Middle East is
a rather imprecise term describing a geographical area that extends from Egypt to Afghanistan, or the cultural region in which Islam arose and
However, the story of the Middle East
or at least the bits with which David and I will be concerned mot importantly
has its beginning with the fortunes of the Ottoman Empire
and the fall of it by 1923. As such the geography of the history of the Middle
East must be stretched into the Balkans and Turkey's
struggles with them and also
South Central/Eastern Russia in addition to the more familiar
parts of the Middle East which includes Egypt,
Persia, and Saudi
Remember that nine-tenths of
the people in the Middle East are Muslims. Half the population of the area speaks Arabic; most of the
other half speaks either Turkish or
The mosaic of separate
religious and ethnic groups has started to crumble. Widespread primary
schooling, iPods, satellite television, DVDs, and
cell phones help diffuse a universal culture, mostly among the young. Oil
revenues, the proliferation of factories, and the growth of cities have also
made the people seem more alike.
But cultural and religious
differences persist and promote conflicts.
Lebanon’s civil wars arose partly
because many Muslims felt that they did not enjoy equal power and prestige with
the Christians, who used to be the country’s majority.
Syria’s current elite comes
disproportionately from a minority sect, the Alawis,
who used the army officer corps to rise to power in a society otherwise
dominated by Sunni Muslims.
Christian Arabs, especially
the Greek Orthodox, who make up less than 5 percent of Syria’s population and 10 percent
of Lebanon’s, were more active than the Muslims in
promoting the early spread of Arab nationalism in those
Iraq’s politics are bedeviled by differences between Sunni and Shiite Muslim
Arabs, both of whom have resisted attempts by the Kurds (about a fifth of the
country’s population) to form a separate state.
Israel, though mainly Jewish, has
1.5 million Arabs living within its pre-1967 borders and has been ruling 2.5
million additional Arab Muslims and Christians in the West Bank, which it has controlled
since the June 1967 war. The Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied from 1967 and
invaded again in 2006 and 2009 contains almost 1.6 million Arabs.
Israel’s Jews are divided between
those of European origin, called Ashkenazim, and those who came from
Asian or African countries, called Mizrachim or Orientals.
Ancient History/Ancient Peoples - Pre-Islam
10,000 years before the birth
of Christ, the peoples of the Middle East developed various skills to
cope with their challenging environment. As the uplands grew dry and parched,
they learned to harness the great rivers to grow more crops. They fashioned
tools and weapons of bronze and, later, of forged iron. They devised alphabets
suitable for sending messages and keeping records.
They absorbed Medes and
Persians coming from the north and various Semitic peoples from Arabia. They submitted to
Alexander’s Macedonians in the fourth century BCE but soon absorbed them into
their own cultures. Finally, in the last century before Christ, the lands east
and south of the Mediterranean were
themselves absorbed into the Roman Empire.
The two great
empires at the dawn of the common era were Persia
period of the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 BC), Persia, the
land we now call Iran, ruled over
various ethnic and religious groups in
an area stretching from the Indus to the Nile.
Some, but not
all, of the kings and nobles followed the religion of Zoroaster, who had lived
in the sixth century BCE. He had
taught the existence of a supreme deity, Ahura Mazda
(“Wise Lord”), creator of the material and spiritual worlds, source of both
light and darkness and judge of all being.
force, Ahriman, was represented by darkness and
disorder. Although Zoroaster predicted that Ahura
Mazda would ultimately win the cosmic struggle, all people were free to choose between
Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, the Truth and the Lie.
The Achaemenid kings tolerated the diverse beliefs and
practices of their subjects
as long as they obeyed the laws, paid their taxes, and sent their sons to
the Persian army.
set the pattern of the multicultural dynastic states that have arisen since
ancient times. When Alexander the Great humbled the Achaemenids
and absorbed their empire into his own, he hoped to fuse Hellenic (Greek) ways
with the culture of the Middle East.
