Category Archives: Southwest Asia and North Africa

The Tragedy of the Yezidi’s: Comments and Opinion from Martin Lewis

The United States began air strikes against the ISIS militants last week in order to protect Kurdish and Yezidi refugees fleeing from the harsh Sunni regime. At the same time the U.S. and several allies (mainly Turkey) began humanitarian action to aid the refugees.

Yezidis-map-300x297Martin Lewis, one of our textbook authors, and the force behind our sister blog, GeoCurrents, provided important background—along with his own views—on this tragic situation in a recent post. His first paragraph follows. Read the whole post here.

“It is increasingly clear that the situation faced by the Yezidis of the Sinjar region in northern Iraq can only be described as genocidal. Thousands have been slaughtered and tens of thousands are facing death from starvation and thirst, if not from the bullets of the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS, as it conventionally designated), as they hide in remote reaches of Sinjar Mountain. Christians and members of other religious minorities are also at a heightened risk of extermination in the expanding ISIS-controlled territory. Thus far, the government of the United States has conducted a few humanitarian air-drops for the Yezidis, although reports are now circulating that that has begun or is at least considering military strikes against ISIS, actions that the Pentagon currently denies. But more to the point, by having previously thwarted the ability of the Kurdish Peshmerga to defend its territory and fight the militants, the government of the United States bears some responsibility for these horrific developments. Such U.S. actions and inactions stem largely from its vain insistence on trying to revive the moribund Iraqi state, which in turn is rooted in the discredited ideal of intrinsic nation-state integrity




Is Poverty the Root Cause of Boko Haram Violence?

Here’s a must-read post by coauthor Martin Lewis from his GeoCurrents blog on the topic of violence in northern Nigeria by Boko Harem. The complete post is here. And here’s the first two paragraphs of Martin’s post:

The notion that poverty is the main cause of terrorism and insurgency is one of the most contentious ideas in global security studies. Those on the left tend to emphasize the connection between violence and the lack of development, while those on the right tend to deny or at least minimize it.

In recent weeks, this debate has turned to the brutal extremist group known as Boko Haram, based in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno. In early May, 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained the growth of Boko Haram by observing that, “much of this challenge comes out of this poverty where young people are grabbed at an early stage, proffered a little bit of money…” Other sources describe the relationship in more straightforward terms. An article in the Huffington Post, following a report from the International Crisis Group, claims that, “simply put, the militants have been doing so well because some parts of Nigeria have been doing so poorly.” A recent New York Times editorial echoed this idea, although it emphasized corruption as much as poverty.  Spiegel International similarly stressed the “struggle over scarce resources [that] only exacerbates existing ethnic and religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims.”



Illegal Migration Through Spain’s Enclaves in Africa

Hardly a day passes without a news article about illegal migration into Europe, often about either the tragic loss of life when migrants drown attempting to enter Spain or Italy by sea or the hardships migrants suffer trying to enter an European Union (EU) country overland from Turkey. Here, as an illustration, is a CNN infographic showing pathways of illegal migration into Europe.

In the last month, however, a flurry of news article have called attention to Spain’s two territorial enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, where illegal migrants from Africa and refugees from war-torn Syria are using as a backdoor into Europe. Even though both cities are located in Morocco, they are legally Spanish territory, thus if illegal migrants are arrested in either of the two cities the hope is that they will be jailed—and eventually released—-on the Spanish mainland. The dream is that even if they’re still illegal they could construct a new and more comfortable life either in Spain or elsewhere in a European country like France or Germany since there are no longer any formal border controls between Spain and France. And once into France an illegal migrant can pass freely into Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, or Italy. Consequently Spain that the problems in Melilla and Ceuta are not simply Spanish problems but EU problems…..which is probably true.

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory. (Wikipedia photo)

The border fence between Melilla and Morocco, over which illegal migrants will climb in order to be arrested on Spanish territory.
(Wikipedia photo)

African migrants camped outside of Melilla. NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

African migrants camped outside of Melilla.
NY Times photo by Samel Aranda

Here are some extracts from a recent NY Times article “As Africans Surge to Europe’s Door, Spain Locks Down”:

“Ten years ago Spain spent more than 30 million euros building up the barriers around Melilla and Ceuta, its two enclaves surrounded by Morocco on the northern coast of Africa, which offer the only land borders between the promise of Europe and the despair of Africa. And for a while the investment seemed to work.

