A preliminary draft of my master’s thesis


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Conflict in the Caspian: A Comparative Study of Ethnic Inclusion & Conflict in Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan 

Abstract

In this research my aim is to demonstrate a relationship between the extent of political development, indicated by the degree of ethnic inclusion, and the extent of ethnic conflict, defined in the upcoming sections, exhibited in these two oil-rich post-Soviet, predominantly Muslim, Caspian & Turkic states. Beyond their security relevance, Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan serve as prime examples of states with variance in ethnic conflict and institutional development, despite the presence of oil in both states, and a common history. I argue that more politically developed states are more likely to form institutions that protect, preserve and encourage ethnic inclusion. As a result, they exhibit less ethnic conflict. My independent variable is political development. The proxy for the extent of political development is the degree of ethnic exclusion or inclusion. My dependent variable is the degree of ethnic conflict or harmony. I employ both a comparative case study method for generalizability & regional context as well as a logit regression measuring this relationship through 150 cases of ethnic conflict. The research is organized into the following sections respectively: introduction of theory & key concepts therein; summary of shared histories of both cases, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan; review of data results from logit regression; and finally a conclusion. The comparative case study supplemented by the EPR logit regression results support my hypothesis that there is a positive relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict.

 

Introduction

This research is an attempt to answer the question of why ethnic conflict occurs is some states and not others. In order to properly address the question, I’ve chosen a multi-method approach, including a logit regression as well as a comparative case study. I’ve chosen two Caspian states, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan, rich with oil. The Caspian Sea region, or Central Asia rather, has become of growing importance, particularly since the dissolution of the USSR, but even more so perhaps, following the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. This has resulted in coordination between western and Caspian states like Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan in security measures in attempt to prevent instability.

More importantly for this research, instability has also taken the form of ethnic conflict, such as in the Caucasus, but also in CA states like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan & Kirgizstan. Out of the CA states, only Kazakhstan has oil abundance, and is thus vulnerable to the resource curse argument. That is Kazakhstan has averted any major conflict or crises altogether through a rentier system (Franke et al 2009). To counter this argument, and in order demonstrate that a lack of ethnic conflict (ethnic harmony) is not caused by oil wealth but rather by institutional accommodation I compare Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan.

In this research my aim is to demonstrate a relationship between the extent of political development, indicated by the degree of ethnic inclusion, and the extent of ethnic conflict, defined in the upcoming sections, exhibited in these two oil-rich post-Soviet, predominantly Muslim, Caspian & Turkic states. Beyond their security relevance, Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan serve as prime examples of states with variance in ethnic conflict and institutional development, despite the presence of oil in both states. I argue that more politically developed states are more likely to form institutions that protect, preserve and encourage ethnic inclusion. As a result, they exhibit less ethnic conflict. My independent variable is political development. The proxy for the extent of political development is the degree of ethnic exclusion or inclusion. My dependent variable is the degree of ethnic conflict or harmony. The research is organized into the following sections respectively: introduction of theory & key concepts therein; summary of shared histories of both cases, Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan; review of data results from logit regression; and finally a conclusion.

Theory & Key Concepts

Before analyzing this relationship, it is important to define four major concepts in this research: Ethnicity, Ethnic Conflict, Ethnic Exclusion (discrimination) or Ethnic Inclusion.

Ethnicity is defined as “subjective experienced sense of commnality based on belief in a common ancestry and shared culture. Indicators of common ancestry and culture include common language, phenotypical features, and belonging to same faith (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009).

Ethnic conflict is described as mass violence between two communities that each belongs to a distinct cultural group with common heritage and other subjective commonalities. In order to be classified as an ethnic conflict, armed organizations must seek to achieve “ethnonationalist aims, motivations & interests and recruit fighters and forge alliances on the basis of ethnic affiliations” (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009). Ethnic conflicts are distinct in their “armed organization, recruitment and alliance structures. In other words, ethnic conflicts are typically fought over ethnonational self-determination, ethnic balance of power in government, ethnoregional autonomy, ethnic and racial discrimination, and language and other cultural rights” (Sambanis 2009).

In many cases, antagonist ethnic groups will not be able to agree on new constitutional arrangements or a peaceful separation. These kind of ethnic disputes consequently become violent, some escalate into all-out inter-ethnic war. This is the situation in Angola, Kashmir, Shi Lanka, Bosnia, and Caucasus. Some scholars explain reasons of ethnic conflicts with collapse of the authoritarian rule. As an example, the main reason why ethnic conflicts have sprung up in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere, because the authoritarian rule has collapsed and made such conflicts possible. This is the conventional wisdom. This argument offers an inadequate explanation of the causes of ethnic conflicts. Scholars generally fail to explain why conflicts have broken out in some places, but not others, and why some ethnic conflicts are more violent than others (Ismayilov 2008). To elaborate further, ethnic conflicts can be defined as conflicts between ethnic groups within a multi-ethnic state, which have been going on some time, which may appear to be unsolvable to the parties caught up in them. An ethnic conflict is a dispute about important political, economic, cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities (Brown 1993). The most distinct feature of ethnic conflict is the explicit targeting of a group on the basis of a shared culture (Weber 1978). It is a long lasting tension between two groups that wish to advance their interests (Ismayilov 2008). In non-ethnic conflict, members of the same ethnic group might be in conflict, whereas ethnic conflict is distinctly between two separate groups on the basis of their subjective cultural differences and the political implications therein. As the literature indicates, as with many abstract political concepts, there is little consensus on the definition of ethnicity. The use of ‘subjective’ is to indicate the ‘ambiguity’ of the definition. In Lebanon for example the political system is known as confessionalism, in which religion is deeply tied to ideology and ethnicity, thus making it difficult to really distinguish any ethnic group.

It is also important to define ethnic exclusion, or discrimination rather, so as to demonstrate how this exclusion is being gauged. Members of an ethnic group that are excluded from government or discriminated against are subject to intentional, targeted disenfranchisement. Discrimination entails limiting access to government positions to citizens who speak a certain language, exhibit phenotypical features or members of a particular faith. Discrimination can be informal too, that is – it can exist without legal enforcement, if a society actively prevents a particular ethnic group from mobilizing in that society (Tezcur & Gurses 2017). An example of ethnic exclusion or discrimination includes African-Americans until the civil rights movement. Some might argue that informal discrimination persists today (Wimmer, Cederman & Min 2009).

