Friday, November 6, 2015

The World War and Its Relation to the Eastern Question and Armaggedon

I haven't had a chance to read this book yet, but judging entirely by the cover I feel confident I should. The full text is available here. If anyone who reads it wants to share some highlights let me know. And thanks to Muaz Selim for bringing this to my attention.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Morocco Mapped by Air (France)

Today Tajine editor Graham Cornwell discusses a beautiful but politically fraught Air France map of colonial Morocco from the Rumsey Map Collection. Here's a full sized version of the map (127 mb) and some other Air France maps.

In 1948, France faced a looming crisis in its North African colonies. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia joined colonized populations around the world renewing their push for independence after World War II. In Morocco, Sultan Mohammed V began to press the French, especially after he allegedly received a tacit endorsement for Moroccan independence from Roosevelt at the end of the war. Protests increased, and although things had not yet turned violent, but Protectorate officials had begun arresting (and sometimes exiling) prominent nationalist leaders.

Yet the post-war years were prime time for Morocco’s colons. C.R. Pennell calls it the “Indian summer of settler colonialism.” The Protectorate opened up new lands to settlement, especially to war veterans, and a massive infrastructure boom helped make Morocco an attractive place to invest. This 1948 Air France promotional map captures the dream of colon Morocco at its heyday: the near-famines of the previous decade over, indigenous unemployment finally decreasing, and a new crop of bourgeois settlers opening up new businesses in Moroccan cities.

The map depicts the northern two-thirds of the French zone, as well as the Spanish zone, which is designated by a dotted line just south of the Rif Mountains but not identified as such. It’s a beautiful print, designed to attract tourists to come see a Morocco that was still traditional but beginning to show the hallmarks of paternalist French expertise. There’s a surprising amount of accurate detail—one can make out the distinct, pentagonal minaret of the Mazagan (El Jadida) kasbah mosque while the ksour towns of Agdz, Ait Ben Haddou, and Kelaa M’Gouna actually bear a resemblance to the real things.

There are only four Europeans in the image. Three bathe off the coast of Mogador (Essaouira), while one skis the slopes near Ifrane. Sun and snow aren’t the only draws: in the Middle Atlas, a lone boar’s head indicates hunting opportunities and a trout near Azrou points to good fishing. The map’s Morocco shows no hint of nearly fifteen years of intermittent drought and the hardships of World War II. Moroccan workers reap abundant crops while the Atlantic teems with sardines and tuna.

Most of the Moroccans depicted are men, and most are pictured at work, whether collecting water from a well in the Tafilalet, riding a tractor in the Chaouia, or collecting olives in a Rif foothills grove. Even snake-charming might have counted as a profession in French eyes. The effect is to make Moroccan labor appear like other natural resources: mines in the hills above Berguent in the east and the phosphates region near Khouribga in the west, orchards of the Gharb plain, vineyards of the Beni Snassen. Here, in startling technicolor with Neptune frolicking off shore, we get the colonizer-colonized distinction reimagined as a dichotomy between play and work.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Most Beautiful 19th Century Arabic Maps of Syria and Palestine

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)
Today we're delighted to have another guest post from Zachary Foster

Beginning in 1818, American missionaries set sail for the Middle East with the aim to convert the region's inhabitants to Protestantism.  Soon enough they realized that the locals preferred education to proselytization.  And to educate the region's Arabic speakers, the Americans needed Arabic language books -- and maps.  So a group of missionaries opened up a printing press in Malta in the 1830s in which they published a number of history and geography books as well as an atlas (the Ottoman Sultan initially forbade them from importing a printing press into imperial lands).  Their 1835 atlas of the world included a dozen some maps of North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  The map above appeared in the second edition of this missionary atlas, printed much later by Edward Aiken in the 1880s or 1890s, as Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

The Americans were either unaware of the Ottoman administrative order or unbothered by it, but probably both.  For they labeled the Ottoman Empire with names they brought from English, culled from classical Greek geography, including Caria, Pisidia, Cappadocia, Lycia, Cilicia, Phrygia Palestine, Syria, and much more.  See the following 1907 map, published in Samuel Butler's The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography, if you had as much trouble as I did in trying to figure out modern English orthography for the ancient Greek divisions of the region printed in the Arabic script by American missionaries:

Samuel Butler, The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography (
Now have a look at the next map.  It is fascinating in comparison because, although printed in the same undated late 19th century atlas, it reflects not ancient Greek administrative nomenclature, nor Ottoman political geography, but terms actually in vogue among Levantine Arabs at that time, including the following: The Land of Rum, the Land of the Armenians, Karaman, Kurdistan, the Land of Anatolia, the Land of Sham, al-Jazira, Arab Iraq and the Land of the Arabs.

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

These maps were printed with a movable iron press, but parts of them seem to have been hand-drawn.  Compare the next two maps against one another, both titled "A Map of the Land of Sham": The first appeared in our late 19th century atlas, the second in Simeon Calhoun's Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, a seven hundred page analytical survey of the Bible, New and Old Testaments, published in Beirut in 1869 by the American Press.  

Edward Aiken (ed.) Atlas, Ay Majmu‘ Kharitat (New York: Appleton, 1890s?)

Look carefully at the two maps.  A movable iron press generated the outlines to mark rivers, borders, seas and mountains, since these are the same. But human hands were behind the names of the places and color traces, which appear slightly differently in each map.

Simeon Calhoun, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin ila al-Kitab al-Muqaddas al-Thamin, (Beirut: n.p., 1869), after text

Now, a brief word about Calhoun's magnum opus, Kitab Murshid al-Talibin. He seems to have written the book in Arabic himself, for by the time he published it, he had already spent a quarter of a century in Lebanon teaching the gospels to Arab pupils (in Arabic).  He was also plenty adept at learning languages, for he spent seven years preaching the gospel in Greek to Ottoman Greeks in Istanbul and Izmir, and he also managed to learn Turkish along the way, assisting the American Dr. Goodell in his translation of the Bible into (Ottoman) Turkish.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Learning From Imperial Nostalgia

An article about imperial nostalgia reprinted from Foreign Policy with more maps:

Published by the French Communists in the 50s, found on this great site
In bookstores around the world, there are undoubtedly Marxist professors eager to talk at length about the evils of U.S. imperialism. But only in Turkey, it seems, are they quite so eager to hold up Ottoman imperialism as the more enlightened alternative: the American and British empires dominated the Middle East through military force, the lecture goes, purely to exploit its resources. The Ottomans, by contrast, secured the consent of the governed by providing them with stability, justice, and prosperity. Really, in light of the Ottoman government’s inclusive political practices, you could hardly call it an empire at all.

An American more confident in being able to translate the phrase “arsenal of democracy” might have countered that it was really the United States that had the empire so great that it wasn’t really an empire at all. If anything, the American Empire was an empire of liberty, an empire by invitation, perhaps, welcomed around the world for replacing chaos and want with order and wealth

There is a long history of people championing imperialism as a more civilized alternative to violent instability—and an equally long tradition of haggling over whose empire did it better. Many of these arguments, like those above, depend on selective readings of history that downplay or ignore the role of violent coercion in imperial rule. Sufficiently romanticized, this sort of imperial nostalgia can even be marshaled in support of quintessentially liberal proposals for establishing international order and peace, such as the UN or EU. Consider the career of Otto von Habsburg: born as the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto subsequently became an outspoken advocate of European integration, invoking the supposed success of Habsburg rule while serving as president of the International Paneuropean Union and a leading member of the EU’s European Parliament.

But in the face of global instability, others have been drawn to a different, more realist version of imperial nostalgia, one that embraces imperialism’s reliance on violence in order to argue that only force can bring much-needed order to a dangerous world. It’s not that anyone is arguing for a contemporary reconquest of the non-Western world, of course. But plenty of people draw on the imperial past to justify their faith that U.S. military power can reliably deal with recalcitrant Third World states. Unlike the less violent alternative, this version of imperial nostalgia seeks to preempt liberal criticism about the horrors of empire with an appeal to steely-eyed realpolitik.

No less than rose-tinted imperial nostalgia, though, the fixation with force ignores the fact that most imperialists succeeded by using a mix of consent and coercion carefully calibrated to the conditions they faced. More important, Western imperialism flourished, for a time, by maintaining a clear distinction between realms of coercion and realms of consent—that is, a distinction between much weaker Third World regions that could be controlled by force and more powerful imperial rivals that required careful diplomacy and well-coordinated cooperation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Sevres Anniversary

Turkey, 1921, courtesy of the Rumsey Collection. Today we're reposting my piece from Foreign Policy on the 95th anniversary of the Treaty of Sevres. 

Ninety-five years ago today, European diplomats gathered at a porcelain factory in the Paris suburb of Sèvres and signed a treaty to remake the Middle East from the ashes of the Ottoman empire. The plan collapsed so quickly we barely remember it anymore, but the short-lived Treaty of Sèvres, no less than the endlessly discussed Sykes-Picot agreement, had consequences that can still be seen today. We might do well to consider a few of them as the anniversary of this forgotten treaty quietly passes by.

In 1915, as British troops prepared to march on Istanbul by way of the Gallipoli peninsula, the government in London printed silk handkerchiefs heralding the end of the Ottoman empire. It was a bit premature (the battle of Gallipoli turned out to be one of the Ottomans’ few World War I victories) but by 1920 Britain’s confidence seemed justified: With allied troops occupying the Ottoman capital, representatives from the war’s victorious powers signed a treaty with the defeated Ottoman government that divided the empire’s lands into European spheres of influence. Sèvres internationalized Istanbul and the Bosphorus, while giving pieces of Anatolian territory to the Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, French, British, and Italians. Seeing how and why the first European plan for dividing up the Middle East failed, we can better understand the region’s present-day borders, as well as the contradictions of contemporary Kurdish nationalism and the political challenges facing modern Turkey.

