The problem with looking for information on the Internet is that you can find exactly the answer you’re looking for. There is no shortage of opinions and whether you want an article telling you that your idea is the next best thing or something to avoid completely, the Internet will provide. It’s like a wonderful/nightmarish tool invented to perpetuate confirmation bias on a scale never before seen.
What’s worse is if you’re not looking for a particular answer at all because you won’t get one. You’ll just come away more confused than you were before you googled that question, lost in a sea of opinions with little way of knowing what to believe and what not to.
In 2009, amid seriously heightened tensions between Turkey and Israel, I performed an analytical study while at Columbia of each country’s air force in the context of a hypothetical Turkish attack on Israeli air force bases as a way of incapacitating the latter’s air defense capabilities. The conclusion of my analysis was that Israel’s air force was not only fully prepared to withstand a surprise attack by Turkey but that Israel’s firepower and superior training would lead to the total destruction of an attacking Turkish force.
You can read the study below but if you want to see the sources, you can visit the original document here.
Since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, it has enjoyed a special relationship with the West. This has been partly due to its prime geostrategic location, and it has been partly due to the intent of its founder, Mustafa Kemal, to reorient this remnant of the Ottoman Empire toward the western world. Over the years, this relationship has been extended to include military cooperation, leading to Turkey’s membership in NATO during the Cold War. As a result, Turkey’s military has been modernized to meet the specifications of NATO, making it one of the most advanced armed forces in the world.With the support lent to it by the West, there was an implicit agreement that Turkey would behave as a western country and, doubly, adhere to the secular principles established by Kemal. This had not been a source of concern for most of the latter part of the 20th century but, soon thereafter, in 2001, a change was nigh.
With the founding of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, there was a new rhetoric that was introduced into the national discourse – that of a moderate Islamist party that was soon to become the ruling party of the country and the voice of the over 70 million Muslims in the officially secular state. Initially, the AKP proceeded with caution, aware of the tenuous relationship of political parties with the country’s considerably strong military – a military which had intervened to, ostensibly, protect democracy from the increasingly authoritarian and self-aggrandizing policies of Turkey’s elected leaders. In a country where the idea of secularism was guarded as part and parcel of nationalist identity – according to the intention of the country’s founder, Mr. Kemal -, the founding and popularity of the AKP was a startling development that called for scrupulous monitoring, not least by the military, the self-appointed guardian of the Turkish republic.
The AKP party grew stronger with electoral victories but, more importantly, with policies that appealed to the masses. Most poignantly, in a significant shift from its typical posture, the parliament of Turkey narrowly rejected a U.S. request to allow its troops to use Turkey as a staging ground to enter Iraq. Although in Turkey this was viewed as an example of their functioning democracy, some in the U.S. considered it to be an unwelcome shift in the usually warm relations between the U.S. and Turkey, especially when it came to military issues.
Although a lull followed Turkey’s unusual behavior and the temporarily strained relationship subsided, a certain impatience seemed to progressively grip the country’s leaders. It may have had to do with what seemed to them as continuous and unfounded rebuffs by the European Union to Turkey’s attempts to accede to the bloc. Whatever it was and whatever was the cause, it resulted in a new image of Turkey and, seemingly, a new direction.
ISRAEL AND TURKEY
The relationship between Israel and Turkey has been exemplary since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two in 1949. Turkey, in fact, was the first majority Muslim nation to recognize Israel as a state. Since then, strong bonds have been formed and promoted through cultural exchange and general support of each other’s policy goals.
Along with this amity have come very close military ties between the two countries. Israel, after the establishment and maturation of its defense industry, has provided Turkey with weaponry produced in Israel and, with upgrades for its outdated equipment. For example, insofar as their air force is concerned, Turkey has received from Israel upgrades for its fleet of F-4E Phantoms, delivery of AGM-142 HAVE NAP “Popeye” air-to-ground missiles, and access to training in Israel. This is, of course, in addition to the immense military aid and trade coming from the United States. The whole of Turkey’s fighter jet fleet is comprised of the previously mentioned F-4Es and F-16s sold from the United States, with munition sales that followed. In all, Turkey has benefited greatly from its relationship with both Israel and the U.S.
With all this in mind, it certainly came as a surprise when the Prime Minister of Turkey and the head of the AKP party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, began to sound more like the leaders calling for Israel’s downfall than the leader of a friendly state. An eventful month began in January of 2009 when Erdogan stated that Israel should be barred from the United Nations so long as it continues its “savagery”. The statements were in light of Israel’s recent Operation Cast Lead, which was an attack on Hamas leaders and outposts in the Gaza Strip from late December of 2008 to 18 January 2009. About one and a half week later, while on a panel with Israeli president, Shimon Peres, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Erdogan fueled the drama by saying to Peres, “When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill”, and then storming off stage angrily, promising never to return. It was not the type of exchange many people were expecting between the leaders of two historically friendly nations. Nonetheless, Erdogan returned home to a hero’s welcome, fanning suspicion that it may have been a ploy to gain votes in an upcoming election.
Though the AKP party did well in those elections, the rift between Israel and Turkey seemed to grow. As the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was preparing to visit Israel in September of 2009, he abruptly canceled his trip as a sign of protest when Israel informed him that he would receive no assistance on behalf of Israel in entering Gaza while he was there. The following month, in October, Turkey suddenly uninvited Israel to an annual war-games exercise called Anatolian Eagle, which takes place in Konya, Turkey. The last-minute cancellation was, according to government officials, due to the possibility of Israeli aircraft being sent to the exercise that had been used in the Gaza operation earlier in the year. Once the Israel’s invitation was revoked, the U.S. canceled its plans to attend, in solidarity with Israel and, it seems, as a sign of its disapprobation of Turkey’s newfound audacity.
Disagreement over Israel’s treatment of Gaza and Gazans is obviously the focal point of the row between Turkey and Israel. But, in December of 2009, Erdogan extended the dispute and added Iran to the equation, saying that if Israel used Turkish airspace for reconnaissance missions on Iran, it would have a reaction like an “earthquake”. Extrapolating from this statement, I use it as an indication of the lengths to which Turkey is willing to go in order to prove its seriousness in its criticisms of Israel. Because of the heavy rhetoric having to do with Gaza, I will assume that military action against Israel will have to do with helping Gaza. Accordingly, this analysis will focus on the ability of Turkey to attack Israeli air bases in order to destroy Israeli Air Force (IAF) aircraft and render them useless to prevent any future attack in the near-term on Gaza.
