Eritrean Exodus

By Javan Latson

Nestled along the coast of the Red Sea lies the small, secluded state of Eritrea. Often called the “North Korea” of Africa, few outsiders have ever been to the nation due to the strict censorship and control that the government enforces. However, the tiny African nation is a major contributor to the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two with about 5,000 people leaving each month.

The story of Eritrea is one of conflict and a desire for freedom. Africa’s second newest state has been constantly subjugated by larger powers. Following 52 years of Italian Colonialism, the British took over in 1941 beginning an eleven-year occupation. Partial freedom was granted in 1952 when Eritrea was declared an autonomous province of Ethiopia by the United Nations, but only ten years later the small nation was annexed by Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia. This sparked a vicious 30-year war, which claimed thousands of lives and displaced many. The result was Eritrean independence in 1993 that placed the victorious PFDJ party in control of the nation, and a deep distrust of Ethiopia for fear of a future invasion. This concern would eventually become a reality in 1998 when a border skirmish led to a two-year war that led to the death of 80,000 people. Peace was established only after an agreement was signed in Algeria giving an international organization the right to clarify the borders of the neighboring states. Although peace was secured, it has been more of an uneasy stalemate between the two nations.

The Eritrean government has seized on this paranoia to obtain a strong grip on its citizens. Much like Cuba and China, Eritrea is a single party state that can’t in any sense be called a democracy. For the last 23 years the nation has been under the leadership of “president” Isaias Afewerki and his PFDJ (ironically stands for: People’s Front for Democracy and Justice) party. During this time, the regime has strengthened its power and has greatly limited the freedoms of the people, and as a result of its policies 5000 people flee the country each month. This mass exodus places Eritrea second to Syria in terms of refugee production, in what is the greatest migration crisis in 70 years.

Many of the freedoms taken for granted in the west are non-existent in the East African nation. Although a proposal for democratic reforms was presented in 1997, it was never adopted. President Afwerki has announced that elections would be postponed for 30 to 40 years or even longer because they “polarize” society. Freedom of expression is virtually nonexistent as there is a great deal of government censorship. The regime controls all media outlets, and all publications must receive approval before being released. An overwhelming amount of the people lack access to the Internet with less than 1% of the population being able to get online, and websites such as YouTube and those run by exiles are blocked. Emails are also monitored, and due to the poor infrastructure and lack of outside information, the nation is very insular and uniformed about events outside of their country. Foreign journalists are not allowed to freely enter the country and those that are permitted entry are closely monitored and pressured into portraying the government in a favorable way. The conditions are not conducive to free reporting and there are currently 16 journalists in prison. The government’s tight leash on the media has caused them to be ranked last for eight consecutive years in the World Press Freedom Index.

Individual rights are also frequently violated, especially religious freedom.  To be
“legitimate,” religious denominations must register with the government, and as of now there are currently four legal religions (Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, and Lutheranism).  Members of unrecognized religions, mainly Evangelical Christians, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses, face severe persecution. They can be thrown in prison, tortured, or pressured to forsake their beliefs. The government especially targets Jehovah’s Witnesses, barring them from obtaining government employment and stripping of them of citizenship. There are 3,000 people are currently in prison because of their religious beliefs, where they are kept in abysmal conditions. Arbitrary arrests are common and prisoners do not have to be informed as to the reason for their incarceration. Those in custody are held indefinitely and without the guarantee of a trial, in overcrowded, underground cells or in shipping containers. Torture of prisoners is common and water and food are not regularly supplied. Juveniles and adults serve time together and according to most estimates there are 10,000 political prisoners in the country.

Perhaps the most egregious policy of them all is the national service requirement. Established in 1995, citizens between the ages of 18-40 are required to serve 18 months in the military, but in reality the program lasts for decades. Military training is mandatory for all children prior to their completion of school and many of the conscripts are used to work on construction sites and government farms. Females often face sexual abuse and harassment from their commanding officers and the salary of $43 dollars a month (before deductions) is not enough to support most families. Human rights groups have slammed this practice as forced labor on a national scale and some have compared it to slavery. The government meanwhile defends their policy, stating that it is necessary in order to defend the nation against Ethiopia.

The gross violations of human rights and the dire economic situation have caused thousands to flee. Since 2004, more than 200,000 Eritreans have escaped to refugee camps in neighboring Sudan and Ethiopia. This has prompted the government to enact a “shoot to kill” policy for anyone that attempts to cross the border without permission. The two primary destinations for Eritreans are Israel and the European Union. Ten percent of migrants to the EU hail from Eritrea and, as of 2014, there were 80,000 Eritrean citizens residing in the EU. The EU grants ninety percent of Eritrean asylum requests, with Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland being the top destinations. Those that decide to make the dangerous trip must trek through the Sahara Desert to Libya, where they board poorly made boats and cross the Mediterranean to Europe. This is a perilous journey that has resulted in many deaths. During the first half of 2015 alone, 2,703 migrants died attempting to cross the sea from North Africa, many of whom were Eritrean. In addition to this, there are dangers from terrorist groups like ISIS; in 2015, ISIS in Libya kidnapped 88 Eritrean Christians from a smuggling caravan.

The other route to freedom for these refugees requires going through Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Those that make this trip are exposed to torture, rape, and extortion at the hands of smugglers or even local law enforcement. Upon arrival to Israel (which is home to 37,000 Eritreans) they face some very harsh treatment from Israeli authorities. Israeli policy towards East Africans is not lenient as the government rejects 99.97% of asylum claims on the grounds that Eritreans are not refugees but rather economic migrants. Israel has been accused of seeking to coerce migrants to leave the country and it gives them three options. They can either be given a sum of money and sent to a third country in Africa, go back to where they came from, or be detained indefinitely in Israel. Many of those that go back to Eritrea are branded as traitors and are put to death or sent to prison.

With the number of refugees in Europe increasing and given the recent history of terror attacks, some European nations have begun taking a stronger stance against immigration. The UK has begun declining Eritrean asylum seekers on the grounds that the UN has drastically overblown the human rights situation in the country. Meanwhile, the US policy under the Obama administration prioritizes Eritreans fleeing because of religious persecution and 1,488 Eritreans entered the United States during the 2015 fiscal year. Many EU countries have attempted to stem the flow of people from Eritrea by attempting to normalize relations between the regime and neighboring Ethiopia, with the hope that this will help reduce tension in the area. There have also been financial deals created in order to increase economic development in Eritrea in an attempt to improve standards of living. However, they have also been condemned by human rights advocates as solidifying the government’s control over the people. It is hard to tell what the effects of these policies will be, but until the situation in Eritrea changes, the exodus will continue.