Many of the
ideas, institutions, and administrators of the Egyptians, Syrians,
Mesopotamians, and Persians were co-opted into his far-flung but short-lived
realm. Cultural fusion likewise occurred later, when Rome ruled the Middle East. By uniting
under its rule all the peoples of the Mediterranean world, the Roman Empire stimulated
trade and the interchange of peoples and folkways.
Middle Eastern religions and mystery cults spread among the Romansand
Christianity, originally a Jewish sect whose base of support was broadened by
Paul and the apostles.
Most of the
early church fathers lived in Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa. These
areas—later Islam’s heartland—saw the earliest development of most Christian
doctrines and institutions.
By the late
third century, Christianity
(still officially banned by the Roman Empire) actually prevailed
in the eastern Mediterranean. Its appeal,
relative to rival religions,
lay partly in its success in adopting the attractive aspects of earlier faiths.
For instance, the Egyptians could identify the risen Christ with Osiris, one of their ancient gods who too had died and been
When Rome’s emperor Constantine (reigned
313-337) became a nominal Christian, he redirected the course of history, both
Middle Eastern and Western. Rome became a
Christian empire. The emperor ordered the construction of a new capital,
strategically situated on the straits linking the Black Sea to the Aegean....
Nova Roma (“New Rome”), but its
inhabitants named it Constantinople. Its older
name, Byzantium, survives in
the parlance of historians who call his “new” state the Byzantine Empire.
when Arabs, Persians, and Turks speak of “Rum,” they mean what we term the
Byzantine Empire, its lands (especially Anatolia, Rum was far from the Italian
city on the banks of the Tiber, but the old Roman idea of the universal and
multicultural empire lived on in this Christian and Byzantine form. Later,
Arabs and other Muslims would adopt this idea and adapt it to their own
Some greeks, syrians, Egyptians and
other did very well out of the trade between with Rome and Constantinople but
others who resisted Rome's heavy taxes suffered from brutal oppression that did
not improve when Rome became christian.
Rome did not take kindly to dissident sects such as the Arians who denied
Christ's divinity. And at the Council of Nicea in AD
325 it was accepted that Christ was indeed divine and the fundamental truth of christianity rested in the Trinitarian
The Orthodox church offered a compromise formula: Christ the saviour was both
perfect God and perfect man. His two natures, though separate, were combined
within the single person of Jesus Christ. Whenever the Byzantine emperor upheld
the Chalcedon formula, the
Orthodox bishops would use their political power to persecute Egyptians and
Syrians. This policy turned dissenters against Constantinople and would
later facilitate the Arab conquests and the process by which Islam displaced
Christianity as the majority religion in the Middle East.
The Roman Empire never
monopolized the Middle East. There was
always a rival state in Persia that covered
not just today’s Iran but also
what we now call Iraq (Mesopotamia), in
addition to lands farther east, such as present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
scholars were attracted to Persia, a tolerant
kingdom in which Nestorian Christians, Jews, and Buddhists could worship and
proselytize freely.. Scholars and students came from
all parts of Europe and Asia to teach and
study there, unhindered by racial prejudice, religious dogma, or political
It was not
the Persians who ended the Hellenistic age in the Middle East but their
Arab allies. How did the Arabs begin? The domestication of the camel, a slow
process that occurred between 3000 and 1000 BC, enabled bands of people to
cross the vast deserts of Arabia, eastern Persia, and eventually
learned to move around constantly, following the seasonal availability of
groundwater and forage for their animals. Milk and
dates—occasionally meat and bread—made up their staple diet. It would have been
hard to survive in such a harsh environment.
Great military empires or mercantile city-states would not have arisen
were organized into clans and tribes, extended families that migrated together
and held their property in common.
was governed by a council of adult men who represented the various clans or
smaller family groupings. The council chose a shaykh (elder)
of tribes served as auxiliaries in the Persian or Roman armies; one of the
third-century Roman emperors was named Philip the Arab. Others built trading
cities on the
fringes of the settled areas, such as Palmyra in Syria, Petra in Jordan, and Najran in Yemen.
has noted that Pre-Islamic poetry helped to shape the Arabic language, the literature
and culture of the Arabs.
