The ME Boundaries are Inviolable.

ISIS iraq- syria

by Ghassan Karam
Exactly 100 years ago Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed in Sarajevo on June 28 , 1914. His assassination set off a series of actions and counter reactions that ended up in one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, World War I. This tragedy is relevant to us in more than one way. Obviously the most basic reason for recognizing this day is the hope that the more we think about these tragic events the less likely humanity will be subjected to them again. But another important reason for us is the idea that WW I was a perfect example of unintended consequences. No one wanted to start a world war but the assassination spiraled out of control and ended up in a war that lasted for over 4 years , and resulted in an estimated 37 million casualties.. But there is another reason for us to think about this issue and that is that it culminated in freeing the ME from 400 years of Ottoman rule.

So many articles and thinkers have written about how is it that we might be witnessing the end of Sykes Picot, an agreement that is often described in negative terms by Arabs and many even go as far as to claim that all our problems, and there are so many, can be traced to the political subdivisions that were drawn after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

I do not subscribe to that vision except in one detail. One can argue very convincingly that had it not been for WWI, the resulting Mandate and the Sykes Picot agreement then possibly the Balfour declaration/Promise might not have been issued and the ME would have been spared the last seventy years of instability related to the establishment of the state of Israel. But if we are to set aside the Balfour Declaration then I cannot find much that is at fault with Sykes Picot.

Note that Figure 1
Ottoman Empire
is a map that demonstrates clearly that the whole of the Arab world, including
North Africa, was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for four centuries . Roughly 1516-1916. Then in
1916 the infamous Sykes Picot subdivided part of the Ottoman Empire into two regions of influence,
one British and one French. (figure 2) .
sykes picot
The Sykes Picot agreement resulted in about 25 years of the Mandate Figure 3. The two Western powers ; France and Great Britain; divided the area taken away from the Ottoman Empire into the current major countries of the ME.
andate
Once Sykes Picot delivered to each of the two European powers an area of influence they then proceeded to carve up the countries that make up the current Middle East. But each of the countries created was able to become independent by the mid 1940’s. Figure 4.
 Figure 4 Current Middle East
This is an important point since it makes it clear that the mandate which created the boundaries between Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine/Israel lasted only for 25 years.
Based on the above and the accompanying maps one needs to ask again whether it was the 25 year mandate or the 400 year Ottoman rule that played a more crucial role in shaping the identity and culture of the people in this region.

If, as it is often claimed, that the current political borders created by the mandatory powers after the Sykes Picot agreement created political divisions that are not acceptable then why weren’t there any major movements to correct that flaw and redraw the borders. It is easier to protest a perceived injustice but is more difficult to prove that such an injustice has taken place. Would it have been better to the inhabitants of the mandated areas had these artificial boundaries not been created? Is there a shared national identity between the residents of these countries in question and are they ready to accept the other and accept the demands of democracy and responsibilities of citizenship that would be required in an efficient modern state? Even if the answer is yes then wouldn’t it be better to create a federation where each of the member states can control its own internal affairs.

I am willing to be a Giraffe ;put my neck out ; by saying that the “death of Sykes Picot has been exaggerated” and that the current map of the ME would hold with very little changes , if any. Ideally the most important radical change would be the settlement of the Israeli Palestinian question. The Kurdish issue would not be so much of a problem had Syria, Iran and Turkey been able to treat all their citizens equally, an autonomous Kurdish region might be the only other alteration of the current inviolable boundaries. I imagine that I am saying that ISIS will not fulfill its wish. No backward thinking group of people ever do.

  • vs

    Please learn some Phoenician

    • AkhouManUki

      VS, not sure who else you are communicating with in this forum, but I only seem to see squares coming from you. If I’m incorrect, and there are hundreds or thousands of readers out there who you are secretly communicating with, please speak up.

    • vs

      screenshot

  • barabie

    “But each of the countries created was able to become independent by the mid 1940’s”

    They may have become “independent” on paper but they were/are run by dictatorships installed during Sykes/picot and maintained and supported first by the French and British and now by the USA.
    So saying they became “independent” is incorrect and extremely sneaky of u.

