Archive for the 'Central Asia' Category

The Green Banner of Batu Khan

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Waves of Islamic fundamentalism have engulfed Russia; the Kremlin continues to woo the Islamists with Hamas among them

By Alexander Maistrovoy

Following prayers at the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, during his visit in February 2010, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal admitted that, in the Council of Muftis of Russia, it felt like home. While his statement probably pleased Russian leaders, in reality these words should have alerted them. Whether it was Mashaal’s intention or not, this acknowledgment could be perceived as a prophecy: The dawn of Islamic fundamentalism in the northern superpower.

Islam is the second religious denomination in Russia after the Orthodox Church. According to the official census, there are about 15 million Muslims — 10% of the population — in Russia. The Spiritual Board of Muslims claims 20 million. Most of these Muslims are concentrated in the North Caucasus (Chechens, Ingush people, etc.) and in the Volga region (Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash people, etc.). The natural growth of Muslims is traditionally higher than that of rest of the population.


The Problem with Turkey’s “Zero Problems” – Turkey, Past and Future

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

by Ilias I. Kouskouvelis*

Under the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP), Turkey’s foreign policy has been associated with the prescriptions and efforts of three men: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu, a former international relations professor, has been the most articulate exponent of the troika’s ideas, penning perhaps the most authoritative summary of its worldview in his 2001 Stratejik Derinlik (Strategic Depth)[1] and coining its foremost article of faith: a “zero-problems policy” with Turkey’s neighbors because Ankara “wants to eliminate all the problems from her relations with neighbors or at least to minimize them as much as possible.”[2]

This might all be well and good if such words were supported by actions. But Davutoğlu has also described Turkey as a “heavyweight wrestler,” hinting that it may use “the maximum of its abilities” when dealing with its neighboring “middleweight wrestlers.”[3] A survey of Ankara’s relations with these “middleweight wrestlers” reveals its “zero problems policy” to be little more than a cover for the AKP’s reasserted “neo-Ottoman” ambitions.


Syria does not want Bashar al-Assad; does it want … Hafez al-Assad?

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

by Alexander Maistrovoy

A quarter of a century ago, the people of Central Asia and the Caucasus tasted freedom. It was the taste of blood. What is the taste of Syria’s “revolution?”

The first task of the historian is to make a careful sketch of the manner in which the events he recounts took place. The history of religious beginnings transports us into a world of women and children, of brains ardent or foolish. These facts, placed before minds of a positive order, are absurd and unintelligible, and this is why countries such as England, of ponderous intellects, find it impossible to comprehend anything about it.

This is how Ernest Renan* described how the psychology of the people in epoch of Jesus was frustratingly misunderstood by the English philosophers.

Replace “England” with “West”, ancient history with modern, and you’ll understand the fatal error in the assessment of the events in Syria.


The Foreign Policy Elite and Bureaucracy Starts Parting Ways with Obama

Monday, May 16th, 2011

By Barry Rubin

“Please release me let me go
for I don’t love you anymore
To waste our lives would be a sin
Release me and let me love again.”

–”Please Release Me Let Me Go”

Perhaps the most important policymaking development of the last month has been President Barack Obama’s increasingly visible loss of a lot of the foreign policy elite, including considerable segments of the State and Defense departments. Why this is happening is one of the most interested-and highly neglected-stories of this period.

Consider the factors involved:


Will Obama Have an Iraq Crisis?

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

By Barry Rubin

If–and I repeat, if–this story is true it is going to be a very big development that may, as they like to see in the television promos, change the Obama administration forever. According to Thomas Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, General Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is asking for an additional combat brigade to be put into Kirkuk and to stay beyond Obama’s August 2010 withdrawal deadline for all combat forces.


Dissident Watch: Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

by Richard L. Benkin*

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury’s struggle in Bangladesh has played out dramatically: his 2003 arrest; his 2005 release;[1] middle of the night battles to prevent his re-incarceration; accolades for his stance as a “Muslim Zionist”;[2] and resolutions from the U.S. Congress and others in 2006 and 2007.[3] Things have now settled into a Kafkaesque routine without visible end, one where the process is the punishment.


Analysis: Iranian Lobbying Failed

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

By Jonathan Spyer

President Shimon Peres’s landmark visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan this week represents a significant advance for Israeli ambitions in Central Asia. In the wake of the recent decision to permit Israel to open an embassy in the Turkmen capital of Ashghabad, the visit reflects the importance Jerusalem attaches to this strategically significant part of what is sometimes known as the “greater Middle East.”


Will Untapped Ottoman Archives Reshape the Armenian Debate? – Turkey, Present and Past

Friday, April 10th, 2009

by Yücel Güçlü*

The debate over what happened to Armenians in World War I-era Ottoman Anatolia continues to polarize historians and politicians. Armenian historians argue that Ottoman forces killed more than one million Armenians in a deliberate act of genocide.[1] Other historians — most famously Bernard Lewis and Guenter Lewy — acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Armenians died but question whether this was a deliberate act of genocide or rather an outgrowth of fighting and famine.[2] In recent decades, the debate has shifted from academic to legislative grounds. In 2001, the French parliament voted to recognize an Armenian genocide.[3] In 2007, U.S. political leaders narrowly averted an Armenian genocide resolution in the House of Representatives. While Armenian activists lobby politicians to recognize an Armenian genocide formally, which is likely to be a first step toward a demand for collective reparations, and genocide studies scholars seek to close the book on the Armenian narrative, it is ironic that many of the archives that contain documentation from the period remain untapped.


