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What do you know of Norway? Ranked #1 on many indicators

Norway: a “Northern miracle” through the eyes of statistics

Note: Currently, Norway is #1 in collecting Olympic medals of all kinds in South Korea winter game

Is extracting crude oil and gas good or evil? Norway managed to avoid  this “resource curse

On the one hand, Norway doesn’t have anything special to constantly attract the world media:
·         It is the most Northern European country: 1/3rd of the country’s territory is situated within the Polar circle
·         The least populated European country (4.9M people).
·         2/3rds of the territory are covered with mountains and lakes. That is why most Norwegians travel by plane.
·         In the 1950s Norway was considered the poorest European country
On the other hand, Norway is currently considered one of the most developed and successful countries of the world:
·         It comes 2nd in terms of natural gas export (after Russia) and 6th in terms of oil export. It was the only country to retain the budget surplus in 2009 (9.9% of the GDP, mostly at the expense of its crude oil exports).
·         The rate of saving is 25%-30%. In this aspect Norway has been sharing the 1st place with Japan and Finland since the end of WWII.
·         It is the world’s 6th richest country in terms of GDP per capita ($59, 100). For comparison sake, the USA occupies the 10th place.
·         For many years Norway has been called the world’s best country to live in (including the income level and the quality of education).

The Norwegians are not in a hurry to join the EU. They seem to be self-sufficient in welfare.
So it is not accidental that Norway is #1 in the rating of the most welfare countries (by Legatum, Oxford Analytica and Gallup World Poll Service).
There is a temptation to consider crude oil to be the main reason for Norway’s welfare. 10 years of high commodity prices and favorable economic situation… it seems to be not a “recourse curse” but a “resource blessing”.
Norway: a “northern heaven”

Of course, the global economic crisis affected Norway as well. However, as compared with many other countries, it came out of it relatively “unscratched”.
In 2009 the country’s economy declined 1.8% (for the 2nd time since WWII). The unemployment rate reached 3.5% (the record of the last couple of decades).
Many other developed countries cannot even dream about such results. The recession period was a brief one. Yet, the country’s economy seems to keep showing stable growth.
Norway remains one of the most successful countries in the world.
So it is interesting to know the reason for this Norwegian miracle as well as the factors that ensure the stability of its economy. These are some of them:
·         Abundant natural recourses. Norway is quite rich in natural recourses – crude oil, natural gas, iron ore, copper, zinc, nickel, uranium, silver, gold, titanium, fish, timber, hydroelectricity (the country comes 1st in terms of the production of electricity per capita).
·         Well-thought-out economic policy. The main peculiarity of the Norwegian economy is that it is mixed, i.e. it is the combination of the free market and governmental regulation including:
–          Considerable public sector employing every third citizen.
–          Strict bank regulation
–          Control over the country’s key economic sectors: crude oil production, fishing and agriculture. For example the government owns 71% of the shares of Statoil, which is the largest national oil company, thanks to which they can control 60% of the entire Norwegian oil and gas markets.
–          Well-developed industries, including shipbuilding, heavy engineering and others. But the way numerous waterfalls give Norway an opportunity to produce relatively cheap energy (99% of all the electricity is produced by hydroelectric power plants).
The gas and oil industry is still the basis of the Norwegian economy. However, Norway is one of the leaders in information technology (IT) and in terms of the production of pure energy (solar, wind and water energy).
Norway is among the most competitive economies of the world.
·         Export-oriented economy. Taking into account the fact that Norway’s domestic market is tiny, its economy is oriented towards exporting products and resources (for example Norway consumes only 5% of the gas it produces).
Almost 90% of the produced paper and cellulose is exported as well.
Norway exports fish to almost 140 countries around the world. By the way 90% of the salmon imported by Russia comes from Norway.
Norway is the world’s leading exporter of ostriches. It is not accidental that the Norwegian merchant fleet is the 5th largest in the world.
·         Norway’s small-scale and medium-scale businesses represent a considerable share of the country’s economy (99,6%). Over 70% of the working population is employed in the sector.
·         Favorable business environment. Norway can boast Europe’s best business environment. For example anyone opening his/her own business in Norway  can address the Norwegian Industrial and Regional Development Fund to get a free “development grant”.
As a businessman you don’t need to pay taxes until you gain your feet i.e. until your earn a certain amount of money.
It is easy to start a business. All you need is to send the necessary documents by mail and wait. By the way, it is very difficult to become bankrupt in Norway due to governmental support and affordable loans.
Norwegians spend least of all on licenses, registrations and customs formalities. The relations with tax service and other public institutions are absolutely transparent. The level of corruption is very low even though sometimes it seems that corruption and crude oil are inseparable.
·         Taking into account Norway’s fundamental position (it is one of the world’s most solvent countries) and good perspectives as compared to most Euro countries, numerous experts say that Norway may become a new “safe heaven” for many of those who invest in Europe. At least the Norwegian T-bond yield is slightly higher than the German one.
·         Tourism development. Even though the country is situated in the same latitude with Siberia and Alaska, Gulf Stream makes the Norwegian climate relatively mild. Moreover, according to the National Geographic Traveler, the Norwegian fjords currently present more interest for tourists than the Egyptian pyramids and the Great Wall of China:
Norway’s pristine environment, crystal lakes and rivers, blooming valleys and hundreds of ethnographic museums do make the country attractive for tourists from around the world (5-6M tourists a year). Norway is one of the best places for fishing and skiing.

