Global Voices – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 22 Oct 2021 05:51:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 After Thirty Years, are Turkey and Armenia really Ready to Normalize Relations? Sun, 17 Oct 2021 04:04:33 +0000

Relations between the nations have been strained since 1993

By Arzu Geybullayeva | –

( – Turkey closed its border with Armenia in 1993 during the first Karabakh war in a show of solidarity with its long-time ally Azerbaijan. Almost three decades later, Turkey is considering reopening that border in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s victory in the second Karabakh war in 2020.

During Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Azerbaijan in December 2020, he said, “If positive steps are taken in this regard, we will open our closed doors.” A month later, an unnamed senior Erdogan advisor told Turkish journalist Asli Aydintasbas that Ankara was ready to “normalize relations with Armenia.”

In February 2021, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu condemned the possible coup attempt against Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, who said the General Staff issued a statement calling for his resignation.

On April 24, 2021, during his meeting with Armenian Patriarch Sahak Maşalyan, Erdogan said, “It is time for us to lay bare that we as Turks and Armenians have reached the maturity of overcoming all obstacles together.”

“Everybody would win” if there were a broad regional settlement, Turkey’s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told The Economist in May 2021.

“As a landlocked state, an open border and active trade could facilitate economic development and alleviate poverty in a country,” wrote Hans Gutbrod, a professor at Illa State University in Tbilisi, and David Wood, a professor at Seton Hall University in a June 2021 piece for Foreign Policy. Adding, “Rapprochement with Ankara may also allow Yerevan to address its near-total dependence on Russia, thereby promoting greater regional stability. And Turkey would also benefit, especially through increased trade.”

Then in August, Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, said the country was ready to strengthen ties with Turkey following positive signs from Ankara. The country’s parliament approved a five-year action plan, stating that Armenia was “ready to make efforts to normalize relations with Turkey.” While the plan was approved, it was harshly criticized by opposition lawmakers, according to reporting by

The goodwill intentions were also reflected in Armenia opening its airspace to Turkish Airline flights en route to Baku.

On September 29, Turkey’s Presidential Spokesperson İbrahim Kalınm told one Turkish television channel, “In principle, we are positive about normalization with Armenia. The main reason why we ended our diplomatic relations and closed our border in 1992 was the occupation of Karabakh. With this problem resolved, there is — in fact — no obstacle to normalization with Armeni̇a.”

Turkey and Armenia were close to finding some common ground in 2008 when Turkey’s then-President Abdullah Gul traveled to Yerevan to watch the first of the two qualifying World Cup matches between Turkey and Armenia. A year later, Serge Sarkisian, the Armenian president, traveled to Turkey’s province of Bursa to watch another football game between the two national teams. The game and Sarkisian’s visit to Turkey followed the signing of a series of protocols in Zurich that were designed to normalize relations between the two countries. Described at the time as “football diplomacy,” the negotiations eventually fell through after Turkey withdrew due to mounting pressure from Azerbaijan. Armenia formally declared the protocols null and void in 2018.

Now, the chances of Azerbaijan interfering are slim. “Before Armenia’s withdrawal from this region, Baku saw Turkey’s opening of the borders as a betrayal and harshly criticized it. Now, after the truce, this issue is off the table and it won’t be a surprise to see a milder tone from Azerbaijan than in 2009,” said Ankara-based political analyst Hasan Selim Özertem in an interview with Eurasianet.

In Armenia, there are differing opinions about how this new bilateral relationship may work out, according to journalist Ani Mejlumyan writing for Eurasianet:

Most Armenian analysts and officials believe that Yerevan should pursue normalization with Ankara one on one, without Russia, Azerbaijan, or anyone else getting involved. Turkey, meanwhile, appears to be more interested in pursuing normalization in the framework of its proposed “3+3” platform, a regional body made up of the South Caucasus states and their neighbors: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, plus Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

The role that Russia would play remains to be seen. Speaking at the New Knowledge Forum in Moscow on September 3, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “now that the war in Nagorno-Karabakh is over, there are grounds for unblocking the political process, transport, and economic ties.” In 2009, Russia openly encouraged the nation’s “football diplomacy” and welcomed the signing of the Zurich Protocols.

However, there are also “moral dimensions” at stake, according to Hans Gutbrod and David Wood:

To achieve more effective, mutually beneficial relations, both the Armenian and Turkish governments should work to reframe the Armenian genocide—and the wider suffering that accompanied the downfall of the Ottoman Empire—as a shared history. This is an inevitably long, emotionally strenuous process. For Armenia, it means shifting toward a diplomacy that invites Turkish society to engage—whether through exhibitions, travel, or academic and cultural exchange. Indeed, Armenian and Turkish societies have far more in common than what divides them. They may find the same in their histories.

One way to do this would be by focusing on individual actions and experiences rather than “collective castigations,” argue Gutbrod and Wood. They note that stories of those who stood in solidarity with Armenians remain largely untold, and perhaps now is the right time to bring those forward, to rebuild ties. But that would depend on both sides’ willingness. According to the action plan adopted by the Armenian parliament in late August, the government of Armenia will continue to lobby “for world capitals to recognize the Armenian Genocide,” which would “strengthen the system of security guarantees of Armenia.” It may prove more difficult. Ruben Melkonyan, a Turkish studies scholar at Yerevan State University, thinks Armenia may have to drop the genocide recognition now that the country is “in a weak position.”

Arzu Geybullayeva is Azerbaijani columnist and writer, with special focus in digital authoritarianism and its implications on human rights and press freedom in Azerbaijan. Arzu has written for Al Jazeera, Eurasianet, Foreign Policy Democracy Lab, CODA, Open Democracy, Radio Free Europe, and CNN International. She is a regular contributor at IWPR, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and Global Voices. In 2019, Arzu launched Azerbaijan Internet Watch, a platform that documents, and monitors information controls in Azerbaijan. Arzu has contributed to GV since May 2010.