Make India Great Again: The Defective Development Gospel

By Shelby House

Behold, the glib, bigoted politician everyone loves to hate. He is self-absorbed, and he loves to put his name on everything. He is nationalistic. He does not disconnect himself from groups that engage in racially-motivated violence, and he gives a special wink to groups that want to kick Muslims out of the country. But he is attractive because he is an ‘outsider,’ undoing years of dynastic politics. This shakes the party base. Many of the party’s founders disavow him, only to recant when his popular appeal becomes undeniable. His fiery speeches and charisma put him in sharp contrast against the scores of boring, old politicians, with all-too-familiar family names, running against him. And he is economically savvy—based on his record, voters see a chance for growth and development. That is, if you define “voters” as “middle class citizens from the dominant racial and religious group.” If you are picturing Donald Trump’s golden coif, you are not wrong—but the world has seen this phenomenon before in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).


In 2014, the BJP swept the general election and secured 282 seats in the 545-seat lower house called the Lok Sabha. The BJP is a right-wing political organization which explicitly subscribes to Hindu nationalism or Hindutva. According to the party, their conception of Hindutva is not religious or theocratic. Instead, the term refers more broadly to “cultural, territorial, historical concepts referring to a broad-minded, tolerant, catholic, inclusive tradition”—all Indians are Hindus, even the Muslims. Unfortunately, this vague and fuzzy definition does not accurately reflect the actions of the BJP or its partner organizations.


The BJP was founded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Singh (RSS), which is frequently called a terrorist organization. The RSS has been involved repeatedly in anti-Muslim pogroms, and the BJP has followed in step. In the 1990s, the BJP, along with the RSS and other Hindu nationalist outfits, led the charge to destroy the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, India. The mosque, built in 1528, had become a flashpoint for Hindu-Muslim violence due to Hindu nationalist claims that the mosque occupied the birthplace of the deity Rama. On December 6, 1992, the BJP and VHP led a 150,000-person rally at the site, and the crowd tore the mosque apart. Following this incident, riots rocked India, resulting in at least 2,000 deaths. Throughout the years, BJP manifestos have reaffirmed a “commitment to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.” BJP leaders have also called for anti-conversion laws, and the party’s 2014 manifesto proposes a uniform civil code. This measure is seen as discriminatory to Indian Muslims who would otherwise receive accommodation for their religious beliefs. The BJP claims to represent secularism, and the group heavily watered down their Hindutva message to gain electoral support in 2014. However, the party’s history and platforms belie any commitment to secularism.


While the BJP’s history is disconcerting, Narendra Modi’s personal history with religious violence is even more damning. In 2002, when Modi served as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the state witnessed three days of riots against the local Muslim population, which left “most certainly over 2,000 dead,” according to South Asianist Christophe Jaffrelot. In 2011, in a sworn statement to India’s Supreme Court, a senior police officer from Gujarat stated that Modi took no action to quell the violence, instead saying that the “Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson.” Since Modi has risen to power as prime minister, this convenient silence has remained the status quo. For instance, in September 2015, a Muslim man from Uttar Pradesh was murdered by a mob after a rumor circulated that he had consumed beef—angering the Hindu population, which consider cows sacred. Modi was criticized for waiting 2 weeks before weakly condemning the incident. One month later, a 16-year old was beaten to death in Jammu and Kashmir on the suspicion that he had helped slaughter cows. Days after this, a 20-year old was lynched in Himachal Pradesh on suspicion that he was smuggling cattle. Modi has remained silent, and he surely hasn’t taken measures to curtail this type of religious violence.


Nationalism and fear-mongering weaken democracy. While India has a thriving procedural democracy—elections go off without a hitch—Hindu nationalism threatens India’s commitment to secularism. State-sanctioned racial violence cripples the ability of Indian Muslims to live freely, dissent, and prosper in the Indian state, which harbors the third largest Muslim population in the world. As I wrote last April, India’s failure to accommodate its massive Muslim population also exacerbates tensions in problem regions like Kashmir, which is currently in an ongoing “bloodbath” that has been called a “replay of the Gujarat pogrom.” The oppression of minorities, in any state, revokes that state’s right to call itself a democracy. In the words of Dibyesh Anand, a professor at the University of Westminster, “democracy is not a number game… it is very much about minority rights and about individual rights.” If India—or America—wants to play a fascistic game of ethnoreligious majoritarianism, let us be clear about what the political system should be called: a theocracy.


However, much like Trump, Modi gained electoral support primarily on his record of economic prowess. Modi ran on a platform of universal application of “the Gujarat model.” As chief minister of Gujarat, the state’s economy boomed. On the whole, the province was richer, more job-wealthy, and more rapidly developing than the average Indian state. Indian voters hoped that Modi would apply this model to the whole country, leading to prosperity for all. However, while Gujarat could be lauded for its strong infrastructure and high GDP, the state lagged behind in poverty reduction and inclusive growth. With Modi at the helm, India’s growth has mirrored Gujarat’s. Modi’s economic policies have left behind the poorest of the poor and exacerbated wealth inequality in the country. India sacrificed social cohesion for the promise of development—and Modi has not followed through on this agreement. And while Trump can say he will be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” there is little evidence that he will live up to that promise. Even if he could, America should not sacrifice everything—particularly tolerance and secularism—for that flimsy promise.


While many on the America left see Donald Trump as a disturbing political joke, his trajectory is not unprecedented. When Donald Trump says that he “could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing any voters, we roll our eyes. Narendra Modi was complicit in the slaughter of 2,000 Muslims, and he still rose rapidly to power. Fears about development increase tolerance for ethnoreligious cleavages—which ultimately weakens the quality of democracy, society, and development. Paradoxically, successful development-only platforms have harmed development in the long run; typically, such agendas cater only to the upper-middle class and aggravate gaping inequality. Surely, this analysis should be taken with a grain of salt; Narendra Modi has more political savvy and eloquence than Donald Trump ever will. However, the similarities should prompt closer reflection about how much America could lose if we gamble democratic values for an economic quick-fix.

Arthur the Aardvark, Brexit, and the Global Force of Anti-Intellectualism

By Adithya Sivakumar

Do you all remember Arthur the Aardvark? The eight-year-old who cruised around with his friends through the streets of Elwood City navigating the struggles of being a third-grader? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just take comfort that Arthur has been lauded as one of the finest examples of children’s television programming in the last decade, as well as being “just straight up awesome” (Sivakumar et al., 2006).


However, I’d like to turn your attention to one particular episode of this show. “Prove It,” episode four from the fourth season of Arthur, which concerned Arthur’s wonderful sister D.W. and her attempt to get her brother to take her to a science museum. In order to do so, she starts a museum in her own backyard, promoting theories such as the H in H2O stands for hose, and the ocean is created by sand moving so fast it turns into liquid. Annoyed and terrified about the effect D.W.’s “science” is having on the impressionable neighborhood children, Arthur takes her to the museum to show her how science actually works, thereby fulfilling her ulterior motives.


When I first watched this show as a young child, I have to admit, I was angry. How could D.W. promote such bogus science? How could people believe her? She had turned her back on reasoning and the very pillars of the discipline she claimed to espouse, all in order to achieve a mischievous end goal. No one would actually do that in real life, right?


Fast-forward a decade later to June 23, 2016. As the votes for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (E.U.) came towards a close, I experienced many of the same emotions as I did when I was in elementary school after that Arthur episode. How could the “Leave” campaign promote such grand anti-immigration sentiment? How could the British believe them? Why did they not follow the advice of countless organizations, foreign governments, and heads of state to stay for their own economic security? Was the attempt to bring Europe together after World War II all for nothing?


