North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Historic boundaries and historic injustices

Perhaps it is fitting during this week when the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide is being commemorated, that we note the recent words of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a film celebrating his 15 years in power (finally the pretense of his swapping the post of Presidency with his aide Medvedev for that of prime minister in order to circumvent the term limits on the Presidency has been cast aside), Mr. Putin yesterday stated, "It's not because Crimea has a strategic importance in the Black Sea region. It's because this has elements of historical justice. I believe we did the right thing and I don't regret anything,"

Mr Putin, soon to be in a hagiographic film starring himself. Photo from

What historic injustice did Putin put right in the annexation of the Crimean peninsula?

Depending on how far back one wishes to go, we might consider the three centuries of rule under the Ottoman empire in the 15th to 18th centuries, followed by Tsarist Russia annexing it in 1783. Soon after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 was finally secured, it declared the peninsula a Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1945 it became a Soviet oblast (province), and in 1954 was ceded to Ukraine. Those elusive and fleeting years when Russia and the Ukraine were ostensibly equal allies, the Russians maintained a Black Sea fleet based in the port capital of Sevastopol, Crimea, and Black Sea resorts allowed Russian and Soviet elite a respite at a warm ice-free setting for their holidays.

The Russian Black Sea fleet is based on the Crimean Peninsula. Photo from

As the USSR collapsed in the early 1990s, the Crimean peninsula remained part of Ukraine until the latest upheaval in 2014 when Ukraine began to lean towards the West. Judging the West as lacking in resolve, Mr Putin and his green little men took over the peninsula and declared it part of Mother Russia once again and now we are up to date. Teatree assumes it was the unilateral decision by the Soviet politboro of 1954 to give the land to Ukraine that Mr Putin refers to as an historic injustice, though there are other possibilities.

Putin has always rejected the idea that these "green men" without official army insignias that suddenly showed up in eastern Ukraine were Russian. In the Crimea, Putin maintained the same story for a few months, but then conceded the obvious after the trumped up referendum that showed the majority of voters wanted to reunite with Mother Russia. Photo from

One of the historic ethnic groups living on the Crimean peninsula were Muslim Tatars, comprising up to 25% of the population. After the Crimean War of 1853-1856 between the Tsarist Russia and Western powers fighting over the weakening Ottoman Empire,the tatars had to flee en masse to avoid persecution by the Russian victors who had ultimately maintained control. During the Bolshevik revolution of 1917-21 which devolved into a multi-year Russian civil war, the peninsula and its population was ravaged by multiple factions. The tatars who had filtered back to their native lands were ravaged once again in the 1930s by Soviet leader Stalin, who also introduced large numbers of Slavs into the region. In another irony, from 1923 into the second world war, there were efforts to move Soviet Jewry into the land, with one soviet functionary, Vyacheslav Molotov, even suggesting the idea of establishing a Jewish homeland.

The Crimean peninsula juts out into the Black Sea - it has changed hands and loyalties many times. Russian President Putin now claims it with the extra stamp of righting an historic injustice. Graphic from

From a posting at the worldjewishlibrary, we read, "The Crimean peninsula was, for decades, a potential Jewish homeland. After Catherine the Great conquered Crimea from the Ottomons in 1783, she encouraged Jewish settlement to the region. In the following century, tens of thousands of predominantly young Jews moved to this part of "New Russia." By the late 1800s, Crimea had become a thriving training center for future Zionist pioneers who used the land to test agricultural techniques before they relocated to Palestine. In fact, Joseph Trumpeldor once trained potential migrants in the Crimea. The Soviet Politburo was even behind the idea and accepted a proposal to establish a Jewish Autonomous Region in the Crimea in 1923, though it later reversed the decision. Even so, from 1924 until 1938, the Joint Distribution Committee - through the American Jewish Joint Agricultural Corporation and its American Jewish financiers - supported Jewish agricultural settlements in Soviet Crimea."

At any rate, World War II brought savage fighting to the peninsula between German and Russian forces. Germany wanted the land for its strategic value and its warmer agricultural climate, and occupied it for nearly three years. Jews here, as well as in Ukraine were targeted for annihilation during that time. The Soviet army recaptured the capital city, Sevastopol, in 1944, and Stalin immediately ordered the entire population of Crimean Tatars forcibly deported to Central Asia as collective punishment for allegedly collaborating with the Nazis. Only late in the Soviet empire's existence were the tatars politically rehabilitated and allowed to return to what was now an ethnically slavic region with Ukrainian and Russian populations.

Crimean tatars loading up for exile after World War II, photo from

In 2014, with Russian forces suddenly in charge once again on the peninsula, the tatars who had returned or remained were facing a dispiriting, though not unfamiliar dilemma. Embrace Russia or leave your homeland. An al-jazeera article captures the new plight in detail, found here.

