Sunday, May 13, 2007


Macedonia at 1907 and Iraq at 2007

There is a historical analogue to the current awful situation in Iraq that happened about 100 years ago in what was then the Ottoman province of Macedonia. That province had a mixed population of Christian Greeks, Christian Slavs (mostly Bulgarian speaking), and Muslim Turks. In addition, there were several other minorities, such as the Sephardic Jews of Salonica.

By the end of the 19th century it was clear that the Ottoman empire was crumbling and a fight for the spoils started. Bands of Greek and Bulgarian "insurgents" started attacking the Ottomans and, mostly, each other. Six European powers (England, France, the then Austro-Hungarian empire, Russia, Germany, and Italy) decided to intervene and stop the mayhem and they did so by diving Macedonia into six zones with each country undertaking the modernization of the Ottoman police in its zone. Of course, their motives were not purely humanitarian. They were also looking to grab pieces of the disintegrating Ottoman empire.

You see now the similarities (as well as some differences) with the current situation in Iraq. A strong ruler has disappeared (Saddam suddenly in Iraq, the strong Ottoman rule has gradually weakened). There are two ethnic/religious groups fighting each other (Sunni and Shia in Iraq, Greeks and Bulgarians in Macedonia) and those who try to control the situation (The U.S. and its allies in Iraq, the Ottoman rulers in Macedonia). The West tries to calm things down by organizing a local security force (Iraqi police and army, the Ottoman police in Macedonia). In contrast to Iraq, there were no fighting Western forces. The Ottoman forces played the role of an occupying army (as far as the Greeks and Bulgarians were concerned) but they were also protecting the local Muslim population.

What happened next? In Macedonia there were the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. The countries of Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro allied against the Ottomans and were able to defeat their armies and take over Macedonia and other European Ottoman parts. Then the Greece and Serbia united to fight the Bulgarians in the division of the spoils. The Bulgarians lost, so the Greeks and the Serbians divided Macedonia amongst themselves. But things did not stay quite for a long time. In both World Wars (1914-1919 and 1939-1945) Serbia (later Yugoslavia) and Greece were allies of the British and French while Bulgaria was an ally of Germany. After WW-II Yugoslavia and Bulgaria came under Soviet control while Greece stayed outside the iron curtain. However Greece was torn by a civil war between "nationalists" and communists. The former were supported by Britain and the United States. The latter by Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania. Bulgarian speaking inhabitents of Greek Macedonia came readily under suspicion as being pro-communists. Many of the young Greece leftists were quite fanatic, "eager to give their life for the glory of the party." (Does this remind anyone of al-Qaeda?)

From roughly 1890 to around 1950 friction between Greece and Bulgaria persistent with regular bloody flare-ups. Even during the "peaceful" 20 years between WW-I and WW-II there were "border incidents".

What does the history of Macedonia imply about Iraq? If you accept the analogy, it may take over 50 years for peace. Are Americans willing to stay there that long? For 25 years? For 10 years? Splitting Iraq into three countries may be the least painful option, horrible as it might be initself. After all this is what happended in Macedonia.

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