    • ghassan Karam

      Barbie, a strong grass root movement would have at least reignited the call for Arab unity once the Mandate had ended. The fact that it did not allows an interpretation that the new political subdivisions were not exactly unacceptable. (Obviously the grass root rejection of the Balfour Declaration , which is still going on; was the only exception).

      • barabie

        A grassroots movement? Similar to the “Arab Spring”.
        You are attempting to claim the conquered had a choice.
        Btw my name is not barbie.

        • ghassan Karam

          Barabie,
          The Arab Spring started as a grass root movement that was able to make substantial changes in Tunis and Egypt. Unfortunately Saudi Arabia and others did not like the move towards democracy and so they have succeeded in hijacking the Egyptian revolution. Reactionary forces from within and without have done the same to the initial grass roots Syrian uprising which, despite all its faults, has forced the Syrian regime to write a new constitution, open up the political process.

          BTW, ” A rose by any other name smells as sweet” 🙂

          • 5thDrawer

            I knew someone could quote Willy correctly. 😉

          • Comtessa di Alba

            you quoted Willy as saying a rose smell as feet .;-)?
            I corrected you.

          • ghassan Karam

            🙂

        • 5thDrawer

          Everyone HAS a choice.

          • Comtessa di Alba

            Hummm…(think again)

      • barabie

        Ghassan,

        I just came across this comment from a Iraqi revolutionary; “What about the Sunni Iraqi movement’s announcement of the disintegration of the Iraq-Syria border? I would like to explain by saying that the Sunni groups on either side of the border have not adhered to it ever since the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.”

        • ghassan Karam

          Barabie,
          No one has a clear crystal ball. That is always taken for granted. My view of how the world works and how history unfolds make me very skeptical when groups want to recreate the past. This, to me, shows lack of imagination and inability to grow and develop. That is simply, one reason that I do not feel that ISIS will get anywhere besides making trouble . I also happen to believe, rather strongly, that we are living through the beginning of the end of the nation state. They will not disappear but they will not play an important role in shaping events.

  • Guest

    How convenient that The Great Arab Revolt of 1916 against the Ottoman Empire is not even mentioned.

    • ghassan Karam

      The Great Arab revolt of 1916 came at the end of the 400 years of Ottoman rule. This does not diminish its role but it actually supports my general hypothesis that for 400 years the inhabitants of the ME saw themselves essentially as loyal subjects of the sultan. The reasons for that are many and this is not the place for a lengthy discussion; remember that this is only a column; but Ottomanism and Pan Islam offered Arabs an attractive alternative to Arab nationalism. What is also interesting about that period of the Ottoman empire is that the Arab representatives supported the restoration of powers that the Sultan was forced to give up by the Young Turks.

      • Comtessa di Alba

        The Great Arab revolt of 1916, was created by Colonel Lawrence of Arabia on behalf of the Hyena Sykes, and the Vulture Picot, to win WWI, they needed the Arabs, the only ones capable of fighting in the Desert, (no Westerner ever did), Lawrence had a mandate to convince Sheriff Hussein, ruler of Arabia to unite all Arabs sects, tribes, friends, enemies help oust the Turks, in return they would be granted independence. Notices were put in every town and villages in the M.E. Promising independence. They were lies..

        Lawrence was mortified. Worst was done to the moderate Hashemite family who ruled Arabia for 900 years, after wining the War the Hyena and the Vulture helped the Desert Rat ibn al Saud, conquer Arabia from and oust Sheriff Hussein, oil was just discovered, deals were made with British Petroleum..

        The Hashemites were given East Bank of Jordan River, part
        of the -Palestinian territories- in British Mandate.
        They took and disposed of what was -Not Theirs to give-, they made the mess in which we live today, made it possible for Churchill to sell Palestine to Rothschild, to make the Balfour declaration, ( you said it), they drew lines in the sand, making sects and tribes kill each other.