By the 6th C
Mecca emerged as a major point of convergence for the trading caravans. In art ths had happened because of a nearby poetry festival; Mount Aarafat; and Mecca's Ka'ba as a religious shrine.
belonged to an Arab tribe called the Quraysh. Every
Muslim caliph for more than six centuries could trace his ancestry back to them
and the transition from the ancient to the medieval era: Muhammad, the last and
the greatest of Islam’s prophets, was a Meccan of the
Quraysh of the clan of Hashim,
or Hashimites. I th early 7th c (610) Muhammad had a visitation and
the words and all that follows are to be found in the Quran
himself as prophet he gained followers. During Muhammad’s mission, those who
believed in him as God’s messenger came to be known as Muslims. The Arabic word
muslim means “one who submits”—to God’s will.
His teachings were seen as threatening to Mecca's pagans and
the loss of his powerful uncle Abu-Talib led to hashemite persecution and so the Muslims would have to
leave. He eventually departed to Medina - the city
of the Prophet. By 630 he and his followers had occupied Mecca and
furthermore Taifian non-muslim
arabs had been defeated. By 632 it is
suggested that most arabs
For about a
thousand years, the Arabs. have been wracked with
internal factionalism and strife, external invasion, subordination to outside
rulers, natural disasters, and exaggerated hopes and fears. However, there was
a time when their ancestors ruled most of the eastern hemisphere, when the
Europeans and the Chinese feared and courted them, and when theirs was the
language in which humanity’s highest literary and scientific achievements were
expressed. This was the time of the two great caliphal
dynasties, the Umayyads and the Abbasids. This is
sometimes known as the High Caliphate between 685 and 945
high caliphate Arab dominance waned and Muslims civilisation became dominant
and extraordinary in theology, arts, mathematics, and medicine. As the state
grew so it took in many peoples who could help run the emerging empire. Muslim
armies invaded across Europe as far as France and then
went East, then to Turkey and Afghanistan. However,
they could take Byzantium - Constantinople. In hears to
come Turkish coverts into the Abbasid armies would
take over the Caliphate. By 1258 Ghengis Khan's
grandson Hulegu had destroyed Baghdad and that
most remarkable city at the heart of the caliphate had been taken.
But muslim society survived and the
Mongol hordes were seen off in 1260 and slowly the Ottoman
Empire emerged. Its founder was Osman
was of Turkic origin who attacked Byzantium on behalf of
Islam and took the key city of Bursa. His son and
his grandson took ever more control of the Balkans.
Sultan's would take over ever greater chunks of the near East adn parts of western Europe and
Selim I “the Inexorable” (1512-`520) transformed the Ottoman
Empire from a ghazi
state on the western fringe of the Muslim world into the greatest empire
since the early caliphate. Suleyman “the Lawgiver” or
“the Magnificent” (r1520-1566) Seen as the greatest of the Ottoman sultans by
Turks and Westerners alike, Suleyman headed the
forces that took Rhodes and Belgrade, defeated the Hungarians, besieged Vienna,
captured most of the North African coast, drove Portugal’s navy from the Red Sea.
west had for long been frful of thepower
of the Ottoman Empire but their technology and militaary
and naval power was beginning to asset
itself over the Ottomans who by the late 17th C were being defeated by smaller
When the Ottoman
army besieged Vienna in 1683 the
superior arms and tactics of the Europeans saved the Habsburg capital and
repelled the Turks, despite their greater numbers. By 1699, when the Ottomans
signed the Treaty of Karlowitz, ceding control of Hungary to the Habsburg
Empire, they were clearly on the defensive. The Ottoman
Empire had ceased to be the scourge of Christendom.
decline: Many Ottoman merchants and artisans were ruined by foreign
competitors sheltered by the Capitulations. Extortionate
taxation by the multezims and rural
overpopulation caused many peasants to leave their farms and flock to the
cities. When they found no work, they became vagabonds and brigands, further
impoverishing the economy.
