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In the final Faculty Spotlight post for this academic year, the subject is Julia Stewart-David, who spent this past year at Fletcher as a visiting fellow.

I am about the twelfth visiting European Union (EU) Fellow at The Fletcher School (records are a bit patchy) but we can thank Professor Alan Henrikson for having reached out to set up the EU Fellowship at Fletcher somewhere back toward the end of the last century.  So what is a visiting EU Fellow?  Well, there are around ten of us each year, mid- or senior-level career officials in European Union institutions, who are given the opportunity to have a sabbatical year in a select few universities worldwide.  While we are visiting fellows, we have a dual mandate of pursuing research and of educating about the European Union and its policies through outreach and teaching.  We each bring a different area of practitioner expertise.

Julia Stewart-DavidThe Fletcher School was my first choice destination, mainly because professionally I knew of its strong interest in human security issues, through the influential research work of the Feinstein Center.  My “usual” job is a policy role in the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, co-managing a team working on evidence and disaster risk management.  I’ve been in the humanitarian sector for over a decade now, working closely with the UN and international NGOs on quality of aid.  But being in a sector whose business is crisis leaves little time for deeper reflection on the world and the interlinked complexities of power, politics, poverty, and human potential.  One of the dilemmas of disaster risk management is how to get better investment over the long-term to help communities prevent or better cope with crises, when the immediate humanitarian response is so constantly overwhelmed by the need to respond to the emergencies of the present.  Most of these are prolonged conflict-related “complex emergencies.”

So imagine my sense of opportunity at having an academic year where my professional life is focused upon thinking, reading, and contributing to a longer-term process of reflection on change in the humanitarian sector.  While at Fletcher, I have been researching how humanitarian organizations learn.  This is a time when the sector has undergone much soul-searching ahead of the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.  Failure takes its toll in lives; which leads perversely to risk-aversion in organizations trying to provide assistance, when bold action, or maybe even a radical new approach, could be what’s needed.

I have found life here at Fletcher a wonderful privilege.  There is a strong sense of community and a core of thoughtful people who care about the world and how they can best contribute to it.  The most remarkable learning resource is the diversity of student experience and interest.  As to the professional experience I have been able to share, it has covered a wide range of topics: from strategies to address violent extremism, to the forthcoming UK referendum on the European Union; from humanitarian financing and use of evidence and evaluation, to tips on combining motherhood and management in an international organization that has still not reached gender parity.  I have also enjoyed explaining my passion for “participatory leadership” practice in policy-making, or put another way: bringing diverse people together to co-generate future action based on collective wisdom.  In my mind, international and community leadership to address the challenges of our times requires multi-disciplinary reflection, adaptability and an ability to host difficult conversations on questions that really matter to society.  I see these qualities in abundance at Fletcher.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if traditional educational approaches and curricula would value and develop those kinds of skills at all levels from a young age?

My family and I will be taking many happy memories from Boston back with us to Brussels when we head home this summer.  I also have a head full of ideas of things we should try to do better in the humanitarian sphere.

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Students aren’t the only members of the community who close out a chapter of their lives at Commencement.  In some years, graduation day also marks the start of a professor’s new less-than-daily relationship with Fletcher.

Alan HenriksonFollowing this 2015-2016 academic year, Alan K. Henrikson, the Lee E. Dirks Professor of Diplomatic History, and Fletcher’s Director of Diplomatic Studies, will conclude his 44-year teaching career at Fletcher and move on to whatever comes next.  Professor Henrikson has taught U.S. foreign policy to international and U.S. students alike, acquiring a very loyal and devoted following among current students and alumni.

I would describe Professor Henrikson as singularly dedicated to the art of teaching.  I aim to make a distinction here between simply being a great teacher (there are many of them at Fletcher) and putting teaching at the center of everything.  It is in that devotion to the classroom that Professor Henrikson is the leader among his peers.

At the end of the fall semester, the last one in which he would teach DHP D200: Diplomacy: History, Theory, and Practice, Professor Henrikson shared two things with his colleagues on the faculty.  The first was the text of his final exam for the class, and the second was a photo.  He noted:

As you will see, if you have a chance to look through the examination paper, Diplomacy 200, which I think of as the cornerstone of diplomatic studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, “covers” nearly all of the subjects we teach at the School — and, I believe, in an integrating and integrated way.  The students draw from other fields in which they are working, as well as from their own national-cultural and personal experiences.  And, I hope, they bring a diplomatic (and diplomatic-historical) understanding back to their intellectual and other activities in those fields, now and in their future professional careers and lives.

