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Partition of the Ottoman Empire

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Partition of the Ottoman Empire

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The Partitioning of the Ottoman Empire (30 October 19181 November 1922) was a political event that occurred after World War I. The huge conglomeration of territories and peoples that formerly comprised the Ottoman Empire was divided into several new nations.[1] The partitioning brought the creation of the modern Arab world and the Republic of Turkey. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Mesopotamia and Palestine (which was later divided into two regions: Palestine and Transjordan). Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became parts of what are today Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

After the occupation of Constantinople by British and French troops in November 1918, the Ottoman government collapsed completely and signed the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. However, the Turkish War of Independence forced the former Allies to return to the negotiating table before the treaty could be ratified. The Allies and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey signed and ratified the new Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, superseding the Treaty of Sèvres and solidifying most of the territorial issues. One unresolved issue was later negotiated under the League of Nations in 1926. The British and French partitioned the eastern part of the Middle East (also called "Greater Syria") between them with the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Other secret agreements were concluded with Italy and Russia (see map).[2] The Balfour Declaration encouraged the international Zionist movement to push for a Jewish homeland in the Palestine region, which was the site of the ancient Kingdom of Israel and at the time had a significant Jewish minority population with respect to a majority of ArabMuslim population. The tsarist regime also had wartime agreements with the Triple Entente on the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire but after the Russian Revolutions, Russia did not participate in the actual partitioning. The Treaty of Sèvres formally acknowledged the new League of Nations mandates in the Middle East, the independence of Yemen, and British sovereignty over Cyprus.

The Ottoman Empire had been the leading Islamic state in geopolitical, cultural and ideological terms. The partitioning of the Ottoman Empire led to the rise in the "Middle East" of Western powers, such as Britain and France. Resistance to the influence of these powers came from the Turkish national movement and became more widespread in the post-Ottoman Middle East after World War II.


The Western powers had long believed that they would eventually become dominant in the area claimed by the weak central government of the Ottoman Empire. Britain anticipated a need to secure the area because of its strategic position on the route to Colonial India, and perceived itself as locked in a struggle for imperial influence known as The Great Game.[3] As world war loomed, the Ottomans sought protection from the Great Powers. They were rejected by Britain, France, and Russia, and finally formed an alliance with Germany.[4]

The partitioning was planned by Western powers in several agreements made by the "Allies" early in the course of World War I.[5] These powers disagreed over their contradictory post-war aims and made several dual and triple agreements.[6]

French Mandates

Main article: French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon

Syria and Lebanon became a French protectorate (thinly disguised as a League of Nations Mandate).[7] French control was met immediately with armed resistance, and, in order to combat Arab nationalism, France divided its Mandate into Lebanon and four sub-states.[8]

Mandate of Lebanon

Greater Lebanon was the name of a territory created by France. It was the precursor of modern Lebanon. It existed between 1 September 1920 and 23 May 1926. France carved its territory from the Levantine land mass (mandated by the League of Nations) in order to create a "safe haven" for the Maronite Christian population. Maronites gained self-rule and secured their position in the independent Lebanon in 1943.

French intervention on behalf of the Maronites had begun with the capitulations of the Ottoman Empire, agreements made during the 16th to the 19th centuries. In 1866, when Youssef Karam led a Maronite uprising in Mount Lebanon, a French-led naval force arrived to help, making threats against the governor, Dawood Pasha, at the Sultan's Porte and later removing Karam to safety.

British Mandates

The British were awarded three mandated territories, with one of Sheriff Hussein's sons, Faisal, installed as King of Iraq and Transjordan providing a throne for another of Hussein's sons, Abdullah. Mandatory Palestine was placed under direct British administration, and the Jewish population was allowed to increase, initially under British protection. Most of the Arabian peninsula fell to another British ally, Ibn Saud, who created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

Mandate of Mesopotamia

Main article: British Mandate of Mesopotamia

Great Britain and Turkey disputed control of the former Ottoman province of Mosul in the 1920s. Under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne Mosul fell under the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, but the new Turkish republic claimed the province as part of its historic heartland. A three-person League of Nations committee went to the region in 1924 to study the case and in 1925 recommended the region remain connected to Iraq, and that the UK should hold the mandate for another 25 years, to assure the autonomous rights of the Kurdish population. Turkey rejected this decision. Nonetheless, Britain, Iraq and Turkey made a treaty on 5 June 1926, that mostly followed the decision of the League Council. Mosul stayed under British Mandate of Mesopotamia until Iraq was granted independence in 1932 by the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces in the country.

