1 minute read


Middle EastWorld War I And Its Settlement

World War I and its settlement had a crucial impact on nationalism in the Middle East. Ottoman entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers led to Ottoman military defeat. At war's end, the victorious allies began the process of partitioning the Ottoman Empire in accord with secret wartime arrangements. The postwar attempt at Allied domination was unsuccessful in the primarily Turkish-speaking Anatolian portion of the empire, where a vigorous Turkish nationalist movement led by the charismatic General Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk) successfully resisted European domination and in the process abolished the Ottoman Empire and replaced it with the new state of Turkey (1923). Quite a different course of events were obtained in the Fertile Crescent, which Great Britain and France divided between themselves. France received a League of Nations mandate for "Syria" (initially including Lebanon, defined as a separate state in 1920), Great Britain mandates for the territories of "Iraq" and "Palestine" (the latter comprising today's Israel and Jordan). In the process of imperial partition, a nascent Arab nationalist movement that had emerged during the war and established an Arab government in Damascus was crushed by French military action. In Palestine, where the terms of the mandate allowed for large-scale Jewish immigration in order to facilitate the emergence of the Jewish "national home," the postwar settlement also laid the basis for the subsequent emergence of the state of Israel.

The contrast between the course of events in Turkish-speaking Anatolia and in the Arabic-speaking Fertile Crescent deserves emphasis. Turkish nationalism emerged successful out of the turmoil of World War I and its settlement, realizing its goal of the creation of a Turkish national state predicated on the existence of a linguistically based Turkish ethnic community. Nothing succeeds like success; Turkey has remained the object of national self-definition and allegiance for its Turkish-speaking majority ever since its creation in the early 1920s. In the Arab case a nationalist movement similar in genesis and aspiration, but geographically more vulnerable, was eliminated by European force of arms. In its stead the Fertile Crescent was divided into several artificial political units according to imperial fiat. None possessed deep roots; the reality and viability of all were to be deeply contested in the years to come.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mysticism to Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotideNationalism - Middle East - The Emergence Of Modern Nationalisms, World War I And Its Settlement, Differential Nationalist Trajectories, After Nationalism?