World View: Former Syria Defense Minister Defects to Turkey

This morning's key headlines from
  • Russian landmark contest fiasco highlights widespread xenophobia
  • Defecting Syrian Army general may play transitional role

Russian landmark contest fiasco highlights widespread xenophobia

A contest intended to inspire patriotic good feelings in Russia has turned into political disaster, highlighting the mutual xenophobia between ethnic (Orthodox Christian) Russians and (Sunni Muslim) North Caucasians.

The nationwide "Russia 10" contest was launched in March with the purpose of selecting a symbol for the Russian Federation from a roster of architectural and geographic landmarks across Russia's nine time zones. Russian citizens voted online or by text message. The contest drew little attention until July, when a public relations campaign in the North Caucasus province of Chechnya, led by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, led to the "Heart of Chechnya Mosque" in Grozny shooting far into first place. The mosque received almost 40 million votes, even though Chechnya's population is only 1.3 million, because Russians were allowed to vote as many times as they wanted, and because Muslims all across Russia joined in. 

Well, this infuriated the ethnic Russian nationalists, who would find a mosque intolerable as Russia's national landmark, and who started an online “Anything but the mosque” campaign. Suddenly, in the last two days of August, another building, Kolomensky Kremlin (citadel) in Kolomna, suddenly received tens of millions of new votes, beating out the mosque by only 400,000 votes. Kadyrov is screaming "blatant fraud," and is demanding a refund of all the texting fees -- millions of dollars that the cell phone companies made in texting fees -- and has called for a boycott of the cell phone companies. The last round of voting will is still in progress, but so far, all the contest has done is highlight the growing hatred between ethnic Russians and North Caucasians. Jamestown and RFERL

Defecting Syrian Army general may play transitional role

Reports indicate that Syria's former defense minister General Ali Habib has defected to Turkey. He was dismissed as defense minister in 2011 when he broke with president Bashar al-Assad over the use of the military against civilian protesters. There are hints that the U.S. and the Russians are actually in agreement about something, namely that General Habib might play a role in a new Syrian government if al-Assad could be made to disappear. There have been numerous defections from al-Assad's government since 2011, but almost all of them have been Sunni Muslims. Habib's defection would be significant because he's a Shia/Alawite, so he could potentially represent the Alawite community in a deal to end the war. Hurriyet (Istanbul)

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