Friday, November 30, 2007

Human nature, animal life and the subconscious

Has it ever occurred to you that humans are not very different from animals, with the exception of their level of intelligence and emotional complexity. I believe, each of us has own animal prototype, so to speak. Perhaps people attributed human qualities to various animals from time immemorial and now we analogize humans with animals. But some people are just like foxes, very cunning, witty and often treacherous. Some are like bear, kind, clumsy and always slow in motion/reaction. Others are just like cats, mysterious, sliding unnoticeably around and only getting attention when they need affection.

Some of us are very similar to tigers, ready to devour everything live on our way. Others are monkeys, who laugh and make others laugh, never taking anything seriously and never asking anyone to take them seriously. There is also the fish type who is deep in waters, never heard, non-expressive and slippery when trying to take hold of. Finally, there is the majestic and intelligent type, who is also a bit arrogant and looking down at everyone else-- the lion, the perceived king of animals. I can say that there is also an owl type of people, who don't sleep at nights and are just scary and lonely. There is also the lamb, who is always loved by everyone, because she does not have the ego of everyone else.

I can say that my animal type is the seabird (seagull), who is caught in-between the ocean and the coastline, the land and the sky... It is devoted to the ocean, but is also attached to the coastline. Thus, it never flies too high but also never gives in to the deep waters of the ocean. Its scream is loud, expressive, but also pensive and sometimes lonely.

Search inside and you will definitely find your animal prototype. This is about the irrational/subconscious that we, humans are so detached from by virtue of our high intelligence. We have lost our instinctive powers, emanating from Nature itself. Animals never lose them, because that is all they've got and that is what permits them to survive. In fact, due to their high instincts they react to natural disasters better than we do. Unfortunately, there is reverse correlation/inverse relationship between intellect and instinct. The more our intellect is developed, the less our instinctive powers. But what we have is our imagination and we are too lazy to use it. Only the artists among us are capable of lifting that heavy lid of imagination and free their spirit and mind.

Salvador Dali, a great Spanish painter surrealist (1904-1989) wrote:

My goal in art is to materialize, with willful power and accuracy, those objects borne out of concrete irrational...

I am not surprised at all that my friends, foes and public in general assert that they do not understand the objects born out of my imagination, which I translate into paintings. How can they understand them, when I myself-- the person creating or giving birth to such do not understand them? But the fact that I myself don't understand the meaning of my paintings does not mean that they are meaningless. On the contrary, their meaning is so deep, so complex, so multifaceted and not arbitrary, that it escapes simple analysis and definition by logical intuition.

The painting above is the "Premonition of Civil War" painted by Dali in 1936.

Religion, culture, intolerance...

A UK teacher in Sudan was jailed for 15 days for naming a teddy bear Muhammad in her class... Islamic fundamentalists and extremists gathered in fearful protest asking for more punishment and even death for her... Innocent explanations for her 'act' amounted from the moderates... But it is still a remarkable story, displaying the level of intolerance and fanaticism in Sudan... This is not just about religion or culture. This is about freedom of speech and the individual's right to express herself... People who try to freeze this into cultural/religious realm do not grasp the reality... In the name of religion and culture people are intolerant to each others' views... Full story here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Accountability and transition from democracy to dictatorship

What happens when the government ceases to be accountable to the people? How does it happen? What are the signs of this illness and how can they be detected early? How can the people assert their will and not allow that to happen? Are elections sufficient? How can the electoral process be improved?
Even the most democratic government can turn into a dictatorship over time. This does not happen overnight. It is a long process with many ebbs and flows, with many false hopes and failures. But it is very much dependent on the relationship between the government and people. The two are in a diametric opposition to each other in some contexts (such as civil rights) and in concert in others (such as national defense).
But often it is the people who ‘permit’ or allow their government to slip into unaccountability and prospectively into a dictatorship. You may ask, what if the political elites are simply insensitive to the signals emanating from below, the populace. What if they engage in a tactic of saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. What if they turn a deaf ear to the populace or often blame their lack of response to other external factors. In a democratic country we have elections that hopefully can bring forth new elites, who could perhaps not repeat the mistakes of the former. But the new elites build on what they inherit on. They can never start from scratch. If there is damage of great proportions inflicted by the yesterday elites, how do you suppose the new elites can repair all of that? It is simply impossible. Since most people by virtue of their nature cling to the status quo, things get into a settled pattern. Therefore, the new elites can only continue the trodden paths, even when they have the best intentions.
But had the people not allowed the old elites gone so far, they would not have ended up with no choice.

