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Tuesday, 20 February 2018 06:43

By Various Contributors

This forum was originally published in the July 15, 1991 issue of The Nation

The first sentence of The Nation‘s prospectus, dated July 6, 1865, promised "the maintenance and diffusion of true democratic principles in society and government," surely a patriotic sentiment, as was the magazine’s name. The second choice–"The Union"–was thought by the founders to be too neutral. Hence, the preferred title, referring to the nation, the one that is indivisible with liberty and justice for all… In the aftermath of a war whose opponents were often regarded as in some sense disloyal, we invited friends and colleagues to address the question of just what patriotism is and ought be: Is there a patriotism that is not nationalistic? How does the historic internationalism of the liberal left relate to the concept of patriotism? What do you value in the traditions of your country?

John Schaar, whose eloquent meditation on patriotism ten years ago in "The Case for Patriotism" helped inform the questions underlying this chautauqua, leads off:

Nietzsche wrote that words with a history cannot be defined. Their meanings are in their stories, their biographies. That is surely the case with "patriotism." Patriotism is as patriots have done. And in relatively recent times–say, since the American and French revolutions–those who have called themselves patriots or who have called others to the banner of patriotism have largely fallen into two camps.

The first company, whose signature is on so many of the bloodiest pages of the modern age, has its spiritual roots in the radical ideologies of the French Revolution. They announced the advent of a new god on earth and a new prophet/commander whose voice was the voice of that god. The new god, of course, was la patrie, the nation, and the new commander was the state.

Abbé Sieyès named the new god: "The nation exists before all. It is the origin of everything. It is the law itself." By 1792, in a petition addressed to the National Assembly, the ferociously jealous claims of the of the new god were made chillingly clear: "The image of the patrie is the sole divinity which it is permitted to worship."

Those claims have echoed in a thousand variations from that day to this. It is the worship of national power, of national greatness, nearly always expressed as power over other peoples and qualities, and as power that acknowledges no limits on its own assertion. This voice has been as clamorous and continuous in our own country as in many others. The line from Col. Alexander Hamilton to Lieut. Col. Oliver North is strong and pure.

The other company of patriots does not march to military time. It prefers the gentle strains of "America the Beautiful" to the strident cadences of "Hail to the Chief" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This patriotism is rooted in the love of one’s own land and people, love too of the best ideals of one’s own culture and tradition. This company of patriots finds no glory in puffing their country up by pulling others’ down. This patriotism is profoundly municipal, even domestic. Its pleasures are quiet, its services steady and unpretentious.

This patriotism too has deep roots and long continuity in our history. Its voice is often temporarily shouted down by the battle cries of the first company, but it has never been stilled. Jefferson spoke for it, as did Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

We should not be surprised if this voice is often heard lamenting or rebuking the country’s failures to live up to its own best ideals, which have always been the ideals of the fullest possible freedom and the most nearly equal justice for all. Its specifically political ideal found its finest expression in Lincoln’s "government of, by and for the people," and the American domestic patriot is often heard calling fellow citizens and their officials to this standard. That call is distinctly a citizenly call, and never more so than when, as Father Mapple’s wonderful sermon in Moby-Dick has it, the citizen stands firm "against the proud gods and commodores of this earth" and calls every violation of the covenant to account "though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges."


Floyd Abrams

Constitutional lawyer

The left has always had a problem with patriotism. There were a few recordings: Paul Robeson’s "The Lonesome Train" still resonates. There are some songs: No one has blessed America more movingly than Woody Guthrie. But as a general matter the left seems sour on America and more sour still about patriotism.

More’s the pity. It’s not that the right hasn’t routinely substituted flag-waving for reason. Or even that a dumb, smug and myopic sort of Americanism hasn’t been used to justify every national sin of which we’ve been capable. But none of that even begins to excuse the disdain with which the left greets even a tip of a patriotic hat. Adlai Stevenson understood that patriotism could rightly be defined as the celebration of "the right to hold ideas that are different–the freedom of man to think as he pleases." And he knew at the same time that "to strike freedom of the mind with the fist of patriotism" was "an old and ugly subtlety."

Why, then, the resistance on the left to patriotic appeals? Why such a crabbed view of Americanism at its best? Why not celebrate Justice Brennan? Or Justices Marshall and Blackmun? Or the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights? Or a message of freedom beamed from America to the rest of the world that has often been received there but too often has been denigrated here?

What the left criticizes about America is often worth criticizing. Its unwillingness to celebrate what we offer the world at our best–and to call that patriotism–is not to its intellectual or moral credit.

Richard A. Cloward and Frances Fox Piven

Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work
Professor, Graduate Center, CUNY

We take patriotism to mean love of nation and the loyalty that follows. My country right or wrong. Even as an abstract idea, it is hard to see how thinking people justify blind loyalty. And considered historically, patriotism is plainly dangerous, helping to unleash military rampages in the name of nation and obliterating the essential democratic capacity to assess concrete and particular interests.

The ubiquitous loyalty to nation-state is puzzling. How is it that people become passionately devoted to the abstraction of the state and its symbols? Propaganda could not be the human condition, such as the attachments most feel for kin and community. And perhaps nationalistic propaganda acquires the force it does because it draws on these axiomatic attachments.

Still, there is a difference. However parochial the ties that bind people to clan or place, these ties have something to do with the concrete experience of people, so that threats to clan or place can sometimes be assessed by direct experience. Not so with flag and nation. When state leaders appeal to patriotism, they mobilize citizens by invoking foreign threats that cannot be assessed by ordinary people, except sometimes when it is too late, as in the aftermath of war. In the process, not only are people made to sacrifice lives and resources to the contests of state-makers but the emotions generated overwhelm popular capacities for a reasoned and conflictual domestic politics. Never has that been more obvious.