Several members of the faculty responded to Professor Henrikson’s email and I would like to share a few of the responses.  (Note that several current professors were once Fletcher students.)

Professor Diana Chigas, F88: As an alum of D200, I can say that it was an influential course in my Fletcher education, both because of its integrated and historical perspective, and because of the infectious nature of your obvious love for diplomatic history and your commitment to your students.

Professor Ian Johnstone: I saw some of your past exams and was always impressed by the depth and scope, as well as by the way you integrate history and current events.  You outdid yourself this time!  That course is a foundation for so much of what we do at the School.  It is hard to imagine you won’t be teaching it again.

Professor Sulmaan Khan:  I agree with Ian, Alan.  It’s hard to imagine Fletcher and our broader curriculum without your teaching.

Professor Antonia Chayes: Reading your complex and erudite exam, I can only regret that I never had the chance to take your course.  Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti: I will write an essay response to one of your prompts (too tempting to let them go) and will struggle with knotting my bow tie over the holidays in honor of the passing of an era.

Kathleen Ryan, F87, director of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations: Also as an alum of D200, I love seeing this — both the bow ties and the test.  Really glad I took the test when I did!  You cannot know how much you mean to so many former students.  A legend.  So thrilled that you will be giving the Friday night lecture to kick off the reunion in May.  Sure to be wonderful!

Professor Leila Fawaz: A lovely tribute for a cherished teacher.  I am very glad you shared the wonderful photo with us.  We appreciate all you had done for us all at the School and the University.

Professor Elizabeth Prodromou, F83: Thank you for sharing this message and photo, both of which speak to the intellectual excitement, graciousness, and civility, which are your continuing legacy to generations Fletcher students (including many of us among them!).

In a note to me, Professor Prodromou further wrote: “He leaves an extraordinary legacy at Fletcher — his was an approach to teaching, learning, and scholarship that is rooted in a classic understanding of education as a experience in becoming a fuller, enlightened, inquisitive, and alive human being.”

And now the photo from his final D200 class, which will explain all the above references to bow ties, an Alan Henrikson trademark look.

Alan H, D200
Professor Henrikson will address the community, including this year’s graduates and alumni visiting for their reunion, tomorrow afternoon, on the topic of “Fletcher: A Great Place to Teach.”  I will miss running into Alan Henrikson in the hallways and I wish him the very best.  But I’ll give the final word to Frances Burke, one of Professor Henrikson’s students this year.  When I asked her for her thoughts, Frances wrote:

Whether sitting in Professor Henrikson’s “Diplomacy” class or his U.S. Foreign Relations classes, every moment was a treasure.  His depth of knowledge was, of course, daunting, as each comment on a historical period cascaded into the details of a particular statesman, or comments on esoteric cartography, or asides regarding a special envoy, or opinions on a crucial summit.  Most of us left lectures awestruck by our own ignorance.  Professor Henrikson’s deep, deep knowledge of American history and foreign policy was illuminated by his obvious adoration for his subjects.  During one class, when describing reportage emerging from the Spanish Civil War, he paused to sing a song of the resistance, concluded by a sweet smile and trademark laugh.  You could see how much he loved his calling.  His departure rips a great hole in the grand tapestry of Fletcher teaching, as he so vibrantly twined the threads of history, diplomacy, and foreign relations in a way only a truly gifted teacher can do.

 

Even as 2016 graduates are submitting their Capstone Projects, some of 2017’s grads have already selected a topic for theirs.  Professor Amar Bhidé recently informed the community that he is compiling a “‘library’ of case studies on successful medical innovations,” as part of a study of medical advances.  He invited students to work on a case study, individually or as part of a team, for a Capstone.  The list of innovations from which they can select includes such topics as:

Bone marrow transplant
H. Pylori testing and treatment
Hip and knee replacement
HIV testing and treatment
Inhaled steroids for asthma
IV-conscious sedation
Laparoscopic surgery
MRI and CT scanning
Nonsedating antihistamines
NSAIDs and Cox-2 inhibitors
Statins
Tamoxifen
Ultrasonography including echocardiography

These aren’t the typical Fletcher topics, but for the right students, they could be the start of a very interesting Capstone.

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I love hearing from alumni, and not only when they send me news for the blog.  But if they happen to send something newsworthy, well, I’m certainly going to seize the opportunity to share.

