The World Today for June 07, 2024

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The Misery of Zugzwang


Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has protected the former Soviet republic of Armenia from Azerbaijan, Turkey and other regional powers. Now, however, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pours more resources into the war in Ukraine, his country’s close ties with Armenia appear to be unraveling.

The relationship began to sour when Russia failed to prevent Azeri forces from seizing the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia last year – forcing more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians from their homes. That happened despite Russian guarantees to uphold a 2020 ceasefire agreement, and in effect ended Russia and Armenia’s close military ties, explained the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

The shift, moreover – coupled with bizarre tensions between France and Azerbaijan involving the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, as the Guardian reported – has handed the West an opportunity to expand its influence in the South Caucasus region, according to World Politics Review.

These changes have real geopolitical consequences.

Putin recently withdrew Russian troops from Armenia, wrote Politico. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced that his forces would cooperate with the American military instead.

Two weeks later, when Armenian officials accused Russia of helping Azerbaijan seize Armenian territory, Putin withdrew his ambassador to Armenia in protest, added Radio Free Europe. In the meantime, Pashinyan sent aid to Ukraine and expressed interest in Armenia joining the European Union.

Armenia also joined the International Criminal Court, despite the arrest warrant that the court issued against Putin for war crimes in Ukraine.

“It is a remarkable turnaround for a country that used to get 98 percent of its arms from Russia and was seen as probably the most pro-Moscow of the former Soviet republics at the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991,” wrote the Guardian.

Still, instability in Armenia will likely complicate this change in direction.

Recently, Armenia and Azerbaijan began a historic process of demarcating the border between the two former Soviet republics: Armenia agreed to hand over to its neighbor four areas surrounding border villages in the Tavush region, areas seized by Armenia after the first war in Nagorno-Karabakh, which ended in 1994 and forced Azerbaijanis to flee, Al Jazeera wrote.

This transfer is part of a deal made by Pashinyan to secure a peace treaty between the two countries.

Many Armenians, however, see the border process and land transfers as illegal.

As a result, demonstrators have been taking to the streets of the Armenian capital of Yerevan over the past month, Sky News reported. Pashinyan has said he wants to avoid more conflict with Azerbaijan, but many of his constituents are outraged.

“We demand an immediate resignation of Nikol (Pashinyan),” demonstrator Artur Sargsyan told France 24. “I had fought in two wars with Azerbaijan and will not let him give away our lands.”

Leading the protesters was Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, who is from Tavush. Galstanyan worries that the land concessions would not only impact the three villages affected but the nearby infrastructure as well, thereby hitting a larger area. He added that he is concerned “the same pattern will be repeated in other regions occupied by the Azerbaijanis, in Siunik and Gegharkunik,” for example, Le Monde reported.

The archbishop, meanwhile, said he would give up his clerical post to run against Pashinyan if the prime minister doesn’t resign or lawmakers don’t impeach him, according to Agence France-Presse.

At the same time, Armenians are furious that Azerbaijan is razing residential buildings, churches and other culturally significant sites associated with former Armenian residents in Nagorno-Karabakh, renaming streets and landmarks – essentially erasing its past, wrote Eurasianet. The United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) mandated that Azerbaijan uphold the right of return for Armenian refugees – but that’s less likely with Azerbaijan’s efforts to remake and repopulate it.

Pashinyan’s position seems strong, however. His coalition holds a large majority in parliament, while his opposition lacks public support.

That doesn’t mean Armenia’s position is strong, though. Pashinyan has been engaging and compromising in the border demarcation process with Azerbaijan as part of an effort to cement a peace deal because he worries about another war breaking out, with concerns fueled by the armed clashes regularly breaking out on the border, wrote the European Council on Foreign Relations.

What worries Armenians also is that their neighbor wants more, they say, pointing to statements by Azerbaijan’s leader, Ilham Aliyev, about Armenia as “Western Azerbaijan” even if he also talks of being close “as never before” to a peace deal, the BBC wrote.

The situation in the region is tense. That’s why an increasing number of civilians in Yerevan are taking up military training run by volunteer organizations, the BBC added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl,” Nina told the broadcaster. “You need to know how to protect yourself in a country like Armenia, where all the borders can be attacked.”


The Forgotten War


An estimated 150 people were killed in an attack by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on a village in central Sudan this week, the latest massacre in the civil conflict between the paramilitary group and the country’s military that began more than a year ago, Al Jazeera reported.

On Wednesday, the Wad Madani Resistance Committees accused the RSF of attacking the Wad al-Noura village in Gezira state, according to a post on social media. The committees shared photos and videos showing dozens of bodies wrapped for burial in a mass grave, with victims including women, children and the elderly.

Hafiz Mohamad of the Justice Africa Sudan human rights group told the BBC that many more people are still missing, adding that it was “difficult to count all the dead” because “RSF elements are still around the area looting.”

The RSF, while claiming to have attacked army positions, did not acknowledge civilian casualties.

Even so, Sudanese military officials and their allies condemned the attack, describing it as part of a pattern of targeting of civilians.

Sudan’s conflict began in April 2023 following a power struggle between army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

The fighting has killed more than 15,000 people, exacerbated pre-existing ethnic tensions, particularly in Darfur, and displaced more than eight million people internally and outside of the country.

International efforts to broker peace have so far failed and the United Nations warned that “time is running out” for millions of Sudanese, who are at imminent risk of famine.

