For their project, Syria’s Displaced: Regional Implications, Alisa Roth and Hugh Eakin traveled the perimeter of Syria, to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Northern Iraq. They talked to refugees, government officials, NGOs and others about the current situation and possible outcomes for the future.
After five years of crippling political and economic crisis, Madagascar is looking to finally pick itself up off the mat. Over the course of a month in December and January, Aaron Ross and Rijasolo traveled the country to survey the damage and gauge the prospects for a brighter future. The journey took them more than a thousand kilometers from raucous political rallies in the capital to beachside resort towns in the north to the rough-and-tumble sapphire mines of the south.
View Pulitzer Center grantees Aaron Ross and Rijasolo’s project: Madagascar: When the Aid Dries Up
After years of isolation, Burma is experiencing a political thaw that has taken even jaded observers by surprise. Its military leaders have brokered cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups around the country and allowed civilians to play a greater role in the new government. Media and economic freedoms have been expanded and hundreds of prisoners released, among them Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy activist and Nobel laureate, now a member of parliament. In response, the United States has removed all sanctions and reinstated its ambassador to the country after a 22-year absence. An investment boom is underway. But peace and prosperity in the “New Burma” are not for all.
View Pulitzer Center grantee Jason Motlagh’s project: Burma in Transition
Jeff Kelly Lowenstein and Jon Lowenstein looked into Chile’s past, present and future 40 years after the Pinochet coup. In this video, the brothers talk about the dictatorship’s enduring impact on Chilean society today, the recent presidential election in which Michelle Bachelet emerged victorious and a group of young, tech-savvy Chileans who grew up during or after the Pinochet regime and who are trying change the country.
View their project: Enduring Rifts: Chile 40 Years After the Pinochet Coup
Writer Jeremy Relph and photojournalist Dominic Bracco II traveled to Honduras to report on the presidential elections amid a culture of political disillusionment, poverty, and corruption where acts of violence often seem to scale exponentially by the day.
Check out their whole project: Honduras: “Aqui Vivimos”
Mali: Terror at the Edge of the Sahara
In 2012 Mali descended into chaos. Much of the north of this large and very poor country of 16 million people—its area about the size of France and Spain put together—was taken over by a shaky alliance between hard-line Islamists and Berber Tuaregs, some of whom had come from post-Qaddafi Libya, some from their traditional home in northern Mali. At the same time, the government in the capital city of Bamako was deposed in a military coup led by Amadou Sanogo, a midlevel military official. In January 2013 some four thousand French troops joined the Malian army in an offensive that drove out the Islamists and Tuareg fighters and restored control of much of the north to the government. Fighting still continues, and a residual French force remains in Mali alongside a smaller contingent of German troops and a sizable African force.
Visiting Mali in February, I flew in a United Nations–chartered Antonov jet from Bamako to Kidal, a sand-blown regional capital of 30,000 people, tucked into the northeastern corner of the country (see the map below). The plane was packed with civilian engineers, French officers, and contingents of soldiers and police from Senegal, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Almost everyone got off in the towns of Mopti and Gao, and I was nearly alone on the plane when it finally touched down at Kidal. I was the first journalist to visit the outpost since al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, the North African affiliate of the international terrorist organization, kidnapped and murdered two French correspondents there last November. The UN civilian staff members who arranged my trip told me that the place was so dangerous that I could stay on the ground for only twenty-four hours, and would not be able to leave the UN compound except in an armored vehicle, with an escort of blue helmets for protection.
Stepping off the plane into the blinding sunlight, I watched UN peacekeepers in turbans roar up in six camouflage-painted pickup trucks with heavy machine guns, protecting the plane from attack. A hot wind was blowing, sending up sprays of sand. In the distance, I could see the Adrar des Ifoghas, a long line of black mountains rising above a sea of scrub. “The terrorists are still there,” a French colonel told me as he waited to board the plane for the return flight to Bamako. A 97,000-square-mile wilderness of granite peaks, narrow canyons, and cul-de-sacs, the massif has long served as a sanctuary for Islamic radicals, including Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian cigarette smuggler turned kidnapper and murderer who led al-Qaeda’s takeover of northern Mali. Many jihadists sought refuge there after the French intervention in January 2013—Operation Serval—flushed them from Mali’s major towns.
There are, I was told, just two or three ways into the black mountains. “If you don’t know your way around, you cannot penetrate the massif,” said Roy Maheshe, the UN’s civil affairs officer, as we sat in the sand-filled courtyard of his dilapidated office in the cement-block buildings of the UN compound on the southern outskirts of town. As we ate a fish stew, Maheshe was somber about improving conditions in Mali’s far north, not least in the impoverished town of Kidal. Morale among the UN staff, I found, was low. “There is absolutely no government here,” Maheshe told me.
Finish reading this article, written by Pulitzer Center grantee Joshua Hammer for his project: Taking Timbuktu: Music, Manuscripts and Madness at the Edge of the Sahara
Writing About Africa: Thoughts from the Field
Foreign journalists who write about Africa are often criticized for focusing on the bad news over the good, privileging the sensational over the everyday, even for casting the continent as a 21st century heart of darkness. It can be a valid criticism, and one that I and I think most of my colleagues take to heart. Whatever we might say about dutifully pursuing the most newsworthy stories, there is inevitably a strong degree of subjectivity, and ultimately course correction, that goes into deciding what, and what not, to cover. You find yourself thinking hard about what your readers will take away from your reporting—even if only because of their own misconceptions. And you wonder whether you’ve written too many negative stories of late and try to find some more positive ones to rectify the imbalance.
