The ‘successful failure’ of the post-World War I Middle East, By Louis Fishman
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Constantinople Agreement, which was replaced in 1916 by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. With Russian abandoning its role, the Ottoman lands were to be divided between Great Britain and France, despite the overall will of the peoples living in the lands, who overwhelmingly expressed their objection to the colonial rule, as documented in the shelved 1919 American King-Crane Commission Report A century ago, few could have imagined that the new borders the colonial powers were busy drawing up would remain intact for so long. However, even if these borders have upheld the test of time, they created divisions within the region that left a legacy of bloodshed and instability.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement would make way for the birth of the “modern Middle East” and the foundation of four states: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. It would also lead to the foundation of the state of Israel and exacerbate the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, which dates back to the late Ottoman era. In short, the British and French colonial project forever changed the face of the former Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire. Differently to the newly created Arab countries, the area that was left to the Ottoman Empire took the road to independence, which culminated in Turkey’s War of Independence and the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923.
After the French and British mandates were approved by the League of Nations, the colonial powers extended their hold over the newly possessed lands. In the years following World War I, however, uprisings spread throughout the countries. From Iraq to Egypt (which had already been occupied by Britain in 1882), from Syria to Palestine, it was clear that the only way the British and French could rule was through extreme violence, with uprisings occurring in all of their new (and former, in the case of Egypt) holdings, such as the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, the 1920 revolt in Iraq and the 1925 Great Syrian Revolt, which lasted two years.
In Palestine, violence erupted numerous times during the British mandate (1920-1948), culminating in the 1936 Palestinian Revolt, which lasted three years. However, the Palestinian struggle was aimed not only at the British, as it was with the other Arab states, but was also embroiled in a struggle with the Zionist movement, which was busily creating the infrastructure for an independent state. Importantly, Palestine had been promised to the Zionists in Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration, despite the fact that Zionists were in a minority and the local Palestinian population had remained staunchly opposed to an independent Jewish entity in the land.
Throughout the struggles against European colonialism, former local identities developed into new nation-state nationalisms. These new identities