Equally if we
believe Davidson: "By the late seventeenth century, they were
no longer effective defenders of the empire. The Ottoman government took no
more levies of Christian boys, and it phased out the rigorous training schools
for janissaries and administrators. Appointment and promotion came to be based
on family ties and favoritism, in place of
The main stages on the long road of Ottoman defeat and decline, each of
which might in itself rank as a turning point in the history of the Ottoman
Empire warranting a chapter in the history
of the Eastern Question, require rehearsing.
The Eastern Question has been the
question of what to do about an over-large and all too regularly ambitious but
often unstable Ottoman Empire
Treaty of Kutchuk-Kainardji (1774), was concluded following a war with Russia. The Ottomans were compelled to concede a substantial loss of territory
on the northern shores of the Black Sea and recognition of the independence of the Khanate of the Crimea.
In 1798 possession of Egypt, already tenuous, was temporarily lost to the French under Bonaparte
who aimed to drive the British out of the Red Sea.
The Treaty of Adrianople (1829), concluded
following a Greek rebellion in the Morea and a disastrous war
fought against the Russians, the Ottomans were compelled to admit not only the
loss of the Morea (where a Greek state was created)
but also recognition of a Russian annexation of Georgia and eastern Armenia,
and a number of other changes favourable to Russia.
By the terms of the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi
(1833), concluded with Russia following an invasion of Syria and the Lebanon by
the forces of Mehmet Ali, the viceroy of Egypt, the
Ottomans were obliged, in return for assurances of Russian protection, to
accept effective Russian control of the Straits; though following a second
crisis, provoked by an Ottoman attempt in 1839 to recover control of Syria and
the Lebanon, the Ottomans, with British, French and Austrian assistance, did
succeed in recovering both a degree of independence and control of the lost
In the Treaty of Paris (1856), concluded following the defeat of Russia
by an alliance of western powers in the Crimean War (1853-6), the Ottomans were
obliged to admit not only the right of the contracting powers to establish a
protectorate over Serbia and the principalities, but also the right of the principalities,
still nominally subject to Ottoman suzerainty, to create an 'independent and
national' organisation - a concession which not surprisingly quickly led to
In 1878, following yet another Russo-Turkish war, provoked by Christian
uprisings and massacres in Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bulgaria, the Ottomans were
obliged, as part of a settlement drawn up by the Great Powers at the Congress
of Berlin (1878), to accept substantial losses of territory, both in the
Balkans and eastern Anatolia, including Bosnia and Herzegovina (the
administration of which passed to Austria), Kars, Ardahan and Batum,
At the same time the Ottomans were obliged to admit the complete
independence of Serbia, Romania and Montenegro, already effectively conceded; and in a separate convention, agreed
with Britain, they were obliged to agree to a British occupation of Cyprus, granted in return for promises of British support for the Ottoman
position in eastern Anatolia.
From the middle years of the nineteenth century, the Ottomans found
themselves increasingly dependent on the European capitalist system. In 1875,
following a period of hectic borrowing on the London and Paris exchanges, generated
in part by the extravagance of Sultan Abdulaziz and in part by a
series of bad harvests, accompanied by famine, in Anatolia, the Ottoman
government was obliged to default on the interest payments due on a part of the
Ottoman public debt; and in 1881 to agree to the creation of an Ottoman public
debt administration, controlled by a council of the public debt, elected mainly
by European bond holders.
More than one-third of Ottoman revenue was made available to make payment
on the Ottoman public debt. Meanwhile European capitalists, exploiting
concessions and monopolies granted by the Ottoman government, gained control of
the greater part of the Ottoman transport system, and a number of other industries,
including tobacco, gas, electricity and water.
Not that foreign influence and control was exercised merely by military
and economic means. In the nineteenth century a number of the Great Powers,
building in some cases on claims put forward in the eighteenth century, even
asserted a right to protect whole communities, in the case of Russia the Greek Orthodox, France the Maronite and
Armenian Catholic and Britain, the Druze.
