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Preserving the Ottoman Mosaic

Carl Bildt

 

 

The roots of the Middle East’s many conflicts lie in the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century and the failure since then to forge a stable regional order. As the international community works toward securing a durable peace in the region, its leaders would be wise to remember the lessons of history.

The Ottoman Empire – which once stretched from Bihać in today’s Bosnia to Basra in Iraq – was a rich mosaic of intermingled cultures, traditions, and languages under the ultimate authority of the Sultan in Istanbul. It was remarkably stable, providing the region with a peaceful foundation for hundreds of years. But as it started to come apart, it did so violently.

It was in the Balkans that the process of carving out nation-states from the Ottoman mosaic began. And it was a process that kicked off two decades of devastating wars – the first at the beginning of the twentieth century, the second in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia and the Levant, a new crop of countries emerged as outside powers redrew the Ottoman map. Syria and Iraq were the outcome of negotiations over competing French and British interests. The Greeks made an ill-fated attempt to conquer western Anatolia – eventually triggering the revolution that led to the creation of modern Turkey. And the 1917 Balfour Declaration – a British pledge to establish a Jewish state in Palestine – laid the groundwork for the creation of Israel in 1948, followed by decades of conflict and negotiations.

 

The article’s full-text is available here.

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