Gendercide in the Caucasus

March 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm (Women) (, , , , , , , , , , )

A belated happy International Women’s Day!  While women the world over have much to celebrate, we still have a long way to go…

This month, the Economist published an issue that focused on “Gendercide:” the gradual imbalance in the genders that occurs when a historical preference and/or necessity for male babies meets declining fertility rates and years of easily accessible prenatal sex-determining tools, like ultrasounds.  The result?  A generation of wanton bachelors that disrupt the social fabric of their communities with their lack of mates, stability, and status.  The primary article in the Economist focused on China and India; however, a chart based on United Nations data from 2000-2005 highlights the prevalence of gendercide in the Caucasus.

I was under the impression that the Caucasus were experiencing a surplus of women as men left for Russia and Europe in search of work.  This may indeed be the case; however, as the data suggests, perhaps women back home are manipulating their pregnancies to compensate for the exodus.

Solutions to this problem – according to the article – include education, equal social and economic rights for women, ending the one child policy (in China), anti-discrimination laws, and media campaigns.  Nevertheless, education and prosperity alone do not solve the gender gap; in fact “sexual disparities tend to rise with income and education.”

In the Caucasus, economic opportunities for men and women alike are essential to reversing this trend.  Furthermore, the business environment they enter must embrace women as both leaders and mothers.

With all of this prenatal finagling going on, my wish for International Women’s day 2010 is for the Caucasus to empower the women of today to give birth to the women of tomorrow.


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Erdoğan in the Chocolate City

December 10, 2009 at 1:00 am (Turkish Diplomacy, Washington DC) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

On December 8th, the SETA Foundation hosted a talk by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  Held in the hotel’s grand, yet garish, ballroom – the event was open to the public and provided simultaneous translation in both English and Turkish through wireless equipment.  (neat!)  About two hundred people attended, including myself.

Erdoğan was introduced by former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel (R), who referred to Kurdistan during an anecdote about traveling in eastern Anatolia with Joe Biden.  I thought I heard a mild snicker ripple through the crowd when Hagel dropped the K-bomb, but maybe I am just overly sensitive to Turkey’s problematic relationship with their “mountain Turks.”

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Chuck Hagel

Erdoğan was a good speaker: frank and not afraid to give some meat along with the requisite political niceties.  He addressed many of Turkey’s current foreign policy issues, touching upon domestic issues (the economy, human rights, Kurds) only very lightly.    His remarks came off as slightly defensive; whether he was covering Turkey’s prolonged EU ascension process, his country’s relationship with Iran, or the Israel-Palestine conflict -Erdoğan was explaining, justifying, and/or defending his stance.  The PM mentioned something in defense of this defensiveness – to paraphrase his remarks very loosely: ‘Turkey has been a state in limbo for the past 50 years and it is still lingering in this limbo.  Turkey is improving, but Turkey is also patient.’

Treaty of Sèvres (click for larger image) Credit:

This is what I know as the “sèvres syndrome,” a term used to describe Turkey’s contemporary foreign policy paranoia because of the way the Ottoman Empire was butchered-up at the end of World War 2.  The “sèvres” of sèvres syndrome refers to the Treaty of Sèvres, which was one of many peace treaties drawn up during WW2 to give Ottoman land to the allies of the Triple Entente.  While never enacted, the treaty shows how much Ottoman land was up for grabs.  The resulting paranoia is evident in Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies today.

So when Erdoğan mentioned Turkey’s prolonged state of “limbo” – I thought of the “sèvres syndrome” and how Turkey is still fighting off the Ottoman Empire’s reputation as the “sick man of Europe.”   Erdoğan states that this limbo is fifty years-old, which covers the post-Ataturk & co. era of democracy building.  I think it is safe to say that this limbo dates back to the beginning of the Turkish Republic.  The Ottoman Empire is a tough specter to shake.

Erdoğan’s frankness did not carry over into his discussion of Armenian-Turkish rapprochement.  Firstly, this topic was not addressed during the talk proper – only during the short question and answer section that followed his presentation.  Secondly, he did not reveal any of his signature flair in response to the question, which was “How do you see the Armenian-Turkish protocol process proceeding?”  The PM has not shied away from critiquing the protocols.  In fact, despite being a member of the party that worked on the protocols with Armenia, Erdoğan was the first to start chipping away at them after they were signed.  Following the signing, Erdoğan voiced some common pre-conditions that have prevented normalization to date, namely, Nagorno-Karabagh.  Since the deadline for ratification is approaching, I thought the PM would have a forceful response to that question, but it was lack-luster.  He simple gave an overview of the ratification process (first signing, then commission, then parliament…) and said that progress between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK would help.  The response short, civil, and totally predictable.

