Central Asia, Turkey, Uzbekistan

The Return of the Prodigal: A Turk visits Central Asia

Nagihan Haliloglu is an assistant professor at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and a resident of Istanbul.

In his introduction to Mehmet Emin Efendi’s 1877 travelogue on Turkestan, Ahmet Mithat Efendi says that anyone interested in Ottoman history and culture ought to visit Central Asia ‘to appreciate how much a tribe that is originally Turkmen has changed in the six intervening centuries.’ It is indeed difficult for a Turk to visit Central Asia and not to feel like the prodigal offspring who has consorted too long with strange folk too far away. I was able to visit Uzbekistan in April, with a group of friends and their families a few months after the visa was lifted for Turkish citizens, and two weeks after Turkish Airlines added Samarkand to its Uzbek destinations. You could say that as Turkmens of Ahmet Mithat Efendi’s description we missed the target by a couple of hundred kilometers and landed in the wrong –stan. But we did make it to Khiva, the seat of the Turkmen state of Khwarezm, at the end of the journey. Before the trip I was telling myself that these borders in what used to be called Turkestan – Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan combined – did not mean a thing. However, in Samarkand, Bukhara and even in Khiva shop owners kept asking me ‘Turkmenistan?’ when I tried to speak Turkish with them, and I thought there might, after all, be something to these distinctions. Continue reading

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Japan

An Englishman in Japan

Dr Carl Hunter formerly served as an officer with the Green Jackets, and is now the managing director of Coltraco UltrasonicsHe travels extensively in Asia, and is a member of the RSAA. Here, he writes a letter on a business trip to Japan.

I smoked a cigarette on an immaculate sidewalk in Tokyo. A well-dressed man in overcoat and face-mask passed by waving his hand across his face. I was unclear whether he was waving away the smoke –  he was 10 yards away from me after all – or whether he was really waving away the foreigner. Continue reading

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Arab world

Political Islam diminished

Robin Lamb was formerly British Ambassador to Bahrain and now the executive director of LBBC. He is also a member of the Council of the RSAA.

Proposition

Political Islam[1] has dominated political doctrine in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for the last forty years. But jihadi[2] violence has contaminated its image (but not the faith of most Muslims) and regional support across the Middle East and North Africa is receding in the face of recent experience. If political Islam has not run its course, it is diminished. Its alternative in most regional perceptions is not democracy but autocracy, including military regimes. Continue reading

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Afghanistan

Dostum’s absence from Afghanistan – why is it important?

Sophia Nina Burna-Asefi is an undergraduate in Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen. Born in London, she lived in Uzbekistan for 6 years and has been travelling extensively in Afghanistan for the past 9 years. She is a member of the RSAA.

The absence of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, first vice president of Afghanistan and leader of the Junbish-i Milli Party, poses a significant challenge to the security and stability of the Afghan state, on top of those it already faces. Sexual abuse allegations were made against him and two other members of his party earlier this year, but he has not faced trial for them as he left for Turkey in May on the grounds that he was seeking treatment there for ill-health.

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Qatar

Qatar Sanctions – an analysis

Robin Lamb was formerly British Ambassador to Bahrain and now the executive director of LBBC. He is also a member of the Council of the RSAA. Here, he looks at the background to the current dispute between Qatar and its neighbouring Arab states.

On 5 June 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE broke off diplomatic relations and cut transport links with Qatar over its alleged support for Islamic terrorism. The Yemeni government and the authorities holding power in eastern Libya followed suit. Other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait and Oman have not and Kuwait has continued attempts to mediate between Qatar and its neighbours which it was pursuing before 5 June. On 8 June, Qatar’s opponents proscribed 59 people and 12 entities from Bahrain, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Continue reading

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Afghanistan

Spring in the Pamirs

Jonathan Hibbert-Hingston and his wife Beth work for Operation Mercy in Khorog, Tajikistan. Jonathan will be giving a lunch-time lecture for the RSAA about some of their experiences in September.

It was a slightly hazy afternoon when Nemat and I left our village on the outskirts of Khorog to go and look for his cows. Khorog is the principle town of the Gorno-Badakshan region of Tajikistan and our village sits at the base of the mountain range that divides the Ghund and Shogdara valleys. Everyday Nemat takes his cows across the Ghund river and lets them graze freely on the other side. In the late afternoon he goes back over the river to collect them.

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Vietnam

Strengthening Vietnam-Australia Trade Relations

Hang Nguyen is a Ph.D. candidate at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia. Here she considers the reasons for promoting Vietnam-Australia trade relations.

Vietnam and Australia officially established diplomatic relations in February 1973 and have sought to foster their relationship since then. In 2009, Vietnam and Australia elevated their bilateral relations to a new height: Vietnam-Australia Comprehensive Partnership. This is a crystal clear indication of Hanoi and Canberra’s desire to expand and deepen Vietnam-Australia relations on a wide range of areas from economics, politics, security to people-to-people exchange. Among those areas, trade has an increasingly important role in consolidating the Vietnam-Australia partnership.

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Iran

Memoires of a Qajar Persian Prince

Michael Noel-Clarke, who studied as an undergraduate in Esfahan and later served in the British Embassy in Tehran (1970-74), has recently translated the memoires of Prince Arfa, a prominent member of the Persian establishment at the end of the 19th century. The book has been published by Gingko Library as Memories of a Bygone Age: Qajar Persia and Imperial Russia 1853-1902. In this speech given by Noel-Clarke at the book’s launch, he describes the significance of Prince Arfa and the role he played on the national and international stage.

Prince Arfa wrote his memoirs just before he died in 1937, but probably for political reasons they were not published in Persian until 1965. His son and my wife’s grandfather, General Hassan Arfa, gave us a copy in the early 1970s, and my wife suggested that when I retired I should translate them. I hope that the Prince’s memoirs will become a useful secondary source on Iran’s relations with Tsarist Russia, on which I understand that there is not much material in English, and even more so on the social history of later Qajar Iran. Furthermore, there are certain abiding themes in Iranian history which form a backdrop to these memoirs and, at a moment when people are again beginning to travel to Iran and take an interest in its politics, they will, I hope, help to partially explain the emergence of the Islamic Republic and its subsequent development. I also hope that non-academic non-specialist readers will find the book as amusing and interesting as I did. It is packed with various wild and wonderful adventures and witty anecdotes, not all of which end to the author’s advantage. Continue reading

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Pakistan

Pakistan’s Global Image: Perception and Causes

Nadir Cheema is an academic at the School of Oriental and African Studies and UCL, University of London. He specializes in economics and studies Pakistani socio-political issues. He is also a senior fellow at Bloomsbury Pakistan.

The perception that Pakistan lacks credibility within the international community is a common one among analysts and academics working on the region.[i]

A survey, conducted exclusively for this article, set out to examine the nature and origins of such negative views about Pakistan. Members of the Foreign Service Programme class of 2016 at the University of Oxford, mainly comprised of diplomats from all over the world,[ii] were asked ‘what three things come to mind when you hear about Pakistan?’ The majority of respondents cited nuclear weapons, terrorism, security, Islam, and the Taliban, lending support to the general view of Pakistan as a militarised state involved with Islamic extremism. Continue reading

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