By Alfonso Elizondo
The Sykes-Picot deal was a secret pact agreed between Great Britain and France with the support of Tsarist Russia and the Kingdom of Italy, and its main objective was to carry out the distribution of territories in the Middle East that belonged to an Ottoman Empire already in ruins. It was ratified in May 1916, regardless of the fact that all the promises that had been made to the Arabs to hand them large territories for their nomadic population in exchange for their uprising against the Turks had not been fulfilled. That’s how the territories of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine were divided into pieces of land fully administered by France and Great Britain.
Soon after, during the Peace Conference in Paris (1919), it was decided to divide all the territories that were stripped to the Turks only between France and Great Britain, as one of the decisions taken during the League of Nations. This secret agreement takes its name after Sir Mark Sykes and the Frenchman Georges Picot and its details were underlined in a letter sent by the French Ambassador in London, Paul Cambon, to the British Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Gray on May 9, 1916 and confirmed by Gray ‘s letter of response to Cambon.
When the two European powers split the territories that once belonged to Turks between themselves, the Middle East experienced an historic decision that would mark the region forever: some countries were to be forbidden to achieve independence, and territories in the region went under French and British control. For this reason, many scholars and academics studying current issues of the Islamic Terrorism consider that secret event (the Sykes-Picot agreement) as the true origin of the current conflicts in the Middle East and the main cause for Islamic terrorism.
It was very clear that the borders of what was going to become the Middle East Region were drawn unnaturally with arbitrary lines that forced the Arabs to lose control of the main oil reserves, access to the Mediterranean and to the nearest routes towards most European countries and North Africa. This is why the current Islamic State (IS) has crossed those same borders, and a few months ago proclaimed “we do not believe in the Sykes-Picot agreement “ whilst announcing the extension of its caliphate between Syria and Iraq. This situation matches to a certain degree what has also been declared and believed by Bashar Al-Assad, President of Syria.
Syria had always been regarded as an example of coexistence between different cultures: Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. 74% of its population is Sunni Muslim, 16% are Druse and Alawites and the remaining 10% is divided between Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholics, Armenians and Syrian-Cocobites. However, it’s the Alawites, despite being a minority, who hold the power under the ruling of Bashar Al-Assad. The Alawis began their entry into the circles of power through the army channels, during the establishment of the French protectorate. That makes it clear that both history and regional geography are closely linked to the Sykes-Picot agreement.
Behind the civil war that has turned Syria into ruins, there’s another hidden battle taking place, the one between the great military powers of Russia, US, Iran, the Monarchies of the Persian Gulf and China, all of them trying to get control of Syria, a key country in the geopolitical actions in the Middle East, North Africa and other Arab Countries. It seems that Russia has won back its main role on the international stage, Putin has blocked all military intervention of the West in Syria, under UN supervision, and achieved avoiding its bankruptcy by providing weapons to the diversity of regional governments involved in the current conflict.
The United States, on their side, are maintaining their role as the head of the Arab-Western coalition, and have been conducting strikes against the Islamic State for more than a year, both in Iraq and Syria. Obama has maintained a cautious position towards Syria, after not being able to verify whether the Assad regime had made use of chemical weapons, very likely to avoid repeating the same mistake the White house had previously made in Iraq.
As for France and Britain, they had possible involvement with the ruling regime in Syria before, even though now, after the terrorist attacks that happened in Paris just last week, they seem to be ready to bombard Syria with the support of Australia.
At the same time Iran has become the virtual godfather of the Syrian regime and the foundation of the Shiites in the Middle East. According to Jeffery White of the Washington Institute for New East Policy, Iranians are allocating more resources to the war in Syria.
As for the Gulf monarchies, they are facing the Syrian regime through rebel groups. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are the main players financing the opposition in Syria, trying to keep the Sunni majority against the Alawite minority (who are Shia) and simultaneously seeking to counteract the influence of Iraq in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the oil monarchies are fighting each other over a war of influence outside Syria for the control of the opposition’s representation and in the Syrian battlefields among the different rebel groups.
China instead is seeking stability in the Middle East because that is their route towards the European markets, and sees the attempts of the US to dominate the area as harmful towards Russia, other Asian countries and China itself. For this reason, it helped Iran by blocking resolutions submitted by the United States to expand sanctions against Iran, and also opposed a military strike against Iran. China could send military assistance to Iran at any time, so that its major geopolitical rivals may take advantage of the current conflict. As for the UN, its envoy to Syria does not have any idea of how to solve the problem and seems to keep changing their opinions on the matter.
Trying to make a brief summary of this serious conflict in the Middle East, we could conclude that after four and a half years since it started, more than 11 million Syrians have been on the move, 7 within their country and 4 outside its borders, with Europe being the major target destination for the migrants. Figures depicting the consequences of the armed conflict in Syria are terrible: 220,000 people dead, 11 million displaced, 4 million refugees and 12 million civilians relying on humanitarian aid to survive.
According to UN figures there are more than 3.8 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, and have become a huge burden for Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. According to a survey conducted in Jordan among 40,000 Syrian refugee families in urban areas, more than two-thirds live below the absolute poverty line.
Exhibit: Wherever colonialism took place, there remains the aftermath of injustice even a century after its end. But Western Nations have not yet discovered how not to intervene in the lives of other countries.