I will first explain which air bases in Israel will be targeted, and why. This will be followed by an illustration of how an attack may be organized. Then, I will discuss the weapons that will be needed to achieve the objective of destroying the Israeli aircraft. Next, Israel’s defense capabilities will be discussed, especially its air force’s air defense aircraft. Finally, combat scenarios will be considered, followed by my conclusions.
An air attack by Turkey would have to focus on two types of Israeli targets: first, attack-ready air force squadrons with proximity to Gaza – the bases from which attacks on Gaza would likely be launched. Second, air defense and combination air defense and attack squadrons throughout the country that would be dispatched to neutralize an imminent Turkish air attack. Because of Israel’s relatively small size – approximately 262 miles from the northernmost to the southernmost point – the capabilities of air force bases throughout the whole country to threaten either Gaza or attacking Turkish jets must be considered. There are six air bases in total – Hatzerim, Ramon, Hatzor, Nevatim, Ramat David, and Tel-Nof – which will be considered for attack.
Israel’s attack squadrons closest to Gaza are located at Hatzerim and Ramon. At Hazterim are stationed the 69th Squadron of F-15Is and the 107th Squadron of F-16Is. Ramon, approximately 32 miles southeast of Hatzerim, has three attack squadrons: two F-16I squadrons, the 201st and the 253rd and, one AH-64 Apache attack helicopter squadron, the 190th.
Two other bases, at Hatzor and Nevatim, have either dual-purpose attack and air defense or dual-purpose attack and SEAD squadrons. Hatzor is where the 101st Squadron of F-16Cs and, the 105th Squadron of dual-purpose and attack F-16Ds are stationed. Nevatim is where the 116th and 140th squadrons of F-16A attack and air defense fighters are located.
Being the next closest base to Gaza – and considering the battle preparedness of the 101st and 105th squadrons – Hatzor would be an important target for a Turkish attack. This has to do mostly with the primary objective of removing Israel’s ability to stage an offensive against Gaza but, Hatzor’s squadrons’ dual role as air defense components that could be dispatched to counter a Turkish attack cannot be discounted by a Turkish plan. For much the same reason, the base at Nevatim, which is located east of Hatzerim, could be where F-16s could be dispatched to intercept enemy jets en route to either Hatzerim or Ramon. Based on these facts and assumptions, Turkey would necessarily have to disable these four bases in any potential attack.
The IAF bases at Ramat David and Tel-Nof are where Israel’s dedicated air defense squadrons are located. Ramat David, in the north of Israel, houses the 109th and 117th squadrons of F-16Cs and, the 109th Squadron of F-16D SEAD and attack-ready jets. Tel-Nof, 7.5 miles north of Hatzor, is where the 106th Squadron of F-15Cs and the 133rd Squadron of F-15As are located.
The significance of the squadrons at Ramat David and Tel-Nof is the likelihood that they will compromise the Turkish attack mission. Therefore, these bases would be added to the list of targets in order for the attack to be able to take place.
Additionally, there are two attack helicopter squadrons, the 161st of AH-1 Cobras at Uvda and, the 160th of AH-1s at Palmahim. Although this type of attack helicopter was used during Operation Cast Lead and would likely be used again, it is unlikely that a full-scale attack on Gaza would – or could – be waged just with AH-1 helicopters, especially considering the IAF’s tepidity in regard to them after an accident that killed two Israeli soldiers.Also, these attack helicopters would be mostly ineffective in a battle against fighter jets, providing another reason they should not be a priority in any Turkish attack.
In the course of the attacks planned on the Israeli bases, the main objective for Turkey would be to destroy any unsheltered attack jets that might be used to carry out sorties against Gaza. Although in reality Turkey might also consider bombing runways at the air force bases, this analysis will be based on destroying Israeli aircraft because if during an attack a choice had to be made, destroying the planes would better serve the objectives of Turkey. The reasoning behind this is that, although the runways would prevent Israeli planes from taking off for a period of time, the damage is more easily correctable, and less expensive, than the replacement of multi-million dollar jets. So, taking a long-term view, removing Israeli attack and defense jets from commission should be the preferred action.
As is obvious when considering the number of targets in Israel, the Turkish Air Force will have to expend a great deal of resources to accomplish its objectives. There are 9 combat-capable squadrons, with four of them being dedicated attack squadrons, in Turkey. The location from which the attack on Israeli bases is launched will depend on the location of those attack squadrons. Based on the number of targets, the attack will have to be launched from more than one base.
Turkey has two fighter jets, and their variants, that can carry out the mission: the F-4E Phantom II and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Two F-4E 2020 Phantom II squadrons, the 111th at Eskisehir and, the 171st at Malatya-Erhac, are the only F-4Es that are dedicated attack aircraft.
The remaining seven combat-ready squadrons are wholly comprised of F-16Cs. Six of these squadrons – the 161st and 162nd at Bandirma, the 181st and 182nd at Diyarbakir, and the 191st and 192nd at Balikesir – are of the 40-block variety. The sole remaining squadron, the 141st at Akinci, is of the 50/52-block variety.
An attack on the northern base of Ramat David should come from either Malatya-Erhac, which is approximately 430 miles away or, Diyarbakir, which is 460 miles away. If the attack originates at Malatya, F-4E 2020s would be sent but the short combat radius of these aircraft would require refueling at some point during the attack mission. Because of the strong possibility of engagement by Israeli fighters somewhere along the way, resulting in a deviation from a direct attack route, the range of the F-4E does not make it an ideal choice for such a mission.
