The Middle East has not been able to achieve stability since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. So far, conflicts, occupations and instability in the region are ongoing
The notion and nomenclature of the Middle East is based on the geography's positioning according to the Western perspective. When seen from the West, this geography occasionally might appear to be a homogenous Islamic zone. As a matter of fact, the Middle East is quite a cosmopolitan and complex area comprising different religions. Even though the Muslim population is the clear majority and two specific Islamic sects, namely Shiite and Sunni, are particularly distinct, various different ethnicities and religious groups including Turks, Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Christian Arabs, Copts, Syriacs, Armenians and Jews are in question when we mention the Middle East. Already present in the region, the Jews started to settle in Palestine after the Balfour Declaration was signed during World War I. With the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, they came to be one of the main actors in the Middle East and became a determinant in many balances of the region.
The Middle East has never attained any stability since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was firstly occupied by the Western states. Following World War II, the invasions ended but the Western states actually never stopped intervening in the region. Moreover, beginning in the 1950s, military coups and revolutions evolved into monarchies and oligarchic dictatorships in a short span of time. So far, the political and economic balances in the region could never settle due to conflicts, occupations and instability in the geography.
A short history of geographical resentments
When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, the oil reserves in the region were yet to be discovered and the empire did not have the capacity to make use of the energy. However, the region had been under the scope of Britain since the early 19th century. Considerable components such as transport lines, including Tigris-Euphrates, the mail and post institution, education, intelligence were already brought under the control of Britain.
However, one of the main subject matters in this geography was what would replace the Ottomans in the region, as indicated by Egyptian Sati al-Husri. The question of whether independent Arabic states or other forces would be the successors of Ottomans lies behind this concern. The current picture in the Middle East signifies the outcomes of this exact historical process.
After the Republic of Turkey was founded, very distant relations were formed with Arabs to resolve the issue of "the unity of religion." The discourse suggesting that Arabs acted as traitors has settled in our perspectives of history. And many cultural biases regarding dress codes, Islam, and the Arabic language were added to this discourse. Turkey has approached the subject with the view that suggests that the Arabs are "treacherous and stabbed us in the back," problematizing "how our lands were lost" for years instead of examining the subject based on regional paradigms of the Middle East. The borders set us apart from each other not geographically, but psychologically.
All these geographical resentments and the distance finally started to be, gradually, overcome a century later. The incidents in the region the Ottoman Empire left behind started to be tackled as subjects that bear value in themselves rather than being tackled from the perspective of a modern Turkish citizen equipped with self-explanation reflexes.
Today, Arab nationalism formed with Western support brings no benefit to Arab people; besides it accelerated the colonization of the Middle East. As many underline, while the region was being mapped and the borders were being drawn, greater conflicts were triggered. In fact, Britain succeeded in transferring its Eastern policy's economic ground to a political platform with a need to supervise the oil in all its aspects, from its production to consumption, which can hardly be regarded solely as an energy source since it is a strategic raw material. Today, the sectarianism and regional discrimination that stand out in the region is mostly based on the matter of managing the political moves, economic conflicts and energy resources through identity discourses. However, the deeds of anti-democratic forces in the region are reflected on international agendas as fratricidal and sectarian conflict.
Although the Arab Spring ended some of the more extremist systems of governance in some of the countries in the region, the Middle East is still plagued with violence and hegemony as demonstrated by the Israel-Palestine conflict and the dictatorships of Bashar Assad and Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
As seen by the political atmosphere and the methods of action of these states, the Middle East, with the ethnic and sectarian undertones of its policies, is still stuck in the 20th century as part of the "new world disorder." The region has not even moved to the new paradigms of the post-cold war politics. The Middle East is still having the issues of nation states and this leads to deadly consequences of identity problems.
The geography that Turkey did not have an interest in for a long time after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire still struggles to resolve the equations remaining from the 19th century. The dynamics that triggered Arab nationalism once is now triggering an atmosphere of conflict behind political and economic concerns in which sectarianism, ethnic nationalism and identities are distinct. It easily grows and achieves a movement capacity in this conflict atmosphere. In fact, Sati al-Husri's question of what would replace the Ottomans in the region is still an unanswered question today.
About the author
Meryem İlayda Atlas is Editorial Coordinator of Daily Sabah. She is board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey. Atlas also serves as a visiting scholar at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.