Prior to this class, I had a limited understanding of how heavily involved Britain was across such a broad expanse of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Agreement becomes yet another exchange that allowed British administration into Middle Eastern psyche. As a class, we have already encountered The D’Arcy Concession as well as The Tobacco Concession of 1891, both of which caused widespread distrust within the country of their leaders, the Shah of Persia and Naser Al-Din Shah.
Carving up a country with no regard to the populations within these lines causes major conflict between these people, as we have seen manifested in our millennial world, a century after the conception of this Agreement. It seems irrational to have an English diplomat – who understands little to nothing about Middle Eastern geography and cultures- divide up such a diverse region. However, can the violence over territory disputes (i.e Israel-Palestine) be attributed back to The Sykes-Picot Agreement? I think that Bernard Lewis would be of the thought that Middle Eastern people can do much better in making peaceable border agreements and leave the bloodshed out of it. A particular quote from What Went Wrong linked Lewis to this idea inexorably.
Lewis states, “If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination—perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways, perhaps from a resurgent Russia, perhaps from some expanding superpower in the East. But if they can abandon grievance and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, they can once again make the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is theirs.”
By tacitly accepting the motive behind their aggression, we are discounting their ability to use intellectual force to mend tumultuous relationships.
Kamrava’s, From Territories to Independent States makes a poignant argument in the opening paragraph by stating that history does not exist in a vacuum. Britain had a clear need for their presence in the Middle East- to safeguard their coveted asset, India. The British also need Egypt, for the Suez Canal, as a transit path for trade and military strategy. They then use southern Anatolia and Istanbul to win the Allied support of Italy and Russia for the impending World War 1, which was revoked in October 1917. The Sykes-Picot treaty introduced English and French spheres of power that maintain present, particularly in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of the French.
Continuing on the Kamrava trajectory, The Age of Nationalism, proved to be a useful chapter to supplement our understand of class discussions. His definition of nationalism is simply, “attachment on a national scale to a piece of territory, reinforced by the common bonds of identity such as shared symbols, historical experiences, language, folk-lore, and whatever else creates a sense of commonality.” How quickly can nationalism follow or re-form around a community divided by Englishmen, I wonder. He mentions that often times these common bonds include religion, which may be true of the Middle East but less so in Westernized countries. Perhaps this is only because of the dominant presence of Islam in the Middle East versus a vast mixture of religions in the US due to immigration and other historic influences. Like Kamrava said, History does not exist in a vacuum.