The World Today for October 17, 2019

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Letting the Genie Out

The Turkish-Syrian border is on fire, according to Kurdish officials who spoke to Reuters recently.

Everyone from Capitol Hill to the Middle East and beyond knows why.

Last week, US President Donald Trump pulled the small contingent of American soldiers from the border region that had been controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mostly Kurdish rebel group and key US ally that has been fighting the Syrian army and Islamic State militants in the Syrian Civil War.

The issue is, for years, Turkey – also a US ally and a NATO member – has been fighting Kurdish insurgents who seek to establish an independent Kurdistan in the country’s east. The Kurds are an ethnic group concentrated in a geographical region that straddles parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

Turkish leaders can’t abide a disciplined, well-armed Kurdish force to their south. The presence of American troops had been preventing a Turkish invasion. Now they’re gone. And the Turks are done biding their time.

The Syrian Kurds are now desperate. Civilians have pitched tents along the border to act as a human shield to stop or slow the Turkish forces. “I was there until 3 pm today in that tent of human shields,” Shahin Najib al-Ali told Al Jazeera. “The bombardment was raining close by in the east, west and south of the tents.”

Many Kurds are running away, rather than toward, the fighting. Tens of thousands are fleeing the war zone, the BBC reported, adding that migration officials fear as many as 300,000 people in the coming days might flee elsewhere, anywhere, to avoid violence – another refugee crisis in a region where the displacements have already ruined the lives of generations.

Refugees were on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s mind when European leaders condemned his decision to attack the SDF. He warned that he would “open the gates” of his country’s frontier on Europe and let as many as 3.6 million refugees in Turkey travel west if the international community dared to call the Turkish offensive “an invasion,” the Independent reported.

Before Erdogan made his threat, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali had warned that the Turkish president would use refugees as a bargaining chip with Europe, wrote CNBC. More recently, Bali warned that Erdogan would also threaten to release thousands of Islamic State fighters now held in detention camps overseen by the Kurds if he came under too much pressure to stop his troops’ advance or occupation.

In reality, Erdogan already has.

Now as American officials head to Turkey to talk Erdogan down on Thursday, the fragile balance in the region has been upended by the departure of a mere 1,000 US troops that somehow, by their presence, managed to keep chaos at bay.

The Kurds are now allied with their former enemies, the Syrian government, which is backed by the Russians and the Iranians, and which won back one-third of its territory overnight. They are all fighting against Turkey and its “terror force of Syrians” – the so-called Syrian National Army – trained and funded by Turkey, which thinks of itself as the heir-apparent to the now mostly vanquished rebel forces that fought the Syrian government, reported the Associated Press.

Except they are different, say analysts. Some are calling this group “extremist Turkish proxies,” not least because it includes members of Islamic State but also because of the brutality they have used in dealing with civilians over the past week, viciousness reminiscent of that specific terror group.

“The main problem with these forces is their criminality,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, told the AP, noting that they appear to be driven by a desire for power and money. “Hatred of Kurds, a sense of Arab chauvinism, complete intolerance for any dissent, and just a desire to make a profit is what’s driving most of the abuses.”

Now the Syrian National Army has pushed deep into northeastern Syria, an ethnically and religiously mixed region, raising fears of ethnic conflict and human rights abuses.

As if those that remain in the war-devastated region hadn’t had enough.



No Normalcy Here

Violence erupted between Indian security forces and residents of Kashmir Wednesday for the first time since mobile phone services were restored by India in an attempt to return the region to normalcy, reported Reuters.

Indian security forces killed three separatists in a gun battle after soldiers raided a southern Kashmiri village suspected of harboring separatists, two police sources reported.

India suspended phone and internet access in Kashmir and Jammu two months ago, just before revoking Article 370 in early August: That clause allowed the region special autonomy and  privileges, such as its own constitution and the freedom to make its own laws, the BBC reported.

Communications were restored Monday even as most locals still don’t have access. The region remains in lockdown.

The Muslim-majority region is claimed by both India and Pakistan.


Liberty, Equality…Maternity?

A bill extending reproductive rights by giving single women and lesbians access to fertility treatments was approved by France’s National Assembly earlier this week, marking the most significant social reform of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency to date, reported Irish news site, RTÉ.

The draft bioethics law would abolish the current restriction that only allows access to In vitro fertilization to heterosexual couples, reported Reuters. The proposed law, if passed, would cover the costs of fertility treatments for all women under 43.

The legislation will head to the upper house of parliament, the Senate, in January, where it could stall since conservative Republicans outnumber politicians from Macron’s centrist party, and many oppose the bill.

Meanwhile, demonstrations have already started: Earlier this month, about 75,000 protested against the proposal.


Peace Pipe

Marijuana might be legalized in Mexico within the month, a move which could help quell violence by drug cartels that has killed tens of thousands of people over the past decade, a prominent lawmaker told Reuters Mexico, the Spanish-language version of the news service.

A draft law on the table would allow for the personal use of marijuana as well as its sale, to be regulated by the new Mexican Institute for the Regulation and Control of Cannabis, according to Reuters Mexico. The bill would also authorize research into the drug as well as the creation of production cooperatives.

Senator Ricardo Monreal, coordinator of the ruling party in the Senate of the Republic, said the vote on the proposal could take place this week or next week. If the measure passes, the proposal would then move to the lower house for a vote.

Since taking office in December, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has named the decriminalization of cannabis as a key part of his strategy to fight organized crime.

Even so, Monreal noted the legislation could be delayed if Obrador pushes for a public referendum on the issue to be held before any bill becomes law, according to the Independent.


Ancient Fans

Around 1,800 years ago, an ancient Thracian wrestler made such a big name for himself that his likeness was immortalized on a brass jar, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Although the athlete’s identity couldn’t be determined, archaeologists found the vessel in the shape of his head buried alongside the remains of a 35- to 40-year-old man in what is now southeastern Bulgaria in 2015.

The balsamarium – a container used to store oils, balm and other liquids – depicts the face of the wrestler sporting a broken nose and a tight-fitting cap made from the skin of a leopard or panther.

In their study, the researchers suggested that the balsamarium belonged to a Thracian aristocrat who was a huge fan of the fighter.

Apart from shedding light on ancient fandom, archaeologists also found a curved blade known as a strigil, used to scrape oil and dirt off one’s skin, which points to a hygienic function for the jar.

The authors theorized that the die-hard fan used the vessel for bathing and was so loyal that he used the same jar for more than 20 years.

“In our opinion, the grave belongs to a Thracian aristocrat, who has practiced sport in his everyday life, rather than to a professional athlete,” lead author Daniela Agre told Live Science.

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