The recently completed Centennial Commemoration of the Great War has resumed once more among historians and politicians, the long lasting debate on the responsibility of this conflict. Political implications from various sides still prevent an objective approach of the question. But one is for sure. The fast deployment of a heavy military power by the German Empire, threatening in particular the British naval supremacy; the aspiration of the Austrian Double Monarchy to dominate the Balkans against the old Russian influence, the growing collapse of the Ottoman Empire on one side; on the other the colonial rivalries between Great Powers; French revanchism and Italian irredentism had spread germs of deep antagonism for decades to come. The final disappearance of the traditionalist, large and thousand year old empires too weak to sustain a world war lasting several years was a global and three-part historical process, consisting of series of diverse but essentially the same events. The process started with the elimination of the Russian Empire, where bolshevism after the war managed to keep together most of the territories. It ended with the collapse of the Turkish Empire and the emergence of a number of states in the Middle East, notably the secular Republic of Turkey.
All kinds of wars such as the world, local, inter-state and inter-ethnic wars make a deep imprint and wounds in the memories of the people. However, the disasters frequently cause strong demand of long and stable period of peace in order to overcome the ruins of war. Although the Paris peacemakers beliefs that their actions would produce a just and a long-lasting settlement, they directly or indirectly had marked the Balkans and reality of the Middle East. The treaties of Versailles, Saint Germain, Trianon and Sèvres as well as the aforementioned end of four continental empires upon which the European balance of power had laid for a century, very soon opened the way to a second conflict, after a truce seriously troubled by the aggressive impact of dictatorships and devastating economic crisis as a consequence of political instability. Till nowadays the stability of these areas remains an unfinished business in spite of remarkable progress over the last decades.
The question is what the real causes of such a development are and why, for example, former Yugoslavia was, and now Syria is the most hostile conflict on the planet? The disintegrative processes in the times of great integration, increasingly pronounced regionalization, the growth of nationalism and particularism in the period of proclaimed internationalism are just some of the reasons for an historical insight to be made.
The analysis of the constitution of "artificial", "unsustainable states" in these areas of strategic importance for preserving the domination of the Great Powers and in its reconstruction, representing the part of complex diplomatic, military, economic and political processes century ago, could help us to explain how by signing "the peace to end all peace" the seeds of future developments were laid. Additionally, it could offer useful comprehension in order to develop mutual understanding and positive alternative policies in these high priority areas.
Reconstruction of the Balkans: Creation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and "the strategy of encirclement"
The Treaty of Versailles was the first major international document signed by official representatives of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The succeeding treaties with neighboring Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary would therefore be arguably more significant for the young state. Yet, even those treaties did not bring an end to Yugoslavia's struggle for borders. The greatest challenge was posed by two wartime allies: Italy and Romania. The achievement of the national integrity of the Yugoslavia, as implied by the end of the World War One and the establishment of the security system in Versailles in 1920, had transformed this country into a catalyst for a series of geopolitical processes in Southeast Europe. The postwar geopolitical position of the Kingdom of SCS could be defined through the prism of French tendencies to break and disarm Germany and make the belt of small national states around it. Thus the interpretation of the origins of the "Yugoslav political anomaly" could be based on the ideology of promoting the principle of the security of the Western Europe by encircling Germany with the "slavic belt".
Like most of Europe, Yugoslavia would remain unstable throughout the interwar period. The international predicament was relatively benign when compared with problems at home. Unrest in Kosovo and Macedonia and alienation among many Montenegrins and Croats for the way Yugoslavia had been united, not to mention the social-economic consequences of the war, would have posed a major challenge to states far longer established than the newly formed Serb-Croat-Slovene kingdom. Yet, by the early to mid-1920s the country seemed to have overcome most of the initial problems, some of which briefly threatened its existence. The contest between the "Wilsonian principles" and traditional diplomacy as well as the mixed messages from the principal allies contributed to divisions among the Yugoslavs. As for the postwar order, Serbian Prime minister, Pašić, believed in 1919 that the Great Powers were merely recuperating before another inevitable confrontation. Unfortunately, events would prove him right.
