I just published Tripolar Power Struggle? This map heavy piece describes the Shia/Sunni divide in terms of the three current regional powers – Shia Persian Iran, Sunni Turkish Turkey, and Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia & Qatar.
The history of the three underlying empires, as well as two other repressed ethnic groups in the region, and the partition of the dying Ottoman empire is helpful for understanding how we arrived at the current situation.
The region was dominated by the Persian Empire from about 600 BC to about 300 BC.
Greater Armenia is a much abused, overloaded term. This map spans from the end of the Persian empire until 428 AD.
This map from around 100 BC shows the maximum extent of Armenia reach in the region. Overall, information on the Armenians is fragmented – the old saying about winners writing history books apparently holds true.
The Arab Empire began with the Prophet Mohamed and peaked a little over a century later with the maximum extent of the Umayyad Caliphate.
The Ottoman Empire began forming shortly after the Crusader Kingdoms were ejected from the Middle East and it lasted until the gap between WWI and WWII
Troubled regions in the last fifty years, from the Balkans to the Caucasus to the current dispute in Syria, are all colored by former Ottoman control of each area.
NATO member Turkey would prefer the world not see this map, but a century ago they slaughtered their Armenian subjects as a prelude to maximizing the area controlled by ethnic Turks at the end of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
This map is mislabeled. There never has been a standalone Kurdistan. There are thirty eight million Kurds spread between Iran, Iran, Syria, and Turkey, and they are repressed or placated depending on the needs of which ever state they inhabit.
Sykes Picot 1916
The last bit of imperial meddling that got us to where we are today was the partition of the dying Ottoman empire between the British, the French, and the Russians. These are the lines from the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
Rivers Of The Fertile Crescent contains the oldest maps on this site – showing the domestication of our common farm animals and two key grains between ten and twelve thousand years ago. The Mideast brought forth the world’s three great interrelated monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These lands have been the crossroads of the world for nearly three thousand years.
Diplomacy here is far more complex than Christian west vs. Muslim east, or Shia Persian vs. Sunni Arab. We can begin to do a better job of this by understanding and respecting how things came to be the way they are today.