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View series: The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century

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The First World War and the Treaties, 1914-1920

This map is part of a series of 18 animated maps showing the history of The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire decided to make alliances with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It abolished the Capitulations and then declared war on Russia and its allies, France and England, on 2 November 1914.  

Immediately, the British landed at Bassora to strengthen their control of the Persian Gulf and establish a protectorate in Cairo as the Ottoman armies advanced towards Egypt.

Early in 1915, the French, British and Russians sought to threaten Istanbul by forcing their way through the straits. Sending troops to Gallipoli in an attempt to take the Dardanelles ended in a terrible disaster.

In the Levant, Mount Lebanon’s autonomy was gradually whittled away during 1915. The violent repression of the independence movements by the leader of the Young Turks, Djemal Pasha, divided Arabs and Turks, while the people were suffering from severe food shortages.

Meanwhile, Great Britain promised to create an Arab kingdom in the region and persuaded Sharif Hussein of Mecca, Emir of Hejaz, to use his religious authority to encourage Arabs to rebel against the Ottomans. At the same time, France and England agreed on a proposal, known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided up the region into “spheres of influence” under their control.

Despite the ambiguity and vagueness of Britain’s promises, Sharif Hussein launched the Arab Revolt in June 1916.

This allowed the English to advance further into Mesopotamia, while Hussein’s troops, assisted by the famous Lawrence of Arabia, took control of the port of Akaba. By autumn 1917, the British and Arab forces were able to move northwards and, under General Allenby, launched an attack on Palestine.

These events took place shortly after the entry of the United States into the war and the October Revolution which led to disengagement by Russia.  In November, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, announced that London supported the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, in an attempt to use the Zionist cause to take control of the region, despite its promises to the Arabs.

Following the Allied victory in 1918, the Anglo-Arabian troops took Damascus, allowing Sharif Hussein’s son Faisal to make a formal entry on 3 October, and then occupied the rest of Syria. Meanwhile, the French landed in Beirut and took over the coastal area as far as Cilicia.

The armistice was signed at Moudros on 30 October 1918 and the British took over the Province of Mosul and its petrol fields.

In Damascus, Faisal appointed a government with which to rule over a greater Arabian kingdom.

During the Versailles Peace Conference, discussions on the future of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab Provinces were overshadowed by rivalry between England and France in the region. The League of Nations created Mandates which gave the French and the English an opportunity to define their spheres of influence: Syria and the Lebanon for the French, and Mesopotamia and Palestine for the British.