On the other hand, inclusion can be described as institutional accommodation, beyond nominal laws, intended to help raise social status and political representation levels of ethnic minorities. The Civil Rights Act of 1995 & Affirmative Action are two examples of such accommodations in the US (Porter 2003).

Inclusion is a key concept in this article, particularly because I focus on Kazakhstan’s unique institutional infrastructure, the APK, which reduces the risk of ethnic conflict. The theoretical basis of my argument on the positive relationship between ethnic inclusion and ethnic conflict draws from Remmer’s model of Natural Cultural Autonomy. Remmer’s model suggests that ethnic inclusion does reduce the chances of ethnic conflict, but that this inclusion must go beyond mere laws. In other words, institutions and policies must be in practice that wholly address and accommodate the needs of ethnic minorities based on their experiences in given states (Porter 2003).

Ethnic conflicts occur in a multi-ethnic state, have been going on some time, and appear to be difficult to resolve. An ethnic conflict is a disagreement about political, economic, cultural, or territorial issues between two or more ethnic communities (Brown 1993).

The most distinct feature of ethnic conflict is the explicit targeting of a group on the basis of a shared culture (Weber 1978). It is a long lasting tension between two groups that wish to advance their interests (Ismayilov 2008). In non-ethnic conflict, members of the same ethnic group might be in conflict, whereas ethnic conflict is distinctly between two separate groups on the basis of their subjective cultural differences and the political implications therein. As the literature indicates, as with many abstract political concepts, there is little consensus on the definition of ethnicity. The use of ‘subjective’ is to indicate the ‘ambiguity’ of the definition. In Lebanon for example the political system is known as confessionalism, in which religion is deeply tied to ideology and ethnicity, thus making it difficult to really distinguish any ethnic group.

The literature is vast on ethnic conflict, but there is almost no focus on the relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict (Fearon 2003). Instead most researchers focus on secessionist movements or insurgencies, but not on mere violent clashes, pogroms, and massacres. Furthermore, the literature suggests that most ethnic conflict is the result of collapsing authoritarian regimes, but this does not account for the occurrence of ethnic conflict in one region, and not the other (Ismayilov 2008).

The emergence of ethnic nationalism, such as in Azerbaijan, makes ethnic conflict much more likely. The rise of ethnic nationalism in one group can be seen as threatening by others. But even Kazakhstan, and most other post-soviet states exhibited high rates of nationalism for the sake of nation building. The mere disintegration of the authoritarian, cross-national empire of the USSR left a vacuum of power and the need for new states to emerge and address collective political needs. Not all states exhibited the same degree of nationalism. There is a distinction between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in this regard. Neither country is democratic by any means, but Kazakhstan has clear institutional differences in terms of ethnic minority inclusion. So what is this difference? A degree of political development, or institutionalized representation and inclusion has the potential to help mitigate ethnic tension by allowing for the establishment of an inclusive means of governance to address the needs of all ethnic groups in the state. This inclusiveness goes beyond just mere protection of minorities but accommodates and addresses grievances (Porter 2003). Now that we understand these important concepts and their definitions, of ethnicity and ethnic conflict, and the various sources of dispute, and expression of grievances, we can apply this reasoning to the two cases. I’ll begin first with Kazakhstan followed by an assessment of its ethnic harmony and the presence of robust institutions that enable it, followed by a section on ethnic exclusion, discrimination & ethnic conflict.

Shared Histories

The history of the Caspian is rather unique, rich with a prevalence of tribalism, nomadism, and clan relations. This was further enriched by the arrival of Islam, and the legacy of imperial dominance by Russia & Iran. The USSR would eventually encompass the entire region. It’s eventual collapse lead to the modern independent Kazakh & Azerbaijani republics. The purpose of this segment is to demonstrate how these historical similarities, while sharing some resemblance, do not ensure a shared degree of political stability and ethnic harmony.

The history of the Caspian region as populated with nomadic, tribal people with clan-based hierarchies greatly reflects in the political structures of the states therein. Nomadism has played a huge role in the histories of both Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan. In modern times, this is expressed through informal social institutions such as nepotism and patronage. That these societies embrace informality arguably induces corruption. Neither Kazakhstan nor Azerbaijan experienced autonomy until after the dissolution of the USSR. Before the USSR, Kazakhstan was mainly under the auspices of Russia, and Azerbaijan was ruled by Iran.

Traditionally, the influx of ideas, religions and cultures came along what is now called the Silk Route, connecting the east and west through trade networks and other forms of cultural interaction. Prior to the introduction of Islam by Arab warriors into the region in the 8th century, the Caspian region exhibited a diverse religious demography, including the mystical Shamanism, Tengrianism & Buddhism (Edelbay 2011).

USSR & Independence

Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan’s integration into the USSR only reinforced the tradition of authoritarianism and the centralization of power. They have carried on even into the post-soviet era (Tokaev 2004).

The disintegration of the USSR produced a vacuum of power. This vacuum was either to be filled by extremists or a continued legacy of authoritarianism. Kazakhstan & Azerbaijan, like most Caspian states, chose the latter. Similar security measures to the USSR were adopted, continuing the legacy of Soviet-inspired police-state. The only difference was that Moscow had essentially less control over the region it once easily swallowed up.

Azerbaijan & Kazakhstan also share linguistic roots. Both languages are Turkic in origin. This renders them an even more ideal comparison. Perhaps most importantly of all commonalities – both states are among the top twenty-five oil-exporters in the world.

Ethnic Inclusion & Harmony in Kazakhstan

In Kazakhstan, this accommodation exists via the establishment and continued involvement and development of the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan or APK.

Prominent ethnic groups include Uzbeks, Tatars, Uighurs, Chechens, Koreans, Turks, Azerbaijanis & Germans (Nyussupova 2011). It is important to note that the population of Russians is the second largest. Before independence, Kazakhstan’s own national ethnic group, the Kazakhs, comprised less than 40% of the total population. During this time Russian was more widely spoken. Following independence however, Kazakh was nationalized as the official language. Furthermore, quite recently, Kazakh’s became the official ethnic majority within their own national boundaries for the first time in their history (Karin 2002).