        They made Arabs unite for their interests, as if the only aim
        of the new world order is to tare apart the Middle East, for
        what reason i don’t know.

        PS. For oil of course.
        Edited bu the author

        • 5thDrawer

          And thus, the NEED for education – which is sadly lacking, in favour of ancient scripts simply repeated ad-infinitum for the children.
          People will never understand why they are like they are unless they are allowed to find out.

          • Comtessa di Alba

            What can i say, you can’t educate masses of this size
            if the leaders are backward.. there’s no individualism, there are sects.

      • Comtessa di Alba

        I stayed with the memory of my grand father laughing..
        The Great Arab revolt of 1916.. “pompous” “Arabs had no genius it should say” The Great Laurence of Arabia deceit of 1916.:)

        • ghassan Karam

          Your Grandpa is a smart man.

      • IraniAngel

        the fall of the ottoman empire seems to be the worst thing that cud ever happen to the arabs. the aftermath has truely proved that arabs r to be ruled NOT to rule

  • AkhouManUki

    Thank you Professor Karam for another outstanding analytical piece. I appreciate you imagining yourself as a giraffe, and subsequently sticking out your neck on the issue of the future of the Middle East. I often imagine the commenters in this community as various animals of the kingdom. We have hyenas, vultures, monkeys, orangutans, turtles, sharks, mosquitoes… any idea who is who?

    • ghassan Karam

      Thanks for the kind words Akhou. It would not be far fetched to describe our failed politicians as vulturesand hyenas would it ? 🙂

      • AkhouManUki

        Oh I like that… I had a few come to mind:

        Assad – Hyena: have you seem the lion king? Enough said
        Nasrallah – Coyote: likes to howl and looks for fights
        Jumblatt – Chameleon: no explanation required, this one is obvious
        Aoun – Orangutan: besides the orange butt, this is what he sounds like
        Hariri – Hermit crab: because they hide from danger
        Geagea – Doberman: willing to stick his nose in trouble
        Franjieh – Hyena: definitely related to Assad, same species
        Wahab – Vulture: looking to feast on others misfortune

        • Geo

          lol, thank God I am just a toucan 🙂

          • AkhouManUki

            Franjieh could easily pass as a parrot as well, all he does is repeat shit that Bashar told him to say

          • Comtessa di Alba

            Hi Geo !

          • ABOU TOOKAN AL AMRIKI

            Hi Hindi 🙂

          • Comtessa di Alba

            kif halak ??

          • ABOU TOOKAN AL AMRIKI

            so so, mish kteer mnih 🙁 one week ago today my friend went down.

          • Comtessa di Alba

            what a sad sad story, difficult to live with.. i can understand Geo :)..

          • ABOU TOOKAN AL AMRIKI

            wow what a beautiful bird :):):) Thanks

          • Comtessa di Alba

            I’m glad you got it.. the bird is nowhere “yet” :))

          • 5thDrawer

            You simply have a weird computer ….

          • Comtessa di Alba

            i do..i lost my Microsoft, no body to help..

        • Comtessa di Alba

          It’s funny…!Good observation.. like Les Fables de Lafontaine.

  • vs

    +The ME Boundaries are Inviolable+
    Turkey ready to accept Kurdish state in historic shift http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/65ae9ac2-fe00-11e3-bd0e-00144feab7de.html#axzz3628D4DNQ

    • vs
      • Comtessa di Alba

        Nobody “seems” to mind..

        • 5thDrawer

          seem … a seam is on a skirt.

          • Comtessa di Alba

            Thank you 🙂 i get it right sometimes

    • ghassan Karam

      vs,
      I have always stated that an autonomous Kurdish enclave is a likely outcome but total independence will take place only if the current governments of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran insist on mishanling the Kurdish issue. In a sense Sykes Picot and the Mandate wronged the Kurds more than any other group.

