Hello and welcome to the Political Economy of Israel and Middle East course.
We are carrying on with the topic of Borders, Areas and Nation States in the Middle East and in this video we are going to discuss Natural Borders and Artificial Division of the Lands in 20th Century.
We will be looking at:
The role of the British, French and Russian after WW1
How borders were defined
The problems with borders
And issues that affect the division of land in the Middle East
As in the previous video Countries and Borders in 19th Century of the area currently recognized as the Middle East we saw that the modern Middle East began after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the Central Powers, was defeated by the British Empire and their allies and partitioned into a number of separate nations, initially under the British and French.
In this video we’re going to look at the emergence of the modern day Middle East in more detail.
We realize, of course, that the geographic unity the region goes back to the fact that the areas has long been recognized in the term “Mesopotamia”.
Did you realize that Mesopotamia is the origins of human civilization?
Let’s start by looking at how the territories were divided.
During World War I, the Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was agreed.
This was a secret arrangement between the governments of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.
It was a pact which laid out their proposed areas of control in the Middle East should they succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire.
Negotiations of the treaty occurred between November 1915 and March 1916 and was concluded on 16 May 1916.
The Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian Peninsula were effectively divided into areas of British and French control or influence.
Great Britain was allocated control of areas roughly comprising the coastal strip between the sea and River Jordan, Jordan, southern Iraq, and a small area including the ports of Haifa and Acre.
This was to allow access to the Mediterranean.
France gained control of south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. And Russia, who was also brought into the carving up of the Ottoman Empire, was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and the Ottoman Armenian vilayets.
Each of the controlling countries was free to decide on the state boundaries within their areas.
There is a growing consensus that illogical and carelessly drawn imperial borders are to blame for all that’s wrong with the Middle East today.
Do you think it would be possible that through better conceived borders the Middle East would have been spared a century’s worth of violence?
It certainly is a provocative question.
If borders had been drawn with careful attention to the region’s ethnic and religious diversity, what do you think the Middle East would be like today?
It is impossible to say, and the situation that we have now is more likely the result of any number of complications and conflicts.
If we were to compare the present day borders with that of the Ottoman Empire boundaries before the French and British arrived, there are some interesting similarities.
Getting back to the present day, let’s look at some of the historic and present day’s borders between the nations.
The modern Iraq is the three separate provinces: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, joined together.
These were often treated as a coherent economic and military area by the Ottoman government.
Conflict over borders has long been a tradition within the region.
Iraq’s eastern border with Iran is based on a line set by the 16th-century conquests of Suleiman the Magnificent.
But it still provokes violence.
The fact that it has been a long established border did not prevent the countries from fighting a decade-long conflict over it.
Sadly, this fighting has killed ten times more people than all the Arab-Israeli wars combined.
To the West, Mount Lebanon had been carved out as a special administrative unit following religious violence there in 1860 as a compromise between Istanbul and the Great Powers.
The only country in the area for which no ancient borders exist is Jordan.
The British formed the state in 1922 and Abdullah was given sovereign rule over it. Some people would argue that under his and family’s reign, Jordan had not experienced as much violence as its neighbors.
Well, we can see that creation of nations and the drawing of border is no simple task, is it?
No matter how good the intentions, there are a lot of complex issues that affect the countries and division of people in the Middle East.
Can you think what they might be?
Well, there are a lot of very different religions, for a start, and many denominations within that one religion.
For example, could anyone be expected to find the magic line that puts all the Sunnis on one side, the Shiites on the other, and the oil right in the middle?
There are different races, different cultures, different heritages that claim priority over their neighbors.
Just look at the Palestine/Israeli conflict. That is one struggle which will not be solved in a hurry.
Unfortunately the militarization of these ethnic and religious identities was promoted and exploited under colonial powers.
They did this through tactics of Divide and Conquer.
In Syria, the French cultivated the previously disenfranchised Alawite minority as an ally against the Sunni majority.
This involved recruiting and promoting Alawite soldiers in the territory’s colonial army.
This promotion of their sense of identity as Alawites brought them into conflict with local residents of other ethnicities.
The French pursued the same policy with Maronite Christians in Lebanon.
Sadly, there are innumerable examples of this policy in other groups elsewhere.
Here we can see the negative influence of the Great powers in the region.
On the next video we will take a close look on how trade routes to the Europe helped the Middle Eastern countries to preserve their prosperity and stability over the centuries.