The World Today for March 22, 2022

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A Caucasian Puzzle

ARMENIA

Armenian President Armen Sarkissian recently resigned from office because he felt that he possessed too little power. “The president does not have the necessary tools to influence the radical processes of domestic and foreign policy in these difficult times for the country…,” Sarkissian said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Armenian presidency is a largely ceremonial position, one that is now filled by Vahagn Khachatrian, an economist and veteran politician, after being sworn in on March 13. Sarkissian, meanwhile, is not one to be satisfied with symbolic authority.

A tycoon with numerous business interests, Sarkissian helped create an offshoot of the popular computer game Tetris, wrote the Armenian-Mirror Spectator. Elected in 2018, he was president in April 2018 during the Velvet Revolution that ousted the corrupt and autocratic Republican Party from power and helped negotiate a peaceful end to those tensions.

More recently, Sarkissian called on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign after Armenia’s loss against neighboring Azerbaijan, another ex-Soviet republic, in a 44-day war that resulted in Azerbaijan seizing control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within its borders, reported Eurasianet. More than 6,500 people perished in the fighting. He also chose not to support Pashinyan’s decision to fire the Armenian army’s chief of staff for allegedly planning a coup after the loss.

Today, protesters regularly take to the streets of Yerevan, the capital, to demand that Pashinyan resigns for losing Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenia had controlled since winning a war against Azerbaijan in the 1990s, reported Reuters.

Pashinyan has pledged to pursue democratic reforms, noted Armenpress, the state-owned news agency, including revamping the judicial system, which many Armenians view as corrupt. But many Armenians don’t necessarily feel as if those measures can be enacted quickly enough. His critics, meanwhile, say he’s not doing enough to breathe life into the country’s moribund economy.

The former president’s desire for a more substantive role in his country and the prime minister’s weakness have led many observers to conclude that Sarkissian is angling to replace Pashinyan. Elections aren’t scheduled for years but Sarkissian would certainly face big decisions if Pashinyan did resign and an election was called.

Armenia and Turkey lack official diplomatic relations, which have been frozen since Turkey cut ties with Armenia in 1993 to support its ally, Azerbaijan, in the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. The two sides are now discussing a reproachment, Al Jazeera wrote. Relations with Azerbaijan are still tense but Armenia has little leverage, the International Crisis Group added. Armenian relations with Russia, meanwhile, remain very close but also arguably make the smaller country overly dependent on the larger one. That’s tricky given the war in Ukraine.

They’re the types of puzzles a man like Sarkissian might enjoy solving.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Mark of Shame

MYANMAR

Myanmar’s military has committed genocide and crimes against humanity in its actions against the Muslim Rohingya minority, the US government said, a declaration that received praise from the community and human rights activists, Reuters reported Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the army’s attacks against the Rohingya were “widespread and systematic” and that evidence pointed to a clear intent to destroy the mainly Muslim minority.

He also warned that the military junta – who seized power last year through a coup – has been “targeting anyone in (Myanmar) it sees as opposing or undermining its repressive rule.”

The military has yet to comment on the declaration but members of the Rohingya community and their advocates told Agence France-Presse that the move recognizes “our suffering.”

In 2017, Myanmar’s army launched a military operation against the community in Rakhine State that forced more than 730,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Members of the military have been accused of mass rape, murder and arson.

In 2020, the International Court of Justice ordered the Southeast Asian country to protect the minority from genocide, adding that it needed to abide by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

But the military has denied the accusations, saying that the 2017 crackdown was aimed at fighting “terrorists” in the region, according to Axios.

Following the February 2021 coup, Western nations imposed sanctions against the junta and its business interests but the pressure campaign has failed to urge military leaders to restore civilian rule.

Analysts noted that the US’ announcement could boost judicial efforts to hold military commanders accountable and help prevent future atrocities. While the declaration does not equal punitive measures, it holds considerable political weight, they added.

Remedies

VATICAN

Pope Francis unveiled a series of reforms for the Holy See this week that will ensure greater decision-making roles for the laity, especially women, and better protection for minors, the Hill reported.

The new Praedicate evangelium, or “Proclaiming the Gospel,” will become the new constitution for the Catholic Church’s ruling body on June 5. It will replace the late Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 constitution.

Among the changes, the new charter will allow laypeople – not just priests, bishops or cardinals – to head a major Vatican office, and ensure greater geographic representation of staff members, the Associated Press noted.

This change could potentially allow women to head a Vatican department for the first time, according to the Hill.

