Politics is Not a Zero Sum Game

October 20th, 2014 No comments

Georgia’s Forgotten Frozen War from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

Barcelona- In the new issue of Jane’s Intelligence Review, (subscription required) I have an interview out with Ambassador Kaha Imnadze who represents the Republic of Georgia at the United Nations along the banks of New York’s East River . We spoke in early September on the heels of the NATO summit in Newport, Wales. We had a lot to discuss relating the Georgia’s signing of the EU Association Agreement earlier in the summer which acted as a veneer of raison d’étre for Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 2.42.22 PMWith Georgia already having two occupied regions where the overt presence of both Russian troops and intelligence agencies act as a shadowy reminder that this frozen conflict can reheat should Russian policy dictate so or a resurgent Georgian nationalism stumble into another fight that it cannot win on the battlefield.

Georgia occupies a unique place in the world in terms of both cartography as a mountainous land bridge between the Muslim and Orthodox worlds in broadest terms and geopolitically where it could potentially act as a robust diplomatic conduit between Iran and the West. Straddling vital energy routes, Georgia maintains amicable relations stretching from Washington to Tehran as if a fusion of its warm hospitality and realpolitik.

When asked how such a small nation can skillfully exploit its underappreciated diplomatic potential, Imnadze mentioned Georgia’s ancient history in relation to how it has lasted mostly intact for centuries.

Despite marauding powers hailing from Slavic, Turkic, Persian and other empires vying for power in a wider South Caucasus which acts as a natural land bridge between the Caspian and Black Sea regions as well as between the Middle East, Iranian plateau and Russia, for Georgians to have survived for so long in this contested environment, they seem to have in inherent diplomacy “in their DNA” as Imnadze put it to me.

Georgia's ambassador to the United Nations, Kaha Imnadze, photographed in his New York office on July 9. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kaha Imnadze, photographed in his New York office on July 9. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

One thing to remember is that Georgia’s democracy is very much a still evolving one. It’s just transformed from a presidential system to a parliamentary style democracy. The ex-president is running around Williamsburg for some reason. The parliament that was relocated out to Kutaisi is being at least partly moved back to its home in Tbilisi.

And though Moscow has pursued two largely different policies with regard to South Ossetia and Abkhazia–the former being a lightly populated space which has a thin veneer as a republic but is thought of a more of a glorified Russian base-building project while the latter has more palpable politics. Abkhazia is also possible to actually visit as an outsider on a tourist visa while what transpires in Tskhinvali is cloaked in mystery.

Despite Georgia’s challenges, it is comparatively a beacon of light when compared to its neighbors, Azerbaijan, Armenia, on the violent republics of the North Caucasus.

Categories: Caucasus, Georgia Tags: , ,

The Intervention

October 16th, 2014 No comments
Military interventions are not theoretical war games or 'surgical' in any way. They affect the lives of real people. Each scenario should be based on its merits, rather than merely on the oversimplified failures of the past. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Military interventions are not theoretical war games or ‘surgical’ in any way. They affect the lives of real people. Each scenario should be vetted on its own merits, rather than merely on the oversimplified failures of the past. Bombing is a horrific act but then IS is a horrific force. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Another quick blog entry with some images from Kobane and environs and recent days. The media narrative on the siege has shifted from predictions of the city’s imminent fall to IS being on the back foot in the battle thanks to a sharp uptick in coalition bombing. Although on the surface this is a fight between the harshest kind of Islamists engaged in offensive jihad to eradicate those they deem unbelievers–in this case the Kurds of the secular, leftist PYD-YPG/YPJ–the struggle for Kobane is primarily a battle of ethnic identity politics, at least as many Kurds I spoke with see it.

For lightly buried in the takfiri salafism of IS, particularly I suspect the older members with genuine military experience, is an Arab ethnocentrism despite the modicum of ethnic diversity of IS’s commanders. Then there are the Turkish troops and border gendarmes who are content to watch all this go on from a barely safe distance. Understandably Turkey does not want to be drawn in, at least not under conditions upon which Ankara is not the actor setting them.

