## displacement in the Middle East: where the past is prologue?

From The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Online Edition, 2016
Edited by

### Abstract

The Middle East is now the major refugee-producing region of the world, as well as the major hosting region, with nearly 63% of the world’s refugees (UNHCR statistics 2014). These major population flows and changes going back to the middle of the 19th century have had significant impacts on the development of the region throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

### Article

#### Displacement at the end of the Ottoman Empire

The Middle East has been the focus of centuries, if not millennia, of movements of people. For much of the past 500 years the largely involuntary movement of people was supported by a system of government which encouraged and tolerated variations among people, drawing out differences between neighbours and encouraging the formation of unique identities based on cultural, linguistic or religious grounds. In this heartland of the Ottoman Empire, belonging was not based on physical birthplace alone, but specifically included the social community of origin (Humphreys, 1999; Kedourie, 1984). Immigrants – forced and voluntary – were readily accepted into the fabric of this multicultural empire and institutionalised mechanisms were set up by the state to assist in their integration (Chatty, 2010). The Ottoman Empire upon which such identities were based came to an end with the First World War.
Amid the rubble at the end of the Great War was a startling range of social movement. This included social groups on the Russian-Ottoman border lands, such as the Armenian, Circassian and other Northern Caucasus peoples (Barkey and Von Hagen, 1997; Brubaker, 1995). Other dispossessions had their origins in the lines drawn on maps by the great Western powers (e.g. the Sykes–Picot agreement) to create new nation states (Bocco et al., 1993; Gelvin, 1998; Helms, 1981; Morris, 1987; Wilkinson, 1983). These include the Palestinians, the Kurds, the pastoral Bedouin and a variety of ‘stateless peoples’. In some cases, such as those of the Yazidis, the Assyrians and some Armenian groups, migration was closely linked to regional efforts to create a pan-Arab, socialist or Islamic society (Al-Rasheed, 1994; Khalidi, 1997; Lerner et al., 1958). These refugees, exiles and ‘exchangees’ found new homes and created new communities without much attention or assistance from the new international order. They established themselves in new soil, but managed their memories so as not to lay down new roots, but rather to strengthen the commonality and trust in their immediate social network. They were creating moral and economic communities with social capital that oiled internal social cohesion (Chatty, 2010).
These forced migrant movements also had profound impacts on the economic development of the region in the early 20th century. Armenians fleeing Turkish persecution began to arrive in the Arab world in the early 1900s, moving into Palestine and Transjordan in the early 1910s (Al-Khatib, 2000). While economic data from this early period is scarce, these Armenian refugees contributed expertise in trades such as shoemaking, machine mechanics and still photography, as well as financial expertise, supporting the development of local economies (Becker and El-Said, 2013). Circassian and Chechen refugees arriving in Palestine, Syria and Jordan during the same period expanded agricultural production, and much of Jordan’s developing market economy was initially structured along ethnic lines, with displaced ethnic groups playing a critical role (Becker and El-Said, 2013). Refugees from all three ethnic groups also played crucial roles in Jordan’s early urban development, particularly in and around Amman.
The transnational links created by forced migration in the Middle East also contributed to a continued re-imagination of geographic and social space in response to population movements. In this region the mass movement of people over the past 150 years makes the attempt to regard the area as a set of homelands or cultural regions bewildering, to say the least. The Assyrian Arabs, once largely found in pre- and post-colonial Iraq, have reappeared in Chicago; the Circassians have centred their diasporic headquarters in New Jersey; and Iraqi refugees and exiles have found new community nodes in London and other major western cities. Remittance links between these new communities and the Middle East also contributed significantly to the economic development of the region; charitable organisations formed by, for example, the Iraqi diaspora in the USA, including Chaldeans, previously provided critical financial support for Iraqis seeking refuge in Syria and Jordan, as well as education and medical aid (Blayney, 2011). The ‘here’ and the ‘there’ have become blurred in such trans-local or diasporic situations and the cultural certainty of the ‘centre’ becomes equally unclear. Thus the experience of displacement was not restricted to those who have moved to the periphery, but also affected those in the core.
It is clear that nationalism played an important role in the politics of ‘place-making’ out of territorial spaces. Thus, the creation of natural links between places and people lay largely with the dominating cultural group which controlled the state. However, contestation or opposition to these natural links was common among the dispossessed, as evidenced by the emergence of ethnic ‘counter-nations’ such as the Circassians, the Palestinians, the Kurds and the Armenians. Palestinians, for example, expressed a deeply felt relationship to the ‘villages of origin’ and the ‘land’ in general.
In many of the states of the region, Syria being just one case in point, the sense of national unity was created through the struggle for independence (Brandell and Rabo, 2003). Beginning in 1920, with the awarding of the League of Nations mandate to the French administration, the territory was divided into a number of states. Through common cause and hostility, the population of the territories rebelled and continue to fight the French policy of ‘dividing and ruling’ Syria as six separate statelets. After more than a decade of insurrection and conflict the French government agreed to reunite the territory administratively into a single state. The exceptions were the areas that had been attached to Mount Lebanon, to create the new state of Greater Lebanon and the Sanjak of Alexandretta.

