Friday, March 7, 2014

Ukraine and Twentieth Century Artificial Political Boundaries

World War I started a century ago. It ended in 1918 with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian empires. The Hapsburgs (Austria-Hungary), Hohenzollerns (Germany), Ottomans (Turkey), and Romanovs (Russia) were sent packing or executed. New countries were created and boundaries shifted out of their collapse. The newly created countries often had ethnicities and religions thrown together, which could not co-exist in the long run. Germany, Austria, and Hungary lost lands, such as Transylvania being transferred to Romania from Hungary. France regained Alsace-Lorraine from Germany. Some of the Russian and Ottoman spinoffs, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, would not be independent for long, being reabsorbed into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Yugoslavia, a merger of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Christians and Muslims was destined to explode. Czechoslovakia peacefully separated. Finland, Poland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania escaped the Russian Bear. Countries spun out of the Ottoman Empire include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. A critical mistake in the Arab boundaries was not recognizing an independent Kurdish State. The Kurds were spread though Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey with tragic consequences continuing today. Iraq was a new amalgam of Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds in a highly combustible mixture. The Ottoman Empire, Balkan nations, and the Black Sea countries, such as Ukraine, pose a special ethnicity problem. The Sultans were tolerant of the myriad of ethnicities and religions in their vast empire. Thus the emerging nations were often a melting pot, albeit to a lesser extent than the United States, and high;y combustible. Sometimes the divisions were resolved tragically, such as by the Greek and Turkish immigrations after World War I and the Armenian Genocide. Another example is the Bloody Partition in India during independence from Great Britain. Countries may not have split during World War II, but peoples in countries such as Yugoslavia committed mass atrocities against their fellow citizens. The memories exist to this day. Ethnic and religious cleansing continues through this day in parts of the Mideast. A second problem is that fixed political boundaries are an anomaly in the history of western Europe, eastern Europe, and the Mideast. Boundaries continued to be adjusted after World War II. For example, Germany and Russia in their 1938 Nonaggression Pact split Poland in half. Russia won and Germany lost the War. Eastern Poland was deeded to the USSR, with much of East Prussia going to Poland. The one country with well-defined borders and independence over the past nine decades is Turkey. The victorious allies in World War I attempted to dismember Turkey. The British, French, Italians, and especially the Greeks eyed large segments of the country. Ataturk’s goals in the Turkish War of Independence were not only preserving Turkey’s independence, but also regaining the traditional boundaries of the Turkish people, including Thrace, Istanbul, and the heartland of Anatolia. He succeeded, but also proclaimed that the new Republic of Turkey no longer had a desire to conquer neighboring lands. Two millennia of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empire building and almost constant warfare were over. Thus, Turkey was one of the few European and Asian countries to stay out of World War II. Its boundaries were not changed by the War. Ukraine’s history is the opposite. It has been fought over by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Russians, Poles, Mongols, Vikings, Cossacks, Tatars, Huns, and Goths, as well as other migratory tribes. The Crimean Peninsula was annexed by Russia in 1783. The Ukraine came under Russian control in 1653. The Russian Federation just regained control of the Crimea.

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