OPINION | Iran under the Shadow of the Sykes-Picot Agreement
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OPINION | Iran under the Shadow of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

By Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations and Expert on International Issues

OPINION | Iran under the Shadow of the Sykes-Picot Agreement

Map Attribute: M. Izady, Columbia University via Economist.com

History shows that according to its geopolitical ideas and as a result of its soft and hard power components, Iran has regularly appeared as a wise and undeniable actor, known for being security builder, stability-minded and creator of norms both before and after emergence of arrangements resulting from the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The 100-year-old regional arrangements arising from the Sykes-Picot Agreement (May 16, 1916 - May 16, 2016) signaled the end of direct rule of empires in the geopolitical region of the Arab Middle East. At the same time, they tell the story of the complicated game of survival of Iran’s strategy, tradition, model of governance and diplomacy in the light of continued emergence of such extremist currents as Wahhabism, Saddam’s Ba’athism, al-Qaeda and Daesh in its surrounding environment. 

From an analytic viewpoint, Kurds, Armenians, Circassians, Zazas, Ossetians, Alawites, Druze people, Yazidi people, as well as Shia Muslims in Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been among the most important victims of the regional arrangements engineered by big powers following conclusion of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the past 100 years, while Turks, Jews, and part of Arabs have been major winners. Even the key to the rise, change and empowerment of Daesh, as the most important actor challenging the Sykes-Picot Agreement, is in the hands of the winners of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and based on scenarios designed by them. 

While the Sykes-Picot Agreement led to the collapse of the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1924, Daesh is purportedly trying to reestablish its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate in these regions. The important point is that in view of serious attacks against Daesh by the US-led international coalition, the main question is whether Daesh, as the most important challenging actor arising from the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s arrangements, will basically be alive by 2024 in the light of the existing equations in the Middle East, including the recent agreement between the United States Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov? 

The model, which was supposed to replace the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the Middle East, was establishment of a big Arab state, including the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula.  The most important weakness of the nation-state building model, which was the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s gift to the Middle East, was its colonialist nature and its incompatibility with political, identity-based, religious, ethnic and linguistic culture and customs of these regions. As a result, it led to remarkable catastrophes in the 20th and 21st centuries such as the massacre of Armenians, more serious presence of the NATO in the Middle East to which Turkey has been a member since 1952, four wars between Arabs and Israel, nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956, the eight-year war of aggression launched by Iraq against Iran, the wars launched against Iraq by transregional actors in 1991 and 2003, the crisis in Syria (2011-2016), as well as the regional crises in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. 

It is due to these shortcomings that many important actors in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and some Arab countries, Turkey and Israel have decided to put an end to relative arrangements arising from the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Under these conditions, the question is will dismantling the arrangements of the Sykes-Picot Agreement be in Iran’s favor or not? A primary answer to this question is: despite Iran and its allies have been harmed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement (as was the case during Iraq’s war of aggression against Iran), total collapse of relative arrangements arising from the Sykes-Picot Agreement is basically not a desirable option for Iran. A more important question is can the nation-state building model offered by the Sykes-Picot Agreement to the Middle East, which led to creation of the concept of the Middle East citizen, be desirable for Iran or not? 

In a brief answer to the above question, one may say that Iran is a peaceful actor in the Middle East with a sense of belonging to its surrounding environment. Iran's major expectation from the environment neighboring its foreign policy is maintaining legitimate structures that are based on international law with emphasis on sustainable nation-state building. Developments in the five centuries that have followed the rise of the powerful Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) show that Iran has been the most remarkable winner of the game of survival in the turbulent region of the Middle East despite increasing interventions from the main architects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the Middle East’s affairs. 

Therefore, there are common interests between Iran and global powers in the continuation of regional arrangements arising from the Sykes-Picot Agreement in Iran's surrounding environment on the basis of justice-seeking approaches. From the viewpoint of Iran, current global crises, which stem from the arrangements of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, are rooted in the fact that these arrangements have been imported into the Middle East and are not in line with discourses, which are supported by Iran in the Middle East, including negation of any intervention by transregional forces, soft resistance, localism, regionalism and justice seeking. 

In the light of these concerns and concurrent with the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Iran's position is now being seen from a different viewpoint within framework of the global management system and on the basis of the JCPOA (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) model as a country which has been experiencing the nation-state building stage in this region since thousands of years ago. 

Attention to Iran's characteristics and potential for any form of new nation-state building in the region on the basis of the country’s institutional, historical, religious, geopolitical, cultural, economic and trade potentialities is a geopolitical and strategic must. Any measure in this regard without attention to Iran and due attention to its interests and supported values and discourses in the Middle East, will certainly fail and will only pave the way for regeneration of extremist currents in West Asia in the light of the Sykes-Picot Agreement’s arrangements such as the recent agreement between Kerry and Lavrov. Therefore, all available facts attest to increasing global attention to the Iranian model of regional governance, security building and diplomacy, and this trend seems to continue for a long time beyond the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. 

This article was originally published at IranReview.org.  
All rights reserved by the original publisher. Reprinted with permission.

Disclaimer:  Please note that this article represents the view of the author(s) alone  and not IndraStra Global.