The World Today for September 27, 2023

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Despair in the Black Garden


Another nightmare appears to be unfolding on the far edge of Europe.

Thousands of ethnic Armenians over the past week have fled the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijani forces seized the territory, seeking refuge in the nearby republic of Armenia.

Armenian officials, meanwhile, say Azerbaijan is “ethnic cleansing” the enclave of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians that reside in Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenians are Christian, while Azerbaijanis are Muslim. The charge was noteworthy because Armenians are said to have suffered the first genocide in the 20th century under the Ottoman Empire.

“That’s happening just now, and that is (a) very unfortunate fact,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the BBC.

Azerbaijani forces triggered the crisis in the enclave when they “routed” Armenian soldiers in a 12-hour blitz last week and occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, the Associated Press explained. Armenian separatists in the enclave put down their weapons and agreed to negotiate the territory’s “reintegration” into Azerbaijan, which the region officially belongs to.

This is just the latest conflict over the enclave, which was established in 1923 by the Soviet Union as an “Autonomous Oblast” within the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic – even as it was 95 percent Armenian.

After the USSR collapsed in 1991, the long-simmering ethnic tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan caused a cycle of wars, refugees and killings – for example, 30,000 people died in two outbreaks of violence in the early 1990s before a ceasefire took effect in 1994 that left Armenia in control of the enclave. It lasted more than 25 years, until intense fighting broke out in 2016 and again in 2020.

After 2020, Azerbaijan held most of the enclave. An agreement established the Lachin Corridor, a small strip of land connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh and monitored by Russian peacekeepers.

But the corridor has been repeatedly blocked since December, first by Azerbaijani activists protesting environmental harm and later by Azerbaijan, whose officials said the closures were due to security concerns. That led to severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine and what aid officials termed “a humanitarian crisis” earlier this year, CNN said.

After agreeing to open the corridor to aid groups earlier this month, Azerbaijan made its move to recover its territory, saying it wanted to “neutralize” Armenian military installments, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote. Now it controls all of it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has supported Azerbaijan, congratulated Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and the country’s armed forces on their swift victory, the Guardian noted. Turkish drones in particular were key to Azerbaijan’s victory.

Russia has traditionally been Armenia’s most important ally. Armenian officials, for example, said that Russian troops would help protect the thousands of refugees fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh for the Armenian Republic. But as Azerbaijan tightened access to the area, Russia did little and its soldiers did nothing.

As a result, Pashinyan has become highly critical of Russia, added CNN. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a NATO-like military alliance that includes Russia as well as Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. But the group is not really helping Armenia, argued the prime minister.

Instead, the New York Times described Russia as a “distracted spectator” in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan due to the war it’s now fighting in yet another ex-Soviet republic – Ukraine. Russia simply no longer has the “oomph” to impose its will on the so-called “near abroad” countries on its borders that comprised the Soviet Union.

Because the interests of Russia, Turkey, and neighboring Iran overlap in the region, the West is therefore also interested in developments there. For example, France has been vocal about its worries over Armenia’s territorial integrity, accusing Azerbaijan of threatening its neighbor’s borders. The US has been busy over the past year trying to wrangle a diplomatic solution to the lingering tensions.

Now, analysts warn that the war and the humanitarian crisis could further destabilize the region as the Ukraine war rages, Vox reported. It is already destabilizing Armenia. This week, protestors have taken to the streets, accusing the government of failing to protect ethnic Armenians. They are calling for Pashinyan to resign.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan now has the upper hand and could threaten military action against Armenia to ensure its access to its other enclave, Naxcivan, according to Stratfor. If it does, it’s unlikely any other country will come to Armenia’s aid.

For Armenians, that’s nothing new.

That’s because they live in a region where “ghosts of the past stalk every living resident,” wrote David Ignatius in the Washington Post, “the Armenians … were isolated and vulnerable – waiting for foreign deliverance that never came.”

As it was in 1915. And in 2023. And probably in the future.


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Stepping Up


Kenya and the United States signed a defense agreement this week that will see the African nation receive resources and support for security deployments as it prepares to lead a multinational mission to violence-torn Haiti, Al Jazeera reported.

The defense pact follows a meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Kenyan counterpart, Aden Duale. The deal will guide both nations’ defense relations for the next five years as the war in East Africa against the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group intensifies.