Once again, Crimean tatars, shown here in their mosques, have been told that they must embrace Russia or face consequences. While they were neglected by Ukraine's government, they still had enjoyed relative freedom. Photo from

So on we go - the number of historic injustices are plentiful, many have been inadequately addressed, and many ignored. And Putin, like other strongmen of the past, has chosen to pick a particular slight but primarily to further his own power and influence.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Pope names a truth

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at sundown, begins Israel's Holocaust Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, based on the start of the Warsaw ghetto uprising during WWII. It varies between April 7 and May 7 each year. January 27 is the official UN International Holocaust Day, begun in 2015. As most readers know, Israel's holocaust day and the UN remembrance itself is divisive - whole peoples deny or downplay the accuracy of the Holocaust figures. And some nations to this day would apparently love to see another Israeli holocaust occur ...

But there are other events of genocide, attempted genocide, or the vague "acts of genocide" that the US President Clinton tried to parse during the Rwandan darkness in 1994. And unlike many nations who calculate their response carefully, Pope Francis this past week stormed the citadel of obfuscation and declared the massacre of Armenians during World War I as this past century's first genocide that should not be forgotten.

Pope Francis speaking in very non-diplomatic terms ... a few days ago. Photo as published at

From a CNN posting, ""In the past century, our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies," the Pope said at a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian massacres.

"The first, which is widely considered 'the first genocide of the 20th century,' struck your own Armenian people," he said, referencing a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and the head of the Armenian church.

One can ponder the clothing and the costumes of the Catholic and Armenian churches leadership (no shortage of symbolism and ceremony there), but sharp words can nonetheless pierce through the glitter. Pope Francis in white, the head of Armenia's Orthodox Church Karekin II, right, and Catholicos Aram I, left. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis has made a number of utterances that have offended many. He has criticized growing economic inequality and unfettered markets; an excessively top-down Catholic Church hierarchy, asked for more tolerance of gays, turned away from the more lavish features of the papal lifestyle, washed the feet of convicts, has repeatedly called for greater efforts to lift up the world’s poor, denounced the killing and persecution of Christians in the past year, and said spanking children isn't all bad. For his troubles, nearly everyone is unhappy with something he has had words for, but also a bit more tuned in to what he might say next.

The mass killings of Armenians by the disintegrating Ottoman Turk empire during and after World War I is still a matter of debate as to which label to use, though the numbers 1 to 1.5 million are generally accepted. Graphic from

Modern day Turkey's response

Somewhat mystifyingly, Turkey's leadership today, under the somewhat erratic leadership of President Erdogan went "postal." As the Deutsch Welle news agency reported, "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday accused Pope Francis of spouting "nonsense" and warned the pontiff not to make "such a mistake again." "We will not allow historical incidents to be taken out of their genuine context and be used as a tool to campaign against our country," Erdogan said in his first reaction to the pope's comments.

Not to be outdone, another "outraged" response came from Volkan Bozkir, Turkey’s minister for European affairs, who significantly upped the ante on his colleagues by suggesting that Argentines as a whole, and not just the pope, had been brainwashed by rich and powerful Armenians in their midst," so reports an article by the New York Times. Turkey recalled its ambassador to the Vatican.

Turkey's President Erdogan defending the honor of his country's past. He also has an interesting take on extremism at least when it occurs in countries other than his own. For example, regarding the killings in France at the beginning of this year, he has what one describes as "an unwavering belief that jihadi terrorism is caused by Islamophobia and thus victims such as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have it coming to them due to their actions ..." (read full article here) Photo from

Here are a few remarks by Pope Francis from this NY Times article,

"In addressing the Armenian question, Francis quoted from a 2001 declaration by Pope John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin II, the Armenian Apostolic Church’s supreme patriarch, in which the two leaders called the Armenian slaughter a campaign of extermination that was “generally referred to as the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Vatican diplomats have been deliberately prudent in avoiding the term, so in using it during the Mass on Sunday, before an audience that included the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, Francis clearly intended to provoke a response. He equated the fate of the Armenians with the genocides orchestrated by the Nazis and the Soviets under Stalin, while also condemning “other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.”

“It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood,” Francis said. “It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by.”

The bottom line response from Turkey's Erdogan is that criticism against his country is a form of hate speech.

Interesting how labels are applied freely - what would George Orwell have to say ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Nigeria election is historic - now the hard work begins

Gratifying to see pretty good coverage of Nigeria's recent election by news agencies. Because this election, conducted Saturday, March 29, resulted in the nation's first apparently successful and peaceful transition from one party to the opposition, a public exchange of respect and support by the incoming and outgoing president, a pledge to tackle corruption which has plagued this oil rich nation for decades, and finally a resolve by the new Muslim President to get serious about Boko Haram.