Featured Photo: “The Turkish border” by Dumphasizer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

‘Sindyanna of Galilee’: Extending the olive branch between Arabs and Israelis Wed, 13 Oct 2021 04:06:38 +0000

Sales of award-winning olive oil worldwide helped empower 300 Arab women

By Coco Cresswell | –

( – In 1996 Hadas Lahav, a Jewish Israeli social activist, had a vision: a future of Arab-Israeli coexistence. That same year, through co-founding Sindyanna of Galilee, a female-led social enterprise producing olive oil and other local products, she began to put this dream into practice.

Sindyana of Galilee reinvests returns from its locally-produced products back into the community, through empowering Arab women. Image from its website.

Situated in Israel’s north, the company adopts a ground-up approach to enforce positive change in the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Middle East’s most complex crisis dating back to before 1948. Revenue which Sindyanna generates from selling local products, including it’s award-winning extra virgin olive oil which is sold worldwide, is reinvested back into the community, whether in the form of jobs and education for Arab women, or development of sustainable agriculture, or the promotion of collaborative opportunities between Arabs and Israelis.

Coco Cresswell caught up with Hadas to learn more about her mission, and below are her written responses.

CC: How has Sindyanna of Galilee grown?

HL: We began as a small start-up selling local products (particularly olive oil) in Majd al Krum, an Arab village in upper Galilee. We’ve grown overtime both professionally and economically. In 2005, we moved to the industrial area of Kafr Kanna. As of today, Sindyanna of Galilee is the only certified Fair-Trade olive oil producer in Israel that operates among the country’s Arab population. This brings deep functional expertise and a practical approach, enabling us to build capabilities and deliver real impact.

CC: In what ways has Sindyanna of Galilee helped promote Arab-Israeli coexistence?

HL: Sindyanna of Galilee actively promotes the concepts of ‘social business’ and fair trade in Israel. We achieve this by selling Arab producers’ olive oil and other premium products in the international marketplace according to fair trade principles, and then channeling our profits back into the provision of education for Arab women.

The work we do aims to bridge cultural divides, encourage sustainable agriculture, and support organic farming.

We believe that our multiple international awards prove the possibility of peace and solidarity in the Middle East. Our work as a cohort of Arab and Jewish women is the ultimate response to the recent violence, war, and destruction of Gaza that we have lately experienced. The women of Sindyanna are truly agents of change. Their effort is an example of how we can build back our society on fairer foundations.

CC: How do you see Sindyanna of Galilee’s support to both Arab and Israeli women continuing in the future?

HL: We believe that the message of Sindyanna will become stronger and receive more support from our local community as well as the global one. As the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, the thing our world needs more is solidarity, which is the DNA and the RNA of our organization. In the future, we shall thrive to expand our activity to more sustainable agriculture and green environmental projects such as the hydroponic one. There are so many opportunities to grow and become more influential, but at the end of the day, it depends on you and me!

CC: In what way is Sindyanna of Galilee different from other organizations?

HL: Sindyanna stands out from other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Israel because it has managed to combine an economic model with a unique social and political message.

Our Jewish Arab composition is a sign of our vision, which is to work toward an egalitarian and just society where the interests of all citizens are being cared for. This is also embedded in our fair trade identity: we work to level the disadvantaged Arab economy in Israel with its Jewish counterpart. We are against taking the relation of these two economies as a Zero-Sum Game, meaning that if one wins the other loses: that works against everyone. It nourishes feelings of bitterness that eventually translate into violence.

CC: How many jobs have Sindyanna help create since 1996? Tell us more about the educational services you provide?

HL: Arab women’s employment is a chief strategic objective of Sindyanna of Galilee. Employment is the best long-range tool against personal and communal poverty. Sindyanna took it upon themselves to approach housewives and to introduce them to skills that they can easily receive employment in, such as hydroponic agriculture, catering, and basketry weaving. Three hundred women have been professionally trained by Sindyanna and are now independent. Some of them have even started courses for other women and children in clubs and schools. Nine hundred others, having made the first step of leaving the house to participate in the course, have gained the courage to continue their education and seek jobs.

CC: What have been the greatest challenges that Sindyanna has faced?

HL: The greatest challenge that we face as a non-profit is continuing our goal to become good olive oil producers. Olive oil production is not a simple process. Equally, the women we employ come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and often have little to no professional experience in olive oil manufacturing. When we started Sindyanna, we decided that we would help all Arab and Israeli women, regardless of the extent of their education. Therefore, empowering them and teaching them how to make good quality products is a huge challenge for us – it takes a lot of awareness and investment to get to where we are today!

CC: Are there any plans for expansion in the products you provide?

HL: We always want to expand and develop our products. We look for local products that are produced locally in the Arab communities but will be attractive to the foreign market. Right now, we are looking to sell carob syrup, honey, halva, table olives, and tahini. A huge determinant in what we make is import costs. Due to globalization, Israeli and Palestinian farmers producing key ingredients, such as the sesame seeds needed for tahini, have been outcompeted by international firms. Therefore, although we produce plenty of products locally, cost still remains an important factor.

CC: How many farmers do you buy olives from? How has this number changed since 1996? What does that say about farmers’ notion of co-existence between Arabs and Israelis?

HL: In 1996, we started with a small group of farmers in Deir Hanna, northern Israel. Now, we purchase olives from 15 large groups of farmers who represent approximately 100 small families. The growing involvement in local communities suggests that more and more people want a future where everyone’s rights are respected. We cannot wait for politicians to find a magical solution. It doesn’t make sense that a Palestinian and an Israeli can live side by side and only one is given an identity card and freedom of movement. The Arab and Israeli women that we help at Sindyanna are only going to continue fighting for coexistence from the ground up.

CC: Has there been any negative reaction or response to the work you do? If so, can you tell us one of these responses and how you reacted to it?

HL: So far, Sindyanna has been appreciated by everyone for what we are trying to do. We have found that some Arab women’s families are resistant to the fact that their daughters and wives are working and considered as employees. However, I think a crucial aspect of the support we receive is because we take a very careful approach to the situation: we spend time carefully explaining what our dream is, meaning that even if certain people do not agree, they admire our work regardless.