Lack of accountability to its people also translates into lack thereof to the world. If you don’t care about your own people’s will, you will care less about the opinion of the world community. Thus civil rights violations at home, a necessary by-product of unaccountability, will also result in human rights violations abroad. There is no secret about it. It all extends in a linear fashion.
You may ask how people can stop a democracy from turning into a dictatorship? In this highly sophisticated, highly commercial world of material values, people are caught in the whirlwind of a culture that is not civic any longer. However, time goes very fast and one day they may wake up and not be able to control their very lives. Peope may miss the train unwittingly.

No government in the world was born to be a dictatorship. It is the people who ‘permit’ and allow it to turn into such by their complacency and inability to speak up. You can speak up in many different ways, such as voting, getting engaged in your community, or simply getting involved in local politics.

For example, at its inception in 1919 the Soviet Union was by its design and nature, a government for the people essentially… The very purpose of the Great October Revolution of 1917 was to topple the Tsar, who was deeply insensitive to the people and institute a government ruled by people, the working class and peasants. At its birth it was essentially a ‘democratic’ government, despite the fact it was energized by Marxism rather than the Western liberal ideals. (Many may disagree with this, but it all depends how you define ‘democracy’). However, very soon the Communist Party emerged. Crucially, people voluntarily subordinated themselves to the will of the Party and allowed the Party to slowly turn into an absolute dictatorship. There was resistance but unorganized and haphazard. This was all under the name of the ‘proletariat,’ the working class. It soon ceased to be accountable not only to its people, but also to the entire world. But it was the people after all who ‘permitted’ that to happen. Nobody wants violence or revolutions to topple governments. I am talking about civic resistance-- by becoming a member of a civic society.

Think about the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s actions at home and abroad. Think also about the paradox of Bush’s reelection.
Some may say, national security is paramount in times of crisis. But does national security have to come at a price of a democracy? Is it really necessary to turn into a dictatorship to protect our homeland? Can’t a democracy do it better?
Democracy/human rights and national defense are not mutually exclusive. We also have to be very critical in our definition of ‘crisis.’ An act of terror is not an invasion into one’s country, which would warrant invasion into another. If that was so, all countries on Earth would be justified in invading one another, because acts of terror occur in each and every one of them, with varying severity. So, there are different levels of ‘crisis.’ As far as protection against perceived and potential threats, there are many more means of doing so, such as diplomacy and economic incentives, without turning into an absolute dictatorship.

Aren’t we permitting a wonderful democracy that we used to have to slowly turn into a dictatorship? Perhaps we will wake up in half a century and America may have missed the train…

Think about this, when you go to vote next time in the elections! Think about the extinction of the civic society in our culture and the damage flowing from that...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Who are the fittest?

On November 24, this day, in 1859 Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his famous book, "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." His theory of evolution was also known as the 'survival of the fittest.' In this book he wrote:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Thus, a human being is constantly evolving, developing. In this struggle or evolutionary process, only the so-called 'fittest' will survive. This theory, in my opinion, was the precursor of Nietzsche's philosophy on the '√úbermensch' (the Superhero). It was also an outspring of the Renaissance/Enlightenment theory about the human being and the vast human potential.