William Sloane Coffin

Minister, president, SANE/FREEZE advisory board

The worst patriots are those who hold certainty dearer than truth, who, in order to spare themselves the pain of thought, are willing to inflict untold sufferings on others. Adolf Eichmann comes to mind.

But if uncritical lovers of their country are the most dangerous of patriots, loveless critics are hardly the best. If you love the good you have to hate evil, else you’re sentimental; but if you hate evil more than you love the good, you’re a good hater.

Surely the best patriots are those who carry on not a grudge fight but a lover’s quarrel with their country. And the main burden of their quarrel in today’s and tomorrow’s world must be to persuade their fellow citizens that the planet itself is now at risk, and in an order of magnitude never previously even imagined. Hence, everyone’s security depends on everyone else’s. No one is safe until all are safe.

The ancient Roman Tacitus defined patriotism as entering into praiseworthy competition with our ancestors. I think we should enter into praiseworthy competition with Washington and Jefferson. As they declared their independence from England, let us declare our interdependence with all countries. Beyond saluting the flag, let us pledge allegiance "to the earth, and to the flora, fauna and human life that it supports; one planet indivisible, with clean air, soil and water, liberty, justice and peace for all."

Today our most relevant American patriot might well be Thoreau, who, a hundred years ago, said, "I am a citizen of the world first, and of this country at a later and more convenient hour."

Stephen F. Cohen

Director, Russian studies, Princeton University

Patriotism is never having to say you didn’t know.

Martin Duberman

Professor of history, CUNY; biographer; playwright

Who isn’t a patriot? Everybody claims the designation and claims loyalty to the particular set of ideals and institutional arrangements they choose to identify as the essence of Americanism. Those of us who deplore the country’s current descent into macho militarism refuse to cede patriotism to those who equate it with George Bush’s policies. We hold to a set of values older than Bush and more enduring than a single (misguided) administration. We hold to an insistence that the needs of people come before the display of hardware, however technologically brilliant. We hold that all human life is valuable, and that the view that some nationalities, races, religions, sexual orientations and genders are more valuable than others disgraces the notion of democracy–just as the growing disparities in wealth and privilege in our own country discredit the notion that we are the exemplars of democracy. We hold to an insistence that the rights of conscience take precedence over the profits of business. We hold to a celebration–internationally–of human diversity, and we champion the integrity of indigenous cultures over imperialistic demands for conformity.

Obviously we’re the real patriots. How come THEY can’t understand that?

Richard Falk

Professor of international relations, Princeton University

Confusing patriotism with unconditional support for government policy does core damage to the meaning of citizenship, especially during time of war. In 1736 Lord Bolingbroke identified the essence of patriotic fervor as devotion to the public good, whether as official or citizen. To uphold a policy that is believed harmful to the country is then, with such an understanding, highly unpatriotic, exhibiting either weakness of spirit or fear of consequences.

Wartime accentuates the pressure to be a patriot, especially if one’s country is in physical danger. At such times of national emergency, arguably, unity may be relevant to survival. U.S. wars since World War II have not been of this character. These wars have been distant encounters in the Third World, of dubious legality and morality. It is the appropriation of the symbols and language of patriotism for such wars that poses a profound challenge to our political identity.

Admitting the predicament of young people conscripted or professionally obliged to take part in an improper war in such a circumstance has nothing to do with patriotism. Indeed, a patriot may express solidarity with fellow citizens caught on the battlefield by working hard to oppose a war or bring it to a rapid end. It was a mistake often made in the Vietnam era for opponents of the war to confuse their opposition with expressions of contempt for Americans in the military, as if they were responsible for the war policies. Supporters of the war tended to make the opposite mistake, blaming the soldiers subjected to the hell of Vietnam for the loss of the war.

Straightening out this mistake might have been one of the few bright spots to emerge from the Persian Gulf war. But the Bush effort to honor and praise the troops asked to risk their lives on the authority of the elected leaders was deliberately confused with enthusiasm for the war and a celebration of the battlefield victory. That confusion repeats the Vietnam mistake in the guise of correcting it. By seeming to associate battlefield results with our attitude toward taking part is to build war fever into military victory and shame into military defeat. To mingle patriotic fervor with militarism is pernicious and dangerous for us all. As citizens in the nuclear age we must struggle harder to convince others that the true patriot is now, above all, dedicated to peace and justice, to diplomatic solutions and to a foreign policy respectful of international law and of the United Nations so long as it acts within its own constitutional mandate.

That much seems obvious. What is more difficult is to give patriotism a positive content in America at this time. Despite the outcome of the cold war, it is more evident than ever that capitalism is cruel in its human effects, especially here in the United States, and has entered a phase in which market forces are weakening welfare gains. The disquieting popularity of Desert Storm with the people confirmed an ugly streak that cannot be explained away as media manipulation. It is one more reminder that the dispossession and destruction of the Indian peoples of North America is not a matter of history, buried in the past. The massacre of the Iraqis fed the same political imagination that was threatened by the "savages" in the wilderness. Patriotic energy is required if we are overcome such a bloody legacy, compounded many times, including by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is doubtful whether, even if we could come to face our past as honestly as, say, the Germans have faced the horror of the Holocaust, there would be much occasion for reaffirming a nationalist pride as the basis of a reformed patriotism. Especially given the power and wealth of the United States, our pressing need is for nationalist humility and the forming of a more global political identity that is engaged in the great work of solidarity with peoples everywhere, first of all here at home, who are working to overcome the afflictions of humanity.

Howard Fast

Novelist; columnist for The New York Observer

Patriotism in its most common usage is best defined as the last refuge of scoundrels, who label every infamy and abomination as patriotism. Let me list some of the things these above-mentioned scoundrels define as patriotism:

Fighting wars of aggression thousands of miles away.

Fighting wars of colonial oppression.

Poisoning the atmosphere with auto emission and pollution and acid rain.

Ruthlessly destroying the forests.

Promoting racism as a means of winning elections.

Cutting away at civil rights.

Lying about every question of the public good.

Bleeding the people dry and destroying all that America stands for with an armaments industry large beyond reason or need.

Spending our wealth on armaments while our cities crumble, our infrastructure disintegrates and our schools are left without teachers.

I could go on and on, but what the hell! What they call patriotism down there in Washington stinks to high heaven of brainlessness, racism, greed, fear and hatred of the common people. Internationalism, brotherhood, a left-liberal approach to life–all these can only enhance the well-being of any and all countries. Patriotism, however, as a word, applies to true love of one’s country and a code of conduct that echoes such love.

Vivian Gornick

Author; reporter

The word "patriotism"–which I associate to blind love of country–does not echo in me. But feminism made me an American. Let me explain.

I grew up in New York, the child of working-class immigrants, devoted to a Marxist vision of international socialism. In our house the injustices of class far outweighed the virtues of the democracy. True, we were lucky to be making our struggle here, on this section of the map rather than on many others we might have found ourselves on, but America as an emotional reality did not go deep. When we marched in May Day parades and hecklers told us to go back where we came from, we replied in perfect confidence, "This is our country. We’re more American than you." But we didn’t really mean it. Honest dissidents speaking out of a true love of country was not what we were about.

In late adolescence I grew away from the family passion. Socialism no longer explained my life to me. I joined the culture of urban intellectual Jews. New York became my country. When I went abroad I saw that brash expectancy, directness of speech and a strong sense of social fluidity all marked me as an American, but the recognition was not centering; rather it disoriented, made me feel odd, lonely.

In the early 1970s I became converted to the feminist analysis, and slowly a surprising thing began to happen. Instead of taking my place on the feminist spectrum somewhere near the Marxists, I found my politics growing out of an America that had taken root inside me without my knowledge or consent. Looking now with opened eyes at indigenous sexism, I found myself thinking, "This is my country. I’m more American than you." And this time I meant it. It seemed to me, then, that every fifty years or so another section of the body politic rises up here to demand its share of the democracy, and in the act of demanding demonstrates both the systematic exclusion and its native sense of right. I felt myself at the end of a long line of American populists. I felt the struggles between capital and the individual as I had not since childhood–how long its history, and how alive it is in this country.

It’s the live quality of the struggle that I prize. The thing that makes me feel American.

Jesse L. Jackson

President, National Rainbow Coalition

One afternoon in Greenville, South Carolina, when I was 9 years old, my father was raking leaves. The man came outside to offer us a drink of water, and when he left I asked, Why does that man speak differently from us? "He’s German," said my father, and he stopped and leaned on his rake. "He’s German. I fought in Europe so they could have freedom. I’m proud to be a veteran of that war." His eyes clouded over. "But now he’s here, and he can vote, and I cannot. I helped free his people, now I’m raking his leaves."

It is a paradox of the human spirit that even after such brutal oppression and disregard for human rights, we are still so patriotic and love our country so much. It is our land; we cultivated it and helped to build it. But it is not our government. Indeed, fighting for a better government is the patriotic thing to do.

America at its best guarantees opportunity,, and so fighting to expand the horizons of oppressed people is an act of patriotism. Yet too often, those who dare expand our nation’s democracy and make it true to our principles are victims of naked aggression, aggression led not by street fighters but by the White House, Congress and the courts. The founding writers of the Constitution envisioned a nation in which people of African descent were three-fifths human, in which their own mothers and daughters and sisters had no right to vote, in which Native Americans had no right to live. Thomas Jefferson expressed the American dilemma when he wrote:


For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labour. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just…


Through patriotism we have made America better. We have gained the right to vote. Women and African-Americans have changed the course and character of the nation. And my father’s faith in his country has been sustained in the lifetime commitment of his family to make America better. Yet those who have fought for the highest and best principles of our country, the true patriots, have been vilified and crucified. The true patriots invariably disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and are persecuted in their lifetimes even as their accomplishments are applauded after their deaths.

Today, politicians are proud to pronounce that we have abolished slavery. But in its time, slavery was the political center, and abolitionists were punished for their moral strength. Today, politicians hold up the gains of women. Yet in its time, denial of the vote to women was the political center; the women’s suffrage movement sought the moral center, and was punished for its patriotism. Those who fight for civil rights, open housing, environmental laws, peace and international cooperation, and veterans of domestic wars–the true patriots–receive no parades.

We must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride. "My country right or wrong" is neither moral nor intelligent. Patriotism is support for the highest ideals of the nation, not for whoever happens to be in the White House. As citizens we must continue to fight for justice and equality so that we might make a better nation and a better world. We must give credence to our invitation: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," for the character of our nation is rooted in the affirmation of those ideals for all of our people.

Erwin Knoll

Editor, The Progressive

This Fourth of July, as on some twenty that preceded it, I’ll join with family and friends to celebrate America’s revolutionary heritage. It’s something we started doing when Richard Nixon and his pals were sporting American flag pins in their lapels. Damn it, we thought, it’s not their flag, it’s not their country, and we’re not going to let them steal America from us.

So we get together on the afternoon of the Fourth–it has never rained on our parade–to do all-American things (drink beer, eat hot dogs) and to recall, without rhetorical excess, that this country has a great radical tradition. We nail facsimiles of the Declaration and the Bill of Rights to a tree, and I’ve noticed that once in a while someone actually ambles over to read them.

It’s a peculiarly ambivalent institution, this Fourth of July party of ours–part observance, part parody. A couple of years ago, when flag burning was the idiotic issue of the moment, a friend brought his own flag to burn. Some thought it was a fine way to mark the Fourth; others demurred.

That ambivalence is symbolic of my own mixed feelings about the attitude or set of attitudes we call patriotism. I can invoke the usual heroes from the left’s pantheon–Tom Paine and Sojourner Truth, Gene Debs and Jeannette Rankin–and for their sake proclaim myself a patriot. Or I can summon up the monstrous crimes committed in the name of flag and country and denounce patriotism as the root of much of the world’s evil.

I’m one of those unreconstructed leftists who still get a lump in the throat on those increasingly rare occasions when someone plays the "Internationale." It may turn out, in the long run, that one of the major crimes committed by the Stalinists was to give internationalism a bad name. I think it’s still the way for humanity to go.

"It’s a great country," my late friend and colleague Milton Mayer used to say, and then he’d add, under his breath, "They’re all great countries." That, in a few words, sums up the trouble with patriotism: It’s an absolute claim in world where few absolutes make any sense. And to invoke the absolute of patriotism as a rationale for killing and dying–as it is perpetually and horribly invoked–makes the least sense of all.

Still, I suppose we’ll go on with our Fourth of July party. A twenty-year tradition isn’t lightly discarded in this rapidly changing world, and it is a great party. They’re all great parties.

Mary McGrory

Columnist, The Washington Post

My patriotism is often questioned by readers. I come down to saying that I think it is possible to love my country without loving its wars. That’s pretty defensive, but if you saw my mail, you would know why. I also tell them I will match my love of country with that of any of those hearties in the Administration who are sending Americans to war without having to serve in one themselves.

Natalie Merchant

Lead singer, 10,000 Maniacs

Patriotism asks that we embrace a unified America, yet no simple vision of America can accommodate its diversity. Few of us are able to call ourselves native; most of us trace our family lineages to nations great distances from these shores. With passing generations we are "assimilated," yet our former cultures are never fully relinquished. The heritage we retain and the characteristics of the one we adopt intermingle; we are defining and becoming American.

The acceptance of a common historical view may be considered the cornerstone of nationalism, yet when I consider the most broadly accepted view of history I realize that my America is quite different. In my America Columbus was not a benevolent explorer who happened upon an earthly paradise that yielded itself bloodlessly to his will. In my America the native peoples of this continent were not hostile savages, unprovoked to violence against the benign European colonialists. In my America the tobacco exports of the newborn Virginia settlement addicted a world to a powerful drug to secure a market and survival. In my America the capture, torture and enslavement of a race is unforgivable. In my America the blood and sweat of millions created an industrial power, and fortunes for relatively few.

In my America there is a hope that democracy is not forever destined to be corrupted by wealth influencing power. In my America women will no longer need to fight to possess themselves. In my America the basic rights of all its citizens must be respected, and this respect extends beyond borders. And in my America the burden of world power will be accepted more gracefully, with the people of the United States learning to recognize their brothers and sisters worldwide.

There is one tradition in America I am proud to inherit. It is our first freedom and the truest expression of our Americanism: the ability to dissent without fear. It is our right to utter the words, "I disagree." We must feel at liberty to speak those words to our neighbors, our clergy, our educators, our news media, our lawmakers and, above all, to the one among us we elect President.

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Editor at large, The Nation

Forty-seven years ago, as another war drew to a close, President Franklin Roosevelt called for an Economic Bill of Rights. It included "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation…the right of every family to a decent home; the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment; the right to a good education." Try to imagine President Bush calling for such a bill.

Patriotism means that no citizen is denied these basic rights. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.




Monday, 19 February 2018 07:57

By Sara Israfilbayova

The opening ceremony of a new branch of the international association Israel-Azerbaijan “AzIz” was held in Kiryat Gat on February 15.

The First Vice-Mayor of Kiryat Gat Yakov Ifraimov congratulated the residents of the city - people from the Caucasus with this significant event, expressed hope for close cooperation with the Association “AzIz” and promised to do everything possible to ensure that this activity benefited the population of the city.

In his speech, General Director of the Association Lev Spivak expressed his gratitude to the city authorities in the person of First Vice-Mayor for supporting the idea of ​​creating “AzIz” branch in the city and assisting in its implementation.

Ruslan Davydov, one of the most active figures of the Caucasian community, was elected as a chairman of the branch of the “AzIz Association” in Kiryat Gat.

This event for the descendants from Azerbaijan is significant because it took place in one of the southernmost points of Israel - in the city of Kiryat Gat, which is famous due to the legend about the battle of David and Goliath.

At present, one third of the population of Kiryat Gat are immigrants from the CIS republics, a significant part of which are former residents of Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus.

Despite the fact that modern Kiryat Gat is a relatively young city, its population is growing rapidly and by early 2018 has reached 53,000 people. There is an intensive development of construction, military industry, high technology and agriculture.

The diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Israel were established in 1992. Israel is the second largest importer of Azerbaijan oil. After the opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline, Israel also stated that it is interested in buying Azerbaijani gas.

Since 1993, the Azerbaijani airline AZAL has been carrying out flights along the Baku-Tel-Aviv route.

In April 2017, the two countries approved the cancellation of double taxation.

The trade turnover between Azerbaijan and Israel amounted to $154.66 million in January-March 2017.




Monday, 19 February 2018 07:42

By Amina Nazarli

When is a good time to visit Azerbaijan? Anytime! Every season has its charm, so when to go depends on your travel type and what activities you are interested in.

Summer is ideal season to visit Azerbaijan, rich with delicious culinary traditions, to attend the Dolma Festival.  

Dolma is a traditional meal in the Land of Fire that no Azerbaijani can imagine living without. Dolma is one of the most popular and widespread dishes of Azerbaijan. It is the number one guest of all feasts along with rich flavored Plov.

By the way, if you also want to taste Azerbaijan’s signature dish Plov, do not hesitate to take part at the annual Plov Festival.

At such festivals, the aroma of the saffron-covered rice wafts throughout the entire venue, making the visitors' mouths water. More than 60 different kinds of plov are typically offered at the festival. This delicious dish includes cherries, pumpkin, fennel, dried fruits, and beans.

Azerbaijan is a country with rich sport traditions. Wrestling, shooting, fencing, javelin, and racing are well-known sports in the country. In the recent years the influence of Azerbaijan as a sporting country significantly increased. Every year, the country hosts major international and domestic sporting events that are all worth to see. So, search the internet not to miss one of them.

Traditional Apple Festival to be held in the marvelous northern-western region of Azerbaijan – Guba in early autumn.

Guba region may rightly be considered as a motherland of Azerbaijani apples. Smell of juicy and aromatic apple trees have spread into every stone and every house of this beautiful northern region.

In October dozens of farmers and gardeners will bring their best apples, including palmet, semerinka, fudji, gizilehmed and others to the festival and define winner in various competitions, such as the biggest apple or the most delicious apple jam.

November pleases with one of the country's most loved festivals – the Pomegranate Festival in Goychay region. Annually attracting about 15,000 visitors, the festival gathers several varieties of pomegranates grown in different villages across Goychay as well as products made of pomegranate, showcasing them at an exhibition in the town square.

Other popular events include the “biggest pomegranate” competition, the contest for the fastest consumer of pomegranates, and another contest involving squeezing out pomegranate juice.





Friday, 16 February 2018 06:21

It is then that Tehran will try to move a special Russian-backed Iraqi Shiite force from southern Iraq into Syria and so expand its anti-Israel war front.
Since the Israeli Air Force hit a dozen Syrian and Iranian military targets on Saturday, Feb. 10, certain Israeli leaders have been vying for the most belligerent anti-Iran speeches (“They will never forget their next lesson” – Transport Minister Yisrael Katz; “We won’t let Iran set up a forward command” OC IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick”). However, the plans Iran has in store  for the next round may tax them with making good on their warnings, although one at least comes after the fact. Iran is already running three forward commands in Syria – one in Damascus, one at Abu Kamal in the east and a third outside Aleppo.
Iran’s next challenge to Israel is likely to be more extensive than a lone Iranian drone intrusion and may start far from Israel’s northern border. Russia and Iran are trying to run a two-way, cross-border military movement between Iraq and Syria, which US forces in Syria have so far frustrated.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the United States is in the process of establishing a new “Border Security Force” in Syria, which is composed mainly of Kurdish fighters.
Iran and Russia are meanwhile building and training an elite “rapid deployment force” based on Iraqi Shiites. One of its functions will be to expand the front against Israel in both Syria and Lebanon. It is expected that the coming crossing into Syria of the Iraqi Shiite force may be used to detach a section for service on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Last month, an Iraqi Shiite militia chief traveled to Lebanon to inspect Israeli positions on that border. .
The Iraqi group is composed of 5,000 Shiite fighters, who are undergoing special training course for combat in Syria. They were handpicked from two high-performance Iraqi Shiite militias: One is the Nujaba of Kaabil (Movement of the Part of God), which is the Iraqi version of the Lebanese Hizballah and is headed by Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi. It has four sub-units, the Ammar Ibn Yasir Brigade, the Liwa al-Hamad – Praise Brigade, the Liwa al-Imam al Hassan al-Mujtaba – Imam Hssan the Chosen, and the Golan Liberation Brigade. The other militia is the Abud al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces.

This big difference between this elite Iraqi force and the other Shiite militias Tehran deploys in Syria is that it will be equipped with an air force, according to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources. Russian and Iranian air force officers are setting up an aviation unit called the Combat Helicopters Directorates, to consist of dozens of Russian Mil Mi-17 assault and freight choppers as well as Iranian Shaed 285 attack choppers.

The bulk of the new force is expected to be ready to start moving west in the course of April and cross over into southeast Syria in the regions of Abu Kamal and Deir ez-Zour by early May at the latest. So far, the American forces deployed in western Iraq and southeastern Syria, centering in Al Tanf, have used live air force and artillery fire to push the vanguard back from the Syrian border.

A US special operations contingent also frustrated a move in the opposite direction by Syrian and Hizballah forces trying to cross the Euphrates to the eastern bank across a floating bridge laid by the Russians. They were heading to link up with the incoming Iraqi militias.  (Read DEBKAfile’s exclusive reports on Feb. 8-9). This major US operation that involved air force, artillery and commandos was somehow missed by the Israeli politicians and analysts who commented on how the US had abandoned the Syrian arena when they discussed the Israeli air offensive of last Saturday.