Earlier this year, Kenya volunteered to lead an international force to Haiti to help stabilize the country that has been plagued by a political crisis worsened by natural disasters and escalating gang violence since its prime minister, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in 2021.

Currently, the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, is largely under gang control, with citizens facing attacks, including kidnappings and sexual violence. Thousands have been displaced from their homes.

Last October, Prime Minister Ariel Henry urged the international community to establish a special armed force to address the crisis, a proposal that received support from the US and the United Nations.

However, the mission has been delayed due to a lack of leadership commitment from any country.

The Kenyan government stepped up to help assist the Haitian police to “restore normalcy.” Officials plan to send 1,000 security officers to the Caribbean country, adding that the East African nation has a “very long history of global peacekeeping” – ranging from deployments in Kosovo to neighboring Somalia and Congo.

However, some human rights advocates have questioned whether foreign intervention will help, noting that past missions to Haiti have ended bitterly, with accusations of corruption and the sexual abuse of locals.

Slow and Steady


Israel’s tourism minister flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to participate in a United Nations-sponsored conference, marking the highest-level visit yet by an Israeli official to the kingdom, and a significant development in the potential normalization of ties between the two countries, Bloomberg reported.

Minister Haim Katz arrived at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to attend the two-day event organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. His office said Katz is scheduled to meet other ministers from the Middle East but did not provide any further details.

The visit follows efforts by the United States to create a deal that would see Saudi Arabia and Israel establish diplomatic relations for the first time. Both countries have expressed interest in normalizing ties, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman – the kingdom’s de facto leader – recently saying that a deal was getting closer “every day.”

Even so, there are still a number of sticking points, particularly over the issue of Palestinian statehood.

The Saudi government has maintained that it will only consider normalizing relations with Israel if substantial progress is made toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, the Associated Press noted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his main focus is normalizing relations between Israel and other Arab states before addressing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Israel established diplomatic relations with four Arab countries in 2020: the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Katz’s visit came as Saudi Arabia’s new ambassador to the Palestinian Authority officially visited the occupied West Bank for the first time.

The Purge


Human rights groups are accusing the Zimbabwean authorities of launching a crackdown against opposition politicians and their supporters shortly after the country’s general elections that many critics say were stolen by the incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling party, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Following last month’s polls, many lawmakers from the opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) have been arrested and face a slew of charges ranging from defacing posters to attempted murder.

While some politicians have been cleared, others are still working their way through the courts.

Meanwhile, human rights advocates said there have been reports of abductions and torture: They referenced the case of Womberaishe Nhende, a recently elected local council member in the capital Harare, who was allegedly subjected to an abduction and torture earlier this month.

The recent incidents come weeks after Mnangagwa and his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) won the country’s elections, despite criticism from international observers that the elections fell short of democratic standards.

The CCC described the results as a “gigantic fraud” and has called for a fresh vote.

Opposition figures and advocates said the post-election crackdown shows that the government is “targeting all the voices of dissent.” But police officials denied the allegations, saying that they are “simply following protocols.”

Critics have long accused the ZANU-PF – in power since the country’s independence in 1980 – of using the courts to target opposition politicians and silence dissent.


The Low Hanging Fruit

Humans have been contributing to the extinction of whale species since long before industrial-scale whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to a new study.

A research team found evidence that medieval European hunters played a significant role in the demise of some species from the North Atlantic, the New York Times reported.

Historical medieval texts detail how whalers would target certain types of cetaceans because of their docile nature – and knew which ones to avoid because of their aggression.

For their paper, zooarchaeologist Youri van den Hurk and his team collected more than 700 pieces of whale bones at archaeological sites from Norway to Portugal.

They then studied the collagen protein in the bones, which differs across whale species and families. Their analysis revealed a disproportionately large presence of whales that are now almost if not extinct in the North Atlantic.

More than 330 samples of the remains belonged to right whales, a species that is still present in North Atlantic waters – although there are only around 300 globally. Meanwhile, 110 bones belonged to gray whales, which are not well documented and disappeared from the North Atlantic centuries ago.

The team explained that both these species were known for their docile temperament, which made them the preferred catch of hunters. They theorized that centuries of targeting these two large mammals contributed to their population collapse in the region.

Despite the gloomy findings, van den Hurk noted that the study could help scientists in conserving current existing populations.

“By looking into the past, we can optimize our understanding of what potential modern or future whale individuals will do in European waters and protect them more efficiently,” he added.

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