Middle Eastern Borders - Re-imagining History

I think this can stay a GQ, but if it it becomes a GD I suppose that would be interesting, although I think there is a factual answer.

In many of the threads about the various Middle Eastern stories, people note that the way former colonial powers drew the borders as being a contributing factor to the instability we see today.

I was wondering if anyone had ever conducted and academic exercise and look back to those days (and I am not sure what the best point in time would be; perhaps just after WWI?) and draw a map that would be more logical and account for the religious and ethnic makeups in the areas. I’m just curious what such a map would look like, and if it would be so fine-grained as to be unworkable (i.e., city-sized entities) or if it would appear to make sense. It seems to me that you would probably have sufficient overlap that many of the state lines could not be drawn cleanly. But I don’t know.

I suppose the specific, factual question is whether there exists a hypothetical map of what should have been.

The GD debate would be whether that would have made a difference over the long term. Are the divisions abrasive enough that we would have lots of regional wars? Would the area look more like Europe today, with regards to the state relationships?

Dumb questions? Maybe…

It would seem to me that the Middle East would then suffer from Sudetenland Syndrome - there would still be areas where different tribes/ethnic groups or religions are mixed; whoever ends up with the raw deal would then complain. If they had the strength across the border, they would then be the reason for the next war.

Or… based on the sudden “discovery” by western media of another ethnic/religious minority in Iraq - the resulting “countries” would end up being so small they would be a temptation for the stronger ones to go on an empire-building binge.

The Middle East was run by the Ottomans for centuries. Eventually in the late 1800s they introduce provinces, or vilayets, as an administrative tool.

The link shows the vilayets as of 1885. A large number would sit inside Turkey but Iraq for example, would be carved up into 3 or 4 pieces. Iran and Egypt would remain more or less unaffected.

Good points.

It is rather tempting to say that eastern Iraq should have been combined with Iran to create a single Shia state - but then Iraqi Shias are mostly Arabic-speaking while Iranian Shias generally speak Persian (of Indo-European background). There could still be cultural strife.

Also, I think religion is frequently used as an excuse to use violence for social or political reasons. The same thing has happened in Ireland with Protestantism/Catholicism being used as an excuse for what is really ethnic strife. How many IRA car bombers were truly devout Catholics? Sure, probably a few were, but I think most of them were “cultural” Catholics.

Perhaps something along the lines of the old Ottoman Millet system or a political “condominium” might be useful - e.g. have a single country, but let different groups have their own laws, legislatures, courts, etc. with a high level of autonomy. For example, Kurds could have their own Kurdish courts and laws and wouldn’t have to worry as much about whether or not the Grand Leader du jour liked them or not - they would have some inalienable rights to run their own matters.

In large part, you’re talking about nomadic tribesmen to whom any land borders would be arbitrary. To, say, Bedouin, the only territorial claims that mattered would be to water sources and maybe a few other fixed reference points.

An Ethnic Map from here

A religious map from here is a little more straightforward

Good luck drawing lines on a map that make everyone happy!

The trick is not how they’r drawn, it’s what they’re drawn with.

Admittedly that particular one might not go down so well in the middle east.

This was done really recently, and I can’t for the life of me find it. Maybe the NYT or somewhere, some “expert” had drawn a map of how the M.E. should have been split up after WWI. Anybody remember it? Definitely within the last 2 months. Maybe even linked to in one of the threads here…

The Brits did try and create ethnic states in Palestine, It’s…not going super well.

As for the Sudetenland question, I offer one solution that a Dane told me about. It still left people unhappy, but they never felt they were treated unfairly.

After WW I, there were many Danes in southern Jutland who had been forced into Germany (at some point). Since Germany was defeated, Denmark had the option of simply annexing the entire area. Instead, they held referendums in all those communities and then drew a line that accommodated as many of them as possible. For the German communities on the “wrong” side of the line, they offered the option of German language schools. I’m not sure about the Danish communities south of the line, since that would have been up to Germany.

As for the middle east, Just look at the situation of the Kurds in Turkey. These things can work out with good will on both sides. Since this is GQ, I will not comment on how much of that there is.