      • Comtessa di Alba

        Not more than the Palestinians 🙂

        • ghassan Karam

          Contessa di Alba,
          Your remark is true , if taken out of context. The post makes it clear that the Balfour declaration was the beginning of a tragedy that has not ended . I just did not feel that I should repeat that in each one line answer. So technically you have scored a goal.:-)

          • 5thDrawer

            hehehehe .. keep her smiling … 😉

          • Comtessa di Alba

            ??

          • Comtessa di Alba

            This is sexist.. sometimes Drawer you go lower than your brilliant intellect.

          • 5thDrawer

            Sometimes, as in the dance ‘Calypso’, it’s a question of;
            ‘How Low Can You Go’.
            These days, for me, only low enough to fall on my ass. :-))
            But if you wish to raise the bar, it’s ok. 😉

          • Comtessa di Alba

            I react sometimes on my emotions, it was an impulsive remark 🙂

      • IraniAngel

        being an iranian kurd myself i can tell u that kurds in iran r very happy about being a part of iran

  • vs

    ME: we are not orabs http://goo.gl/hNbRDQ

  • 5thDrawer

    Good Article Ghassan.
    Relating to WWI …. a new book named ‘A Handful of Bullets’ should be a good read.

    There is a premise that ‘the world’ (population hugely larger now than in 1914) is once again at the point of ‘nervous agitation’ wherein it will only need one rather actually insignificant event to propel it into more serious war-efforts – which was the few bullets needed to kill Franz Ferdinand and his wife.
    Countries had ‘treaties’ with each other at that time, which automatically dragged them into taking ‘sides’ over the matter, and everyone went to war.
    Having handled the ‘WIN’ badly (vengeful ways), they all dove into it again for WWII against a megalomaniac machine invented by Hitler and his ‘crew’. (The Japanese Generals had similar wishes.) After THAT one, some smartened up to try and avoid the problem of that constant humanistic thing about the tribal factions and which was ‘meant’ to rule the world. The negativity of the angst against ‘Race’ being the largest factor among the ‘tribes’, of course.

    But in this ‘age’ of acceptance (I think among most) that various races are actually still humans (some of us love the variety ;-), the last ‘huge’ differences are simply in the minds about ‘way of life’ .. the CUSTOMS which Religion promotes so well in it’s many forms; and thus an inability to allow that this comes more from the minds which, in ages with lack of much knowledge, simply wished to control ALL for a particular society’s benefit, with the ‘rules’ of a god.
    There are those who wish to keep that going, rather than admit that any individual CAN actually decide HOW to live within the ‘society of humans animals’, and what to pray to when he/she didn’t seem to find or have a good answer.

    And why is everyone ‘nervous’ now?? LACK of EDUCATION is a number one reason.
    I can almost discount the seemingly basic stupidity of the larger populations which don’t know how to vote, of course … although that doesn’t come into play much where they are not allowed to vote with a ‘free will’ anyway. If people were educated enough to understand when they were listening to ‘hype’ there might be less nervousness. Even the ones who ‘promote’ a WWIII will not like it.

    • ghassan Karam

      5thDrawer
      Initially I wanted to expand on the idea of unintended consequences but then I decided that I will do without that. But you are right, there are so many variables that are being juggled at the same time that something similar to WWI could possibly take place. But as you might have noticed most of what has taken place after the initial Arab Spring movements has been unintended consequences. Personally I think that we will avoid such a global conflagration but Putin scares me if for nothing else but the idea that he wants to recreate the old Soviet Union; he is a Salafist:-)

