Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Will The Chaos Of The "Arab Spring" Finally Correct The Wrongs Caused By The Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916?

In The Israel Project's The Tower, Gabriel Scheinmann writes The Map that Ruined the Middle East, referring to the map used in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed in May 8, 1916:
Much as it did in Europe, World War I radically changed the political geography of the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire had long been the “Sick Man of Europe,” hemorrhaging territory for nearly a century. It lost control of its European possessions prior to the war and, having allied with the defeated Central Powers, lost its Middle Eastern territories afterward. The victorious Allies transformed the Middle East into its current form, with its European-designed names, flags, and borders.

Ottoman provinces became Arab kingdoms, while Christian and Jewish enclaves were carved out in Lebanon and Palestine. Syria, Libya, and Palestine were given names resurrected from Roman antiquity. Libya reappeared in 1934, when the Italians combined Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan. The French mandate marked the first time “Syria” had been used as the name of a state, whereas “Palestine” was merely a Syrian appendage. Iraq had been a medieval province of the caliphate, whereas “Lebanon” referred to a mountain and “Jordan” to a river.

The new Arabic-speaking states adopted derivations of the flag of the Arab Revolt, which had been wholly designed by British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes. The four colors of the Arab flag—black, white, green, and red—represented the standards of different Arab dynasties: Abbasid, Umayyad, Fatimid, and Hashemite. They remain the colors of half of today’s Arab flags. Neither the names nor the symbols of the new states had any connection to their inhabitants.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement was an agreement reached by France, Great Britain and Russia that allocated the regional zones of control that eventually became the blueprint for today’s map for the Middle East.

Map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement
Original map of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed May 8, 1916. Credit: Wikipedia

The problem however, went way beyond the colors of Arab flags -- Middle Eastern populations were divided helter-skelter among different regions without consideration for the consequences. Thus:
  • A large Kurdish population—today numbering perhaps 25 million—was divided between four states: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

  • Shiite Arabs were split between Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia.

  • The Alawites, a heterodox Shiite Arab sect, reside today along the northern Lebanese, Syrian, and southwestern Turkish coasts.

  • The Druze were distributed between today’s Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.

  • Lebanon, supposedly a Christian redoubt, included large Sunni and Shiite populations, as well as Alawites and Druze.

  • Sunni Arabs, who formed the dominant population of the Middle East, were divided into numerous states.

  • Pockets of Turkomen, Circassians, Assyrians, Yazidis, and Chaldeans were isolated throughout.
Scheinmann notes that we forget that Europe once consisted of various multi-ethnic empires before a century of partitions, secession, and wars of self-determination gradually resulted in the Europe of today -- and presents his argument that, similarly, the chaos of the "Arab Spring" may have created the possibility of a process, over the coming decades, which might result in more stable alignments.

Read the whole thing.

Looks like we're in for a bumpy ride.

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