However, the 'survival of the fittest' is also a dangerous theory. At a given time in a society we have those who are at a disadvantage in this struggle. Racial minorities are the first group. Does that mean that they are rendered to extinction and the white race is destined to survive? Who are the 'favored races' in this evolutionary process-- those who are in power or those who are the most intelligent? All I am saying is that while it is true that this struggle and the inner ability of the human being to survive in this struggle will determine the future of humankind, it is also true that this theory leaves those disadvantaged groups at the mercy of the 'fittest.' Therefore, I think the Darwinian theory, while unfortunately, realistic, is also cruel and unacceptable in a humane society.

I would hope that those who are able to survive would also have the inner morality and compassion to embrace those who were weaker and share their fortunes with them!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Khmer Rouge and justice

Time has come also for Khmer Rouge rulers to face justice and pay the dues for the committed atrocities in Cambodia (1975-1979)... A UN-backed tribunal has held the first public hearing on the charges brought against a former prison chief (full story). Pol Pot, the ruthless leader of Khmer Rouge died on April 15, 1998, never having faced charges for the atrocities committed under his command. It has been estimated that approximately 1.5 million people died under his rule and as a result of his policies, involving forced labor, execution and starvation. Very similar to Stalin's or Mao's insanities. "To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss," was the motto... This was after World War II when the international community clearly voiced its intolerance for crimes against humanity. Wasn't Nuremberg a lesson for these people? Amazing how people force the endless repeating of history...

This is exactly what the Russian intelligentsia had foreseen in the beginning of the 20th century... Communism was one of the manifestations of the collapse of humanism... Fascism was yet another... No matter what form they take, crimes against humanity can be committed under any flag, any motto, any design, any ideology... So, please, do not get caught up on labels... Even the best of the ideals can turn into a vehicle for horrors in the hands of people. Under the flag of democracy, the US has committed many serious war crimes recently in its war against terror... Let us not forget Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNICEF is celebrating the 18th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some portions of the preamble are:

Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance,

Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,

Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity,

Bearing in mind that the need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 and recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in particular in articles 23 and 24), in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in particular in article 10) and in the statutes and relevant instruments of specialized agencies and international organizations concerned with the welfare of children, '

Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth",

Recalling the provisions of the Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally; the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) ; and the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict,

Recognizing that, in all countries in the world, there are children living in exceptionally difficult conditions, and that such children need special consideration,

Taking due account of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child,

Recognizing the importance of international co-operation for improving the living conditions of children in every country, in particular in the developing countries,

I had a chance to handle a juvenile case, a child charged with a crime. Our society has determined that a child at the age of fourteen should be held criminally responsible. Rather an arbitrary age, because really most children at that age still are not fully understanding the nature and consequences of their actions. We all were children and we did many seemingly innocent things that sometimes ended up badly... What should be the concerns of the law enforcement when handling a child in such a situation? Are we more concerned with punishment than rehabilitation? We have many student shootings at schools done by students, teenagers. So, there are valid concerns on the side of the law enforcement. But as a society don't we have a responsibility to cure the causes of these problems, rather than punish these kids and send them to the juvenile hall?

In addition, it is true that generally the family is the best place for a child. However, that is not true in some circumstances. There are parents who basically have no social skills and have no idea how to raise children. They are uneducated and abusive. They suffer from serious problems themselves, ranging from psychiatric to social. More likely than not, they are the very cause of their children's problems. Please, do not become parents when your life is a mess and you are not able to control it... Also do not become parents unless you have the full commitment that you will sacrifice yourself for the well-being of your child... If you are not capable of understanding this, do not burden the society with your failed heritage!

We, as a society have a duty to view the child criminal holistically... First, what kind of behavior can be classified as criminal. Second, what were the causes of that behavior. Third, how can we ensure that the child recovers from this psychological loss and enters into the society as a full member without paying the unacceptable price of departure...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

International Students' Day

In 1939 a series of events occurred that led to celebration of this day as the International Day of Students. In the Nazi-occupied Prague there were mass student demonstrations. During a crackdown a Medical student, Jan Opletal (1915-1939) was fatally wounded and died on November 11. His funeral on November 15 served as an impetus for another strong wave of demonstrations. In response, the Nazis shut down all the Universities. Nine people were executed without trial or investigation. Approximately 2000 students and teachers were sent to concentration camps.

