Monday, May 23, 2016


"The feeling that the future of whole states is in doubt is growing across the Middle East – for the first time since Britain and France carved up the remains of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. ‘It is the end of Sykes-Picot,’ I was told repeatedly in Iraq; the reference was to the agreement of 1916 which divided up the spoils between Britain and France and was the basis for later treaties. Some are jubilant at the collapse of the old order, notably the thirty million Kurds who were left without a state of their own after the Ottoman collapse and are now spread across Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. They feel their moment has come: they are close to independence in Iraq and are striking a deal with the Turkish government for political rights and civil equality. In March, the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK declared an end to their thirty-year war with the Turkish government and started withdrawing into the mountains of northern Iraq. The 2.5 million Kurds in northern Syria, 10 per cent of the population, have assumed control of their towns and villages and are likely to demand a high degree of autonomy from any postwar Syrian government.... When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it changed the overall balance of power and destabilised every country in the region. The same thing is happening again, except that the impact of the Syrian war is likely to be less easily contained. Already the frontier dividing the western deserts of Iraq from the eastern deserts of Syria is ceasing to have any physical reality. In April, al-Qaida in Iraq embarrassed the rebels’ Western supporters by revealing that it had founded, reinforced with experienced fighters and devoted half its budget to supporting al-Nusra, militarily the most effective rebel group. When Syrian soldiers fled into Iraq in March they were ambushed by al-Qaida and 48 of them were killed before they could return to Syrian territory".
Patrick Cockburn, "Is it the end of Sykes-Picot?" The London Review of Books. 6 June 2013, in
"When I was growing up in Lebanon, there were two or three designated culprits for everything that went wrong, whether it was the latest battle in the 1975-1990 civil war, a plunging currency or torrential rains. One was Henry Kissinger, even when he was no longer involved in American foreign policy. Another was the Central Intelligence Agency, preferred master of all conspiracies. The third was Sykes-Picot, which to a child sounded more like the name of a cheese than the 1916 secret agreement that drew the borders of the modern Middle East in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Kissinger is still closely read today, his words dissected and his arguments discussed. The CIA is still a target of widespread resentment and, quite probably, involved in all sorts of Middle Eastern shenanigans. But as sectarian fires blaze through the nation states of the Arab world, the focus of blame has shifted towards the conservative British politician and the young French diplomat who carved the region into spheres of influence.... But pinning blame for the Middle East cauldron on a plan hatched decades ago is misleading. For all the damage that colonialism has inflicted on the region, the borders are not responsible for the states’ failures to unite the people behind a national project. Many other countries outside the region have artificial boundaries too and, in any case, the broad lines drawn by Sykes and Picot were not dreamt up — often they largely corresponded to Ottoman administrative borders."
Roula Khalaf, "An inconvenient truth for the Middle East and a line in the sand". The Financial Times. 19 May 2016, in
The prominence that the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 is as Roula Kalaf of the Financial Times correctly notes, more a result of the ignorant denunciations made of the agreement by the terrorist thugs of ISIS than anything else. And whatever the manifold weaknesses of the current state structures in the region, with the exception of Iraq, it is difficult to imagine that any existing states will be either absorbed into another one (`a la Russia and the Crimea) or that there will be a process of voluntary amalgamation akin to the failed Egyptian-Syrian & Iraq-Jordan experiments along those lines circa 1958-1961. Indeed it is precisely such failure in the immediate post-colonial era which demonstrates (to my mind anyway) that while the existing state structures in the Near and Middle East are hardily what one may describe as 'sturdy', they are also not about to collapse. With even close to five-years of ultra-violent civil war in Syria not (yet) resulting in the complete collapse of the Baathist state apparatus. Unless and until we see something akin to that in Syria and elsewhere in the region, expect to see the same (or virtually the same) state structures which the period of 1916-1921 left the region with, for a long time to come. Per contra to the wishful prognosis offer up Patrick Cockburn. As the American academic expert on the region, Steven Cook recently noted:
"Nor are the Middle East’s modern borders completely without precedent. Yes, they are the work of European diplomats and colonial officers — but these boundaries were not whimsical lines drawn on a blank map. They were based, for the most part, on pre-existing political, social, and economic realities of the region, including Ottoman administrative divisions and practices. The actual source of the boundaries of the present Middle East can be traced to the San Remo conference, which produced the Treaty of Sèvres in August 1920" 1.
1. Steven Cook, "Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s Mess". Foreign Policy. 13 May 2016 in


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