The Choices Blog

History and Current Issues for the Classroom

Tag: Middle East (page 1 of 2)

A Vote on Turkey’s Future

On April 16, Turkish citizens will go to the polls to vote on a package of constitutional amendments. The package proposes fundamental changes to Turkey’s parliamentary system of government—it would expand the powers of the presidency and dissolve the position of prime minister, among other changes. Public opinion is split on the referendum, and many pollsters hesitate to predict the outcome. Much of the debate surrounding the referendum draws on the country’s divisive leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many see the referendum as not simply a vote on Turkey’s system of government, but on the future of Erdoğan’s position as Turkey’s leader.

Erdoğan has been a central figure in Turkish politics for the past two decades. He was the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and a founder of the current ruling party, the AKP.  Erdoğan served three terms as prime minister, from 2003 to 2014. After reaching his term limit, he won the presidency in 2014. Many believe that he is the most influential Turkish politician in since Atatürk.

While Erdoğan is currently eligible for one more term as president, a “yes” vote at the polls on the April 19 referendum could pave the way for Erdogan to remain the country’s president for an additional term, through 2029.

The vote comes during a period of great change and uncertainty in Turkey. A recent string of terrorist attacks has claimed the lives of hundreds of Turkish citizens. The Syrian Civil War continues to unfold on Turkey’s doorstep. In the midst of the global refugee crisis, Turkey has accepted roughly half of the five million Syrians who have fled their home country. The decades-long conflict between government officials and Turkey’s Kurdish population continues.

Though Erdoğan has a loyal base of supporters, in recent years many Turkish citizens have challenged his government in a range of ways, from political organizing to widespread protests. Concerns about government corruption and growing authoritarianism sparked massive protests in Gezi Park in 2013. Last summer, an attempted military coup failed to oust Erdoğan. In its wake, while some citizens have rallied around the government and rejected the military’s attempt to intervene in politics, others have expressed concern that Erdoğan and his ruling party are seizing the opportunity to crush dissent and further consolidate their power. Individual’s views on these recent development may shape decisions at the ballot box on the 16th. In the video below, Brown University professor Stephen Kinzer describes how the Turkish government responded to the 2016 coup attempt.

 

Turkish Students Weigh In

In a recent interview in Taksim Square, Istanbul, New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley discussed the upcoming referendum with two students at Bagazici University—Mert Nacakgedigi and Dilara Arslan. Though they are good friends, the two students have starkly different interpretations about what the proposed constitutional changes would mean for their country’s future. While Dilara plans to vote in favor of the amendments, Mert will vote against them.

Interview by Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times.

Dilara

Dilara is double major in political science and sociology. She believes that the current parliamentary system has failed Turkey and hopes that a shift to a presidential system will bring stability to a country that has experienced political upheaval and tenuous parliamentary coalitions for decades. Dilara reminds viewers that, since the country’s founding less that one hundred years ago, Turkey has had more than sixty governments. She’s confident that the constitutional amendments will not only bring stability, but will also facilitate the consolidation of democracy in Turkey.

“I see it as a step towards democracy. Considering what the current government has done in favor of democracy in my opinion from the 2004 package of women’s rights to the economic liberalism over the past ten, fifteen years, I see this as just another step towards democracy.”

Dilara Arslan, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara applauds the ruling party’s efforts to expand freedoms for women that wear headscarves by lifting restrictions that had long kept kept veiled women out of public institutions like universities and government offices. She believes the constitutional changes will bring Turkey’s government more in line with many Western governments. She is concerned that foreign governments and international media sources have been encouraging people in Turkey to vote “no.”

Mert

Mert Nacakgedigi is a double major in political science and history. He expresses concern about the future of Turkey’s democracy and he warns that the amendments will demolish Turkey’s system of checks and balances. Mert says that people don’t feel free to openly oppose the proposed constitutional change, particularly those who work for or interact closely with the government. He’s unconvinced that the proposed changes will help address the challenges facing his country or offer any improvements to Turkey’s government.

