Stability in ME gone with Ottomans says former Swedish PM

Former Swedish prime minister, foreign minister says Ottoman Empire provided peace, stability in Middle East, its collapse led to chaos

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

Carl Bildt speaks during a joint news conference with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, Bulgaria's Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov and Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at the headquarters of the foreign ministry in Baghdad June 2012.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the failure to forge a stable regional order in the Middle East, according to the former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

Carl Bildt, who served as prime minister from 1991 to 1994 and foreign minister from 2006 to 2014, said the roots of the conflicts in the Middle East dates back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which had been preserving a durable peace in the region.

The Ottoman Empire was an imperial power that used to control Anatolia, the Middle East, parts of North Africa, and much of southeastern Europe at the height of its power. The empire was established in 1299 and collapsed in 1923 when the Republic of Turkey was formally established.

“The Ottoman Empire – which once stretched from Bihac in today’s Bosnia to Basra in Iraq – was a rich mosaic of intermingled cultures, traditions, and languages under the ultimate authority of the Sultan in Istanbul,” said Bildt in a column he wrote on a web site.

“Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia and the Levant, a new crop of countries emerged as outside powers redrew the Ottoman map. Syria and Iraq were the outcome of negotiations over competing French and British interests,” said Bildt.

“The Greeks made an ill-fated attempt to conquer western Anatolia – eventually triggering the revolution that led to the creation of modern Turkey."

“And the 1917 Balfour Declaration – a British pledge to establish a Jewish state in Palestine – laid the groundwork for the creation of Israel in 1948, followed by decades of conflict and negotiations.”

The roots of  conflict between Palestine and Israel -which has claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinian as well as scores of Israelis- dates back to 1917,  when the British government, in the now-famous "Balfour Declaration," called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Six-Day War in 1967. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Jewish state – a move that has never been recognized by the international community.

“Since then, through successive wars and revolutions, one truth has remained paramount: The Ottoman mosaic provided no clear dividing lines that would permit a smooth reordering of the region into states or entities with homogeneous ethnic, national, or religious identities,” said the former Swedish prime minister.

“Recognizing this truth is highly consequential: The regional order created in the wake of the empire’s post-World War I collapse may well be arbitrary, but any attempt to change it is likely to lead to even more bloodshed."

“As the international community works toward securing a durable peace in the region [the Middle East], its leaders would be wise to remember the lessons of history," he added.