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Turkey’s current wishes

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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As early as January 11, 2016, even though we came to know it only in March, King Abdullah of Jordan stated in Washington that Turkey was deliberately exporting Islamic terrorists in Europe, after having “produced” them in Syria and on its national territory.

On that occasion the Jordanian king was not received by the US President, Barack Obama, but he clearly reaffirmed Turkey’s commitment to support Daesh/Isis both in Syria and in Iraq, as well as to export Islamist terrorism in Europe. He did so before an audience of influential US senators and journalists.

According to the Jordanian king, Turkey wants an “Islamist and radical” solution for the whole Middle East region.

Hence, not only on the basis of the statements made by the Hashemite king, the Turkish issue is the real keystone of the anti-jihadist strategy in the Greater Middle East.

On the other hand, Turkey itself has long been the major supplier of weapons and weapon systems to Daesh/Isis.

Turkey acts in particular through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are all controlled by the intelligence services MIT – and supplies are delivered by land or via the Euphrates river, by carefully mixing real humanitarian aid with weapons.

One of these NGOs is the Besar Foundation, led by a MIT man, D. Sanli, that in 2015 arranged over 50 convoys to supply weapons and victuals to the Turkmen jihadists of Bayirbukac and Kiziltepe, about 250 kilometres away from Damascus, either alone or jointly with another Turkish NGO, the Yilikter Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom.

The supplies were delivered through some checkpoints along the Turkish-Syrian border or, as already said, through waterways, particularly the Euphrates river.

Over the past two months, the weapons sent by Turkey to ISIS have been mainly TOW anti-tank missiles, RPG-7 mortars, several 7.62 mm M-60 machine-gunners, hand grenades and various tactical communication tools.

Moreover, at least according to the well-informed Russian military intelligence sources, Turkey has supplied Daesh/Isis with 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate, 450 tons of potassium nitrate, 75 tons of aluminium powder, large quantities of sodium nitrate, glycerine and nitric acid.

As is well-known, they are all primary components of explosives.

The funds provided to Besar apparently come from private financers, but actually belong to MIT special accounts.

Again in 2015, the NGO Yilikter organized over 25 convoys inside Syria, funded by Turkish, Middle East and European accounts managed in Turkey by the Kuveyt Turk and Vakif banks.

One of the Turkish NGOs involved in operations designed to support Daesh/Isis is IHH, the “Foundation for the Defence of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, explicitly backed by the Turkish government.

Since the beginning of hostilities in Syria, in 2011, IHH has sent to Syria 7,500 vehicles with weapons “hidden” and mixed with traditional military aid.

IHH receives funds from the Turkish State and from several private financers, that pass through the usual Ziraat and Vakif banks.

With a view to supplying weapons to ISIS, the Turkish secret agents manage the military depots in the border towns of Bukulmez and Sansarin, from which they take the weapons to be hidden and mixed with humanitarian aid.

Usually the Turkish weapons for Isis transit through the border crossing of Cilvegoezu, 530 kilometres south-east of Ankara.

The Turkish intelligence services support not only the “Turkmen” jihadists operating along the Western border – who, inter alia, are responsible for the shooting down of the Russian Sukhoi-24 aircraft and the rescue helicopter last January – but also Jabhat al Sham, the “Levant Front”, a jihadist group operating in the area of Aleppo, as well as the many other political and military movements which quickly come in and out of the large rassemblement of the Al Nusra Front, namely Al Qaeda Syrian “section”.

The Turkish private business companies linked to the government buy the goods produced in the Free Trade Zone of Mersin, along the Turkish Southern coast and ship them to ISIS.

With a view to avoiding border problems, the military products intended for Daesh/Isis are sent to companies registered in Jordan or in Iraq, with documents bearing the wording “transit through the Syrian Arab Republic” instead of the name of the receiver.

The Turkish customs offices concerned are in Antalya, Gaziantep and Mersin. Later the goods intended for the “Caliphate” transit through the crossings of Cilvegoezu and Oencuepnar up to reaching the areas controlled by Isis.

Hence President Erdogan’s project is clear: through Isis he plans to balkanize Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon and the whole region up to the Caucasus, so as to project the Turkish power from Anatolia’s border up to Central Asia.

It is the old Panturanic Islamist/neo-Ottoman temptation, which resumes backwards the route of the Turkish tribes arriving from Western Siberia up to the Mediterranean.