“When I see the referendum…I only have one question. Do we need this referendum? Do we have a constitutional problem? [Is] our first problem a constitutional problem? I don’t think so.”

—Mert Nacakgedigi, Bagazici University student, March 24, 2017

Dilara and Mert emphasize that despite a climate of political polarization in their country, they’re able to respectfully disagree and remain friends. In many ways, they share a similar vision for their country—a desire for expanded rights and opportunities, a commitment to strengthening their democracy, and a hope that that Turkey will successfully address security concerns and the problem of terrorism. How a “yes” or ”no” vote on the referendum will shape the country’s future remains to be seen.

Interested in Teaching about Turkey?

Empire, Republic, Democracy: Turkey’s Past and Future traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the struggle for independence, and Turkish resistance against European imperialism. Students explore recent developments, such as the Syrian Civil War, the emergence of ISIS, the global refugee crisis, and the attempted military coup of 2016. In a culminating simulation, students grapple with the questions and challenges facing people in Turkey today.

  • What should Turkey’s democracy look like?
  • What role should religion play in Turkey’s government and society?
  • Should Turkey expand human rights and freedoms?
  • What role should Turkey play in the region and the world?

Banner image: Kristine Riskaer (CC BY 2.0).

Login to Learn—The Global Refugee Crisis: Where Do We Go from Here?

UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp - taken on on May 13, 2015

UNHCR Rwanda Mahama Camp – taken on on May 13, 2015

Login to a talk on the global refugee crisis with the Choices Program Leadership Institute, Friday, July 15, 1-2:30. Expert Madeline Campbell will discuss her work with refugees from Iraq and Syria at camps and communities throughout the Middle East, the confounding global circumstances, and strategies for addressing this growing crisis.

The UN reports that a tragic record of 65 million people have been displaced by global conflicts. It is urgent and increasingly important that we understand the issues surrounding global refugees as leaders worldwide search for solutions to the worsening Syrian crisis.

Campbell-madeline_100

Professor Madeline Campbell

Madeline Campbell is Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Worcester State University. She holds a BA and MA from Brown University and PhD from University of California, Davis.

Join Dr. Campbell for her talk at 1pm EDT, July 15.

Can’t make the live broadcast?  View it later on YouTube.

Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis

“I was just a mother taking care of her children and living in Homs…. I enjoyed life. One day I’d spend an evening with my friends, another day I’d go to a birthday party. That was our life…. Now it’s all gone.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

What does a ten-year-old boy, working alongside his father in a busy restaurant kitchen, think of the friends he left behind in Syria? How does a young man, who took up arms against the Assad regime at age seventeen, adjust to life with his injuries? How does a medical resident, facing repeated arrests for protesting, finally decide to flee? How does a mother and widow, caring for her children, volunteer to help others in her new community in Lebanon?

Choices’ free online lesson, Refugee Stories—Mapping a Crisis, gives students the opportunity to explore the human face of the global refugee crisis. Why do refugees leave their homes? What do they leave behind? What obstacles do they confront on their journey abroad? What is it like to build a life in a new country?

“I can’t describe what I felt. No one can…. We are people, not numbers. These 5,000 people waiting at the border wanting to cross, they didn’t come of their own free will. No one chooses to leave their home. Everyone has a reason.”
—Haifa, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

There are more displaced people today than at any time since World War II. As of 2014, nearly sixty million people had been forcibly displaced from their homes, about twenty million of them refugees. To introduce students to this topic, the lesson begins with foundational information—defining key terms and exploring data on the global crisis.

RefugeeDatasheet

Excerpt from the lesson handout, “Refugee and IDP Data Sheet.” See lesson for full data sheet.

The main activity allows students to read or watch individuals’ stories and creatively map their experiences. We’ve recently updated the lesson and incorporated a collection of video interviews by Al Jazeera—Life on Hold—featuring Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Syrians now make up a quarter of the population in Lebanon. These interviews are a powerful way to introduce students to the human dimension of the refugee crisis. We hope the lesson plan will help you address this topic in your classroom and help prepare your students to participate in the global discussion about responses to the crisis.

