Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Middle East

Why is the West in the Middle East? Mostly because of the spoils of war. British expansion, French reaction to British expansion and the Ottoman alliance with Germany aimed at both. And when you lose a war, bad things happen to you. And then things get worse.

Napoleon always wanted to extend French power--in distinct opposition to the British influence, into India, via Malta, then Egypt. Napoleon went into Egypt in 1798. This expansion of French influence was met by British arms and Nelson. Eventually, the British would take Egypt, Sudan and the small states of the Persian Gulf. France would seize Algeria and Morocco.

For most of modern times, the major power in the Middle East has been the Ottoman Empire. Nomads, fleeing from the Mongols of Genghis Khan, established themselves in Iran and Mesopotamia in the mid-11th century and created a basis of this new empire. The Ottomans were able to take advantage of the decay of the Byzantine frontier defense system and the rise of economic, religious, and social discontent in the Byzantine Empire and, beginning under Osman and continuing under his successors, expanded and consolidated. Eventually Murad bypassed Constantinople and attacked Europe. He captured Macedonia (1371), central Bulgaria  and Serbia, all culminating in the climactic defeat of the Balkan allies at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. South of the Danube only Walachia, Bosnia, Albania, Greece, and the Serbian fort of Belgrade remained outside Ottoman rule, and to the north Hungary alone was in a position to resist further Muslim advances. Most of these battles--forgotten by the West--are still remembered and brooded upon by their descendants.
They fought the Crusaders and lost to Tamburlaine, aka Timur. Eventually they reorganized, solidified their European holdings and Mehmed II conducted the siege and conquest of Constantinople in 1453. They transformed the city into the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. Mehmed II became the most famous ruler in the Muslim world, even though the lands of the old caliphate still remained in the hands of the Mamlūks of Egypt and Timur’s successors in Iran.
Selim in a single sweep, doubled the size of his empire, adding to it all the lands of the old Islamic caliphate of Syria and Egypt with the exception of Iran. Selim did not wish to be dependent on or controlled by those who had brought him to power, so he killed not only all of his brothers but also all seven of their sons and four of his own five sons, leaving only the ablest, Süleyman, as the sole heir to the throne. Süleyman ruled over the golden age of Ottoman history. It was the great Süleyman who was captivated by and married the slavegirl Anastasiya Lisovska, also known as Roxelana, whose influence may have degraded the line and the dynasty. http://steeleydock.blogspot.com/2013/03/redheads-and-empire.html

The Habsburgs had organized Europe and so became the enemy of the Ottomans in the east and the French in the west. The Ottoman land war with the Habsburgs was centered in Hungary. (The Ottomans were supported by the Christian French, who wanted to resist the Habsburgs!) The expansion west was stopped at Vienna. The Ottomans were outside the gates of Vienna! This was followed by an internal decline and a gradual withdrawal from their frontiers. They ceded territory after a war with Russia in 1878.

In the early 1900s the Parliament gained some power and an army revolution left the army, and particularly Mahmud Şevket Paşa, as the real arbiters of Ottoman politics. They miscalculated and joined the Germans in WWI. When they lost, the winners had to do something with the dismembered empire.

Following the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in World War I, their Asian and African possessions (and Germany's), which were judged not yet ready to govern themselves, were distributed among the victorious Allied powers under the authority of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The sacred League of Nations. 
The "mandates" were divided into three groups on the basis of their location and their level of political and economic development and were then assigned to individual Allied victors --mandatory powers, or mandatories. (A mandate is a command you can't refuse. While it can be a personal command it is much more commonly connected with institutions. In this instance it is both an order and an authorization.)
Class A mandates consisted of the former Turkish provinces of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. These territories were considered sufficiently advanced that their provisional independence was recognized, though they were still subject to Allied administrative control until they were fully able to stand alone. Iraq and Palestine (including modern Jordan and Israel) were assigned to Great Britain, while Turkish-ruled Syria and Lebanon went to France. All Class A mandates had reached full independence by 1949.
While the land of Iraq might have a rich and glorious history, the nation of Iraq--as a distinct entity, on the other hand, was created right then without any regard to history or ethnicity.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the land of Iraq had been part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years and the ethnic and religious groups kept to themselves. After the war, Mark Sykes of Britain and François Georges-Picot of France carved the Ottoman Empire into nations and determining where their two nations and Russia would get to have spheres of influence. Regarding the “several ethnic and religious groups” boundaries that had developed over centuries, as James Barr recounts in his recent book, “Line in the Sand,” when Skyes was asked by then-British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, “What do you mean to give [the French] exactly?” Sykes “sliced his finger across the map that lay before them on the table. ‘I should like to draw a line from the ‘e’ in Acre to the last ‘k’ in Kirkuk,’ he said.”
So, not content with the damage they had done militarily, they mixed the Shia, the Sunnis and the Kurds all together. According to the Sykes-Picot plan, Britain got Jordan, parts of Palestine and Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). France would get part of Turkey, Syria and what became modern-day Lebanon. Then, later, they added Israel, stirred and brought to a boil.
In 1933 the king of Saudi Arabia signed a drilling contract with SOCAL, and brought a new aspect of economic development -- and wealth--into the picture. It is interesting that despite the savagery of WW1, the time honored tradition of looting the defeated was not followed here. The Allies formed various states and, with the single exception of establishing Israel, allowed them to develop--and eventually hold their creators hostage to their natural resources. Had the Middle East been in the China Basin at the time, the entire territory would be militarized, speaking Japanese and cheerfully pouring out oil.--Well, maybe after the necessary Japanese cleansing.

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