To highlight the significance of demography, the presence of Uzbeks in southern Kazakhstan provide insight into the assertion that modern Central Asia is an artificial creation traced back to the initial “cutting up” of the region by USSR leaders. It is likely that the environment and conditions created by these “partitions” created much of the imbalance and instability in the region today. Despite being Uzbek by ethnicity, Kazakh Uzbeks are loyal to the soil in which they have inhabited for centuries. That ethnic irredentism really highlights the role of the New Great Game in determining the overall demographic structure and dynamic of Kazakhstan, and Central Asia altogether (Oka 2009).

Relative to his Central Asian neighbors, President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has witnessed under his rule a relatively stable and harmonious interethnic relationship in his country. This is most likely attributed to Kazakhstan’s overall moderate approach to policy, which sees a balancing of foreign, domestic, and minority interests, contrary to Ilham Aliyev’s cult-like rule in Azerbaijan.

Nazarbayev rules with more pragmatism. Kazakhstan has witnessed no significant episodes of violent deteriorations of society.

More importantly perhaps, is how Nazarbayev’s vision of stability and harmony expressed itself domestically. Through the establishment of the People’s Assembly of Kazakhstan in 1995, ethnic minorities are represented in this legislative body, which is intended to protect, preserve and celebrate their rights as well as the ethnic pluralism, which defines Kazakhstan. The APK (Assembly of People of Kazakhstan) consists of 384 representatives of all ethnic groups in the state (Jones 2010). The APK elects nine members to the Majlis; Kazakhstan’s lower-chamber of Parliament. Finally, all laws passed by the legislature must meet a certain criteria ensuring ethnic harmony, a significant check on executive power protecting ethnic minorities.

Kazakhstan has successfully employed national efforts to promote cultural tolerance and cohesiveness through its making of the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan. National efforts to promote cultural/ethnic tolerance include: insuring each ethnic group has a voice within the government through policies, organizations, assemblies etc., granting all minorities equal rights and representation within the country, not using ethnicity as a tool for political mobilization but instead creating a “national identity” for everyone to be apart of equally (one that does not have to do with ethnic background at all but rather being a citizen of the said country), creating equal opportunities in the business realm for all ethnic groups, instilling strict laws against ethnic discrimination even down to ethnic slurs, as well as promoting peace through cultural events, parades, and the alike. The APK exemplifies directly national efforts in promoting cultural/ethnic tolerance and cohesiveness.

It has become evident that Kazakhstan’s politicians are aware of the need for inter-ethnic accord, in order to maintain political stability. Institutionally, Kazakhstan’s laws prevented the formation of political parties along ethnic lines; instead, in 1995 – by order of executive decree, President Nursultan Nazarbayev established the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in March 1995, a legislative and presidential consultative body, largely touted by Kazakh officials as a representation of the nation’s progressive policies.

Ultimately though, the APK has served mainly as a means for controlling ethnic minorities and securing a national Kazakh identity. This was underscored by the APK’s name-change, which was meant to signify its purpose as a unifying project. In other words, while the mission is to encourage harmony between ethnicities; the more underlying purpose is the stabilization of society under a unifying Kazakh identity.

The main objectives of the APK include the preservation of inter-ethnic harmony and political stability, developing new mechanisms for fostering healthy relations between various ethnicities and nationalities within the state; to promote spiritual and cultural enrichment; development and equality. Despite its ambiguity, and its close ties to the executive branch, considering it was the APK, which proposed extending Nazarbayev’s term, the APK enjoys a level of autonomy and influence on legislative matters, but a new decree centralizing the aim of the APK around Kazakhstani identity might raise some eyebrows (Jones 2010). The APK’s overarching goal is to essentially supervise ethnic groups and their leaders so as to make sure inter-ethnic harmony preserves Kazakhstan’s stability. The APK has been generally used to portray Kazakhstan’s image as an inter-ethnic paradise.

The Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan has generated many benefits for both Kazakh society as well as its political infrastructure. Since its creation over two decades ago, The APK has enabled minority ethnic groups the ability for representation, protection and preservation, a guarantee that does not exists not only in developing states, but in even some of the most developed states in the world experiencing minority and ethnic tensions today.

While many have criticized and simplified the APK has an extension of President Nazarbayev’s arm into political affairs, seeing as he is the official Chairman of the institution, these criticisms are premature and lack a clear objective understanding of the regional landscape and history. This isn’t to suggest that Kazakhstan is a democratic paradise, on the contrary. Kazakhstan exhibits significant shortcomings in press freedom, political opposition, and economic competition. Furthermore, its tremendous oil wealth, dubbed the resource curse, has often paralyzed the process of modernization. Still, the extent of ethnic inclusion, representation and national unity are unprecedentedly higher in Kazakhstan than any other Central Asian state (Oka 2004). As demonstrated in the research, ethnic conflict was rampant in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. A lack of representation and guaranteed protection for minorities, as well as a robust mechanism for preserving ethnic traditions, was accompanied by violent episodes between ethnic groups. In Azerbaijan, ethnic minorities are suppressed and institutions like the APK in Kazakhstan are absent. There are no constitutional provisions that protect minorities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, Ukrainians, Russians, Germans, Kurds, Armenians, etc.

The mere fact that the APK has legislative authority, representation and leverage as well as the presence of explicit constitutional provisions that protect ethnic minorities both underscore the distinct degree of internal political development in Kazakhstan (Jones 2010) This cannot be easily dismissed as a product of its resource abundance relative to its neighbors, considering, even other post-Soviet states endowed with oil, like Azerbaijan, are substantially more discriminatory towards ethnic minorities. Oil itself has neither stifled nor promoted political development to coincide with economic development. Rather, it has existed as a mere backdrop feature, while ethnic minorities’ fates remain largely in the political landscape and culture of the host nation. That is why in Kazakhstan, cultural and religious tolerance together have resulted in a less contentious atmosphere, the necessary precondition for ethnic inclusion and institutional development in that regard.

The most important element of this research is the consideration of the regional implications as well as the theoretical implications. This research does not suggest that Kazakhstan is in any way an advanced democratic state, but rather, that it has made significant and commendable strides to protect its ethnic minorities which have in most other cases suffered tremendous discrimination, violence and destitution. Ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan contrarily, have access to social, political and economic capital to advance their ethnic groups in society, protecting their heritage’s past and future (Oka 2010).