To commemorate this event and the student's death, in 1941 the International Student Union seating in London declared this day as the International Day of Students.

(visit for more)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

World citizen?

Zoya Kosmodemianskaya was a Russian woman partisan during World War II. During a raid she was betrayed by one of her co-partisans and captured by the Nazis. After torture, when she refused to reveal the names of other partisans, she was killed shouting, "There are 200 million of us, you can't hang us all."
I chose the pseudonym of Zoya because from my early childhood years, growing up in Armenia and Russia, I was listening to the story about Zoya Kosmodemianskaya with admiration! She was indeed a legendary figure for us, children, since she was of a very young age, when she was killed by the Nazis. While the Encyclopedia has different versions about her story, I believe in the official Soviet story. While the Soviet official proclamations were generally a propaganda and not entirely true and never to be trusted, they were true with regard to World War II.

In addition, Zoya's legend is still remembered by the people in her village. So the story of her partisanship, her courage when captured by the Nazis is all true especially because it is corroborated by the German sources.

However, I have decided to abandon this pseudonym for one major reason. If I aspire to be a world citizen, a cosmopolitan, choosing a Russian name for my pseudonym would perhaps not work... Since I cannot think of a name that would be truly cosmopolitan, I will simply remain in my true name, that was given to me by a chance and biologically...

I simply refuse to be a nationalist. While I am proud to be a US citizen and have taken the oath to uphold the US Constitution, and my background is Russian-Armenian, I simply want to say that I am first of all a human being, aspiring to be a world citizen! I aspire to identify myself with all cultures, all peoples and all groups, inhabiting this Earth! This is a blog where everyone is welcome, as long as you also believe in international solidarity and peace in the world!

(Listen to John Lennon's Imagine here)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Examining the right to self-determination...

It is very important for those interested in this subject to delve more deeply into it and perhaps conclude that some claims for self-determination may not be valid, at least under current international law. An illuminating article on this was written not long ago by Jonathan Charney, Self-Determination: Chechnya, Kosovo, and East Timor, 34 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 455 (2001). He took up to analyze this very issue: the color spectrum of claims by groups for self-determination and how some may really not be valid.

'Validity' is an interesting concept. Who decides the validity of a claim? Isn't self-determination an inherent right of a group seeking it? How can the international community dictate whether one claim is valid over the other? Which actors in the international community would prevail? Aren't the minority groups in need of protection against the elites that dominate the international arena?

But as discussed on this blog earlier, the right to self-determination is proscribed by certain limitations, one of which is territorial integrity of a UN member. Thus, there is an opposing force, also recognized under international law. So, there are two forces clashing, and depending on the strength of each, one prevails over the other. For example, the Kosovo claim prevailed for various reasons, one of which was the geopolitical and global disillusionment with Communism. Yugoslavia, a former Communist state was no longer capable of containing the centrigufal forces within its territory. These forces had been fomenting even before Communism took hold in Europe. These were long-standing historic frozen volcanoes that erupted only now, at the end of the 20th century.

Chechnya's claim for self-determination did not meet the same success level for various historic reasons. But it is by no means a settled case. Chechnya will continue to be a problem for Russia for a long time... But Chechnya's location was different and thus affected its destiny. Every region in the world has its unique characteristics and historical balance sheet. People often ignore this but much too often geographic location dictates the fate of a group. Don't forget to look at the map of the world functionally...

Thus, the right to self-determination and its status in international law is far from clear and far from settled... Perhaps, the same can be said of all legal concepts (with some exceptions) in international law, because making and application of international law is not by a recipe, but trial and error...

It would be useful to begin from examining the origins of the right to self-determination: concepts of nationhood and decolonization and then follow the application of international politics and law in understanding its exercise.

