Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lines Drawn on an Empty Map

We're excited to feature as a guest post today Part 2 of an article by Professor Sara Pursley entitled "'Lines Drawn on an Empty Map': Iraq’s Borders and the Legend of the Artificial State." The entire article was originally published on Jadaliyya on June 2 & 3, 2015. We're grateful to Jadaliyya and Professor Pursley for permission to repost part of it, but encourage everyone to also check out the whole thing!

In attending to how local actors shaped Iraq’s formation as a nation-state after World War I, the point is not to deny the power of British imperial forces, or the violence they unleashed on Iraqis during the occupation (1914-1920) and Mandate (1920-1932) periods. On the contrary, I would contend that one effect of the artificial state narrative is precisely to efface British imperial violence while simultaneously denying the impact of non-British, and anti-British, actions. One way this works is by imagining that Iraq’s borders were created on an “empty map” in a European drawing room and not—as all nation-state borders everywhere have been created—through the resolution of competing claims to territory and sovereignty by deployments of power, including acts of insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Three moments in the early formation of Iraq’s borders—specifically those with Syria, Najd (present-day Saudi Arabia), and Turkey—may help illustrate some of the ways in which the process worked. The British played significant roles, and so too did residents of Iraq, Syria, Najd, and Turkey.

Iraq and Syria
The Iraq-Syria border was rather mobile from the end of the war in 1918 to Iraq’s formal independence in 1932, but the concept of Iraq and Syria as separate states was widely accepted. It is often forgotten that the San Remo conference, which was held in late April 1920, was in part a hastily convened response by the colonial powers to the Arab conference in Damascus in early March, which had proclaimed the independence of Syria and of Iraq as constitutional monarchies under two different sons of Sharif Husayn, Faysal and Abdallah, respectively. The Iraq declaration was issued by the Iraqi branch of al-Ahd, often referred to as the “Arab nationalist” party. Formed in late 1918 when the original group split into two, al-Ahd al-Iraqi was led by Iraqi ex-Ottoman military officers based in Syria; by 1919 it also had an active branch in Mosul and a less active one in Baghdad. Its official platform called for “the complete independence of Iraq” within “its natural borders,” which it defined as extending from the Persian Gulf to the bank of the Euphrates north of Dayr al-Zur in present-day Syria and to the Tigris near Diyarbakir in present-day Turkey—that is, rather more territory than included in the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul.[i] The group also pledged to work within a loosely defined “framework of Arab unity”; this part of its platform is better understood as Arabist than Arab nationalist, as it did not involve any specific territorial or state-oriented imaginary.

By 1919, then, the two branches of al-Ahd were calling for two independent territorial states—Syria, with its capital in Damascus, and Iraq, with its capital in Baghdad. Throughout the 1920 Iraqi Revolt against the British Mandate—which started in May and June, partly in response to San Remo, and involved large areas of northwestern, central, and southern Iraq—this was also the official platform of the other major Iraqi nationalist party, Haras al-Istiqlal (the Guardians of Independence), based in Baghdad and with significant support in the southern Shi`i shrine cities.[ii] What the two parties diverged on was not the demand for an independent Iraqi state stretching from the Persian Gulf to somewhere north of Mosul, distinct from Syria, and with its capital in Baghdad—all of that they agreed on—but rather the question of what kind of foreign assistance the future Iraqi state would rely on. Al-Ahd al-Iraqi’s platform specified that it would rely solely on British assistance, while the platform of Haras stated that independent Iraq could request the assistance of any foreign power it pleased.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The First Printed Ottoman Map of Palestine, 1804

Today, more great Palestine maps from Zach Foster:


Mahmud Raif Efendi (d.1808) is well known to Ottoman history buffs, but few others.  He was behind the publication of the first Ottoman printed map of Palestine.  Raif Efendi was a Reis ül-Küttab, or Foreign Minister, as well as the first Ottoman diplomat stationed in London.

Raif Efendi penned a world Atlas in French sometime in the early 19th century, a genre of literature that did not exist in the Ottoman world.  His original French manuscript has since been lost, but we do have its Ottoman translation, produced by the Greek Ottoman polyglot, Iakovos Argyropoulos (a.k.a Yakovaki Efendi d.1850) at the behest of the Ottoman government and published in Istanbul (Üsküdar) as El-Ucaletü l-coğrafıyye in 1804. 

Yakovaki Efendi's transcription of the French names into Ottoman was certainly creative.  Those familiar with Arabic or Ottoman orthography need no convincing that Yakovaki must have struggled with the name 'Palestine,' which he spelled: فلاستان. He added an (ا) after the (ل), transliterated the French "t" to a (ت) rather than a (ط), and then added another (ا) before the final (ين).  Other names, such as Tiberias, Nablus, Mount Karmel, Beirut are also spelled wrong, at least according to modern orthographic conventions.  He transliterated the town Palmyra (in the Syrian Desert) as Palmyra, rather than its Arabic name, Tadmur.  All of this suggests that Yakovaki did not have recourse to an authoritative Ottoman map upon which he could base his transliterations.

Here is the entire map (available in higher resolution here):

The map also includes the following labels: Druzi (was is today Lebanon) Syria, Iraq of the Arabs (green), Jazira (pink), Kurdistan (blue) Armenia (yellow) and other regions.

