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Ellison Center Brown Bag Series
What Tajikistan Teaches Us about Syria
February 7, 2013
The Role of Islam in Post-Communist Central Asia
December 11, 2012
The Georgian Elections: Power, People and the Polls
October 23, 2012
Speaking Soviet with and Accent: Culture and Power in Kyrgyzstan
Dr. Ali Igmen, Director of Oral History Program and Associate Professor of History and International Studies
California State University- Long Beach
March 6, 2013
Dr. Ali Igmen, Director of Oral History Program at California State University at Long Beach gave an overview of his new book, Speaking Soviet with an Accent: Culture and Power in Kyrgystan. The book describes the role and influence that Soviet culture clubs had in Kyrgyzstan. As part of the overview, Igmen displayed photos of the culture clubs, Kyrgyz-Soviet art, and Kyrgyz landscapes, which he collected during several trips to Kyrgyzstan. Much of the book is based on the interviews Igmen conducted while he traveled through Kyrgyzstan. The full text of the book is available through Project Muse, accessible through the University of Washington Librarires.
What Tajikistan Teaches Us about Syria
Dr. George Gavrilis, Executive Director of the Hollings Center
February 7, 2013
After giving a brief history of the Tajik civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 1997, Dr. George Gavrilis compared it to the current situation in Syria. Although Tajikistan and Syria are different in many ways, Gavrilis explained that the international community can apply five key lessons from the Tajik experience to the Syrian civil war.
1. Border control matters. During the Tajik war several stakeholders helped seal the borders to prevent more weapons from entering the country. Russians helped control the border with Afghanistan, which prevented more fighters from entering Tajikistan. In Syria, despite talk of controlling the borders, it has not happened yet. According to Gavrilis the borders are completely open, especially the borders with Lebanon (support for the government) and Turkey (support for the opposition).
2. Conflict mediation takes a long time. The war ended in Tajikistan only after four intense years of negotiating peace accords. Barely two years into the Syrian conflict, nothing even close to the degree of international mediation which took place in Tajikistan has occurred in Syria.
3. Small contingents of peace keepers and observers matter. In Tajikistan, despite intimidation, peace keepers kept pressing for support of the peace accords. When observers have faced intimidation or danger in Syria, they have pulled out. In contrast to Tajikistan, the observers in Syria are not as willing to accept war zone risks.
4. In Tajikistan a weird assortment of partners, Iran, US, Russia, Uzbekistan, who usually do not cooperate, collaborated to end the conflict. With Syria, there is much less agreement. International partners disagree on whether or not Assad should go. The international community is not putting pressure on factions to have talks. There is a lot of talk and no real substance in Syria. Part of this may stem from the fact that regional partners are not really worried about violent spill over from Syria. Their main concern is regional clout. Who is going to be the bigger influence in ending the Syrian conflict?
5. The last lesson is a post-conflict lesson. When the war is resolved, less may be more. Money does not necessarily lead to more stability. Tajikistan received much less foreign aid than it requested after the peace accords, yet it has not fallen back into war. In contrast, Afghanistan has received billions of dollars of aid, but the violence continues. The key here is not development, but peace. According to Gavrilis money will not maintain peace after the civil war has ended.
Gavrilis acknowledged that Syria and Tajikistan are very different, but also emphasized that the differences do not prevent one from applying these lessons to Syria. For follow up information from the Hollings Center on this topic click here.
The Role of Islam in Post-Communist Central Asia
Enayatollah Yazdani, Associate Professor, International Studies, University of Isfahan
Associate Professor Enayatollah Yazdani discussed the role Islam has played in the lives of Central Asia during a Brown Bag Talk on December 11th at the Ellison Center. Professor Yazdani began with a history of Islam in Central Asia, going back to the Arab conquest leading up to the present day. He concluded by explaining that although Islam has influenced lives, it is still not strongly affecting the economics and politics of the region.
Because of the region’s heritage, Islam is a part of most Central Asian cultures, but Islam’s influence declined dramatically during the Soviet era. The Bolsheviks destroyed the Islamic social, cultural, and educational system by closing and destroying thousands of mosques and madrassas. Islamic religious authorities and leaders were either imprisoned or deported and Islamic practices such as the Hajj were outlawed. Yazdani noted that the Soviets were unable to destroy the private informal practice of religion.
After the fall of communism Islam re-emerged as the public faith, but has yet to have significant influence on politics, according to Yazdani. He mentioned that Islam is weakest in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan because of their nomadic cultures. Some, including Islamic states in the Middle East, expected Islam to play a bigger role in Central Asian politics, but there is strong secular political culture inherited from the Soviets. Central Asian leaders see Islamic political groups as threats and repress them in order to hold onto power.
After the talk Dr. Yazdani answered questions from the audience on the influence that Iran and Turkey have had on the region and the difference between Islam in Central Asia and the North Caucasus. Turkey and Iran have mainly focused on cultural ties. Iran has been relatively unsuccessful marketing itself as the least expensive export route for oil and gas. Central Asian governments have been more successful than Russia suppressing Islamic fundamentalist.
Svitlana Khutka outlined some differences between transition and non-transition countries’ subjective well-being using Ukraine as a specific example during a brown bag talk on November 26th. Subjective well-being, or overall happiness and life-satisfaction is a complicated indicator to which many different factors contribute. Khutka discussed two different theories of well-being: the human development model and self-determination theory. In the human development model, economic bases such as income level are important. In the self-determination model, human agency, or the ability to influence one’s life situation is important. Traditional values also contribute to well-being in the self-determination model. Overall Khutka found that the human development index is a big factor in subjective well-being. She also discussed how gender differences and gender inequality affect overall happiness.
According to Khutka, similar factors contribute to feelings of well-being in transition and non-transition countries; however, there are some interesting differences. In both types of countries human agency makes up at least 10 percent of well-being, although it is slightly higher in transition countries. While post-materialist values are more important in non-transition countries, income level and traditional values are most important. Gender inequality mattered more in non-transition countries.
Khutka’s case study of Ukraine shows how happiness has increased in the country. In the 1990’s people were not happy, but this year over 60 percent of the population is happy. Important factors in Ukrainian happiness include, income, employment status, education, and relationships. It turns out that bachelors are happier than married men, but widowers and divorcees are the least happy.
A question and answer session followed the Khutka's talk.
Associate Professor of Politics and Diplomacy at Seoul National University, Beom-Shik Shin presented his model of triangular strategic relationships during his Brown Bag Talk on November 19th. Strategic triangularity was an effective cold war model to describe the interaction of two superpowers with a third country. Although it has not been as effective in describing post-cold war relationships, according to Professor Shin strategic triangularity can be a useful way to model regional relations in Northeast Asia. Strategic triangular relationships in Shin’s model are based primarily on two factors: economics, and social capital. Shin explained that social capital in this context means non-material or non-economic assets that a country uses to improve its influence in a region. In northeast Asia several strategic triangles already exist, one between Japan, Korea, and the United States, and the other between China, Korea, and the United States. Russia is the obvious major absence from both of these triangular relationships.
Part of the reason for Russia’s absence in these triangles was its lack of a regional strategy during the 1990’s. Shin noted that Putin has since been trying to develop a strategy for the region. Despite being left out of the triangular models, Shin explained that Russia is valuable to the region as the only country that can influence both North and South Korea. China’s strengthening as a result of the financial crisis has motivated Russia to seek a new Northeast Asia strategy. Shin mentioned that Russia has been implementing a much more aggressive natural resource policy in the region, focusing on energy export infrastructure. Russia’s aggressiveness and China’s strength will likely lead to a new strategic relationship.
The big question Shin posed is how the US will fit into a new triangular strategy with Russia and China. Russia could team up with the US to counter the Chinese hegemonic position in the region; however, the U.S. generally distrusts Russia due to its Soviet legacy. Russia needs China and could end up siding with China to try and limit US influence in the region. Shin argued that it is time for the US to realize the importance of Russia in Northeast Asia and begin developing an appropriate strategy.
After the presentation Professor Shin answered questions from the audience, expounding on why strategic triangularity is still a useful model for the region.
October 23, 2012
A panel discussion on:
After providing a brief history of the development of regimes in the Post-Soviet region, Director of the Ellison Center, Scott Radnitz analyzed some of the implications of Georgia’s surprisingly democratic parliamentary election on October 1. Saakashvili implemented major reforms after coming to power on the heels of the Rose Revolution in 2003, but recently his party had appeared to be behaving less democratically. Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili’s coalition, Georgian Dream, used populist appeals to challenge Saakashvili’s ruling UNM party. Georgian Dream’s undisputed victory surprised everyone. Radnitz raised several questions about what to expect in the near future, including the possibility that Saakashvili might try to stymie Ivanishvili’s initiatives.
Hans Gutbrod, Program Manager for the Think Tank Initiative, noted via videoconference from Ottawa that the results are overwhelmingly positive because they suggest that the Rose Revolution actually led to democratic changes rather than simply a regime change. The democratic changes allowed Ivanishvili to get people out on the street to voice their opposition to the government. Gutbrod mentioned Ivanishvili will have a difficult time living up to the messianic expectations of him.
Aaron Erlich, political science PhD student, explained several indicators that suggested that the election was free and fair. Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream won many of the closely contested precincts. Saakashvili’s party did poorly in the border regions, suggesting that his appeals to defending national sovereignty were not effective. Erlich noted several things to watch for, including how current elected officials will work with (or against) Georgian Dream, and how the transition will affect Georgia’s current cadre of civil servants.
Katy Pearce, assistant professor of communications, compared Georgia to Armenia and Azerbaijan, emphasizing the significant differences between Georgia and its neighbors. Business interests tend to run Armenia’s government making it much more of an oligarchy than Georgia,while Azerbaijan is an authoritarian state where many people are afraid to voice their opinions. Georgia is unique in the Caucasus region in that the revolution and subsequent reforms have led people to sincerely expect a democratic government.
Following the presentations, the panel answered questions from the audience on the reasons for the US government’s intense interest in Georgia, the influence of the Georgian Orthodox church, and what Saakashvili may have up his sleeve.
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