Nigeria - huge potential, still unrealized. Graphic from

As a Voice of America report stated, "President-elect Muhammadu Buhari said his country has "embraced democracy" and put its one-party-state past behind it. “We have proven to the world that we are a people who have embraced democracy and a people who seek a government by, for and of the people," Buhari said. He spoke Wednesday in Abuja, just hours after the electoral commission declared him the official winner of Saturday's presidential election, defeating incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by more than 2 million votes.

Buhari says his government will "spare no effort" to defeat insurgent group Boko Haram. Buhari called Jonathan "a worthy opponent" and said he extends the "hand of fellowship" to the outgoing president. Jonathan, who conceded, called for peace, saying, “The unity, stability and progress of our dear country is more important than anything else.” ... There have been no reports of post-election violence in Nigeria - a major change from 2011, when news of Jonathan's victory over Buhari sparked violence in the north that killed about 800 people."

President elect Muhammedu Buhari (left) being publicly acknowledged by incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan. (Is that Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary in the background?) Photo from

Election factoids (from the Voice of America article)

*Jonathan's People's Democratic Party has ruled Nigeria since 1999.

*Buhari, 72, of the All Progressives Congress, is to be inaugurated May 29.

*Nigeria's Electoral Commission chairman Attahiru Jega announced earlier Wednesday that Buhari had officially won the election, getting 15.4 million votes to Jonathan's 12.9 million.

*President-elect Buhari was previously Nigeria's military ruler for 20 months after officers seized power in a December 1983 coup. He was toppled by another military coup, but has run for the presidency four times since democracy was restored in Nigeria in 1999.

Teatree musings

Mr. Buhari has declared two great directions for his incoming administration - 1) an end to endemic corruption that has stemmed to a great degree from revenues generated by the country's oil industry. 2) A serious fight to degrade if not destroy Boko Haram. These militants recently declared their allegiance to ISIS, the Islamic State jihadists ravaging Syria and Iraq and elsewhere.

His hands will be full. High oil prices that have long buoyed Nigeria have fallen in half in the past six months. Budgets that have been used to lavish funds on a variety of important and phantom needs alike are facing deep cuts. Now it gets serious - how to cut the fat and waste while leaving essential services functioning.

While Nigerian oil overwhelmingly flows via pipeline, apparently some fossil fuel is still delivered in barrels. In either case, the fortunes of Nigeria and revenues from its oil reserves go hand in hand. Photo from


From an al-Jazeera article, "fundamentally, Buhari will need to oversee structural changes to the Nigerian state. Constitutional reform is needed to update or even replace the 1999 constitution with one that empowers citizens, decentralizes power and enables a more efficient governance framework. He will also need to revamp the oil sector. Jonathan’s administration was incapable of even enacting a new oil law, let alone tackling the massive corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. There are perhaps 10 to 15 profitable years left before the world begins a concerted move away from hydrocarbons. Buhari’s administration can steer the Nigerian economy away from the curse of oil. A more efficient use of its diminished oil revenues could offer an opportunity for long-term infrastructural development and rapid turnaround in the power sector."

Military effectiveness and Boko Haram

Perhaps most intriguing is the emphasis that Mr Buhari has placed on defeating the Boko Haram insurgency. The nation, long split between a Christian south and Muslim north, has to some degree united behind the promises of Buhari to take the fight to Boko Haram. With his Muslim credentials, he has a high degree of support from many northern Nigerians, and thus may be able to push security initiatives against the jihadists in more certain terms. Certainly the very low bar of military effectiveness to this point gives him room to improve. As recently as January, the UK Guardian stated the prognosis succinctly, "Army corruption, troop mutinies, alienated citizens and a lack of political will are among reasons that militants continue to thrive." Items three and four may have changed dramatically with this election.

Nigerian soldiers training. To Teatree, the readiness and trustworthiness of Nigeria's military is a mystery. Certainly its performance in the past several years attempting to deal with the jihadists is dismal enough. Photo from

As to turning around Nigeria's military effectiveness (items one and two above), that may be a much more difficult task. Time Magazine carried a recent piece (here) where it stated, "Nigeria’s military has been in decline for the past 16 years, says J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Washington D.C.- based Atlantic Council, ever since the country moved from a military dictatorship to a democracy in 1999. The intervening years have seen the country’s armed forces hollowed out by a combination of poor leadership, graft, misdirected staff training and a succession of civilian governments so worried about another coup that they have starved the armed forces of key resources.

To a certain extent, part of the issue is size. The country may have a 90,000 strong standing army, says Pham, but not all of them are soldiers. Nurses, medics, administration personnel and military police don’t fight, “so the actual number of combat ready troops is much lower.” Add to the fact that some 3,000 troops are currently serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world, and the number left is “inadequate for the task of defending a country the size of Nigeria,” with its population of 174 million and a history of local insurgencies."

Nigeria should be respected for its successful, clean election, while the leadership's unity during the changeover should not be minimized. And yet, now the hard work of good governance has just begun.