How the British Empire Helped Bring an End to the Ottoman Empire and Created Tensions in the Middle East
A Peace to End All Peace examines the causes behind why the Middle East is so conflict-ridden today.
The book explores how two powerful imperial hegemonies, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire, ended Ottoman rule in this region during the early 20th century.
In particular, it looks at decisions made by Britain and France, as well as evaluating how various political events impacted the fall of Ottoman rule.
Readers will also explore why Jewish revolutionaries were perceived as a threat to the Ottoman Empire, how Gallipoli changed British strategy in this area and why broken promises only made matters worse in terms of future conflict.
Through understanding these historic events, readers can gain insight into why current conflicts are so common in this part of the world, while also learning what changes may help bring peace to a fractured region.
The Ottoman Empire: From Sick Man of Europe to Mere Shadow of Its Former Self
The Ottoman Empire had long been in decline by the turn of the twentieth century.
They had been referred to as ‘the sick man of Europe’ at this point, and it’s no wonder.
Their advances in technology, economy and more were nowhere near what could be found in Western Europe at that time.
In fact, their capital Constantinople only introduced electric street lights in 1912!
This would have been a common feature for other European cities much earlier on.
Their political power also was a lot weaker compared to France or Britain.
While they did maintain control over certain regions, most non-Turkish provinces of the empire were self-governed by 1912.
Even then, they continued to lose territories because of encroaching European interests – with Italy claiming their final African territory just before WWI broke out.
At the end of the day, WWI left the Ottoman Empire with very little – what remained was modern-day Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan Israel, Iraq and Syria – not even covering a fraction of its past size and magnitude.
How an Unfortunate Misunderstanding Led to the British Plan for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine
In 1913, the Ottoman Empire faced a political crisis of immense proportions due to the growing power of a group known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), also known as the Young Turks.
This group had staged a revolution in 1908 with the goal of re-establishing parliamentary democracy – something Sultan Abdul Hamid had banned 1878.
The Young Turks struggled to retain power while they started modernizing Ottoman society, investing in railways and electricity infrastructure.
But it was their efforts to restore European standards that resulted in the Western powers encroaching on its territories.
The growing crisis led to an unprecedented situation for the Ottoman Empire, who found themselves unable to stand against Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro in the First Balkan War.
This allowed for the Young Turks to overtake control of government and policy decisions.
Though their intent was to prevent further encroachments from Western powers by modernizing, London officials carried out false information from an interpreter which saw them as a threat.
Consequently, Britain devised a plan which included publicly supporting the cause of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, thus tipping World War I into full gear and starting off a chain of events which changed history forever.
The Ottomans’ Alliance With Germany Leads to Their Decline and an Allied Plan To Redraw the Middle East Map
When World War I erupted, the Ottoman Empire – particularly its rulers – saw their power as being threatened by aggressive forces from both Italy and Austria-Hungary.
In order to protect themselves and their territory, they began looking for a powerful ally and eventually found one in Germany.
Germany agreed to protect the Ottomans against foreign encroachment in return for them remaining neutral during the war; though this agreement would later be exposed when Germany vessels were allowed safe passage through Ottoman waters.
This seeming alliance between the two nations grow even further as the Ottomans did such things as laying minefields in a waterway that led to Constantinople, as well as by attacking Russia – an ally of Britain’s – in hopes of gaining some territory for themselves.
These actions ultimately forced Britain to declare war against the Ottoman Empire on October 31, 1914.
The Allied Powers would then immediately began planning for a world without the empire, allowing Britain to focus more resources on colonizing parts of Asia Minor instead of Africa which was running out of room for expansion.
The Dangerous Consequences of Kitchener’s Ignorance: Britain Blindly Imposes Its Power in the Middle East
Britain’s Middle Eastern policy was muddled by misinformation and the lofty ambitions of one man – Herbert Kitchener.
As Britain’s Secretary of State for War in 1914, Kitchener had previously served as the colonial administrator in Egypt, giving him considerable influence over the region.
Unfortunately, his opinions on the Middle East were based more on personal conjecture than fact or knowledge of local culture and customs.
For example, he assumed that the Arabs were a homogenous group who would gladly submit to a caliph or Islamic leader chosen by Britain.
The reality was far more complicated; although most people living in the Middle East shared common language and religion, there were still vast differences between religious denominations, ethnicities and cultures.
Kitchener wasn’t even aware of this fact!
Deception and False Hopes: The Unsavory History of British-Arab Relations in the Middle East
Under the direction of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Britain embarked on a new war strategy in the Middle East: harnessing the anti-Turk sentiment of Arabs who had been under Ottoman rule for centuries.