Crude oil and natural gas.
Crude oil and natural gas industries provide 36% of the taxes and 51% of the export proceedings.
The oil wealth is distributed and used wisely. Here are the main distinctive features of the Norwegian energy policy:
In 1971 (or a couple of years after oil was found in the Norwegian part of the North Sea) the Norwegian parliament adopted a new energy policy based on the statement that the country’s natural resources (and crude oil in particular) should belong to the people.
They created a national oil-producing company. The Government Pension Fund of Norway was founded as well. This is the biggest pension fund in the world – $450B.
In reality it is not a pension fund but a fund created to separate sovereign wealth funds in order to ensure Norway’s high living standards when the oil reserves are exhausted (including the profit from oil exports… For example, Statoil gives 78% of its profit to the government).
It appears that the money gained from the Norwegian oil export is isolated from the country’s economy. The fund invests only in foreign securities from around the world (60% is invested in stocks, 40% is invested in bonds).
The country already owns 0.8% of the net amount of all the securities issued around the world.
Russia lent the idea of the Russian Stabilization Fund from Norway.
The Norwegian government spends almost no money for domestic needs (only 4-7% of the money is allocated for Norway’s budget spending). Of course not all the Norwegians like this “stinginess” because the country still has a lot of problems to solve.
The fund is under constant public control: oil companies are obliged to publish income, tax, bonus and investment reports, which are inspected by some international auditing firm.
Norway is mainly exporting oil products, which makes it possible to gain the max profit.
Before the crisis the investments in oil-and-gas sector were increased by 15%. This year the government is going to invest the record amount of $25B.
It appears that it would be ridiculous to regret being blessed with abundant reserves of natural resources. The thing is how effectively they are used and distributed.
Norway: a “social heaven”

Norway is referred to as a prosperous country. The average income is €4000, the average pension is €1500. Norway has managed to create almost a perfect social state with high social guarantees.
Thanks to the progressive tax scale, there are no poor people and almost no rich people. The government pays $5000 each time a child is born and then deposits a certain amount of money to his/her account every year.
The working day usually lasts from 8.00 till 15.00 (not more than 37hrs a week) as the Norwegians know that people need a good rest to work well. The unemployment benefit is paid for 2 years (2% of the previous income).
They also take care of their environment. The secondary and higher education is free. Students get scholarship. The medical service is also free. 9% of the budget is spent on healthcare.
If a Norwegian family spends €500 or more on medicine, the costs are compensated by the government. Norway is also a heaven for the old and retired.
In principle, this is a country of considerable social spending, so it should have been one of the first countries to fall prey to the global crisis. However, as we can see, it didn’t happen.
Skeptics say that Norway can afford spending big money on social benefits and guarantees (for example the population of Russian is 30 times as big as Norway’s one but the Russian oil deposits contain only twice as much crude oil as those located in Norway)
Norway spends only 1,9% of the national GDP on military outlays.

The peculiarities of the Norwegian mentality
The Norwegians are true patriots. They feel proud for their country, its nature and state system. They like to be useful to the society. That is why almost all of them are members of some clubs, parties and organizations.
The Norwegians are emotionally reserved, unhurried and sedate. That is why some foreigners say they can be boring. Most of them are honest and law-abiding. They are sporty and tolerant, self-respecting and self-sufficient.
The weak spots of the Norwegian economy.

In the light of all the above-mentioned the natural question arises: are there any problems in the Norwegian economy? In fact, there are some. Yet they are rather serious:
·         Resource-based economy. Crude oil and natural gas extraction remains the basis of the country’s national economy. Norway is dependent on crude oil even more then Russia.
The peak of oil production was reached in 2000. The production volume has been declining ever since. This year the volume is expected to decline by 6%. The old oilfields of the North Sea are being gradually exhausted.
The gas and oil stocks are overvalued by 20%. The companies have to develop hard-to-reach gas and oil fields, which proves to be much costlier.  Without oil export the country’s budget would be deficit-ridden. Some pessimists say that Norway’s oil deposits will be exhausted within a decade.
·    Severe climate, short vegetation period, short and cold summer and low fertility of the soil restrain the development of agriculture. Only 3% of the land is suitable for cultivation. Despite the generous subsidies the farmers get from the government, 60% of the consumed food is exported.
·   High taxes. Considerable budgetary spending and costly social security system cannot do without high taxes, which are nearly equal to 50% of the national GDP. The Norwegian taxation system is rather tough while the taxes are some of the highest in the world.
The average rate of the income tax is 28%. Most Norwegians spend over 1/3 of their monthly income on various taxes and duties. The taxes are progressive: those who earn over €4375 a month should pay an extra tax (9%), €7100 – 12%. The corporation tax is 28% (Gas and oil companies pay 50%). There are many other taxes and duties (gasoline tax, alcohol tax etc.). In return investors get high-quality service, modern infrastructure, transparency, stability and security.
·   Lack of skilled personnel. Norway constantly lacks qualified labor power, especially managers. The thing is that skilled workers need high salaries. That is why many companies employ less skilled specialists to pay less.
·    Catastrophic population ageing. The amount of the old and retired people in Norway is rapidly growing, which requires more social spending. The problem could be partially solved by attracting migrant laborers. But Norway’s emigration policy is very tough (one of the toughest in the world).
However, the number of emigrants grows every year. Over the last 10 years, 510.000 foreigners have received residence permits. The Norway authorities are afraid that the emigrants may exceed the critical amount.
So, does Norway really have chances to survive without crude oil? Yes, of course.
The country’s economy is quite diversified. Moreover, the Norwegian authorities know about their “Achilles’ heel” and are getting ready for the “post-hydrocarbon” period.