There are those who are opposed to the very concept of military intervention in wars far from home based on their ideological principles or because they reflexively distrust the specific crowd that advocates for military solutions to humanitarian crises. What should have been done to rescue Kobane? The best policy may be that such cases be looked at individually rather than the flawed policies of those that came before. Part of why these situations are deemed failures is when people conduct post-mortems on them and find that once the world took its eyes off supporting state/institution-building and reconstruction, the place rapidly devolves into chaos. See: Libya.

What will happen in Syrian Kurdistan–if it is not overrun by IS–will be determined by the post-intervention steps that are far more difficult than demolishing concrete block structures from many thousands of feet in the air. But for now, the Kurds are cheering.

An errant mortar lands on Turkish soil in a battle between IS and the YPG. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

An errant mortar lands on Turkish soil in a battle between IS and the YPG. This shows just how much Turkey has taken a hands-off approach to the war at their doorstep. They refuse to be goaded into the war despite what some might consider provocations at there feet.  ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A coalition air strike hit western Kobane in the late afternoon of October 15. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A coalition air strike hit western Kobane in the late afternoon of October 15. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

After being repeatedly intimidated by Turkish security forces, journalists were forced to flee to safer ground. Here a TV reporter prepares for a live stand up far from the action. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

After being repeatedly intimidated by Turkish security forces, journalists were forced to flee to safer ground. Here a TV reporter prepares for a live stand up far from the action. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Ambulances are a far too common sight on these Orwellian road trips. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Ambulances are a far too common sight on these Orwellian road trips. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Siege

October 14th, 2014 No comments
Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish tank position on a hill overlooking Kobane, Syria. On this day the air was filled with a thick haze but the pungent black plumes were still very much visible form the city’s embattled skyline. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Don’t have time to crunch out much text today as I’m firing off a few reports from the past few days for a client but I wanted to post some more images of the siege of Kobane. While it has fallen down the headline mast a bit what with people back home being enthralled by the Ebola drama that has breeched the West from West Africa, the war here is still ongoing.

The Islamic State is not letting up on their target of this now desolate Kurdish-majority town as the YPG/YPJ fighters hang on for dear life. US-led bombings continue but Turkey’s position toward the PYD’s militia has not fundamentally changed. Meanwhile there are competing narratives over the Incirlik basing use agreement as Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu insists Turkey has not made such an agreement, thereby contradicting an earlier statement by Susan Rice.

The predictions a week ago that the city would fall have so far not panned out as cynics warned. It may indeed fall but for IS their predictions of celebrating Eid in their hoped for killing fields of the YPG have fallen well short.

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Suruç, once a quiet agricultural district famed for its pomegranate orchards, is now overwhelmed by the influx of civilians fleeing the siege of Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Refugee tents here are being erected by the dozen to cope with the crisis. There is something not right with the world when we know how to create such environments so quickly and efficiently. Too many wars. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The hastily made grave of a YPG guerrilla in Suruç, killed while defending the city from a much better armed Islamic State onslaught. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Nothing to see here. Turkish security forces at times seemed like they were playing a cat and mouse game with journalists and civilian activists alike, dispersing us from one hilltop to the next. I’ve read that some people believe that Kobane is being over emphasized by the media at the expense at the rest of Syria’s civil war. They refer to this site as “the hill of shame.” Yet these same naysayers would say shame on the world if nobody at all came to cover it. Some people just like to take diametrically opposing positions for the sport of argumentation it sometimes seems to me. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Border

October 13th, 2014 No comments
The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The foreign intervention in Kobane is very asymmetric without coordination from fighter jets and YPG commanders on the ground for targeting purposes (unless there is backchannel coordination we on the outside are somehow unaware of).. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Murşitpinar- Things have been hectic here in recent days and I don’t have time to write much text for TWD but wanted to put up a few images that might otherwise go unseen. The battle for Kobane is nothing short of brutal and it is happening in front of local and global media outlets which makes it that much more frustrating that the international community cannot stop something it can see in real time. Syria is the most dangerous place on earth for journalists and here in Turkey we have found a bit of a safe haven.