This change in political strategy was fueled by an inaccurate map and misguided advice from Lord Kitchener.
As a result, clashes at Gallipoli resulted in a disastrous defeat for Britain, leading to the need for a fresh approach in dealing with Ottoman forces.
To leverage this growing dissatisfaction within Arab populations, Mark Sykes, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs appointed by Lord Kitchener, suggested appointing Hussein as Sharif of Mecca as a puppet caliph for the region.
This plan ultimately led to deadlock after Hussein demanded an independent Arab state free from European interference, causing one final move – recruitment of Muhammad al-Faruqi who claimed to hold connections within an elite group of military leaders among Arab nationalists in Damascus.
Al-Faruqi then spread false information to both the British and Hussein’s side claiming his connections commanded hundreds of thousands of Arab soldiers that could help defeat the Ottomans.
This ultimately caused both sides to come around and accept Hussein’s demands with British officers fully convinced they could play an important role against Ottomans with this powerful new ally.
This agreement began what turned out to be based on lies and deceit from both parties – Al-Faruqi having no real rebel force and Britain without any intention to abandon colonial ambitions in Middle East – resulting in a precarious relationship between Britain and its newly acquired Arab allies since its establishment.
The British and Arabs Take on the Ottomans: The Story of the Revolt Led By Lawrence of Arabia and Hussein
With an agreement in place, the Arab Revolt was now set to begin.
T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was appointed by the British as their liaison with Hussein’s Arab forces.
Although it started off a little shakily, the British still encouraged a coordinated revolt against the Ottomans.
By summer 1916, troops had secured Mecca and tried to take Medina but this attempt was unsuccessful due to the lack of discipline and training from the Arab Troops according to European rules of engagement.
Al-Faruqi’s promise that hundreds of thousands of troops would spontaneously rise up proved wrong.
However, things took an unexpected turn for the better when in July 1917, Lawrence and Hussein took Aqaba—the only port on Palestine’s southern coast—strategically important for securing supplies and reinforcements into Palestine.
With British artillery in place there, they could ferry in more troops to aid in the war effort taking us closer to Damascus and Jerusalem quickly fell under British control following vicious campaigns over Jordan which left many dead on the part of Ottoman Empire.
The scene was now set for an organized advance towards Syria taking us one step closer to an eventual result that no one expected 9 month back entering WW1: Arab rebelling against powerful Ottoman Empire..
The Sykes-Picot Agreement: How a Discretionary Compromise Set the Stage for a Century of Conflict in the Middle East
As soon as the Great War had ended and peace seemed imminent, British and French politicians began negotiations to claim their own territories in a post-war Middle East.
Mark Sykes was the man who suggested this agreement, and as negotiations progressed, he met with French diplomat François Picot.
Picot was from a family of colonialists and his views on France’s future in the Middle East were articulated within their discussions.
France sought direct control of these lands, rather than simply administering them as the British did – they felt that these territories rightfully belonged to their empire, having been won during the Crusades centuries ago.
Ultimately, this compromise became known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement which included terms such as France ruling over Syria (directly) and modern-day Lebanon while Britain took most of Iraq and Jordan plus two ports off of the Palestinian coast.
The Arabian peninsula would be granted independence but remain significantly influenced by both Britain and France politically and economically.
The main issue standing between them was Palestine; Britain had already begun to adopt Zionism which meant that it wouldn’t give France any possible leverage there.
Thus, international administration for Palestine was established after much disagreement between them so that details regarding rule could be determined after the war was over.
Sykes-Picot set up a framework for a century of violent unrest in later years – all caused from this initial negotiation between Britain and France to gain more land during what seemed like an era of peace ahead for Europe.
The Balfour Declaration: How British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s Evangelical Beliefs Ignited the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Britain’s support for Zionism is one of the decisions that has had a lasting impact on the Middle East.
At the end of 1917, it was clear that British troops were occupying much of Palestine and Britain were not looking to share this territory.
The catalyst for Britain’s stance on Zionism came with Lloyd George becoming prime minister.
His religious upbringing fuelled his passion to protect what he saw as divine will and return the Holy Land back to God’s chosen people.
Additionally, Sykes believed that by pushing for a ‘Jewish homeland’ it would secure Jewish support for the war effort and strengthen the allies position against Russia who some Foreign Office officials believed were being influenced by Jews.
This eventually lead to the Balfour Declaration, which outlined Britain’s promotion of migrating Jews to Palestine but still respecting the rights of indigenous Palestinians.
Unfortunately this decision perpetuated instability in the region and caused conflict between Israeli and Palestinian populations for over a century now.