Furthermore other research on the region vindicates these assertions as Kazakhstan has exhibited political stability and interethnic harmony since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. This has not been the case for other Central Asian & Post-Soviet States, where ethnic conflict and exclusion are simultaneously prevalent. Even where there is abundant oil, or the lack there of – when there are ongoing wars, or the lack thereof – ethnic conflict exists wherever there is an absence of political institutions designed to accommodate and advance their needs.

Even in the US and in most European countries like Germany, Northern Ireland and Denmark, there are various institutions and accommodations designed to integrate minorities into society and politics. The EPR data indicates that in situations where such accommodations are made, ethnic conflict is less likely to occur. Contrarily, the absence of institutional provisions meant to protect and integrate ethnic minorities beyond mere cultural tolerance will result in conflict.

Equally said is the need for more improvement for political development and minority protection in Kazakhstan, given that most provisions are often nominal, at the discretion of the Chairman & President, Nazarbayev. Furthermore, the low level of democracy in Kazakhstan renders even the most genuine of efforts to accommodate minority groups as politicized interests. The APK itself is limited in that it can likely be abolished or ignored at the discretion of Nazarbayev given the two branches clash (Tussupova 2010). As with most cases in Kazakhstan, the executive branch tends to overpower the others. Kazakhstan boasts of a many ethnic minorities, but it appears that granting the APK only 9 seats in parliament or the Majlis, is disproportionate to their population. Such improvements could further legitimize the APK as an institution of minority protection and ethnic harmony. Furthermore, Kazakhstan must work to integrate ethnic minorities into all facets of Kazakh society, include the economy. Limits on free press and political opposition also stifle the representative potential of the APK (Jones 2010).

Still it is worth noting that its mere existence is a stride towards democracy. As demonstrated, in places around the world where ethnic groups are excluded and underrepresented, there is higher chance that conflict might spur (Jones 2010).

Ethnic Exclusion & Conflict in Azerbaijan

In stark contrast, on the other side of the Caspian Sea, is the case of Azerbaijan. There are four major cases of ethnic conflict in Azerbaijan, including tensions with Armenians, Kurds, Lezgins & Talysh. The situation with Armenia is likely the worst, and involves a ‘secessionist’ movement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefor the NK conflict can be seen as a product of three ambitions, ethnic power balance in Azerbaijani politics as well as self-determination & territorial secession. The history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be traced to the dissolution of the USSR. The decentralization of power, and the vacuum of power left by the absence of an authoritarian central authority, led to the emergence of nationalist movements. In many cases, arbitrary boundaries and geographic heritages were even further confused. Following the establishment of post-soviet republics such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, conflict ensued between Azerbaijan and its Armenian population. Nagorno-Karabakh is 80% Armenian in population, but remains within the boundaries of Azerbaijan. An utter suppression and discrimination of Armenian culture, language and freedom is part of policy in Azerbaijan. Various pogroms and massacres of Armenians prompted a mass exodus to Armenia and NK from the Azerbaijani mainland. This mass exodus numbers up to 350,000 Armenians (Country Report 2015). Prior to the onset of the conflict, which began in the 80s, inter-ethnic tensions were brewing. A series of pogroms, such as the Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad or Maraga targeted Armenian minorities in Azerbaijan. In essence, “Armenophobia is institutionalized and engrained into Azerbaijani statehood & Karabakh is at the center of this “policy”.

Some of the approximately 20,000 to 30,000 citizens of Armenian descent living in the country reported discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of social services. Ethnic Armenians often concealed their ethnicity by legally changing the ethnic designation in their passports. There were no reports of violence against Armenians during the year. Some groups reported sporadic incidents of discrimination, restrictions on their ability to teach in their native languages, and harassment by local authorities. These groups included Talysh in the south, Lezgins in the north, and Meskhetians and Kurds (Country Reports on Human Rights 2015).

Destruction of cemeteries so as to erase Armenian history and heritage, the targeting of religious infrastructure, denying entry, linguistic suppression are all policy practices of the Azerbaijani state, which explicitly target and discriminate against Armenians.

The Lezgins exhibit a different condition. They are now considered the most vocal minority claiming discrimination in Azerbaijan (Fayos 2014). They make up the second-largest group in Azerbaijan. Lezgins often disguise themselves as Azeris to avoid losing job opportunities or discrimination in education. As a result, current official statistics in Azerbaijan have arbitrarily reduced the population.

In 1989, another ethnic minority, the Talysh gained the right to register as a distinct ethnic group. The accurate number of Talysh in Azerbaijan may be much higher than census results, which is due to the suppression of their identity, language and culture, “leading to internalized self-repression”. Azerbaijan lacks any robust, comprehensive legislation regarding ethnic minorities. The presidential decree of 1992 is insufficient in this sense. It lacks a “national framework for minority rights protection” and limits the focus to arts and crafts. Azerbaijan also lacks legislation to tackle anti-discriminations issues (Fayos 2014).

Institutionally level there is no specific body to deal with minority issues, unlike the APK in Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan does have the “Office of the Ombudsman”, which aims to compensate for this void. The focus of the state is less on minority inclusion and more on preventing secessionist movements. Such is symbolic of the paranoia, which dictates the Azerbaijani regime, compared to Kazakhstan’s harmonious and unifying approach.

There are few institutions as mentioned before which aim to support ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan, but none of them, neither the Forum of Religious Communities of Azerbaijan nor the Coordination Council of the Cultural Centers of National Minorities are involved in policy-making . They serve merely as consultative bodies and nominal entities. This is in sharp contrast to the APK in Kazakhstan, which not only protects and preserves ethnic minority culture – it grants them representation in the national legislature and the ability to propose laws.

Furthermore indicative of Azerbaijan’s ethnic exclusion is the fact that it has still not ratified the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The fact that Azerbaijan actively promotes the usage of the Azeri language underscores the need for some type of institutional protection for ethnic minority groups. Unlike Kazakhstan where the populace relatively respects laws and institutions, the “Law on State Language” in Azerbaijan, undermines any of the constitutional provisions, which guarantee minority ethnic groups linguistic rights. There is, however, a lack of national legislation for preserving and promoting the use of minority languages (Fayos 2014).

The downside of being accepted into greater Azerbaijani society is that minorities risk losing their languages. Indeed, while some minorities appear to be maintaining their level of linguistic other ethnic groups appear to be losing ground to linguistic assimilation; many members of the largest groups (e.g. the Talysh and the Lezgins) have expressed displeasure at this outcome, requesting greater government attention (Marquardt 2011).