On Monday, I was pleasantly surprised by an email from Atanas, a 2015 grad.  He recently started in a new position at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, working on climate resilience.  I’ll let him continue the story:

Last week I was lucky to be working at the Executive Office of the UN Secretary General on the organization of the Paris agreement signature ceremony, and on Friday, I witnessed first-hand this historic moment.  I met a few presidents, including Colombia’s President and Fletcher grad Juan Manuel Santos, and had a brief chat with Leo DiCaprio who is UN Messenger of Peace and delivered a speech during the ceremony.  It was certainly a day to remember.

But one of the most powerful experiences I had was listening to a Fletcher alumna who spoke on a panel in the afternoon of the same day — Rachel Kyte, who is the CEO of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) and Special Representative of the Secretary General.  She talked only for five minutes but completely captivated the audience and, according to everyone working in this area, hers was one of the best speeches given in a long time.

I’ll plug in a few details about Rachel Kyte.  She’s a 2002 graduate of the GMAP program and, also, currently a Fletcher professor of practice of sustainable development, associated with the Center for International Environment and Research Policy.

The forum at which Atanas heard her speak was “Taking Climate Action to the Next Level: Realizing the Vision of the Paris Agreement.”  Click the photo below to hear her comments following a question at about 1:47:00.

Professor Rachel Kyte, F02, speaking before a UN panel on climate change.

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For the last few years, Dean Stavridis has written a blog and he occasionally includes video interviews with members of the community.  I figure the interviews could be interesting for prospective students, and I’d like to simplify your search, if you’d like to watch them.  Here are all of the video interviews that the Dean conducted with Fletcher professors, plus a few extras.

2013-2014

Alex de Waal:

Jenny Aker:

Kelly Sims-Gallagher:

Richard Shultz:

2014-2015

Bhaskar Chakravorti:

Eileen Babbitt:

Michael Glennon:

2015-2016

Leila Fawaz:

Sulmaan Khan:

Edward Schumacher-Matos:

Sung-Yoon Lee:

And here are a few “bonus tracks”:

Banafsheh Keynoush, Fletcher alumna:

President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves:

Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency:

Dina Dara Miren, a current MALD student:

Patrick Meier, Fletcher alumnus:

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Professor Michael Glennon published a book in 2014 on “double government,” and that book, National Security and Double Government, has resonated for many with the themes of this year’s election.  You can hear him in an extended conversation on “Radio Open Source.”  It’s worth a listen.

 

The subject of today’s Faculty Spotlight feature is John Allen Burgess, Professor of Practice and Executive Director of Fletcher’s LLM Program.  In addition to his role as LLM director, he currently teaches Mergers and Acquisitions: An International Perspective, and Securities Regulation: An International Prospective

Every semester, I have the privilege to enjoy a range of special experiences along with the Fletcher LLM students.  From the fall, when we first get a chance to meet each other and other members of the law faculty at Professor Chayes’ beautiful home, to the spring, when we gather as a group off campus to hear about each other’s work and talk with a range of guests over lunch, a drink or dinner, the year is filled with so many chances to learn and to interact with each other.

Photo credit: Matt Teuten for Tufts University

Photo credit: Matt Teuten for Tufts University

But the experience I most enjoy is the High Table — an opportunity for the LLM students and law faculty to come together in a book-lined seminar room to learn from experts in various aspects of international law.  It is the perfect location and atmosphere for off-the-record conversations on a wide range of issues.

I attended my first High Table in September 2014 — and immediately realized that it was a very special experience.  Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei joined the group to discuss his experiences as Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency in both Iraq and Iran as well as his experiences during the Arab spring.  It was an extraordinary opportunity to hear in a small group about the views of a Nobel prize winner, and learn more as he, my fellow faculty members, and the LLM students pursued an open dialogue across a wide range of topics.

As I now look back at the many High Tables I have attended, two things strike me.  The first is the opportunity to meet and hear from people who have achieved amazing things in the law, often against extraordinary odds and challenges.  Chief Judge Patricia Wald, who spoke to us regarding her work as Chair of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was also a pioneer in so many respects — as a young mother who went to law school when few women attended and as the first woman Chief Justice of the DC Circuit.  She then, instead of taking a well-earned retirement, served as a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, working to build a new international jurisprudence.  The High Table’s intimate surroundings gave me a chance to see first-hand her intelligence, her humility, and the richness of her experience.  It left me feeling both humble and deeply impressed.

