Like its neighbours, modern Syria is a state whose very existence and borders have been defined by 20th century imperialism, writes Kenny Coyle in the Morning Star.

The current crisis can only be understood by placing it in its broad historical context of the geopolitical faultlines of the region rather than within the often superficial framework of the "Arab spring" or "Twitter revolutions" that informs most Western media coverage.
The outcome of the Syrian unrest has profound implications for the wider Middle East and this can only be appreciated by recognising the country's historical background.
The carving up of the Ottoman Empire's Middle Eastern possessions after the first world war by Western imperialist powers was done with the characteristic mix of violence and duplicity that goes with any forcible redrawing of frontiers.
It was also combined with the same sickly hypocrisy about defending freedom and rights from tyranny that is the hallmark of today's "humanitarian" interventionists.
Modern Syria has a long and tortuous history of interference and domination that pre-dates this current tragic crisis.
Even before the defeat of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1918, many of its former Middle East provinces had already been carved up by the rival empires of Britain and France.
Ottoman administrators divided their empire into provinces and sub-provinces that bear little relation to the frontiers of today's Middle Eastern states.
The underlying Franco-British war aim was to slice off those territories with non-Turkish populations, leaving a weakened rump state in predominantly Turkish Central Anatolia. And, as luck would have it, this would provide Britain especially with access to the considerable oil reserves of these Ottoman territories.
After months of secret negotiations in the midst of the First World War, a Franco-British deal was agreed in 1916. Known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the two diplomats who agreed the terms, the two imperialist powers agreed to share the spoils of victory with their Triple Entente partner Tsarist Russia.
Britain and France were to get the lion's share of the Arab provinces, while Tsarist Russia was lined up to take over Istanbul, the strategic Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits as well as eastern regions with mainly Kurdish, Armenian and other smaller ethnic minorities.
This under-the-table deal was exposed after the Russian revolution in November 1917, when the Bolshevik press published details of the Sykes-Picot deal plucked from the Tsarist foreign ministry files.
However, after Turkey's defeat in 1918 several factors modified these initial plans for territorial redivision and occupation of the Middle East.
First the new-born Soviet Russianrepublic had renounced Tsarist war claims. Second Greece and Italy had both been promised territory for their late entrance into the wartime alliance with Britain and France.
Third a Turkish republican movement under Kemal Ataturk was emerging determined to resist further Western demands.
A fourth element had been the successes of the Arab Revolt, the rising of Arab tribes against the Ottomans epically, if rather romantically, portrayed in David Lean's classic Lawrence of Arabia.
The figureheads of the revolt, the Hashemite dynasty from the Arabian peninsula, had been promised a federation of Arab kingdoms once the Ottoman Turks had been removed.
In 1918, the Arab Revolt culminated in the triumphal entry of Hashemite Prince Faysal into Damascus and the proclamation of the first independent Arab government.
In 1920, a General Syrian Congress declared a United Kingdom of Syria, covering undivided Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
French forces swiftly drove the upstart Faysal from Damascus and he fled to exile to London. After just six months, the British government compensated the Hashemite elite by imposing Faisal on the new throne of Iraq instead, while his brother Abdullah later became the founder of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
A final factor, and one which continues to be at the heart of the wider Middle East conflict, was the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, in which Britain promised to create a "national home for the Jewish people" within Palestine.
In 1920, as a complement to the Versailles Treaty in Europe, Britain and France proposed the Treaty of Sevres, a post-war settlement to be rubber-stamped by the infant League of Nations.
Using the Sykes-Picot deal as a basis, the Treaty of Sevres went further. Greece was also to be allocated an enclave in western Turkey around the ancient city of Smyrna (Izmir) with its historic Greek population, while Italy was to be given a protectorate around Antalya on Turkey's southern coast.
In the east, an Armenian state was to be created immediately and a referendum on independence for Kurdish region was to be held within one year. Turkey's major ports were to be given "international status," in other words imperialist-run cities.
However, the post-war overthrow of the Ottomans and the military success of Ataturk's forces killed the treaty. An armed Greek invasion force was routed and almost two million ethnic Greeks were expelled from Turkey. In turn one million or so Turks and other Muslims were likewise forcibly transferred out of Greece in one of the world's most traumatic acts of ethnic cleansing.
Under Ataturk's leadership, Turkey defeated Armenian forces in the southern territory of the short-lived Armenian republic and, after a pro-Bolshevik rising and the subsequent entry of the Red Army, the northern part of Armenia became a Soviet republic. The promised Kurdish republic never saw the light of day.
The subsequent 1923 Treaty of Lausanne effectively ended imperialist attempts to dismember what had become the Turkish republic, but it also formalised the replacement of Ottoman imperialism with its victorious British and French counterparts under the guise of League of Nations "Class A" Mandates.
These legalised, at least for a temporary period, de facto foreign rule in these lands "until such time as they are able to stand alone," as the League delicately put it.
Britain bagged the three former eastern Ottoman provinces of Mesopotamia to form the British mandate of Iraq. It also took over several southern provinces as the British mandates of Palestine (today's Palestine and Israel) and Transjordan (modern Jordan).
Initially the latter was part of the Palestinian mandate but to minimise Arab opposition, the Transjordan region was separated from mandate Palestine and exempted from the provisions of the Balfour Declaration.
France, meanwhile, took over half a dozen territories, sandwiched between Turkey in the north, Palestine and Transjordan to the south and west and Iraq to the east, and created the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon.
During their period of colonial rule, which lasted until 1946, the French divided and redivided these territories several times. The Syrian mandate was initially divided into six parcels - Damascus, Aleppo, an Alawite state, Jabal Druze, the Sanjak of Alexandretta and the State of Greater Lebanon.
The French encouraged ethnic and religious favouritism to counteract the numerical predominance of Arab Syrians.
For example, the Christian Maronite community in what had been Mount Lebanon were one of the few groups to positively welcome French rule and came to oversee a far larger territory in the new Greater Lebanon.
However, this larger state now included a substantial non-Christian minority. Decades later, as demographic changes whittled them down into a minority, the Maronites' entrenched privileges became one of the causes of the 1970s Lebanese civil war.
Aside from mainstream Sunni and Shia schools of Islam, the French found themselves ruling over communities of some of the more unorthodox offshoots from Shia Islam.
The Alawites, Druze and Ismaili schools were regarded as unbelievers by strict Sunnis and as misguided heretics by mainstream Shi'ites.
Alawites and Druze minorities were given their own autonomous areas and the French heavily recruited them into the colonial military forces.
Despite this attempt to play ethnic groups against each other, there were several revolts against French rule.
There was an Alawite uprising from 1919-1921 although the Alawites were less enthusiastic in their support for the largely Sunni-Christian-Druze Great Syria Revolt of 1925-27 against French rule.
This was brutally suppressed by the colonial authorities leaving more than 6,000 dead and creating at least 100,000 homeless refugees.
As French rule weakened during the 1930s, the colonial authorities centralised the Syrian territories but the territory of Alexandretta was leased to and eventually incorporated into Turkey despite its substantial Arab and Alawite population. Today it is the Turkish province of Hatay but Syrian maps continue to show the territory as disputed.
Syria and Lebanon became separate states in 1943, yet there was no Syrian embassy in Beirut until 2008, signalling a continuing belief, in Damascus at least, that the relationship between the two countries was not that of separate states.
This complex colonial background is an essential factor in understanding today's crisis.
Ethnic and sectarian tensions are not natural eternal features of the country but have been manipulated and accentuated by foreign rule and occupation. The lessons for today are obvious.