ISIS, Ebola, a dozen plane crashes, and a sports competition or two: plenty of international stories caught our attention in 2014. But you may have missed a few others, many of them way more entertaining than the big headlines.
1. Ukraine elected a “Chocolate King”
In the chaos surrounding Ukraine’s winter revolution and subsequent conflict with Russia, many ignored the background of Petro Poroshenko, who was elected Ukraine’s president in May. Poroshenko got his start in business by importing cocoa beans into the country shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union, and by the late ’90s he had the nickname “Chocolate King” for his extensive confectionary empire. Unfortunately, these days Eastern Europe’s Willy Wonka has bigger problems than a shortage of Everlasting Gobstoppers.
2. Yemen got worse, somehow
After an uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, Yemen has focused on eradicating al-Qaida from its wild interior, controlling a fractured population, and providing basic services to the Arab world’s poorest population. But then the Houthis, part tribal militia and part Iran-backed religious movement, seized control of the capital this year. Despite a power-sharing agreement between the Houthis and the government, fighting has continued, and now both sides refuse to govern.
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While it seems obscure, Yemen has become a staging ground for clashes between Sunni al-Qaida forces and the Shiite Houthis — all within a stone’s throw of the infamously pirate-infested oil shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden.
3. Russia outlawed cussing
2014 was marked by paranoia in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The Sochi Olympics was met with heavy security, grocery stores were purged of European produce, and the late-year financial crisis was largely blamed on foreign meddling. But strangest of all was a law passed in May to ban curse words from plays, books, and movies. Russian swearing, called mat, is deeply embedded in the culture, and so far, Putin’s critics in Russia continue to insult him as colorfully as ever.
4. India elected a controversial new leader, and went to Mars
In history’s biggest election — over 800 million voters – India handed power to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi. The BJP is associated with a number of Hindu nationalist groups, including some that seek the conversion of all Indian Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. Though linked by some to anti-Christian riots during his time as a state governor, Modi has rejected aggressive Hindu proselytism of Christians since becoming Prime Minister.
And India’s Mangalayaan spacecraft entered orbit around Mars in November of this year, becoming the first Asian space mission to do so.
5. Iraq’s new leader made plans to push back ISIS
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki resigned this summer amidst controversy over corruption in his administration, and the humiliation of Iraq’s army running away from the advancing Islamic State. He was succeeded by Haidar al-Abadi, who promptly fired many top government officials in an attempt to clean up the military’s ranks. (RELATED: Iraq’s Prime Minister Exposes Vast Corruption)
Meanwhile, local leaders have been gradually bringing the fight to ISIS’ Iraqi stronghold in Mosul. Early 2015 may prove to be the beginning of the end for the prolific upstart terror group.
6. China’s treatment of minorities got weird
The People’s Republic has always had a strained relationship with those citizens who aren’t ethnic Chinese. But this year saw a new level of tension: the threat of radicalism among the far-western Uyghurs, who are mostly Muslims, led to a crackdown on many forms of religious practice, and the imprisonment of peaceful protesters and dissidents. It didn’t hurt that there were rumors of Chinese Muslims moving to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State.
And pressure from China seems to be causing trouble for the leader of another minority group — the Dalai Lama, head of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite attempts to meet with Pope Francis, the Vatican declined the Lama’s request, calling the Holy See’s relations with the Chinese government a “delicate situation.” The aging monk also announced this year that he may choose not to reincarnate after he dies, because of the difficulties his people face.
7. Turkey tried to please everyone, and satisfied no one
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was famous for a “zero problems with neighbors” when he first came to prominence as the country’s prime minister in 2003. But this year proved difficult, as the “jihadi trail” across Turkey’s border into Syria proved dangerous to Turkey’s alliances, contributing significantly to the rise of the Islamic State. So far, Turkey has been slow to enforce its border with Syria and root out jihadi recruiters in its cities.
But it didn’t stop there: Erdogan found plenty more trouble, as he insisted Muslims discovered America, vowed to “eradicate Twitter,” and called birth control “treason.” His imprisonment of a 16-year-old for “insulting the president” didn’t go over well either.
There you have it: the weird side of international news in 2014. May 2015 be just as crazy, but less violent.
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