Conversely, the F-16C Block 40 squadron at Diyarbakir should have a much longer combat radius. Although there is no information specifically on the Block 40, the newer F-16C Block 50, with two 2,000-pound bombs, two Sidewinders, conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), and 1,040 US gallon external tanks, has a radius of 845 miles. The same configuration with 1,464 US gallon external tanks has a radius of 972 miles. Further, if the F-16s were to drop the fuel tanks when empty, it would presumably increase the range of the aircraft, as the weight would be lowered. I assume here that the combat radius of the Block 40 is comparable to that of the Block 50. Therefore, I will carry on with the assumption that the attack on Ramat-David will come from Diyarbakir.
As for the attacks on Tel-Nof, Hatzor, Hatzerim, and Ramon, the Turkish jets should come from Akinci Air Base on the southwestern coast of the Mediterranean. The distance from Akinci to Hatzor is 487 miles and from Akinci to Ramon, it is 535 miles. Because the distance from Hatzor to Tel-Nof is less than 10 miles, I have excluded the calculation from Akinci to Tel-Nof. Also, because Nevatim Although this is over the combat radius of the Turkish F-16s, I will assume that it will give them more than enough leeway to carry off the mission, possibly deal with Israeli air defense fighters and, if the mission is completed, to be refueled along the way.
Turkey’s KC-135 refueling jets are located at Incirlik air base, ideally located for the F-16s en route from Diyarbakir to be refueled along the way, in the airspace over Iskenderun. Likewise, the KC-135 may be deployed to refuel any Turkish jets that are heading back to their bases.
Turkey has a limited number of air-to-surface missiles it can use to achieve its objectives. This may be due to what is only a recent move by TuAF to develop capabilities to operate in enemy territory, while establishing and maintain air superiority over Turkey. Despite lacking a grand arsenal, the TuAF has advanced weaponry it can employ to achieve the objective incapacitating grounded jet fighters.
Of the munitions available, the AGM-154/B – the Air Force variety – seems it would be the most ideal to complete the objective of the Turkish air strike as it is comprised of submunitions that will cover a larger area. The AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW), a 480 kg unpowered, winged glide bomb with Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and International Navigation Systems (INS), is designed to be launched outside the range of enemy air defenses. From high altitudes, it has a stand-off range of 65 km (approximately 40 miles), which would allow Turkish jets to launch their weapons without being directly over the target site.
The AGM-154 is a cluster bomb and thus, within its body are contained six BLU-108/B bomblets, each with 4 Skeet warheads. This works out to each AGM-154/B carrying 24 Skeet submunitions.
Assuming that each F-16 can carry four (4) AGM-154/Bs, each weighing 480 kg, or about 1058 lbs., they would be carrying 4,232 lbs., in line with the previously stated weight assumption from which I calculated the combat radii of the attacking jets. Thus, each plane would have a total of 96 Skeet submunitions contained within it.
According to a study by Dr. Austin Long, the circular error probable (CEP) of a GPS munition is roughly comparable, or better, than an unguided bomb, whose CEP is between 8 and 12 meters. Based on this information, I will assume that the GPS-guided BLU-108s have a CEP of 10 meters. Information from Textron System, the manufacturer of the BLU-108 submunition, reports the weight of each Skeet warhead to be no greater than 7.5 lbs. I will assume that the weight of the warhead is 75% explosive and 25% mechanical parts. Thus, my calculation will be based on 5.6 lbs. of explosive being in each Skeet warhead.
Soft targets, such as aircraft, do not require large overpressure to create significant damage. Therefore, 5 pounds per square inch (psi) of overpressure should be enough to render an aircraft inoperable. According to the graph above, the distance needed for a 1 lb. explosion to cause that much damage is approximately 8 meters. Based on a cube-root of the 5.6 lbs. of explosive of 1.22, the lethal radius (LR) of the warhead comes to 9.8 meters, which I will approximate to 10.
This suggests that if the bomb is deployed over the target, it will be successful in destroying the aircraft.
Because there is no information to be found on the number of planes in each Israeli attack squadron, I will assume, based on U.S. Air Force organizational data, that each squadron contains 24 planes. This means the following amount of jets will be at the following air bases: Ramat-David, 72 F-16s; Hatzor, 48 F-16s; Hazterim, 24 F-15Is and 24 F-16Is; Tel-Nof, 48 F-15s; Ramon, 48 AH-64Ds and 72 F-16s; and, Nevatim, 48 F-16s. Also, I proceed with the assumption that these aircraft are unsheltered, therefore calculations on the bombing of hardened facilities in which the aircraft might be stored were not performed. This is primarily due to the scant availability of information about the store procedure for Israeli aircraft.
The graphic above illustrates what type of munitions might be needed to destroy a field of 96 F-15s spaced out as such. The above assumes that “the small filled circles represent the lethal areas of each individual 1-pound bomblet from the missile warheads” and that “the submunitions are dispensed with roughly 20 feet between the outer limits of each bomblet’s lethal radius.” Making the same assumptions, if Skeet warheads were to replace the 1-pound bomblets, two AGM-154s should be able to easily destroy all the aircraft.
Only the airbases at Ramon and Ramat-David have a comparable number of aircraft as the one in the example above – 120 and 72, respectively. With the objective of completely destroying all aircraft in a situation that none are in operation and have been parked on the ground, two AGM-154s for each squadron should suffice. There being 15 Israeli squadrons that Turkey would want to attack, a total of 30 AGM-154s would be necessary. With each attacking Turkish F-16 being able to carry four of the bombs, at least 8 F-16s with bombing capability will be required.
Moving forward with the expectation that Turkish jets will be met by Israeli resistance, especially in the form of air defense fighters, each Turkish jet carrying bombs will have two escorts armed solely with air-to-air missiles. The air-to-air capabilities of the Turkish escort F-16s will be made up of short-range AIM-9s Sidewinders and medium-range AIM-120A AMRAAM missiles. The Sidewinder if an infrared (IR) homing guided missile is used for close-range air combat with targets having to be in visual range. The AIM-120A, a radar guided, beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile has a range of 50 km and would be used once incoming aircraft have been detected by the Turkish jets.
As for the bases, the attack on Ramat-David from Diyarbakir will require six Turkish F-16s. The remainder of the attacks would require the following Turkish formations: Hatzor, Hatzerim, Tel-Nof, and Nevatim would need one bomber and two escorts each; Ramon would require two bomber jets and four escort jets. Assuming a Turkish Air Force squadron is composed of 24 jets, these 18 attacks jets may be launched from the Akinci air base from its 141st squadron of F-16C-50s.
