Week of September 23

The village of Celik, which was deserted and flooded by water, in Dargeçit, southeast Turkey. Credit: The Guardian

Among the historical treasures of southeastern Turkey, the ancient town of Hasankeyf is soon to disappear under water due to the creation of an artificial lake as part of the Ilisu hydroelectric dam project. On Monday, photographs were published of Kurdish residents relocating the graves of deceased family members, marking the next big step toward the clearing of the town, which must be completed by the government-induced deadline of 8 October, 2019. Hasankeyf, with a history tracing back to 11,000 years ago and containing remnants from the Assyrian, Ayyubid and Ottoman Empires, is now almost uninhabited because the mostly-Kurdish local residents have been forced to relocate to neighboring cities. The hydroelectric dam project, which had originally taken a start in 1980, is part of the larger GAP (Southeastern Anatolia Project) project aiming to develop the impoverished, predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces of Turkey. Yet, the dam is estimated to not only displace 80,000 people, according to environmental campaigners, but also to cause serious water shortages downstream in Iraq. In fact, though the actual construction of the dam was initiated in 2006, the process of filing the dam started early in 2019 due to postponements resulting from protests in drought-stricken Iraq in 2018. The dam project has also been subject to criticism at home, as environmental campaigners and local residents have tried to push back on the project since its outset. Earlier in February, an effort had been made to challenge the dam project at the European Court of Human Rights; however, the appeal was rejected, giving a green light to the flooding of the ancient town.

Map shows Turkey’s proposed buffer zone in northeastern Turkey versus the United States’ counter proposal. Credit: Washington Post/Stratfor

On Tuesday, the opening day of the UN General Assembly, Turkish President Erdogan once again pushed for speeding up arrangements regarding the U.S.- and Turkey-administered buffer zone — something he has pushed for since 2011 — in northeast Syria. He emphasized that the no-fly zone could encompass more than 50 miles and hold approximately 1-2 million refugees from the 3.5 million residing in Turkey and the millions living elsewhere. The safe-zone option, introduced by the U.S. after Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw U.S. troops in December 2018 from Kurdish-majority northern Syria, aims to create a middle-ground between Turkey and the U.S. in the latter’s support for the YPG, a Kurdish separatist group recognized by Turkey as a terrorist organization. Turkey has been threatening to invade northeast Syria — as it did in Afrin in 2017 — if the arrangement fails. There is disagreement between all parties involved over what the zone means: Turkey has argued for the largest portion of land, while the U.S. has agreed to a smaller area over which joint air- and ground monitoring would occur, and the Syrian government has demanded that both Turkish and American troops need to leave now. A small safe zone exists currently, but further expansion of the zone, as Turkey has demanded, has proven difficult primarily due to the Syrian Kurds’ refusal to give up territory. The Syrian Kurds are unwilling to concede ground to a U.S. and Turkey-administered zone because they view the plan as cover for a Turkish land grab that will enable Turkish troops to carry out assaults against the YPG. Nor are the Kurds favorable toward Turkey’s refugee relocation plan to northeast Syria, as such a project would  ‘Arabize’ the region and eliminate its local Kurdish character — just as the allocation of Syrian refugees to formerly Kurdish-majority Afrin had done. Whether Erdogan will be able to carry out this refugees resettlement plan is uncertain; however, considering the current Turkish government’s harsh turn against the Syrian refugees it previously welcomed openly, it is likely he will continue to push the case. Earlier in September, he had threatened to allow more illegal refugee crossings into Greece if the European Union failed to provide Turkey with additional financial support for its intake of refugees and did not support the buffer zone plan. How EU members respond to the threat deserves continued attention. 

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry (center) and New York District Attorney Cyrus R Vance (second from right) examine the coffin, which was repatriated to Egypt after being acquired from the Met through illegal channels. Credit: BBC

New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art returned a 2,100-year-old coffin of a priest called Nedjemankh to Egypt on Wednesday , Reuters reported. The stolen relic was sold to the museum by a global art trafficking network, which used fraudulent documents, officials said. The gilded coffin was looted and smuggled out of Egypt in 2011. The coffin, dating to the 1st century BCE, was purchased by the Met for $4 million dollars from a Parisian art dealer. It had first been shipped to Germany where it was restored before being transported to France. The museum was given a forged 1971 Egyptian export licence, among other false documents, prosecutors told U.S. local media. Officials said the grand and ornate coffin had been buried in the country’s Minya region for 2,000 years before it was stolen in 2011.

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it would cut back U.S. refugee intake to 18,000 in the upcoming year, the lowest number since the establishment of the refugee program. According to the State Department, the cut is necessary due to the backlog in asylum claims, mostly filed by Central Americans crossing into the U.S via Mexico. President Trump’s latest move to limit immigration is a continuation of previous policies, such as the travel ban on nationals from 7 Muslim-majority countries and the incremental decrease in the number of refugees allowed entry to the U.S. over the past few years. In 2017, Trump decreased the limit set during the Obama era by nearly half and allowed entry to 50,000 refugees. In 2018, he dropped the number to 45,000; and in 2019, to 30,000. Finally, he cut the number to 18,000 spots, 4,000 of which are reserved for Iraqis, 5,000 for those fleeing religious persecution, 1,500 for nationals from Honduras, Guatemala and El Saldavor and 7,500 for all other nationalities. In addition, Trump announced an executive order requiring the approval of local and state governments as a precondition for refugee resettlement arrangements in a host community.

Afghanistan’s presidential election was held on Saturday in relative calm, though several small attacks, low turnout and complaints about the voting system heightened fears an unclear result could drive the country into further chaos. Preliminary results are not expected before Oct. 17 and final results not until Nov. 7. If no candidate gets 51% of the vote, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates. Taliban fighters attacked several polling stations across the country to try to derail the process, but intense security prevented the large-scale violence of previous polls. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll revealed that 41% of the population would like to leave the fractious country; the rise in the percentage of all Afghans who would like to migrate has been accounted for entirely by results among women, nearly half (47%) of whom in 2018 said they would like to leave. The polls suggest that — regardless of the outcome of the elections — the next government will need to find a new way forward and help Afghans, particularly women, feel more hopeful about the future of the country.

And, lastly, for an unusual example of the effects of globalization, organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar are close to a deal that would lead to alcohol being subsidized and more readily available during the tournament. A pint of beer in Doha, where most matches will be played, typically costs around $18 because of sin taxes in the Muslim country. In addition to reduced alcohol prices, organizers expect to announce an extension of hotel happy hours and more locations where alcohol can be purchased during the World Cup in the coming months. “Alcohol is not part of our culture,” Nasser al-Khater, the chief executive officer of the 2022 World Cup, admitted. “However, hospitality is. Alcohol is not as readily available here as in other parts of the world but for the World Cup we want to ensure it is accessible for fans who want to have a drink, so we are trying to find designated locations for fans to have alcohol, other than traditional places such as hotels and so forth.  We recognize there is an issue with the price and it is something we are looking into. We are looking at finding ways to reduce the price of alcohol.” Nonetheless, Khater asked fans to meet Qatar halfway and monitor their own behavior in the conservative country: “We are also going to expect people to get acquainted with our norms and our culture and our laws.”

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