Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Nagorno-Karabakh

The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is an autonomous enclave of Azerbaijan. It is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan and completely surrounded by other countries. It shared a tiny sliver of border with Turkey on the west.

It was formerly owned by what was then Persia (now Iran) and then in the early 1800s after the Russian-Persian war, by Russia.

That changed again with the 1917 Russian revolution when it was contested by Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Fast forward to 1990 when it declared independence from the USSR to show solidarity with the nationalist movement in Azerbaijan, and the following year it declared itself the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic within the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan.

That decision to ally with Azerbaijan resulted in conflicts and cross-conflicts with Armenia, Turkey, and Russia – who all had an interest in the region.


Nagorno-Karabakh is another region close by, internationally recognised as being part of Azerbaijan but run as an independent state by the Armenian ethnic majority. Not being a country, it isn’t marked on most maps and I have coloured it fuchsia on this Google map.

The Lachin Corridor

In a statement to the United Nations on 18 September 2005, the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Elmar Mammadyarov, said “It is the issue of communication of the Armenians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan with Armenia and that of the Azerbaijanis living in the Nakhchivan region of Azerbaijan with the rest of the country. We suggest the using of the so-called Lachin corridor – which should be called “Road of Peace” – by both sides in both directions provided that security of this road will be ensured by the multinational peacekeeping forces at the initial stage”

Update 2022

On 22 Dec, Michael Carpenter of the US Government published a long thread on Twitter. One tweet was a warning about a “A military flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh if Prime Minister Pashinyan does not cater to corrupt Russian interests in Armenia.”

Update September 2023

The BBC and other news outlets are reporting today about demonstrations that have been taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh’s regional capital Stepanakert. The demonstrators are demanding the reopening of the Lachin Corridor linking the Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia

For nearly nine months the corridor has been blocked by Azerbaijani authorities, resulting in shortages of food, medication, hygiene products and fuel.

What a mess.


In May 1940, Germany invaded France and conquered it in six weeks. Under the peace terms, only the northern half of France was occupied by the Germans. The southern half of France was governed as Vichy France by the French themselves under Marshal Petain.*

The French outside France who didn’t like the Vichy peace terms, maintained a Free French government in exile.

In Syria, the Vichy government’s forces fought and were forced to sign an armistice with the British and Free French in June 1941.

In December 1941 the Japanese attacked the United States at Pearl Harbour, and immediately afterwards Germany and Italy joined with Japan in declaring war on the United States.

Here is the strange thing, Vichy France maintained diplomatic relations with the United States until the Allies invaded French North Africa in November 1942. At that point the United States shut its consulate in Marseille.

So in that eleven month period from December 1941 to November 1942, a citizen of the U.S. could travel more or less freely around southern France. Not only that, the United States had a consulate in Vichy France.

How strange is that?

I wonder what transpired in any meetings between German and U.S. citizens in Vichy during that period. Did they politely nod to one another?

Come to think of it, ‘Casablanca’ – the Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman film could be just that – an American in Vichy controlled Morocco during that period. Though to be sure it could be set in the period before the U.S. entered the war in December 1941. I guess there may be clues or statements in the film about when it was set – a good excuse to watch it again, and closely.

And now reading about the film at I find:

The Hollywood fairy-tale was actually filmed during a time of US ties with Vichy France when President Roosevelt equivocated and vacillated between pro-Vichy or pro-Gaullist support. And it was rushed into general release almost three weeks after the Allied landing at the Axis-occupied, North African city of Casablanca, when Eisenhower’s forces marched into the African city. Due to the military action, Warner Bros. Studios was able to capitalize on the free publicity and the nation’s familiarity with the city’s name when the film opened.

Varian Fry

Varian Fry was an American journalist who was in Germany in 1935 and didn’t like what he saw. When Germany invaded France in 1940, he asked permission of the U.S. State Department to rescue Jews from Vichy France.

In August 1940 he set up a ‘front’ in Marseille, the declared mission of which was to alleviate the plight of refugees by donating food and clothing. Behind this front Fry set up a clandestine operation to help Jews get out of France. He helped thousands make the journey overland to Spain and from there to Portugal, and he helped others escape by sea.

As time wore on, the U.S. State Department pressured him to get out but he stayed until he was kicked out by the Vichy French Authorities in August 1941, after two years of operations.

Fry grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey and there is a permanent exhibition in his honour at the public library, and a street named after him.

* After the war, history decided that the French arrangement with the Germans was too cozy a collaboration to be called a victor-vanquished relationship. Marshal Petain was tried for war crimes and sentenced to death, but because of his age his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Polar Bears and Rare Earth Deposits

I wrote this article in 2011 under the title ‘Polar Bears Poisoned And New Rare Earth Deposits Found’ – but the article was lost when I rebuilt this site. So I am re-publishing it here.

The fifteen lanthanide elements from lanthanum to lutetium – together with scandium and yttrium – are generally known as the rare earth elements.

They are essential in the production of TVs, phones, computers, and batteries.

Until now there has been a shortage of rare earths, exacerbated by China saying last December [ that would be December 2010 ] that it wanted to keep what is has – and it has almost all of the ore deposits.

That all changed last week when Japanese scientists announced that they had found huge deposits in international waters off Hawaii – deposits that are easy to get at and low in the associated radioactive materials usually found with them.

So that is good news for everyone who wants a phone, or a TV, or a computer.

And it is bad news for polar bears – and then for us.

The UK TV channel Channel 4 showed a program about polar bears in Svalbard in the north of Norway.

The programme was one in the series Inside Nature’s Giants that followed a team of veterinarians who carry out autopsies on elephants, giraffes, and other big animals.

The aim is to educate veterinary students (and the TV audience) about the special characteristics that enables each species to live as it does.

The autopsy on the polar bear was different in that it was ‘in the field’ in Svalbard and the polar bears were ones that the local Inuit hunters had hunted for food.

The programme was also different in that there were interviews with other teams of scientists who are in Svalbard investigating how polar bears are suffering from biological changes brought on by what they eat.

Specifically, they are losing sexuality, developing tumours, becoming weaker, and losing offspring.

What emerged was that because polar bears are at the top of the food chain, they are being poisoned by eating concentrated amounts of flame retardants.

Flame retardants are used in the plastics in TVs, phones, computers, etc. They are organohalogen and organophosphate compounds and they are released into the atmosphere when the products are recycled.

The products are recycled in countries like India – broken down by burning to get at the expensive rare earth metals within – and the flame retardant chemicals escape into the atmosphere and are carried thousands of miles around the world and up the food chain to polar bears (and I guess to the Inuit who eat the bears).

So just at the time that the scientific community is able to demonstrate the danger from these chemical flame retardants, a new source of rare earths is found – with the result that more and more TVs and phones can be made.

The Suwalki Gap

To understand it, start with Kaliningrad. It is a bit of Russia that is cut off from the rest. I have coloured it yellow on this map and as you can see, it has a coastline so it is accessible to the Russian fleet, but otherwise it has no direct land connection with the rest of Russia.

Belarus under its current regime has close ties to Russia. So the recent decision by Belarus ask to store nuclear weapons supplied by Russia has increased tensions in the Baltic States. They fear that if Russia decided to command the land connection between Kaliningrad and Belarus then the Baltic States would be isolated from the rest of Europe, and easy pickings.

The land connection is known as the Sowalki Gap (I’ve marked it red on the map_ and Russia has been trying to establish a solid route along it for years – since the break up of the Soviet Union. For more detail of the history of the Suwalki Gap, read the Wiki entry.

Map illustrating the Suwalki Gap and the position of Kaliningrad and Belarus