If the Versailles Treaty had its beneficiaries and its losers, so did the Yugoslav settlement: the clear victors at the time were the South Slavs, not only Serbs as is usually assumed, while the main losers were those large ethnic minorities that found themselves in a new, in many respects alien country: ethnic Albanians, Hungarians, Germans and Italians, as well as Macedonian Slavs, whom no one recognized as such at the time. The Yugoslavs saw Yugoslavia as the fulfillment of their long struggle for national liberation and unification, while the non-Yugoslavs saw the South Slav state as an imposition by the victors of the First World War. Losers at Versailles continued to look for a change of the borders and of the terms imposed. In the second half of the 1930s, many Serbs, too, would begin to question their wisdom in ‘creating’ Yugoslavia. Following the Axis destruction of the country in 1941, a complex set of ideological, ethnic, liberation and collaborationist wars broke out on the territory of the first former Yugoslavia. Yet, by 1945 a Yugoslavia re-emerged, this time as a communist-governed federation.
Did this treaty it in fact sow the seeds of destruction which germinated crisis after crisis and eventually pushed Europe into the abyss of a new war and was it foredoomed to failure? All these questions apply to Yugoslavia, and have been raised especially since the Yugoslav federation broke up violently in the early 1990s, at the end of another international order established after a world war.
Division of the Middle East: Restrictions of the French-British diplomacy and American intervention
Almost simultaneously, economic and political penetration in ethnically diverse areas of strategic importance for the positioning of global global actors had led to the constitution of the states in the Middle East. The division of the territory based on the interests of the British and the French as the victorious forces of the Great War, and the emergence of new states in the Middle East, very soon caused "the Middle East question" with all accompanying it political and economic problems.
Between 1919 and 1922 dramatic changes took place in the Middle East. Since the occupation by the British troops between 1917-1918 till the 1920, Palestine and Syria were ruled by the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration (OETA) which was divided into three military zones: Northern (Lebanon and Syrian coast), South (Palestine) and Eastern (interior of Syria) with the supreme military commander, General Sir Edmund Allenby.
The Treaty of Sèvres (10.8.1920) confirmed the division of the Ottoman territory, and in the Arab territories three mandates were created: Palestine, Mesopotamia and Syria. Great Britain became the mandator of Palestine and Mesopotamia, while France took over the mandate over Syria. Immediately after the British and Arabs put Damascus under their control (October 1, 1918), French forces deployed in Beirut (October 8, 1918), and according to the Sykes-Piko agreement, they spread over the coastal zone of Syria and Lebanon, where they replaced the British troops, disbanded the local Arab councils, and appointed as the governor François George Picot (the French creator of the aforementioned Anglo-French agreement).
Prince Faisal, with the approval of his British allies, came to the head of the Syrian Arab Government (October 5, 1918), and spread the power over the Syrian interior. In April 1919 he left the Paris Peace Conference in the eve of the arrival of King Crain Comission which findings proved to be important for independence of Syria. On November 1, 1919, British forces withdrew from Syria leaving Faisal's government exposed to French claims and French troops located on the Lebanese-Syrian coasts. In January 1920, the new Prime minister came to power in France. Aleksandr Milleran politics differed greatly from that of Clemenceau's, imposing in Syria the tough conditions that caused Arab armed attacks against French troops in Lebanon. On March 8, 1920, the Syrian National Assembly proclaimed the Kingdom of United Syria, headed by Faisal as the king.
In April 1920, at the Conference of San Remo, the British mandate in Palestine and Mesopotamia was confirmed and a French mandate was given to Syria. The French invaded Syria, the Syrian army was defeated while Faisal lost his throne.
