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How the Middle East Was Affected by World War I

Updated on March 21, 2017
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I was curious about how the outcome of WWI still affect the Mid East today. I found it has a profound effect on the geopolitics of today.

The Empires and Kingdoms Prior to World War I

To understand what is happening in the Middle East today, one has to go all the way back to the start of World War I. At the start of that war, many empires were competing for world power and trading dominance:

  • The British Empire included India, Australia, Canada, and South Africa.
  • The French Empire included parts of Africa.
  • The Austria-Hungary Empire included not only Austria and Hungary but many of the Slavic countries, including Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • The Ottoman Empire was in a state of decline but controlled parts of the Mid-East including Mesopotamia and what is now known as Saudi-Arabia.

Editor's Note: Mesopotamia is Greek for the land between the two rivers: The Tigris and Euphrates.

Treaties and Alliances Prior to the War

Because these empires were starting to industrialize and create arms races, there were several treaties and alliances that were formed prior to World War I that played a significant role during and after the war:

  • 1839 Treaty of London – Britain to protect the neutrality of Belgium
  • 1879 – Dual Alliance – Germany and Austria-Hungary to protect each other if Russia attacks
  • 1892 – Franco-Russia Military Convention – Military assistance is given in event either is attacked.
  • 1904 – Triple Alliance – Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy to protect each other against any attacks.

Source

The European Empires

This map shows the empires and kingdoms that were to become the major players during WWI:

  • United Kingdom - including Ireland
  • Germany
  • Austria Kingdom- Hungarian Empire
  • France
  • Russia
  • Ottoman Empire

The Spark that Ignited WWI

October 8, 1908 - Austria-Hungary formally annexes Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is north of Montenegro on the map.

June 28, 1914 - The heir to the Austria-Hungary throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, are assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princep, a young Bosnian-Serbian nationalist.

July 28, 1914 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia and Russia mobilize its troops.

August 1, 1914 - Germany declares war on Russia.

August 3, 1914 - Germany declares war on France.

August 4, 1914 - Germany invades Belgium and the British declare war on Germany. Remember, the Treaty of London in 1839? Britain is to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Belgium is the bridge between Germany, France, and the U.K.

Next, let's look at a map of the Mid-East before WWI.

The Middle-East Before WWI
The Middle-East Before WWI | Source

The Ottoman Empire

As you can see, the Ottoman Empire occupies much of the Middle-East prior to WWI. However, in 1914, this is just a small portion of what it occupied at its peak of power. While the Ottoman Empire had a rich history of almost 600 years, in 1914, it was called the" weak sister" of all the other empires.

Constantinople, Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem, and Mecca were all part of the Ottoman Empire. Arabia, Qatar, and Oman were under British protection.

The Winners and Losers of WWI

It is beyond the scope of this article to describe all the battles of WWI; but here is a list of the winners and losers.

Winners:

  • Great Britain
  • France
  • Russia
  • Italy
  • United States

Losers:

  • German Empire
  • Austria-Hungary Empire
  • Ottoman Empire - completely dissolved.

Below is a map of Europe looked like in 1919, after the war.

Map of Europe After WWI
Map of Europe After WWI | Source

Notice, Germany is a much smaller country. What was the Austria-Hungary Empire has become several countries including, Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary are now separate countries. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are new countries that were formed from the Russian Empire.

Next, let's look at how the British and French carved up the Middle-East into zones.

Sykes-Picot Zones

Source

Sykes-Picot Agreement

Prior to the war ending in 1915, Mark Sykes of Britain and François Georges-Picot of France secretly met to decide the fate of the post-Ottoman Arab world. In 1917, their secret was disclosed by The Russian Government. The map above shows how the French and British carved up the Middle-East into zones of control/influence for each of them. I have indicated in red call-outs approximately where today's countries are located. Notice the little strip called the Allied Condominium, which is later to become Israel and Palestine.

Next let's look at the Israeli Palestinian formation.

The Balfour Declaration

Lord Balfour, the Foreign Secretary of Britain was instrumental in establishing Israel and the Palestinian territory.The Zionist movement, established in the 1800s, had a mission to establish a Jewish homeland for Jews living in Russia, Germany, and Poland.

Baron Rothschild, a leader in the Zionist movement, pressured Lord Balfour to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. On November 2, 1917, Lord Balfour sent the following letter to Baron Rothschild:

"His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Next let's look at how the League of Nations carved up the Middle-East.

League of Nations Mandate

Source

The Carving up of the Ottoman Empire

As you can see from the map above, that the former Ottoman Empire was carved up by the League of Nations without any regard for the culture, ethnicity, religious beliefs or interests of the peoples living in the regions. It was done arbitrarily to create conflict, turmoil and corruption, thus giving the British and the French control over the area.

Sectarian Mix in the Middle-East Today

The map above shows how the Middle-East today is divided by sectarian occupation. If you were to overlay the Ottoman Empire map of 1914 over this map, you would see many similarities.

  • Shiites occupy the coast of Lebanon and Syria and parts of Turkey. Today, ISIS is calling this the Levant. This is what this area was called after the British mandate. Shiites also occupy southern Iraq as the majority.
  • Sunnis occupy most of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the southern parts of Turkey where they are mixed with the Kurds. They also occupy most of the northern parts of Iraq, where they are in the minority.
  • Shiite/Sunni mix are in the western parts of Syria and Turkey and parts of Iran
  • Kurds occupy the Southern parts of Turkey and the northern parts of Iraq. They are in one of the most oil-rich regions in the Middle-East. They are also one of the largest populations of people in the world without a country.