In both instances, I never realized the magnitude of the inequality that led to these drastic actions. For the children in Arthur, they had not been educated about all the intricacies of science, causing them to find some sort of refuge in D.W.’s explanations. In Britain, analysis showed that the town that had the most percentage of residents in favor of leaving the European Union, Boston, earned low incomes and had only 1 in 3 people carry formal qualifications. Leaving the European Union was not a large loss for these voters, as they had failed to see the benefits of European integration. In the town of Lambeth, where voters chose overwhelmingly to stay in the E.U. , incomes were more than 10,000 pounds more than the average voter in Boston, and there were twice as many professionals. These results indicate a widespread gap in socioeconomic status and education, a gap that in turn has affected how people respond to political commentary.


In one instance during the Brexit campaign debates, when confronted with reports that respected organizations and groups had pointed out recommended against leaving the European Union, “Leave” campaigner and U.K. Justice Secretary Michael Gove said, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organizations… with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”


And that, folks, speaks volumes.


This statement elucidates a large factor in the majority of the U.K. rejecting the overtures of U.S. President Barack Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, and other seemingly respected individuals and institutions: anti-intellectualism. The establishment commonly uses academia and intellectualism to support their claims, which may or may not lead to good results. The establishment might use scientific data to push forward claims of global warming or the efficacy of vaccines, but those opposed to the establishment conflate these scientific positions into a larger establishment narrative, and therefore reject them in alarming numbers. That being said, academia and government do not always have a beneficial goal in mind. The theory of eugenics pushed in intellectual circles in the early 20th century can be regarded as a driving factor for the implementation of the discriminatory Immigration Act of 1924 in the United States.


Additionally, socioeconomic gaps exist worldwide and have manifested in similar ways politically, mainly in a distaste for the establishment and for experts. In the Philippines, this led to the election of Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign was based on his anti-crime campaign to purge the nation of criminals in any manner possible, implying the reintroduction of vigilante death squads that he oversaw as mayor of the city of Davao.  Disgusted with crime and perceived inaction by establishment parties, voters swept Duterte into office, despite calls to stop him from the incumbent government and human rights organizations concerned with his previous record of extrajudicial killings. In Austria, a far-right candidate who proclaimed “Islam has no place in Austria,” lost the presidential election by 0.6%, a movement attributed to anti-immigration sentiment in the wake of the influx of refugees into the European Union; his opposing candidate, also an outsider was backed by the chancellor of Austria, as well as the supporters of the two major parties in the country. In fact, an Austrian constitutional court has just invalidated the election results, leading to another potential grab for power for the aforementioned candidate.


Why should all this affect you? If you are a college student at Vanderbilt University at this moment, you are a target of anti-intellectualism. An academic institution such as Vanderbilt is largely seen as elitist, even with the diversity of opinions that are harbored on this campus. We have the privilege of being educated here, but that does not mean we have the privilege of flaunting our education over others. Education can bring us into respected positions, but these positions often may give off an air of elitism that goes widely unrecognized, so whenever we attempt to espouse a position, we fail to realize that our opinion will inherently carry more weight than one given by a person that did not have an opportunity to pursue an education. This, in turn, causes resentment and rejection of those considered “educated.”


These actions have dire consequences, especially in light of how the UKIP, the major party in favor of leaving the European Union, convinced many voters to chose to leave the EU by primarily emphasizing fears of immigration. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, stated in response to a question about the similarity of his campaign and that of Donald Trump that “The problem you’ve got in the U.S. is illegal immigration. Our problem is legal immigration to half a billion people.” Compounded with posters proclaiming refugees as undesirable, many voters choosing Brexit did say their decision was influenced by immigration, a sentiment that certainly reverberates across the Atlantic. By using scapegoating instead of educated, well-reasoned arguments, political forces are able to tap into inner prejudices and divisions between different groups (evidenced by the uptick in hate crimes against minorities and immigrants across the U.K. after votes were counted),  and therefore using them to achieve a political goal.


Education is a privilege. Our best goal and hope for this generation and the broken political world is to prevent academia from being distorted and being derided, a hope that can only be accomplished with discarding a sense of elitism, recognizing our privilege, and attempting to have thoughtful, civil, and educational debates with others concerning issues surrounding politics and other disciplines. The longer we disregard populist sentiments, the easier it is for groups and individuals to exploit divides within communities, causing false information being fed not only to the innocent neighborhood children of Arthur, but also to vast segments of our population, leading to life-changing moments like that in Britain.

Brexit: What happens now?

By Bella Jones and Gabrielle Timm

On June 23rd, Britain held a historic referendum to decide whether to remain in the European Union and 52% of the British public decided to leave the European Union (EU). This significant and surprising decision produces many questions as to the future of the global economy in terms of not only the United Kingdom (UK), but the EU, and there are no clear answers for anything yet.



The EU traces its roots to the aftermath of World War Two, with the idea that increased trade and cooperation would decrease the likelihood of nations going to war with each other. The European Coal and Steel Community was the first step, with six countries deciding to form a common market for coal and steel. This was followed by the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC), which was built on the idea of a common market and a customs union between the same six countries. While Britain was not one of these initial countries involved in building the foundation of what would become the EU, it was a part of the first wave of expansion of the EEC in 1973. Though Britain joined in 1973, the matter was submitted to public vote in 1975. At that time, Britain decided to join the rest of Europe with a resounding 67% in favor of EEC membership. However, several key factors were different at that time . The EEC was a much smaller and less bureaucratic organization than the current EU.  In the 1970s, Britain was economically weaker in comparison to other European countries, while today it is doing relatively well in comparison to other EU countries.

This context brings us to the recent debate over Britain’s participation in the EU. Those against Britain’s departure from the EU, the Remainers, argued that EU membership made trade with other EU members easier, benefitting the British economy. Furthermore, the influx of immigrants benefits the economy, as they are mostly young, looking for work, and help pay for public services. Finally, they argue that Britain will have more influence on the international stage as a member of a larger group than the country would as an individual actor. Those in favor Britain leaving the EU, the Leavers, argued that the EU imposes too many restrictions on businesses and that membership fees are large in comparison for what Britain gets in return. They also argue that Britain has lost control of its borders and want to reduce influx of immigrants, who they say are a threat to security and are straining public services. Finally, they argue that increasing size of the EU has diminished Britain’s voice in the discussion of international affairs, as well as its sovereignty.



In the short term, this will negatively affect the global economy. The value British pound plummeted by about 8 or 9%; it is currently at its lowest point in three decades. Though Britain never used the Euro,  the multinational currency has been affected as well with its value dropping about 3%. Stock markets around the world are also declining as a result, as investors shy away from uncertainty. Markets in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Japan have experienced the most serious turmoil in the day after the vote, with percentage point declines ranging from -13% percent to -7%.