Fethullah Gülen’s Grand Ambition: Turkey’s Islamist Danger

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

by Rachel Sharon-Krespin*

As Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) begins its seventh year in leadership, Turkey is no longer the secular and democratic country that it was when the party took over. The AKP has conquered the bureaucracy and changed Turkey’s fundamental identity. Prior to the AKP’s rise, Ankara oriented itself toward the United States and Europe. Today, despite the rhetoric of European Union accession, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned Turkey away from Europe and toward Russia and Iran and reoriented Turkish policy in the Middle East away from sympathy toward Israel and much more toward friendship with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria. Anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Semitic sentiments have increased. Behind Turkey’s transformation has been not only the impressive AKP political machine but also a shadowy Islamist sect led by the mysterious hocaefendi (master lord) Fethullah Gülen; the sect often bills itself as a proponent of tolerance and dialogue but works toward purposes quite the opposite. Today, Gülen and his backers (Fethullahcılar, Fethullahists) not only seek to influence government but also to become the government.


The Fethullah Gulen Movement

Friday, January 9th, 2009

By Bill Park*

The Gulen movement is attracting increasing and sometimes hostile attention both inside Turkey and beyond as a result of its increasing activity, wealth, and influence. Inspired by the thoughts of its founder, Sufi scholar Fethullah Gulen, it has established hundreds of educational institutions, as well as media outlets, dialogue platforms, and charities. Well-established in Turkey, it has expanded into the wider Turkic world and, increasingly, beyond. Yet its structure, ambitions, and size remain opaque, making assessment of its impact and power difficult.


Azerbaijan-Turkey-Israel Relations: The Energy Factor

Friday, September 19th, 2008

By Alexander Murinson*

With the conclusion of the Cold War, the trilateral axis (Israel-Turkey-Azerbaijan) in the expanded Middle East emerged. The issue of energy security as a component of this relationship has remained largely unexplored. First, this article elucidates the transformation of the concept of security in the post-Cold War period. It then places the hydrocarbon-rich Caspian region in the context of the energy security needs of energy-poor Turkey and Israel. The importance of transportation routes from the Caspian for the Jewish state are highlighted, and the potential of Caspian petrochemicals for cooperation in energy field between Israel, Turkey Israel are explored.


The Rise of the Chechen Emirate?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

by Dmitry Shlapentokh*

Chechnya has been at war with Russia for generations. By 1999, when the second Chechen war broke out, two resistance groups had emerged: nationalists and jihadists. While long simmering below the surface, the schism between the two camps erupted publicly in 2006 on the Internet after Akhmed Khalidovich Zakaev, the moderate foreign minister of the shadow Chechen government, argued that the goal of the Chechen resistance should be an independent Chechen state modeled after Western democracies and integrated into the global community. Movladi Udugov, a jihadist and editor of Kavkaz Center, the best-known online resistance publication, vehemently disagreed and declared that for real Muslims, spiritual bonds should be more important than blood ties. He argued that he would rather embrace ethnic Russians who had converted to Islam than Chechens who had strayed from their religion. There was no point modeling society after Western states, he contended, because all non-Muslim states, or those that are Muslim only in name but not in essence, are corrupt. Instead, Chechens should fight for the establishment of a global caliphate.


The rise and rise of Hizb ut-Tahrir

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

By Jonathan Spyer

Sitting in the best bar in Jerusalem about four months ago (it’s called Sira, in case you’re interested), I entered into conversation with a tall, ginger-haired young man who turned out to be a member of the Swedish contingent in the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). Our conversation ranged over the trials and tribulations of the life of a member of TIPH, the very large amounts of money he seemed to be making, and the merits of Jerusalem when compared with other cities in the region.

An offhand remark he made concerning the political balance of power in Hebron turned the conversation from mildly interesting to memorable. I asked him if Hamas was gaining ground in the city of Hebron. He replied wearily that the fastest-growing political force in the city was not Hamas, nor any of the other well-known Palestinian political movements. Rather, the most notable and noticeable development on the ground in Hebron was the sudden and rapid rise in support for the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir.


Israel and Azerbaijan’s Furtive Embrace

Sunday, August 6th, 2006

by Ilya Bourtman
Middle East Quarterly*
Summer 2006
* Cross-posted with permission

The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Within weeks, six predominantly Muslim countries along the southern rim of the Soviet Union gained independence. Israel, along with Turkey, Iran, and various Arab states, rushed to establish embassies in capitals ranging from Ashgabat to Tashkent. While Jerusalem maintains good working relations with these newly independent states, few could have foreseen how Israel’s relationship with Azerbaijan would blossom. The two countries formally established relations in April 1992, one year after Azerbaijan declared its independence. The idea that a country 93 percent Muslim would cooperate closely with Israeli intelligence, and even provide Israeli officials a defensive platform in such a volatile region, was hardly considered. Yet, Jerusalem and Baku have quietly become strategic partnerssharing intelligence, developing trade relations, and together building regional alliances. Although the Israel-Azerbaijan partnership has had important regional implications, uncertainty remains how far Azerbaijani elites are willing to pursue ties.