“I want my children to get an education…. I imagine Mashael and Mariam will achieve great things. Of course I have dreams. If you don’t have hope then life isn’t worth living.”
—Umm Ala’a, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

A sample of the student mapping activity.

A sample of the student mapping activity.

Can We Trust Iran?

“If the nuclear crisis is ever to get resolved, now is the time for it to get resolved.”

—Payam Mohseni, Director of Iran Project, Harvard University

With the deadline for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program drawing near, The New York Times put out a video today outlining what is at stake in the Iran negotiations.

 

What's at Stake in the Iran Negotiations

 

As the video makes clear, reaching a deal on Iran’s nuclear program is a challenge, and violence is a real possibility if the negotiations fail. Domestic politics in both the United States and Iran presents huge obstacles, as do conflicts and instability in numerous other parts of the Middle East. But the video seems to claim that the core issue facing U.S. negotiators is whether the United States can trust Iran (and vice versa—whether Iran can trust the United States).

Lesley University Professor Jo-Anne Hart, an expert in U.S. and Iranian security issues, takes issue with this claim. In this video interview with the Choices Program, she argues that international agreements are never based on trust.

 

[vimeo 104646589 w=500 h=281]

 

So which is it? Is trust the key ingredient to international relations or is it just an easy framework to latch onto when trying to understand exceedingly complex issues? What are the implications if we understand negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program as based on legally enforceable agreements instead of just on trust?

Choices has multiple curriculum resources to help students grapple with these questions. Our free online lesson Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue pushes students to explore, debate, and evaluate multiple perspectives on U.S. policy toward Iran and its nuclear program. In addition, we have just released a new edition of our full-length curriculum unit The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy, in which students analyze the history of Iran’s nuclear program as well as other pressing issues in the region, including the significance of oil, the rise of ISIS, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and instability in Yemen.

 

Yemen

The New York Times video reporting from the Middle East over the past few days has been terrific. This piece on the Houthi forces in Yemen is interesting and vivid, focusing on the experience of ordinary people as the country changes. The reporter includes two video “sidebars.” (You can access them simply by clicking in the video when they appear. One is on the role of women during the protests, the other is on the use of khat, a commonly used stimulant. ) For me the strength of reporting is how effectively it moves between laying out the big picture and connecting it to what is playing out amongst the people on the ground. I recommend watching it.

https://youtu.be/VnmLQse4-PQ

Our new edition of The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy covers what is happening in Yemen now and helps students to consider what role, if any, the United States should play there. Without question, the political situation in the region is incredibly dynamic and multifaceted; it will certainly pose new challenges for U.S. policy. The value of this kind of reporting is that it allows us to visualize what is often understood only in the abstract, for example, Yemen, Sunni, Shi’i, Houthi, and violence.  To my mind, the other value is that we see people in Yemen acting in and responding to the larger political forces at play. It helps to see things! I hope the Times keeps producing these kinds of smart, sophisticated pieces.

Scholars at the 2015 Leadership Institute

One of the highlights of our Leadership Institute is hearing from Brown University scholars.  This year’s scholar presentations will investigate both the recent history of the Middle East and multiple perspectives on current U.S. policy towards the region. Read on to see who will be joining us this summer.

Institute applications are due Monday, March 16th. 


Faiz Ahmed is an Assistant Professor of History at Brown University. He is currently working on a book about the drafting of the 1923 Afghan constitution and the role of Turkish and Indian jurists in establishing a modern legal regime in Afghanistan.  He holds a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law and a Ph.D. in the history of the Middle East with a focus on the “socio-legal” history of the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Afghanistan, from the University of California, Berkeley.  Ahmed is proficient in Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Urdu.


Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent and a Visiting Fellow in International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Kinzer spent more than twenty years working for The New York Times, primarily as a foreign correspondent. He was the Times bureau chief in Nicaragua during the 1980s and reported from Germany during the early 1990s. In 1996, he was named chief of the Times bureau in Istanbul.