“But in the past year, large groups of sub-Saharan immigrants have been charging the rows of seven-yard-high chain-link fences here with increasing frequency, or trying to swim around them, believing with good reason that if they can just get past they will ultimately end up in Europe. They often end up injured, not just from falls and the newly laid concertina wire, but at the hands of the Moroccan and Spanish authorities trying to stop them.

“It is a question that has hounded Europe for years, as immigrants fleeing wars or simply wanting a better future have tried to break through its borders, sometimes dying in tiny boats headed for the Canary Islands, part of Spain, or the Italian island of Lampedusa, sometimes trying to walk from Turkey to Greece or Bulgaria. Or, as they are doing now, charging the fences of these enclaves, seeking out even the smallest doorways to Europe

“Even so, their excitement is hard to miss because they are well on their way to getting what they hoped for. Most have had brutal journeys and now will probably spend a year or more in the immigration center as their applications for asylum are processed. Few will get such status. But most will end up transferred to the mainland before being handed an order to leave Spain.

“Most cannot be deported because Spain does not have treaties with many of the countries they come from. So in the twist that has confounded Europe’s efforts to secure its borders for decades now, many of those who make it to Melilla and Ceuta will be largely free to remain in Spain or other European nations that offer them the prospect of better lives.

“Getting over the fences is not the only route into the enclaves. Experts say sub-Saharan women tend to come by boat. More recently, the enclaves have also attracted growing numbers of Syrians, who, because they look more like local Moroccans and often have some money, are able to buy or rent Moroccan passports and simply walk quietly across the border with other day workers.”

UPDATE: Here is the latest NY Times article on the topic, “Spain Struggles to Halt Migrants at Two Enclaves


The Historic Scale of Syria’s Refugee Crisis


Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border. (Photo from Voice of America, Henry Ridgwell)

The New York Times feature article, “The Historic Scale of Syria’s Refugee Crisis”, (which can be found here) presents an informative array of numbers, maps, and photographs about the Syrian refugee crisis. Here are the first two paragraphs of the story:

“The Syrian refugee crisis has exploded from about 270,000 people a year ago to today’s tally of more than two million who have fled the country. The pace of the diaspora has been characterized by the United Nations as the worst since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In addition, an estimated 4.25 million Syrians have been displaced within their country, bringing the total number forced into flight to more than six million.

Lebanon’s population has grown almost 20 percent over the past year because of the refugee influx. Since the government has decided not to build official camps, most of the 790,000 Syrians now in Lebanon live wherever they can find shelter: in half-finished cinder block houses, stables, crowded apartments and makeshift camps. n Turkey, the government houses about 200,000 refugees in tent and trailer camps, and at least 300,000 more are thought to be spread around the country. Jordan has the second-largest population of Syrian refugees.”


Turmoil in Southwest Asia Sends China Looking for Oil Sources Elsewhere

Oil pump, Baku

Oil pump outside of Baku, Azerbajain (photo source:

A very interesting article in Aljazeera America on the topic of China’s unease with unrest in Southwest Asia’s oil countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran), an unease that has sent China looking elsewhere for global oil supplies. The whole article can be read here. Here are the opening paragraphs of the Aljazeera America story:

“Beijing is digging deeper inroads into alternative oil markets as turmoil in the Middle East threatens a key source of China’s international energy supply, industry analysts told Al Jazeera amid President Xi Jinping’s whirlwind tour of Central Asia, where he has already penned several multi-billion-dollar energy deals.

Xi agreed Wednesday to disburse $3 billion in credits for energy projects in Kyrgyzstan on his visit to the nation across China’s northwestern border. The deal came days after Xi’s visit to neighboring Kazakhstan, where he bought 8.33 percent of an offshore oilfield for a whopping $5 billion — just one in a series of energy deals signed on the trip.

Since the Arab Spring prompted a loss of Chinese investments in the Middle East and North Africa, China has further penetrated markets in Canada — where a Chinese state-owned company recently purchased a local oil giant — Latin America and beyond.

Oil from the Middle East and North Africa accounts for roughly 60 percent of China’s global imports, as it perpetually endeavors to literally and figuratively fuel its economy. But with smoldering conflict in Syria threatening to boil over into neighboring Saudi Arabia and Iran — two of China’s major regional suppliers – China seems to have doubled efforts to look elsewhere.”