(For more on this topic visit here for forthcoming publication by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hardline on secession in the name of anti-terror...

In China the public has welcomed the death sentences handed down to five Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang region. The Uighurs are Indo-European people who comprised 90 per cent of Xinjiang when the People's Republic of China was established in 1949. Since then they have been reduced to a 45 per cent minority in a region now dominated by Han Chinese. The control is in the hands of the latter in a region rapidly growing economically. The ethnic links of this group to Turkmenistan and other Central Asian former Soviet republics and the rapid dissolution of the Soviet Union prompted the Uighurs to seek self-determination, not welcomed and quenched at every step by Beijing.

China's official story is that these groups set up terrorist camps as of August 2005 in attempts to achieve their goals. There were also official promulgations linking these groups with Al-Qaida. How true are these official proclamations? Is this intolerance towards minority groups? or is it a hardline stance on secession? As far as the global war on terror, China and Russia through their partnership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, reiterate their commitment in that regard at every meeting. This is because both Russia and China have large Muslim populations, either as neighbors or as minority groups within their respective territories. (for more on this see here, and here)

As to the death sentences, China is perhaps taking advantage of its remoteness to Europe... Russia did not have that luxury and abolished the death penalty against the widespread public support for it...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ecological catastrophe

The recent strong waves of storms in Kerch and the Black Sea/Azov sea (border of Russia and Ukraine) have resulted in a major oil/fuel leak into the sea, destroying thousands and thousands of birds and fish. The guard was unable to prevent the massive leaks from destroyed ships and tankers and currently the Azov sea and the Black sea are basically filled with fuel... Estimated 30 thousands of birds have died. How much of the marine life has perished is inestimable... This is indeed an ecological catastrophe! (Full story)

A criminal case has been opened to investigate the reasons behind the inability to stop the leaks and thwart the crisis. While the nature was the impetus behind the catastrophe, the guard was also incompetent in minimizing the danger and the risks. (For more) Also, perhaps these ships and tankers were not properly maintained...

Well, in San Francisco recently a similar event occurred and the U.S. Coastal Guards were too slow in reacting, resulting in another environmental crisis. (Read the story)

This means that somewhere and somehow we are completely incompetent in protecting our environment! Is that news?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Islamic law and gay's rights

The International Lesbian and Gay Association founded in 1978 has been actively fighting globally against discrimination of gays. Now it has more than 600 member organizations. Recently it has celebrated the World Day against the Death Penalty-- October 10. This day was also marked as the first European Day against Death Penalty proclaimed by the Council of Europe on September 27, 2007. 7 countries in the world punish consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex by death: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Nigeria. What do most of these countries have in common-- the unreformed sharia law. Talk about the need for reforming the Islamic law! (See my upcoming paper on Islamic Law)...

(Listen and watch the video clip of Liberta by Al Bano and Romina Power here)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sources of International Law: 2

Earlier I commented here on this blog on the sources for international law. While the hierarchy is important and first we search for treaties/conventions on a relevant question, all these sources interact and collide. For example, I would like to compare the treaties with domestic contracts for a moment. Treaties are similar to regular contracts between domestic parties except that they may become binding even for those who have not expressly entered into them. Isn't that a strange concept? Isn't consent after all important in international law?

Insofar as treaties may over time turn into customary international law, they may in fact become binding on those who withheld consent to them and never signed on those treaties. As far as how certain treaties turn into customary international law, that is a complex issue that needs separate discussion. But the International Court expressed this well in the case of North Sea Continental Shelf (with respect to Article 6 of the 1958 Geneva Convention):

... [the view] clearly involves treating that Article as a norm-creating provision which has constituted the foundation of, or has generated a rule which, while only conventional or contractual in its origin, has since passed into the general corpus of international law, and is now accepted as such by the opinio juris, so as to have become binding even for countries which have never, and do not become parties to the Convention. There is no doubt that this process is a perfectly possible one and does from time to time occur: it constitutes indeed one of the recognized methods by which new rules of customary international law may be formed.