Obviously this implies denying any autonomy to the Kurds, whom the Turkish press called “the Turks of the mountains.”

Furthermore, it is worth adding that this is a perspective totally alien to the strategy of NATO, of which Turkey is the Member State having the second largest Armed Forces after the United States.

What does the NATO Secretary General – the young Norwegian Social Democrat leader Stoltenberg, appointed to that post in 2014 – have to say on this matter?

Born in 1969, can he remember when the German Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt “froze” – jointly with the conservative French President Giscard d’Estaing – the Italian military posts within NATO, in the phase in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) was entering the government coalition?

Does he think that the “sword jihad” is just a way to “topple Assad’s tyrannical regime” in Syria and bring there the famous two-party parliamentary democracy, which is so fashionable in the West?

Or do those who support the “Caliphate” think that the jihadists will easily obey Turkey’s orders or the orders of the other countries supporting them, after achieving their success on the ground?

Therefore, for Turkey, the goals to be reached by supporting Daesh/Isis, are those of a direct intervention on the Syrian territory, with the possible establishment of a large “Sunni district” as an area subjugated to Turkey.

Moreover, Turkey does not really want the great anti-Iranian area that Saudi Arabia plans to create in the Middle East, or at least it wishes it only as part of its pan-Turkish project stretching from the Mediterranean to Central Asia up to Xingkiang, the Turkmen region inside Communist China.

Nor does the Turkish government want to fully adhere to the Saudi geopolitics in the region, which would force it to submit to Saudi Arabia, thus taking it away from the European Union and the United States.

Hence Turkey’s use of Daesh/Isis implies the idea of a “controlled fire” in Syria and Iraq, that Turkey hopes it can target both against the Kurds and towards Iran’s future expansion area, which would be finally blocked by the collapse of Alawite Syria.

Therefore, currently the Turkish government operates to maintain its leadership in the region and create a corridor towards Central Asia, as well as conquer the Sunni area north of the Al Saud’s world and influence both the United States and the faint-hearted and foolish European Union.

Nor does Turkey want to entirely relinquish its own relations with the United States, despite the scarce use allowed of the Incirlik air base for anti-Isis operations and the Turkish army’s merely cosmetic actions against Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

Furthermore, controlling and manipulating migration flows to the EU enables Turkey to open and close the EU “valves” both for a future EU membership and as a financial and political blackmail against EU institutions.

Moreover, President Erdogan’s support to ISIS allows to support the Islamist electoral faction within the ruling party, namely AKP, against the still wide “secular” areas and mindful of Ataturk, the electorate and the Turkish ruling classes.

The trial against Ergenekon, the neo-coupist and secularist military network, ended in 2013 with the conviction of 275 people, including the Chief of Staff, Ilker Basbug, and the leader of the socialist “Patriotic Party”, Dogu Perincek.

Obviously if an Independent Kurdish State were founded in Syria and Iraq, the mass of Kurds in Turkey would feel entitled to follow suit.

The Kurds account for 10% of the total Turkish population, and they are almost all spread throughout the Eastern provinces, in close contact with their Syrian compatriots.

Hence Turkey maintains contacts with the United States (and not with the Atlantic Alliance, in which it is scarcely interested), which is a traditional ally of the Kurdish groups in Syria (that now sympathize more with Russia), so as to avoid the United States pushing for an Independent Kurdish State – and in that case Turkey could still use its good relations with Isis, as a sort of blackmail.

Moreover, Turkey is worried about the crisis in Ukraine and the Black Sea, which is one of its primary strategic points.

If tension mounted in that region, Turkey would be faced with two negative scenarios: the Russian (and Rumanian) power projection onto the Black Sea and the possibility for Russia to hold in check both the Turkish territory and its trade routes eastwards, which are key to Turkey’s Panturanic strategy.

Nor does Turkey wish to completely turn against Russia, from which it receives most of its oil and gas supplies which, however, are bound to double by 2020 as to oil and to quadruplicate as to natural gas.

And, indeed, the only rational source of supply is the Russian region, which will certainly make its weight felt and its voice heard if Turkey used the jihadist lever even further in the Syrian crisis.