Peter Krause is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston College. His research and writing focus on international security, Middle East politics, non-state violence, and national movements. He has published articles on the causes and effectiveness of political violence, U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, the politics of division within the Palestinian national movement, the war of ideas in the Middle East, and a reassessment of U.S. operations at Tora Bora in 2001.


linda-miller-lgLinda Miller is an Adjunct Professor of International Studies at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and Professor of Political Science Emerita at Wellesley College. Miller has published widely on U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, world politics, and European affairs in British, American, and Israeli scholarly journals.


petzenBarbara Petzen is the founder of Middle East Connections, which offers innovative, multimedia workshops to help teachers, students and community organizations undermine stereotypes, introduce multiple perspectives, and focus on complex understandings of the Middle East and Muslims.  Middle East Connections has a limited amount of grant funding to subsidize professional development workshops for educators.  Middle East Connections also creates and facilitates custom study tours to the Middle East, having led groups to Morocco, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and are happy to work with educators to create a meaningful tour that meets specific goals.


 

Read more about the 2015 Leadership Institute.

The United States, Iran, and Flipping the Coin on Nuclear Non-Proliferation

For many this November, anticipating the outcomes of soon-concluding nuclear negotiations with Iran seems impossible. The idea that we could only predict the resolution (or lack thereof) with a “coin toss” is complicated by this video by Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares fund.

This concept of the interdependence of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament brings new questions about the role of nuclear countries in ensuring that Iran does not gain nuclear weapons. The questions we have been asking so far of the U.S. government and other countries at the table have been about how to deal with the talks themselves (how to create a mutually beneficial and binding agreement, how to ensure that Iran keeps its commitments as a signatory of the NPT, what to insist upon or where to compromise). What has perhaps been lacking from the conversation are questions about how the United States and other countries with nuclear weapons can create a global atmosphere where nuclear non-proliferation makes nuke-less countries feel more (rather than less) safe. According to Cirincione’s portrayal of nuclear politics, this safety comes from the other side of the coin—disarmament.

Despite President Obama’s rhetorical commitment to nuclear reduction (his Nobel Prize award was marked for his “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons”), the White House has not effectively signaled to the rest of the world that the United States is taking any serious steps towards reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. In fact, the Pentagon recently announced it intentions of vast increases in nuclear spending. Most of this spending will be on improving the safety of nuclear equipment and training the security forces in charge of them, but the failure to attach reductions in nuclear arms to the expensive nuclear development plan means the measures signal something very different to the rest of the world.

In an article in People’s Daily (the official daily newspaper of the Chinese government), Wen Xian Wang Hongjie calls the program a “new policy on revitalizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent” and implies that it is linked to disappointments in the outcomes of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article ends cynically– “It is ironic that on the one hand the American government is taking vigorous action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, while on the other hand it is preparing for a complete overhaul of its own nuclear arsenal.”

The implications of these type of viewpoints are considerable. If the United States is not showing adequate commitments to nuclear reductions but is rather (in the eyes of many other countries) increasing its own nuclear armament, the prospects for wider disarmament and non-proliferation may be severely reduced. Regardless of the true intentions of the nuclear re-vamp, the fact that it was not linked to reductions in nuclear arsenals has led to many parts of the world perceiving the actions as projected increases in U.S. nuclear power. Cirincione’s coin flip, from non-proliferation to disarmament to non-proliferation and so on, can work in reverse. As nuclear powers like the United States are seen to be increasing their arsenals, their nuclear neighbors may do the same to maintain the balance of power, and non-nuclear countries in an increasingly nuclear world may face greater security pressure to develop nuclear weaponry.

As well as asking how the United States and other nuclear countries are using negotiations to keep Iran committed to non-proliferation, should we be asking what they have done outside of the negotiation room to make an agreement possible? Is it time to flip the coin?

 

Bring some of these questions into your classroom with Choices’ FREE Teaching with the News lesson, Good Atoms or Bad Atoms? Iran and the Nuclear Issue . The lesson features videos from outstanding scholars, Jo-Ann Hart, Trita Parsi, and Joe Cirincione and includes one of Choices’ hallmark Options Role Plays. View this and other Teaching with the News lesson plans here.