In these circumstances it is not surprising that, in the period of the Young
Turk Revolution of 1908 and even earlier, Ottoman reformers and others should
have become increasingly obsessed with the need to re-establish Ottoman independence
The Eastern Crises that had sponsored Great Powers interventions across
the late 18th and through the 19th century had to be ended lest the Ottoman Empire crumbled and become lost. With this in mind in 1876, in the midst of the Eastern Crisis, Midhat
Pasha, determined to shift power from the Palace to the Sublime Porte (the
central office of the Ottoman government, including the offices of the grand vizier,
the ministry of foreign affairs and the council of state),
Henceforth, according to the articles of this constitution, effective
power would be placed in the hands of a council of ministers, appointed by the
sultan, and legislative power in the hands of a chamber of deputies, elected indirectly
by the people, and a senate, appointed by the sultan.
In order to secure popular support for the new order, a new ideology of Ottomanism was promoted, the principal tenet of which was
that henceforth the subjects of the sultan would be expected to identify, not
as heretofore with the Greek, Armenian
or Muslim, but with a new entity, the Ottoman nation. The reformers
espoused the idea of Ottomanism (loyalty to the
Ottoman state) as a framework within which racial, linguistic, and religious
groups could develop autonomously but harmoniously
This period known as 'Tanzimat' collapsed
quickly as the Sultan Abdul Hamid reasserted his
traditional political control and this resulted in his regime becoming a
by-word for despotism. In the wake of this pan-Islamism was promoted as a way
of encouraging opposition to the advances of the Great powers of Britain France
and Russia. Despite this modernisation continued wt the building of communications
systems, transport - railways and so forth.
Hamid enjoyed substantial
support among the Muslim peoples of the Ottoman Empire; and he was generally
successful in holding the front against the great imperial powers, though he
did lose Tunis, still nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire, to France in
1881; and Egypt and the Suez Canal (opened in 1869) to Britain in 1882.
The disorders emergent in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Armenia created in
by the failures of the Hamidian regime and the spread of nationalist ideology saw
foundation of a series of opposition
movements in the Ottoman Empire, aimed at a restoration of the constitution.
In 1889 a group of students at the Military Medical College in Istanbul (a centre of secular and
anti-religious opinion) formed an Ottoman Unity Society, calling for a
restoration of the Ottoman constitution.
In 1896, now renamed the Society of Ottoman Union and Progress, it
attempted a coup. But the plot was quickly discovered and the conspirators
arrested. Attempts were made by leading members of the Ottoman elite, to secure
British backing for a radical change in the system of government, involving a transference of power from the Palace to the Porte, proved
equally unsuccessful, for the British refused to intervene.
comments that the reform ideas ha their roots in westernisation:
"In short, as Middle Easterners learned how to
work like Europeans,
some also started to think like them. They learned that
did not have to be endured (indeed, many earlier
Muslims had defied
tyrannical rulers), that individuals had rights and freedoms. In the 1870s these liberal
and nationalist ideas became current among many
educated young Muslims
of the Middle
in the capital cities.
Ottomans, especially if they had attended Western schools, felt that the only
way to save the Ottoman Empire was to
restore the 1876 constitution, even if they had to overthrow Abdulhamid first.
A number of
opposition groups were formed. All of them tend to get lumped together
as the “Young Turks,”
society was a secret one formed by Muslims but of several nationalities. It
became known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).
many Ottomans adopted the CUP’s goals: that the empire must be militarily and
morally strengthened, that all religious and ethnic groups
must have equal rights, that the constitution must be restored. If not, then Russia would take
what was left of the empire in Europe, including Istanbul and the
Straits. The other Western powers would carve up Turkey-in-Asia, just as
they had partitioned Africa and divided China into spheres
Staging a coup in
the CUP forced Hamid to restore the
Constitution in 1908. Elections were held for the new Parliament, the tide of democracy
seemed to be sweeping into Istanbul, and the CUP
started so many changes that we still call vigorous reformers
They did not
halt disintegration, as Austria annexed Bosnia, Bulgaria declared its
independence, and Crete rebelled, all in late 1908.