      • 5thDrawer

        hehehe … a ‘wanna-be’ Caliph? 😉

  • vs

    Progress in ME is irreversible http://goo.gl/rWDooQ

  • MekensehParty

    Limiting the negatives of Sykes picot to the Balfour promise is unfair and totally biased. A big negative of SP is the creation of Lebanon, a country that should have never existed in its current borders and that, I think, will not last in its current borders. It’s sad, very sad, to see Lebanese condemn the establishment of Israel when they themselves took advantage of the exact same circumstances to carve themselves a country that they do not deserve (as proven since the independence).
    Borders, as historically proven rarely last. France’s borders changed two or three times in the last century, Germany, Japan, China, Russia, Europe., Africa, Asia, Americas,… All borders changed, very few remained intact…
    All this to say that Sykes Picot, just like any other agreement on borders will not last forever. As long as we have differences among people and their various ways of lives we will see new borders being erected and old ones being erased.
    Borders, a human invention, will keep changing as long as human keep changing…

    • Comtessa di Alba

      Yes right..but sad..

      edited by the author

    • ghassan Karam

      MekensehParty,
      Believe it or not I am in total agreement with your comment. One implicit point that I wanted to show is nation states and their borders are a relatively new invention. There is nothing sacred about them. They have changed in the past and they will change in the future. That I have no problem with. I am saying that SP borders have lasted for seventy years and would probably last for a long time to come with some minor modifications. As for greater Lebanon, its creation has not resulted in a vibrant democracy or even an “independent” state but what is the alternative? There isn’t any besides learning how to accept the other and becoming less tribal, both of which can still be done in order to save this experiment.

      • MekensehParty

        Absolutely, it is the choice of the residents to define their borders as we can very well see in Iraq and Syria, but also in Ukraine/Crimea and many other places in the world… The people residing in the ME by the time of SP were very happy with the agreement (they were ready to accept anything that would keep the Turks/Ottoman out) and that’s what made it last 70 years. Syria was unhappy that Lebanon was carved out of it and they worked for 70 years to change the map, figuratively annexing parts then all of Lebanon during the civil war and after only to lose it again in 2005 again figuratively since their tools and influence are still in place.
        Iran in the last decade also changed the SP map extending Iran’s real borders to the Mediterranean through regimes and terrorist organizations under its direct influence. But their figurative borders were more fragile than they thought…
        In my modest opinion Sykes Picot collapsed years ago and only recently this fact became apparent on the geographical map. The Lebanese independence experience has failed, the Israeli experience has failed and now the Syrian and Iraqi experiences as two separate and independent nations have failed as well. (Jordan the only apparent exception is held together by the Israeli-US-KSA will – do I sound like hind?) Sykes Picot right now is only ink on paper, a childish drawing of a map unrecognized by any of the residents whether they aspire for larger unity under a Caliph or smaller independent states like the Kurds, the Christians and Druze of Mount Lebanon…
        Will a new map be drawn soon?
        Who cares about the ink, the peoples of the region have already decided where the new lines are.

    • 5thDrawer

      See the History of Wales, Britain, for the evolution of borders and laws governing ….
      Lebanon could use some lessons …. maybe avoid the bloodshed.

      • MekensehParty

        Lebanese should reset/delete all they think they know and apply for kindergarten

  • vs

    In face of ISIS threat, Liberman terms Jordan’s stability a vital Israeli national interest http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/In-face-of-ISIS-threat-Liberman-terms-Jordans-stability-a-vital-Israeli-national-interest-361028

    • Comtessa di Alba

      Old news..

  • vs

    The Japanese government has authorized to use troops abroad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_Self-Defense_Forces

  • IraniAngel

    the sunnis of the region seem to be wanting self rule in the middle east more than anything. please let them have their useless sand box in syria, in iraq, in ksa and n let them seperate from the oil rich shia areas in iraq n ksa n the green areas dominated by kurds (in case of iraq) n alawis (in case of syria). yalla yalla split it up. at the end of day this will only benefit non sunnis so im kinda like all for it!

  • vs

    Let us now conquer Rome, ISIS leader tells the world’s Muslims

    • 5thDrawer

      Imagine the little band of nut-bars Crusading across the lands with the map they have from 1400AD …. leaving a little trail of death and destruction as they go … while wondering why it’s taking so long, since the map didn’t make Rome look that far … but they somehow manage to have a few worm their way to Rome … where they are promptly run down by the Italian drivers. :-)))