unjust borders” drawn by “self-interested Europeans” were generating many of the Middle East’s problems. Changing state boundaries to reflect the “organic

Iranian Azerbaijan and the Cartoon Cockroach Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | April 30, 2010 | 25 Comments

Iran is to Azerbaijan as Thailand is to Laos: just as Thailand has far more Lao-speakers than Laos, Iran has far more Azeri-speakers than Azerbaijan. Some 18 million Azeris live in Iran (where they comprise 20 to 25 percent of a large populace); that is more than double the number in Azerbaijan

Western Sahara, The United States Senate, and McDonald’s

By Martin W. Lewis | April 7, 2010 | 4 Comments

On March 16, 2010, fifty-four U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton urging the Obama administration to seek a resolution to the conflict in Western Sahara. They argued that the United States should accept Morocco’s annexation of the territory, provided that Morocco allows Western Sahara the autonomy that it promised in

The Heterodox Zone

By Martin W. Lewis | January 26, 2010 | One Comment

Yesterday’s post included a map of religious communities in northern Iraq, based on a larger map by Mehrdad Izady, generated as part of Columbia University’s Gulf 2000 project. As Izady’s maps show, northern Iraq is part of a larger region of striking religious diversity, highlighted on the map above. This area has no established

Ethnic Issues in Iraq’s New Census

By Martin W. Lewis | January 25, 2010 |

The government of Iraq recently announced that it is preparing to conduct its first census since 1987. Merely holding a census is controversial, especially in the ethnically mixed areas of northern Iraq. The main issue concerns the eventual size — and share of governmental revenues — of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. The Kurds lay claim

What’s In A (Place) Name? The Gulf Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | January 20, 2010 | 4 Comments

In mid-January 2010, the Islamic Solidarity Games—scheduled to take place in Tehran in April—were cancelled over a toponymic dispute. The Iranian organizers of the athletic competition insisted on labeling the body of water located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula the “Persian Gulf” in their promotional materials. The event’s organizing committee, based in Saudi Arabia

Yemen: A Failing State?

By Martin W. Lewis | December 25, 2009 |

Concerns that Yemen could become a failed state have recently mounted. The country has a weak central government, faces separate rebellions in the north and south, and contains a considerable al Qaeda contingent. The northern rebellion attracts most international attention, as it has

Geo-Trivia: Enclaves, counter-enclaves, and (the world’s only) counter-counter-enclave

By Martin W. Lewis | December 22, 2009 |
Sovereign states (or countries) generally appear on the map as solid, contiguous blocks of territory, and they are certainly conceptualized as such. But exceptions abound. Many countries, for example, have separates “annexes” located at some distance, technically known as exclaves (think of Alaska). Bits of territory within the boundaries of one state that
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