Note 1:  Extracted from kazinkas, Forex Market reviews

Note 2: Recently, a deputy in the parliament applied for the Palestinian BDS movement against Israel for Nobel Peace Prize.





100 Years Ago US Troops Attacked Russia’s Pacific Coast and Committed Atrocities

Four men, accused of being partisans, are alleged to have been buried alive. The wife of a partisan is said to have been “pierced by bayonets and drowned in a garbage pit” [искололи тело штыками и утопили в помойной яме].

The author (who is unnamed) states that his own elderly father was taken as a hostage by Allied forces from the town of Kharitonovka [Харитоновка]. He was returned home alive but in a bloodied condition. He is said to have died a few days later, after asking “Why did they torture me…”? [За что меня замучили]. The man is said to have left five orphans behind.

It further describes young men … who were “tortured for days, had their teeth knocked out and their tongues cut off.”

Strolling the cavernous and well-appointed halls of Russia’s carefully renovated Central Naval Museum [Центральный Военно-морской Музей] near the Neva River in St. Petersburg, one can find an assortment of interesting artifacts, not least the small skiff in which Peter the Great learned to sail more than three centuries ago now.

Among the many captured battle standards from Sweden, Turkey and Germany that are proudly displayed, a few of the expansive oil paintings took me by surprise.

There was, for example, a picture depicting the Russian fleet at anchor off of Kodiak in Alaska during the mid-eighteenth century. Another showed the Soviet Navy’s first submarine kill by torpedo on July 31, 1919. On that day, the British destroyer HMS Vittoria was sunk by the Bolshevik submarine Pantera under the command of Alexander Bakhtin.

I had known, of course, that Allied forces intervened in the Russian Civil War during 1918–22, but was not aware that the intervention had occasioned such deadly incidents.

I was starkly reminded of this fact again during a December 2017 visit to Vladivostok, when quite by chance I came upon a full page article in the December 5 issue of the local newspaper The Competitor [Конкурент] under the following headline: “Atrocities of the American Invaders in Primorye” [Зверства Американских Захватчиков в Приморье].

A close reading of the reasonably detailed Russian-language article (which seems to have been republished) suggests that the allegations are serious.

In keeping with the mission of this Bear Cave series of columns to try to gain insights into the Russian mind-set or weltanschauung, we will take a close look at this article.

It not only reveals a plethora of history long forgotten in the United States, but is also suggestive of the new and dangerous Cold War climate that is quickly overtaking U.S.-Russian relations that only a decade ago could be considered friendly or at least pragmatic.

However, a careful study of Russian history and U.S.-Russian relations, in particular, could help to defuse this most dangerous rivalry even as the conventional media (in both countries it seems) daily stirs the boiling cauldron of rivalry.

(Note: Chomsky revealed that the COLD War started in 1917)

What were more than 7,000 “doughboys” doing in Siberia at the end of the First World War?

To make a long and complex story—explored in detail by such luminaries as George Kennan—a bit shorter, the intervention by a large group of allied powers was not simply anti-Bolshevik, but was premised at the outset as a wartime operation to prevent Germany from gaining access to Russia’s resources and especially Allied supplies and material.

That explains the focus on large ports, including both Murmansk and Vladivostok. (Doubtful reason)

An additional bizarre wrinkle in this tale is the subplot of a large group of Czech soldiers, seemingly trapped in the Russian Civil War, and trying to “escape” to the east in order to rejoin the fight with the Allies.

But as an impressively detailed English-language account of the U.S. mission in the Russian Far East records, these operations extended well beyond Vladivostok, reaching Khabarovsk for example, and U.S. forces engaged in quite extensive combat.

On the bloodiest day, June 25, 1919, twenty-five American soldiers were killed when “partisan units” attacked their encampment near the village of Romanovka about twenty miles northeast of Vladivostok.

Our interest here is the Russian perception of these events and how they resonate today.

