Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, Turkey

The Hour of the Kurds

Manuel Martorell is a Spanish journalist and one of the founders of the national daily El Mundo, where he held the posts of Editor-in-Chief and Foreign Editor. He has been covering the Kurds since 1983 and has published three books on the subject and produced a number of television documentaries.

8 February 2015. This will remain a historic day for the Kurdish people. On that day, French president François Hollande hosted an official reception at the Élysée Palace for two women from Kobani, the Syrian city where Islamic State (IS) had met defeat. One was Asya Abdullah, co-president of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish party in Syria. The other was Nesrin Abdullah, who attended the meeting in combat uniform as commander of the Popular Defence Units (YPG), a powerful armed force composed of thousands of men and women under the direction of PYD.

The photo widely circulated by social and press media showing Hollande, Asya and Nesrin talking in the luxurious salon of the Élysée Palace had a three-fold symbolism. First it demonstrated that women in the Middle East were prepared to organise and combat radical Islam. Moreover, both women represented the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an organisation considered by the European Union and the United States to be a terrorist group. This was especially significant because for months American warplanes were supporting Kobani fighters in full view of Turkey, the US’s closest Middle-East ally, whose government favoured an Islamist victory over the Kurds in that city. France and the United States were providing most of the military and economic support to Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq, but so were the UK, Germany, the rest of the European Union and other major countries, including Canada and Australia. This represented, in practice as well as theory, a strengthening of the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq and the PKK in Turkey and Syria, because both movements were bearing the brunt of the struggle against jihadism on the ground. Continue reading

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Vietnam

Letter from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Richard Fell is a former diplomat; he was latterly British High Commissioner in New Zealand, but served in Vietnam earlier in his career. He is the Book Review Editor of Asian Affairs.

Forty years ago, in April 1975, North Vietnamese forces defeated the army of the South, captured Saigon and ousted the South Vietnamese government. Thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country, Vietnam was reunited and the Vietnam War finally came to an end.

I was in the British Embassy in Saigon at that time. I returned again very recently in the company of one Embassy colleague (Michael Kyle) who was also there in 1975 and another who had left a little earlier. Also in the party were a son, two daughters, one of whom had been born in Saigon, sons-in-law and grandchildren.

Vietnam’s economy is booming. In Ho Chi Minh City/ Saigon, new office buildings and hotels are going up all the time. At the famous Continental hotel where we stayed, and where Andre Malraux, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene (The Quiet American) had stayed in the past, my restless nights were caused not by memories but by all night pile-driving for the city’s first metro system. Continue reading

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China, Hong Kong

China and Hong Kong in Asian Affairs March 2015: Comment

Kenneth C. Walker, an academic and former diplomat who sits on the Editorial Board of the Asian Affairs Journal, takes issue with articles on Hong Kong and China in the March 2015 issue of Asian Affairs. He puts a different point of view here, and Dr Stephan Ortmann, author of the article on the Democracy Movement in Hong Hong, makes a reply below.

Ken Walker:

I was surprised by some points in two articles in the March 2015 issue of Asian Affairs.

In Stephan Ortmann’s article on Hong Kong I wondered how he could have formed the view that the Chinese “were able to dictate most of the conditions” in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. China’s decision to “resume the exercise of sovereignty” in 1997 and the main principles of its policy on Hong Kong were stated in the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of the Declaration. But Annexes which are integral to the Declaration set out in detail measures to protect Hong Kong’s system and the freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. It was well-known at the time that these measures resulted from intensive negotiations in which the input of the senior British diplomats representing Hong Kong’s interests was crucial. Moreover, it is obvious from the amount of detail that the wording could only be the result of intricate negotiations to protect Hong Kong’s interests. Hence my surprise at Dr Ortmann’s view.

Dr Ortmann rightly says that the Joint Declaration did not provide for “full democracy”. Clearly, there was no chance of achieving that.  Continue reading

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