Their hopes for rapid economic development were dashed when France withdrew a
loan offer in 1910 The next year
Italy invaded the
Ottoman province of Tripolitania. Russia incited Bulgaria and Serbia to join
forces in 1912 and attack the empire in Macedonia. In four
months the Turks lost almost all their European lands. Even Albania, a mainly
Muslim part of the Balkans, rebelled in 1910 and declared its independence in
The new wave
was pan-Turanism. This was the attempt to bring
together all speakers of Turkic languages under Ottoman leadership. This was
unwise as it mean turning away from Islamic interests as well as Ottomanism and as such would alienate the Arabs and the
reformist ideas of earlier years. The CUP/Young Turks were undoing by thier increasingly autocratic rule what they had striven
for in 1907-8.
nationalism against the ottoman/CUP rule encouraged Arab elites to organise but
most Arabs remained loyal to the CUP, the Ottoman constitution that gave them
parliamentary representation, and a government in which some Arabs served as
ministers, ambassadors, officials.
Empire at the eve of WW1 was under CUP control even if it
retained the Sultanate. And now it was about to make a wrong call - it joined
the German cause against the allies. Indeed the Sultan had proclaimed a jihad
against Britain, France and Russia. Britain s it crated
a protectorate over Egypt in 1914 had
to ensure no Ottoman threat to Egypt and more
importantly to the Suez Canal.
Britain looked for
ways to stem the jihad and so contacted Sharif Husayn, the leader of had long struggled with the Ottoman
sultan. Loyal to the Ottomanist ideal Husayn hated the CUP’s centralizing policies. Britain was hoping to
dissuade him from endorsing the jihad
or, better yet, to persuade him to lead an Arab rebellion against
that, if Husayn proclaimed an Arab revolt against
Ottoman rule, it would provide military and financial aid during the war and
would then help to create independent Arab governments in the Arabian
It is moot whether
Britain meant to
exclude only what is now Lebanon, a partly
Christian region coveted by France, or also Palestine, in which
some Jews hoped to rebuild their ancient homeland. Lebanon is clearly
west of Damascus and those other
Syrian cities more than is what we now call Israel. The Arabs
argue, therefore, that Britain promised Palestine to them.
Not only the
Zionists but also the British government after 1915 even McMahon himself,
believed that he had never promised Palestine to the
discussion gornd to a ha,t in 1916 but then ...
On 5th June 1916 Husayn declared the Arabs independent and unfurled the
standard of their revolt against Turkish rule. The Ottoman
Empire did not fall at once, but large numbers of Arabs
in the Hijaz, plus some in Palestine and Syria, began to
fight the Turks. This revolt against turkish
oppression f the Arab peoples was in full flight.
Revolt raged for the next two years. Guided by European advisers,
notably T. E. Lawrence, the Arab supporters of Amir Husayn fought on the Allied
side against the Ottoman Empire. Working in
tandem with the British Empire troops
advancing from the Suez Canal, they moved
north into Palestine. While the
British took Jaffa and Jerusalem, the Arabs
were blowing up railways and capturing Aqaba and Amman. When Britain’s forces
drew near Damascus in late
September 1918, they waited to let Lawrence and the
Arabs occupy the city, which then became the seat of a provisional Arab government
headed by Faysal. Meanwhile, the Ottoman army, now
led by Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk),
withdrew from Syria. The Turks
were also retreating in Iraq before an
Anglo-Indian army. Late in October the Ottoman
Empire signed an armistice with the Allies at Mudros. The Arabs, promised the right of self-determination
by the British and the French, were jubilant.