I assume that the attack mission to each base is a separate group of F-16s (i.e. no group is responsible for bombing more than one base). The reasoning behind this is that it will allow Turkey a greater likelihood of success if their jets were not playing a dual-role. That is to say, the dedicated escort jets will have a greater ability to dogfight with Israeli jets if they are not carrying bombs and will be at a greater liberty to do so without compromising the mission because of the limited combat radius of the jets with a full payload. That said, the bomber jets will be armed with two Sidewinder missiles each so they are not wholly dependent on the escort jets, especially in case the latter are shot down. Assuming a Turkish Air Force squadron is composed of 24 jets, these 18 attacks jets may be launched from the Akinci air base from its 141st squadron of F-16C-50s. This brings the total number of Turkish fighter jets attacking Israel to 24.
If all these missions reach their destination and drop their AGM-154s, there is a high likelihood that nearly all targeted Israeli jets will be destroyed.
ISRAELI DEFENSE CAPABILITIES
Israel’s Air Force, the IAF, is reputed as being the most advanced air power in the Middle East, and possibly one of the best in the world. Besides its formidable air force aircraft, it also depends on the Air Defense Corps (ADC), a ground-based force which includes surface-to-air missiles capable of intercepting incoming aircraft and ballistic missiles.
Incoming Turkish aircraft would undoubtedly be detected by Israeli radars although there may be some confusion about whether it is actually an attack mission. After verification of the nature of the Turkish attack aircraft, a decision will have to be made about how to use Israeli air defense capabilities to neutralize the attack. I postulate that the Israeli response will likely initially focus on destroying the Turkish jets by launching Israeli air defense F-15s and F-16s to engage them. My reasoning behind this is that once Israeli realizes the force with which Turkey is approaching, they will not want to waste any time with targeting and launching anti-aircraft missiles, with the possibility of failure. From an Israeli perspective, it would not be clear what the intention of the Turkish jets is and they may be headed for civilian populations, as well. Therefore, I believe they would prefer to engage Turkish aircraft directly, rather than depending on the questionable accuracy of surface-to-air missiles.
The IAF squadrons charged with air defense are located at Ramat David, Hatzor, Tel-Nof, and Nevatim. In fact, as previously mentioned, Ramat David and Tel-Nof are where dedicated air defense squadrons are located and why there will be Turkish directed toward them. Launching aircraft from Ramat David, Hatzor, and Tel-Nof should suffice, especially as Nevatim is considerably more inland.
Since Israel has many aircraft available to it, I believe it will send as many as it deems necessary to completely prevent an attack from taking place, without leaving anything to chance. With this in mind, I envision Israel sending at least two of its fighter jets to engage each Turkish fighter jet. According to this calculation, 48 Israeli jets would be sent, 12 from Ramat-David and the remainder will be a mix from Hatzor and Tel-Nof.
Although Israel has a wider array of missiles at its disposal, primarily because of the advanced state of its domestic defense industry, they will also likely be equipped with the same air-to-air missiles as Turkey: AIM-9 Sidewinders and AIM-120 AMRAAMs. The other missiles in their arsenal, the variations of the Python missile and the Derby missile, all have ranges which fall within the capabilities of the Sidewinder and AIM-120. Therefore, I will not recognize any differences between them here and assume that the AIM missiles are equal, or superior, to the Israeli-produced ones.
The important consideration here is that there are many advantages that Israel will have. First, its fighter pilots are considered to be among the best in the world, due to the training that they receive. Second, as none of the Israeli fighters are flying bombing missions, their F-16 and F-15 jets will be solely armed with air-to-air missiles. This may not seem like a great advantage considering that there are the Turkish escort jets commissioned with protecting the bombers. But, the IAF has at its disposal the F-16I and F-15I long-range fighters. This would suggest that the Israelis can outlast the Turkish fighter jets, possibly causing them to retreat without having to shoot them down because of fuel considerations. Finally, the IAF will undoubtedly have all of its jets on standby, ready to be deployed to assist any of the ones that are already up in the air; there can be a constant stream of Israeli fighters engaging the Turkish attack aircraft.
For this last reason especially, there is no way for Turkey to successfully achieve its objective of destroying Israeli attack aircraft at Israeli air bases. This is because, despite the superiority of the Israeli fighter pilots, even if the Turkish escort planes were able to shoot down some of the Israeli jets that had engaged them, there would be numerous IAF aircraft behind them for support. Just to indulge in fantasy for a moment, in the very unlikely event that Turkish pilots were able to shoot down every single Israeli jet that came to neutralize them in the first attempt, there would still be 288 Israeli combat-ready planes, only from the bases that Turkey was planning on attacking, that could be launched against them.
As a matter of reality, it is impossible for the Turkish Air Force to in any way threaten Israeli air bases or aircraft, without being wholly destroyed in the process.
Although Turkey may be inclined to resort military action as a more definitive method of proving to Israel its seriousness about the rhetoric coming Ankara, this analysis suggests that it may be best for it devise a strategy not involving the military or, at least, not the Turkish Air Force. There is no doubt that the Turkish Air Force is one of the best in the region but, compared to the Israeli Air Force, its shortcomings become stark.
There are certainly more military options available to Turkey that may increase the chance of success during a confrontation with Israel. However, this analysis indicates that the effort by Israel to develop its defense mechanisms into a formidable force that is best not to be reckoned with has worked, at least insofar as Israel’s regional prowess is concerned.
Thus, based on this matchup between the region’s two strongest forces, it has become clear that Israel is by far the superior air power and possibly, by extension, the region’s strongest military. The latter statement is subject to another study but that would require an implication that Turkey is considering a battle on the seas or on the ground. As of now though, if Turkey insists on fighting a war with Israel, it is in its best interest to do it with words.