#### Displacement and the creation of new states

The close link between culture, national identity and territory, which has been so characteristic of European nation states, does not translate as easily to the contemporary states which make up the modern Middle East. In the new states which emerged after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the violent displacement of people, often through compulsory exchange, was generally accompanied by a variety of state and international assistance, which included the granting of citizenship and housing aid, the provision of land, and sometimes financial packages as well as employment. Thus, for example, Asia Minor Greeks were taken and given space to live by the Greek state. The League of Nations’ Refugee Settlement Commission (the effective predecessor of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees – UNHCR), financed such resettlement by high-interest international loans, assisted with land allocations and agricultural start-up packages. Between 1923 and 1930, it set up some 2,000 villages which were created at the Greek state’s direction in the newly conquered zones from which Muslims had been forced to leave ‘voluntarily’ (Hirschon, 1998; Loizos, 1999).
Most of the dispossessed, uprooted and deported, who struggled to build new lives and re-create communities in the early 1920s, however, were not provided with much national or international assistance. They were often left to their own devices to survive and reconstruct their networks and communities. Not having international support was balanced, however, by being in the midst of supportive social environments made up of discrete communities of people who had migrated into the region decades earlier and who shared common beliefs about their identities based on ideas of religion and, also, ethnicity (Barth, 1969; Eriksen, 1993). Thus when the Muslims from Crete arrived on the Levantine and Asia Minor coasts, they expected to be resettled on abandoned properties. On their arrival, however, they often found that the formerly Greek Orthodox-owned lands and houses which should have been available to them had been appropriated by local people or government officials (Loizos, 1999, p. 245). But their more widely flung social networks along both coasts meant that they were able to tap into a supportive environment made up of similarly discrete communities who had arrived and settled in these territories a century earlier.
They ‘healed’ each other and built new communities based on trust, exchange and mutuality. They, too, consciously retained a separate identity from the rest of their surroundings and thus actively sought to mark themselves out as an unassimilated minority. The Cretans Muslims in Turkey re-created their past by retaining certain selected key elements of their culture while other parts diminished in importance (cf. Hirschon, 1998).
The Muslim Circassians and related peoples, the Armenians and Eastern Christian peoples, the Palestinians and the Kurds represented a significant range of the ethno-religious communities that were dispossessed, uprooted and eventually, largely through their own efforts, re-established in the Arab Middle East. These four communities are elaborated in Chatty (2010), bringing the voice of the forced migration to the fore. This work uniquely extends our understanding of displacement and dispossession in the modern Middle East beyond the Palestinian case, which has rightly dominated contemporary scholarship. The work pulls in the nearly 3 million ‘others’ (mainly Muslim and Christian forced migrants of the 19th and 20th centuries) and sets the Circassians and Chechnyans, the Armenians and other Christian groups as well as the Kurds on a level playing field with Palestinian refugees.