Despite every effort to block the Iraqi force from reaching Syria, it may find a small gap in the 1,000km long Iraqi-Syrian border and manage to slip through. Israel’s government and military leaders will then face a decision that is much harder than whether to destroy the command vehicle controlling an Iranian drone. Part of the difficulty will be that before actin, Israel will have to keep an eye on the state of relations between the US and Russia which are at a low ebb at this time and how this plays out on the ground.



Friday, 16 February 2018 06:19

It came as no surprise that the Israeli Knesset on Wednesday, once again, rejected a bill to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide in vote of 41 against and 28 for.

This iteration of the bill was introduced by chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid who said, “There is no reason that the Knesset, which represents a nation that went through the Holocaust, shouldn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide and have a remembrance day for it.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said a parliamentary delegation was sent to Yerevan to participate in the 100th anniversary event, but will not take an official stance on the matter, “in light of its complexity and diplomatic repercussions, and because it has a clear political connection.”

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called on the government in 2015 to change its stance, and in 2016 the Knesset Education Committee recognized the Genocide.

However, the chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Jerusalem Hagop Sevan was more optimistic on a possible future recognition of the Genocide by Israel saying he had no doubt that sooner or later the Jewish State will recognize the events of 1915 as Genocide.

“The bill was introduced without our initiative, unlike before when as a result of our efforts the opposition Meretz party initiated the effort,” explained Sevan in an interview with Armenpress.

“Yair Lapid announced his intentions to submit such a bill several months ago, in some sense taking into account the deterioration of Israeli-Turkish relations,” added Sevan who explained that the political climate in the country involving corruption charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have played a role in the legislature’s decision. Official corruption charges were filed against the Israeli leader on Tuesday.

Sevan explained that Lapid, who spearheaded the latest recognition effort, is a witness in the Netanyahu case.


Thursday, 15 February 2018 05:33
The 39th anniversary of the revolution in Iran promises to be a sombre occasion for the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, who was forced to acknowledge the mass discontent in the country as result of the recent protests and received letters from two dissident insiders accusing him of negligence and empire building.
The letters came from two prominent establishment figures from either end of the political spectrum. On the left, Mehdi Karroubi, one of the leaders of the reformist uprising of 2009, in a letter published on January 30, blamed Khamenei for the country's chaotic political, economic, cultural and social situations. And on the right, the former hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, published a similar letter marking the anniversary of the revolution and held Khamenei responsible for not doing anything about the judiciary which has turned into a "major pillar of oppression" against the Iranian people.
At the same time investigations into the protests that took Iran by surprise six weeks back have put the blame firmly at the door of the establishment with official polls indicating almost 75 percent of the population are unhappy with the situation in the country.
Ayatollah Khamenei has recently admitted that the country has social justice and corruption problems, adding those officials directly responsible "must pay special attention". But he has not come up with any solutions.
"People's recent anti-corruption protest across the country is an alarm bell that you should take note of," Karroubi said in his letter. "You, who have changed almost every pillar of the revolution to your preferred policies, must answer to the public," he added. 
It is not the first time that Karroubi or Ahmadinejad have spoken out against what they describe as injustice. Nor is the idea of writing letters a novelty. Since the early days of the revolution, several letters of criticism have been written by prominent insiders.
What is important about the recent letters is their harsher than usual tone and the fact that they target the leader. The timing of these two letters is also crucial because it adds momentum to the expressions of discontent during the recent protests, some calling for the downfall of the regime and its leader.
In his letter, Ahmadinejad implied that either direct complicity or ineffectiveness of the leader has led to haphazard judicial decisions and widespread injustice. "They insult and abuse power without fear, they charge and convict without oversight," he said.
Karroubi, on the other hand, blamed the leader for destroying the foundations of the revolution and making a mockery of the main oversight bodies such as the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts. 
He also accused Khamenei of authorising the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to enter into economic activity, indulge in corruption, get involved with intelligence, culture and politics when it was established to be only a military set up. 
A demand for substantial changes
According to an official poll, the underlying causes of the widespread discontent in the recent protests were social and political. The head of Strategic Analysis Centre, Hessamudin Ashna, said that the polls show 60 percent of the population want reform but another 31 percent want "substantial changes". 
"The protests should be taken seriously" otherwise "they may have dire consequences," said Ashna, who is an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani.
Yet inside the establishment there is an ongoing blame game. Rouhani stresses the social and political reasons behind the protests while the hardliners highlight the economic aspect to pressurise the president who is responsible mainly for the economy of the country. 
What both sides are avoiding is that comprehensive reforms are required otherwise there would be more protests: in the same official poll, 37 percent of the respondents said protests are highly likely to be repeated.
Rouhani has put in place development projects for the southern Khuzestan province where protests about confiscation of land, shortage of water and environmental issues have gone on for over a year. He has also initiated an urban housing reconstruction programme to provide housing for young couples. Youth unemployment standing at 25 percent has been seen as one of the major roots of the recent unrest. 
Yet reforming the political and judicial architecture of the establishment can only come from the supreme leader and his reaction has been slack. He has continued to pay more attention to regional issues, angering the protesters. 
The two recent letters and the public pressures for creating change in the body of the Islamic Republic should give President Rouhani the necessary tools he requires to push Khamenei for his proposed reform of the IRGC and the judiciary as well as his anti-corruption "surgery" as demanded by the International Monetary Fund. 
And the protesters' call for the downfall of the leader should give sufficient impetus for reforms in the Assembly of Experts which has the duty of supervising and disqualifying the leader. As it stands Karroubi is right to refer to it as a "ceremonial council that only praises the Leader". 
After all, even the hardline Speaker of the Assembly, Ahmad Janati, who is always undermining dissent has said he is concerned about what the future holds for the Islamic Republic. 
If the establishment in Iran wants to avoid further protests and possible civil disobedience the leader needs to take some drastic measures. These must include major reshuffles at the highest levels of the judiciary and the IRGC. 
Otherwise, the next year's anniversary could be even gloomier.

