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February 25, 2021

About Eastern Question 2.0: Syria and Europe-May 16, 2016 (I)

May 16 is an important day for the history of the liaisons between Europe and Mideast. It’s so important, that the current development within Mideast (extremely contradictory, violent and threatening for the future of the region, of Europe and of the world) have often included references to this date. Therefore, this date was naturally mentioned and commented in Media, because 100 years have passed since signing, in the middle of the World War I, of the document bearing the name of the signatory authors, namely (Mark) Sykes – (Francois-George) Picot; the first one was a British diplomat, and the second one was a French member of the diplomacy, who have established together the division of the extraordinary inheritance of the Ottoman Empire. Although at that moment, in 1916, Triple Entente’s victory was still far to come, the “post-World War I” world was organizing itself in a slow manner.

The destiny of the sultans’ empire, which was unfolded from the North Africa to the limits of the Persian Gulf, was in the first line of the disintegration and division between the influence areas of the winners. Thus, they especially wished to satisfy Russia, who was already entered in a deep internal crisis, out of which it will never get out unless by starting a revolution and a civil war. So Russia received Constantinople – the former Capital of the Byzantine Empire – and wide territories in Caucasus, while Great Britain and France took for themselves an important prey which was transformed in national states after the war, initially being under mandate, and they still are such national states today: Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, followed by the small emirates on the shore of the Gulf. In 1917, the famous statement Balfour has resettled the Hebrew people’s right to reestablish themselves in an ancient territory of a national home place within the biblical Israel. Many nations, such as Kurdish people, have remained outside of these arbitrary divisions which served the authors’ interests. In this day, in 2016, for instance, one of the Kurdish leaders (Masoud Barzani) didn’t miss the chance to claim, on his own Twitter page, that the centenary agreement has lost its significance, asserting his nation’s will to be independent: “On 100th anniversary of Sykes-Picot agreement, borders/sovereignty have become meaningless. Sykes-Picot is over.”And he is not the only politician in the region stating that the agreement (namely the current political and territorial division of the Middle East region) must be abandoned and the process must be reconsidered corresponding to the today’s realities.

What today is an irony of the history is that, somehow, diplomats of some important extra-European countries are trying, today, to conciliate the decisions made by the two European allies diplomats who performed a savant “navigation” on the region’s map (Russia, which was entered in crisis, didn’t benefit of the assigned items, the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution deciding to publish the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1917) with the current requirements. Namely, USA and Russia, two states which have become real sponsors (admitted by the international community) trying to solve one of the sources of international violence and insecurity from Mideast, and I am talking about Syria. As we may notice (who is familiarized to the development of the events in Syria and Iraq knows this since a long time ago), the original authors of the “Sykes-Picot file”, namely Europe, are missing from its’ new edition. But why do we have this strange situation? How do we have this context in which, in the place of those European countries (who can’t deny even today a certain responsibility for the development of the region in the last 100 years), other great powers, which are more or less extra-European, are in the first line of the pacifying action?

The answer is not only that both USA and Russia (as the successor of the USSR) are the giants of the former Cold War, while almost 50 years they have fought each other through proxies, including through Mideast, therefore cumulating huge obligations of responsibility towards the instability of the region. A proper answer requires a brief review of the immediate antecedents of the current regional crisis, especially the ones occurred at the start of the phenomenon called “The Arab Spring”, in which are also counted the current civil war from Syria and the birth of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Thus, we can see that even since the “Arab Spring” has began (consisting in the phenomenon of replacing the authoritarian regimes from the Arabian states with chosen democratic ones – the first state being Tunisia, then Egypt), Europe has been characterized by the ambiguity and selectivity of its engagement. EU, and in particular France, has shown the necessary energy only in the case of Libya (2011), although this energy was requested by both the geographic proximity of the Arabian space and the impact of the uncontrolled developments in it’s’ ensemble, out of which the illegal immigration has its place in the forefront. Including EU preferred an unengaged position. On one hand, it was all about geopolitical orientations on different coordinates of the EU Member States, preventing a consensus to be reached. On the other hand, there was a prudence in acting, the case of EU’s relationship with the South of the Mediterranean Sea being a very sensitive one, due to both the strategic engagement and the resources to be spent.

Different strategies were tried, but it seems that what has drawn up the attention of the continental leaders on their duty towards the neighbors from the South was the huge refugees’ wave in the summer 2015 (more than 1 million refugees in an extremely short period of time), foreshadowing a powerful destabilization of Europe. Since 2011, in the absence of an energetic involvement of Europe in South, the free space was occupied by other state powers. On one hand, some regional actors have had their initiative – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran -, each one with their own projects on Mideast. On the other hand, given the complexity and the risk coefficient of the regional destabilization for the international security, some extra-regional powers have been involved, especially USA, but gradually being attracted also other countries. Syria has become illustrative both for the developments of the “Arab Spring” as a whole, and for the degree and the intensity of the regional and extra-regional powers’ involvement. The civil war started in 2011 has resulted in early massive material damages and human life losses (around 250,000 until now), actually with a huge disorganization of the Syrian economical and social system. More than 50 percent of the total Syrian population (of almost 24 million people) was uprooted (over 4 million refugees in the neighbor countries and in Europe, the others being locally dislocated), and the threatening of using weapons of mass destruction has became serious. USA, by the voice of President Obama, have established  that using these weapons by the Damask regime represents a “red line”, so going further is an equivalent of the military involvement.

This “red line” was apparently surpassed in 2013 (in some unclear circumstances), but the military intervention of USA didn’t took place. It was the moment in which Russia’s role in Mideast was starting to be highlighted. Russia took over the initiative to mediate the disarmament process of the Damask regime regarding the chemical weapons of mass destruction, which role was accepted by USA and the G-20. Performing a negotiated disarmament process gave hope to a peaceful solution of the civil war, but the war was even growing in intensity, since  in June 2014 the Sunni caliphate (IS, ISIL) proclaimed its status, asking to the other jihadist Sunni groups in Syria and Iraq and also to the worldwide Muslim Sunni to be obedient. The self-proclaiming statement of this so-called “state” in Syria and Iraq was accompanied by two videos, out of which one was called “The End of Sykes-Picot”, relating to the destruction of the border between Syria and Iraq and showing a flag of the so-called new state on the ruins of a symbolic demolished border post. Actually, the birth of this new actor was consisting in a new step of the jihadist strategy of challenging the current global order, while destroying the so-called Islamic caliphate has become a purpose for the entire international community. Obama was saying in an analysis of the situation at that moment: “broader point we need to stay focused on /…/is what we have is a disaffected Sunni minority in the case of Iraq, a majority in the case of Syria, stretching from essentially Baghdad to Damascus. … Unless we can give them a formula that speaks to the aspirations of that population, we are inevitably going to have problems. … Unfortunately, there was a period of time where the Shia majority in Iraq didn’t fully understand that. They’re starting to understand it now. Unfortunately, we still have ISIL [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], which has, I think, very little appeal to ordinary Sunnis./…/they’re filling a vacuum, and the question for us has to be not simply how we counteract them militarily but how are we going to speak to a Sunni majority in that area … that, right now, is detached from the global economy.



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