Hinting at a rather anti-American disposition, the author asks at the outset: “… where have the Americans not stuck their nose, leaving behind a not so fond memory of themselves”? [куда они свой нос не совали, оставив недобрую память о себе] Then, it is further lamented that

“… the majority of our youth today, educated by American action films and nurtured by hamburgers and Coca-cola do not even have a small bit of understanding [of this history].” According to the author, all the evidence is available in local papers and in the archives.

Many examples of atrocities are given.

It further describes young men from Vladivostok that were accused of being partisans, who were “tortured for days, had their teeth knocked out and their tongues cut off.”The author acknowledges that the Americans were not alone in allegedly committing such atrocities, suggesting that the Japanese were hardly inferior in this respect.

Two towns are said to have been destroyed by Japanese soldiers in January and February 1919.

Citing a Japanese reporter, many inhabitants were burned in their homes when the villages were “completely torched.” [были полностью сожжены].

In addition to local papers, the author explains that pictures of these atrocities can be found in the archives of museums in Vladivostok. It is lamented that, “It is true that politicians today do not want to remember [these events] (and many of them, alas, do not even know about this).”

I should note that the Russians I met in Vladivostok could not have been more friendly and welcoming to our American delegation. That made the article all the more jarring after reading it.

Whether there is some validity to these accusation or this is instead just warmed over Soviet propaganda is not clear. Given the inherent difficulties of counterinsurgency, the lack of oversight (the “CNN effect”) in those times, and the other atrocities that are known to have occurred in the Asia-Pacific, specifically in the Philippines just a few years before, these accounts cannot be dismissed altogether.

In fact, watching the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions unfold, one is tempted to conclude that the Washington foreign policy establishment has learned little over the past century. (Al Raqqa in Syria was annihilated by USA air bombing, as well as a city in the Philippines where Islamic extremists took over for 6 months)

But these stories also serve Moscow’s nationalist and propagandistic agenda, as well of course. Russia may indeed have as many Ameriphobes [Aмерoфобы] by now as our country counts Russophobes.

If one reads the Washington Post and the New York Times regularly, one is familiar with the concept that great power rivalry sells newspapers, of course.

Even the editorial teams at those rabidly Russophobic newspapers would have to concede that allegedly stolen e-mails or purchased Facebook advertisements are in a rather different category than allegations of torture and murder of civilians, even if those incidents occurred some time ago.

Yet there is more “obscure” history in U.S.-Russian relations that is actually much more pertinent to the strategic quandaries that confront us today.

During 1854–56, a quarter million Russians died fighting against the combined forces of France, Britain and Turkey in order to hold Crimea in the Russian Empire.

That was Russia’s first Gettysburg-like bloodletting on Crimea. Count Lev Tolstoy, as many readers will know, was in Sevastopol then to record the slaughter.

The second “Gettysburg moment” for Russians on Crimea came during the Second World War, when the determination of the Soviet defenders of the Sevastopol fortress forced the Nazis to commit major forces that were then significantly battered just before the decisive battle at Stalingrad. Had the Red Army not held out to the tragic end, Hitler might have been victorious in WWII.

But let us return to that scenic, but blood-soaked piece of real estate, jutting prominently out into the Black Sea known as Crimea, which has seemingly tipped European security on its head during the last three years.

For all the extensive punditry explaining how Russia’s absorption of Crimea upset the “rule-based order,” there has been hardly a reflective thought regarding the Crimean War and its significance. After all, that grisly conflict, which spawned the poetic legend of the Charge of the Light Brigade and figures such as Florence Nightingale, was essentially fought by London and Paris for the same purpose ostensibly that NATO has had for the last several decades: namely containing alleged “Russian aggression.”

In his brilliant 2010 book on the Crimean War, author Orlando Figes explains the evolution of strategy in London during the decades prior to that unfortunate war:

“… the phantom threat of Russia entered into the political discourse of Britain as a reality. The idea that Russia had a plan for the domination of the Near East and potentially the conquest of the British Empire began to appear with regularity in pamphlets, which in turn were later cited as objective evidence by Russophobic propagandists in the 1830s and 1840s.” Hmm … sounds eerily familiar.

However, it is most interesting to consider how Americans of that era looked upon Russia’s epic struggle against Britain and France for control of Crimea. Figes’ explanation is worth quoting at length:

US public opinion was generally pro-Russian during the Crimean War … There was a general sympathy for the Russians as an underdog fighting against England, the old imperial enemy, as well as a fear that if Britain won the war against Russia it would be more inclined to meddle once again in the affairs of the United States. …

Commercial contracts were signed between the Russians and the Americans. A US military delegation (including George B. McClellan …) went to Russia to advise the army. American citizens sent arms and munitions to Russia … American volunteers went to Crimea to fight or serve as engineers on the Russian side. Forty US doctors were attached to the medical department of the Russian Army.

The above American inclination to take Russia’s ownership of Crimea rather seriously “way back when,” points to the peculiarity that exists today of basing U.S. strategy in Eurasia (and other parts of the world) on contesting Russia’s claim to that blood-soaked peninsula in the Black Sea.

Never mind that everyone knows that the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 gave over Crimea to the Ukraine SSR as a rather meaningless gesture with obviously unintended consequences. It might further be recalled that Russia first acquired Crimea in the same year, 1783, that marked the end of the American Revolution.

To put it bluntly, Russians have controlled Crimea for quite a long while now and are extremely unlikely to give it up, so let’s neither hold our breath, nor premise our strategy on absurdly a historical, neo-liberal premises.

European security specialists have much more pressing issues to address obviously, including primarily the refugee crisis and terrorism.

A more thorough knowledge of history could help American policymakers draft more responsible policies to stop the “free fall” in U.S.-Russian relations that now imperils Ukraine, Europe and the entire world.

How the Young Turks committed genocide on Armenians

Turkification of the historic city names in Armenian Highland, Anatolia and Cilicia.

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Hratch Kozibeyokian added 2 new photos.

The Committee of Union and Progress took the reins of the Ottoman government through a coup d’état in 1913.

At the height of World War I and during the final years of the Ottoman Empire, when the ethnic cleansing policies of non-Muslim Greek, Armenian, and Assyrians were underway, Minister of War Enver Pasha issued an edict (ferman) on October 6, 1916, declaring: 

“It has been decided that provinces, districts, towns, villages, mountains, and rivers, which are named in languages belonging to non-Muslim nations such as Armenian, Greek or Bulgarian, will be renamed into Turkish. In order to benefit from this suitable moment, this aim should be achieved in due course.”

General Directorate of State Archives of the Republic of Turkey, İstanbul Vilayet Mektupçuluğu, no. 000955, 23 Kânunuevvel 1331 (October 6, 1916) Ordinance of Enver Paşa.

Enver Pasha did not change the geographical names belonging to Muslim minorities (i.e. Arabs and Kurds) due to the Ottoman government’s role as a Caliphate. His decree inspired many Turkish intellectuals to write in support of such measures.

One such intellectual, Hüseyin Avni Alparslan (1877–1921), a Turkish soldier and author of books about Turkish language and culture, was inspired by the efforts of Enver Pasha, writing in his book Trabzon İli Lâz mı? Türk mü? (Is the Trabzon province Laz or Turkish?): 

“If we want to be the owner of our country, then we should turn even the name of the smallest village into Turkish and not leave its Armenian, Greek or Arabic variants.
Only in this way can we paint our country with its colors.” Turkified”–Enver Pasha.

Map prepared by Historian Gevork Nazaryan

Armin Wegner was born in 1886 to an aristocratic Prussian family. He enlisted in the German Army during World War I and served as a medic. Stationed in Baghdad in 1915, Wegner witnessed the death marches of thousands of Armenians who were being deported and slaughtered by the Ottoman Army.

Disobeying direct orders to keep quiet about the massacres because Germany and the Ottoman Empire were allies, Wegner gathered evidence to show the world what was happening. He collected documents and took hundreds of photographs.

Wegner was arrested by the Germans and sent back to Germany. Many of his photographs were confiscated and destroyed, but he managed to save some by hiding the negatives in his belt. Wegner’s photographs remain the best documentation of the Armenian genocide.

After the war, Wegner became a successful journalist and prominent anti-war activist.

In the early 1930’s, Wegner was the only writer to speak out publicly against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.

He penned an open letter to Adolf Hitler on behalf of the Jews of Germany.

No newspaper would publish it, so he sent the letter directly to Nazi Party headquarters. In the letter, Wegner said that Hitler’s actions against the Jews would destroy Germany.

Soon after sending the letter to Hitler, Wegner was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and imprisoned in several concentration camps.

He survived and fled to Rome, never returning to Germany.

In 1967 Wegner was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s museum of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem. (Armenians need to find “Righteous Among the Syrians” who made it possible for Armenians to survive after welcoming them in Aleppo and Deir al Zour after their horror journey in 1917-18)

A year later, he was invited to Armenia to receive an award for his heroism.

Armin Wegner died in 1978, at the age of 91, and is buried in Rome. The inscription on his tombstone quotes the dying words of Pope Gregory VII in 1085:

“I loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile”

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Armenian Highlands Have Never Been Called “Eastern Anatolia”

The government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II replaced the name “Armenia” by terms like “Kurdistan” and “Anatolia”.

(The Kurds were employed to guard the Armenian  prisoners on their death journey to Syria. The Kurds were rewarded by looting and confiscating Armenian properties)

Since 1880, the use of the name of Armenia in official documents was forbidden. The Sublime Porte thus attempted to convince everyone that there is no such thing as the “Armenian Question” – no Armenia, no issues related to it.

The Kemalists, ideological successors of Young Turks, carried on with the process of the “nationalization”. It gained momentum especially in the republican years.

In 1923, the whole territory of Western Armenia was renamed Eastern Anatolia.

In his “Jihan Numa”, renowned 17th-century Ottoman scholar, historian, and geographer Kâtip Çelebi wrote a chapter named “About the Country Called Armenia”.

However, when the book was republished in 1957, its editor, one H. Selen, renamed the chapter “Eastern Anatolia”. This case is only one of the hundreds of others, clearly demonstrating the Turkish falsifications in regard to Armenians’ indigenous to Western Armenia, not to mention the rest of historical Armenia.

In the 17th century, when the “Armenian Question” hadn’t yet emerged, the term “Eastern Anatolia” did not exist. Additionally, the 16th-century “Islamic World Map”, as well as 18th- and 19th-century Ottoman maps featured Armenia as a distinct territory with its cities.

Article source:…/armenian-highlands-have-never-been-…/



How US went from supporting Syrian Kurds, to backing Turkey against them – in just 9 days

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been left flailing as Washington desperately struggles to avoid being shut out of Syria by its own allies – following a crisis it helped provoke just days ago.

For all the backpedaling and reframing the US officials are now doing, the chronology of the volte-face from Afrin to Ankara is startlingly straightforward.

READ MORE: ‘No stepping back’ from Afrin campaign: Turkish Army takes offensive to Azaz district

January 13

US announces a 30,000-strong Kurdish YPG-led Border Security Force (BSF) to stave off a Islamic State “resurgence,”operating out of the quarter of Syria’s territory that the Kurdish minority now controls.

January 15

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls BSF an “army of terror” and promises to “strangle it before it is born,” saying it will imminently invade the north-western enclave of Afrin. Ankara says the US did not consult it over BSF, and insists Washington broke its promise to no longer arm YPG, whom Turkey views as separatist terrorists.

January 17

Tillerson to media: “That entire situation has been mis-portrayed, mis-described, some people misspoke. We are not creating a Border Security Force at all.” (Read a buffer zone for Turkey with Syria, as Israel want by the Golan Heights)

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Adrian Rankine-Galloway says of the 8,000-10,000 YPG militiamen in Afrin: “We don’t consider them as part of our ‘Defeat ISIS’ operations, which is what we are doing there and we do not support them. We are not involved with them at all.” (Note that there are also another larger Kurdish enclave in the North-West by Iraq’s border)

January 20

Turkey attacks Afrin. If there wasn’t enough dis-ingenuousness here already, the airstrike-backed ground attack is called Operation Olive Branch. Turkey says that it will create a 30-km deep “security zone” inside the Syrian border, and announces plans to push the offensive further east.

January 21

“Turkey is a NATO ally. It’s the only NATO country with an active insurgency inside its borders. And Turkey has legitimate security concerns,” says US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. “We’ll sort this out.”

January 22

Tillerson to Turkey: “Let us see if we can work with you to create the kind of security zone you might need.” The kind of security zone that will operate on the same territory as the BSF? That force that was purportedly essential to the ‘Defeat Isis’ operations? Never mind all that.

Now, Tillerson deserves some sympathy.

If Al-Qaeda turned into ISIS the last time US forces abandoned the region, what will ISIS turn into? Turkish and Kurdish tensions also predate the conflict, and it’s not Washington’s fault that Ankara is its NATO ally, while YPG provided America’s most motivated force against ISIS. All in all, Washington is now trying to make the best of a bad hand.

But the entire episode is emblematic of the incoherent and doomed-to-fail strategy the US has pursued in Syria for the past 7 years.

What did the US think was going to happen after its BSF announcement? (Not the other infamous Jerusalem announcement).

Like the teenager who unexpectedly comes home with a tattoo, it didn’t tell Ankara in advance because it must have realized what the reaction would be, or perhaps underestimated Erdogan’s fury – frequent bouts of fury– before trotting out a series of implausible denials.

The bigger problem is that Washington supports actors who have few aims in common beyond their mission to destroy Islamic State – which for most of them is no longer a priority, and for some never was.

And apart from a by-now almost mythical 2011 pro-democracy movement, none of them share American aims anyway.

In fact, most are probably questioning why the US is even there.

For Syrians, this is their own conflict, Turkey borders it, Kurds have long coveted their own state, even Russia is here at the official behest of Assad.

America’s desire to pin its colors to Kurds or Turkey or anyone else in Syria shows that is raring to remain a part of the post-conflict stage, but everyone else has either greater motivation, more legitimacy, or both.

So at its current level of engagement – where it can’t even back its horses for a week – Washington is probably best-off helping quietly, and not lighting matches and then inching away in embarrassment while others wage real wars.

(Note that US has already 8 military bases in North Syria, without the consent of Syria government.

Igor Ogorodnev for RT

READ MORE: ‘No stepping back’ from Afrin campaign: Turkish Army takes offensive to Azaz district


Why is the Israeli army suddenly concerned about Gaza?

For years, Gaza has been on the brink of collapse. Jonathan Cook looks at the troubling reasons behind a sudden uptick in interest by the Israeli military

More than 10 years ago Israel tightened its grip on Gaza, enforcing a blockade on goods coming in and out of the tiny coastal enclave that left much of the two million-strong population there unemployed, impoverished and hopeless.

Since then, Israel has launched three separate major military assaults that have destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, killed many thousands and left tens of thousands more homeless and traumatised.

Jonathan Cook. January 21, 2018

Gaza is effectively an open-air prison, an extremely overcrowded one, with only a few hours of electricity a day and its ground water polluted by seawater and sewage.

Last week Israeli military officials for the first time echoed what human rights groups and the United Nations have been saying for some time: that Gaza’s economy and infrastructure stand on the brink of collapse.

After a decade of this horrifying experiment in human endurance, the Israeli army finally appears to be concerned about whether Gaza can continue coping much longer.

In recent days it has begun handing out forms, with more than a dozen questions, to the small number of Palestinians allowed briefly out of Gaza – mainly business people trading with Israel, those needing emergency medical treatment and family members accompanying them.

A Palestinian with blood on his hands reacts as a wounded demonstrator is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops, near the border with Israel in the east Gaza Strip on January 19. Mohammed Salem / Reuters

One question asks bluntly whether they are happy, another whom they blame for their economic troubles. A statistician might wonder whether the answers can be trusted, given that the sample group is so heavily dependent on Israel’s good will for their physical and financial survival.

But the survey does at least suggest that Israel’s top brass may be open to new thinking, after decades of treating Palestinians only as target practice, lab rats or sheep to be herded into cities, freeing up land for Jewish settlers. Has the army finally understood that Palestinians are human beings too, with limits to the suffering they can soak up?

According to the local media, the army is in part responding to practical concerns. It is reportedly worried that, if epidemics break out, the diseases will quickly spread into Israel.

And if Gaza’s economy collapses too, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could be banging on Israel’s door – or rather storming its hi-tech incarceration fence – to be allowed in. The army has no realistic contingency plans for either scenario.

Nonetheless, neither Israeli politicians nor Washington appear to be taking evasive action. In fact, things look set to get worse.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week there could be no improvements, no reconstruction in Gaza until Hamas agrees to give up its weapons – the only thing, in Hamas’s view, that serves as a deterrent against future Israeli attack.

Figures show Israel’s policy towards Gaza has been actually growing harsher.

In 2017, exit permits issued by Israel dwindled to a third of the number two years earlier – and a hundredfold fewer than in early 2000. A few hundred Palestinian business people receive visas, stifling any chance of economic revival.

The number of trucks bringing goods into Gaza has been cut in half – not because Israel is putting the inmates on a “diet”, as it once did, but because the enclave’s Palestinians lack “purchasing power”. That is, they are too poor to buy Israeli goods.

Mr Netanyahu has resolutely ignored a plan by his transport minister to build an artificial island off Gaza to accommodate a sea port under Israeli or international supervision. And no one is considering allowing the Palestinians to exploit Gaza’s natural gas fields, just off the coast.

In fact, the only thing holding Gaza together is the international aid it receives. And that is now in jeopardy too.

The Trump administration announced last week it is to slash by half the aid it sends to Palestinian refugees via the UN agency UNRWA. Mr Trump has proposed further cuts to punish Mahmoud Abbas, the increasingly exasperated Palestinian leader, for refusing to pretend any longer that the US is an honest broker capable of overseeing peace talks.

The White House’s difficulties will only be underscored on Sunday evening, when Mike Pence, the US vice-president, arrives in Israel as part of Mr Trump’s supposed push for peace.

Palestinians in Gaza will feel the loss of aid severely. A majority live in miserable refugee camps set up after their families were expelled in 1948 from homes in what is now Israel. They depend on the UN for food handouts, health and education.

Backed by the PLO’s legislative body, the central council, Mr Abbas has begun retaliating – at least rhetorically. He desperately needs to shore up the credibility of his diplomatic strategy in pursuit of a two-state solution after Mr Trump recently hived off Palestine’s future capital, Jerusalem, to Israel.

Mr Abbas threatened, if not very credibly, to end a security coordination with Israel he once termed “sacred” and declared as finished the Oslo accords that created the Palestinian Authority he now heads.

The lack of visible concern in Israel and Washington suggests neither believes he will make good on those threats.

But it is not Mr Abbas’s posturing that Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump need worry about. They should be listening to Israel’s generals, who understand that there is no defence against the fallout from the catastrophe looming in Gaza.

Hussein Ibish The Trump administration has made a grim situation worse for Palestinians

Zahra Lari Arab sportswomen like me are the role models for the next generation


The master artist preserving Jerusalem’s history

Jerusalem, occupied West Bank – In his small and cramped studio, Shehab Kawasmi moves carefully around piles of centuries-old photographs, stacks of drawings and thick books.

by 3 Jan 2018
The master artist preserving Jerusalem's history
A realist painter, Kawasmi uses his brush to draw hundreds of historic and religious landmarks in Jerusalem’s Old City, the place where he was born and raised.

“I feel it is my duty as an artist to preserve the history of our city for future generations,” said the Palestinian aritis, who has dedicated his life’s work to depict the rich history of his city.

Born in 1959 in the holy city’s Chain Gate neighbourhood, just a few steps away from al-Aqsa Mosque, the Palestinian painter grew up surrounded by Jerusalem’s numerous monuments.

For him and his friends growing up in the 1960s, these iconic landmarks were their playground, a place of affinity and inspiration.