Al Jazeera

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 00:00

Armenians responded by vigorous defenses that mostly glossed over the liberation hero's alliance with the Third Reich.

A monument to Garegin Nzhdeh, a controversial Armenian hero, unveiled in Yerevan in 2016. Attacks on Nzhdeh from Russia have been mounting. (photo: yerevan.am)

A historical dispute between Armenia and Russia over Armenia's liberation-hero-turned-Nazi-collaborator has reignited, injecting tendentious World War II politics into the two allies' uneasy relationship.

A senior Russian lawmaker wrote a piece in the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, published February 6, headlined “The Return of Nazism from the Baltics to Armenia.” The theme is not a new one for Russia, which has in recent years made great efforts to delegitimize nationalist fighters who collaborated with Germany in World War II in the cause of liberating their countries from Soviet rule.

But while that has become an old story in the Baltics and Ukraine, it's a new one in Armenia. Armenia, unlike those other states, is a close ally of Russia and until recently has been spared criticism for its heroes' dabbling in Nazi collaboration.

That may now be changing. “Armenia, a strategic ally of Russia, has erected a monument in the center of Yerevan to the Third Reich collaborationist Garegin Nzhdeh,” the lawmaker, Lyudmila Kozlova, wrote. Nzhdeh, she wrote, “has the blood of thousands of our grandfathers and great grandfathers on his hands.”

That followed an event in January at Russia's Duma, a roundtable discussion on “The Fight Against Valorization of Nazism and the Return of Neo-Nazism: Legislative Aspects,” at which the participants called on Armenia to take down the statue of Nzhdeh, which was put up in 2016.

These salvoes reopened a battle that appeared to have resulted in a ceasefire last year, when a Russian military television station aired a program making many of the same allegations against Nzhdeh. After Armenia vociferously complained that time, Russia quickly backed down, removed the program from the TV station's website and issued an apology. This time, though, the accusations are coming from higher up the power structure, and Russia has not apologized.

Nzhdeh, like any other historical figure, is complex. Over a period of decades, he fought all Armenia's foes, including Ottoman Turkey and early Soviet Russia, and is credited in Armenia for his efforts in securing Zangezur, the southernmost part of Armenia, which the Soviets had wanted to award to Azerbaijan. But when World War II broke out, Nzhdeh threw his lot in with Germany, offering Germany his assistance and providing evidence that the Armenians were an Aryan people.

Ideally, an assessment of Nzhdeh's legacy would take all of that into account. But there's no room for nuance in the black-and-white, zero-sum game of post-Soviet World War II politics. And the attack on Nzhdeh was parried vigorously by Armenians across the political spectrum.

Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, used one of Russia's favorite tactics against it: whataboutism. “To those who attempt to tie Nzhdeh to fascists, I respond: if someone collaborated with fascists, then so did the entire Soviet leadership led by Molotov and Stalin from 1933-41 with the non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler,” he said.

“Of course, neither will Russians be able to take down the monument of Nzhdeh, nor will we be able to bury Lenin from Yerevan, but at least in Russia they should realize that it will not be possible to return to the regime under which the Armenian people suffered,” added pro-Western opposition politician Stepan Safaryan.

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian implied that Armenia's foe, Azerbaijan, was pulling the strings behind the scenes. “This is speculation from several enemies, and their reasons are completely obvious. This is being done intentionally, and it is not worth falling into the trap,” he said.

Azerbaijan's traces can in fact be found behind some of the anti-Nzhdeh movement from Russia. But not all. “Notice that in the Kozlova case, our leadership can not claim that we're dealing with some 'experts' or personal opinions, because the upper chamber the Russian parliament [in which Kozlova serves] is made of people who have been 'filtered' several times before reaching the Kremlin, where the candidates are examined with a microscope,” one worried commentator, Sargis Artsruni, wrote. “The Russians clearly don't have a problem with Gagerin Nzhdeh, or with his monument, but with [President] Serzh Sargsyan and the Republican Party of Armenia.”

Most of the rebuttals did not attempt to justify Nzhdeh's collaboration with the Nazis. But the anti-Russian-propaganda website run by the pro-Western NGO Union of Informed Citizens and funded by the European Union, sut.am, went there.

“First of all, we should note that the [Nzhdeh-led unit] Armenian Legion was part of Wehrmacht, and not SS,” the Union wrote, in bold contravention of the rule of thumb that if you start to argue about the precise nature of Nazi collaboration, you've pretty much lost the argument. They went on: “Few people know that the aim of the creation of the Armenian Legion in the Wehrmacht was mitigation of the Turkish threat.”

Meanwhile, the Nzhdeh fight is set to become further internationalized: a statue of the controversial hero is to be erected in Bulgaria. Buckle up.



Monday, 12 February 2018 10:26

The natural gas pipeline that many said could never happen is taking an important step forward this month: constructing its Afghan section.

It is the natural gas pipeline project that many have long said could never happen. But the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, or TAPI for short, is taking another important step forward this month with construction of its most precarious section.

