Monday, August 29, 2016

A Change in Direction from Africa to the Middle East

For obvious reasons this blog has changed directions recently. There is far more on Kurdistan both in terms of my everyday life and historical pieces and much less on Africa now. I am still putting up some stuff on ethnic Germans in the USSR as can be seen on my recent pieces regarding the 75th anniversary of the deportation of the Volga Germans. Based on the comments this blog receives I still only have about a half dozen readers and that seems to be something that is beyond my power to change.

Google Scholar Profile

Now that I have a university e-mail again I have established a Google Scholar Profile. I am not exactly sure exactly how it helps me. But, I figure it can not hurt me. If nothing else it allows me to better track the few citations made by other people to my published work. However, I am thinking it must have some other uses. I just do not know what they are. If anybody knows of any neat tricks I can do with it please let me know in the comments below.

It is a Beautiful Day in Sulaimani

It is a beautiful day in Sulaimani today. Sulaimani is a very calm and peaceful city. The fighting in Syria and the problems in Baghdad seem to be much further away geographically than they actually are. Sulaimani has some of the ambiance of a mid sized town in northern California. It doesn't feel like a place surrounded by chaos and violence.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

75 Years Since the Deportation of the Volga Germans

This year marks the 75th anniversay of the deportation of the Volga Germans to Siberia and Kazakhstan where they faced extremely difficult legal and material conditions. The official day of rememberance of this crime against humanity is 28th of August. I have written a lot on this blog and elsewhere about these events. Most of those posts deal with the basic narrative and facts surrounding the deportations, special settlement restrictions, and mobilization into the labor army. For this post I want to do something different. I want to examine why it has  taken so long for this anniversary to be regularly commemorated even by those of us of Russian German heritage and more importantly why it is still almost completely unknown and ignored by everybody else. The standard claim that these crimes were somehow hidden doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The information available since the early 1990s is much greater than that published before the collapse of the USSR. But, the basic narrative has been known since September 1941. Rather there have been other factors at work. First, the Russian Germans have largely been deemed unworthy victims by the intellectual elites of the US and other major powers due to a continued false conflation of all ethnic Germans including loyal Soviet citizens with Naziism. One can understand the use of this lie in the Russian dominated USSR to prevent any return of the land and other collective property forcibly confiscated from the ethnic Germans. Its popularity and in many cases official backing by large numbers of the academic and cultural elite in the US is another matter altogether. Fortunately, this narrative has lost much of the dominance it had as recently as 20 years ago. Deniers and minimizers of the Soviet crimes against ethnic Germans like Deborah Lipstadt and Charles Maier have lost much of the power they had in the 1990s. Most people in the US are no longer content to silently accept the claim that ethnic German children from the Volga deserved to die in Siberia in 1941 because of the Holocaust. This is a huge step forward. But, there can be no doubt that it was largely as a result of genocide deniers like Lipstadt that popular awareness of the deportation of the Volga Germans as an ethnically targeted crime against humanity remained retarded for so long.

Kurds and the Rest of the World in the 20th Century

I am not an expert on Kurds. Although I know more about their history than I did about Africa when I arrived in Ghana in 2011. So most of this post should be viewed as provisional thoughts by somebody from outside the field. Please feel free to leave any constructive criticism in the comments. The one element of Kurdish history I know a little bit about is the origins of their diasporas in Central Asia. Part of my PhD dissertation dealt with the nearly 9,000 Kurds deported by the NKVD from Georgia to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan in  November 1944. Currently, I am slowly working on an article on Kurds and the USSR. It deals both with Soviet citizens of Kurdish natsional'nost' and Soviet assistance to Kurdish movements in Iran and Iraq during the Stalin era. The Kurdish diasporas in the USSR seems like a good place for me to start doing research related to the region.

Another topic I am interested in related to the Kurds is their role in the greater Afro-Asian project from 1958-1991. Obviously Kurds lived in a number of states active in the project including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan in the USSR, and Iraq, and Syria outside it. Turkey and to a lesser extent Iran under the Shah were US allies and hence outside Afro-Asia as a political unit. The fragmentation of Kurdistan between the rule of Ankara, Baghdad, Damascus, and Tehran presented an interesting problem. Kurds in Turkey were repressed by a regime clearly integrated into the US and European political bloc through its membership in the NATO military alliance. In contrast those in Syria and Iraq were repressed by regimes clearly part of the Afro-Asian project. These regimes espoused Arab Socialism, Pan-Arabism, and support for Palestinian national liberation movements. This led to a bifurcation of the treatment of Kurdish national movements by Afro-Asian states and the international Left.

Kurds in Turkey formed the PKK (Kurdish Workers' Party) a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organization that got support from various Afro-Asian states and movements as well as European Leftists. In particular the PKK received support from the government of Syria and the PLO. They established a training camp in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon with the help of Damascus and the Palestinians. In this sense the PKK resembled other national liberation movements in Afro-Asia.

