Sykes-Picot: 100 Years Later
The region’s rivers fed the fertile farmlands of the ancient Sumerian communities, which gave rise to the first cities in civilization. Geographically, the region is located at the crossroads of major trade routes, contributing to its strategic importance throughout history. This area held an important place in the ancient world, from the expansion of Mesopotamia and Babylonia in 3500 BC to the development of Egypt around the River Nile starting around 2500 BC. As ancient powers spread their territories, one way they controlled these vast areas was by re-settling the conquered peoples, scattering groups with little regard for ethnic, sectarian or economic viability of the new communities. This kept the local tribes from becoming too powerful in their own right. Throughout its complex history, the Persian and Roman Empires along with various caliphates and sultanates controlled parts of the region. Local tribes also attempted to establish claims on lands, which often resulted in bloody wars. The Middle East’s location and agricultural riches have also made it the target of many outside powers.
The Ottoman Empire, ruled from Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), controlled most of the region starting in 1453 AD, stretching its power to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Although ultimately controlled by Constantinople, the garrisons of Syria, Egypt, Iraq and many others were governed by local forces who ran them as virtually independent states. The Ottoman Empire weakened in the 1800s and was forced to give up some of its territories, including Egypt, which became an independent state, but strengthened its grip on Iraq and Syria. The Empire did take a strong stance toward the emergence of nationalistic opposition movements, often banishing or executing the movements’ leaders. The map below shows the Middle Eastern powers from 1837 to 1871.