But all this is a highly political and policy-based process. Therefore, at a given time there are always those who try to assert that a given treaty never turned into customary international law because of various reasons. One reason would be that there was no proof of widespread practice of international actors abiding by the principle set out in the treaty. However, in cases applying jus cogens, norms that are not dependent on consent of parties-- genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity-- no party really can try to win these arguments.

Also, it must be kept in mind that interpretation of treaties becomes important. Given the reservations, understandings, and declarations that states add-on to their signatures on treaties, similar to domestic contractual disputes the courts are asked to interpret the application of a treaty rule on a specific case. The court then will look not only to the other sources of international law, but also to the national courts of the disputing parties and their interpretations of that treaty... It is a very complex and live process that often does not render desirable results and subvert the very principles of the given treaty.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Balkanization-- contagious disease in Europe

The Kosovo precedent has been more powerful than it looks on the surface. The map of Europe is in constant flux and shifting. Now we have Belgium on the brink of a break-up into two states. The French-speaking Vallonia and Dutch-speaking Flandria are fighting in Brussels, the center of the European Union and NATO. The history is instructive. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830, pushed by England who saw it as a perfect buffer state between France and Germany. Even then the southern portion of the population was French-speaking and the northern-- a language close to Dutch. In the 80s of the last century Netherlands and Belgium had an agreement to combine these two languages into one-- Dutch. But the French speakers in Vallonia never liked it. Moreover, now the two portions claim to have nothing in common, culturally and linguistically. Their constant fights in Brussels may lead to another 'Berlin wall.' (For a full story)

Well, when Europe and the US welcomed the Yugoslav break-up and even acted to solidify it, they did not think how contagious this disease would be... Always think ahead!

One may ask what are the dangers of secessionism. Nothing, if it is not accompanied by violence and instability (see on this blog). But that would be too good to be true. No one has forgotten the Yugoslav case. Self-determination of peoples is a political right protected by the international law. But how can we draw lines to thwart violence-- that is the question...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

No end to suffering...

Similar to Turkey, which with recent symbolic bill on the Armenian Genocide in the Congress took the opportunity to stack up all political cards to halt any further developments, Azerbaijan followed the suit. In a recent press release the President of Azerbaijan once again voiced the intentions of Azerbaijan on the 'occupation' of Nagorno Karabakh. Again there is the threat of war over Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Well, the geopolitics is the fate of Armenians. Sandwiched between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran, it is constantly victimized and an obstacle to larger expansionist goals of these countries. Turkey, in its shameful denial of the Genocide, is not oblivious of the vast historic territories that Armenia may try to request back at some point in time in the future. Azerbaijan is going to use its strategic reserves of oil and gas to blackmail those who are interested, namely the US, Turkey, Iran and possibly Russia to get Karabakh back. Anyone who knows history will simply throw up hands at the assertions of Azerbaijan that this region is 'occupied' by Armenians. What about just telling the simple truth that Azerbaijan like Turkey forcefully gained much of its current territory from no one else, but Armenians and Nagorno Karabakh was just one small parcel of land remained to be overtaken forever... Azerbaijan has been waiting for the Armenian Diaspora to spend billions of dollars on improvements in Karabakh and retake it easily with tanks... Armenia recognizes Nagorno Karabakh's right to self-determination (here). It is and should remain an autonomous republic. But since the vast majority of the population is Armenian, Azerbaijan's territorial claims are void.

What do the Armenians have in their political storage facility? What cards do they have? They have no oil, no gas, no natural resources. They only have a painful past, history filled with misery and constant terror... Perhaps, they also have an unending faith in themselves... They fight hard, in desperation trying to preserve the last remnants of their nationhood... All they have is the voice of the Diaspora, spread all over the world, echoing in the halls of justice...