Who saw this map?  This geography book, which prominently displays Palestine, may well have been used as a textbook in many Ottoman state schools during the nineteenth century.[1] 



[1] See Johann Strauss, “Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Americana,” pp. 259-281 in Frontiers of the Ottoman Imagination: Studies in Honour of Rhoads Murphey, Marios Hadjianastasis (ed.) (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 261-3; George Larpent (ed.), Turkey; its history and progress from the Journals and Correspondences of Sir James Porter (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1854), II, 162.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Just a nice looking map


From Bacon's Standard Map of Europe, published by the Weber Costello Compan. Full size here. Printed in 1920s - and we would welcome on speculation on when exactly - this map shows the situation in Europe immediately after World War One. For more maps from this time, check out our Cartographic Companion to World War One in the Ottoman region.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mapping Ottoman Decline

The Ottoman State's Era of Stagnation and Retreat
For quite some time now historians have been problematizing the idea of Ottoman Decline. It's an important point, but one that can only be taken so far: I'm waiting for the revisionist work that declares the Ottomans not only won the First World War but the Second as well, driving the Germans back at Stalingrad with their Janissaries only to be denied credit by a generation of Orientalist scholars.

Of course the critique of Ottoman decline is motivated by the fact that there really were generations of Orientalist scholars writing some ridiculous things. That the Ottoman Empire declined because it could no longer bear the weight of its religious fanaticism, because it was not quick enough to recognize the superiority of European civilization or because its nomadic Turkish rulers could never learn the civilized art of administration. The religious explanation of Ottoman decline has been perhaps the most enduring. Particularly when people like Paul Kennedy sought to explain "the rise and fall of great powers" the Ottoman Empire always appears as the Muslim / Middle Eastern country that almost made it, an approach which inevitably tends to cast the reason it didn't make it in a religious or civilizational light. The religious explanation of Ottoman decline also served quite nicely as a justification for Kemalist reforms, which supposedly sought to recreate the secular mentality that characterized the Empire in its golden age.

Against the simple narrative that the Ottoman Empire reached its peak in the 16th century, perhaps under Suleiman the Magnificent, then slowly declined over the next few centuries into a state of tottering sick-man obsolescence, historians have offered a number of corrections ranging from the somewhat obvious to the profound.

The most straightforward might be that even as the Ottoman Empire declined relative to its European rivals, it continued to advance technologically, militarily and economically in absolute terms. I think people generally realize this is what's implied by decline, but in case anyone doesn't let's be clear: if, through the vagaries of time travel, the 18th century Ottoman army went up against the Ottoman army that conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, the 18th century Ottomans would totally win.

[Sorry, my real goal in writing this post wasn't to just ramble about narratives of Ottoman decline, but to share a few graphics that offer interesting visualizations of the expansion and collapse of Ottoman power. This one, from a Republican Era history about the siege of Vienna, offers a two dimensional view of Ottoman power measured by kilometers of territory controlled per year.]

Some scholars have questioned the tendency to judge decline purely in terms of the ability to win wars. Which is fair up to a point, but distracts from some of the more interesting work that's been done on why the Ottomans stopped winning wars when they did. Gabor Agoston, for example, has made the case that, contrary to what many assumed, technology actually had little bearing on military power up until the 19th century, and that even in some realms where the Ottomans seemed to fall behind technologically, such as gunpowder production, their problems had more to do with economics and manufacturing than the quality of their military technology per se.

Other scholars have argued that maybe the Ottomans just didn't want to win wars, or control more territory anymore.

On the political side, scholars such as Virginia Aksan have argued that the decentralization that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century was not simply a sign of encroaching decline, but rather a conscious strategy that served to preserve Ottoman power. Perhaps. But as wise or effective as this strategy may have been at the time, it seems like there's no escaping the fact that by the 18th century it left the Ottomans at a military disadvantage in conflicts with European powers who had been able to more effectively centralize state control during this period. When faced with loss of territories like Egypt and later Bulgaria in the 19th century, the Ottoman government made a conscious effort to preserve some kind of nominal authority over breakaway regions, going to sometimes elaborate lengths to display symbolic sovereignty over the Egyptian Khedive or Eastern Rumelia. After World War One, the Turkish Republic took the opposite tactic, embracing the rhetoric of the nation state in asserting full sovereignty over all the territory within its borders and no sovereignty over any territory outside of them. Given the realities of late 19th and early 20th century statecraft, this proved to be a better approach. The result was that by the end of the 20th century, the trajectory of Ottoman/Turkish state's military and economic fortunes actually looked quite similar to that of other Mediterranean states.


Another neat visualization of the Ottoman Empire's territorial rise and fall showing geographic conquests schematically as width per year. This map comes from a book in the ARIT library whose title proved a victim of my shoddy note-taking.



Friday, May 8, 2015

Make Your Own Middle East: The King-Crane PickaPath


Check out Make Your Own Middle East, the King-Crane PickaPath adventure that everyone is talking about. Play as King or play as Crane in the game of state-building, border-drawing fun that has already been hailed as a groundbreaking fusion of Digital History and Edutainment!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

King-Crane Commission



King-Crane Commission Interactive Map: Historians' Cut

Karl Sturm put together this fantastic map for an article about the King-Crane Commission on the Atlantic website. Then I added some extended quotes from the Commission report to make the map interactive. The Atlantic editors wisely suggested that these were excessive and unwieldy, so we prepared condensed summaries for the final version. But for historians, King-Crane enthusiasts and primary source document aficionados, I couldn't resist posting this version with all the long, thoroughly unwieldy quotes intact. Now you too can savor the report's archaic and convoluted prose in digital form. It's a blend of tradition and modernity that should make any orientalist happy.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Uncharted New Guinea


One of my favorite maps ever, showing New Guinea at the turn of the century, complete with Cannibal Point, Alligator Point, Attack Island, Pandora Passage and Deception Bay. Read more, and see more maps, in our article on Slate.