The Middle East has witnessed wars and conflicts since the early times of Islam, but it also lived in peace for a long time under Ottoman rule, in a time generally referred to by academics as Pax-Ottomana. Despite the wars and tribal and inter-state rivalries, no war has separated the peoples of the Middle East through the drawing artificial of borders like the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement, which is considered to have been the cause of much of the trouble in the region over the last 100 years. Moreover, pre-Sykes-Picot, war had not killed 500,000 people in as short a period as five years, as has been happening in Syria, or ruined a country, claiming the lives of at least 1 million in less than two decades, as has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, or displaced millions of people. Several analysts have claimed that the modern Middle East has been shaped according to the interests of colonial powers, especially the U.K. and France. And it is not a coincidence that the two architects of the agreement were British and French officials. Mark Sykes was a colonel in the British army, while François Georges-Picot was a French diplomat.
The al-Sharq Forum, which describes itself as "an independent international network whose mission is to undertake impartial research and develop long-term strategies to ensure the political development, social justice and economic prosperity of the people of al-Sharq (the East)," organized a two-day conference in Istanbul at the weekend in cooperation with the Johannesburg-based Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC) to investigate the continuing effects of this agreement and the future of the war and conflict-trapped region, under the theme "Envisioning a post-crisis regional order in the al-Sharq region." With the attendance of more than 70 academics, journalists and politicians and hundreds of audience members, the conference gave people a chance to exchange ideas and offer suggestions for the region's future among attendees from different backgrounds and nations. "It is important to mark the Sykes-Picot agreement on its 100-year anniversary not only because it was one of the founding charters of the state system of the modern Middle East, a milestone marking the ending of one era and beginning of another, but also because this anniversary comes while the whole region is subject to dramatic events resulting from what seems to be 'a large failure' in the modern state project in the region," the conference description text read. "The consequences of dividing the Middle East using lines drawn by the imperialist powers without consulting the peoples of the region have been disastrous: weak states; divided ethnic and confessional groups; inter-state mistrust and conflicts; a lack of a national basis for the newly emerging states, etc.," the text continued.
The conference started with remarks from Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş and Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın. Kurtulmuş, stressing the artificiality of the Sykes-Picot agreement, said the agreement drew borders but has not been able to separate peoples from each other, and added that some external forces are still attempting to divide the peoples of the Middle East and keep them away from each other through provoking ethnic and sectarian differences. He said there were three main causes of the contemporary chaos in the region. "Political instability, the lack of representation of masses and youngsters and external interventions have lead to chaos in the region," he said, adding "the despotic regimes that were established after World War II also contribute to the chaotic situation." He offered a theory that the artificial borders must be deconstructed to strengthen the divided East. Kalın emphasized the sectarianism issue and said it has to be overcome as soon as possible. Touching on the failed state problem, Kalın said, "if political stabilization is provided in the region, many current political problems will disappear. Moreover, we have to ruin the sectarianism problem as radical organizations including al-Qaida and Daish benefit from this," he said. Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said Turkey continues to be a model for other countries in the region while Ayman Nour, head of Egypt's Future Party, said the main problem in the region was despotism.
Dozens of academics and journalists found the chance to exchange their ideas and opinions while hundreds of people joined the sessions. On the last day of the program, private sessions were organized where several problems in the region were on the table. The socio-economic roots of the crisis, extremism, the future of Syria, the chaotic situation in Yemen, Iraq and Libya, the intervention of international powers, including Russia and the U.S., the ongoing refugee crisis and Turkey's role in the region were discussed. Several panelists jointly said economic instability, poverty and unemployment deepen the political crisis and radical groups turn this chaotic situation into an opportunity to pursue their agenda.
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