Written by Coco Cresswell


Demands for Egypt’s U.S.-backed Egyptian Strongman al-Sisi to Release Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, detained for 2 Years without Charge Sun, 10 Oct 2021 04:08:48 +0000 By Ellery Roberts Biddle | –

The life of Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah is in danger. The 39-year-old was jailed in 2019 on charges of spreading fake news, but, despite the limits of Egyptian law, he has yet to go to trial.

At a recent hearing concerning the case, his lawyer spoke of Abd El Fattah’s declining mental health and quoted him saying, “I can’t carry on.”

Alaa Abd El Fattah, photo by Nariman El-Mofty, used with permission.

A vocal advocate for open technologies that enable everyone to speak freely, and a prominent voice during the Arab uprisings in 2011, Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under every Egyptian head of state who has served during his lifetime. In 2006, he was arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest. In 2011, he spent two months in prison, missing the birth of his son, Khaled. In 2013, he was arrested and detained for 115 days without trial, before eventually serving a five-year sentence, and then embarking on an additional five-year probationary period, in which he was forced to spend every night in his local police station.

Several months into this probationary period, he was re-arrested on allegations of spreading fake news and joining a terrorist organization. He has since been held in a maximum-security wing of Tora Prison, but has not been brought to trial. In April of 2020, he carried out a hunger strike over the course of three weeks. On September 29, 2021, his time in pre-trial detention exceeded the maximum time limit stipulated in Egypt’s penal code. Yet he remains in prison.

Apart from a brief period of exception during his hunger strike, Abd El Fattah has had no access to reading material and no allowance of time outside his cell for exercise or fresh air. He is not allowed to keep a watch or clock. Since COVID-19 restrictions began, he has been afforded only one 20-minute visit per month.

In recent weeks, Abd El Fattah’s family and lawyer have sounded the alarm for his safety, raising concerns that his mental health is deteriorating and that he is contemplating suicide.

In a statement published on Facebook, his family put forth a plea for his safety and release:

Alaa is in imminent danger…His mental health is failing after two years of careful planning and cruel implementation by the Interior Ministry and National Security Agency. His life is in danger, in a prison that operates completely outside the space of the law and with the complete disregard of all officials, foremost among them the public prosecutor, the interior minister, the justice minister, and of course the president.

Advocates throughout the Arab region and the world have joined his family in calling for his release. Short of this, they demand that he be transferred to a different prison with improved conditions, including access to literature, exercise outdoors, and more frequent visitation.

Global Voices joins these groups, and international organizations including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and SMEX in the call.

We also encourage supporters to order his forthcoming book, “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated.” Indeed, despite his ordeal, Abd El Fattah has written a series of texts while in detention that have been compiled and edited by the independent publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK. Due to launch on October 20, the collection includes an introduction by the Canadian writer and social activist Naomi Klein.

The book also features some of Abd El Fattah’s more recent writings for Egyptian independent media outlet Mada Masr. In one of these essays, titled “Our bodies and enmity: A personal introduction,” he writes about the “story” of prisoners’ bodies and reflects on the deep effects of state control on his body:

The story is not about prisoners’ health, but the health of the nation. It is a story of oppressive tools passed down for generations and a vicious enmity that will be inherited by future generations. The total negation of the voice and body is the impetus of the enmity. We think of an enmity as a willful decision to pursue a feud and inflict pain, but if you see and hear me, there’s a chance for retreat and a truce; even if we don’t take advantage of it, we at least remain on equal footing. When the feud rages, you don’t see or try to understand me. I become an object, something to be eliminated, destroyed, disappeared, negated, excluded; I become a symbol or a bogeyman, without a material, physical presence. An enmity’s legacy is the price paid by all bodies, and they continue to pay it even after the feud fades.

How do we protect our children’s bodies from this legacy of prisons? The solution does not stop with the release of detainees. It starts with release, but must end with an imaginative vision for the erasure of prisons, not prisoners.

Support the campaign to #SaveAlaa

On Tuesday, October 5, supporters around the world will be using the hashtags #SaveAlaa and #FreeAlaa to amplify this call. Here are actions that anyone can take in support of the campaign:

  • Join an open statement, hosted by SMEX, calling for Alaa’s safety and release.
  • Post statements of support for Alaa and his release on all social media platforms under the hashtag #SaveAlaa or #FreeAlaa.
  • Change profile pictures on social media and Zoom to add the #SaveAlaa hashtag.
  • Encourage pre-orders of Alaa’s book, published October 20. More information:
  • Organise and advocate for Alaa around key events including the UN General Assembly, Danish Tech for Democracy Summit, US Global Democracy Summit, Bread&Net, IGF, and the UN Human Rights Council Session in Geneva.

This post is part of Advox, a Global Voices project dedicated to protecting freedom of expression online. All Posts

Ellery Roberts Biddle is the editor-at-large for Global Voices’ Advox section (, where she served as director from 2015-2019. She is originally from Philadelphia, US and has lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Havana, Cuba. Follow her on Twitter.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Middle East Eye: “Egypt: Detained activist’s ‘suicide’ comments spark #SaveAlaa campaign”

Saudi Arabia’s first batch of women military graduates encourages more debate on gender roles Tue, 21 Sep 2021 04:04:40 +0000 By Rahma Alattar | –

( Global – Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia celebrated the graduation of its first-ever cohort of women military recruits, opening the door to a debate on the kingdom’s latest move to narrow the once-gigantic gender gap.

In loose and long military fatigues, with their heads and sometimes faces covered with veils that matched their attire, graduates of the Saudi Armed Forces Women’s Cadre Training Centre paraded on September 2 in a military march before senior ranks, bearing arms and exclaiming military slogans.

A screenshot from the video published by the Ministry of Defense inviting women and men to enroll in the army.

They had applied to join the military in response to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense February invitation—the first time in its history—and were allowed to sign up through an admission portal alongside men.