Drawings of Old Jerusalem from the artist’s book [Al Jazeera]

Ever since his teenage years, the Old City, with its ancient landscape, interlinked souqs and Roman, Christian and Islamic architecture, has always lured Kawasmi to recreate it on canvas.

“I used to draw Jerusalem landmarks for friends and family as gifts, but later on they encouraged me to do it professionally and full time, and this is how I started my Jerusalem collections,” he said.

Kawasmi has so far published a number of books with his creations and has exhibited both at home and abroad.

His vast collection includes drawings of intricate artwork from inside al-Aqsa Mosque, Ottoman architecture, Christian landmarks, churches and ancient archaeological sites.

They are all based on his own observation of the famous landmarks, as well as photographs he has taken of them.

Kawasmi has also assembled a vast collection of old photographs of many of Jerusalem’s historical and religious places dating back to the previous centuries.

His latest book, Kan Yama Kan, or One upon a Time: Jerusalem before a 100 years, has more than 70 black and white realistic drawings depicting the Old City’s history and religious significance.

Drawings of Old Jerusalem from the artist’s book  [Al Jazeera]

Every time the topic turns to Jerusalem, Kawasmi’s face lights up as he describes the Old City’s ancient passageways, many of which outsiders would find puzzling and confusing.

He and other local Palestinians know almost every corner of the city’s narrow lanes, its secret alleys, its Roman caverns, its Christian monasteries and numerous Ottoman and other Islamic landmarks.

“I can never get lost here,” said Kawasmi.

Like every Palestinian from Jerusalem, every corner of it is practically imprinted in my memory since childhood.

“This place represents my entire life – as a child, an adult and as an artist.”

Shehab Kawasmi in his studio [Ali Younes / Al Jazeera]

Kawasmi said the publication of his latest book hit a snag due to the high cost of printing its glossy cover-to-cover content.

But things took a turn for the better when King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is the custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, decided to sponsor Kawasmi’s effort after coming to know about it.

“King Abdullah saved this project with his generous donation, and I am so grateful for that,” he said.

Abdullah also purchased 100 copies which he gifted to participating delegations during the Arab League summit held in Jordan’s capital, Amman, in March.

Currently, Kawasmi is working on another book of drawings dedicated specifically to al-Aqsa Mosque and its ancient artwork.

Jérusalem, ville siamoise

Divisée en deux parties à la suite des accords d’armistice de 1949, intégralement sous administration israélienne depuis 1967, la ville sainte cultive une identité complexe et multiple, à l’équilibre précaire.

LE MONDE |  • Mis à jour le  | Par Piotr Smolar (Jérusalem, correspondant)

image: du dôme de la mosquée d’Omar, dans la vieille villede Jérusalem,  depuis un cimetière où prient des juifs orthodoxes,le 7 décembre.

Heureux sont les touristes à Jérusalem. A leurs yeux, tout brille.

Ils marchent sur les pas du Christ, s’extasient devant la beauté de l’esplanade des Mosquées, glissent un petit papier dans les fentes encombrées du mur des Lamentations.

La vieille ville est un extraordinaire entrelacs cosmopolite, comme le Moyen-Orient n’en connaît plus. (Beg to differ)

Les touristes saisissent sur leurs téléphones les nuances du soleil tombant sur les remparts couleur crème. Les livres d’histoire et les trois grandes religions monothéistes prennent corps devant eux.

Puis la plupart s’en vont, après avoir manqué la cité, la vraie. Celle où des gens vivent, où des “tribus” se côtoient et s’ignorent, se frottent et se repoussent.

Pour le monde, Jérusalem est un fantasme, un écrin doré, et aussi un motif de conflits sans fin, religieux et politique.

Les fondateurs de l’Etat d’Israël, après la seconde guerre mondiale, étaient essentiellement des immigrés d’Europe orientale, laïcs et socialistes. Leur sionisme n’érigeait pas Jérusalem en obsession.

Mais la victoire israélienne écrasante lors de la guerre de 1967 contre les pays arabes – avec la prise de la vieille ville, les prières des soldats au Mur – créa les conditions d’un culte messianique à droite.

Pour ses adeptes, l’errance du peuple juif prenait fin avec son retour à l’endroit même où s’était dressé le premier temple, celui du roi Salomon, jusqu’à sa destruction en – 586 avant J.-C.

Lorsqu’on enjambe les siècles, on pense différemment. La reconnaissance unilatérale de la cité comme capitale d’Israël par les Etats-Unis, le 6 décembre 2017, n’est alors qu’un foyer d’incendie de plus.

Jérusalem rend fous ceux qui la vénèrent trop. Elle pousse aussi au déni de l’autre. (Les fous sont les Evangeliques Zionists de USA, de l’Angleterre et de la France)

Juifs et musulmans se disputent l’ancienneté et la pureté de leurs liens millénaires avec ces lieux, comme si le talisman ne pouvait tolérer plusieurs maîtres. Les chrétiens, qui ne sont plus que 12 000 à Jérusalem, se tiennent à l’écart de cet…

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