Conclusion

WWI resulted in carving up the Middle-East without any regard for religion, ethnic diversity or culture. From everything that I have researched, it appears as if it was done intentionally to create chaos in the region for the purpose of control by the winners of WWI. It has become apparent to me that trying to democratize these countries is an exercise in futility and results in the loss of blood and treasure for all involved.

When they try democracy, the wrong people get into office, e.g. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq, and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.

Israel and the Palestinians are in a constant state of turmoil because of the Balfour Declaration. I believe in large part, the terrorism that we have experienced has been caused because of the preferential treatment that the U.S. gives Israel compared to Palestine. This angers the Arab world and they retaliate by terrorizing us.

If I were president, I would make Palestine its own country. remove all troops from the Middle-East and let the natural order of things take care of the sectarian divisions. We must learn that we cannot make a Theocracy into a Democracy. It hasn't worked in the past and I don't believe it will work in the future.

Men draw maps and layout boundaries, not nature. That's why there are still tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan and other areas throughout the Middle-East. Borders mean nothing to the people of these areas. They have been connected to each other for hundreds of years without any regard for borders.

Sources

  • Wikipedia
  • Vox
  • The Map as History
  • The Khan Academy

What do you think?

Should Palestine become a separate nation?

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Should we continue to democratize the countries of the middle-east?

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Should Iraq become three separate nations of Kurds, Sunni, and Shiia?

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Should we have invaded Iraq?

See results

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    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      Larry: You are absolutely right. I hate it when politicians say, "All we have to do is democratize this country and they will be fine." I think what they are really saying is, "You are different than us. If we make you the same as us, then we won't have any problems." The Arabs have the Koran which is their guiding document. Granted, it's subject to interpretation and some of the extremists use it for their own agenda. But mixing a theocracy with democracy hasn't worked in the past and I don't think it will work in the future. The one exception is the Israelis. They have the Torah and yet they have a democratic government.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I really enjoyed the overview.

      As for the creation of democracy, doesn't it usually come from within? If there were a revolution for democracy started by the people in the Middle-East, and it gathered steam, would that not maybe be the point the US entertains suggestions of stepping in and helping?

      My perception of the current situation in the Middle-East is that the good old USA just decided we'd impose democracy on the Middle-East, and that never works.

      I may be off base here. I don't know as much about this part of the world as I should (a fact I am ashamed about). I really enjoyed your overview and look forward to your response.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      fpherj48: Very well said. Yes, my goal is to educate myself and share what I have learned with others, so that we can all put this political drama into perspective. We have lost so much in blood and treasure, I would hate to see us lose more. Thanks for your comments.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Mike.....These are the kind of hubs I love to read regardless of how difficult and complex they are to me...(a History Dummy) I truly appreciate the research and study you (and other History informants) share with your readers.

      The way I see it, "better late than never" when embarking upon an education of any topic.. It's common knowledge that 90% 0f us (Americans) simply do not KNOW all of this vital History and certainly could not answer questions on the topic........But, we should.

      We should be very weary of looking on in total confusion as countries continue to do battle and shed blood......find ourselves involved, asking WHY?...and ultimately doing little good and solving nearly nothing.

      This Hub has helped to reconfirm to me that WE need to BUTT-OUT & let these countries solve their own chaotic issues......regardless!

      I don't know if that was part of your goal in writing this..but this is how I have felt for many years.......Thank you, Mike. Up...U&I

    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      Freeway Flyer: Thanks for your comments. It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. I just hope we stay out of it.

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 3 years ago

      In the end, the people living in these regions will have to decide their own fates. A century of experience since World War I demonstrates what happens when outsiders try to control the region. Or maybe chaos was the plan all along. Keep people in the region fixated on fighting one another instead of uniting against outsiders only interested in their oil.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      NateB11: Thanks. I included the maps because they really spoke for themselves. You are right is is complex and I don't think most people are aware of it.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 3 years ago from California, United States of America

      I really like how you've laid this out in digestible pieces, breaking down a very complex situation.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      UnnamedHarald: Thank you so much. I appreciate your comments. This was like putting the pieces of a puzzle together for me. Once I had all the pieces, I could see the big picture. It's also interesting that President Woodrow Wilson was never able to get congress to join the League of Nations. Yet, the League of Nations played a big part in defining the countries of the the Middle East.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Great article, Mike. As you point out, the MiddleEast was born from the disaster that was the Great War which we are still paying for. Though "born" isn't right... it was more like Frankenstein's monster. And, although there were countries and empires on the "winning" side, only the Americans, who fought during the last six months of the war (regardless of the fact that they entered the war in April 1917), experienced no battle damage and who benefited greatly as a neutral trader, could be declared a winner. Britain began its decline, the French were bled white, etc. One cannot begin to understand today's Middle East without articles like this one. Voted up, etc and shared.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
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      Mike Russo 3 years ago from Placentia California

      CarolynEmerick: You are welcome. Until I did the research and starting creating the hub, I didn't realize how complex the situation was.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 3 years ago

      Thank you for shedding light in a topic that is not well understood by people in the west. Sharing.