The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan.
This will be my last post in review of Frankopan’s history.
The location is the Middle East, the story begins during The Great War, and oil plays a part. A part, but not the part – as this region was the target of many conquerors long before anyone knew of or cared about the black gold under the ground.
Before the turn of the last century, William Knox D’Arcy made a fortune in Australia in gold – the yellow kind, not the liquid kind. Being, now, a man of extraordinary wealth and having moved to London, he had his share of callers – those presenting all manners of investment possibilities.
One of these callers was Antoine Kitabgi, a Catholic with a Georgian background who happened to be a well-connected official in the Persian administration. Kitabgi could sell access to oil; Kitabgi could open doors to the Shah…for a price. The Shah knew how to extract a price…and he knew the British would always pay.
In 1901, the Shah and D’Arcy had a deal for oil exploration. The Russians were not pleased with the British taking the lead in exploiting this neighbor. To shorten the story, D’Arcy and Kitabgi founded what is today known as British Petroleum. They finally struck oil, after almost giving up, on 28 May 1908.
Churchill grasped immediately the value of oil for the Royal Navy – oil instead of coal. In the summer of 1914, just a few days before Franz Ferdinand was shot, the British government bought a 51% stake in the Persian concession.
And with this, the long story of installing and buying puppets in the region and making promises that could never be kept truly took hold – a story, as we know, that continues today.
Meanwhile, the war. Britain was concerned that the war would come to an end too soon – this would not do for Britain’s plans to have Russia expend itself in Europe such that Britain’s interests in the regions of the Silk Roads could be kept secure. Talks were opened – even before Turkey entered the war – between Russia and Britain, regarding the future of Constantinople. This, perhaps more than any other objective and because of the access to warm water, was of paramount importance to Russia.
Then, the Sykes–Picot Agreement: the French would receive Syria and Lebanon; the British would receive Mesopotamia, Palestine and the Suez. This all decided well before the end of the war – at a time when the British were publicly proclaiming that local people should be “entitled to a recognition of their separate national conditions.”
The French were willing to agree to much, as long as Britain would support the return of Alsace-Lorraine. Meanwhile, Mesopotamia promised oil to the British (via a deal brokered by “Mr. Five Per-cent,” Calouste Gulbenkian), and Palestine promised a buffer zone for the protection of the vital Suez Canal. Palestine also offered an outlet – an alternative to the significant Jewish immigration into England from Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia faced its own internal revolution; in some ways a distraction from the great game and in other ways opening new doors – an alternative to those in the region who grew tired of capitalist (i.e. British) exploitation. Afghanistan was one such battlefield – ideologically and literally.
Not to be left out, the Americans moved into Northern Persia via Standard Oil. And, eventually, the Americans became the main Anglo actors on the stage.
We know the rest of the story: after World War Two, the Cold War. Keep the Soviets surrounded; keep access to Gulf oil; install puppets and remove democratically-elected leaders; continuous turmoil and tension in the entire periphery of the world island – the region of Eurasia anchored by the Soviet Union; the Iranian Revolution – embassy personnel held hostage; continuous war for at least 25 years.
We are living it. The region surrounding the world island must be controlled by the American Empire or placed in such turmoil that it cannot be controlled by anyone; cooperation between Russia and Germany must be denied; China must be distracted by turmoil along all its borders.
If the world island comes together, tied together by the new Silk Roads of rail, highway and pipelines, and given the substantial population, it has the chance to develop into the most prosperous region of the world.
The American Empire is attempting to fight this at all costs. For the sake of humanity, let’s pray that they do not go quite that far.