In Iraq the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) had initially been founded in Iran in 1946 with the support of the USSR. Until the early 1960s the KDP had good relations with the Iraqi Communist Party. But, that changed after 1961 as the KDP revolted against Baghdad and sought aid from the US and UK. Later after the Ba'ath coup in 1963 the KDP looked to Iran, the same regime that had crushed the Soviet backed Mahabad Republic where the party was formed. From this point on the Kurdish struggle in Iraq backed at times by Iran, the US, and Israel received very little attention from Leftist intellectuals and Afro-Asian states. In 1972 Baghdad signed a Treaty of Mutual Co-operation and Friendship with the Soviet Union. From this point on the USSR and its allies supported the Ba'ath regime against the Kurds despite the 1978 repression against the ICP (Iraqi Communist Party) and a complete break between the Communists and Ba'athists in 1979. In 1986 the KDP, PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), KSP (Kurdish Socialist Party), and ICP formed an alliance  against Baghdad. The collapse of the USSR and the establishment of defacto Kurdish autonomy in Iraq both occurred in 1991. In contrast to the PKK fighting in Turkey neither the KDP or PUK received any significant support or notice from any Afro-Asian states or Leftist organizations in Europe or the Middle East.

The different treatment of the PKK in Turkey and KDP and PUK in Iraq by Afro-Asian states and European Leftists is notable. The cause of Kurdish national liberation in Iraq took a back seat to ideological considerations. The Arab center of Afro-Asia supported various strains of Pan-Arabism for most of the 1960s and 1970s. The Ba'ath strain in Iraq and Syria had no role for Kurdish national self determination. This exclusion of the Kurds of Iraq and Syria from support by Afro-Asian states and European Leftists is historically a major moral blind spot in these movements.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Bit of Kurdish History

Kurdistan is a nation, but not yet an independent state. The territory of Kurdistan is shown on the map to the right. After the end of World War One the Kurds went from being split between the Ottoman Empire and Persia to being split between Turkey, Persia, the French mandate of Syria, and the British mandate of Mesopotamia. Both Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq) became independent Arab ruled states that eventually came under the control of political parties calling themselves the Arab Socialist Renaissance (Ba'ath) Party. The Kurds became marginalized minorities in these states. The degree of repression experienced by the Kurds in these states has varied. But, none of them treated the Kurds well. The worst repression came at the hands of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq under Saddam Hussein between 1986 and 1989. The Anfal campaign included the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi military against Kurdish civilians and killed nearly 200,000 people. The memory of this genocide has become an important part of Kurdish national identity.

After the First Gulf War the Kurds in northern Iraq came under the protection of a US enforced no fly zone. This allowed the KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) and PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) that had been fighting against Baghdad to establish control over much of Iraqi Kurdistan. Since then the territory has become an autonomous territory in federation with the Arab part of Iraq as a result of the 2005 constitution. The Kurdistan Regional Government is the ruling political authority of this territory.

Works Dealing with the Deportation of the Volga Germans on 28 August 1941.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of the deportation of the Volga Germans to Siberia and Kazakhstan. The day of commemoration is the 28th of August. This blog post is basically an annotated series of links to articles and book chapters I have written dealing with various aspects of the deportation and the subsequent exile and forced labor of ethnic Germans in the USSR. "In our Hearts we Felt the Sentence of Death": Ethnic German Recollections of Mass Violence in the USSR, 1928-1948" coauthored with Eric Schmaltz and Ron Vossler deals with the 1941 deportations in the context of increasing Soviet violence against its ethnic German citizens after 1928. It looks at this violence from central and peripheral perspectives using both regime sources and letters from the German victims. "The Loss, Retention, and Reacquisition of Social Capital by Special Settlers in the USSR, 1941-1960" deals with the relative failure of the ethnic German deportees to recover from the damage done by their dispersal in comparison to other deported groups. Their lack of social capital was a key factor in this failure. "Ethnic Erasure: The Role of Border Changes in Soviet Ethnic Cleansing and Return Migration: compares the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars with regards to the importance of their autonomous territories in their respective national movements after their deportation. "A Caste of Helot Labourers: Special Settlers and the Cultivation of Cotton in Soviet Central Asia: 1944-1956" looks at the ethnic Germans sent to Tajikistan after 1944 to work on cotton kolkhozes as part of the larger use of national deportees in growing cotton in the USSR. "Suffering in a Province of Asia: The Russian-German Diaspora in Kazakhstan" deals with the deportation and subsequent life of ethnic Germans sent to Kazakhstan as special settlers in 1941. "Colonialism in One Country: The Deported Peoples of the USSR as an Example of Internal Colonialism"  views the deportation of the Volga Germans and other repressed peoples through the theoretical framework of internal colonialism. "Soviet Apartheid: Stalin's Ethnic Deportations, Special Settlement Restrictions, and the Labor Army: The Case of the Ethnic Germans in the USSR" compares the legal situation of the German special settlers deported to Kazakhstan and Siberia in 1941 to the apartheid laws enacted in South Africa in the late 1940s and early 1950s. "Volk auf dem Weg: Transnational Migration of the Russian-Germans from 1763 to the Present Day" is a history of the various migrations of ethnic Germans to the Russian Empire within the Russian Empire and USSR and out of the Russian Empire and USSR. It has a substantial section on the 1941 deportations and their aftermath. "Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water: The Russian-Germans in the Labour Army:" focuses on the mobilization of ethnic Germans in 1941-1943 into the labor army and their use by the Stalin regime as a slave labor force until 1957. Feel free to leave any comments on any of these works in the comments below.