Should the European Union be able to think strategically, these could be the issues at stake in the Syrian-Iraqi region.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Turkish Strengthened Parliamentary System

Muratcan Isildak

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“Corrected” or “enhanced” system of parliamentary debate, thoroughly sat on Turkey’s agenda in recent days. There are two reasons for this. First, it is unclear what, all from a single source power is collected, brought Turkey no balance-point of the current regime where there is no monitoring mechanism. Of democracy, of freedom, which abolished the rule of law, both inside and outside the war which, as all institutions of workers pouring connected to a single person, the economy of bottoming out, which is a record level of unemployment, inequality of well increase as a Turkey. Undoubtedly, the first step to get out of this darkness and tidy up the wreckage is to get rid of the one-man regime called the “Presidential Government System”. The question then arises of what kind of management system to replace. The second reason is the increasing signs that the MHP-backed AKP government is about to end. A transition period will begin after the end of AKP rule. But where is the transition? This question should be discussed and an answer should be sought.

The parliamentary system has led to the domination of the majority over the minority in Turkey. Since there are no mechanisms to prevent the executive from dominating the legislature, the power is meeting in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the ruling majority party. The end of the independence of the judiciary, the silencing of the press, the pressure on the opposition, the arbitrary administration all took place in the parliamentary system.

Such a new democracy changes the focus of politics. The subject of politics, political parties cease to be party heads, but become the people themselves. However, in order to create a grassroots popular movement, people need to unite within the framework of a project and not be a “mass”, but turn into a “people” that decide their future. Such “people” make decisions about their own problems and demand that governments implement these decisions. Such a people does not leave their future to the rulers, they take control of their future. Such a people becomes the engine of change in society, creates a libertarian, egalitarian, new society.

One of the most important features of participatory democracy is that it is based on equality. Equality in income distribution as well as in participation can be achieved in this way. We have seen the concrete application of this in the example of Porto Allegre in Brazil.

There are many different models of participatory democracy. These models cover a wide spectrum, from the budgeting powers of local units to different decision-making platforms. It is necessary to discuss these and, according to the results, the construction of local democratic institutions. 

However, no matter what model is adopted, participatory democracy has some unchangeable basic principles:

Participation is open to all who live in that place.

Participatory democracy institutions are independent from the state. The aim of the system is to realize a power sharing between representative democracy institutions and local democracy institutions. Representative democracy institutions will lose their power as they will transfer some of their powers to local institutions. 

But considering that representative democracy is not working well anyway, this weakening is not a loss for democracy.

Informing the public correctly. For this, there is a need for effective use of social media as well as the prevalence of freedom of expression and press in the country.

Participatory democracy leads to deepening democracy and creating a culture of participation. However, the main problem here is that the people adopt this culture with an active citizenship awareness. Successful pilot project implementations are required for this.

Let’s not forget that my imagination of the future determines what we will do now.

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Middle East

The Battle for Jerusalem: Turkey’s Erdogan stakes his claim

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t mince his words at this month’s opening of parliament. In his first assertion of a claim to a lost non-Turkic part of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Erdogan declared that Jerusalem is Turkish.

“In this city, which we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance. So Jerusalem is our city, a city from us,” Mr. Erdogan said.

He went on to say that “the current appearance of the Old City, which is the heart of Jerusalem, was built by Suleiman the Magnificent, with its walls, bazaar, and many buildings. Our ancestors showed their respect for centuries by keeping this city in high esteem.”

Mr. Erdogan was referring to the 16th century Ottoman sultan, a sponsor of monumental architectural development, who is widely viewed as having protected his Jewish subjects.

In July, Mr. Erdogan described that month’s return of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a sixth century Orthodox-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, to the status of a Muslim house of worship as paving the way for the “liberation” of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

Mr. Erdogan’s office released a month later a four-minute video clip suggesting that Turkey’s quest for leadership of the Islamic world was as much a military and nationalist endeavor as it was a religious drive. Laced with martial music, the clip meshed religious and Ottoman symbolism.  Entitled Golden Apple, the clip ended with a panorama view of Al-Aqsa.

The president, who embeds his often raw nationalism in a religious mantle, can have no illusion that Jerusalem would return to Turkish rule.

Yet, by putting forward his claim, Mr. Erdogan hopes to put his quest for leadership of the Muslim world on par with that of one Turkey’s staunchest rivals, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is home to Islam’s two most sacred cities, Mecca and Medina.

Rather than seeking to regain lost Ottoman territory, Mr. Erdogan is staking a claim to custodianship of Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount and Al Aqsa mosque compound that currently rests with a Jordanian-controlled religious endowment known as the Waqf.

