This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Even More Bad News About Populations at Risk in Syria

The news out of Syria is only bad. Today the Middle East Daily (an email service of Foreign Policy) summed up information from several different sources as follows:
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, stated over 3 million people who have fled the conflict in Syria will have registered as refugees in neighboring countries as of Friday. Another 6.5 million people have become internally displaced, so that about half of the Syrian population has been forced to leave their homes since fighting broke out in March 2011. The United Nations estimates that hundreds of thousands of people have additionally fled the conflict without registering as refugees. The UNHCR said this is "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era" and noted the situation is worsening.
The idea that the worst demographic situation of our era is worsening is hard to wrap one's mind around. It is so easy to destroy a society, but so hard to build one. Considering that these people in crisis come from an environment of higher than average birth rates (albeit declining) and relatively low status for women (albeit improving) we can reasonably foresee, as I mentioned recently, that we are going to be dealing with the aftermath of the Syrian implosion and other consequences of the Arab Spring for a long time to come. It seems to me, however, that the world needs to help put the geographic pieces together differently than they are right now. George Friedman of made this point a couple of days ago:
Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.
Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region's Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the mountain by that name.
In other words, these countries that are falling apart are modern creations of European policy-making and should not be treated as somehow historically sacrosanct. It is the people, not the boundaries, that matter.


  1. The artificial boundaries of countries in the ME are very important for understanding political life (and violence) today. When we moved to the Middle East I read a book titled 'A Peace to end all Peace' and it is about the production of these borders. I recommend the book highly.

  2. May I also add that the rebirth of a Caliphate that is actively attempting consolidate all these 'artificial' states is likewise a return to an older Islamic political model.