The second special feature of the High Tables is the excitement of being exposed to legal issues that are outside my area of expertise.  For example, earlier this year, Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Nigeria, gave a provocative talk on issues of rule of law in emerging economies — he challenged our thinking on the issue and provoked an informative discussion among the group.  Cravath partner Rory Millsom walked the group through the thicket of legal considerations surrounding targeted killing by drones, making some challenging points about the application of law to new technologies along the way.

No matter how many High Tables I have attended, I always leave the discussion knowing that I have learned something new and that I am lucky to be surrounded by such informed students and teachers.  It’s a great feeling and a significant perk of my work at Fletcher.

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Professor Jeswald W. Salacuse, the subject of today’s Faculty Spotlight feature, has had a long and varied career at Fletcher, starting in 1986 with eight years as dean, and continuing as he transitioned to a teaching role.  Currently, as the Henry J. Braker Professor of Law, Professor Salacuse teaches International Investment Law, Corporate Governance in International Business and Finance, Law and Development, and a new course Negotiating International Leadership, but in his post below, he tells us about one of his out-of-Fletcher activities.

I moonlight as an international judge.  For the past several years, while teaching full time at the Fletcher School, I have served as president of an international arbitration tribunal, hearing cases brought against Argentina by foreign investors in that country.  The investors have claimed that the Argentine government had not treated them as it had promised in various bilateral investment treaties made with the investors’ home governments.  A principal purpose of investment treaties, of which there are now about 3000 in the world, is to protect and promote investment between the countries that sign them.  Under these treaties, each country promises, among other things, that it will not expropriate investments from the other country and that it will treat them fairly, provide them with protection and security, and will not discriminate unjustly against them.

Promises are only as good as the mechanisms to enforce them.  The enforcement mechanism in investment treaties is international arbitration, a process that allows investors to sue a foreign government before an independent international tribunal, to obtain compensation for injuries caused by that government’s failure to give the investor the treatment promised under the treaty.  Granting a private party the right to bring an action against a sovereign state in an international tribunal is a revolutionary innovation that now seems largely taken for granted.  Yet its uniqueness and power should not be overlooked.  A similar remedy does exist in most other areas of international law.  It is this mechanism that gives important, practical significance to an investment treaty, and truly enables investment treaties to afford protection to foreign investment.  As a result, aggrieved foreign investors are bringing increasing numbers of arbitration claims when they believe host countries have denied them treaty protection, and in some cases tribunals have awarded them damages in the tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of dollars.  Fearful that they may be subjected to “home-town justice” in national courts and will therefore receive prejudicial treatment, investors have preferred to plead their cases before an independent international tribunal rather than take their chances in national courts under the control of the government they are suing.

Most investor-state tribunals consist of three arbitrators, one named by the party bringing the claim, another appointed by the party defending against the claim, and the third, usually, the president or chair of the tribunal, appointed by agreement of the two sides.  The tribunal members are not the representatives of the parties but are to exercise their judgment independently.  If arbitrators have not maintained their duty of independence, they may be challenged and removed from the tribunal.  Each side is represented by lawyers, often major international law firms because of the amount of money at stake, and the whole process functions according to strict rules of procedure and elaborate principles of international law.  Many investor-state cases take place under the facilities of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an independent international organization affiliated with the World Bank and located in Washington, D.C.

Although the United States is a party to almost fifty investment treaties, all of which provide for investor-state arbitration, and though it has even been a defendant in a few cases, public attention suddenly focused on this process only in the past year as a result of projected U. S participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a twelve-nation trade and investment treaty that will provide investor-state arbitration for claims in the event of treaty violations.  TPP opponents have railed against investor-state arbitration in particular, expressing fears about lost sovereignty and the machinations of “secret and sinister tribunals.”  Much of the opposition to that agreement has been based on unsubstantiated fears and ignorance of the nature of the process and how it functions.  The actual record of investor-state arbitration over the past twenty years has been good.  As of 2013, 274 investor-state cases had been concluded.  Of that number, 42% had been decided in favor of defendant states, 34% had been decided in favor of investors, and 27% were settled by agreement of the parties.  The record by no means shows, as some would claim, that tribunals have an investor bias and that investor-state arbitration is a threat to national sovereignty.  On the contrary, I would argue that the investor-state arbitration supports the international rule of law.  Governments sometimes violate international law.  When they do, they should be held accountable.  The essence of the rule of law is the ability of a private person to sue a government for violation of the law and obtain a fair hearing.