Some researchers claim that Azerbaijani policy of appeasing minorities without giving them real rights is in fact comparable to Kazakhstan’s ‘multiculturalism’. I challenge this notion because in Kazakhstan ethnic minorities have legislative representatives that can actually vote on national policy (Marquardt 2011).

To the Azerbaijani state, ethnic identity is associated with the events in Nagorno-Karabakh; the Talysh state which was briefly declared in 1993 and the Lezgins independence movement, which began in the early 1990s. Likewise, these groups are seen as easily manipulated by outside forces that wish to harm Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. The Azeri government sees all ethnic identity movements as imperial schemes by Russia to instigate separatism, whether it is among the Legniz or the Armenians (Marquardt 2011).

Data

I use Ethnic Power Relations 3.0 to help demonstrate the relationship between ethnic exclusion and ethnic conflict. The dataset identifies 150 politically relevant ethnic groups and their access to state power between 1946-2010. The dataset includes 157 countries and 758 ethnic groups, and measures the degree of exclusion from government ranging from total representation to over discrimination.

Table 1 displays effects of changes in independent variables. By increasing the excluded population from 6% to 32% (Wimmer, Cederman, & Min 2009), it results in a 25% increase in the likelihood of ethnic conflict. Imperial rule between 1816 and independence increases the chance of armed conflict by 13% only. As a whole, the data demonstrates that changes in exclusion of ethnic groups produces the greatest increase in the risk of ethnic conflict.

The regression results in Table 2 & 3 (attached as PDFs due to size & clarity) indicate that variables such imperial past did not have an effect as statistically significant on ethnic conflict as the variable of ethnic exclusion. In other words, the USSR’s legacy of imperialism in the Caspian is not as statistically significant to overall ethnic conflict as one might expect. The same logic applies to oil. The data indicates that oil is nowhere near as significant as ethnic exclusion in its relationship to conflict.

Conclusion

The purpose of this research is to demonstrate that ethnic inclusion leads to ethnic harmony and less conflict. This is because institutional representation of ethnic minorities addresses their grievances. As exhibited in Kazakhstan, proper measures to address ethnic minority rights can mitigate the possibility of conflict altogether. In sharp contrast, Azerbaijan has restricted minority rights, which has coincided with inter-ethnic war with Armenia, pogroms targeting Armenians, desecration of cemeteries, linguistic discrimination, deportation of Kurds, and the suppression of Legniz & Talysh national movements. The presence of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan ensures harmony and representation between ethnic groups. Furthermore, it protects, promotes and encourages minority languages, enabling them to be taught in schools and used openly without discrimination. The APK in Kazakhstan serves as a model for other developing countries struggling with ethnic conflict. Better policies aimed at ethnic inclusion and accommodation will lead to more harmony. The research & data indicates that even powerful forces like the resource curse – that is, the abundance of oil, does not ensure a decrease in the risk of ethnic conflict.

Bibliography

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Tezcür, Güneş Murat, and Mehmet Gurses. 2017. “Ethnic Exclusion and Mobilization: The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey.” Comparative Politics 49.2: 213-234.

Fayos. 2014. Minorities in the South Caucasus: New visibility amid old frustrations. European Parliament Policy Department. European Union.

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The Future of the Middle East: Islam versus the Radicals


Al-Fayhaa_Stadium_in_Damascus,_Syria_as_seen_from_Mount_Qasioun.jpg

A few years into the crisis, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad issued a stark warning to the international community, with perhaps more emphasis on what he referred to as the coalition funding the uprising, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Europe, the US and Israel. The president warned of the impending consequences of funding or supporting terrorist groups which he said would eventually turn against them. Remember that al Qaeda was originally supported by the US in its conflict against the USSR in Afghanistan. This is largely why al Qaeda has endured till today. Ironically, al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the deadliest terror attack on US soil – 9/11.

Terrorism is a reoccurring phenomenon. Its potential to exist cannot be ended. That is precisely why the so-called “War on Terror”, like the “War on Drugs” is futile. A war cannot be fought against an ideology or a concept.

But reducing terror, is not impossible. Neither is stability in the Middle East. Terrorism in the name of radical Islam is a relatively new phenomenon that emerged in the twentieth century, largely as a response to a series of actions undertaken by global powers.

The emergence of ISIS, which has overshadowed al Qaeda, has prompted a new opportunity for previously tense relations between Arab states to improve, out of necessity not necessarily genuine conviction.

The country of Syria has historically stood its ground in the front against foreign occupation. For this reason, global powers utilized terrorism and exploited Arab grievances to their advantage, an unoriginal tradition of US foreign policy. In fact Syria is referred to as the beating heart of Arabism.

Putin’s Russia foreign policy is largely a response to US imperial overreach. The illusion of capitalism and conservative politics being mutually exclusive from imperialism is becoming more apparent. Western democracy is being threatened by the age-old western tradition of absolutism. Furthermore, democracy is being threatened by mob-rule and populist right-wing fascism, which has engulfed England as evidenced by ‘Brexit’, and may soon engulf the US, as evidenced by the rise of Donald Trump and the New Conservative Class.

Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia have provided a rare opportunity for Arab states to cooperate. This sense of unity has only become hopeless and scarce because of the history of foreign domination of this region. Has there have been a fully united Arab world? If so, certainly it hasn’t been for long enough, since the Islamic empires were largely Asian and Turkish in orientation. Ottoman Islam, like European colonialism, and historical imperialism all took from the opportunity for Arab nationalism, unity and sovereignty. Furthermore, it reduced Arab culture to narrow, dogmatic religious traditions. The source of this fanaticism is mainly the Gulf, which has exported radical Islam globally. That the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is allied to the US is elusive. How can terrorism be genuinely reduced if the perpetrator is allied with the force against it?

Why is there always a security menace in the Middle East, meant to justify security policy and foreign occupation?

If the world leader, the United States of America, is devoted to securing a better world, it must tackle the problem afflicting the Middle East as a threat to the Islamic world. Islamic terrorism, like US imperialism, have together reduced security in the Muslim world. Coercive democratization efforts, funding of terrorists, regime-change and military invasion have reduced security in the Muslim world.

