Keynote of the conference “Wohin treibt der Nahe Osten? Where is the Middle East heading?” that took place from 30th of November until 2nd of December 2014 in Berlin.
Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in December 2010, complex and dramatic transformations have taken place in the Middle East. Up to now, it remains difficult to assess their impact on the people, societies and governments in the region. Previously stable forms of government, politico-territorial boundaries, and the entire Middle Eastern state system established after World War I are destabilized under the pressure of large mass movements, escalating violence, humanitarian catastrophes, and the bitter competition between national and transnational players and powerful international alliances.
One central seismographic component of this process is formed by the region’s numerous ethno-religious minorities who are facing an uncertain future and must reorient themselves in an extremely fluid and fragile socio-political environment. In a situation of decaying order, incompatible claims to power and a high level of manifest and latent violence, ethnic and cultural diversity is rarely understood as an opportunity to create overall shared social and cultural growth, but is rather seen as a security risk.
Depending on local interests and the power resources available, the various religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East are trying to deal with this contradictory and threatening situation at different levels and with different strategies. Besides a trend of increased individual emigration, there are attempts to support the old regimes, create alliances with other minorities, and find secularist partners willing to engage in talks within the majority population, or defend the interests of their own community with arms if necessary.
The conference explored and compared the conditions, political dynamics, survival strategies, and international networks of different ethno-religious minorities in the Middle East in the framework of the historical development spanning the end of the Ottoman Empire, the European Mandate period and the era of Arab nationalism up to the present.