My experience moonlighting as an international judge has enriched my teaching of Law and Development and International Investment Law at Fletcher, as well as my scholarship in those areas.  The tribunal over which I have presided has included Professor Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler, a Swiss national, and Professor Pedro Nikken from Venezuela, both exceptional lawyers who have diligently and knowledgeably worked to render fair decisions on innumerable procedural and substantive issues in the years we have worked together.  Far from being a “sinister tribunal,” our association has been most congenial.  In support of that proposition, I offer the attached photo of the three of us showing up for work one summer morning as Exhibit A.

Salacuse, ICSID Trib

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Our next post in the Faculty Spotlight series comes from Andrew Hess, Professor of Diplomacy and Director of the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program.  Professor Hess currently teaches Southwest Asia: History, Culture, and Politics, The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and The Globalization of Central Asia and the Caucasus.  In his post, Professor Hess describes the curriculum changes he has needed to make to keep his courses current.

image_Hess_AndrewThe courses I offer in the fall semester deal with an explosion of complex conflicts from Eastern Europe to China.  Happily this should improve employment opportunities for future diplomats!  But the down side of all this violent activity means I need to constantly adjust course curricula.

In the interest of keeping up with all the turmoil, I am going to describe the additions to our previous semesters’ battles by trying to understand radical change in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the emerging nation states along the southern edge of the former Soviet Union.  I, however, offer no guarantee on including all that may happen in Southwest and Central Eurasia: I find this region has indeed earned its reputation for being a land of unpredictability.

Diplomacy 265 (The Globalization of Politics and Culture for Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan) was originally dedicated to understanding the international and internal politics related to key diplomatic issues of the three non-Arabic language speaking nation states east of Iraq, south of Central Asia and west of India. Alas, the power of twenty-first century global change makes it ever more difficult to explain what is happening in this region on the basis of only a national analysis.

The big issue is: Why so much violence and so little in the way of diplomatic solutions in this huge chunk of Eurasia?  The answer is, no doubt, going to be complex; and among the various new explanations for this bleak situation I suggest that the intensified impact of three global trends in this sub-division of Southwest Asia have added to the forces of instability already underway in this strategically important portion of Eurasia.

Very briefly these “trends” are:

  • The absence of a balance of great powers for Eurasia as a whole has intensified powerful regional struggles on a global level (think about the states and-non government organizations who might want to take advantage of weak states);
  • Second, the widespread inability of Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian governments and societies to cope institutionally with a global acceleration of social and cultural change is certainly behind recent upheavals (which terrorist group do you follow on Pakistan’s northwest frontier);
  • Finally, what to do about a new geopolitics of energy (there is an ongoing gas revolution) for a region (the Central Eurasian Energy Ellipse) that provides, maybe, seventy percent of the world’s oil and gas resources;

And while we are talking about diplomatic problems involving commerce, we should not forget that Afghanistan is probably the world’s largest producer of heroin.

The Globalization of the South Caucasus and Central Asia (Diplomacy 267) course came to the Fletcher curriculum as a response to the increasing strategic importance of this slice of Eurasia during the period of the Cold War (1953-1991).  But the politics of the old bipolar struggle in Eurasia has now been replaced by conflicts between of new nation states now emerging from within the former body of the Soviet Union and the effort of the ruling elite of the Russian Federation to restore in some fashion the prestige of the Russian state.

Meanwhile huge technological forces associated with the economic development of all of Eurasia are linking the heartland of the Continent with the global economy: starting in the last quarter of the twentieth century the almost simultaneous growth of global oil production in the Soviet Union and the transfer under European control of high level petroleum skills into the Persian/Arabian Gulf arena set the stage for the modern geo-politics of energy in Eurasia.  So the two courses (Diplomacy 265 and 267) complement each other in the sense that great and small powers have to develop policies to defend their strategic interests in the production, processing, and transportation oil and gas.

Starting last fall, I have expanded the coverage of the 267 course to include a wider range of states along the edge of the southern frontier of the former Soviet Union.  In the west, we will argue that the Russian seizure of the Crimea is part of the larger political struggle for political power in the center of Eurasia; and it is an event that should be included within the wider Eurasian geo-politics of energy (gas supply for Europe).  At the eastern edge of former Soviet frontier we need to study the diplomatic problems of Russia’s new energy relations with China, in relation to the interests of Eurasia’s Turkish speaking states and societies.  (Uyghurs!).  And of course, I have added some new material concerning the technical revolutions taking place in the petroleum sector, where the international impact is not so clear at this time.

