Much has been made of how European imperial powers reshaped the Middle East after World War I, a transformation often said to have begun 100 years ago this week when France and Britain signed the Sykes-Picot agreement. But fewer people realize that, in addition to creating the map of the modern Middle East, postwar European imperialists actually created the concept. The region we recognize as the Middle East today, a roughly defined but distinct swath of territory stretching from Turkey to Egypt to Iran, only came into being with the end of the Ottoman Empire and the disappearance of the older, now antiquated-sounding “Near East.”
During the 19th century, the British mentally divided what most of the world now considers the Middle East into the Near East (the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean) and the Middle East (the region around Iran and the Persian Gulf). There was a certain geographic and strategic logic to this division. The Near East was, well, nearer than the Middle East, and the Middle East was in the middle of the Near and Far Easts. For British colonial administrators, the Middle East was the region that was crucial to the defense of India, while the Near East was largely under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
KEYWORDS: BPC OP-EDS