However, Britain’s departure from the EU will not happen overnight as they begin to negotiate their exit from the EU, making long term tracking a bit murkier. David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England, who resigned this morning, had promised before the referendum that Britain would immediately invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty should Britain chose to leave the EU. This Article sets a two year timetable for negotiations of departure, which will be agreed upon by the other 27 countries in the EU without a British vote. However, due to Cameron’s resignation, Britain will likely wait to invoke this article, moving for informal negotiations with the EU before setting this specific time frame.

As for immigration, which was a major debate topic prior to the referendum, there is the question of how much immigration policy will actually change, and much of that has to do with how Britain negotiates its exit and future relationship with the EU. One possibility could be that Britain becomes a part of the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway. However, in this scenario, along with contributing to the EU’s budget Britain would still be required to allow the free movement of people. The other possibility would be to opt out entirely and trade with the EU under the rules of the World Trade Organization, which would not benefit Britain’s economy. A third option would be negotiating an entirely new deal, of course, but that would take time. The EU’s trade agreement with Canada took 7 years and it still isn’t ratified. Britain faces a situation of extended political gridlock while dealing with economic downturns all the while.

In addition to new challenges with its external relationships, the UK faces internal political turmoil as well. In response to the British referendum results, leaders in Scotland and Northern Ireland have made calls to leave the UK. If you break down the numbers by region, 62% of the Scots and 55.7% of the Northern Irish voted to remain. Today, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, reaffirmed earlier comments, saying that it was “highly likely” that Scotland would call for another vote on independence from the UK. In 2014, the Scottish referendum for independence failed, with 55% of the population voting against leaving the UK.  For Northern Ireland, it will have the only border in the UK that touches the EU after the split. Currently, the free movement of people along that border is dictated by the Common Travel Area, which predates the EU, but there are questions of whether that will be able to continue without the agreement of other EU countries. Additionally, because the EU provides Northern Ireland with a great deal of financial support, Northern Ireland may face serious economic problems as a result of the departure. The vote has reignited anti-unification sentiments in both regions and may be a sign of internal political turmoil for the UK in the coming months.

In turn, this will also affect the internal politics of the EU in several ways. Britain is a large trading partner for a number of EU countries, notably Ireland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. These countries will likely experience some economic pains. France and Germany are also large trading partners, but can weather the shock better. For Luxembourg, France, and Germany, the potential relocation of some financial institutions could potentially benefit their economies. However, where the Brexit could hurt the EU the most is politically. Strong Eurosceptic voices, which have been growing in recent years, will be emboldened by Britain’s departure from the EU. Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands have the strongest Eurosceptic voices, with several right-wing parties now calling for referendums of their own. France’s resurging Eurosceptic voices will also receive a boost.

This unprecedented decision has brought with it many political and economic questions that will cause chaos for both Britain and the EU. For Britain, it will be a question of how it will now relate to Europe. For the EU, political unity and economic relationships will be affected by this departure. Only time will tell whether the long term effects of the Brexit will be worth the current turmoil for Britain and how successfully the EU will be able to respond to losing its first member.

An Unholy Alliance: Turkey’s Support for ISIS

by Christopher Zhang


“They just let them pass” commented local Kurds on the Syrian border with Turkeys, witnessing the migration of dozens of ISIS militants, clad in black, over the Turkish-Syrian border to join the fight against Kurdish forces, which so far has claimed the lives of 100,000 Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish militants. “But they don’t let the Kurds cross.”

These observations, along with others presented in several local and international newspapers, highlight tensions over growing accusations that Turkish border guards are turning a blind eye to the flow of ISIS militants into Syria and Iraq, and reflect international suspicious about Turkey’s intentions.


Early this year, a parliamentarian from the Republican Party (CHP), a major opposition party to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accused the AKP of allowing President Erdogan’s son Bilal to traffic Islamic State oil. Claiming he had proof to back up his accusations, he has since been called a traitor by Prime Minister Davutoglu of the AKP.


The accusations, should they be true, raise serious questions. How could a NATO ally be supporting ISIS? The answer: Turkey is using ISIS as a tool, and it is not alone. Throughout the Middle East, support for ISIS among governments such as Saudi Arabia has been an ad hoc policy of pragmatism to achieve their short-term aims. Turkey does not necessarily agree with ISIS, but sees ISIS as a useful but immoral instrument for its own ambitions.


To fully understand Turkey’s alleged support for ISIS, one must understand not only the country’s historic relationships with the rest of the world and various internal ethnic groups, but Erdogans’ individual visions, aims, and his progress at achieving those aims so far. Erdogan is the key personality in all the major crises in the Middle East, from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the civil war in Syria to the refugee crisis . This is because he is the most successful politician to have risen out of Turkey since the age of Ataturk, and has turned, during his 14 year rule, the nation from a backwater into the area’s leading economic power. Turkey’s GDP is greater than that of the Middle East and North Africa from Morocco to Iraq combined.


Turkey has always been the key player in Balkan and Central Asian affairs since the rise of the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD. A variety of civilizations, including Greeks, Turks, Altaics, and Mongols, have ruled the Anatolian plateau during that time and found the geography to be favorable for their ambitions. The “crossroads of Europe and Asia,” Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, has for centuries been the center of the world’s spice trade. Today, it is a critical port that commands Russian access to the Mediterranean, the flow of Middle Eastern gas to the EU, and the flow of Syrian refugees to the rest of the world.


This favorable strategic position is one of the main reasons that strategic think tank Stratfor asserts Europe is unwilling to punish Turkey for its transgressions. Turkey, is too vital a junction. Over the course of the past decade, Turkey has also made such a punishment impossible. After AKP negotiators backpedalled on Turkey’s accession bid into the EU, the nation has taken an independent foreign policy course. Today, it is one of the world’s leading banking centers, and the country commands the most prosperous financial sector in the Mediterranean. Furthermore it is self-sufficient in agriculture, technology, and manufacturing. Most importantly, today, Turkey produces over 70% of its own military equipment; it was at 17% when Erdogan took power. This makes it incredibly challenging, if not impossible, for the West to punish Turkey. In supporting radicals, Turkey has nothing to lose.


However, Turkey is still dependent on others for one major resource: oil. Turkey imports about 66% of its energy needs. Despite exploiting massive shale oil reserves and starting the construction of over 23 nuclear power plants, Turkey is nowhere near energy efficient. This has led to controversial foreign policy moves such as Turkey’s close relationship with Iran, and Turkey’s participation in the smuggling of Iranian oil during the US sanctions. Further complicating relations with Western countries is that one of Turkey’s main sources of oil, Russia, is growing more and more distant with NATO.


However, when Turkey shot down the Russian jet on the Syrian border months ago, it signaled a shift from where Turkey imported its energy. Now, Turkey has turned to trafficking oil from ISIS. To keep Turkey’s vibrant economy going, the country needs a reliable source, and neither Russia nor Iran can provide it. The sources they have looked to are two conflicting and paradoxical factions: ISIS, and the Kurds. Ironically, a main reason Turkey supports ISIS is that such a move actually not only allows them to purchase the group’s oil, but makes it easier for them to get oil from the Iraqi Kurds. To import directly from the Kurds is difficult, as a one unified Kurdistan does not exist. In fact, the Kurdish people themselves are sharply divided into four main factions.


