Saturday, April 15, 2017

Where is Nangarhar province, where the "Mother of All Bombs" was dropped

Nagarhar province in Afghanistan's east bordering Pakistan is 7,700 square kilometers in area, of the 652,000 square kilometers that Afghanistan spans. In terms of population though, it ranks third among the 34 provinces. Nangarhar has just over 1.5 million residents out of the total of 32 million population of the country. The capital of the province is Jalalabad. The Kabul river that passes through Kabul then flows through Jalalabad before entering Pakistan. One of the main tributaries of the Kabul river is the Kunar river. The Kabul is joined by the Kunar near Jalalabad.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

As the Syrian conflict drags on, Where did it begin, who controls where?

Arabs are the majority in Syria. They represent a mix of a pre-Islamic population with the Arabs of Mecca, Medina and other areas currently known as Saudi Arabia. Arabic tribes had inhabited the area currently known as Syria in the pre-Islamic era too and they had also had some kingdoms in the area.

The Alawites are Arabs belonging to the Shia group of Islam. In his younger years, the Prophet Muhammad undertook journeys to Syria along with his uncle on business. The Shias consider Ali ibn Abi Talid, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad, as being his spiritual successor while the Sunni group of Islam does not.

Alawites make up 11 percent of the population of Syria while the Shias, which includes the Alawites, make up 13 percent. Sunni Arabs make up 60 percent. while the total Sunni population is 74 percent.

Alawite Hafez al-Assad was the President from 1971 to 2000, under a one-party system. Under his rule, the political space was ceded to the Sunnis while the military was controlled by the Alawites. When the French had controlled Syria after World War I, Hafez's father had been a part of an Alawite proposal to be separate from Syria while seeking French protection.

After Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad took over. A civil war started in the country in 2011, with the Sunnis fighting the government.

The country consists of 14 governorates. The As-Suwayda governorate in the south borders Jordan. Daraa is in the south-west corner of the country, also having Jordan to its south. Rif Damashq government forms the south-western corner of the country, and has Lebanon to its west. This governorate is made of the countryside around the capital Damascus. The capital is a separate governorate and sits atop(north of) all the three previous governorates. To the north of Damascus governorate lies the Homs governorate, the largest.

Homs makes up the center of the country and has Damascus to the south-west, Lebanon to the West, Jordan to the south  and Iraq to the south-east. To the north-west of Homs lies Aleppo governorate.

Aleppo and to its west, Idlib and Latakia governorates all have a border with Turkey. To the east of Aleppo are Raqqa and Al-Hasakah also having borders with Turkey. To the south of Raqqa and Al-Hasakah lies Deir-ez-Zor.

Al-Hasakah forms the north-eastern corner of the country while Deir ez-Zor forms the south-eastern corner. While Al-Hasakah has a border with Turkey to its north and Iraq to its east, Deir ez-Zor has Iraq to its east and south.

The Syrian government lost control of the south to the Syrian Opposition grouping. This area includes all areas south of Damascus till the Jordanian border. The same grouping, Syrian Opposition, also controls the north-west of the country in the governorates of Idlib and Aleppo. A portion of the far north-west is held by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The north of the country bordering Turkey is controlled by the grouping called the Syrian Democratic Forces. The center of Homs, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor is controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant or ISIL

The Syrian government controls all territory in the west, bordering Lebanon. The town of Khan Sheikhoun where the chemical attack took place, and to which the U.S responded with aerial strikes is in the north-western corner in the governorate of Idlib. The town lies in the south of the governorate.

As ETA disarms: What is the Basque Cause

The ETA organisation is laying down its final set of arms today. The group which has been fighting for a separation of the Basque regions from Spain, has ceased fire since 2010.

ETA was formed in 1959 and stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna which stands for Basque Homeland and Freedom. The period from 1939 to 1975 marked the rule of Military Dictator Francisco Franco. The ETA was formed to take on Franco after oppression faced by the Basque Nationalist Party previously. Franco'e regime oppressed many other groups as well including students. Franco tried to suppress Basque, Catalan and Galician languages while favoring Castilian. The Basque language almost died out as a result of Franco's policies. Franco selected a monarchical successor in the late 60s before his death in November 1975. One of the ETA's biggest actions was the assassination of the Prime Minister in December 1973. The country became more liberal with the death of Franco.

The Basque people live in a region that is at the intersection between Spain and France, with the northern Basque region lying in France and its southern part lying in Spain. The Basque language does not have any connections to any other language family. About 93 percent of speakers of the language live in Spain with the remaining 7 percent living in France. Basque is a pre-historic language, i.e., one that is older than 5000 years.

The prime metropolitan region in the Basque Country is the Greater Bilbao, the capital city of which is Bilbao. While the city has about 350,000 inhabitants, the region has 1 million people. The next-biggest city in the Basque Country is Vitoria-Gasteiz, followed by Pamplona renowned for its bull-running tradition.

Spain and France can be pictured as two squares placed one over the other, with the square on top which is France imagined as being moved to the right atop the square below which is Spain, until only a small portion lies atop while the larger portion lies without any base. This larger portion of France lies atop the Mediterranean Sea. The space to the left of France and to the top of Spain is made up of a water body of the Atlantic Ocean called the Bay of Biscay.

Running right across the border between Spain and France is the Pyrenees, a 491-kilometer stretch of mountain from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. And lying in between Spain and France on the eastern part of the Pyrenees is the small nation of Andorra. The capital of this small nation of 468 square kilometers and 85,000 people is Andorra la Vella which lies at the highest-elevation among all European capitals, at a height of just over 1000 meters.

The western end of the Pyrenees is Basque territory.