Reading or watching these stories, without putting them in the context of where they come from, they will remain incomplete and lack of knowledge can become an assumption. Knowledge of the history is one way to put events into context, but it’s not the only one. In this section we will try to give a brief historic context and connect it to today’s events in the Middle East.
Most of the stories here on The Radio are from this region because it has seen continuous conflicts for over three decades (at least). Although the term ‘Middle East’ is not very precise and meaningful, as a term it has entered international political literature since 19th century referring often to the region between Arabia and India.
One of the crucial points to consider in examining this region is that most of the countries were politically created after World War One, as a result of the allies’ victory over Central Powers including the Ottoman Empire.
Whilst it was still an Empire Britain (with France) divided the remaining of the collapsed Ottoman Empire without much consideration to the regions ethnicity and culture, into smaller states. One of the reasons for this division was to ensure that the Ottoman Empire would not be able to rise again. These states were an amalgamation of a few former Vilayats (provinces) of the Ottomans.
For example today’s Syria was the amalgamation of the provinces of Souriya (Damas, Hama, Hauran (Daraa) excluding Kerak (which is now part of Jordan), part of Haleb (including Haleb excluding Ourfa and Marach which are now part of Turkey). These ‘politico-geographic’ changes were dramatic for communities on a social level. There were members of the same family divided by imposed borders which became different countries. This was also the situation for tribes and clans who now had to adopt new identities.
Often we hear the name of a country and assume the people of that country are alike and unified. However rarely do we consider these modern countries (known politically as Sovereign States) as a political structure, rather we take it as an organic entity. Even in Europe the concept of ‘Sate’ was relatively new because Sovereignty within a fixed territory was for the first time agreed on by politicians in Westphalia 1648. In the newly built countries of the Middle East this concept was totally new and politicians and citizens alike, were unaccustomed.
During the 1920’s The League of Nations gave permission for Britain and France, as so called ‘developed’ countries the power to “administer the new emerging countries until they will be able to administrate themselves”. In other words to colonise those nations. Not only was the creation of these countries unnatural, it also undermined the very principles of international relations, but also contradicts the colonisers claim that ‘states’ are the most appropriate structures that can protect the nations interest, however the often misunderstood term of ‘anarchy’ would have been more appropriate. Hence there was a contradictory effect. The very fact that an alien political structure would govern a nation, which is not domestic to the leading governors, contravenes the concept of sovereignty as specificities of individual state interests would be compromised.
In international relations theory, anarchy is regarded as a world system which is leaderless: there is no universal sovereign or worldwide government. Therefore there is no superior hierarchy or coercive power that can resolve disputes, enforce law, or order the system like there is in domestic politics.
These colonization’s provoked a wave of nationalism that lasted a few decades by many who organised themselves into secret militant groups. At the end of the colonial rule these countries were left with a pro-colonial power government with the nationalists becoming an underground militant force. Therefore we could say that current violence in these states can be traced back to the manifestation of these countries through colonization.
In the next instalment we will go through each country’s history and their relations to the international politics to the present moment.