But this was
not to be. The British government during the war had promised Ottoman-ruled
Arab lands to other interested parties. Russia had already demanded
Allied recognition of its right to control the Turkish Straits. In a secret
treaty signed in London in 1915, Britain and France promised to
back Russia’s claim. Italy and Greece also claimed
portions of Anatolia. France, while
fighting the Germans on the Western Front, could not send many troops to the Middle East, but it
wanted all of Syria, including Lebanon and Palestine. So Britain,
France, and Russia drew up a secret pact called the Sykes-Picot Agreement
Signed in May 1916 it provided for direct French rule in much of northern and western
Syria, plus a sphere of influence in the Syrian hinterland, including Damascus,
Aleppo, and Mosul. Britain would rule
lower Iraq directly.
around Jaffa and Jerusalem would be
under international rule because Russia wanted a
part in administering the Christian holy places. The only area left for the
to govern without foreign rulers or advisers was the Arabian
was a decision by the British cabinet to help establish a Jewish national home
in Palestine, formally
announced on 2nd November
1917. This was the famous Balfour Declaration, so called because it appeared
as a letter from the foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, titular
president of Britain’s Zionist
government would help set up a national home in Palestine for the Jews; ) it would not undermine the rights or status of Jews
choosing not to live there; and it would not harm the civil and religious
rights of Palestine’s “existing
non-Jewish communities.” The Arabs’ main objection to the Balfour Declaration
was that they made up over nine-tenths
of what would later become Palestine. How could
anyone create a home for one group of people in a land inhabited by another?
negotiate fully on Woodrow Wilson's peace plans when it came to the Arab-Jewish
the King-Crane Commission, went alone. It found that the local people
wanted complete independence under Faysal, who had
already set up a provisional Arab government in Damascus. If they had
to accept foreign tutelage, they would choose the Americans, who had no history
of imperialism in the Middle East, or at least
the British, whose army was already there, but never the French. The King-Crane
Commission also examined the Zionist claims,
which its members had initially favoured, and concluded
that their realization would provoke serious Jewish-Arab conflict. Its report
proposed to scale back the Zionist program, limit Jewish immigration into Palestine, and end any
plan to turn the country into a Jewish national home.
Arab hopes, Britain and France agreed to
settle their differences. France gave up its
claims to Mosul and Palestine in exchange
for a free hand in the rest of Syria. As a sop to
the Allies set up a mandate system, under which Asian and African lands taken
from Turkey and Germany were put in
a tutelary relationship to a Great Power
(called the mandatory), which would teach the people how to
govern themselves. Each mandatory power had to report periodically to a League of
Nations body called the Permanent Mandates Commission, to prevent
Meeting in San Remo, Italy, in 1920,
British and French representatives agreed to divide the Middle Eastern
mandates: Syria (and Lebanon) to France, and Iraq and Palestine (including
what is now Jordan) to Britain. The Hijaz would be independent. The Ottoman government had to
accept these arrangements when it signed the Treaty of Sèvres
in August 1920. By then the
French army had already marched eastward from Beirut, crushed the
Arabs, and driven Faysal’s provisional government out
worse for the Arab cause: France split up Syria. British working with the Hashimite
family. Husayn still ruled in the Hijaz, but the prestige he had gained from the Arab Revolt
made him a troublesome ally for the British. He refused to sign the Versailles and Sèvres treaties, proclaimed himself “king of the Arabs,”
and later claimed to be the caliph of Islam. These actions so offended the
British that, as the Saud family rose to power in
eastern Arabia they did nothing to stop the Saudis from marching into the Hijaz and toppling his regime in 1924. As for Iraq, British
control led to a general insurrection in 1920. Needing a strong man to pacify
the Iraqis, the British brought in Faysal to become their
king, and peace was restored.
Imperial re-negotiations of the territories of the Middle East obscure another
feature which was the rise fo
Turkish nationalism under the inspiration of Kemal Ataturk.
Egged on by
the Allies, especially Lloyd George, Venizelos acted
to realize these ambitions.