One such faction is the Kurdish Regional Government, the entity in Northern Iraq that most in the West refer to as “Kurdistan” is ruled by the shrewd President Barzani, who maintains close ties with Turkey. The Turkish government, apparent experts in smuggling oil, have allowed him to illegally transport Kurdish oil through their borders, avoiding fees that the Kurds are obliged to pay in theory to the Iraqi government. The oil rich lands of Iraqi Kurdistan have been a priority for Turkey to control through a puppet government. Today, the Barzani government of Kurdistan is almost totally dependent on Turkey. Equally importantly, it is widely suspected that Barzani and his family receive sizable bribes from the Turks.


The second Kurdish faction is Barzani’s opposition, which is now scattered and was largely backed by Iran. The conflict between the two highlights extent of Kurdish polarization. In 2007, the two major factions fought a civil war for control over Kurdistan. Turkey, with more military and economic resources than Iran, was able to fund their faction to victory. As a result, the power of President Barzani’s opponents has been greatly reduced, but many speculate that Iran’s factions are planning a comeback, through democratic elections or through force of arms.


The third and most powerful faction of Kurds is also the most hostile to Turkey: the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or the PKK. Listed as a terrorist group in the EU and the US, the PKK has nevertheless built a massive base of support among the Kurdish diaspora, and fights the hardest and most grueling fight that the Kurds face: the one against the Turkish army. While the Kurds have other enemies: Bashar Al-Assad, the FSA, ISIS, and Iran, Turkey is by far the hardest to combat. With the second largest army in NATO, just behind the United States, the well-equipped and elite Turkish forces have launched repeated offensives against the PKK the past several years. To survive in such a climate, the PKK had to be resilient. It is estimated the force has over 7,000 fighters today, and they are among the most veteran, crack troops of the Kurds.


The fourth and final faction is the YPJ-Rojava; it is made up of two Syrian Kurdish forces that have united to carve out a nation state in Syria. Both are hostile to Turkey and the Turkish-backed FSA, and are very close to the PKK. Aiming to establish a Kurdish state in Syria to counteract the Turkish-aligned Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, they are also a direct threat to Barzani’s authority, leading the KRG to shut the border with the Syrian Kurds. This has left the YPJ and Rojava in a desperate situation, always on the brink of disaster. To make matters worse, Turkey continually bombs them, despite the support they receive from America.


Divided Kurdish politics are key to Turkey’s attitude towards ISIS. However, it is important to emphasize that ISIS is a tool for Turkey, not an ally. After all, ISIS has bombed Turkey on multiple occasions. While Turkey openly has its army, Special Forces, and planes assist President Barzani’s fight against ISIS, it has dispatched  planes to bomb YPJ and Rojava forces fighting ISIS. Meanwhile, Turkey has broken its ceasefire since 2013 with the PKK, launching an all-out attack with its army against PKK forces in Southeastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, violating Iraqi sovereignty.


It is clear from these moves what Turkey’s objective is. Erdogan aims to kill two birds with one stone and solve two major Turkish problems: the oil problem and the Kurdish problem. His end goal is for the Syrian Kurds and the PKK to die out, and for Barzani to rule over the KRG in Northern Iraq, concentrating the entire Kurdish movement in the hands of his close ally. This would result in the atrophy and death of the Kurdish cause: the PKK attracts so many followers because its cause is appealing to overseas Kurds. It is a principled, vigorous movement fighting on behalf of the single biggest Kurdish population: the Kurds in Turkey. The YPJ and Rojava have large amounts of international sympathy as well, fighting daily for their survival. If those two factions are defeated, either by the Turkish army, or by ISIS, then that would leave only Barzani and his Iranian-backed opposition, both of whom are seen by many Kurds as collaborators with foreign powers. International sympathy for Kurdish nationalism, including American support, would end.


This would leave the remnants of Iraqi Kurdistan as a natural resources colony of Turkey. Erdogan is well aware that Turkey cannot rule Kurdistan directly; the antipathy of the Kurdish people towards the Turks is too great. However, insofar as Barzani develops the economy of the region and receives Turkish military backing, he will stay in power. It is clear the Barzani understands the role he must play in Erdogan’s game, and has focused almost all Kurdistan’s development budget on the construction of refinery after refinery. By 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan will have five refineries, a gigantic investment. For comparison, its large neighbor Iran has zero. Turkey’s aim, which appears to be coming into fruition, is to turn the Kurds into an oil protectorate, solving its energy problems.


The past several months have seen Erdogan removing the obstacles in his path. Last year, many predicted Erdogan was finished, because he did not gain a majority in the early 2014 legislative election, despite commanding the largest single party. Since his party had only 40% of the seats, his enemies could have unseated his Prime Minister, Davutoglu, from power, if they could form a coalition. Shrewd as always, Erdogan drove a wedge between them, and came up with a strategy that solved his legislative problem. He knew his defeat was due to the rise of the new Kurdish Peace and Democracy (HDP) party. Accordingly, Erdogan invaded Turkish Kurdistan, launching brutal and devastating offensives against PKK strongholds such as Hakkari and Cizre. This not only prevented a coalition between the Kurdish HDP and the Nationalist party, as the latter cheered Erdogan on to the Kurds’ disgust, but it raised Erdogan’s popularity amongst nationalists, causing him to gain some of the Nationalist vote. Furthermore, it prevented Kurds from voting in the next election, since the Southeast had become a dangerous warzone. Calling snap elections, Erdogan decisively won a second election that happened the same year.


Other obstacles existed to Erdogan’s plot as well. For one, international pressure had built on him after ISIS attacked Paris. International outcry against ISIS had provoked support for the Kurds, and the international refugee crisis has caused the European union to call for more transparency in Turkish policy. With American weapons, Syrian Kurds were making a comeback, throwing back ISIS. Worse yet for Erdogan, they had made an alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, and helped him cut off the Free Syrian Army’s supply line from Turkey to Aleppo.


Erdogan’s true allies in Syria were his pet faction: the Free Syrian Army, which was described by international press as his “brainchild.” For months, they had gone through a stretch of bad luck. Assad’s offensives, backed by Russian air cover, had dealt serious casualties. With Turkish aid, they reformed their disorganized force, which just a year earlier the Russian Foreign Minister said was a “ghost organization” into a trained, professional army. Had it not been for Erdogan’s counter-move, the effort to reform would have come too late. Assad recently surrounded the city of Aleppo, cutting off FSA supply lines. The FSA was in a massive predicament.


The FSA was already troubled. One of its most powerful secularist arms, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, was under attack from non-Turkish aligned forces from as early as 2013. The Army of Conquest, an Islamist front led by the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria called Jabhat Al Nusra, had launched an offensive to drive the SRF out of Idlib, in Northern Syria. Virtually the entirety of the SRF was destroyed.