These were some thoughts I had on what was happening in the UK following the #Brexit vote:
I’m not an expert in British politics but this is what the latest #Brexit news looks like to me. It’s interesting that Gove, a Cameron-appointed minister who himself said he couldn’t be prime minister, has put himself in the running.The Leave side is reeling from Cameron calling their bluff on holding a referendum and then promptly putting the burden of dealing with the whole mess in the lap of his successor. Johnson either didn’t expect to win and he’s cravenly withdrawing now after leading a campaign that will wildly alter his country’s future or Gove was co-opted by Cameron to torpedo Johnson’s bid for the premiership (which depended heavily on his ally Gove) to which Johnson responded with his own maneuver by dropping out and putting the ball in Gove’s court. If Gove wins, he has to deal with the Brexit business with the divided party which he helped further divide. He also won’t have Johnson’s charisma at his disposal. I’m not convinced Gove is convinced of an EU exit and the other major candidate for premier, May, campaigned to Remain and although she said Brexit means Brexit, she also said invoking Article 50 should be delayed until the end of 2016. A lot can change in half a year, especially with the evident unwillingness of anybody to take full ownership of what they purportedly wanted. If either Gove or May balk and don’t go through with it, Johnson tries to ride in on a populist wave promising to do the will of the people. If either actually goes through with it, it’s hard to imagine the transition will be very smooth which Johnson may be calculating would be an opportunity for him to reenter the arena as the savior.
One other possibility: the Tories, both Leave and Remain sides, got together and realized the pandering of some in their party that led to the referendum was not what they really wanted or, in their estimation, what’s best for the country, so they created a ruse which will stall Brexit. If it’s the latter, Gove wins the leadership position and bears the cross of whatever they choose as the way to either nullify or ignore the vote.
This Armenia Fund project found a simple solution to a complex problem, and now some farmers in Tavush are no longer literally seeking greener pastures in other places – they are tending their own.
If you’ve visited the Tavush region in Armenia, you wouldn’t think that you need help to grow anything there. The region is among the country’s lushest areas, spectacularly beautiful and spectacularly green; its hillside forests are neatly arranged like the densest cauliflower.
So why did Armenia Fund decide to build ten greenhouses in the villages of Gandzakar and Ditavan in Tavush?
The answer is scale.
After the privatization of land in the early 1990s, the farmers who had worked the local cooperative farms were each given plots of their own. What they soon discovered was that their plots of land were too small to yield the produce they needed to make a living.
Farming was so unproductive in Tavush that some of the produce in its regional center Ijevan was brought from the Ararat Valley, over 90 miles away. Unable to have a sufficient level of income and teetering on poverty, farmers were choosing to leave the country.
That’s where the greenhouses came in.
In the first stage of the project, Armenia Fund teamed up with the Government of Italy to build 15 greenhouses in Lusadzor, also in the region. The impact was tangible.
So, for the past 6 years, in the second stage of the project, Armenia Fund has been working in Gandzakar and Ditavan to improve the yields of crops and produce a steady stream of income that will help locals stay rather than leave to find work elsewhere.
Part of a more extensive rural development program that has developed infrastructure from building healthcare and community centers to building irrigation systems to bring drinking water to villages, greenhouses are but one component of the larger Armenia Fund objective of making rural life in the border villages of Armenia livable and sustainable.
Not much more than an aluminum shell with plastic covering, greenhouses are exceptionally useful for such simple structures. In most cases, a plot with a greenhouse has double the productivity than one without.
And because Tavush is fortunate to have a climate and soil makeup that makes it easier to grow a variety of cash crops, the greenhouses have been a godsend. Peppers, tomatoes, greens, and strawberries bloom prolifically in the rich soil – and the greenhouses make them profitable to grow. So much so that farmers with the greenhouses are able to harvest crops twice a year instead of just once.
Considering the huge impact they have on crop productivity, greenhouses are relatively low-cost, costing about $5000 a piece. As a way of promoting ownership and encouraging the most committed farmers to apply to receive greenhouses, Armenia Fund asks that farmers invest 10% of the cost of the structure, in line with the international standard of co-financing agricultural projects. After the applications are in, the farmers who will receive greenhouses are chosen by lottery to ensure fairness in the selection process.
Given the successes in Gandzakar, Ditavan, and Lusadzor, there are plans to expand the program into the other parts of the region and beyond.
This piece was written for Armenia Fund and was originally published here on April 13, 2014.
Just 12 miles from the front lines of a war zone, Drakhtik’s name, meaning “little heaven,” seems like it might describe better times in the past or hope for the future. But this village in the Hadrut region of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) Republic, despite its circumstances, is living up to its name.
At least that’s what the numbers suggest: Drakhtik has a growing population.
Spurred by the village’s agro-machinery industry – an initiative to develop agriculture in the region – its residents are staying put instead of going elsewhere to find work, helping not only the population to grow but the economy, as well.
Most of the adult residents in this village of 430 work in agriculture and animal husbandry, putting to good use the storied fertile lands of Artsakh to contribute to the newly reborn country’s economic development.
Drakhtik and its neighboring villages in this integral border region saw heavy fighting during Artsakh’s war for independence and in 2006, Armenia Fund began building the agro-machinery park to help stimulate the local economy.
Coupled with the hardworking village population, growth has been on a steady incline. But, with this welcome progress, Drakhtik had to confront an unenviable problem: it had no kindergarten.
Not since 1988 did the community’s youngest school-age children have a place to go to school. Damaged during the Artsakh War, the old kindergarten was torn down after the ceasefire and was never rebuilt.
Although some of the children would attend class in a spare room of a newly constructed school building, that room was not built to the standards of a modern kindergarten facility.
This is where Armenia Fund came in.
Besides being the site of the agro-machinery park built there, Drakhtik is a familiar place for Armenia Fund. The village sits along the North-South Highway, known as the Backbone of Artsakh for its role in helping connect villages, towns, and cities, and acting as the main trade artery. The highway was financed through Armenia Fund by Armenians all over the world.
The strategic village has also been the beneficiary of other construction projects including a community administration center that comprised a healthcare facility, maternity ward, library, and computer center, along with a water main project that brought water to the village.
Based upon a history of fruitful initiatives in Drakhtik, Armenia Fund undertook the project of building a kindergarten. It constructed a modern kindergarten facility in Drakhtik, complete with classrooms, playrooms, and administrative and staff offices for the dedicated personnel at the school.