To date, I’ve attended talks by two high-ranking Turkish officials.  The other was Ali Babacan, who spoke at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2007.  If the two had a diplomat-off, Erdoğan would win – hands down.  His blend of staight-talk and suave disengagement from certain contentious issues explains why he is PM and why I wasn’t invited to the reception.

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NK violence

September 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm (Nagorno Karabakh) (, , , , , , , )

The BBC reported last night that as many as five Armenian soldiers may have been killed in a cease-fire breach on the Nagorno Karabakh-Azerbaijan border.  This 15-year-old cease-fire has been challenged before, and reports of skirmishes between soldiers posted on the border are not uncommon; however, there are a couple things that make this clash interesting:

1.  So far, it has only been reported by international and Azeri media.

2.  The NK Defence Ministry spokesman Senor Hasratian denies that the clash took place.

NK map  credit:

NK map credit:

My first thought was how odd it is for Azerbaijan is reporting on how they are breaching the cease-fire.  So they must have a reason for exposing it just like NK must have a reason for covering it up.

The protocols.  Yup – NK was kind of left off the table in the latest round of diplomacy building between Armenia and Turkey.  Perhaps skirmishes on the frontline are a way to re-insert this unresolved conflict issue into the negotiations – or dare I say – to complicate them.

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Who’s Bad? Azeri nationalism meets Eurovision

August 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Two weeks ago, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on poor Rovshan Nasirli’s run in with the Azerbaijani National Security Ministry.  Nasirli’s crime: voting for Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest.  He simply liked Armenia’s Inga and Anoush better than the Azeri entry, which featured local unknown AySel and euro-pop star Arash.  As RFE/RL reports, Nasirli was grilled by the Security Ministry about the motivation for his choice.  Before we continue, please decide YOUR vote:

The RFE/RL article does a good job putting Nasirli’s uncomfortable visit to the Ministry into context, summing up Aliyev Jr.’s gradual crack down on civil liberties and explaining the antagonism between Armenia and Azerbaijan over NK.

Maybe I am late to the game, but the thing that popped out at me was Azerbaijan’s pick of Arash to begin with.  I used to love remix of back in 2006, and know the man was born in Iran and famous in Sweden.  But the plot thickens: Arash’s grandfather is from the Iranian Azerbaijan.  While Arash was clearly brought in (at what cost, I would like to know) to lend star power to the Azeri entry, I cannot help but question what role his Persian Azeri heritage played in Azerbaijan’s selection.

Azerbaijan, the country, and Azerbaijan, the region of Iran, have been separated for nearly two centuries as Russia and Persia divvied up the region.  Nevertheless, some Azeri’s make irredentist claims on Persian Azerbaijan.  According to Merriam Webster, irredentism is “a political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of [territories] within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political units.”  Basically – you lay claim to land in someone else’s country because you have a good reason to do so.  It always struck me how Azerbaijan and Armenia have this whole irredentist thing in common – Azerbaijan fiends for Iran’s Azerbaijan and Armenia for Karabagh.  Regardless of how realistic their respective irredentist dreams may be, at least some politicians and countrymen from both states are after territory in another country, and that makes them similar.



I do not know if Arash identities himself as Azeri, or Persian Azeri, but his presence in the song contest feels like a little shot of irredentism.  I know it is a bit of a stretch – but one too tempting to ignore.  Azerbaijan’s Eurovision selection committee must have made this connection.  (If so, I am also intrigued by their reigning in of diasporan talent.  Does this mean that Armenia will be entering Cher for Eurovision 2010?)  However, if Azerbaijan was attempting to use Arash to foment irridentism, then their plan appears to have backfired.  When the National Security Ministry asked Nasirli about his choice, the Baku resident replied, “I voted for Armenia to protest the fact that Arash was representing Azerbaijan.  Also, the Armenian song was closer to Azerbaijani style than Arash’s song.” For Nasirli, Arash is just not Azeri and, if we can trust Nasirli’s knowledge of music, Armenians and Azeris have more in common than their territorial ambitions.


RFE/RL reported last week that Eurovision is investigating reports of Azerbaijani citizens being questioned over their vote in the 2009 song contest.  This past Wednesday the plot thinkened even more when an Azeri government minister accused RFE/RL of political bias in favor of Armenia.  RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan bureau cheif was also accused of voting for Armenia.

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