Much of what we see from the war is via youtube and after I went to Idlib Governorate in early 2012 I didn’t return once the hostage taking metastisized later that year. I nearly went to Rojava (PYD-controlled Syrian Kurdistan) last year but backed after I decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward in that particular crossing. Warfare so close to the relative security of Turkey has made for a kind of perverse theater but it has at least put the Islamic State in view of the public for the first time not through their own visual propaganda.

A photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

A Blackberry photo from my twitter feed was picked up by BBC News

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Syrians discuss the aftermath of a coalition air attack on Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey's border with the PYD-YPG 'canton' of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Kurds from all over have descended upon southern Turkey’s border with the PYD-YPG ‘canton’ of Kobane but can do nothing to aid in its defense but only observe due to an ever-tightening Turkish blockade. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Turkish Tanks Moving Outside Siege of Kobane Syria from Derek Flood on Vimeo.

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A Syrian man prays while explosions and air strikes rock neaby Kobane and Turkish tanks sit in the background. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Middle East, Syria, Turkey Tags:

From Gaziantep

October 9th, 2014 No comments
The Sirvani mosque near Gaziantep's castle. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Sirvani mosque dating back to the Mamluk dynasty lights up at dusk near Gaziantep’s hilltop castle. A moment where I realize why I fell in love with this region to begin with. It’s deep history is far more enriching that the day to day politics that often consume us. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Gaziantep- It is being reported that four people have been killed in clashes between Turkish ethno-nationalists and Kurds here tonight according to CNN Turk. I was just outside the main government hospital while going to an all-night bakery and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It’s shameful that the civil war in Syria is awakening ethnic tensions here. Earlier today I was talking to the receptionist at the hotel about how luckily there wasn’t a curfew here as had been imposed in other cities this week. That could change.

I arrived in Gaziantep in the middle of the night to make my way to the somewhat Orwellian media circus adjacent the siege of Kobane. I assumed most journos are basing themselves in Sanliurfa though I met a French TV correspondent that was on my flight telling me she and her crew are staying here. The Kobane crisis is pathetic on so many levels. The YPG, the PYD’s military wing has their backs against the wall with the wall being a barbed wire border fence backed by Turkish tanks. Turkey refuses to step in a rescue the PKK-aligned YPG (or Syrian wing of the PKK if you prefer) because that would save a sister organization that the Turkish forces have formally been at war with on and off since 1984.

After 30 years of guerrilla war in southeastern Anatolia, Ankara may prefer to let IS come right up to its border rather than help the enemy it knows. To the Turks, both movements are unpalatable and the only options were complicated highly politicized ones that suit their agenda for which those under siege in Kobane do not have time. Even if American aerial bombardments can stave off the IS advance as it purportedly brings in reinforcements from Raqqa, there is for the time being no way, at least that I know of, for the YPG to be resupplied with munitions, not to mention food and potable water.

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep's streets are eerily quiet after sundown. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A world away from touristed western Turkey, Gazaintep’s streets are eerily quiet after sundown. Last night I got chased by a pack of feral dogs at 3am as soon as I stepped out of the hotel looking for food. No such vibe in the seaside town of Marmaris where I’d just come from. This is not a party town. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

The Kemalism is first became acquainted with here in Turkey in the 1990s just feels as if its in overall decline in the Erdogan AKP era of today. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Turkey Tags: ,

Sunsets of Fire

October 1st, 2014 No comments
A typical sunset as seen from Oia. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

A typical sunset as seen from Oia. A cliché to be sure, but undeniably timeless. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Thira- I’ve been existing in my news vacuum here for just about two weeks. I wanted to see if I could go 14 days without ingesting any news. Taking a break from breaking news on beheading videos, leading from behind the curve Obama speeches, people ranting about Putin and Putin not caring whatsoever etc. I’ve been doing some personal projects here with photo installations, writing, catching up on some old books I never finished in NYC over the years, and simply socializing. No one talks about world events here as if nothing is happening.

