The Middle East during World War One

The March Revolution led to a paralysis of the Russian military effort against both Germany and Turkey, and on the Western Front, the failure of the Spring French offensive prompted a mutiny of the French Army. Britain now faced the frightening prospect of being the mainstay of the war against the Central Powers, both in Europe and in the Middle East.

The opening moves

Few events in world history have had a more profound impact than that of World War One (1914-8). Although the German attempt to dominate Europe was thwarted in the end, the equilibrium of the region was also destroyed by the fierce fighting between its different elements.

The Middle East was no less affected by the conflict. After four centuries of continuous rule, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, creating a vacuum that contributed to tensions between local inhabitants and external powers or interests. The ‘war to end all war’ had not achieved its aim.

At the beginning of November 1914, the Ottoman Empire, the world’s greatest independent Islamic power, abandoned its ambivalent neutrality towards the warring parties, and became a belligerent in the conflict, with the sultan declaring a military jihad (holy war) against France, Russia and Great Britain.

The Ottoman Empire had recently been humiliated by setbacks in Libya and the Balkans. Participation in what had begun as a European war might seem to outside observers, therefore, to have been suicidal, but key elements in the government, impressed by German industrial and military power and motivated by dreams of imperial glory, greeted the expanding war as an opportunity to regain lost territories and incorporate new lands and nationalities into the empire.


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