If it is ever completed, the bulk of the Afghan component of TAPI will run abreast of the 557-kilometer (346-mile) Kandahar-Herat highway before turning off right along the road to the Pakistani city of Quetta.

In perhaps one of the most important fillips to the entire undertaking in recent years, Saudi Arabia has reportedly committed to providing it with “substantial investments.” That is what officials in Ashgabat are saying, at least, although the nebulousness of the Turkmen government makes the precise nature of that commitment unclear.

Maksat Babayev, the Turkmen deputy prime minister with the portfolio for energy issues, announced at a January 19 government meeting that the funds in question have already been disbursed by the Saudi Fund for Development.

“Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia are among those nations possessing huge reserves of natural resources, and that creates favorable conditions for expanding interstate cooperation in the field of fuel and energy as well as in other sectors,” Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said during the same meeting.

The Saudi Fund for Development did not respond to emailed requests for confirmation of or elaboration on Turkmenistan’s assertions. Turkmen officials have not revealed how much money the Saudis have purportedly provided nor to what part of the project the funds have been allocated.

TAPI is nothing if not ambitious. The entire route would span 1,814 kilometers (1,127 miles), starting from the Galkynysh mega-field and terminate in the fortress town of Fazilka in India’s Punjab State. The pipeline would be able to carry up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas every year. Of that volume, India and Pakistan would buy around 14 billion cubic meters apiece, with the remaining 5 billion going to Afghanistan.

Completion of the pipeline is currently slated for 2020, although other than Turkmenistan, none of the countries involved have yet done any construction. Some hardened skeptics question whether the Turkmen section is even real. No international journalists have been allowed anywhere near works and state media has produced little by way of documentary evidence of their engineers’ efforts.

That outside help would be needed to help cover the $10 billion-plus bill was evident from the outset. As leader of the Isle of Man-based TAPI Pipeline Company construction consortium, state-run Turkmengaz is supposed to be stumping up 85 percent of equity. And yet Turkmenistan shows every sign of being utterly broke — the result of chronic economic mismanagement and flagging global prices for energy commodities in the past few years. The other consortium members — the Afghan Gas Corporation, Pakistan's Inter State Gas Systems and India’s GAIL — have been similarly constrained or circumspect in declaring their spending intent.

In October 2016, Turkmenistan revealed that it had borrowed $700 million from the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank to fund building work on TAPI. For other credit, much hope is being placed in the Asian Development Bank, whose board of directors last year approved a five-year Country Partnership Strategy that would, among other things, help with the trans-Afghan pipeline.

“Going forward, ADB will continue to support the project, including the possibility of providing financial advice, financing shareholder equity in TAPI pipeline company, and non-sovereign loans, and credit enhancement,” the bank said in a statement, without providing project-specific figures.

The ground-breaking ceremony in Afghanistan has been scheduled for February 23. Officials in Kabul are adamant everything is in place and are rubbing their hands at what they predict will be the $500-million transit-fee windfall due to them once deliveries begin.

“We have undertaken the necessary arrangements in the security sector and provided facilities for the implementation of the project, a special team has worked on it,” Abdul Qadeer Mufti, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, was quoted as saying by TOLO News last month.

As analysts who have monitored the project closely over the years note, however, the start to work in Afghanistan could easily prove a false dawn. Large amounts of money will be needed for long-term protection, as well as construction — Kabul has previously said it will put together a 7,000-man force to keep TAPI safe.

“If the Afghan sector is ever finalized, there are serious questions about the capital needed to ensure security across the route, which goes through some of the country's most unstable areas,” Luca Anceschi, a lecturer in Central Asian studies at the University of Glasgow, told Eurasianet. “I still haven't seen any detailed, up-to-date information about pricing arrangements and gas quotas to be purchased by Pakistan and India.”

Indeed, the confidence evinced by Afghan officials appears to fly in the face of the realities on the ground. A recent study by the BBC maintained that Taliban forces are active in around 70 percent of the country. Most crucially, anti-government militants have outright control over districts that TAPI will be required to traverse.

It isn’t just Afghanistan that has security headaches. Pakistan’s Balochistan province is likewise beset by a long-running insurgency centered in part on demands for a greater share in the nation’s financial resources.

Anceschi said that there may well be more to Riyadh’s financial commitment than meets the eye.

“Saudi involvement may bring more capital to the struggling consortium but, in this context, construction works are probably just a smokescreen for some non-transparent management of TAPI funding,” he said.

As if to confirm such concerns, there have been unsettling developments in Pakistan, where TAPI consortium member Inter State Gas Systems has fired five top executives following their efforts to expose alleged irregularities in the gas sale agreement.

Given its location and route, TAPI is inevitably freighted with geopolitical significance. Historic enmity between India and Pakistan has regularly cast the viability of the entire enterprise into doubt.

And then there is the matter of Iran, another gas giant pursuing its own pipeline project in the area.

The extent of delays on the Iran-Pakistan-India route, dubbed the Peace Pipeline, puts even TAPI, an idea that has been kicked around since the early 1990s, in the shade. Still, Tehran insists the vision will be realized and has downplayed the likelihood that the Turkmen project will pose undue competition.

"The implementation of the project to supply gas to India to compete with the Peace pipeline is unlikely," Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh was quoted as saying by state media on January 30.

Zanganeh implicitly suggested that TAPI might be an attempt by Saudi Arabia — and the United States — to sabotage Iran’s goals in the region.

“Ultimately, all obstructions aimed at preventing the strengthening of Iran's position on the global energy market will fail,” he said.