The Ministry of Defense, represented by the General Administration of Admission and Recruitment of the Armed Forces, announces the opening of the admission and recruitment portal (men and women) to join the military service at the rank of (sergeant) up to the rank of (soldier).

This is seen by many as another milestone in Saudi women’s path of emancipation.

Riyadh has revoked several legal and de facto social restrictions that have long crippled women: Saudi women can now drive, do sports in public stadiums, travel without the consent of a male guardian, and, more recently, live on their own without a male guardian’s permission. This sharp turnaround in Saudi women’s social and legal circumstances is cited as part of Vision 2030, the state’s radical developmental plan spearheaded by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

As with each of these decisions, Saudi society was sharply divided between supporters and opponents.

A clip published on social media showed several women recruits praising the experience they gained.

Recruits of the Armed Forces voice their feelings after joining the military line.

In it, one recruit said:

Saudi women are strong. Saudi women are capable of confrontation. One Saudi woman joining the military service means the joining of future generations; generations of patriotism, love, belonging and loyalty.

Another praised the “great rulers,” thanks to whom, after God, “Saudi women were able to take a landmark step that matches society’s culture, and the new era”. A third recruit said:

Such a great feeling, a feeling like no other, it is a mixture of happiness, pride, glory, fear of responsibility as well. From the moment I put on this military uniform, I no longer represent myself only, but represent a whole country, and responsible for all my actions and behavior, and I am sure I will be up to it.

Ibrahim Al-Munif, a Twitter user with roughly 68,000 followers, described those opposing women joining the army as either “ignorant or backward,” noting that Islamic history, and Saudi history, tells stories of women who fought alongside men:

He added:

Some argue that the military doesn’t suit women’s nature! This can easily be challenged: Does the army suit all men? Of course not!
So (the army may suit some women).

In any case, the order is not obligatory for women as it is not obligatory for men, and whoever sees herself as capable of joining, these are the conditions for registration..

Many took this as an opportunity to hail Prince Mohamed as a defender of women’s rights.

There are leaders who read history .. and there are others who write it!

The homeland will forever remembered by its men and women.. its youth and its elders .. a firm leader and a courageous innovator.. a feminist .. an inspiration for the youth.. shortening distances.. conquering obstacles.

Since rising to the centre of the tight ring of power in the kingdom following his father’s ascension to the throne in January 2015, Prince Mohamed has been the key driver behind decisions that empowered Saudi women to reclaim their civil and social rights. However, this positive and widely welcomed role was quickly overshadowed by grave human rights violations and crimes, which were linked to the Crown Prince, including the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, arbitrary detentions, and torture of dozens of businessmen and royalty over allegations of fraud and embezzlement, and the detention of prominent women’s rights activists, who have long led calls for Saudi women’s emancipation.

Physical build

On the other hand, many found combat to be unsuitable for women’s physical build.

In response to Al-Munif’s aforementioned tweet, Thawab Al-Shatri, another Saudi Twitter user, wrote:

A woman may be suitable for some work, such as administration, medicine, nutrition and accounting. All these fields fit her and are available now in many ministries and military agencies, like traffic, Border Patrol and Drugs Combat departments.

But to serve physically on the ground, I think it is difficult for her in terms of physical composition.

Others refuted the idea of female soldiers altogether. One Saudi Twitter user said:

The army is unsuitable for them.. It’s true that women are the creators of true men but God created women with specific capacities, and the same for men. Women have been in the military sector for years, and they’re increasing. But the army is not suitable for them at all. It is like the population of Saudi Arabia is only one million and they need to increase the number of the army!

Such decisions, I feel, seem unreasonable.

Another person, who posted the disclaimer that “women are society’s backbone,” said priority to recruit in the army should be given to unemployed men and called on authorities to instead open up medical and educational fields for the unemployed women.

Others rejected the idea purely on religious grounds, quoting Islamic clerics who follow an austere interpretation of the religion.

Written byRahma Alattar

As Ebrahim Raisi begins his presidential Role, Oppression is set to Soar in Iran Wed, 01 Sep 2021 04:04:48 +0000 By Naveed Sadeghi | –

( ) – The Islamic Republic of Iran inaugurated its eighth president on August 5.

Ebrahim Raisi, the former Chief Justice and head of the regime’s judiciary apparatus, won the presidential election on June 19 in a landslide victory.

Many observers both in Iran and internationally were hardly surprised at Raisi’s victory. Leading up to the vote, the regime took all the steps it could to ensure the Chief Justice would win at the polls. Just weeks before the election, Iran’s Guardian Council, a regulatory body controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, swiftly and unilaterally disqualified the vast majority of Raisi’s opposition from the ballot, including many popular reformist candidates who had been gaining public support in the months prior.

Raisi was not so much elected as he was installed. His credentials as the quintessential regime insider made him the ideal candidate as far as the Ayatollahs were concerned. Indeed, there is probably no man alive today who has contributed more to the Iranian government machine than Ebrahim Raisi. Raisi’s career began at the tender age of 20 when he began to work in the fledgling government’s court system, an organization he would one day head. After participating in the 1979 coup that removed the Shah from power, Raisi was reportedly scouted by close aides of the Revolution’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini. He was quickly appointed to prestigious prosecutorial positions at the municipal and later regional levels. By his late twenties, Raisi was already the assistant prosecutor for the nation’s capital of Tehran.

Those early years set the precedent for Raisi’s long history of using the armed state to clamp down on the Iranian people. Raisi personally oversaw countless cases involving political dissidents and anti-regime activists, handing out harsh sentences including execution orders. Several eye-witness accounts attest to how Raisi was himself present at the torture and maiming of political prisoners his judiciary had incarcerated, many of whom were women and children. His experience as a prosecutor culminated in his most infamous crime, his participation in the 1988 Massacre in which thousands of prisoners from anti-regime groups were executed in secret over a period of several weeks. According to human rights groups that investigated the incident, Raisi, at the time 28 years old, was part of the four-man panel that issued each and every death sentence. According to Iranian government defectors, the Massacre resulted in as many as 30,000 deaths, with thousands more suffering torture and other forms of violence that left many permanently disabled.