To solve both of these problems for the FSA, Erdogan again used ISIS on two separate occasions. Regarding Jabhat Al-Nusra, the solution was simple. In 2014 ISIS, after Al-Nusra had attacked Idlib, charged into Jabhat Al-Nusra’s territory and virtually exterminated the force. Around 80% of Jabhat Al-Nusra defected to ISIS, removing a main rival of the Free Syrian Army. Since 2014, Al-Nusra has been a compliant sidekick to the FSA, a minor force that has backed the main, Turkish-supplied secular army.


On the second occasion, regarding the ongoing siege of Aleppo, Erdogan’s moves also involved clandestine methods. Securing Russian approval to create a “security corridor” in Northern Syria, Turkey moved hundreds of troops into ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, claiming to be ‘militants.’ Turkey was able to get Russia to agree by convincing Saudi Arabia to release a joint statement saying that if Russia did not make concessions, the two nations would invade Syria, likely removing Assad. For a while, it seemed as if Erdogan’s security corridor occupation was a genuine invasion of ISIS. However, the situation on the ground proved otherwise. ISIS had given up the cities Turkey seized without a fight. Those cities also happened to be places where the Kurds were advancing through to attack the FSA. Soon, Turkish forces started shelling not only the Kurds, but the Syrian government troops outside Aleppo. In a rare and ironic moment, Putin had been duped. The Turkish deployment was meant to be an attack on ISIS. In reality, it turned out to be a way of stopping the Kurds from cutting off FSA supply lines, and a way to attack Assad’s forces in Aleppo.


In this way, ISIS has become a tool of Turkish foreign policy. Erdogan does not support ISIS because he agrees with them, but because they serve his short-term interests. Curiously, Turkey smuggles only about half of ISIS’s oil. The other half is trafficked by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. The West should be watchful of Turkey and put serious pressure on the country to reverse its course of action. Erdogan has proved a shrewd but cynical politician whose vision of an FSA-ruled Syria and a subordinate, Barzani-controlled Kurdish movement comes ever closer to fruition. His central tool in the pursuit of both of these tools is the Islamic State.

Kashmir: India’s Problem Province

By Shelby House


In early April, the Indian cricket team competed against the West Indies in the World T20 semifinals. At the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar (part of Indian-administered Kashmir), local Kashmiri students cheered for the West Indies, while the majority of NIT students cheered for Mother India. In no time, violence erupted; police reportedly “thrashed” students with wooden sticks. The NIT incident comes in the wake of riots at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where three students were arrested on sedition charges for allegedly chanting slogans in favor of Kashmiri independence. Clashes like this are not new; India has historically met Kashmiri discontent with an iron fist. However, the Indian government does not treat all sedition equally. To quell ethnolinguistic division in states like Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, the India state has granted major concessions, even going so far as to create new states for discontented minority groups. India has 29 states, which are provinces with a great deal of political autonomy in order to accommodate India’s wealth of ethnolinguistic diversity. Five states, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka did not exist at the time of Indian independence; these states were created after continued agitations from discontented minority groups.

But why are Kashmiri schisms only met with harsh repression—and why isn’t this strategy working?

Kashmir’s geographic location and religious makeup make the region an important symbolic battleground and flashpoint for the India-Pakistan conflict. World powers such as Russia, the United States, and China, have used Kashmir as a proxy battleground for their own conflicts. With each new conflict, India tightens its grip on Kashmir. Laughably, India also points to the Muslim-majority region to prove its commitment to ‘secularism.’

Pakistan split from India in 1947 due to a movement by the All-India Muslim League to attain religious freedom; the leaders of the Azadi (Independence) Movement held that Muslims could never have true religious equality in a land dominated by Hindus. Currently, India—often called Hindustan—is led by the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose figurehead is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a controversial leader who has been implicated in anti-Muslim riots and violence multiple times. India’s claim to secularism is weak on all fronts—but to use Kashmir, which has been crippled politically by the Indian government since Partition, as a ‘shining example’ of India’s commitment to secularism rings hollow. India’s anxiety about losing Kashmir leads to severely authoritarian policies, which would fail in any Indian state.

Most importantly, Kashmir’s border with Pakistan complicates its relationship to the Indian state. Tamil Nadu and Telangana do not border any other country, so their threats to secede are less practicable; the government could easily crush such a secessionist movement. However, Kashmir’s threats are exponentially more credible and achievable due to its location.

Pakistan has asserted a claim over Kashmir since Partition. In the Pakistani view, Kashmir was always part of the “idea of Pakistan”—the k in the country’s name was meant to represent the state’s inclusion in the new nation. However, in 1947, the majority-Muslim Kashmir was ruled by the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh, who delayed choosing to side with India or Pakistan. During this delay, Pakistan began to inflame Kashmiri rebellions and encroach on Kashmiri territory. Singh requested India’s military aid, and India promised to help only if Kashmir was ceded to India. However, Lord Mountbatten, the last Governor-General of British India who helped facilitate the transfer of power during Partition, promised Singh that the Kashmiri people would be granted self-determination at the conflict’s end. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and leader of the Congress Party, reaffirmed this commitment, but the referendum was never held.

Instead, in the 1950s, the Indian government began systematically robbing Kashmir of the right to self-rule. Furthermore, the Delhi government attempted to micro-manage every aspect of Kashmir’s rule through coercive integrative measures instead of democratic power-sharing. Elections were regularly rigged, Kashmiri-chosen leaders were arrested, and the plebiscite is now nothing more than a pipe dream. According to the renowned South Asianist Sumantra Bose, the Indian government realized “hegemonic control could be sustained only by turning Indian-controlled Kashmir into a draconian police state in which civil rights and political liberties were virtually nonexistent.”

India’s has shamefully governed Kashmir. The region has seen multiple wars and innumerable guerilla conflicts; peace processes have repeatedly failed. India’s weak ideological claim over the state exacerbates these tensions. Kashmir was, indeed, originally meant to be part of Pakistan. However, this option has disappeared. Now, the idea of an independent Kashmir has gained substantial support. However, this concept is also politically impossible and further deepens regional cleavages.

India feels that keeping Muslim-dominated Kashmir proves the nation’s commitment to secularism. However, India’s poor governance of Kashmir does not support this claim, and Indian Muslims still feel antagonized by India. Anti-Kashmiri sentiment often takes on a religious tone. In the cricket clashes at NIT, Indian students held up banners that read “Bharat Mata ki Jai”—“victory for Mother India.” The term “Mother India” has recently been a point of controversy; some Indian Muslims believe that the phrase can be equated with idol-worship, treating India as a deity to be worshipped.

India’s governmental chokehold on Kashmir makes a mockery of ‘secularism,’ further legitimates Pakistan’s claims to the region, and inflames Kashmiri discontentment and insurgencies. If India is incontrovertibly dedicated to keeping Kashmir or politically unable to concede it, the government must grant Kashmir the self-rule and power-sharing which other states enjoy. Kashmir cannot function or flourish as an Indian state if the government intends to keep the state held hostage on political grounds.