The new kindergarten was also outfitted with all the wares one might expect in any high-quality learning facility for young children, replacing the inadequate furniture found in the previously used classroom.
Able to accommodate 100 students, the kindergarten does not yet have that many youngsters in attendance. But, it was with Drakhtik’s burgeoning population and economic development in mind that Armenia Fund constructed the building, planning for a bright future.
The way things look, they will need it.
This piece was written for Armenia Fund and was originally published here on March 19, 2014.
Karvachar, a town that had no running water is where Armenia Fund built a brand new distribution network that now provides the town with safe drinking water 24 hours a day.
It’s early Saturday morning. You walk over to the sink and start brushing your teeth. The cool water you splash on your face gives you a little jolt and opens your eyes. You’re awake.
Showers are always better on the weekend. No rush, just a relaxing time before continuing a day of leisure. You walk to the kitchen, thinking about what hot drink you want to start your day with. Then you see you see a steaming mug of coffee and a pot of hot tea – somebody at home has made both. Coffee first.
The cup of joe in your hand, you venture outside and turn on the hose. The trees, grass, and flowers need watering. You want to make sure your grass is green for this summer’s barbeques and you want your trees to bear more apricot and pomegranate than last year.
Everything you’ve done so far has required water. And it’s not even noon yet.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. That’s 400 individual gallon bottles a day and 2,800 gallons per week.
Until recently, the town of Karvachar, in Artsakh’s northwest, had no running water. The families there certainly do not use as much water as those in America but they have the same basic needs. And although the region will soon be the beneficiary of increased trade because it sits along the Vardenis-Martakert Highway being constructed by Armenia Fund, it is the most underdeveloped part of Artsakh and was heavily affected by the War for Independence.
Without running water, families need to collect water they’re going to use from either a pump or a well. The water might then be stored in improvised home reservoirs, usually using household trashcans that hold about 32 gallons.
Even if this was enough water to drink and to cook food, there isn’t enough to bathe or shower, making interfamily sickness more likely. That aside, these crude reservoirs are not subject to treatment like water that comes out of a faucet. In fact, the makeshift reservoirs are likely to turn into stagnant pools that become breeding grounds for different types of waterborne sickness that can be passed to people who come in contact with it.
Not being able to brush your teeth or take a shower are hygienic issues that could have serious consequences over time. But to not have clean drinking water available is a central issue that has a significant negative impact on public health, particularly children.
Lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation is so important that it forms an integral part of United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s Five-Year Action Agenda. Waterborne illnesses and disease affect millions of people a year and they are often due to contaminated water. That’s why the UN, the World Health Organization, and others have made increasing access to clean water to populations around the world a top priority.
Knowing the importance of clean water and the hugely positive impact it would have on sanitation, hygiene and, public health, Armenia Fund chose to build a brand new water distribution system in Karvachar that would serve its 570 residents. The water supply system, which cost over $400,000, includes 5 miles of pipes that connect to the town’s 120 households. Two reservoirs, with a combined capacity of 26,400 gallons, were also constructed to help regulate distribution and ensure that the flow of water is consistent. Residents now have round-the-clock water that comes directly to their homes.
While it’s unlikely that anyone in Karvachar will be taking leisurely 20-minute-long showers or watering a rose garden, everyone in the town will now have access to the basic human right of safe drinking water. And although its large-scale infrastructure projects like the Vardenis-Martakert Highway will impact the lives of millions of people, improving the lives of a few hundred is equally worthwhile for the Armenia Fund and it always has been. No project is too small if it helps people live better, healthier lives.
This piece was written for Armenia Fund and was originally published here on April 13, 2014.
It’s hard learning Armenian. The obviousness of that statement is clear to anyone who knows the language. For students and speakers of the language alike, it’s indisputable. The ancient, convoluted pronunciation rules; the syntactical flexibility that allows you to say the same thing with five words 20 different ways and still get your point across; the myriad dialects suggestive of a much larger land than currently exists – which serves to remind of the vast lands Armenians once inhabited before successive onslaughts and submissions.
But I mean something different. The personal difficulty one might have with those pronunciations, the challenges they may face with constructing the sentences with the fluidity required of a native speaker, or much less, are that person’s business and matters of their mettle. I’m talking about the challenges these individuals who are far from fluent, or even close, that are imposed on them not by language but by people – Armenians.
The most formal Armenian education I got was whatever is gotten by 4th grade. Thereafter, I was all smiles as I entered the public school system – a vicious place unlike the uniform (indeed, pun intended), disciplined, no-nonsense world of Armenian private school. If ever one is interested in testing the tenacity of their teachings with a child, they should send them to public school.
Within a few years – two or three – I was about as assimilated as a sugar cube in water; you could hardly tell me apart. This was not a sudden, unfounded change. I was surrounded by non-Armenians whose attitude toward foreigners, or what they considered foreign, was far from welcoming. Being the friendless new kid in public school, I desperately wanted to fit in. I shirked every aspect of my Armenianness that I could, and language was at the top of what was going on the chopping block.
If ever my parents spoke Armenian with me in public, I would turn red with embarrassment. Their carelessness,- in my slavish, juvenile mind – let the non-Armenians in on the secret that we were not the American I saw myself as. I couldn’t understand why they had immigrated here from Armenian-speaking lands to this place they extolled as what saved them yet they continued speaking Armenian, eating Armenian, acting Armenian. I resolved that American was what I was and that was it.
I played baseball (possibly the most nonsensical of all sports to an Armenian), football (a close second to baseball), I only spoke English, I listened to rock and roll and heavy metal (the latter being the nonsensical parallel of baseball in the musical world, if it could be considered music), I developed a love affair with American muscle cars, and I preferred burger joints and hot dogs to any food prepared at home. I refused to speak Armenian (while my Mom would refuse to speak in English) and, coincidentally, I forgot it, all of it – how to read, how to write, almost completely how to speak.