The president escalated his rhetoric at a moment that the Palestine Authority has reached out to Turkey as well as Qatar in the wake of the normalization of relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and a series of statements by prominent Saudi and other Gulf leaders taking President Mahmoud Abbas’ administration to task for squandering opportunities for peace with the Jewish state.

Mr. Erdogan’s claim adds to Jordan’s worries that Israel, in the wake of the formalization of its ties to Gulf states, could support Saudi ambitions to join the Hashemite kingdom, if not replace it, as the holy site’s administrator.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s most widely read newspaper that is supportive of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, quoted an unidentified Arab diplomat as saying that Saudi funds were needed to counter Turkish influence in Jerusalem.

“If the Jordanians allow the Turks to operate unhindered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, within a matter of years their special status in charge of the Waqf and Muslim holy sites would be relegated to being strictly ‘on paper,’” the diplomat was quoted as saying in June.

Raed Daana, a former director of preaching and guidance at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Directorate, said in 2018, in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that Saudi Arabia had secretly invited Palestinian Muslim dignitaries in a bid to garner support for a Saudi role in the Waqf.

Mr. Daana attributed the secrecy in part to a refusal to accept the invitation by a number of Palestinian religious figures.

Jordan last year increased the number of members of the Waqf from 11 to 18 in a bid to give it a more a more Muslim rather than exclusively Jordanian  flavour and to fend off attempts by regional powers to muscle their way into the body.

The new members included officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestine Authority as well as figures with links to Turkey and Gulf states like Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, a former grand mufti of Jerusalem and Holocaust denier who has defended Mr. Erdogan’s militancy regarding Jerusalem; and Mr. Sabri’s successor, Muhammad Hussein, who had close ties to the United Arab Emirates until he last month barred Emiratis from visiting Al Aqsa in protest against the UAE’s recognition of Israel.

Mr. Erdogan has in recent years been laying the groundwork for his claim with millions of dollars in donations to local Islamic organizations as well as Turkish religious activists and pilgrims in Jerusalem whom Israel has accused of instigating Palestinian protests.

Turkey’s Directorate General for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), that is part of Mr. Erdogan’s office, lists Al-Aqsa as a site for the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage.

Israeli sources say Turkey’s cultural center in Jerusalem as well as a Turkish renovated coffeeshop two minutes from the city’s Western Wall that is adorned with Turkish and Palestinians flags as well as portraits of Mr. Erdogan and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II serve as a meeting point for activists and pilgrims.

“Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. It is encouraging welfare-religious (dawa) activities…aimed at drawing the Palestinian public toward the Turkish-Islamic heritage and at weakening Israel’s hold on the Old City and east Jerusalem,” said conservative Israeli journalist and analyst Nadav Shragai.

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Middle East

Kingdom’s journey from ultra-conservatism to ultra-modernism

Abdul Rasool Syed

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Saudi Arabia, currently, is undergoing a phenomenal metamorphosis; a country widely known for its ultra-conservative posture is now gradually moving towards liberalism. It is witnessing a remarkable transformation in its socio-economic-cultural contours. The kingdom, once influenced and controlled by orthodox clergy, did not let women come out of their domestic confines but, now, the situation has diametrically changed. It has allowed the womenfolk incredible latitude to not only come out of home but also to travel abroad independently. They are, thus, supposed to contribute to country’s socio-economic development by working shoulder to shoulder with men. Economy, too, is being diversified; the kingdom is jettisoning its chronic dependence on oil revenues and is moving towards rapid Industrialization. Acculturation, once regarded as taboo by Saudi society is now, being appreciated bit by bit.

The man, who masterminded this movement of colossal change, is none other than Crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS); He is the real catalyst that is working devotedly and diligently to improve his country’s image nationally and internationally. His ideology is described as nationalist and populist, with conservative attitude towards politics and a liberal stance on economic and social issues.

However, His style of governance came under severe stricture by journalistic community. He has been dubbed as “extremely brutal” by journalist Rula Jabrael and “authoritarian” by Late Jamal khashoggi. On contrary, his move to reform the country has been widely lauded and supported by Saudi populace.

Prince Mohammad is of opinion that his country has been severely harmed by traditional clergy that considered any reformative move as a sin and hence, has kept the country stagnant economically and socially. He emphatically stated at one occasion: “we are returning to what we were before, a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world. We will not waste 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideas. We will destroy them today.” He later added that Saudi Arabia “will remain committed to the principles “of Islam, “the religion of tolerance and moderation”. The kingdom “will keep on fighting against extremism and terrorism”—a message directly meant to counter the outrageous edicts released by leading clerics against anything they perceived a threat to Saudi society.