With this demonstrated record, it is clear why the Ayatollahs chose Raisi to head the Iranian government. Simply put, Raisi has become an expert at using the power of the state to quell dissent and crack down on anti-regime activity. As laid out by the People’s Mujahedin Organization (PMO), the Paris-based Iranian opposition group, Ebrahim Raisi has been directly involved in every event of state repression in Iran for the past three decades.

Ebrahim Raisi cast his ballot in the presidential election at the Ershad Mosque on June 18, 2021. Photo by Maryam Kamyab (CC BY 4.0)

In the recent period alone, as nationwide protest movements have picked up traction among the Iranian public, Raisi has been at the head of the judiciary and security-force collusion to brutally put down anti-regime activity. Raisi was behind the Kahrizak Torture scandal in 2009 in which activists involved in countrywide demonstrations against alleged election corruption were jailed and tortured in the Kahrizak Detention Center in northern Iran. It took until 2016 for the regime to formally recognize the incident.

As the Judiciary Chief, a position he held until being elected president, Raisi personally oversaw hundreds of executions, including of 251 people in 2019, and 267 people in 2020, and scores of executions over the past year. As Amnesty International reported, under Raisi, “the death penalty was increasingly used as a weapon of political repression against dissident protesters and members of ethnic minority groups.” One particular case that drew international outcry was the brutal execution of Iranian sportsman and wrestler Navid Afkari, who was convicted of “war against the regime” for his involvement in anti-government protests.

In 2019, when Iran saw its largest wave of unrest since the Revolution, Raisi was at the forefront ensuring violent repression of activist groups. He worked with police and paramilitary units, offering them carte blanche to use whatever means necessary to put down demonstrations and deter more activism. Under Raisi’s directive, thousands of men, women, and children were arrested in mass round-ups, and many were subjected to torture, enforced disappearance and other harassing and violent treatment.

The clear signal being sent by Raisi’s “election” is the regime’s intent on even ramping up its repressive tactics. As the PMO wrote in a recent publication, the regime must keep up the oppression since it knows “no other way of holding back dissent.” The Ayatollah’s constant fear of another uprising makes state violence and brutality absolutely necessary.

The regime has made its position clear. And with the ascent of Ebrahim Raisi, the ferocity of regime repression will only get worse.

Naveed Sadeghi is a London-based human rights freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs.


The Bridge features personal essays, commentary, and creative non-fiction that illuminate differences in perception between local and international coverage of news events, from the unique perspective of members of the Global Voices community. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinion of the community as a whole. All Posts

Beijing in the Mideast: China’s Asian Infrastructure Plan and Turkey’s Black Sea Ambitions Fri, 27 Aug 2021 04:02:04 +0000 By Emre Demir | –

( ) – Despite mounting opposition from political and civil society groups due to potential environmental and political issues, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is determined to proceed with the controversial Kanal Istanbul project, an artificial, 45-km long shipping canal that will connect the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. On June 26, Erdoğan attended the groundbreaking ceremony of what he referred to as his “crazy project.” Many, including the Mayor of Istanbul, scientists, retired admirals and ambassadors, and ordinary people, have criticized the project due to its environmental, economic, and security impact.

So far, the project’s estimated cost is 15 billion US dollars. However, the amount is likely to reach 21.06 billion US dollars once operational and financing costs are added.

Erdoğan insists that Kanal Istanbul will contribute to Turkey’s economy and help reduce traffic on the Bosphorus.

According to the Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoğlu, the profits from the canal will cover the estimated costs about 12 years after the canal is completed.

But in the meantime, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seems to have overestimated the country’s financing capacity and has been trying to secure foreign investors. Some of these potential investors include the Netherlands, Belgium, and Russia — though China has emerged as the most viable option. However, China’s possible involvement is likely to worsen an already negative perception of China in the country.

Turkey’s Middle Corridor Initiative

The Middle Corridor, formally known as the Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative, reflects Turkey’s dream of building links to China via the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Middle Corridor trade route project connects China to Europe via Turkey through railways and highways. Turkey views the Middle Corridor as a complement to China’s Belt and Road Initiative rather than a competitor.

As can be seen on this map from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the blue line represents Turkey’s Middle Corridor and the red line represents the Northern Corridor of the BRI.

Completed in 2017, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Railway is one of the initiative’s main projects. It is estimated that by 2034, the BTK will carry 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of cargo annually.

So far, the first cargo train from China to Europe using the Middle Corridor arrived in Turkey in November 2019, and the first cargo train from Turkey using the same route arrived in China in December 2020.

As part of the Middle Corridor and BRI, Turkey has made numerous substantial infrastructure investments. The most prominent include the Marmaray undersea railway, Eurasia Tunnel, and the Third Istanbul Bridge that connects Europe and Asia through Istanbul and the Istanbul Airport. Several other infrastructure projects such as the Çanakkale Strait Bridge, Edirne-Kars high-speed rail, and the Three-Level Tube Tunnel are also underway.

Both China and Turkey are eager to integrate the BRI and Middle Corridor. President Erdoğan said that “the Middle Corridor… lies at the heart of the BRI” and that Turkey “will continue to work with our Chinese friends to integrate the Middle Corridor into the BRI.” China’s President Xi Jinping “called on the two sides to promote synergy between joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Middle Corridor project of Turkey.” In the meantime, Turkey’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoğlu said that Kanal Istanbul is an integral part of the Middle Corridor, noting, “With Kanal Istanbul, our Middle Corridor objective will become stronger.”

Sino-Turkish economic relations

Turkey-China trade relations grew substantially after China joined the World Trade Organization on December 11, 2001. At the time, bilateral trade was less than 2 billion US dollars. Over the next 20 years, the turnover reached 26 billion US dollars. However, this is an uneven relationship. While China’s exports to Turkey total 23.041 billion US dollars, Turkey’s exports to China total a mere 2.865 billion US dollars.