Why is the US playing this contradictory role? How does it benefit?

The easy answer is oil. But countries like Turkey remain closely linked to the US despite its lack of resource abundance. The resource-curse cannot explain why the US is heavily involved in security coordination with Turkey.

The geopolitical location of the Middle East, as the buffer zone between East and West; the democratic-capitalist and the orthodox-authoritarian world. As a result, this region has been perpetually plagued by security initiatives, led by the West and the East, which is meant to suppress Middle Eastern sovereignty, and to preserve the elite dominance of Russia, China, England and America.

The most important element of political stability is sovereignty.

If the sovereignty of the Middle East is realized and respected, terrorism can be reduced.

But this age-old tug-o-war between world powers over dominion of the Middle East is not entirely original and for this reason it has been referred to as the New Great Game, whereas the old power players were the UK and Russia; the UK has been replaced by the US.

But Russia’s role has been more of a counter-balance to the US. Only following WWII did communism fully take root in Russia. After that, the USSR became the world’s second greatest power. While many countries were coerced into allegiance to the USSR, some also did so willingly out of repulsion to Western imperialism – a sort of balancing. Similarly, many states balanced against the USSR, with their democratic allies forming then future NATO bloc.

The idea of a Shiite-Sunni conflict in the Middle East is an extension of American imperial propaganda meant to preserve the political apparatus which has dominated the Arabian peninsula for the past century – anarcho-capitalism & Islamo-fascism. These two forces, together, have caused the greatest socio-economic imbalance in the Middle East. Together, this social reality, fused with constant violations to Middle Eastern sovereignty have made this region the breeding ground for radicalism and terrorism. While Central Asia and Latin America share similar characteristics with the region, both have made substantial democratic reforms, and exhibit much less levels of political instability. What is the reason for the lag in the Middle East?

The world powers are bent on subjugating this region and preventing its sovereignty merely out of their imperial ambitions. The only institution meant to check these powers, the UN, is powerless in the face of global tyranny. Instead, the world points to radical Islam without realizing that it would not exist if these political realities also did not. It has much less to do with resources and regime-type as it does with the persistence of foreign occupation via Israel; US military invasions; covert operations; and terrorism. If the US was not culturally inclined towards domination-politics, a global balance of power could emerge limiting imperial overreach as well as reducing the incentive for imperial retaliatory measures such as those undertaken by Russia and the Soviet nations following WWII.

Diversity, secularism, stability and political development are not possible with the realization of the need for sovereignty, and the greatest disrupter of this possibility can be explained by constructivist theory which sees the tendency for hawkish foreign policy as a social construct of US political culture. If the warring tendency of capitalist-inclined states can be reduced, not only can true democracy unfold globally, but so to can violence be reduced. Pushing for democracy coercively will not solve the problem because political development must come from authentic national initiative. Any attempt by foreign powers to get involved is in their own self-interest.

Elements of realism, liberalism and constructivism must all be considered, but so too much constructivism. The distinct political cultures of states must be realized. Furthermore, sovereignty must be respected.

Is the problem imperial tendency or democracy or capitalism?

Democracy might not work in the Middle East. It might. But if it does, it won’t come from coercive foreign efforts. Even then, democracy is not universal in orientation and takes many forms, such as the Westminster model versus the consensual model. Elements such as term limits, referendums, votes of confidence, parliamentary representation, and other limits are distinct across different countries. Perhaps many Arab leaders do possess support of a majority of their populations. How can we know if the observation is tainted by war and foreign occupation?

Capitalism is disrupting democracy. Free markets and individual liberty are necessary for prosperity, happiness and stability – but so to is law and order. Sometimes, ideologies like capitalism can run rampant and overshadow human values.

The problem is imperial tendency – capitalism taken to an intolerable scale.

Once this extreme is mitigated, imperial overreach will too and political stability won’t be so scarce an opportunity on a global scale.

The majority of casualties as a result of radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims themselves. Furthermore, more than a quarter-million Iraqis have died since the beginning of the US invasion. The face of radicalism is not only Islamo-fascism, but also American imperialism. We can lump the Abu Bakr al Baghdadis, Zawahiris, bin Ladens, Kasimovs, Julanis, as well as the Dick Cheneys, Rumsfelds, Bushs, Saddam Husseins, Gaddafis, Kim Jong Uns, Dutertes all into the same bunch – individual with imperial ambitions and a disregard for human life and security.

Once laws are enacted to limit the potential for such individuals to exploit the political process in the US and abroad, sovereignty can be respected, political stability and human security can be fortified, and political development can be made possible. Until then, we remain paralyzed by power, money, terror & propaganda.

Evaluating the ‘Party of God’: Hezbollah, Conflict & Justice


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To determine Hezbollah’s overall success, the rather limited literature on the subject focuses on the organizations political achievements as well as their military achievements in the region (Norton 2007).

This is primarily because Hezbollah functions both as a political party in the Lebanese government, as well as an armed militia, a status that has not only complicated its position in Lebanese society, but has likely ostracized them from full representation in Lebanese politics (Norton 2007). Nevertheless, Hezbollah has utilized both tactics, political participation and competitiveness, as well as militaristic strategies, which have historically included terrorist attacks, particularly against Israeli society.

The premise for much of Hezbollah’s motives rests on political disenfranchisement, which they see as an extension of Western imperialism as well as a violation of popular consent (Norton 2007). Sectarianism, in this perspective, is a product of foreign interventionism. But over the years, Hezbollah has shifted from utilizing violent tactics, to political mobilization, particularly since the 80s, but especially in the last decade. This is a result of the aftermath of the civil war, which finally gave Hezbollah seats in parliament (Zein & Abusalem 2016).

Hezbollah has positioned itself as an authentic political force in Lebanese society, fighting against foreign aggression. For this reason, in times of conflict such as the war with Israel in 2006, disproportionate reprisals by Israeli governments enabled Hezbollah to not only garner support from the Shia community, but also from Palestinians, pro-Syrians and Christian-Lebanese (Kattan 2006). It has managed to increase its influence, despite its limited integration into Lebanese society. An established economic and public sector as well as a sophisticated media presence is a sign of the organization’s successes overtime in achieving its objectives (Zein & Abusalem 2016). The organization’s primary objectives are political in orientation, emphasizing the need for sovereignty, social justice and representation, which contrasts other groups like al Qaeda, whose motives are more ideological, and religiously driven (Zein & Abusalem 2016). Hezbollah’s leader has suggested himself that an Islamic Lebanon is likely impossible due to popular consent, which is against this (Norton 2007).

