Self-Determination of Peoples, imported into the Middle East on the heels of World War I, held out the promise of democratic governance to the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, it brought an urgent need: to define the collective "self" that was being promised a say in its own future. The new states that European Great Powers carved out of the multi lingual and multi religious Ottoman Empire were now expected to adhere to new forms of affiliation, definitions of the collective self that emphasized differences among people that had previously hardly mattered. When Turkey lay claim to the province of Alexandretta just across her border in the territory of France's mandate for Syria, she insisted that the area was "Turkish." The contest for the land pitted the new Republic of Turkey and her irredentist claims against the government of Syria that was engaging in its own efforts to construct a political community that conformed to European notions of nationalism.
The League of Nations, called in to broker an agreement between the two contending parties consistent with the spirit of the new democratic impulse, found itself working against the backdrop of the crisis of European democracy in the late 1930s. Although global strategic concerns supplanted democratic ideology as French policy evolved, the new Politics of Identity had already been unleashed in the contest over territory. In the end, the League of Nations introduced a new kind of identity politics into the province that redefined belonging, transformed nationalism, and set in motion the process of dysfunctional democracy still plaguing the Middle East.