When I was here a few years ago and anti-austerity protests in Athens had a causal effect on the island with sanitation, airport and ferry strikes being instigated in solidarity here, we talked about Greek politics as it was unavoidable in the context of that time. My achilles heal however was my new hobby Instagram account. I was following a journalism power couple who work for opposing news outlets and when I noticed they were both on the same story at the same time next door in Turkey, I knew I was missing something big.

Otherwise I’ve had no inkling of what’s going on beyond the island save for a snippet I saw of a Greek news broadcast in a mini market talking about the crisis spilling over into arch rival Turkey. People are here to do yoga retreats and party. It’s fairly simple.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 1.42.31 PM

I put images of my guerrilla art gallery on Buzzfeed just to get the project out there. For years and years, I’ve had a drawer of old prints sitting around from the turn of this century that have never seen the light of day and I finally decided it was time to do something with them that I had envisioned at that time.

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

I did another installation in an unfinished hotel near Monolithos Beach. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

In other news, I very belatedly saw that I was quoted in early 2013 on PBS NewsHour/Council on Foreign Relations titled What Is Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)?. In no way a new development but I only now noticed it. More recently my work from Kirkuk in 2013 was cited by Stanford’s Mapping Militant Organizations project in its entry on JRTN.

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Down the backstreets of Pyrgos. Quietude. ©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Santoriniana

September 22nd, 2014 No comments
The 1980's-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein's daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus' Old City. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

The 1980’s-era Iranian-built shrine complex of Sayyida Ruqayya, Imam Hussein’s daughter, north of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus’ Old City. While I hung out there Iranian pilgrims quietly milled around the site in awe. I dug this image up while mentioning Damascus in my writing today. So many places I’ve traveled to may be inaccessible now due to war or the ability of regimes to google journalists perhaps. ©2002 Derek Henry Flood

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”-Homer, The Odyssey

Thira- Back on Santorini after two months in Barcelona doing some long form writing and not near the bustle of any major city, although some of the drivers here think they’re racing to beat a red light in Athens. I’m keeping my head down from the constant news out of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, West Africa or even Scotland or Catalunya.

My Magyar friend Patrik gave me an impromptu motivational talking to in Barcelona mid-summer. He’s off to Turkmenistan this week to see the Darvaza Crater a.k.a. the Door/Gate to Hell and view the absurdities of Ashgabat. When I was in Turkmenistan 13 years ago I didn’t dare take my camera out of the hotel due to the pervasive paranoid there. That’s one place, like Damascus pictured above, I’d very much like to return to.

I read yesterday that cruise ship traffic to this island is down because of “political instability in the eastern Mediterranean.” Santorini is nowhere near Syria. Are people worried about Achille Lauro redux? It kind of reminds me of being in Budapest in 1999 and the drop in tourism was credited to the NATO campaign in Kosovo. I understand people being risk averse. But sometimes boundless precautions are a bit over the top. I doubt IS is going to suddenly overwhelm Tartus and then begin a Somali pirate economy. But what do I know.

The shooting down of a passenger jet over eastern Ukraine may have seemed unlikely until it happened. Weird to think a place as tranquil as this is somehow affected by Syrian chaos in a butterfly effect for lack of a more original term.

On an unrelated note, my 2011 biography on Khalifa Haftar was cited in Libya: from Repression to Revolution: A Record of Armed Conflict and International Law Violations, 2011-2013 edited by M. Cherif Bassiouni, Emeritus Professor Law at DePaul University.  A 2012 article I authored from Mali for CNN was cited in Fragile Stabilität – stabile Fragilität (Fragile stability – stable Fragility) in a chapter written by Scott G. McNall, professor of sociology at the University of Kansas and George Basile, Professor of Practice, School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Very pleased to learn of these citations.

