Sykes-Picot: 100 Years of Consequences

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Professors from the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology held a discussion on March 22, 2016 on the lasting effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the agreement between the United Kingdom and France following World War I that shaped the Middle East.

Betty Anderson Director of the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations at the Pardee School, and Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at the Pardee School, were joined by Lerna Ekmekcioglu, Professor of History at MIT, for the discussion entitled “Sykes-Picot: 100 Years of Consequences.

Anderson discussed how the artificial borders drawn as part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement have had immediate and lasting effects on language, art, food and culture in the Middle East.

“By the time we get to the 50’s and 60’s people are talking about a Jordanian dialect, a Palestinian dialect, a Jordanian national food and a Syrian national food,” Anderson said. “In the process of setting up these borders, completely artificial, you do get a gradual shift in identity from this larger Arab identity to separate Jordanian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi and other national identities because now you have state institutions.”

Bacevich focused on the failure of current American politicians to learn from the mistakes British and French leaders made in drawing up the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

“The mindset of the American ruling class, especially after the Cold War, mirrored the mindset of the British ruling class back in 1919 whether in Ireland or the in the Middle East,” Bacevich said. “We too assumed, and still assume, the permanence of American global primacy. We too assumed, and assume, that we possess the wisdom and capacity, to use the term they like in Washington, to shape the Middle East to conform to American interests and American values. We too have clearly overestimated the efficacy of our military power while underestimating the indigenous forces of resistance.”

“Sykes-Picot: 100 Years of Consequences” was presented by the Middle East and North Africa Studies Program, the Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations and the Modern Languages and Comparative Literature Department.