The RSF controls much of western Sudan and is advancing into central regions, while battles continue in parts of Darfur.

Fighting Influence


A special commission tasked with investigating Russian and Belarusian influence in Poland began its work this week amid growing concerns over attempts to influence elections in the European Union, the Associated Press reported.

Last month, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced the formation of a 12-member commission to probe influence from Moscow and Minsk between 2004 and 2024.

Tusk told reporters Wednesday that the non-partisan body is aimed at protecting national security amid rising concerns across the region of Russian influence campaigns, especially because of Russia’s war with Ukraine, now in its third year.

The prime minister and other officials cited hybrid attacks from Russia and Belarus, including alleged acts of sabotage, cyberattacks and chaos on the Polish-Belarusian border because of migrants from Africa and Asia.

Polish authorities have reported that attempted border crossings from Belarus into Poland have surged to nearly 400 per day, up from just a few earlier this year. Poland’s border guards have also complained about increasingly aggressive behavior from some migrants, including attacks with rocks and other objects.

Last year, Poland’s previous right-wing government passed a bill to set up a committee to probe alleged Russian interference in Poland between 2007 and 2022. The body was to examine politicians or individuals who enabled such influence and bar them from holding public office if found guilty, Euronews noted in 2023.

At the time, the committee came under scrutiny with critics saying that it was being used by the then-ruling Law and Justice party to discredit the opposition, including Tusk, ahead of parliamentary elections later that year.

Meanwhile, the commission’s work begins as voters went to the polls in the European parliamentary elections, amid warnings from EU lawmakers and officials of Moscow’s misinformation and disinformation campaign to influence the vote, Channel News Asia wrote.

The bloc has set up a special task force, in collaboration with academics, journalists, and tech firms, to combat foreign information interference. Their efforts include the use of the EUvsDisinfo platform, which has cataloged over 17,000 cases since 2015.

At the same time, authorities conducted raids on European legislators’ homes and offices in connection with alleged “Russian interference” late last month. The individuals are accused of accepting money from Russia to promote its propaganda via the Voice of Europe website, according to Politico.

Muzzling Messengers


Indonesia is planning to revamp the country’s broadcasting laws, a proposal that has stirred controversy about plans to restrict investigative journalism and prompted concerns from free speech advocates, the Voice of America reported.

Officials recently unveiled a draft bill that will amend Indonesia’s 2002 broadcasting law, which would include changes such as banning LGBTQ+ content and “behavior” and prohibiting the broadcast of professions of figures that show “negative behaviors or lifestyles that could potentially be imitated by the public.”

But of chief concern for journalists and media watchdogs are two proposals, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted.

The first will empower the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) to “resolve journalistic disputes specifically in the field of broadcasting.” The second will impose restrictions on the “exclusive broadcast of journalistic investigation,” with the bill not properly defining “journalistic investigation.”

Critics said that empowering the KPI – which traditionally handles all broadcast content, except for journalism – could weaken the country’s Press Council and the latter’s role in protecting Indonesia’s press freedoms.

They warned that the restrictions on investigative journalism and the bill’s vagueness could “potentially undermine journalistic work, not limited to investigation because its interpretation is still unclear.”

Indonesian lawmakers acknowledged some of the concerns related to the proposed legislation but denied that the government wants to regulate press freedom. They explained that some of the changes come after input from law enforcement agencies who want to limit reporting on some cases.

Meanwhile, media watchdogs remained critical of the proposal to ban LGBTQ+ content.

Homosexuality remains a taboo topic in Muslim-majority Indonesia and it is considered illegal in the ultra-conservative Aceh province – which is subject to Sharia law.


An Ancient Fight

Modern medicine has come a long way in its fight against cancer. Now, a new study shows how this fight actually began more than 4,000 years ago.

This battle’s ancient beginnings were uncovered by a research team recently after it studied the skulls of two individuals that lived in ancient Egypt, and found evidence that ancient healers had tried to treat the cancer.

“This finding is unique evidence of how ancient Egyptian medicine would have tried to deal with or explore cancer more than 4,000 years ago,” said study co-author Edgard Camarós.

Researchers arrived at their conclusions after using digital microscopes and micro-computer tomography scanning on the two skulls: The first, specimen 236, belonged to a man in his thirties who lived between 2687 and 2345 BCE, while the other, E270, belonged to a woman in her fifties who lived between 663 and 343 BCE.

They found signs of cancerous lesions on both.

At the same time, they also noticed cut marks around those lesions on 236’s skull, which they believe were caused by sharp metal instruments. The discovery suggested that the healers had attempted to remove the tumors, although it’s unclear if they did this while he was alive or after death.

Meanwhile, the E270 skull also had cancerous lesions but no signs of surgery. Instead, researchers discovered long-healed fractures, which they believe were from an earlier intervention for head injuries.

“We see that although Ancient Egyptians were able to deal with complex cranial fractures, cancer was still a medical knowledge frontier,” lead author Tatiana Tondini said in a statement.

In their paper, Tondini and her colleagues detailed the discovery as “a milestone in the history of medicine.”

The discoveries also push the understanding of and treatment for cancer further back in time.

Until now, the earliest known written observation of cancer was recorded on the Edwin Smith Papyrus: First discovered in the 19th century, the surgical treatise on trauma dates to between 3000 and 2500 BCE and is attributed to the renowned physician, architect and high priest Imhotep.

The ancient Egyptian document provides a series of medical cases, including observations of breast tumors and efforts to treat them.

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