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today's inescapable news cycle. of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Poolside reading here in Karterados. Taking a break from news and social networks for a couple weeks to focus on my own writing rather than the constant drumbeat of political violence and trends in secessionism that dominant today’s inescapable news cycle. Sometimes one has to shut down and look into longer term trends.  of©2014 Derek Henry Flood

Categories: Europe, Syria Tags: , ,

When an Anniversary Becomes History

September 11th, 2014 No comments
A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left TV crews prepare to broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn's DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Floo

A mother holds her daughter while gazing at the plume in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. To their left a TV crew prepares for a live broadcast. This never before seen image was made adjacent the River Cafe on Brooklyn’s DUMBO waterfront at approximately 8pm after the suicide attacks killed nearly 3000. ©2001 Derek Henry Flood

Barcelona- Today is just another 9/11 anniversary it seems. On twitter, everyone is consumed by Obama’s speech last night vowing to “destroy” the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The brutality of al-Qaeda has been rhetorically lessened with foolish tracts saying that Ayman al-Zawahiri disowned Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s movement because AQ 1.0 was put off by IS’s even harsher methods as if there has been a collective forgetting of what al-Qaeda and its allies have done over the years. This is an absurd assertion.

The split is based more on divisive interpretations of salafi ideology, a supreme contest of egos within a very violent subculture, and plain envy. Bin Laden was not primarily a takfiri (one who maintains the authority to declare lesser Muslims or minorities within its reach ‘apostates’) but in his alliance with the Deobandi Taliban he was simultaneously focused on both the near and far enemies. Baghdadi has thus far been more narrowly focused in constructing his personality cult whereby the desired targets of IS’s aggression are the Shia and other related sects and those affiliated with regional regimes they deem worthy of death. To say one group is more ‘brutal’ than the other is a futile comparison. It is far more about the ebb and flow on the centers of power within trends in global militancy than a zero sum game.

Here in Barcelona, it’s Onze de Setembre (National Day of Catalonia), a celebration of Catalan martyrdom that is experienced as hyper localized nationalism. Drums beat, scooters beep and a rivalry in the heart of the first world rages on.

To me, it is simply 9/11.

For a solid decade I would return from wherever I was in the world to New York to document the goings on at the World Trade Center which for many years was referred to simply as ‘Ground Zero.’ For all of the anniversaries I attended in order to document, I did so without accreditation except for the final one–the 10th–when I applied for permission from the Bloomberg administration to photograph the two visiting presidents. That last few years since the 2011 shoot, I haven’t returned to the World Trade Center.

Yesterday here in Catalunya it was in fact the furthest thing from my mind as I hung out with friends at the beach in Barceloneta. Nor did I think about the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud either. Things that I have felt and witnessed and people I once knew who have died have since been enveloped into history as once so viscerally palpable anniversaries have often morphed into more ordinary days as the healing current of time passes by.

People observe a moment of silence in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

People observe a moment of silence in Zuccotti Park in remembrance of the 5 year anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks at the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. ©2006 Derek Henry Flood

We often think of history in a linear form comprised of a 365 day year based on  the Gregorian calendar with momentous anniversaries in one-year increments up until the 5th year and in five year increments thereafter (and later potentially being noted in 10 year increments) i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th anniversaries being momentous and then culminating (for now) at the 10th which forms a time capsule known as a ‘decade.’

But for the people directly affected, is today’s 13th anniversary any less significant than the 1st back in 2002, the 5th in 2006 or the 10th in 2011?  History as we live it is a living, breathing organism. Time never does stand still. I may be in the fever of minority linguistic politics here along the western Mediterranean as if Franco died yesterday but I cannot escape the track in which the events that day 13 years ago defined the course of my adult life. Though I no longer rush back to New York to document the day, it will forever remain in my aching heart.

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama Michelle Obama George W. Bush and Laura Bush look on as families of the victims speak from the podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Floo

A giant projection outside the WTC memorial shows family members reciting the names of the nearly 3000 killed on 9/11. President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, George W. Bush, and Laura Bush, look on behind bullet-proof glass as families of the victims speak from a podium. ©2011 Derek Henry Flood