These four cases give us a deeper and more complex understanding of the meanings of home and homeland, myth and myth-making, community regeneration, economic development and resilience, as well as the local rejection of diaspora and transnationalism to reaffirm the process of social and economic integration without cultural assimilation in new physical spaces (Chatty, 2010). It addresses the unique roles that each of these forced migrant communities have played in the modern development of, for example, commercial monopolies in particular trades (jewellery, tailoring, textiles and photography), as well as in the security services (Circassian and Armenians in Syrian gendarmerie and Circassians and Chechnyans in the Royal Household protocol and security services of Jordan).
The contributions of these displaced ethno-religious communities to the development of their host countries have been significant. As noted above, the early 20th century influxes of Circassians, Chechens and Armenians were instrumental in economic and urban development in the Levant, especially in previously isolated Transjordan. The displacement of Palestinians in 1948 and after also impacted the region in several critical ways. The majority of Palestinians seeking refuge during and after the 1948 war settled in Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Egypt and Iraq, and the impact of Palestinians on the development of Amman, Jordan’s capital, provides insight into the effects of Palestinian displacement. By 1950, 500,000 Palestinian refugees were in Jordanian-controlled territory, and additional refugees fled to Amman in the 1950s (Hanania, 2014). These mass arrivals prompted urban development in the capital and the construction of new roads and municipal infrastructure. Palestinian refugees also contributed significantly to the formation of a new middle class of professionals and skilled workers in Amman (Hanania, 2014). Many refugees brought higher levels of education and technical skills that fuelled economic and social development in the capital, and the arrival of wealthy Palestinian families drove demand for imported and manufactured goods, as well as investment (Hanania, 2014). Additional refugees arrived during and after the 1967 war, contributing further to Amman’s expansion. Remittances from Palestinians employed in the Gulf in later decades were also an important factor in the development of Jordan’s public and private sectors, as a source of start-up funding (Chatelard, 2010). After the 1990 Gulf War, most of the educated professional Palestinians who had helped to build the economy of Kuwait in the 1960s, 70s and 80s were expelled and ‘returned’ to Jordan (many had grown up in Kuwait and had never visited Jordan before). They invested their savings largely into property, fuelling a construction spurt that witnessed an exponential period of growth in Amman in the decade that followed.
However, the influx of refugees (many of whom had little education or formal technical training) also led to a sharp rise in unemployment in Jordan, with the majority of Palestinians living in refugee camps and reliant on humanitarian aid, as well as heavy pressure on Amman’s existing water resources (Hanania, 2014). It is also critical to note that the development impact of Palestinian refugees differed in other host countries, such as Lebanon (Chaaban et al., 2010).

#### 21st century displacement within the region

The 21st century has seen a new wave of dispossession in the Middle East, so large and so sudden as to threaten the economic and political stability of many countries in the region. Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Jordan have seen waves of dispossessed and displaced enter their countries over the past five years, which have dwarfed the refugee loads experienced in Europe in previous decades.
Critics of the 2003 Iraq war have tended to focus on the cost in money and lives rather than on the catastrophic consequences for Iraq. One consequence in particular deserves more attention than it has received: the plight of Iraq’s 4 million refugees, most of whom have remained in the region. Crucially, Iraqis’ recent refuge in the neighbouring countries of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon rapidly became a protracted crisis, notwithstanding the tolerance of their hosts. Unwilling to return and largely unable to emigrate further west or north, Iraq’s refugees in the Middle East remain in a perilous situation.
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the western powers prepared for 1 million Iraqi ‘refugees’ to flee their country. Camps were duly set up to receive those who might try to escape the conflict. However, six months after the fall of the Iraqi regime, few Iraqis actually had fled their country. The international aid regime had miscalculated the Iraqi people’s response to the invasion; the empty emergency camps were dismantled and pre-positioned food and equipment were removed.
Three years later, in 2006, the West was caught off-guard as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled their homes to escape the deadly sectarian violence which had escalated with the al-Askari mosque bombing in Samarra in the February of that year. That single event became the iconic image of sectarian violence and the ‘unmixing’ of people which followed. Nearly 4 million Iraqis fled their homes in 2006 and 2007, with 1–1.5 million crossing national borders into Syria and Jordan. The UNHCR and affiliated NGOs raced to set up reception centres and to provide emergency aid. In both Syria and Jordan, Iraqis were not regarded legally as refugees by the host governments, partially because neither country was a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Many of the Iraqis seeking asylum were from the educated, professional middle class. The extent of the extraordinary ‘brain drain’ from Iraq during this period has been well documented (Sassoon, 2009). A number managed to escape with savings, which helped to ease their transition in exile. Migrations during previous decades meant that some Iraqi social networks were already in place in the host countries. The residual cultural memory of the ‘millet’ system of the Ottoman Empire, which gave minority/religious communities a limited amount of power to regulate their own affairs, meant that Iraqi arrivals in these cities were generally tolerated, if not actively comforted. Also, memory of the Pan-Arab aspirations in the region meant that Iraqis were seen as temporary guests and ‘Arab brothers’.
The Iraqi displacement crisis has reached a critical stage. International interest in Iraq is declining. Yet the lack of security, continuing civil conflict and economic uncertainty makes it unlikely that a mass Iraqi return will occur. More likely, Iraqi refugees will remain in neighbouring states under increasingly difficult circumstances. As their savings diminish and their circular movements into and out of Iraq to make money become more precarious, it is likely that irregular and long-distance migrations will occur in larger numbers.
Iraqi displacement has had a number of effects on host countries’ development. As noted above, movements in and out of Iraq have both enabled some of the displaced to continue to transfer income generated within Iraq to neighbouring countries, while family members are based in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan (Crisp et al., 2009). Many Iraqi refugees in these countries have come from middle class origins, with some bringing considerable investment to their countries of refuge, fuelling economic development. Most of the 25,000 Iraqis who have gained residence rights in Jordan since the beginning of the Iraqi conflict in 2003 have done so through investment (Chatelard, 2010). In Jordan, a majority of displaced Iraqis surveyed by UNHCR in 2009 were professionals and 35% held a university degree (Crisp et al., 2009).
However, very few Iraqis in the three host countries are able to access employment, and many suffer from high levels of need. As of 2008, 42% of Iraqis in Jordan depended on remittances from Iraq for survival, while 24% of Iraqis in Syria depended on remittances from abroad (Harper, 2008). In Syria, the arrival of refugees caused a dramatic increase in the price of basic necessities and rents, as well as strain on public services in education and healthcare, lowering the quality of services provided (Al-Miqdad, 2007).