Kashmir is a territory divided. Many Kashmiris are Hindu and support India; others have given up on the idea of an independent or Pakistani Kashmir and seek normalcy and democracy under the Indian government. However, large, vocal groups still feel dedicated to Pakistan or the idea of a free, independent Kashmir. By crippling Kashmir, India has only made Kashmiri sedition more reasonable and appealing. If India won’t let go of Kashmir, then Kashmiris deserve the same quality of life and respect from the Indian government that other states enjoy. In turn, many Kashmiri rebellions would fizzle out, because the region would finally have a great deal of autonomy and prosperity. Furthermore, Kashmiris would no longer see themselves as the black sheep of India—which inevitably feels linked to Kashmiri religious identity. Then, perhaps, India could actually claim to uphold secularism and religious pluralism within its borders.

The Rebuilding of Palmyra

By Isabelle Sagraves


On March 27, 2016, the ancient city of Palmyra was recaptured from the Islamic State by Syrian forces, but the city that they recaptured was not the same as the city that was lost. After ten months of ISIS occupation, the ancient city and its inhabitants have suffered greatly. Evidence of massacres and torture has been found throughout the city, among the ancient stones and ruins of a past civilization that demonstrated tolerance and diversity. Ironically, its face has been marred by the injustice and cruelty of the Islamic State; yet perhaps through its repair, Palmyra has demonstrated the chance of real cooperation and solidarity in Syria.

Palmyra is a city of exceptional historical significance, and it has existed for millennia. Since its establishment as a major trade city in the second century CE, it has stood as a location of cultural exchange. It has been home to Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims throughout its long and complex history, and it is often described as a home for pluralism and religious tolerance in its heyday. UNESCO writes on their website, “Palmyra was an established caravan oasis when it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD as part of the Roman province of Syria. It grew steadily in importance as a city on the trade route linking Persia, India and China with the Roman Empire, marking the crossroads of several civilizations in the ancient world.” This crossroads is demonstrated in Palmyra’s fascinating and unique architecture and artifacts, which demonstrate Greco-Roman influences mixed with Arabic, Aramaic, and (later) Muslim traditions. Palmyra is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes temples, more than 1000 columns, and a large necropolis.

Today, within the context of ISIS’s advances throughout the Middle East, Palmyra is also important because of its strategic location. Located on a major highway through Syria, Palmyra gives access to a large part of ISIS’s territory, so its recapture has cut off an important route linking ISIS’s heartland to other regions it could potentially move into. The joint attack by Syrian ground forces and Russian air strikes have constituted a significant victory against the Islamic State.

However, during their ten month long occupation of the city, ISIS managed to destroy many of the precious artifacts that UNESCO protects. ISIS adopts a strict interpretation of Sharia law that advocates for the destruction of false idols, which, to them, include historical monuments. Two extremely significant destroyed monuments include the Temple of Baalshamin and Arch of Triumph, both of which date to approximately two thousand years old; many other monuments that have been destroyed were directly linked to the Muslim faith, such as a tomb of one of Muhammad’s cousins. Clearly, however, artifacts were not the only things destroyed during the past ten months: a mass grave has been uncovered with more than forty bodies, including women and children. Evidence of torture has also been found throughout the city, and countless people have fled the city to surrounding regions where they are living as refugees.

Western leaders have been rather quiet in response to this event, perhaps because of their limited involvement in the successful recapture. Contrastingly, Putin has been vocal, and, in a statement, claimed “I hope that this pearl of world civilization, or at least what’s left of it after bandits have held sway there, will be returned to the Syrian people and the entire world.” He has also pledged to fund the rebuilding of the destroyed sites. Additionally, many archaeologists and other historians around the world have taken this situation and used it to advocate for cooperation in the reconstruction process, perhaps a cooperation that could symbolize a united and strong anti-ISIS front. Maamoun Abdulkarim, the Syrian antiquities chief, claimed that the rebuilding of these destroyed sites could constitute a “message of anti-terror”.

The importance of Palmyra as a symbolic location cannot be underestimated. ISIS used it as an effective symbol as its ruined buildings served as the backdrop for many propaganda messages. The anti-ISIS forces can also harness the symbolism behind Palmyra through the rebuilding process. The rebuilding of Palmyra can be used as a powerful demonstration of cooperation and solidarity against the Islamic State, but it also has the potential to become propaganda for Putin or Assad if they are the only ones involved. In this way, it may become important for Western countries to speak up about this event and to asist in the reconstruction of an ancient city that once symbolized a vibrant community of coexistence and tolerance.

A Scandal of Olympic-Sized Proportions

By Adithya Sivakumar


As the world closely watches chaos unfold in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, another nation in the bottom half of the hemispheres is grappling with crises involving its elected officials: Brazil. Slated to host the Summer Olympics later this year, Brazil has already been swamped with concerns about the environment for visitors, especially with the prevalence of the Zika virus. However, a new problem of political instability could lead to massive negative effects on the Brazilian economy and major events such as the Olympics.

The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was elected in 2011 to oversee a booming economy after the popular presidency of her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula).  As the first female president of the Latin American nation,  she  is known as having a hard line on corruption, even removing six of her own cabinet members due to graft allegations. Her effective management of the government has won her praise from various sectors of the public.

Her honeymoon stage with the public’s opinion, however, began to see its end in late 2014,  when details of a massive corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned energy company, Petrobas, were released. The premise of the scandal was that government officials enjoyed massive kickbacks from the energy company in exchange for contracts, a process that largely happened in Rousseff’s oversight of the company as head of board of directors. At first, it appeared Rousseff was safe from any real attempt at impeachment, as the Senate found her to be clear of benefiting personally from any of the aforementioned exchanges.

In early 2015, the scandal became even worse, engulfing politicians across party lines and those in Rousseff’s inner circle, which exacerbated the force against the President who was also facing high unemployment rates and a stagnant economy. Demonstrations ranging in the millions have been organized to protest the government, and Rousseff’s approval rating has dropped to abysmal levels. More arrests of senior figures began to cause Rousseff’s walls around her to slowly collapse, and the threat of impeachment was slowly becoming more viable which each new development in the scandal and products of the economic recession.

Then, after months of back-and–forth discussion, impeachment proceedings finally began against Rousseff in late 2015, and not even due directly to the Petrobas scandal; in fact, she was indicted based on possibly doctoring accounting to hide the extent of deficit in her reelection campaign. Additionally, the impeachment was approved by the speaker of the lower house, who himself was facing corruption charges from the Petrobas scandal, which may have given him political impetus to impeach Rousseff or fall just like countless politicians around him.

Interestingly, dissent against Rousseff mainly stems from the middle class, white, and privileged segments of society, not necessarily the poorer, less white segments. This divide may stem from the fact that Rousseff and her left-wing party pushed for relief for poorer Brazilians, which may have caused a loyalty among these segments toward Rousseff’s party. Nevertheless, the segments on the street have played a large role in pressuring lawmakers to do something about Rousseff, indicating the power these privileged groups hold in Brazilian elections.