Finally, my current research asks, what role does the sectarian dispute between the Sunni and Shi’i versions of Islam play in the contemporary politics of Southwest Asia?

Outside of the classroom, the Southwest-Central Asia and Islamic Civilization Program involves students in the selection of speakers and the generation of discussions of key events involving Southwest and Central Asia.  When there is student interest, the Program sponsors the online journal (Al Nakhlah) as an effort to encourage students to publish their research papers.  We usually employ two student editors for this project.  And the program also supports summer research efforts for those students who are in the MALD or PhD programs and are working on a topic related to the Southwest and Central Asian courses.  Last, during the fall semester, we celebrate social and cultural cohesion at an annual picnic.

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Professor Leila Fawaz was kind to make me aware of a post she recently wrote for the blog of the American Historical Association, and the AHA was kind, in turn, to let me repost her piece on the Admissions Blog.  Professor Fawaz was the first recipient of Fletcher’s inaugural Faculty Research Award for her book, A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War.

“Understanding the Present: The Impact of World War I in the Middle East”

Watching the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, I cannot but recall the suffering of Middle Eastern people at another time of great upheaval: during the First World War and following its settlement.

First British Guard, Jaffa Gate, 1917. Credit: Library of Congress.

The history of the Great War helps us to understand how the violent past is responsible for the current turmoil in the Middle East. Historians have covered the destruction caused by the First World War in Europe extensively, but many in the West do not realize the level of destruction and upheaval it caused in the Middle East. The losses in the Middle East were staggering: the war not only ravaged the land and decimated armies, it destroyed whole societies and economies. In this way, the experience of World War I in the Middle East is perhaps more akin to the experience of World War II in Europe. The social, economic, and psychological effects were deep and devastating.

The title of my book, A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War (Harvard University Press, 2014), which I spoke on recently at the Washington History Seminar, comes from a line in the journal of a Turkish feminist, Halidé Edib. In an episode about her travels by train through villages from Anatolia to Homs during the Great War, she remarked on a haunting sense of misery. In the villages, not a man was to be seen because so many had died or been conscripted. Locusts had devoured fields. Famine shadowed families and took many lives. She wrote, “I have seen, I have gone through, a land full of aching hearts and torturing remembrances” (1). As the memory of the war evolved decades later, people began to describe it as a great war of suffering—the safarbarlik, or mobilization—in which barefoot soldiers crossed cities, deserts, whole regions away from their homes, and millions of civilians faced starvation, disease, relocation, and levels of misery so profound and so lasting that their memory was passed on from one generation to the other.

Map of Sykes–Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia. Credit: The National Archives (United Kingdom).

The conclusion of the war introduced additional political upheaval to the region. In the West the war solidified already formed national identities. But in the East it shattered the imperial Ottoman system that, for all its faults, let a multiplicity of identities coexist for much of the time. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, drawn during the war in 1916, divided the region into spheres of influence between the British and the French: roughly, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq were designated British while Lebanon and Syria were assigned to the French, should the Allies win the war. No representatives of these regions were privy to the agreement. It was negotiated in secret and contrary to the principles of self-determination that would become a centerpiece of Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” plan for world peace at the end of the war. The French Mandate that replaced the Ottomans in 1923 introduced a new foreign rule to the Lebanese and Syrian people, who once again had no say in their government. The region was thus entrapped in new structures of imperial governance, and the foundations were laid for enduring mutual suspicion.

When the Islamic State bulldozed the berm between Iraq and Syria in June 2014, it publicized the event as the destruction of the Sykes-Picot border. The reference is indicative of the level of lingering resentment towards the West’s unilateral redrawing of borders 100 years ago. Why are old agreements from a century ago at the center of heated debates in the Middle East? The answer is that the suffering the region endured during the Great War lives on in the memory of its people, and decisions made then continue to affect relations among Middle Eastern peoples to this day.

The current refugee crisis is an opportunity to reflect back 100 years ago to the mistakes made following the Great War that caused—and continue to trigger—so much suffering and conflict. This is why the study of history is invaluable to understanding the present. Like memory, history’s influence is not fleeting but longstanding. We must account for it as we move forward.

Note

1. Halidé Edib, Memoirs of Halidé Edib (London: John Murray, 1926), 375.

 

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