One way to change the uneven trade landscape is to increase Chinese investments in Turkey through initiatives like the BRI. Although China is not among the top ten investors in Turkey, over 1,000 Chinese companies have invested in areas such as finance, energy, production, and infrastructure. In 2019, the former Chinese Ambassador to Turkey, Deng Li, expected Chinese investment to reach 6 billion US dollars by the end of 2021. When paired with tourism revenues, Chinese investments in Turkey can play an important role in reducing the foreign exchange outflow from Turkey.

China has also made significant infrastructure investments in the country. In 2015, a Chinese consortium acquired 65 percent of Turkey’s third-largest container port, Kumport, for 940 million US dollars. In January 2020, a Chinese consortium attempted to acquire 51 percent of the Third Istanbul Bridge for 688 million US dollars, however, recent reports suggest the deal is yet to be finalized. This development could derail China’s BRI-related infrastructure investments in Turkey, especially as the Turkish state increasingly views the bridge as a major part of its Middle Corridor initiative.

A screenshot from Vox report, “China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade.”

Controversy over Chinese funding

Of all Chinese investments in the country, possible Chinese funding of the Kanal Istanbul project has triggered the most heated debate in Turkey.

The Turkish government estimates the cost for the project will reach 15 billion US dollars. But with mounting economic problems, which have worsened due to COVID-19, the ruling government needs a cash infusion. Furthermore, according to Reuters, Turkish banks have largely stayed away from the project because of the expected environmental damage, potential financial risks, and widespread political and societal opposition to the project.

Several reports claim that China is eager to finance the expensive project and has discussed it with Turkish officials during diplomatic visits. On April 30, 2021, Turkish Minister Karaismailoğlu confirmed China’s interest and added that Netherlands, Belgium, and Russia are also interested in financing the project.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) President Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has warned potential investors and foreign governments not to finance the project. On May 9, he stated that if the opposition coalition wins the next election, the new government will not pay back the money invested by the investors and will even distance Turkey from the investing countries. A similar warning was made by the leader of the Good Party (İYİ Parti), Meral Akşener.

According to a MetroPOLL survey, the majority of Turkish society opposes the Kanal Istanbul project. While 51 percent of respondents think that the main reason for the project is to generate profit, only 29.1 percent believe Erdoğan’s claim that the canal will reduce maritime traffic in the Bosporus.

Alaeddin Yalçınkaya, a professor from Marmara University, believes Chinese investment will result in China’s colonization of the Kanal region. The Future Party (Gelecek Partisi) leader Ahmet Davutoğlu also claims that the AKP government expects China to provide funding for the Kanal in exchange for lands around the Kanal area, which would damage Turkey’s national sovereignty. Others also warn Turkey about “debt trap” diplomacy, which refers to China’s policy of confiscating lands for unpaid loans.

So far, the government has shrugged off the criticism by focusing instead on actively promoting the Kanal Istanbul project.

Emre Demir is an assistant professor of International Relations at TED University in Ankara, Turkey. His research interests are political economy of knowledge production, East Asian politics, China’s political economy and Chinese foreign policy.

This story is part of a Civic Media Observatory investigation into competing narratives about China’s Belt and Road Initiative and explores how societies and communities hold differing perceptions of potential benefits and harms of Chinese-led development. To learn more about this project and its methods, click here.


Written byEmre Demir


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

DW: “Canal Istanbul: How Erdogan’s dream could be Turkey’s nightmare | DW News”

Climate Emergency hits Mideast as Massive Wildfires In Turkey destroy livelihoods Tue, 03 Aug 2021 04:06:42 +0000 By Doga Celik and Arzu Geybullayeva | –

( – Since July 28, a total of 125 forest fires have raged through 21 provinces of Turkey with 8 still raging as of August 2. The first fire was reported on July 28. So far, the death toll has reached 8 people, including two firefighters. While the official cause of the fires is still under investigation, many are attributing them to scorching heat and global warming.

The fires are affecting thousands of residents from Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean coasts — both major tourist destinations. Tourists have been evacuated and transported to safety as the country’s leadership declared some regions “disaster zones” due to the fires. The phrase #HelpTurkey was trending on Twitter on August 1 as people rush to aid those affected by the blaze. As the extent of the damage comes to light, the ruling Justice and Development Party has faced criticism and public outcry for the country’s lack of safety measures, emergency plans, and government-propagated conspiracy theories.

On Saturday, July 31, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Manavgat, one of the provinces affected by the fires, where at least 7 people have died from the blaze. During his visit, he vowed that the government was doing everything it could to help people affected by the disaster. “It is our duty to find those responsible for the fires, and burn their lungs,” said Erdoğan on July 31.

But many remained unoptimistic about the government’s promises. A large presidential convoy arrived in the city of Marmaris over the weekend — another hotspot affected by the fires — and Erdoğan was seen tossing bystanders packages of tea. Some likened the move to Trump, who threw paper towels at hurricane Maria survivors at a disaster relief distribution center in Puerto Rico.

Erdogan’s arrival to Marmaris, where the city has been struggling with fire due to lack of firefighting jets.

Lack of equipment

Since the start of fires last week, the ruling party has taken flak for Turkey’s lack of firefighting aircraft and its choice to exclude the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) from the firefighting efforts. For decades, THK had provided planes for firefighting campaigns. Speaking to the residents of Manavgat, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was booed when he said all three of the country’s firefighting jets were already extinguishing fires elsewhere. So far, Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan have all contributed planes to help extinguish the forest fires. On August 1, the government finally accepted EU support to receive firefighting jets from Croatia and Spain.

Mursel Alban, a member of Parliament from the main opposition the Republican People’s Party (CHP), called on the president and his cabinet to resign:

You have a 300 room summer palace in Marmaris but there is no plane to put out the fire in Marmaris. Erdogan/AKP governmnet must resign with all its ministers.

Photos of Erdoğan’s lavish summer house with 300 rooms, a private beach, and a pool, were made public on July 5. The palace reportedly cost 73 million US dollars and was completed in 2019. At the time, the leader of CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu slammed the summer house during the party’s parliamentary group meeting. “People are starving, but he doesn’t care. He built a summer palace for himself.”