Monday, November 5, 2007

Voices still not heard...

The weak, the disadvantaged, the oppressed are not heard and are rendered to oblivion. In every country, every corner of the world there is that group of people, who by virtue of destiny and human injustice are marginalized and forsaken. Rarely they find any stimule or impulse to speak up and voice their existence... It is only international non-governmental organizations or civil rights organizations that extend their hands to these groups and invite them to the larger world. Indigenous peoples of various countries are perhaps one such group... Read the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As expressed by Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO (World Health Organization) Director General (here):

Our greatest concern must always rest with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. These groups are often hidden, live in remote rural areas or shantytowns and have little political voice.

The World Health Organization was born on April 7, 1948 when its Constitution came into force. That date is celebrated as the World Health Day.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Kate Chopin (Katherine O'Flaherty)(1850-1904) was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 8, 1850. She is considered the forerunner of feminist literature of the 19th century. Her "Awakening" is perhaps one of the best books ever written on women's inner emancipation and liberation.

Edna Pontellier, the fictional heroine in the book, awakens first sexually but then altogether as a woman and a human being and throws off the chains of the society. Fatally, since her husband and the society were unable to accept that, her liberation was also her death. At the end, she strips herself of all clothes and gives in to the waves of the ocean.

Could she have survived in that society? Was the society going to allow her walk freely and without bending to their rules and conventions? She was treated as valuable property by her husband... Yet, when she fell in love with someone else, her lover also treated her as her 'husband's' property and left her... Heartbroken, she had nowhere to go. That is why, her liberation was also her death. She was either to die in freedom and naked, or live in chains and covered with heavy robes...

While today the reality is much different, women still are in many chains, some self-imposed and some imposed by the male-dominated world. While they can put down the self-imposed ones and walk into the world, free and strong, the other chains are harder to put down... Prejudice and artificial barriers are closing many gates for women's entrance. Those who dare to be different and independent are disliked and condemned and are considered 'weird.' Strong women, women outside the box who challenge the norms and principles of the society, more often than not earn enemies and widespread badmouthing. Even women themselves are treacherous to one another and rarely support one another.
Competition and envy among themselves are some of the self-imposed chains...

Edna Pontellier had other 'co-heroines'. Madame Bovary (by Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)) and Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy's, 1828-1910)) come to mind. The difference is that the latter were created by males, who while sympathetic, were not altogether free of criticism of their protagonists.

Women of the 19th century are gone forever. But they forged the path for those who came after them, in the 20th century and today... While we have come a long way since then, the path is still full of broken debris and treacherous dark holes...

(This painting of a Lady in Blue was painted by a great English painter, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)).

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Violence and conflict are non-stop in Somalia. Since 1991 when the socialist military dictatorship of Siyad Barre was toppled, Somalia has been in a stateless condition. Because of historic reasons rooted in pre and post-colonialism and growing instability in the region capitalized upon by Islamic extremists, Somalia has been in recurrent misery for more than a decade... Militant groups and militias within and outside the country from neighboring states have been constantly fighting, unable to come to an agreement over power-sharing. Although there has been an interim government in place, it has been challenged by opposing groups. As a result, Somalia has been divided into smaller units, Somaliland, Puntland with little prospects of reunification or ceasefire at the very least. This all has caused a humanitarian crisis of great proportions in Somalia (here).

As BBC is reporting, there are heavy battles in Mogadishu, the capital. Now it is between Ethiopian troops in support of the interim government and the insurgent groups. Ethiopia, home to many Somalis as a result of post-colonial arbitrary map-drawing, has a vested interest in Somalia. Therefore, it will always play a role.

It is just interesting, how are these insurgent groups being funded... Where do they get their constant flow of guns and ammunition to sustain this type of violence? Aren't we, the developed world, responsible to some extent for selling them these guns? or at least for not being able to cut their source of funding?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Limited Test Ban Treaty

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) (see on this blog) was preceded by the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water that was signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963 by so-called 'Original Parties'-- USA, UK, USSR. Shortly, over 100 states became party to it. It sought to prevent nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere or anywhere else if the test deposited radioactive debris outside of the state where the test took place.

