A Real Map of the Middle East
Years of war in the Middle East have erased old borders. Here is what the map currently looks like.
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Could this map be any more different from the previous one discussed on this blog? That one dealt with the water, wetlands and shifting shorelines of Louisiana. This one zooms in on lines in the sand of the Middle-Eastern desert.
Yet both maps do something similar: knowing that our current maps no longer reflect reality, they replace their conventional wisdom with a new cartography, based on the new facts on the ground.
For Louisiana, that means a shoreline that bites much deeper inland. For the Middle East, the effect is arguable even more dramatic: this new map charts the emergence of a handful of new statelets, and the dismemberment of a few older ones.
The Middle East has been in turmoil since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011, with the Syrian civil war as its bloodiest consequence. Other countries in the area too have been shaken to their foundations by a wave of popular uprisings, terror attacks and military interventions. However, the old borders have generally held firm – except in Syria.
Here, the colonial-era boundary system known as Sykes-Picot has broken down, apparently permanently: few can envision a return to a unitary Syrian state – or a unitary Iraqi one, for that matter.
So, is this the map that will replace the ones in our current atlases? Perhaps not. Borders are likely to shift some more before the war is well and truly over. Few of the surrounding powers seem keen on letting the Islamic State survive – the same goes the other way, too, but the former outcome seems more likely.
But even if this map proves to be no more than a snapshot of a fleeting moment in time, it is still more useful to keep in mind than the map in your atlas when you need a frame for the news from that part of the world.
Map found here at Middle East Eye, and produced by Thomas Van Linge, one of the select few citizen-cartographers that map the shifts in the lines of control that snake across Syria and Iraq. More on that here at Newser. Follow Van Linge's Twitter @arabthomness.
Strange Maps #798
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