Georgia

Batumi: Marseilles of the Caucasus

Hardly anyone ‘goes to Batumi’. It appears in travel accounts as the gateway to the Caucasus, the last place where you can have the advantages of a port city before you hit the mountains, the last place where you can think twice before you set off for winding roads and precipices. I would have followed the tradition and launched my Caucasian expedition from Batumi too, only, I was invited for a two day academic programme and couldn’t extend my visit because term was starting Monday.

I did, however, manage to arrive two days early to take a look at the town and surrounds. This was my second time in Batumi. First had been in 2009 when I was a PhD student, which may or may not account for the fact that our short Georgia trip with friends remains a blur. One day in Tbilisi, and then back to Istanbul via Trabzon after a half day in Batumi. I remembered the old town. I remembered a trip up a hill to see a botanical garden. I remembered the Ali and Nino sculpture by the sea: perforated metal figures of a man and woman that move towards one another, merge, and then separate again.

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Vietnam

Cazenove in Vietnam

Paul Cheeseright is a former FT correspondent, and also is a member of the Asian Affairs Editorial Board.

Maurice de Cazenove was in his early 20s when he arrived at Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) as a young career officer of Marshal Leclerc’s Expeditionary Corps aiming to reclaim French control of Indochina.  He was in Vietnam for two years from 1946.  He recaptured some of his memories of that time when we met three weeks before he died, aged 97, in his family home. Continue reading

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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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