Then I met them. Those who I can only describe as racists. Or maybe xenophobes, if we want to be slightly euphemistic. Over the years, they came out of the woodwork in the most unexpected places, in the most subtle of ways. For these people, it didn’t matter how much I tried, how American I thought I’d become – I was still an immigrant, an outsider, a foreigner. And I began to wonder: I was actively attempting to expunge, in earnest, a 5,000 year old culture which I was born into while some non-Armenians around me were clamoring for an identity, whether real or made up. My idiocy slapped me silly.
But I had walked far enough away from the tribe, and for enough time, that I could at least know how to fashion myself. Spiraling into an outwardly extreme supposed Armenian persona was uninteresting to me and, frankly, overdone. I saw “aga, shakhs, aper, khob”, the blotte or tavluh, the crosses or clothes, as replacements for what we had lost somewhere along the way. My familial upbringing, as much as I tried rejecting the Armenian underpinnings, had left its residue. With it came the contrast of what we were against what we thought we were supposed to be. So, I embarked on the excruciating journey of learning how to be Armenian in the truest form I could conceive.
Excruciating. That’s a rough description of what should be a pleasant adventure of discovering the wondrous essence of your being. Or: this is supposed to be fun, not painful. But it is. It is painful when you are trying to eke out words in Armenian, torturing yourself so foreign verbiage doesn’t invade your speech lest you become complicit in perverting the language you are struggling to maintain, and, alas, your fellow interlocutor is more concerned with highlighting your inadequate fluency and, naturally, their superior usage ability – their impeccable reprimands infused with “ishteh” and “yani” – than with acting as a guide toward the realization of, ostensibly, both your goal. The concluding recommendation being, “you can say it in English” or, if especially audacious, switching languages on you without notice, thus surreptitiously opining about the (inferior) quality of your spoken work.
This proclamation from the same person who is likely a steadfast source of the righteous imposition that “bedk’eh khose(e)nk Hayeren” (“we must speak Armenian”)! Imagine the state of your brain as it is trying to compute someone telling you that you must speak Armenian while telling you that if you can’t manage – and it’s obvious you can’t – just switch to the other language that they, since they’re more multilingual than you, can understand just as well. Instances like these may very well be the beginnings of bipolarity.
I’m loathe to offer this as a crusade of solely personal proportion. This is one example of what I know is commonplace. As a Diasporan, and one who not only lives, but works, within its (otherwise supremely pleasant) confines, I am uncomfortably privy to the growing apathy and, in my estimation, lethargy, which has started to overtake the community. It requires much less energy to let your surroundings have their way with your psyche and person than to confront them with the conviction of who you are. It requires an exceptional level of diligence and discipline. And, for those who have taken the valiant plunge into cultural preservation and growth, the last thing on their long list of worries should be the overt or subtle discouragement of those who need to otherwise be the cheerleaders.
I already disdain that I may not ever be able to speak Armenian as beautifully as my parents, or the poets whose gifts I want to read – and understand. But that I not become the charlatan who discourages the believer that they may realize such an unattainable treasure is of similarly paramount importance. To damage the wish of a striver to reach that end is unforgivable.
Hence my gratitude is conveyed to the corps of individuals whose object is not to outdo but to include. Thanks are due that they believe that one’s elevation requires them to elevate, not smile down from upon their perch. Without the sagacity and measured patience of this limited group, the treacherousness of this journey would be compounded unimaginably.
To the the bipolar self-styled linguists, I am writing this in English because I can’t write it in Armenian – I probably couldn’t even say it the way that I wanted without taking twice as long. But, I’ll get there, determined to gain total facility in this unique language, my language. Or, for their understanding ease: yani, no problem, brat.
Hayeren will prosper and perpetuate under the tutelage of the previously incapable upon their mastery of this language they love. Fortunately, history is not made by the faithless.
This piece is dedicated to the haters and the innocent bystanders.
In the summer of 2015 I reported from the ground what was happening during Yerevan’s massive street protests. Below is a piece I wrote trying to explain what the protests were about that was originally published in The Armenite on June 26, 2015.
Thousands of protesters hit the streets in Yerevan to protest a 7 dram (1.5 US cent) hike in electricity rates in Armenia. After being dispersed with water cannons, protesters returned to Baghramyan Avenue with even greater numbers, setting up camp behind a line of barricades improvised from dumpsters.
Why is it happening, what’s the situation on the ground, and where will it go from here? Here is a detailed look.
What’s the Problem? The main problem is the 1.5 cent increase and the previous increases which have happened in relatively rapid succession over the past six years. This iteration of the rate increase was a request from the electricity grid operator which was approved by the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC). Protesters argue that these increases are outpacing wage growth and make electricity too expensive.
There is a strong belief among most protesters that the rate increase is a result of mismanagement within the electricity grid operator. For its part, Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), owned by Russia’s Inter RAO, is saying that the devaluation of the Armenian dram over the past year, as well as a general inability to recuperate the cost of operating, maintaining, and upgrading the grid at the current rates are the reasons why the rates had to go up.
This isn’t far-fetched.
According to a June 2013 World Bank report, although the government “has taken steps to mitigate increases in the cost of service in order to maintain affordability,” the price charged to consumers of electricity in Armenia is not enough to recover the cost of providing the service. That would mean that there is an inherent subsidy in the price an end user, like a household, pays because providing the electricity at lower rates than it is costing to produce and distribute. Besides the cost of the electricity, it also includes maintaining and updating the infrastructure required to provide a regular flow of electricity.
The counter argument from protesters is that if it is true that the money is needed then the problem could have been averted through responsible financial management. The ENA has gone so far as to post on its website that the price increase is not the result of mismanagement.
Saying No to the President When the protest started, it was a sit-in at Liberty Square in front of Yerevan’s Opera building. It was then that the president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, offered to meet with the protesters. Although there was a discussion – and reports indicate that several organizers were willing to take the offer – it was ultimately rejected.
The protesters then decided to march toward the presidential palace, which is where they were met by a police barricade.
Leaderless, a Tad Unfocused, but Together Different people are protesting for different reasons. Many just want the electricity rate increase cancelled. Some broken records want President Sargsyan to resign. Some want revolution. Some want anarchy. Some want change. Some want to be seen. Some want to see what all these people are protesting about. In this way, it’s like any other protest.
But it’s different.