Mandate of Palestine

During the war, Britain made three conflicting promises regarding the eventual fate of Palestine. Britain had promised, through British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence (aka: Lawrence of Arabia), independence for a united Arab state covering most of the Arab Middle East in exchange for Arab support of the British during the war. Britain had also promised to create and foster a Jewish national home in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Lastly, the British promised via the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence that the Hashemite family would have lordship over most land in the region in return for their support in the Great Arab Revolt.

The Arab Revolt, which was in part orchestrated by Lawrence, resulted in British forces under General Allenby defeating the Ottoman forces in 1917 and occupying Palestine and Syria. The land was administered by the British for the remainder of the war.

The United Kingdom was granted control of Palestine by the Versailles Peace Conference which established the League of Nations in 1919. Herbert Samuel, a former Postmaster General in the British cabinet who was instrumental in drafting the Balfour Declaration, was appointed the first High Commissioner in Palestine. In 1920 at the San Remo conference, in Italy, the League of Nations mandate over Palestine was assigned to Britain. In 1923 Britain transferred a part of the Golan Heights to the French Mandate of Syria, in exchange for the Metula region.

Independence Movements

When the Ottomans departed, the Arabs proclaimed an independent state in Damascus, but were too weak, militarily and economically, to resist the European powers for long, and Britain and France soon re-established control.

During the 1920s and '30s Iraq, Syria and Egypt moved towards independence, although the British and French did not formally depart the region until after World War II. But in Palestine, the conflicting forces of Arab nationalism and Zionism created a situation which the British could neither resolve nor extricate themselves from. The rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany created a new urgency in the Zionist quest to create a Jewish state in Palestine. (For a detailed account of this, see the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the History of Palestine.)


The Russians, British, Italians, French, Greeks, and Armenians all made claims to Anatolia, based on a welter of wartime promises, military actions, secret agreements, and treaties.


The tsarist regime wanted to replace the Muslim residents of Northern Anatolia and Constantinople with Cossack settlers. In March 1915, Foreign Minister Sergey Sazonov told British Ambassador George Buchanan and French Ambassador Maurice Paléologue that a lasting postwar settlement demanded Russian possession of "the city of Constantinople, the western shore of the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and Dardanelles, as well as southern Thrace up to the Enos-Midia line", and "a part of the Asiatic coast between the Bosporus, the Sakarya River, and a point to be determined on the shore of the Bay of İzmit."[9] The Constantinople Agreement was made public by the Russian newspaper Izvestiya in November 1917, to gain the support of the Armenian public for the revolution.[10] However, the Russian revolution took the Russians out of the secret plans.

United Kingdom

The British sought control over the straits of Marmara, and occupied Istanbul (along with the French) from 13 November 1918 to 23 September 1923. After the Turkish War of Independence and the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the troops left the city.


Under the 1917 Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and the United Kingdom, Italy was to receive all southwestern Anatolia except the Adana region, including İzmir. However, in 1919 the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, obtained the permission of the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 to occupy İzmir, overriding the provisions of the agreement.


Main article: Franco-Turkish War

Under the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the French obtained Hatay, Lebanon and Syria and expressed a desire for part of South-Eastern Anatolia. The 1917 Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and the United Kingdom allotted France the Adana region.

The French army occupied parts of Anatolia from 1919 to 1921, including coal mines, railways, the Black Sea ports of Zonguldak and Karadeniz Ereğli, Constantinople (along with the British), Uzunköprü in Eastern Thrace and the region of Cilicia. France eventually withdrew from all these areas, after the Accord of Ankara, the Armistice of Mudanya, the Treaty of Ankara and the Treaty of Lausanne. These conflicts were also called the Cilicia war (French: La guerre en Cilicie, Turkish: Güney Cephesi - the southern front).


The western Allies, particularly British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, promised Greece territorial gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire if Greece entered the war on the Allied side. The promised territories included eastern Thrace, the islands of Imbros (Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Bozcaada), and parts of western Anatolia around the city of İzmir.

In May 1917, after the exile of Constantine, Greek prime minister Eleuthérios Venizélos returned to Athens and allied with the Entente. Greek military forces (though divided between supporters of the monarchy and supporters of Venizélos) began to take part in military operations against the Bulgarian army on the border. That same year, İzmir was promised to Italy under the Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne between France, Italy and the United Kingdom.

At the 1918 Paris Peace Conference, based on the wartime promises, Venizélos lobbied hard for an expanded Hellas (the Megali Idea) that would include the large Greek communities in Northern Epirus, Thrace (including Constantinople) and Asia Minor. In 1919, despite Italian opposition, he obtained the permission of the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 for Greece to occupy İzmir.