It’s clear that Britain’s support for Zionism had dire consequences in the Middle East following World War One which continues today.
The Betrayal of Promises Reveals the Worst Side of British Imperialism in the Middle East
At the end of World War I, the British and their Arab allies advanced into Ottoman territory, making it clear that its days were numbered.
It quickly became apparent that Sykes’ promises to everyone had been too optimistic as Hussein, the puppet caliph and key player in the British conquest of Palestine, was betrayed when they chose Faisal to lead instead.
Furthermore, they reached out to Ibn Saud, who would eventually rule modern-day Saudi Arabia, further showing Britain’s focus on its own objectives over local leaders.
Things reached their peak in October 1918 when a secret agreement between Britain and France (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) allowed for Britain to set up a French protectorate in Syria without awarding Faisal any power whatsoever.
This meant that all his efforts had been wasted as any hope of his gaining autonomy was destroyed in one single swoop.
The Ottoman Empire then signed an armistice agreement with Britain on 30th October 1918 announcing the end of hostilities and rights for Allied forces to occupy any part of former Ottoman Empire which added even more confusion due to denials from their rulers about them surrendering.
The aftermath showed us how broken promises led Western powers such as Britain take control over huge parts of Middle East successfully creating tension and unrest in the region – something that still goes on today many decades later.
After WWI, a Struggle for Power Ensued in the Middle East with Catastrophic Consequences
As Britain and France took control of the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire fell, they soon faced a wave of resistance from local populations.
This was especially true in the Levant region, where a modified version of the Sykes-Picot Agreement meant that no land would achieve genuine independence, instead being controlled by Britain or France.
The situation was more dire in Syria and Lebanon, which were completely under French rule.
With Allied forces stretched thin throughout the region, it became apparent that Britain and France had underestimated the potential of local leaders wanting to gain control over their territories – particularly on the Arabian Peninsula, where disputes between rulers Hussein and Ibn Saud escalated quickly during this time.
Ibn Saud had been given funds to prop up his rule during the war, but in 1919 he began encroaching on lands currently ruled by Hussein.
A surprise attack by Ibn Saud in May decimated Hussein’s British-supported army and left him exiled from his lands shortly afterwards.
By 1925, Ibn Saud had ultimately secured complete control over all territory that would become Saudi Arabia in 1932.
The Palestinian Resistance to Zionism and the British Mandate in Palestine
Britain and France were faced with many troubles as they attempted to carry out their mandates in the Levant.
After British troops withdrew from Syria, Faisal had secured a promise of a more informal occupation in order to grant Syria its independence under French guidance; however, when a new French prime minister was installed in Paris, he refused to honor his predecessor’s pledge.
This was followed by the declaration of Syrian independence by Damascus, which then led to war with France and ultimately ending with Faisal’s exile.
In Palestine, the local powers initially presented a unified resistance against the British Mandate due to Zionism; nevertheless, it was made clear that the nation would exist within Palestine rather than replacing it completely.
Despite this offer and promises of improvements such as electrification and job increases, Palestinian leaders did not waver from their opposition.
In response, Britain continued their project regardless and working alongside Zionist militias – even resulting in riots in Jerusalem – leading up to the approval of their mandate by The League of Nations in 1922.
Thus began an era in which Britain and France found themselves struggling with issues stemming from their roles in these occupied territories.
The Long-Lasting Consequences of Europe’s Imperialist Designs in the Middle East
The dismantlement of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled most of the Middle East for centuries, left a deep and enduring legacy.
The borders and political divisions that were hastily drawn in its wake to create European-style countries have resulted in conflicts that linger to this day.
By 1922, when the boundaries of modern-day Middle Eastern countries were finally drawn, Europe was starting to tire of its colonial interests in the region and lacked the energy and manpower to continue its colonization efforts.
This premature support of Hussein and his son Faisal as would-be leaders set off a chain reaction all across the region, resulting in chaos and discord.
Unfortunately, with no strong central government anymore, many of these issues have yet to be solved.
This tumultuous period created a climate for ongoing wars including the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as more recent ones such as the Iraq War and Syrian Civil War that have dragged on for decades.
The deep-rooted problems resulting from the dismantlement ofthe Ottoman Empire will no doubt plague these nations for many years to come.
A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin, provides a thorough yet accessible analysis and summary of the conflict in the Middle East.
Fromkin’s main argument is that today’s turmoil is largely a result of European colonialism in the region during World War I as European powers dismantled the Ottoman Empire and replaced it with their own colonial rule.
When these powers drew arbitrary borders and propped up unsuitable foreign rulers, they set off a cycle of violence which will undoubtedly inspire future crises in the Middle East for generations.