Unfortunately for Rousseff, even with this group’s backing, her position in the government hit a new low in the past week. The earlier impeachment charges had died out, indicating that Rousseff could escape the imminent threat of dismissal. However, once Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Lula was put under investigation for corruption, alarm bells went off for the Brazilian public who knew the two worked in conjunction. Their fears appeared to be realized when, in a surprise appointment, Rousseff appointed Lula to the chief of staff position in her cabinet. Subsequently, a judge heading the Petrobas scandal investigation released a phone call between Lula and Rousseff that implies that the appointment was to put Lula out of prosecutors’ reach; this is due to the stipulation that cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court, not prosecutors like those heading the Petrobas scandal investigation. After the release of these calls, many Brazilians once again took to the streets, demanding Rousseff’s ouster. Impeachment proceedings were opened again, and a Supreme Court judge blocked Lula’s appointment due to the contents of the phone call. At this juncture, Rousseff has walked into what appears an inevitable demise. Her ruling coalition does not appear to be able to defeat a move for impeachment in the lower house, which would lead to near-certain conviction in the senate.

Despite the political upheaval that is likely to come about due to these developments, Brazil hosts a whole barrage of other issues, especially the new onset of the Zika virus. Many towns are unable to control the virus due to the lack of funding for medicine and prevention, a condition that is widely blamed on the recession. And with the eyes of the world already upon Brazil due to the Summer Olympics, it appears that without a change in governmental policy, instability will be the word of the year in Latin America’s most populous nation.


Erdogan Versus the Parallel State

By Javan Latson


Another blow was struck against democracy in Turkey this past week. Policemen with orders from the Turkish court stormed the headquarters of Turkey’s most popular newspaper, Zaman. Far from a peaceful takeover, the government forces clashed with protestors in front of the building, using water canons and tear gas to dispel the crowd.  The hostile takeover of Zaman is the latest chapter in a complex narrative regarding current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his quest for control of the Middle Eastern country.

Located between Asia and Europe, Turkey has often served as the bridge between the two continents, and as a result has a culture with roots in European and Middle Eastern customs. A relatively large country with a population of around 79 million people, Turkey is a nation with strategic importance to various global powers.  Due to it’s proximity to the Soviet Union, the United States along with the dominant nations of Western Europe allowed the fledgling republic to join NATO in 1952 in an attempt to stop the spread of communism. Turkey is also one of the few allies the United States has in the in the Middle East, and in recent years, the US has relied on access to Incirlik Airbase in the nation’s southern region in order to strike Islamic State targets in bordering Syria. The European Union is especially attentive to Turkish Affairs and polices because of the direct impact they have on its members. As a result of the Syrian Civil War and instability in the region, millions of refugees have been flocking to Europe seeking asylum with a large portion entering through Turkey. Turkey’s government is a vital concern not only for Erdogan, but for the entirety of Europe and NATO.

During the midst of this turmoil, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey’s first directly elected president in August 2014. Erdogan is a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) that draws most of its support from religious Turks. The AKP claims to support the ideals of Mustafa Kemal who founded Turkey in 1923 with the hope of changing Turkey from an Islamic nation, to a secular country with a mainly Muslim population.  However many secularists have suspected Erdogan and his party of trying to introducing Islamist ideologies into the government.  The President has been quoted saying that “you cannot put women and men on an equal footing” much to the dismay of women and feminists.  In addition to this he has sought to restrict the consumption alcohol, outlaw adultery, and restrict abortion.  Much to the dislike of the secular population Erdogan in 2014 lifted a 90 year-old ban of female headscarves in high schools, and later that year began converting secular schools into Imam Hatips (traditional Sunni religious schools), which teach conservative Muslim beliefs to students. These policies have led to a growing feeling of resentment towards the president and the AKP as people become wary of gradual erosion of Kemal’s secular society into a fundamentalist nation.

As a result of the president’s actions, a substantial opposition group has formed, comprised of secularists, religious minorities, Kurds, and rivals of the AKP. These men and women have denounced the gradual “ottomanization” of Turkey, the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of President Erdogan, and the mistreatment of Kurds by the government.  One of the leading critics of the president is a Muslim cleric named Fethullah Gulen who currently resides in the United States. Prior to his relocation, Gulen was a member of the AKP and a firm of ally of Erdogan, who at the time was the prime minister. This alliance soon dissolved following disagreements between the two men over policies towards the Kurds and how the government handled the 2013 Gezi Park Protests. Ever since the two went separate ways, Erdogan has sought to undermine the influence of Gullen’s Hizmet Movement in Turkey. Hizmet is an organization that promotes a tolerant form of Islam and emphasizes altruism, hard work, and education. Due to the lack of an official membership roll, it is quite possibly one of the biggest Muslim networks in the whole country, with an estimated membership totaling in the millions of people. There are said to be numerous followers of Hizmet that posses influential positions in the Turkish government and law enforcement agencies which has caused Erdogan to accuse Gulen of establishing a “parallel state” within Turkey and trying to overthrow the government.  The rivalry between these two individuals has lead to a massive crusade by the government to remove any trace of Gulen’s movement from the media, police, and the court system.

In a strategic move by President Erdogan the Turkish court issued a ruling that required the management of Zaman to step down and be replaced by a new government appointed staff. Zaman is a newspaper that has often been critical of the president, and also has ties to Gullen, making it a clear target for the Erdogan regime to attack. Following a standoff between law enforcement and protestors outside of Zaman’s headquarters, one of the most outspoken criticizers of the government was transformed into Erdogan’s mouthpiece.  Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu described the takeover as a “legal not political” one and the government has justified the seizure of Zaman by accusing it of spreading propaganda in an attempt to destabilize the country.  Sevgi Akarcesme, editor at Zaman’s sister publication Today’s Zaman, called the event “a dark day for Turkish democracy”. The government seizure of the opposition newspaper is one of many recent cases of the government restricting the freedom of press. In January more than 1000 intellectuals were placed under investigation for petitioning the government to stop military operations against Kurds in southern Turkey.The government has attacked other media agencies including Cihan, the only independent monitor of the Turkish election process since 2005, which is another media outlet associated with Fethullah Gulen. On dubious legal and constitutional grounds, Turkey has begun a systematic crackdown against the Gulen movement.

The international community has been quick to criticize Turkey’s actions. France’s foreign minister called the action “unacceptable” and that it went against European values, while French President Francois Hollande said “The press must be free everywhere”.  US Ambassador John Bass tweeted that the importance of free press must be protected and State Dept. spokesman John Kirby called the takeover of Cihan  “another example of an unnecessary crackdown on journalism”. The EU as a whole has told Turkey “to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices “ yet despite all this talk Turkey seems unconcerned and isn’t showing any sign of reversing the current trend within its borders. Perhaps this is because Ankara believes they possess key bargaining chips such as the ability to reduce refugee flows to the EU or access to airbases for the United States, and as a result they feel like the west needs them too much to actually pressure Turkey into making some political reform. Whatever the case may be, the war between Erdogan and the mysterious parallel state doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon, and the Turkish people’s hope for freedom will only continue to dim.