South West Caucasian Republic

The South West Caucasian Republic was an entity established on Russian territory in 1918, after the withdrawal of Ottoman troops to the pre-World War I border as a result of the Armistice of Mudros. It had a nominally independent provisional government headed by Fakhr al-Din Pirioghlu and based in Kars.

After fighting broke out between it and both Georgia and Armenia, British High Commissioner Admiral Somerset Arthur Gough-Calthorpe occupied Kars on 19 April 1919, abolishing its parliament and arresting 30 members of its government. He placed Kars province under Armenian rule.


In the later years of the war, the Armenians established a provisional government, then a republic. Military conflicts between the Turks and Armenians both during and after the war eventually determined the borders of the Armenian state.

Administration for Western Armenia

Main articles: Administration for Western Armenia and Armenian Genocide

In April 1915, Russia supported the establishment of the Armenian provisional government under governor Aram Manukian, the leader of Van Resistance. The Armenian national liberation movement hoped that Armenia could be liberated from the Ottoman regime in exchange for helping the Russian army. However, the tsarist regime had secret wartime agreements with the Triple Entente about the eventual fate of several Anatolian territories.[11] These plans were made public by the revolutionaries in 1917 to gain the support of the Armenian public.[12]

In the meantime, the provisional government had become more stable, as more Armenians moved into its territory. In 1917, 150,000 Armenians relocated to the provinces of Erzurum, Bitlis, Muş and Van.[13] And Armen Garo (known as Karekin Pastirmaciyan) and other Armenian leaders asked for the Armenian regulars in the European theatre to be transferred to the Caucasian front.

The Russian revolution left the front in eastern Turkey in a state of flux. In December 1917 a truce was signed by representatives of the Ottoman Empire and the Transcaucasian Commissariat. However, the Ottoman Empire began to reinforce its Third Army on the eastern front. Fighting began in mid-February 1918. Armenians, under heavy pressure from the Ottoman army and Kurdish irregulars, were forced to withdraw from Erzincan to Erzurum and then to Kars, eventually evacuating even that city on 25 April. As a response to the Ottoman advances, the Transcaucasian Commissariat evolved into the short-lived Transcaucasian Federation; its disintigration resulted in Armenians forming the Democratic Republic of Armenia on 30 May 1918. The Treaty of Batum, signed on 4 June, reduced the Armenian republic to an area of only 11,000 square km.

Wilsonian Armenia

At the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, the Armenian Diaspora and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation argued that Historical Armenia, the region which had remained outside the control of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1918, should be part of the Democratic Republic of Armenia. Arguing from the principles in Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech, the Armenian Diaspora argued Armenia had "the ability to control the region", based on the Armenian control established after the Russian Revolution. The Armenians also argued that the dominant population of the region was becoming more Armenian as Turkish inhabitants were moving to the western provinces. Boghos Nubar, the president of the Armenian National Delegation added: "In the Caucasus, where, without mentioning the 150,000 Armenians in the Imperial Russian Army, more than 40,000 of their volunteers contributed to the liberation of a portion of the Armenian vilayets, and where, under the command of their leaders, Antranik and Nazerbekoff, they, alone among the peoples of the Caucasus, offered resistance to the Turkish armies, from the beginning of the Bolshevist withdrawal right up to the signing of an armistice."[14]

President Wilson accepted the Armenian arguments for drawing the frontier and wrote: "The world expects of them (the Armenians), that they give every encouragement and help within their power to those Turkish refugees who may desire to return to their former homes in the districts of Trebizond, Erzerum, Van and Bitlis remembering that these peoples, too, have suffered greatly."[15] The conference agreed with his suggestion that the Democratic Republic of Armenia should expand into present-day eastern Turkey.

Republic of Turkey

Between 1918 and 1923, Turkish resistance movements led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk forced the Greeks and Armenians out of Anatolia, while the Italians never established a presence. The Turkish revolutionaries also suppressed Kurdish attempts to become independent in the 1920s. After the Turkish resistance gained control over Anatolia, there was no hope of meeting the conditions of the Treaty of Sèvres.

Before joining the Soviet Union, Democratic Republic of Armenia signed the Treaty of Alexandropol, on 2 December 1920, agreeing to the current borders between the two countries. Afterwards Armenia became an integral part of the Soviet Union. These borders were ratified again with the Treaty of Moscow (1921) with which the Bolsheviks ceded the already Turkish occupied provinces of Kars, Iğdır, Ardahan, and Artvin to Turkey in exchange for Adjara region with capital Batumi.

Turkey and the newly formed Soviet Union, along with Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic and Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic ratified the Treaty of Kars on 11 September 1922, establishing the north-eastern border of Turkey and bringing peace to the region. Finally, the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923, formally ended all hostilities and led to the creation of the modern Turkish republic.

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See also



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