Areas of control -
Sept. 2013

In the early 20th century, Syria was part of a region redrawn by outside forces. Today the 3-year-old uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is generating the outlines of zones of control that could result in the partitioning of the country.

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The Middle East today

The modern map of the Middle East was created by Europeans less than a century ago. Today, the conflict in Syria is calling into question the viability of those borders, which were frequently drawn with little regard for local communities. Existing frontiers are being eroded and new ones are starting to emerge in ways that challenge the very existence of the region’s states.

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The Ottoman Empire in 1914

On the eve of the outbreak of World War l, most of the Middle East was part of the Ottoman Empire, itself an extension of the Islamic caliphate founded in the 7th century. The land mass that today includes Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and parts of Saudi Arabia was loosely governed as a single entity by the Ottomans from Istanbul.

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The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement

A secret understanding between the British and the French to share the remnants of the defeated Ottoman Empire after World War I carved the region into two zones of influence. Most elements of the accord were not implemented, but it established the principle that Europeans would draw the borders of the nations created in the aftermath of the war.

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Religions in the Middle East

The national borders drawn up after World War ll frequently cut through tribal and religious communities, in places leaving members of the same family in different countries. The borders of the nations that exist today were decided at several junctures over the past century, and many remain in dispute, providing an enduring source of instability.

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SOURCE: Dr. Michael Izady, Gulf2000 Program at Columbia University, NY and United Nations ReliefWeb.