“While the palace [the presidency] has 13 planes and the agriculture minister travels everywhere in his jet, the government can’t employ a firefighting plane to put out these fires, demonstrating the terrible situation this administration has put us in. One palace plane could have bought dozens of firefighting planes,” pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) spokesperson Ebru Günay said in a tweet on July 30.

Former member of the parliament Feyzi Isbaran reiterated the sentiment in a tweet:

Erdogan reviewed the area affected by fires from air, sitting inside his super luxury airplane. “The main reason for the problems with the aircraft is that THK, which has been carrying out this task for many years, has not been able to renew its fleet and technology.” Erdogan is the honorary director of the government appointed trustee committee at the THK”.

The THK was reshuffled in 2019 with a government-appointed trustee committee replacing the previous leadership. According to reporting by Dokuz8Haber, an online news platform, earlier this month, the trustees fired 11 pilots and 15 technicians. But the THK’s former employees said the association had 6 operational aircrafts ready for deployment. One of the trustees was reportedly at a wedding ceremony when Muğla Mayor Osman Gürün called the THK office asking for planes on July 29.

Following days of forest fires, forests in 6 provinces were closed from July 30 until August 31. The ban includes going into or near the forests, and having picnics.

Meanwhile, the authorities downplayed the damages caused by the fire in Marmaris describing them as minor, instead prioritizing investigating the cause of the fires according to the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli. “Judicial and law enforcement authorities continue their investigation into the cause of the fires. A statement will be made once important findings are uncovered,” he said.

Echoing the government’s investigation efforts, the head of the Directorate for Communications, Fahrettin Altun said, “Those responsible will have to account for the attacks against nature and forests.”

Many have compared the ineptitude of the ruling government to a recent flood in Germany, where Chancellor Merkel allocated 472 million US dollars worth of aid for the flood victims a stark contrast to convoys and tea throwing as seen during the president’s visit to affected areas. So far, officials have promised to postpone loan payments of those injured in the fire to ease their financial burden. They have also announced they would accept donations. Which triggered further criticism online.

They ask for donations after an earthquake, flood, fire, during the pandemic. Of course we will do what is in our power to help those in need, but will those who collect our taxes and lead us do the same?

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0


Doga Celik, Political science and international relations. Author and translator.

Arzu Geybullayeva is Azerbaijani columnist and writer, with special focus in digital authoritarianism and its implications on human rights and press freedom in Azerbaijan. Arzu has written for Al Jazeera, Eurasianet, Foreign Policy Democracy Lab, CODA, Open Democracy, Radio Free Europe, and CNN International. She is a regular contributor at IWPR, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and Global Voices. In 2019, Arzu launched Azerbaijan Internet Watch, a platform that documents, and monitors information controls in Azerbaijan. Arzu has contributed to GV since May 2010.



Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Sky News: “Increasing anger in Turkey over lack of fire preparation”

‘A pandemic of impunity in a tortured land’: Stalemate in Yemen War Worsens Human Rights Crisis Fri, 09 Jul 2021 04:01:55 +0000 By Saoussen Ben Cheikh | –

( ) – The latest peace talks in Oman fell apart apart, and for Yemenis, that means going back to square one. Escalations in Marib have worsened the dire humanitarian situation and the suffering of civilians in a conflict that has entered its sixth year.

An activist speaking to a woman with disabilities while documenting human rights issues in Taiz, Yemen. Photo by Watch Team, used with permission.

There was optimism when, in a major shift away from the Trump administration, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the war had “to end” and that he would terminate “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen.” But this is easier said than done. Once again, the conflict has reached a deadlock. Arms are speaking louder than political negotiations. A major military offensive by the Houthi forces, in the strategic oil-rich Marib—the last province the recognised government still controls in the north—is underway, and nothing seems to be stopping it.

Yemen is often woefully labelled as the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis.” The conflict that broke out in 2015 had a devastating impact on the already impoverished population. The needs are enormous and countless media have shown heartbreaking images of malnourished children or poor living conditions—but this inhuman situation is not new to Yemen.

The country has for decades been at the bottom of most international indices, including on education, women’s rights and freedom of expression. Well before the conflict, a long dictatorship had prevented the emergence of rule of law and development. Yemen was marked by high illiteracy, unemployment and poor infrastructure. Forms of gross human rights violations were occurring, including human trafficking, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

The glimpse of hope and freedom gained in the Arab Spring in 2011, has been all but wiped out by the civil war. The Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have installed an oppressive theocracy in the north, home to about 70 per cent of the population, while the recognised government in the south—accused of widespread corruption—has failed to provide basic services and good governance.

All parties are hostile to human rights and “show no regard to international law or the lives, dignity and rights of the people of Yemen,” read a statement accompanying a 2020 report from a group of international and regional experts. “A pandemic of impunity in a tortured land” is the title of the third United Nations report documenting human rights abuses in Yemen. According to the report, “The scale and nature of violations should shock the conscience of humanity. Yet, too often Yemen is the forgotten conflict.”

The war has plunged the already impoverished, closed nation into further chaos and lawlessness, making women, and young people more vulnerable to multiple forms of exploitation and abuse. The population lives in a climate of fear and insecurity because of shelling and repressive local authorities. Kamel Jendoubi, one of the UN experts, reported that “Yemen remains a tortured land, with its people ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity.”

A pervasive culture of unaccountability perpetuates the cycle of impunity and violence. The Saudi-led coalition forces conducted numerous airstrikes that indiscriminately killed and injured civilians. Since any semblance of the rule of law and justice has disappeared, armed tribal groups maintain local law and order by force. There have been numerous accounts of arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial executions.

The scale of violence is likely to be higher because of underreporting. Dissident and progressive voices are censored or, because of social pressure, self-censored. With families pushed deeper into poverty, parents are marrying off their daughters earlier and children are forced to work or be sent to the battlefield. Violence against women, which was already widespread, increased exponentially, including domestic and sexual violence abuses, kidnapping and forced labour.

