From Greg Sheridan, "A bloody mess, European-style," The Australian
JB note: Interesting that the author does not mention Ukraine
Like so much today, the Middle East’s illogical national boundaries go back to World War I. The Great War saw the dissolution of three great empires — the Austrian Hapsburgs, the Russian Romanovs and the Turkish Ottomans. These empires allowed, or forced, many different nationalities to live under a common rule. But these nationalities often didn’t like each other, or were segregated by occupation and lived socially within their own spaces. When the empires collapsed, Muller argues: “Much of the history of 20th-century Europe has been a painful, drawn-out process of ethnic disaggregation.’’ Out of countless examples, ethnic Greeks in Turkey went to Greece, ethnic Turks in Greece went to Turkey. After World War II, more than a million Poles were expelled from the Soviet Union to Poland, half a million Ukrainians in Poland went to Ukraine. Slovaks were transferred out of Hungary and Magyars sent away from Czechoslovakia. There were countless acts of ethnic cleansing, the most savage Hitler’s murder of six million Jews.
In western Europe, modern states were based on existing ethno-nationalist majorities. The further east you went, the more complex was the mix and the more wholesale the later ethnic disaggregation.
Nor was the process always regarded as disreputable. In 1944, Winston Churchill told parliament it was essential to remove ethnic Germans from non-German nations. He said: “There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble.’’
This process persisted until the end of the 20th century. The three main multinational states to emerge from the Cold War — the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia — all broke up along ethnic lines while the two Germanys reunited on ethnic lines. Of the two remaining multinational European nations, Belgium is always on the brink of break-up and only Switzerland seems completely stable. Even Britain could soon lose Scotland on the basis of ancient, if seemingly minor, ethnic difference.
This is entirely different from the experience of modern immigrant nations like Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand. Here, immigrants come as individuals or families with a desire to become part of their new nation. To some extent this is now happening in western Europe. But the experience of religiously and ethnically divergent populations within a nation which becomes newly independent is much less encouraging. Throughout 20th-century Europe, ethno-nationalism trumped class solidarity and Marxism, but it also often trumped liberalism and democracy.
Now parts of the Middle East are following the old European pattern, with as much ferocity and bloodshed. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have already seen a massive process of ethnic segregation. Kurdistan is surely destined for, and entitled to, full national independence.