Random Observations of Kurdistan

I haven't been in Kurdistan a week yet so my observations are still quite preliminary. First, people here are very nice and polite. But, at the same time security is very tight. There are armed guards everywhere and going into one of the many modern malls involves being patted down and an inspection of all bags. Fortunately, they are very fast and professional. The city including the huge bazaar is very clean. It is also very hot. It is not unusual to reach 47 or 48 degrees Celsius. Food and taxis here are incredibly cheap and you don't need to haggle to set a price before getting in the taxi to avoid being seriously ripped off. The food has a lot more similarities to Turkish cuisine than Arab food in my opinion. But, obviously there are also Kurdish peculiarities that distinguish it from both of them. Kebabs, rice, tomato and cucumber salad, beans, and okra all seem quite common. I have also seen a number of places around the city selling pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, and other American style foods. The Kurds drink a lot of tea. I mean a lot of tea and I say this as a tea addict who has lived in the UK and Central Asia. Other than tea and water, popular beverages include ayran and various fruit juices. Yesterday I had a pureed melon drink that was fantastic. The Kurdish flag is displayed everywhere, sometimes imposed upon a map of Greater Kurdistan incorporating the Kurdish territories not only of Iraq, but of Syria, Iran, and Turkey as well. One such map colored with the Kurdish flag has been drawn on the sides of the mountains visible from the university. Next to the map and flag combination it says Slemani. Over all my impression so far has been extremely positive. So come on over and visit me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

I have arrived in Kurdistan

I arrived in Kurdistan two days ago. The people here are extremely nice and polite. My flat is giant. It is much larger than two people need. But, I am not going to complain. The university is extremely impressive. I also have had the best kebabs in my life and I haven't even started my hunt for the best kebabs in Kurdistan.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Kurdish Victories

I fly to Kurdistan in less than a week. So I am very happy to see that the Peshmerga are systematically defeating Daesh in both Syria and Iraq as they move towards liberating Mosul. I don't have a lot of analysis to add on the recent Kurdish military victories other than to hope they continue. I have a feeling I am about to enter one of the most interesting phases of my life yet.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The USSR as part of Afro-Asia

I have been doing some research on the Afro-Asian Writers' Association (AAWA) and its journal Lotus recently. A group of people at American University of Beirut have been doing some good work on the history of the organization and journal in the last few years. The AAWA was founded in Tashkent in 1958. Its journal Lotus ran from 1968 to 1993. One thing that is apparent is that the line between the Second (Soviet bloc) and Third (post-colonial Africa and Asia) worlds was fuzzy at best. The AAWA like AAPSO (Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization) included the USSR as a member from its very beginning. The founding conference of the AAWA took place in the USSR in 1958 as did its 1973 conference and the vast majority of funding for Lotus came from the Soviet Union and East Germany. Part of this merger of the Second and Third Worlds was geographic. The Central Asian republics made the USSR an Asian state in many ways and thus AAWA conferences were held in Uzbekistan (1958) and Kazakhstan (1973). A perhaps larger part was political. The geopolitical issues that gripped African and Asian writers in the 1960s and 1970s were US military intervention in Indochina, Portuguese colonialism in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau, white rule in Rhodesia, apartheid in South Africa, South Africa's occupation of Namibia, and the issue of Zionism and Palestine. On all of these issues the Second and Third worlds were united in support of national liberation and opposition to imperialism, colonialism, and racism.

For the two decades between 1958 and 1978 the Soviet state and its Eastern European allies stood on the same side of these issues as most of the prominent writers and political figures of Asia and Africa. By the mid 1970s a number of these issues had been resolved in their view. In 1975 the Portuguese Empire collapsed and Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea Bissau gained independence. In the same year the North Vietnamese Army rolled into Saigon and liquidated the Republic of Vietnam. Only Rhodesia, Namibia, South Africa, and Palestine remained as unresolved issues. By 1994 all of the unsolved issues of colonialism, apartheid, and white minority rule in Southern Africa had been resolved leaving only Palestine as the last unresolved issue common to Africa and Asia. Before 1994, however, both the Third World and later the Second World had ceased to exist as political blocs.