An activist documenting human rights issues in the city of Taez, Yemen. Photo by Watch Team, used with permission

Human rights on hold

The war has not only worsened daily life and exhausted coping mechanisms but has also put human rights on hold. The collapse of the economy and the repressive environment has caused the shutdown of local media and civil society organisations advocating for human rights. Harassed and attacked, many Yemeni journalists and human rights activists have gone into exile, while many who stayed have had to leave the profession. Several have shifted their focus from reporting and advocacy to humanitarian work. Dawla, a human rights activist, told me:

We were struggling to survive before the war, and everything was a challenge. We could not believe it could get worse. Since the war broke out, it has all imploded. Now there are even more children in the streets and fighting, young women begging and married too young, activists harassed and with no resources.

She continued:

I used to be a journalist, but the local media can’t pay journalists. Many have left, especially women. The situation is so bad that I have started volunteering in a local organisation to provide aid for poor families.

I’ve since been recruited by the organisation so I can at least support my family. But I don’t have time anymore to report and tell the stories.

The relocation of the scarce skilled human resources into the aid sector is a by-product of the conflict. This is because the humanitarian sector is where funding and paid jobs are. Yemen, the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, is underfunded and international donors are more keen to fund aid than human rights programs. This has resulted in a perverse effect that supports short-term emergencies rather than long-term peace and reconciliation efforts that would lay the ground to end the conflict. Aid has been criticised for contributing to fuelling the conflict. Worse, all parties have been accused of impeding or diverting humanitarian operations. Some aid agencies have had to temporarily suspend their programs in the north because of corruption.

New strategy to end the conflict

As other conflicts have shown, there cannot be peace without justice. To bring an end to the conflict that has decimated the population, the UN experts urged the Human Rights Council to ensure that human rights in Yemen are high on the agenda. As Jendoubi stressed, “The international community has a responsibility to put an end to this pandemic of impunity, and should not turn a blind eye to the gross violations. After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say, ‘We did not know what was happening in Yemen.’ Accountability is key to ensure that justice is served to the people of Yemen and to humanity.”

Military actions having failed. Ending a war entrenched in a complex regional geopolitical stalemate requires a new strategy that emphasizes diplomacy over arms, with human rights high on the agenda.

The Bridge features personal essays, commentary, and creative non-fiction that illuminate differences in perception between local and international coverage of news events, from the unique perspective of members of the Global Voices community. Views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinion of the community as a whole. All Posts

Saoussen Ben Cheikh works for Internews, a media development organisation. She is a project director in a Closed States program supporting freedom of expression in the most challenging contexts of conflict, poverty and repression. She is currently overseeing a wide range of activities with local media and civil society focusing on development, peace building, gender and youth participation.
Saoussen was prior a PhD researcher on State and Conflict in the MENA region in the University of Nice (France).


Thousands of Women protest Throughout Turkey as gov’t withdraws from Istanbul Convention on Women’s Rights Tue, 06 Jul 2021 04:03:47 +0000

Heavy police intervention was reported across the country.

By Arzu Geybullayeva |

( – Thousands of women marched across the largest cities in Turkey on July 1, to protest Turkey’s official withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. Heavy police intervention and violence were reported throughout the country.

Turkey announced its decision to withdraw from the Convention on March 20, 2021. The Istanbul Convention is a legally-binding human rights treaty created by the Council of Europe pledging to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate domestic violence and promote gender equality. It was open to signature in 2011 and has been signed by 45 states.

President Tayyip Erdogan first expressed interest in leaving the convention in 2020. The final decision came after the president unveiled a human rights plan he said would “improve rights and freedoms in Turkey and help the country meet EU standards.”

In the Turkish city of Izmir, women were blocked by police barricades, prompting the chant “Build the barricades for murderers, not for women.” Police used tear gas and battered some of the protesters according to Gazete Duvar reporting.

Protesters in central Istanbul held up placards reading: “We are not giving up on the Istanbul Convention. It’s not over for us.”

Ahead of the official withdrawal scores of women across Turkey shared videos of themselves united under the slogan #istanbulsözleşmesihepimizin (the Istanbul Convention is ours).

At a July 1, event at the presidential palace in Ankara for “Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women,” President Erodgan insisted that the country and its leadership are committed to ending violence against women despite the decision to withdraw from the convention. “As the fight against violence against women did not begin with this treaty, so will our commitment not end because we are withdrawing,” he said. The President suggested numerous new measures to replace the convention, including, reviewing judicial processes, improving protection services, and gathering data on domestic violence.

The view among civil society initiatives fighting for women’s rights in Turkey is different. According the initiative We Will Stop Femicide (WWSF) “300 Turkish women were murdered last year, most by their partners. A further 171 were found dead in suspicious circumstance,” WWSF’s founder, Gülsüm Kav told The Guardian. This year alone, the platform has documented 130 femicides since January and 99 cases of women deaths in suspicious circumstances according to the initiative’s monthly reports.

Meanwhile, the protests on July 1, did not just take place on the streets.

U.S. State Department spokesman responding to Turkey’s withdrawal on July 1 said the move was “a step backward for the international effort to end violence against women.”

Amnesty International’s secretary-general, Agnes Callamard, said the withdrawal sent a “reckless and dangerous message”:

A court appeal to halt the withdrawal was rejected last week.


Arzu Geybullayeva is Azerbaijani columnist and writer, with special focus in digital authoritarianism and its implications on human rights and press freedom in Azerbaijan. Arzu has written for Al Jazeera, Eurasianet, Foreign Policy Democracy Lab, CODA, Open Democracy, Radio Free Europe, and CNN International. She is a regular contributor at IWPR, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso and Global Voices. In 2019, Arzu launched Azerbaijan Internet Watch, a platform that documents, and monitors information controls in Azerbaijan. Arzu has contributed to GV since May 2010.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Protests in Istanbul as Turkey exits treaty on violence against women | AFP