The speed with which Syria disintegrated into violent armed conflict after 2011 shocked the world; it has also left the humanitarian aid regime in turmoil as agencies struggled to react effectively to the massive displacement crisis. By 2015 there were more than 5 million Syrians seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, as well as another 6 million internally displaced in the country. The international aid regime has attempted to provide assistance to refugees who register with the UN if they are deemed needy. Perhaps only 5–10% of these millions have been able to access food vouchers and basic survival kits. For the most part, refugees in the neighbouring countries are not permitted to work, making their reliance on the UN particularly significant.
Each country bordering on Syria has responded differently to this complex emergency: Turkey rushed to set up its own refugee camps for the most vulnerable groups, but generally permitted self-settlement; Lebanon refused to allow the international humanitarian aid regime to set up formal refugee camps; and Jordan facilitated the creation of a UN refugee camp near its border with Syria. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have all granted refugees “guest” status under domestic legislation. And although Turkey has signed the 1951 Convention, it has reserved its interpretation of the Convention to apply only to Europeans seeking refuge/asylum in Turkey. UN estimates are that over 80% of the Syrian refugee flow across international borders is self-settling in cities, towns and villages where they have social networks. Despite a general rejection of encampment among those fleeing, still some 15–20% of the Syrian refugee population is in camps.
Each of these states has established a variety of temporary measures to deal with the crisis, which has reached proportions far outstripping the displacement crisis at the end of the Second World War. With refugees from Syria now estimated at nearly 3 million in Turkey and 1.5 million in Lebanon and officially nearly 700,000 in Jordan, as well as nearly 1 million now in Europe, the crisis threatens not only the security of the hosting nations in the region but also the unity of the European Union. Syrians who have sought refuge in the neighboring states are largely not permitted to work (although Jordan has recently sought to increase the accessibility of work permits for Syrian refugees). Many are unable to access adequate education, food and healthcare for their families.
The Syrian refugee crisis has also had wide-ranging effects on the socioeconomic development of neighbouring countries in the region, who have received the vast majority of refugees from the conflict. In Lebanon, increasing demand for public services has both strained public finances and lowered the quality of services provided (World Bank, 2013). The Lebanese Ministry of Health and Social Affairs reported a 40% increase in use of its health and social programmes (World Bank, 2013). This strain on social safety nets and services is ultimately pushing tens of thousands of Lebanese below the poverty line and may be increasing the youth unemployment rate in a country already experiencing significant poverty (World Bank, 2013). It is important to note, however, that high unemployment has long been present in the Middle East and that current unemployment may not have been caused directly by locals’ competition with Syrian refugees (IRC, 2016).
Overall, competition from Syrian refugees has driven down wages in the informal sector and negatively affected working conditions in host countries (IRC, 2016). In Jordan, overall unemployment has risen from 14.2% to 22.1% since the beginning of the refugee crisis, with more significant increases among youth and less educated sectors of the population, and there is some evidence that Syrians may have replaced Jordanians in specific sectors, such as construction, wholesale and retail (Stave and Hillesund, 2015). Child labour is more prevalent among refugee families, whose children have lower school enrolment rates than Jordanian children: while 95% of Jordanian children are still in school at 17, less than 40% of Syrian children are still in school at age of 15 (Stave and Hillesund, 2015). As in Lebanon, the refugee influx in Jordan has strained social and public services, particularly in education, deteriorating the quality of services provided (REACH, 2014).
The presence of Syrian refugees has, however, brought benefits for host countries that may have a positive impact on their long-term development. In Jordan, direct investment by Syrians has stimulated industry and created employment opportunities for both Jordanians and Syrians (IRC, 2016). In Turkey, 26% of newly registered businesses in 2014 were either Syrian-owned or possessed Syrian capital (Del Carpio and Wagner, 2015). The increase in humanitarian aid flows to host countries has also boosted local economies: each US$1 spent on humanitarian assistance had a multiplier value of 1.6 for the Lebanese economy (UNHCR and UNDP, 2015). In addition, each US$1 of cash assistance spent by Syrian refugees in Lebanon generated US\$2.13 of Lebanon’s GDP (IRC, 2016). Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have all proven relatively economically resilient during the refugee crisis (IRC, 2016).