But one of the pivotal reforms will be the unification of the pope’s advisory commission on preventing sexual abuse with the Holy See’s powerful doctrine office which supervises the canonical investigations of abuse cases.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is tasked with protecting minors and other vulnerable people from abuse, which has frequently engulfed the Catholic church in controversy over the past two decades. But the ad hoc commission had no actual institutional weight or power. It often clashed with the more powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which investigates all allegations of abuse.

Now, the commission will become part of the newly-formed Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which will permit members – who include abuse survivors – to influence judgments made by the prelates who decide if and how predator priests are sanctioned.

In general, the new constitution called for a “healthy decentralization” to give local bishops more decision-making authority, as well as encourage more communications and cooperation among offices.

Even so, the text underscores that the increased authority must not affect matters of “doctrine, discipline and communion,” a warning that individual bishops conferences cannot stray from core tenets of the church.

Day of Reckoning

LEBANON

A Lebanese judge charged the country’s central bank chief with “illicit enrichment” and money laundering even as Lebanon undergoes a deep financial crisis, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

Judge Ghada Aoun had been investigating Riad Salameh for alleged financial misconduct and ownership of apartments in Paris. She previously imposed a travel ban on the bank director and ordered authorities to bring Salameh in for questioning.

The recent charges came after the top banker failed to appear in court for the fifth time.

Last year, Lebanon launched an inquiry into Salameh’s fortune after Switzerland’s top prosecutor’s office requested assistance in an investigation into more than $300 million which he allegedly embezzled from the central bank with the help of his brother, Raja.

Lebanese authorities arrested Raja last week and charged him with “facilitating money laundering.”

The central bank chief has repeatedly denied the charges. He has accused Aoun of “personal enmity” and said the prosecution is politically motivated.

Even so, Salameh faces legal trouble in other European countries.

Salameh has been Lebanon’s top banker for three decades and has been blamed for the policies that contributed to the country’s financial collapse.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Ukraine rejected an ultimatum to surrender its besieged port city of Mariupol to Russian forces, CNBC reported, as fighting raged on its streets. Thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city, which is running dangerously low on vital supplies like food, water and medicines. Ukraine has also accused Russia of forcibly removing residents to Russia.
  • As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its fourth week, Moscow announced Monday that no major progress has been achieved in discussions with Kyiv to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy together, the Hill noted. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cautioned that big gaps exist in the cease-fire talks between Ukraine and Russia, as he strives to act as a mediator in the crisis, according to Reuters. His comments came a day after Zelenskyy called on Israel to adopt a tougher stance against Russia, making an emotional appeal that equated Moscow’s invasion to Nazi Germany’s actions in the country, the Associated Press added.
  • The United Nations warned that around 10 million Ukrainians – almost a quarter of the population – have left the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Bloomberg added. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned nations to not “neglect or knee-cap policies to cut fossil fuel use,” because of the conflict, AP reported. His comments came as countries scramble to replace Russian oil, gas and coal supplies with alternatives.
  • The United Kingdom accused Russia of being behind hoax calls made to the British defense secretary and home secretary, according to Politico. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said last week he received a call from a man pretending to be Ukraine’s prime minister, saying the “imposter” posed “several misleading questions.” Home Secretary Priti Patel said she received a similar call last week.

DISCOVERIES

Oinks of Happiness

Pigs don’t say much with their oinks and squeals but a new study has found that these sounds do express a variety of emotions, the Washington Post reported.

Scientists used a data set of more than 7,000 vocalizations from more than 400 pigs at commercial farms. They focused on the animals’ emotional arousal – the heightened activity associated with pleasant and unpleasant stimuli – and labeled positive or negative emotions to different situations.

For example, fights or imminent slaughter were categorized as “negative,” while suckling was “positive.” The team also placed pigs in other scenarios, such as introducing them to new objects. Through the help of algorithms, they determined how to distinguish positive and negative sounds.

A pig that makes short sounds without much of a change in volume is feeling good and positive. But long squeals and high-frequency vocalizations are associated with negative emotions.

Even so, the mammals also made low-frequency grunts in both situations.

Researchers explained that the study aimed to understand when pigs are stressed and called it “an important step toward improved animal welfare for livestock.”

They added that the algorithm can be used by farmers to better understand their pigs or other livestock to improve their lives.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 472,128,626

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,093,883

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 10,809,065,631

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 79,778,889 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 43,010,971 (+0.00%)
  3. Brazil: 29,650,082 (+0.04%)
  4. France: 24,347,816 (+0.10%)
  5. UK: 20,380,282 (+0.67%)
  6. Germany: 18,810,035 (+0.00%)**
  7. Russia: 17,356,036 (+0.16%)
  8. Turkey: 14,708,850 (+0.10%)
  9. Italy: 13,895,188 (+0.24%)
  10. Spain: 11,324,637 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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