Within a year of signing the Treaty of Sèvres, European powers began to suspect they had bitten off more than they could chew. Determined to resist foreign occupation, Ottoman officers like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk reorganized the remnants of the Ottoman army and, after several years of desperate fighting, drove out the foreign armies seeking to enforce the treaty’s terms. The result was Turkey as we recognize it today, whose new borders were officially established in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Sèvres has been largely forgotten in the West, but it has a potent legacy in Turkey, where it has helped fuel a form of nationalist paranoia some scholars have called the “Sèvres syndrome.” Sèvres certainly plays a role in Turkey’s sensitivity over Kurdish separatism, as well as the belief that the Armenian genocide — widely used by European diplomats to justify their plans for Anatolia in 1920 — was always an anti-Turkish conspiracy rather than a matter of historical truth. Moreover, Turkey’s foundational struggle with colonial occupation left its mark in a persistent form of anti-imperial nationalism, directed first against Britain, during the Cold War against Russia, and now, quite frequently, against the United States.

But the legacy of Sèvres extends well beyond Turkey, which is precisely why we should include this treaty alongside Sykes-Picot in our history of the Middle East. It will help us challenge the widespread notion that the region’s problems all began with Europeans drawing borders on a blank map.

There’s no doubt that Europeans were happy to create borders that conformed to their own interests whenever they could get away with it. But the failure of Sèvres proves that that sometimes they couldn’t. When European statesmen tried to redraw the map of Anatolia, their efforts were forcefully defeated. In the Middle East, by contrast, Europeans succeeded in imposing borders because they had the military power to prevail over the people resisting them. Had the Syrian nationalist Yusuf al-‘Azma, another mustachioed Ottoman army officer, replicated Ataturk’s military success and defeated the French at the Battle of Maysalun, European plans for the Levant would have gone the way of Sèvres.

Would different borders have made the Middle East more stable, or perhaps less prone to sectarian violence? Not necessarily. But looking at history through the lens of the Sèvres treaty suggests a deeper point about the cause-and-effect relationship between European-drawn borders and Middle Eastern instability: the regions that ended up with borders imposed by Europe tended to be those already too weak or disorganized to successfully resist colonial occupation. Turkey didn’t become wealthier and more democratic than Syria or Iraq because it had the good fortune to get the right borders. Rather, the factors that enabled Turkey to defy European plans and draw its own borders — including an army and economic infrastructure inherited from the Ottoman empire — were some of the same ones that enabled Turkey to build a strong, centralized, European-style nation-state.

Of course, plenty of Kurdish nationalists might claim that Turkey’s borders actually are wrong. Indeed, some cite Kurdish statelessness as a fatal flaw in the region’s post-Ottoman borders. But when European imperialists tried to create a Kurdish state at Sèvres, many Kurds fought alongside Ataturk to upend the treaty. It’s a reminder that political loyalties can and do transcend national identities in ways we would do well to realize today.

The Kurdish state envisioned in the Sèvres Treaty would, crucially, have been under British control. While this appealed to some Kurdish nationalists, others found this form of British-dominated “independence” problematic. So they joined up to fight with the Turkish national movement. Particularly among religious Kurds, continued Turkish or Ottoman rule seemed preferable to Christian colonization. Other Kurds, for more practical reasons, worried that once in charge the British would inevitably support recently dispossessed Armenians seeking to return to the region. Some subsequently regretted their decision when it became clear the state they had fought to create would be significantly more Turkish — and less religious — than anticipated. But others, under varying degrees of duress, chose instead to accept the identity the new state offered them.

Many Turkish nationalists remain frightened by the way their state was destroyed by Sèvres, while many Kurdish nationalists still imagine the state they might have achieved. At the same time, today’s Turkish government extolls the virtues of Ottoman tolerance and multiculturalism, while Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan, apparently after reading the sociologist Benedict Anderson in prison, claims to have discovered that all nations are merely social constructs. The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-Kurdish HDP spent much of the last decade competing to convince Kurdish voters that a vote for their party was a vote for peace — competing, that is, over which party was capable of resolving Turkey’s long-simmering conflict by creating a more stable and inclusive state. In short, as many Americans still debate the “artificial” nature of European-made states in the Middle East, Turkey is fitfully transcending a century-long obsession with proving how “real” it is.

Needless to say, the renewed violence Turkey has seen in the past several weeks threatens these fragile elements of a post-national consensus. With the AKP calling for the arrest of Kurdish political leaders and Kurdish guerrillas shooting police officers, nationalists on both sides are falling back into familiar, irreconcilable positions. For 95 years, Turkey reaped the political and economic benefits of its victory over the Treaty of Sèvres. But building on this success now requires forging a more flexible political model, one that helps render battles over borders and national identity irrelevant.

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.