Jamie Dettmer, The Daily Beast
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took on the iconic Lawrence of Arabia Monday in a furious anti-Western diatribe.
The Turkish president compared the outside meddling in the region now to the role the renowned British army officer played during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans during World War I. And Western diplomats here say the tirade bears a rather striking resemblance to some of the propaganda that has come out of the so-called Islamic State, widely known by the acronym ISIS or ISIL.
Last week, stung by Western criticism of Turkey’s conspicuous absence from the U.S.-led air combat against the terror organization, and the refusal of the Turkish government to rescue the besieged town of Kobani, just across the Syrian border, Erdoğan insisted he had no sympathy for the jihadists.
But on one very important point of history and geography it now appears there’s a serious convergence of views between ISIS and Erdoğan. In his speech Monday at a university in Istanbul, the Turkish president blasted the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret understanding (signed behind Lawrence’s back) that divided up the Middle East after World War I between British and French spheres of influence. That deal opened the way for a British vow to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and led to borders drawn by the European powers that created modern Syrian and Iraq. Historian David Fromkin summed up the mess that resulted in the title of his book The Peace to End All Peace.
“Each conflict in this region has been designed a century ago,” said Erdoğan. “It is our duty to stop this.”
In point of fact, T. E. Lawrence was opposed to the secret Anglo-French agreement, because it reneged on promises given the Arabs by London in a bid to persuade them to revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule. He tried mightily to sabotage the deal. But Erdoğan is either unaware of that or sought to simplify history.
ISIS, meanwhile, has done some simplifying of its own, and on similar lines. Its militants say explicitly they are out to erase the borders that Sykes-Picot established across most of the modern Middle East. In the summer, after sweeping in from Syria to seize Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, they produced a video called, yes, ”The End of Sykes Pico,”
in which they blew up a border outpost and leveled part of the earthen barrier on the Iraqi-Syrian border. They declared triumphantly they would bulldoze other Western-imposed borders as well.