Article I

1. Each of the Parties to this Treaty undertakes to prohibit, to prevent, and not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion, or any other nuclear explosion, at any place under its jurisdiction or control:

a) in the atmosphere; beyond its limits, including outer space; or under water, including territorial waters or high seas; or

b) in any other environment if such explosion causes radioactive debris to be present outside the territorial limits of the State under whose jurisdiction or control such explosion is conducted.

The Treaty was pushed by environmental concerns and also by the newly decolonized members of the General Assembly. Prior to this agreement, most of the nuclear weapon tests by Superpowers were conducted in the territory of former colonies or countries that were under the sphere of influence of the Original Parties... The Treaty sought to limit this practice.

In the 60s not all environmental ramifications of nuclear weapon tests were clear. Today, the world has become painfully aware of such. The fact that North Korea has joined the nuclear club and Iran is aspiring is just once again proving how lethargic and self-oblivious the humanity is...

Fearless-- that is what we are!

On November 2, 1938 for the first time Russian women were awarded the title of Hero of USSR. On the morning of September 24, 1938 Soviet pilots Valentina Grizodubova, Polina Osipenko and Marina Raskova, took up a non-stop flight from Moscow to the Far East on a two-engine plane for a total distance of 5908 km. During the flight the plane began freezing. The crew had to wear oxygen masks and endure freezing temperature. At some point, the radiostation went silent and the plane lost communication from below. Trying to make a landing at a nearest possible location, the fuel ran out and engine shut off. Grizobudova ordered Raskova to jump out on a parachute. The plane fell on a bog after being in air for 26 hours and 29 minutes. For more.

We, women, are capable of much more that the world is yet to find out!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Women and childbirth

The report by the Global Conference on Maternal Health (UNICEF) has pointed to the alarming rate of maternal death in developing and least developed countries:

Each year an estimated 536,000 women die needlessly from pregnancy and childbirth complications — such as hemorrhage, obstructed labor and infections — or in the simple act of giving birth. Ninety–nine per cent of those women die in the developing world. For example, in sub–Saharan Africa — which accounts for half of all maternal deaths — women have a 1 in 22 chance of
dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth complications.
In Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, pregnancy is even riskier,
killing one in eight women, and in Niger an estimated one
in seven women dies from complications related to
pregnancy and childbirth.

Regardless of their country of origin, at least 15 per cent of all
pregnant women around the world will experience a life–threatening
complication. Their survival will depend on access to quality health care and emergency interventions. Maternal mortality has virtually disappeared as a problem for those who have access to quality health care in wealthy nations and communities, where the lifetime risk of maternal mortality is as low as 1 in 8,000.

Yet the mothers of the developing world — where there is limited access to quality medical care, reproductive education and emergency interventions — continue to die in unacceptable numbers. These numbers are a reflection not only of their lack of medical care, but of their status in society. A woman who is better educated about her health and childbirth options, who is able to make decisions for herself and her household, and who is treated as an equal member of society has a far greater chance of survival. So, in turn, do her children.

Of course, the status in society dictates much of what happens to women. If women are regarded as inferior creatures, whose very existence is to give birth and perhaps even die during childbirth, then there will be little incentive to improve this condition, because most statesmen in the world are men. Women do not get to make decisions at the state level most of the time. While education of women and grass-roots is crucial, it is not sufficient because top-down approach is essential in curbing this problem. The only hope is that through vociferous international organizations the governments will be forced to fundamentally adjust their treatment of women.

Certainly, we also need to remember that poverty is the biggest challenge. Most of these countries do not have enough resources or the means to alleviate this condition. While social prejudice and lack of attention are at the crux of it, poverty is the major barrier to any improvement.

(For poverty statistics see the report by the UN Development Programme here and here).