Yes, the activists have had issues of their own and it’s not always clear who is in charge. There is a decision-making body which, for example, chose to reject the president’s offer and to march toward the presidential palace.
However, after reassembling at Liberty Square the day after being dispersed by water cannons, an offshoot group announced that they were marching back to Baghramyan Avenue. They were quickly followed by another group telling them to turn around. It wasn’t yet time, they said.
One of the organizers with access to a megaphone was unhappy with the rogue group and announced to the crowd that they should not listen to anyone who makes an announcement about what to do but should wait until they get word from him or his cohorts. They agreed.
But, despite the occasional confusion or errant individual or group, there is an understanding: respect the other person’s reason for being here. Or, just respect them. And it shows. The dancing, singing, sharing, cleaning, and living of these people who don’t know each other is what is energizing them and driving this thing forward.
The atmosphere, pun and all, is electric.
No Political Parties Previously, massive public gatherings were the doing of political parties with the goal of removing the government and replacing it with themselves. No more.
The last mass mobilization, led by Raffi Hovannisian during his so-called Barevolution when his antics like declaring a hunger strike and going to pray at the Armenian Genocide Memorial with Armenia’s police chief left the populace tired and disenchanted.
Although they’re in the crowd, the protest has thus far been unique because of the absence on the center stage of protest-junkies like Raffi Hovanissian, Nikol Pashinyan, Levon Zurabyan, Zaruhi Postanjyan, and the members of Founding Parliament.
This group has expressed no interest in protesting under the banner of any political movement. As much as #ElectricYerevan is meant to send a message to Armenia’s government, it is a clarion call to Armenia’s opposition parties: you are irrelevant.
Fuck The word “fuck” has taken center stage during the protests. Middle fingers and signs with the word have become symbols of the movement. It’s a propos for the anti-establishment atmosphere of the protest but does little for helping to understand the grievances of the protesters – besides that they’re angry.
It’s Not Maidan Although the majority of protesters have tried to emphasize the apolitical, Armenia-centric nature of the movement, they have to contend with a stream of media reports from Russia, Ukraine, and the West which have tried to characterize the protests in whatever way befits their perspective.
For the semi-casual observer, it might seem like there is more to the protest than the electricity rate increase because some of the protesters have a strong anti-Russia, pro-European, or pro-West, history. There is definitely an element of rage that a Russian-owned company is imposing its will on the people of Armenia. But, there is little to suggest that the mass of people have a desire to turn this into a Ukraine-style Maidan revolution.
Paradoxically, it’s the heavily editorialized and frequently false reporting by Russian media that that is not winning Russians any friends among the protesters.
What Next? The protesters don’t look like they’re going anywhere. After the initial excitement, both the activists and police have settled into their positions.
The protest has been split into two sections, one in front of the protester barricade, where famous actors and others have formed a first line, and one behind the barricade. The first, smaller section was created as a message to police that if they advance, they will have to go through the line of more well-known people and not just regular citizens.
The area behind the barricades is where the mass of people congregate and, if it weren’t on a major thoroughfare leading up to the presidential palace and parliament in the capital of a country, you might think you were at a rock festival. Protesters are singing, chanting, eating, smoking, drinking, and sleeping there. They have set up a water station and there was at least one bed which a group of young men had brought.
As for the police, their side has been thinned out considerably since the first days and they have set up their own metal barricade behind which a line of police stand guard 24 hours a day. The police who are stationed on the side of the protesters have been photographed playing soccer and dodgeball with activists, as well as playing with children. Some young protesters have even brought them food.
The only major announcement the government has made came from Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan that poorer families will receive financial aid to help pay for the increase in electricity prices, which he added the government will not budge on. The protesters weren’t assuaged by the announcement and some called it a tone-deaf resolution to their demands.
The protesters haven’t made any more announcements so it looks like they’re just waiting until the government agrees to their demand.
Moving Forward It’s hard to know for sure but it’s doubtful that the 1.5 cent increase in electricity rates is going to hit hard the fashionable, tech-savvy youth who are on the streets. Or the actors and other famous folks between the barricades. The people who will be most affected are those living outside of Yerevan and, otherwise, the jobless, poor, and elderly. In short, not most of the people who are on Baghramyan Avenue.
But that’s not the point.
This is less about the electricity rate hike than it is about general discontent. And whether or not the discontent is well-founded is secondary. The point is that there are people who are unhappy enough with the status quo that they’re willing to sleep on a street overnight, get hosed down with a water cannon, then come back.
It’s a lesson the government seems to have trouble learning. This problem, like the ones that preceded it, was preventable. But, even after Mashtots Park, the 100 Dram movement to stop the increase in public transportation rates, and the Dem Em movement to revoke a decision by the government on mandatory pensions, the government continues making the same mistake.
Though each complex in its own way, one issue preceded each public mobilization: a lack of communication by the government as it made and implemented its decision. In each case, as well as this one, a decision was made with little or no public debate and implementation went into effect almost immediately. The fly-by-night approach gives you the impression that the idea is to sneak it past the people. But is there any question that those same people are not paying attention? The answer is very clearly no so why is it so hard to understand?
Everything the government does is not inherently bad. On the contrary, it has adopted policies which have led to progress and a general betterment in living standards over the past two decades. One need only look to the burgeoning tech industry, the proliferation of goods and services or, ironically, the significant improvement in the availability of utilities including 24-hour electricity, water, and Internet.
Unfortunately for the government, its seeming lack of interest in remedying its approach about how to roll out decisions that impact peoples’ lives is making its own ability to govern unnecessarily difficult. Things like having believable explanations for why a decision was made, communicating those explanations, allowing for a public debate, and not blasting nonviolent protesters with highly pressurized water is a good start.
If the government chooses not to learn its lesson and does not find a way to interact with the people more effectively, especially this cadre of youth with high expectations, it can expect to suffer through several more of these massive protests until it figures it out. For the good of the country, it’s best that it does soon.
I was honored to serve as president of my class while a student at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. According to school tradition, I was asked to deliver an address to my fellow students during our graduation ceremony, the video of which is below.
The ceremony took place at Riverside Church in New York on May 22, 2010.