#### Conclusion

Over the past 150 years the Middle East has provided refuge and asylum to numerous groups of people dispossessed of their property as a result of the upheaval leading to and including the end of empire and ensuing neo-colonial enterprises endorsed by the League of Nations. The Middle East has provided comfort and relief both on an individual basis and also for social groups. Perhaps as a residual trait of the tolerance which the Ottoman empire had enshrined in its millet system towards multi-ethnic and plural society, the states to emerge from the Arab Ottoman provinces all tolerated, if not actively, the development of these minority cultures.
Only in the mid-20th century did a different instrument for managing and ordering the displaced and disposed emerged – the refugee camp. Here, a system of control and standardised routine emerged as the principal tool for managing large numbers of displaced and refugee populations around the world. In the Middle East, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, established in 1949, was set up to deal with nearly 1 million Palestinians displaced by the 1947–48 War. Here, the basics of life, food, shelter, healthcare and primary education were provided by the Agency, but the interstitial nature of the lives of the individual refugees was not addressed (Brand, 1988; Farsoun and Zacharia, 1997; Peteet, 1991; Rosenfeld, 2004).
For the earlier wave of involuntary migrants of the Middle East, return to the homelands of origin was a hope, a nostalgic dream or a unifying myth. Those early Muslim refugees of the 19th and early 20th century knew they could not go back. They had to create their homelands in new spaces. None of the populations exchanged after the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne had any ambiguity about their condition. The liminality might have been physical, but there was no question of their future. They had to create a new community, both imagined and moral, in which new ties or kinship and trade could emerge. The Kurds, perhaps more than any other group, held out for a return and alternated between a realistic hope and a nostalgic dream. Their homeland remains divided between four modern states.
Many Palestinian refugees live within a hundred miles of their original villages and urban neighbourhoods. Some can even see the lights of their hometowns and settlements at night. Some Armenians have travelled back to visit the homeland – both in Turkey and in the Republic of Armenia. So, too, have the Circassians and other Caucasians. A few Kurds, recent migrants to Syria, have managed to smuggle themselves across the border, sometimes on the backs of Peshmergas fighters, to visit their mountainous places of birth. The effort to reverse the misfortune of displacement and dispossession and to em-place themselves has become a strategy for survival and its success is a measure of the resilience of the forced migrant as exhibited by the new communities established by Circassians, Armenians, Palestinians and Kurds in the Arab Middle East.
How successful forced migrants are in re-creating and re-placing themselves depends on the nature of the displacement and dispossession itself. The way people experience movement to a new place and the extent to which this is a shocking and disruptive experience is determined by the conditions under which they move and whether they can extend their notions of territorial attachment to new areas not necessarily adjacent to each other. Thus the Cretan Muslims were able to re-create their identity in several new locations outside of Crete, on the northern coast of Lebanon and Syria as well as on an island off the coast of Izmir in Turkey. For most forced migrants, however, the move is generally conducted in more traumatic conditions. The task of re-creating a place, a home or a neighbourhood, of ‘producing a locality’, is dominated by the effort to re-establish some continuity with the past places of origin. This work of continuity maintenance and management of memory is clearly articulated in the writings of Hirschon (2001), Parkin (1999), Malkki (1995), Loizos (1999) and Chatty (2010).
The nature of post-Ottoman Arab society – as separate from its politics – has been such that it has tolerated and acknowledged multiple layers of belonging in the struggle to make new places in the world. Although not physically displaced, the peoples of the Arab provinces of the post-Ottoman Empire have spent most of the 20th century creating new identities, and em-placing themselves in a new social order. This process of re-placing and re-creation has had a variety of impacts on the development of Middle Eastern nations absorbing waves of refugees, from the first arrivals of Circassians, Chechens and Armenians in the early 20th century, to the current Syrian refugee crisis. Despite the challenges of integrating large and often destitute populations into still-developing regional economies, the contributions of early forced migrants to the economic and urban development of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the contributions of professionally skilled Palestinians to their host countries’ development, both in the region as well as in the Arabian Gulf, demonstrate the strong link between forced migration and both local and regional development. More recent arrivals of Iraqi and Syrian refugees have had complex impacts on the development of host countries, many of which are still emerging. Despite the significant strains on public finances and services that these refugee influxes have created, as well as social tensions, there are indications that the presence of Iraqi and, in particular, Syrian refugees may positively impact their host countries’ long-term development.
Ethnic minority communities in the Middle East have found ways to economically, physically and socially integrate themselves in their new surroundings, but at the same time resist the natural phenomena of assimilation over the long term. Patronage and real as well as ‘fictive’ kinship networks are powerful positive forces; so too are the religious and charitable associations which these groups set up to help those less fortunate in their communities.
Whether the current wave of dispossessed from Syria can weather the storms of dislocation with similar support and equanimity to that of their forefathers remains to be seen. Much will depend upon the way in which international humanitarian emergency assistance can unfold and develop into concerted measures to educate and assist the displaced in finding sustainable livelihoods. An educated population has agency and will contribute to the development of its host state. A current refugee population with no access to education or employment remains vulnerable and passive and a drain on the national economy. It remains to be seen whether lessons from the late Ottoman reforms will be learned regarding the integration of refugees and other forced migrants, recognising their potential contributions to the long-term development of host countries.

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