 

The TWTN lesson is a great supplement to these full-length units:

The Challenge of Nuclear Weapons

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Iran Through the Looking Glass: History, Reform, and Revolution

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The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy  (new edition coming soon!)

me 

Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall: A Course Made for Choices Materials

Blog Post by Choices Teaching Fellow Deb Springhorn

21st-century-skillsFor 30 years I have lamented the lack of time to teach the current global situation in the context of a world history course that is supposed to go from the prehistoric to the present in one year!  Given the global paradigm shift after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid shift again after 9-11, it has become even more imperative to prepare students for global citizenship by developing their understanding of complex global issues and instilling the disposition to see others as they see themselves.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons do just this.  The goal in developing the course, Global Issues Since the Fall of the Wall was to create an interdisciplinary, common core based course that would incorporate as many materials from the Choices Program as possible.  Beyond the Choices materials, students will read articles from a wide variety of journals and literature of several genres.  They will examine photographic images by James Nachtwey as a way of seeing themselves in such places Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda.

This year long course is divided into four units:

  • The New World [dis]Order of the 1990s: Nationalism, War, and Genocide
  • America After 9-11: The Single Story of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq
  • The Frustration and Hope of “The Arab Spring”
  • Globalization: Geopolitical, Environmental, and Economic Issues.

Each of the four units is organized around 21st Century Skills, reflecting the Common Core.  Choices Curriculum units and Teaching with the News lessons combine with the philosophical, literary, and artistic elements to provide students with an in-depth awareness of the complexities of the current global situation.

The web site for the course has unit overviews, detailed day-by-day plans, resource links, and annotated bibliographies of all the sources used for each of the units.  The attached document illustrates each of the four units with materials from the Choices Program  already incorporated in the first version of the course as well as others that will be added as the course continues to evolve.  The key literary works are listed as well to show the literary connections.

Update: Debating the U.S. Response to Syria

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it.”       —President Obama

Last night, President Obama addressed the American public on the topic of the crisis in Syria. After earlier calling for a vote in Congress on the use of targeted military strikes, he has now asked that Congress postpone their decision. With Russia pushing for Syria to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons, new diplomatic alternatives have come to the fore. The president made clear, however, that the future of these talks is uncertain. Other options remain on the table.

In Choices’ Teaching with the News lesson, Debating the U.S. Response in Syria, students explore different foreign policy options for addressing the conflict in Syria, and have a chance to articulate their personal views on what role the United States should play. What is the United States’ ultimate goal in Syria? Should we pursue military intervention, diplomatic measures, or let other countries take the lead on seeking a resolution? Students are encouraged to share their views not only with their classmates, but with their elected representatives and the president. Referencing individual letters he received in his speech, President Obama made clear that the American public is engaged and grappling with the issues in Syria. We hope students will join in the discussion.

 

Evolution of the Recent Conflict in Syria

aljazeera.com

Two years after popular demonstrations began, an estimated 70,000 Syrians have died and several million more have been displaced from their homes. As Brown University Professor Beshara Doumani remarks, “The optimism of the Arab Spring…has been replaced by the horror of protracted military conflict.” In this interview from the Watson Institute for International Studies, Professor Beshara Doumani, director of the Middle East Studies Program at Brown University, discusses the conflict with Emerson University Professor Yasser Munif.

Professor Munif explores the history of Syria in the region and the evolution of the recent conflict. Munif maps out major domestic and international players, explores the potential for political change, and envisions what conditions might bring about an end to the conflict. We recommend this interview for teachers, or advanced students that are familiar with the current state of affairs in Syria.

For a free online lesson that challenges students to explore the perspectives of domestic and international actors in the conflict, see The Conflict in Syria.

For more in-depth materials on the history of the region and the emergence of the Arab Spring, see The Middle East in Transition: Questions for U.S. Policy.


Beshara Doumani is a faculty fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies and director of the Middle East Studies program.

 

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