On June 24, 1922, the League of Nations recognized the French mandate in Syria. There was a mixture of different nations, which were divided not only on an ethnic basis (Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Turks, Kirghiz), but also religious (Sunni, Shiite and Alawites Muslims, Druze, Christians of Antioch, Assyrians, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Maronites, Jacobites, Syrian Melkite Catholics). For this reason, the French mandate administration created six provinces: the State of Damascus and Aleppo for Muslims, Arabs and Kurds, the Alawites State in the coastal region of Latakia, the State of Jabal-Druze for the Druze, the Sanjac of Alexandretta for the Turks and the State of Greater Lebanon for the Maronites. The French imposed a strict system of administration, and the occupation involved the censorship of Press, French instead of Arabic as an official language. The upheavals were soon followed (Druze Revolt in 1925).
The administration of the region under the French was carried out through a number of different governments and territories, including the Syrian Federation (1922–24), the State of Syria (1924–30) and the Syrian Republic (1930–1958), as well as smaller states: the State of Greater Lebanon, the Alawite State and Jabal Druze State. Alexandretta (Hatay) was annexed by Turkey in 1939. The French mandate lasted until 1943, when two independent countries emerged, Syria and Lebanon. French troops completely left Syria and Lebanon in 1946.
100 years later: New Security Architecture - Old Apple of Discord?
If the great conference in Paris at the end of the First World War has been drawing attention recently, it is largely because of our concern with our own world. During the Cold War, the events of that earlier war and the peace settlements which came at its end seemed to have no relevance. What did it matter how Yugoslavia or Syria came into existence?
Since the end of the Cold War, our world has become an increasingly complicated and troubling one and such questions have become important again. A hundred years later we still live in a world strongly influenced by the Versailles Treaty and other conferences after the First World War. After the 1990’s armed conflicts and the establishment of nation-states, the threat of new clashes had not disappeared. This arises from new iconographies and the effects of national pride.
Although the history has been so often abused to support outrageous policies and to promote extravagant claims to territory, we have also realized that sometimes it is necessary to understand the historical roots of the issues with which we are dealing with. According to the Samuel Huntington’s doctrine, the future conflicts would be the ones between nations belonging to different cultural entities. Among them we could mention inter-ethnic conflicts in former Yugoslavia which confirm that thesis, the Iraqi crisis, the continuing aspiration of Kurds for self-determination, the conflicts between Greece and Turkey, and the endless struggle of Arabs and Jews around the land for which both of them think that they have been promised. Pessimistic vision of the Balkans and the Middle East, coupled with nationalism, demagogy and populism expects new excitements, confrontations and changes of borders in these high priority "areas of supply and transit" in the days ahead.
The problems faced within the Balkans and the Middle East are well known and very often debated within the scientific circles, but today there is a new challenge faced by the international community, it is crucial to find the solution to crisis. Nevertheless history, can offer us instructive analogies. Margaret MacMillan argued that the Paris Peace Conference was only partly about making peace settlements and about making a better world; it was also the focus of the hopes and expectations of nations trying to reconstitute themselves. In this situation, intellectual discussion on the issues of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 is more important than ever before, because their deeper and wider understanding could contribute in healing process in these regions, as well in reinforcing human security. As the ethnic conflict managers from among the international community estimated, the future oriented dimension of reconciliation would be crucial for the immediate stabilization of an interethnic conflict situation. Nowadays, when we are facing historical challenges, the Balkans and the Middle East are in the middle of new reconstruction process which would result in new security architecture in these areas.
May the multiethnic concept work for the stabilization of the post-conflict, transitory and ethnically diverse countries of these regions?
Pasquale Baldocci, 1914-2014: From the Clash of Imperialism to the soft power of the European Union, In New Balkans and Europe-Peace Development Integration, Proceedings of the Tenth ECPD International Conference on Reconciliation, Tolerance and Human Security in the Balkans, Ed. by Negoslav P. Ostojić, Jonathan Bradley and Akio Kawato, ECPD, Belgrade 2014.
Tonis Breidel Chatzidimitriou, War and Diplomacy in the Middle East: The activity of Lawrence of Arabia, Athens 2015.
Margaret MacMillan, Lessons from History? The Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
Dejan Đokić, Pašić and Trumbić. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Makers of the Modern World, London 2010.