On 15th May 1919some 25000
Greek troops landed at Smyrna, welcomed by
its mainly Greek and foreign inhabitants. No resistance came from the Ottoman
government, which was trying to pacify a country that was close to anarchy. Yet
this landing of the Greeks, long the most rebellious subjects of the Ottoman
Empire, was the spark that ignited Turkish nationalism in
At a congress
at Erzurum, Kemal was elected its chairman. It was here that the Turks
first drew up their National Pact, calling for the preservation of Turkey’s existing
(the Ottoman Empire minus the
Arab lands lost in the war), opposition to any future changes in those borders,
formation of an elected government, and denial of special privileges to
non-Turkish minorities. This set the stage for the September 1919 Sivas Congress, which rejected any foreign
mandate over Turkey and demanded
that the weak Ottoman government
be replaced by an elected one willing to uphold Turkish interests.
The Kemalist were successful in elections but the Allioes who occupied Istanbul after the
war ejected the nationalists and let Damad Ferid resumed power, and the shaykh al-Islam (as appointed head of the Muslim community) branded
the nationalists as rebels against the sultan. Kemal
set up in Central Anatolia and called
the Grand National Assembly in April 1920.
The Kemalist movement now found itself at war with the Ottoman government in
(British-backed) Greek invaders around Smyrna, the Republic of Armenia in the east,
the French in the south, and the British on the Straits.
What saved Turkey was the aid
it got from Soviet Russia. Both countries were embroiled in civil war and in
fending off foreign attackers. With no more challenge from the east, Kemal’s forces managed to slow the Greek advance early in
1921. It gradually became clear that some Western countries would not back the
Greeks either, once they claimed lands beyond what the Sèvres
Treaty had given them. France settled with
the Kemalists after they had fought the Greeks to a
standstill in a bitter battle close to Ankara in August
and September 1921. Both France and Italy renounced their
territorial claims in Anatolia. Only Britain continued to
occupy the Straits, control the sultan, and cheer on the Greeks. In the summer
of 1922 the Turks launched a fierce offensive that drove the Greek armies
completely out of Anatolia. Then, at last, the British
government decided to cut its losses by calling for another Allied conference to
negotiate a new peace treaty with Turkey.
sultan, deprived of foreign support, fled from Istanbul, whereupon
the Grand National Assembly in Ankara abolished
the sultanate altogether. On 29th October 1923 Turkey became the
first republic in the modern Middle East.
Mustafa Kemal devoted the last fifteen years of his life to
changing Turkey from the
bastion of Islam into a secular nation-state. Islam, the lifestyle and basis of
government for the Turks since their conversion a thousand years earlier, was
now to be replaced by Western ways of behaviour, administration, and justice.
If persuasion failed, then the changes would be imposed by force.
Kemal Ataturk was a
westernizing reformer, but above all he was a Turkish nationalist.
The actual occasion, for the abolition of the sultanate and the formal
dissolution of the empire that abolition entailed, was the receipt in October
1922 of an invitation from the Allies to both the Istanbul and Ankara governments to send
delegations to the peace conference shortly to be convened in Lausanne in July 1923.
Faced then with what remained of the Ottoman Empire, he decided to opt, not for
an abolition of the provisional administration set up in Anatolia by the nationalists, but for the abolition of the Ottoman
sultanate and the administration which supported it.
The remaining issues regarding the residue of the Ottoman estate were
finally resolved and, as Mustafa Kemal later put it,
'centuries-old accounts' regulated.
In Europe eastern Thrace, was recognised as
belonging to the new Turkish state, as was the whole of Anatolia, including Cilicia and the eastern
provinces. With regard to the Straits, an issue of primary importance to the
Great Powers, in particular Britain, France and Russia, it was agreed that,
subject to certain restrictions, agreed by the powers, they would henceforth
remain open, not only to ships of commerce, as heretofore, but also to ships of
war; and that the sea passage would be administered by an international
commission; while the area approximate to the Straits would be demilitarised.
Between 1923 and 1925 more than 188 000 Greek Orthodox Turkish nationals
were transferred from Turkey to Greece, and more than 355000
Muslims from Greece to Turkey.
had brought an end to the Ottoman Empire.