The crown Prince took the clergy as a great hurdle in the way of kingdom’s socio-economic development. He, therefore, trimmed its wings of power by stripping it of its policing powers. Instead, the government took the reins into its hands to guide the society. Now, with the passive and emaciated clergy, Prince is aggressively pursuing his agenda of reforms.

“Vision 2030” is the bedrock of Prince Mohammad’s scheme of socio-economic change. Under this vision, he is going to transform country’s economic physiognomy. Vision 2030 aims at steering Saudi’s economy towards more diversified and privatized structure. It expounds goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenue and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.

To this end, Bin Salman, in October 2017, at the inaugural conference of Future investment initiative in Riyadh, announced the plan for the creation of NEOM, a $ 500 billion economic zone to cover an area of 26000 sq km on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea cost, extending into Japan and Egypt.  NEOM aims at attracting investment in sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and advanced manufacturing.

 A project to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor was also announced by Prince Mohammad in November 2018. The kingdom aspires to build 16 nuclear facilities over the next 20 years. Efforts to diversify Saudi energy sector also include wind and solar energy.

Apart from this, a much awaited high-speed railway line connecting two holiest cities of Islam Mecca and Medina was inaugurated by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in last week of September 2018. The Harmain Express is 450 km line travelling up to 300 km/h that can transport around 60 million passengers annually.

In addition, before the outbreak of corona virus, in order to boost tourism industry, the kingdom started issuing e-visas to tourists. It  opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists.

Moreover, in 2016, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) shared the idea for “Green cards” for non-Saudi foreigners with Al-Arabia Journalist Turki Al-Dakhil. In 2019, Saudi cabinet approved a new residency scheme “Premium Residency” for foreigners. The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the kingdom.

Prince MBS is staunch proponent of women emancipation. He contends that dream of progress and sustainable development cannot be realized unless women become part and parcel of workforce. He, therefore, has brought about many reforms pertaining to the status of women in Saudi society.

For this very purpose, he allowed women to drive in the kingdom. Driving licenses are, therefore, being issued to women at a very fast pace; the number of women drivers on the road, according to Saudi officials, is expected to grow to 3 million by 2020. Further, Saudi women may now attend soccer matches and sporting events. Gyms and fitness centers for women are being established. They can also join the military and intelligence services. They are allowed to open their own business without male’s permission and to travel abroad independently without male guardian. In this very spirit, Saudi Arabia appointed its first woman to head Saudi stock exchange.

On entertainment side, Saudi government has established an entertainment authority that began hosting comedy shows, professional wrestling, live music concerts and monster truck rallies.

In April 2017, Prince MBS announced a project to build one of worlds largest cultural, sports and entertainment cities in AL-Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh. The plan includes a safari and a six flags theme park.

Additionally, cultural transformation of the kingdom is also underway. It held its first public concert by female singer in December 2017. And in January 2018, a sport stadium in Jeddah became the first in the kingdom to admit women. In April 2018, the first public cinema opened in Saudi Arabia after a ban of 35 years, with plans to have more than 2000 screens running by 2030.

This all became possible, when clerical hold over the kingdom was eviscerated. The orthodox clergy with its antiquated and rigid doctrines was the biggest obstacle in the way of progress and development of the kingdom. Addressing this issue, Prince MBS said that he aimed to have Saudi Arabia start “Returning to what we were before—a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.” He told the country’s clerics that the deal the royal family struck with them after the 1979 siege of Grand Mosque in Mecca was to be re-negotiated.

The crown prince believes that industrialization and wahhabism are mutually exclusive. The wahhabies are committed to fixed social and gender relationships. These are consistent with an economy built on oil sales, but industrialization requires a dynamic culture with social relations constantly shifting.

 Inter alia, Ayaan Haris Ali, a celebrated author and human rights activist claimed that if MBS “succeeds in his modernization efforts, Saudis will benefit from new opportunities and freedoms, and the world will benefit from curtailing Wahhabi radicalization agenda. A decade from now, the kingdom could look more like the UAE, its prosperous and relatively forward looking neighbor”.

In the end, I would like to quote Prince Mohammad bin Salman who while addressing to packed audience at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh said that Middle East can be the “New Europe” and that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his life time. He said: “his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe that the new Europe is the Middle East”. “Saudi Arabia in five years, he added,” will be completely different”.

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