Overall, though, the bad news stories tend to win out. Violent outbreaks and kidnappings by religious extremists easily get more press than local entrepreneurship initiatives and less sensational stories, though that’s not unique to Africa; take a look at the local news in New York. Problems are more obvious than solutions. Editors play a role too. Portraits of everyday life in faraway lands draw fewer clicks than frightful tales of genocide and extreme poverty. When I first moved to West Africa to report, I made the rounds of editors in the States to gin up some interest ahead of time. I got more or less the same response from a few. “Good for you. Let us know if something blows up.” Positive stories about Africa, meanwhile, can be equally frustrating, such as the mindless bandying about of impressive GDP growth figures without heed to what those numbers mean on the ground.
I’ve felt some angst about my Madagascar reporting because I haven’t by any means struck this mythical balance. I wrote about human trafficking, child prostitution, the plague and a rather flawed election. What I thought was a reasonably optimistic story about sapphire mining in southern Madagascar got the headline, “A Cursed Land.”
Read the rest of the story and more from Pulitzer Center grantee Aaron Ross. Image by Rijasolo. Madagascar, 2014.
As the six week-long 2014 Indian general elections draw to a close, the country stands at a crossroads. The Indian National Congress, a party that has ruled India for all but 13 of its 67 years of independence, is predicted to lose its control of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, to the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a party that is connected to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a hindu nationalist organization. Narendra Modi, a politician with fierce supporters and fierce critics, is the candidate for the BJP. He’s running a campaign that promises development, foreign investment, and a more business-friendly India. Many things in India may change with this change in power and the Indian electorate is optimistic that this election may signal an upswing in the country’s economic growth, and a shift in the way the government deals with widespread high-level corruption.
People all over the world have been closely monitoring this election. But one group in the United States is particularly invested in the outcome of the polling—the Indian diaspora. Members of this community have family in India, and feel tied to the country through heritage, culture, and religion. Indian Americans are participating in the Indian electoral process like never before, sending money, calling relatives and friends, and even traveling to India to campaign for their favorite candidates and parties on the ground. Why are Indian Americans so invested in an election halfway around the world, and what does this involvement mean for the connection between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy?
Listen to Pulitzer Center intern Quinn Libson’s podcast. In this podcast, the diaspora speaks for itself, exploring these questions and more.
BAKHCHYSARAI, Crimea—Guliver Altın loves old maps. He loves the crudely drawn outlines of continents and oceans, the regions of bright green and red and yellow—shapes and colors moving across the ages, expanding and contracting. To him, maps represent the vagaries of political history, illustrated.
Few places in the world have had more colorful and mutable maps than the Crimean peninsula, where borders have shifted yet again after Russia annexed the region from Ukraine in mid-March, following a referendum. As if living in a world of Zeno’s paradoxes, Crimeans have suddenly found themselves in a new country and even a new time zone. But this is nothing new. In 1783, after a series of wars, the Russian Empire annexed the Crimean Khanate, the Muslim Tatar state that had ruled Crimea and part of the north littoral of the Black Sea for the three previous centuries. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine, only for Crimea to become part of independent Ukraine after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
A Crimean Tatar, Guliver Altın is primarily interested in the Khanate. Relentlessly persecuted under the Russians, massacred and deported under the Soviets, their books burned and their architectural monuments razed to the ground, the Crimean Tatars have lost much of their legacy. What remains can largely be found in and around the town of Bakhchysarai, where the old palace of the Khans still stands and serves as an official museum. But its collection, which largely consists of ethnographic objects, is hardly comprehensive, and in 2011 Altın decided to open his own museum—Crimea’s first and only private museum of history. In a place where the past had been forcibly impoverished, he called it “La Richesse,” French for “wealth.” As Russia once again assumes control over Crimea, the institution could be a crucial outpost in the battle for political and cultural memory.
A large, rectangular, two-story building originally constructed in 1909 as a madrassa, or religious school, and later converted by the Soviets into a lunatic asylum, La Richesse sits at the bottom of an imposing canyon in Salaҫiq, a neighborhood on the outskirts of Bakhchysarai. Dizzying cliffs and steep rock faces rise toward a faraway sky. It is here, in this exact spot, where Crimean Khans set up their first capital in the mid-fifteenth century, and a few monuments next to La Richesse still attest to its greatness: an old madrassa from the early sixteenth century; a mausoleum containing the remains of the Khanate’s first rulers; and the recently excavated ruins of a hammam, or bath complex. “This was Moscow before Moscow,” Altın says with a mischievous smile. “It is here that the affairs of Eastern Europe were decided before the Russian Empire took over.”
Altın’s museum is designed to preserve the memory of this once-potent European state. Since most of the documents, maps, art, and literature produced by the Khanate were systematically destroyed in prior centuries, Altın has relied on foreigners, mostly European diplomats and artists who visited Crimea, to reconstruct the story of his own ancestors. Aside from original paintings and engravings of Tatar rulers, ambassadors, scientists, and cultural figures, the exhibition halls feature treaty documents, newspaper clippings, and first-edition travelogues regarding the Crimean Khanate. “The Tatars are now in a great body in Moldavia, expecting the benefit of the frost to make incursions into Hungary or more probably into Poland, where the provincial diets break up in great discontents,” reports a copy of The London Gazette, the oldest surviving English newspaper, on December 3, 1688. Next to it, a 1736 edition of the British journal Gentleman’s Magazine mentions the very first Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula and the destruction of Bakhchysarai. “Thank God that Europeans took care to preserve the memory of the Khanate,” Altın says.
After five years of crippling political and economic crisis, Madagascar is looking to finally pick itself up off the mat. Over the course of a month in December and January, Pulitzer Center grantees Aaron Ross and Rijasolo traveled the country to survey the damage and gauge the prospects for a brighter future. The journey took them more than a thousand kilometers from raucous political rallies in the capital to beachside resort towns in the north to the rough-and-tumble sapphire mines of the south.