Since I wrote Post-Assad Syria: Turkey’s Perspective this whole problem of sectarian and ethnic divides has been on my mind. I received some guidance after I published the article, basically that the underlying Bipartisan Policy Center paper U.S.-Turkish Cooperation Towards A Post-Assad Syria was not ‘wrong’, but that it was dated, and overly hopeful about the nature of the Syrian conflict.
This map that I recently found – Arabs, Persians, and Turks – is a good starting point. When do you think this map was created? I think it reflects thinking from closer to the time Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic than today. The population figure of 70 million for Turkey is within the last ten years, but the thinking is dated.
If I were going to draw a tripolar map today I would use …
And right in the middle I would make a point to include these guys:
The Syrian conflict is a microcosm. Turkey is not keen on having a civil war right next door, Iran does not wish to lose an ally in the region, and Saudi and Qatari money men are funding radicalized Sunni rebel groups. Two of the three parties have taken action regarding the Kurds – the Syrian government made sure theirs were left out of the fighting, the Iranians reignited the Kurdish PKK insurgency inside Turkey as payback for their support of the Sunni rebels. I have not heard any news regarding Saudi or Qatari meddling with Kurdish sentiments, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, that means I haven’t dug hard enough yet.
Unlike Egypt, with is ethnically unified, largely free of sectarian disputes, and currently mired in its own troubles, the Saudi and Qatari money men represent the Arab sentiment in the Syrian civil war. And Saudi Arabia has two problems on its own borders.
The population of Yemen is nearly as large as that of Saudi Arabia, 24 million, and evenly split between Sunni and Shia. I did a backgrounder on Yemen in late December and I republished Time For Congress To Build A Better Drone Policy in mid January, other than that I have not spent much time on this country, but that is about to change.
Bahrain isn’t represented in my usual map sources but the sectarian divide has been neatly mapped by Justin Gengler.
Here’s a bit tighter shot of Shia dominated areas on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. The group in Yemen numbers about twelve million, the group on Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf coast is about three million out of a total of twenty eight million citizens.
The Comment, a note from a Jordanian reader, is what pushed me in this direction. While there are ethnic and sectarian divides, they are not as deep as our media would have us believe. Instead, it is the three regional powers here, all former empires in their own right, who are at least partially to blame for fueling conflicts based on these divides.