Hezbollah’s emphasis on unity and solidarity with all Lebanese challenges the conventional grouping, usually by western scholars, of this organization with other terrorist organizations (Norton 2007). The political dynamics of Lebanon complicate the matter, making it difficult to discern Hezbollah as a state or non-state actor. The complications surrounding the definition of terrorism also does not make it easy to analyze these groups and their successes (Sirriyeh 2012). Furthermore, its activity in electoral politics distinguishes it from terror groups that reject all pluralistic, un-Islamic forms of government, such as Fatah-al-Islam, al Qaeda & Daesh.

From a political angle, the literature reveals that Hezbollah has made steady gains, though it faces a steep, upward climb. This is due both to its military, social and electoral initiatives. In 1983, Hezbollah’s “alleged” attack against a US marine barracks, prompting an immediate US withdrawal from Lebanon (Sirriyeh 2012). Till today, Hezbollah denies involvement in the attack that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hairiri. Nonetheless, a history of involvement in terror attacks & hostage crises has tarnished the organization’s image and credibility as a viable political party. This however has not halted its increased integration into the Lebanese political atmosphere. Its resilience against Israeli forces in 2006 as well as its continued activity in the Lebanese government are reasons to believe that, while controversial, its determination and diligence has proved to be politically rewarding. While proportional representation, sovereignty and the cause of the Palestinians are three objectives, which are far from achieved, Hezbollah’s political position over the past few decades has undoubtedly improved (Norton 2007).

Since the 80s, Hezbollah has distanced itself from suicide attacks and international bombing campaigns, which underscores its focus on national politics and its armed conflict with Israel. Perhaps it might be argued that Hezbollah’s deeper integration into Lebanese politics has reduced the incentive for terrorism, particularly within Lebanon. Now more than ever, the focus seems to be on reducing foreign influence and occupation. In this regard, they have proven to be successful, by defending Lebanon against Israeli forces in 2006 (Erlanger et al 2006). It is still to early to deem their overall objectives successful, but they surely have improved their position ultimately in the Middle East.

Hezbollah would not be a militant organization and Lebanon would not be politically sectarian or unstable if the conditions of the Middle East was sovereign.

Let us say that Hezbollah is in fact guilty of terrorism. Still, it cannot be compared to other groups like al Qaeda because it is nationalist in ideology, and respects Lebanese pluralism and diversity. If the West was not directly involved in the political structure of Lebanese society, by engraining a system of confessionalism along sectarian lines and disenfranchising a majority of Lebanese society, there would be no incentive for instability or radicalism. Sovereignty and pluralism are necessary – but neither is possible with foreign meddling. Foreign nations cannot dictate the sovereign and domestic affairs of another country. Political development and social justice are impossible therein.

 

El Zein, H, & Abusalem, A. 2016. “Mobilization in Hezbollah’s Military Arm Media Discourse: Creating and maintaining a Public Sphere in Lebanon.” Professional Communication & Transition Studies. 997-104.

Erlanger, S., & Oppel, R. 2006. “A Disciplined Hezbollah Surprises Israel with its Training, Tactics and Weapons”. The New York Times.

Kattan, V. 2006. “Israel, Hezbollah and the Conflict in Lebanon: An Act of Aggression or Self-Defense?” Human Rights Brief.

Norton, Augustus Richard. 2007. “The Role of Hezbollah in Lebanese Domestic Politics.” The International Spectator. 42. 475-491.

Sirriyeh, H. (2012). The US, Hezbollah and the Idea of Sub-state Terrorism. Israel Affairs. 18. 652-662.

Is Islam Experiencing Its Enlightenment?


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A common theme in criticism of the Assad regime among Syrians themselves is that the government has given minorities like Alawites (Shiite offshoot), Christians and Armenians privileged statuses that surpasses those of the average Sunni Muslim, by a far margin and for long periods of time.

The majority of Syria is Sunni Muslim, and lives in either wretched poverty or stagnant economic conditions that result from rentier-policies of the government.

The argument that Syrian Sunnis participate actively in government is true. But there is a huge discrepancy in income and social status between Syrian Sunnis and Syrian Sunnis in government who adhere to the Baathist and Assadist “cult of personality”.

I would liken Shiism to Catholicism, and Sunni Islam to Protestantism, in historical relevance, as suggested by Iranian-American religious scholar Reza Aslan. Shiism is more prone to mysticism, intermediation between man and God, sainthood, and collectivism. Similarly is catholicism, particularly in France and Latin America. Sunni Islam stresses private property and individualism in politics, which is reminiscent of the Protestant “work ethic” offered by Max Weber. Furthermore, strict Sunni doctrine forbids intermediaries like saints between man and God. Both cultures are equally conservative, but in some cases, such as in Lebanon, Sunni Muslims exhibit the most liberal cultural values, both economically and socially. Perhaps this suggests that why Sunni Islamic orthodoxy is most prevalent in the Gulf Region, which holds a much more sentimental value for Islam than the Levant.

The deprivations in Syria of Sunni Muslims, in their ability to participate in politics and elevate their statuses socially and economically, reflects a similar struggle endured by minorities like Alawites themselves during previous administrations, particularly during the Ottoman period. The solution to the woes of Alawites was Socialism – because it prevented, like Ottoman times, the participation of the average Syrian Sunni. The political disenfranchisement of the majority of Syrian Sunnis over time from political representation resulted in the build up of anger, which manifested in religious radicalization. Would radicalism cease with the end of political disenfranchisement of Sunni Muslims in the Syria political process?

Is the great break which developed between Catholicism and Protestantism comparable to Shiism and Sunni tensions? The dimensions are both political and theological, as mentioned by Liz Hazleton. The theological are more obvious, with conflicts stemming from the succession crisis. But was authoritarianism and the disenfranchisement of those dissenting against the Church the motive? Perhaps not. In this case, the war in Syria is seemingly more about the problem of authoritarianism. In this regard, the Syrian civil war could be compared to the English Civil War challenging the authoritarian rule of Charles I. While Syria is not a kingdom, very few countries in the Middle East are not authoritarian. Syria is included. Could the Arab World be struggling for the same concept of “popular sovereignty” demanded by the English, and then later by the French and the Americans? Is the Islamic World experiencing its political enlightenment?

