According to historians, the cause of the wars in the Middle East is the artificial borders drawn up at the beginning of the 20th Century. The post-Ottoman states of the region were not founded upon historical, sociological or geographical facts. Iraq and Syria being in particular, the new borders were drawn in line with the interests of the British Empire. Many political analysts believe it was the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement – signed between Britain and France – that shaped the modern Middle East. But in reality, the map that threw the region into turmoil for a hundred years was drawn at the Cairo Conference held with the attendance of many British diplomats, military figures, spies and politicians. The then Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill, dubbed this crew, who divided the Ottoman Empire on paper, as “40 Thieves”.
The Ottoman Empire’s separation accelerated in the early 19th Century. Britain, France and Russia, the three great imperialist empires of the era, were in a fierce competition to seize this 20 million square kilometers of territory. Although history books present it as a three-way competition, the de facto leader and decision maker of this alliance had always been the British Empire. The decisions of war and peace would be taken in London, and the British statesmen would always have the final say when the territorial distribution was concerned. In the period of more than a century leading up to the World War I, three-fourths of the Ottoman territories were separated among these three empires. The Northern Black Sea and Caucasus was granted to the Russians; the Balkan countries became supposedly sovereign states under British protectorate and North Africa largely came under British rule. Algeria was occupied by the French and from this division, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was granted Bosnia-Herzegovina as an appeasement.
For the remaining territories, Britain, France and Russia signed the Sykes-Picot-Sazonov Agreement in 1916 behind closed doors while World War I was still raging on. Following the October Revolution (the Bolshevik coup d’etat), Russia withdrew from the agreement; thus, the agreement was renamed as ‘Sykes-Picot’. After the war, Britain decided to form the borders on its own, pushing France aside as well. To that end, a conference was held at the Semiramis Hotel, Cairo in March 12th, 1921.
The meeting was chaired by the British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill. The meeting was held in great secrecy and was featured in neither the press nor the memoirs of the attendees.
Among the “40 Thieves”, all of whom were British citizens, were the British spies archaeologist Gerthrude Bell and T. E. Lawrence, their local collaborators Jafar al-Askari and Sassoon Hasqauil; the British invasion commanders General Edmund Allenby, Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, Hubert Young, and the British Invasion Civil Administrative Herbert Samuel, Francis Archer and Arnold Wilson and the Baghdad High Commissioner Sir Percy Cox.
The decisions that were put into practice following the congress in Cairo constitute the basis of the problems the Middle East faces today. As per the decisions taken in this meeting, the Ottoman territories were split up as follows:
The Palestine region was to be ceded to the British mandate. Abdullah of the Hashemite Dynasty was to become the King of Jordan.
Lebanon and Syria were to be temporarily ceded to French rule and the system of governance there was to be determined by the French.
The Hejaz region was to be granted to Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca.
The Arabian Peninsula and Nejd were to be granted to the House of Ibn Saud.
Britain was to continue paying subsidies to the House of Ibn Saud and the Sharif of Mecca. Britain’s Royal Air Force was to be responsible for ensuring the safety of the entire region. (In accordance with this particular assignment, the British bombed thousands of settlements in the Middle East, martyring tens of thousands of innocent civilians).
And finally, Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussein of the Hashemite dynasty, who staged the Arab Revolt, was to be installed as the King of Iraq.
One of the most significant decisions of the meeting was the foundation of the Iraqi state. Until then, no country named Iraq had existed in history, nor a nation labeled as “Iraqi”. Throughout history, the region had always been known as ‘Mesopotamia’: It was in this meeting that the name ‘Iraq’, which means ‘country far from sea’, was mentioned for the first time. Determined as the King of Iraq by the “40 Thieves”, Faisal was a member of the Hashemite Dynasty and he had been chosen as the King of Syria. Once the rule of Syria had been ceded to France, Faisal ended up as the King of Iraq. Faisal was not from Mesopotamia, incidentally; he was actually born in Hejaz. A person who had never been in Iraq was thereby duly appointed as the King of those lands.
When King Faisal ascended to the throne of Iraq, the land was in a state of complete disorder. The rival Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish communities
rebelled against the new British mandate government. The British were able to quell this rebellion and successfully installed the King only by paying around 40 million Pounds.
Since the reign of King Faisal to our day, 15 separate insurrections have occurred in Iraq. Shiite and Kurdish massacres took place. The country was ruled by dictators for a period of almost 50 years. Iraqi territories faced two occupations and virtually all the major cities were destroyed: The death toll reached 500,000 in the Iran-Iraq War alone. Since the day it was artificially founded to our day, the country has seen no shortage of death and blood.
Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Yemen also share a similar history. As for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, there has been no period that has not been beset by greater or lesser degrees of internal turmoil and political instability. Royal Air Force warplanes had to step in to be able to implement the decisions made in the Cairo Conference. The revolts that broke out in Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq and Palestine were suppressed in the most brutal manner. Cities, towns, villages were levelled to the ground under heavy bombardments. During the 100 years following the meeting in Cairo, many Christians, Jews and Muslims lost their lives in never-ending wars. Shiites, Sunnis, Nusayris, Wahhabis, Alawites had forgotten their ties of brotherhood and slaughtered each other. Arab, Yazidi, Assyrian, Turkmen and Kurdish women and children have been the victims of the most ruthless persecution. Millions of Middle Easterners were massacred because of the maps devised by the “40 Thieves”.
The map that was drawn back then is still being fine-tuned to this day and this is still refined a bit further through bloodshed, war, animosity and conflict. There is only one way to change this picture: Regardless of their religion, language and race, the people of the region must regard their differences as a blessing and remember that they are brothers. In that regard, a major responsibility falls on the shoulders of Muslims that are being overwhelmed by denominational wars. Muslims should come to the realization that ‘sectarian conflict’ is nothing but an artificial feud. At the same time, they should be the guardians of other religions. This is the only solution that will put an end to the war that has been raging for a century and thwart the schemes being played on the Middle East.
Adnan Oktar's piece in Jefferson Corner & Daily Mail: