28.06.2016 Author: Yuriy Zinin

From the Sykes-Picot Agreement to the Arab Spring

карта конф-6In recent weeks, the media and academic circles in the Middle East have been particularly often mentioning two names – Sykes and Picot. This fact was associated with a 100-year anniversary of the secret agreement that was signed in May 1916. The Asia Minor Agreement is often referred to as the Sykes-Picot after the names of two diplomats that drafted it, one was British, while the other was French.

This agreement established control zones in the former Asian possessions of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, and for decades it virtually dictated the political architecture of the Middle East.

It should be noted that a particular curious conference has been recently held in Lebanon that was aimed at discussing the effect of the Sykes-Picot agreement. Assembled by the House of the Future scientific center, it summoned the representatives of scientific and political circles from Lebanon, other Arab states, Europe and the United States.

Former Lebanese President and the founder of the House of the Future Amine Gemayel has opened the meeting with his observations about the nature of the Sykes-Picot agreement. In particular, he noted that the original text of this deal contained 832 words, yet there was no mention of the “people” or “the right to self-determination.”

A prominent Lebanese political scientist Joseph Maila has called Palestine along with Kurdish communities the biggest victims of this agreement, since they were promised a national state to live in, but received none.

Many attendees, attempted to analyze the turbulent events that are shaking the region now through the prism of the agreement that was drafted a century ago. According to the absolute majority of those who were present at the conference, any revision of national borders can lead to harsh consequences, if this step was taken without the informed consent of the people.

It was a general consensus that the threat of ISIS is presenting a serious challenge to the territorial integrity of various states, since it has virtually erased the national border between Iraq and Syria.

The Arab people are all equally interested in the preservation of the the existing borders, since any unilateral steps to redraw them would lead to the consequent destabilization followed by a string of bloody conflicts.

Most analysts agree that today’s conflicts in the Middle East – are the conflicts of the next generation, that develop against the background of transformations that moder societies undergo, along with the global processes and the political rivalry of Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, their development is influenced by a number of factors, including the global economic crisis, rapidly changing oil prices along with the increase in the flow of small arms to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, etc.

The dominant position at the conference was that the region doesn’t need new borders, it needs a new order. Some intellectuals have appealed for the creation of a new system of bilateral relations in the region that could remind the Westphalian one, for the de-escalation of conflicts, for the dissolution of all non-governmental armed groups.

A former representative of Iraq in the UN, Renda al-Harim that was present at the conference announced that divide across religious and ethnic lines may lead to grave consequences for the Middle East, therefore he urged all parties in the region to avoid the politicization of inter-communal strife.

The representatives of the Arab academic world, it seems, are fully aware of the importance of finding a consensus within their own states in order to confront the challenges that the whole region is facing today like the religious radicalism, the fragmentation of national forces, the growing pressure of external players, etc.

As for Russia’s position, it is appropriate to mention that the Russian Empire, although it was involved in a series of military agreements with the Entente on the division of the Ottoman Empire, back in the day refused any claims in the Arab world. After the October Revolution in Russia, the Bolshevik government declassified the Sykes-Picot agreement and soon its contents became known to the Arabs.

A negative attitude towards this agreement has largely determined the Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East. This led to the steps that the Soviet Union took after World War II to assist Arab states in their struggle for self-determination and independence.

Under present circumstances, Moscow is engaged in the uncompromising struggle against international terrorism, therefore it is supporting by all means, including military ones, those states in the region that are taking this matter seriously.

It should be noted that the region that is torn by problems and contradictions mustn’t become the subject of a deal that would remind the Sykes-Picot agreement that my be signed under the pretext of the promotion of democracy and the so-called “Western standards”. There should be no revision of the established territorial borders, since such a revision could only strengthen the positions of the self-declared Islamic State.

Yuri Zinin, Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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