A liberalized Middle East, at least with respect to political enfranchisement and economic mobilization, might reduce terrorism. While conservatism takes hold in the Middle East, so too has conservatism challenged liberal values in the West even today. This gives hope for the future. This is not to suggest that authoritarianism is the only cause of instability, but based on this perspective, it can be convincing.

Sufi in America


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While I stand with solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters, I must make the statement that not all Muslims have long beards, wear hijabs or are super religious.

In fact, my interpretation of Islam would likely be deemed too liberal for the hardline orthodoxy. But that’s when things get political. Just keep in mind, there is a difference between intellectual Islam, spiritual Islam, orthodox Islam and politicized Islam.

I do believe in moderating one’s behavior, in moderation, which means hardliners and orthodox Muslims are out of place when they pass judgment upon other Muslims (and non-muslims too, but for the sake of the subject, I will focus on inter-Islamic relations).

Many of the misconceptions about Islam are politically engineered, so I don’t even bother addressing them, because I know in my heart that Islam at its inception would have been averse to the modern forms of politicized Islam or Islamism that pervades the Muslim world.

The most important aspect of religion has little to do with rules, dogmas and tradition, a mon avis. On the contrary, the primary message of Islam is one of the heart; of compassion and kindness. But the focus these days is on “limiting behavior”. To me, this is un-Islamic.

We need religious clerics to stop playing God, and for money to stop falling into their hands.

Book Review – Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & The Great Games by Eric Walberg


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Walberg, Eric. Postmodern imperialism: geopolitics and the great games. SCB Distributors, 2011.

Recent history has introduced a period of heightened military conflicts, uprisings and contentions. This has resulted in many shifts in global patterns. Competitiveness between empires has intensified and further complicated the quest for understanding the global political dynamic. In his book, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & the Great Games, author Eric Wahlberg seeks to clear the air. The author’s main premise is to illustrate the shift from a bi-polar global dynamic, once dominated by the US on one end and the Soviet Union on the other, to a unipolar world, where the US is largely uncontested in its position as the global hegemony. Proxy wars, insurgent movements and radical militants have filled this void, which, as the author argues, has pinned the US and its main ally against anti colonial movements, Israel, against a loosely defined cooperative of movements and states, as well as a ambiguous enemy – the terrorist.

The author presents a historical backdrop from which he draws his assertions. This stretches from the earliest expression of the Great Games to their modern manifestations, as the Wars on Terror, and the neoconservative crusade for democracy. The consequence is increased exploitation of resources and the rise of untraceable insurgent networks that target their national governments as much as western societies. The double-dealings and inconsistencies of the West are evident here, which taints the reputation of western civilization. This is underscored by the author’s sympathies with the anti-capitalistic Soviet philosophical foundation.

The book is divided into five segments, organized chronologically, in which the author elaborates on the historical backdrop of the Great Game dynamic which has led to the current landscape. Wahlberg begins with the 19th century onset of the great games as played out between the British and Russian empires, followed by the communist revolution, WWII, the Cold War and the post 9/11 era. The author focuses on the British tactic of pinning forces against each other, a strategy which has been arguably adopted by the US in modern times, evidenced by its double-dealings with authoritarians and the radical insurgent movements threatening to depose them.

The three major sections in the book are categorized as GG I, II and III. GG stands for Great Games, and each numeric represents a period in time, in respective chronological order, beginning with the games as they panned out in the early 19th century, onto the WWII period, and finally, to GGIII, the post-cold war era. GGI refers to imperialism that took place during the nineteenth century until WWII. GGII covers the Cold War in which the two global superpowers, the USA and the USSR, competed for global influence.  GGIII is focused on the post-Cold War era beginning in 1989 to the present. Imperialism cannot be discussed without dissecting the role of the British Empire, a main focus of the author throughout the book. The British assumed hegemonic power by constructing a global economic network which would serve the interests of the core to the misfortune of the periphery, and where diplomacy failed, the use of military power was utilized.  The key focus of the book is the Middle East and Central Asia, “the heart of Eurasia”. It has been argued that the Eurasian heartland is a key geographic location; in other words, he who that controls the heartland controls the world.

The author suggests that in modern times, Islamic movements have replaced communism as the new anti-imperial force. The two primary agents of imperialism, argues Wahlberg, is an alliance between the US and Israel. The war on Iraq, and subsequent interventions in Libya and Egypt, are expressions of this new imperialism, and perhaps fall right into the hands of the main players in the global Great Games. The author suggests increasing tensions and growing insurgencies as a direct result of a stubborn imperial alliance between the US & Israel. Rising tensions in the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia are indicators of this reality. The US’ inconsistent foreign policy will only further retaliatory measures. The players of the great game must decide once and for all what is of greater priority; playing a fair game, or winning.

Thoughts from a Syrian-American on the refugee crisis, Palestine & US foreign policy


I am a proud Syrian American who has lived here since 1996. Despite my struggles with immigration, and the reluctance of the US to recognize me as American as any other, I still do love this country. I love it and its imperfections. I know, deep down, the heart of America is pure. It has stains from a past of injustice, but I believe our future can be brighter and more accessible to all Americans, not just a privileged few. I also believe that, despite the national media’s attempt to slander Islam, that we will overcome this trying time, together, as Americans. I do believe that the most important issue of our time still remains the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. Its implications cannot be overlooked as they are tied to every single act of conflict in the world that emanates from the Middle East. Before we can start speaking about justice, we must reflect on the human rights violations perpetrated by Israel and its cohorts against the humanity of the Palestinian people. Those of you who have been distracted by recent events, have been brainwashed by mass media to forget the source of Arab misery, the indignation that comes with occupation, and the policy implications that result from it. Without a colonial, ethnocentric theocracy in the Middle East, Israel, entities like Saudi Arabia couldn’t survive; and neither could the entire Gulf, which is built on conflict, tension and arbitrary thievery of resources. The Israeli minority continues to rule the Middle East through a system of apartheid, divide and conquer, and as long as media outlets in the West continue to ignore the significance of the violation of Palestinian human rights, the tougher the road will be in trying to mitigate political violence, conflict and instability.