World History 2 207 - 12.4.1 To the Victors Go the Spoils

Already beset by internal problems and increasing difficulty controlling its holdings throughout Arabia and the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire had signed the Armistice of Mudros on October 30, 1918, bringing its participation in World War I to an end. During the war, a number of proposals for dismembering the empire had been considered. In 1919, Allied forces seized areas in the former Ottoman Empire, Greece captured Western Anatolia, and other Allied forces moved into Istanbul. The Turkish National Movement that resisted these occupations was led by Mustafa Kemal, later renamed Atatürk (“father of the Turks”) and already a Turkish hero for his performance at the Battle of Gallipoli.

The 1920 Treaty of Sèvres partitioned the empire, leaving the Ottomans with control over only Istanbul and Thrace. The Turks led by Mustafa Kemal won battles on several fronts, however, and forced a renegotiation of the treaty. The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 provided for an independent Turkey to succeed the Ottoman government. It also established League of Nations mandates in the Middle East. Under the mandate system, the administration of territories once controlled by the Ottomans was transferred to France or Britain, which were expected to govern these regions until some unspecified point in the future when the people there were deemed ready to govern themselves. Among the mandated areas were modern Iraq, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine (Figure 12.14).

This is a map of the Middle East that shows the British and French mandates. The French mandates were Syria and Lebanon. The British mandates were Iraq, Transjordan, and Palestine. Areas surrounding the mandates, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran are also shown.
Figure 12.14 This map shows the British and French mandates in the Middle East and their proximity to the new nation of Saudi Arabia. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

Arabia was not easily controlled by the European powers. Warfare continued to break out over access to sites such as Mecca and Medina, both holy places in the Islamic faith. By the mid-1920s, the Saud family had taken control of areas of the Nejd (the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula) and the Hejaz (the peninsula’s western region), and soon after they consolidated that control by forming a new nation, Saudi Arabia, which came into being in 1932.

During the war, Britain and France had each begun to outline spheres of influence for themselves in the defunct Ottoman Empire. A French mandate covered Syria and Lebanon, and a British mandate the area of Iraq, Palestine, and the Transjordan (the East Bank). Despite their talk of self-determination, Europe’s surviving imperial powers clearly planned no deviation from the traditional course of empires in this region. Neither Britain nor France consulted the people who lived in the mandate areas about the decisions their governments would be making for them.

It soon became clear that the mandate system would not ensure full European control. For example, the British mandate over Mesopotamia, renamed Iraq, came under pressure from nationalists throughout the 1920s and 1930s. King Faisal (to whom the British had promised the rule of Syria) accepted being ruler of Iraq, but Britain controlled most of the government. The next king of Iraq had to accept similar conditions, but Iraqi nationalists became increasingly vocal about their frustration with the British presence.

The British complicated matters in another part of their mandate with the Balfour Declaration. This statement, one of many conflicting promises Britain made to various groups during the war, was issued by British foreign secretary Alfred Balfour in 1917. Balfour wrote that Britain supported a “national home” for Jewish people in Palestine. Ever since the nineteenth century, many European Jews had worked through Zionist organizations to encourage the return of Jews to their ancestral homeland in the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration marked the accomplishment of the goal that pro-Zionist groups had worked toward for years. Palestine was a British mandate after the war but mainly inhabited by Arab peoples; the move to introduce a substantial number of Jewish residents (with government support) promised to cause problems, and in fact it touched off religious and property disagreements that continue to this day.

The British began by summarily making an area of Palestine available to Jewish immigrants and, between 1922 and 1935, the Jewish population as a percentage of the total population increased threefold, from 9 percent to almost 27 percent. The Palestinians immediately complained of being treated as second-class citizens in their own land and about Britain’s failed promise to grant Arabs independence. Riots and protests became so common that Britain ultimately restricted immigration to Palestine, cutting off a route of escape for Jewish people fleeing the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis.

Dueling Voices

A Jewish Homeland in Palestine

The subject of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was quite controversial. Here are two voices on opposite sides of the issue. First is an excerpt from Theodor Herzl’s pamphlet advocating a Jewish homeland. (A diaspora is the scattering of a population; a gestor is someone who intervenes.) The second excerpt is from a letter written by a Jewish politician who opposed Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

“Negotiorum Gestio”

The Jewish people are at present prevented by the Diaspora from conducting their political affairs themselves. Besides, they are in a condition of more or less severe distress in many parts of the world. They need, above all things a gestor. This gestor cannot, of course, be a single individual. Such a one would either make himself ridiculous, or—seeing that he would appear to be working for his own interests—contemptible.

The gestor of the Jews must therefore be a body corporate.

And that is the Society of Jews.

“Benefits of the Emigration of the Jews”

The States would have a further advantage in the enormous increase of their export trade; for, since the emigrant Jews “over there” would depend for a long time to come on European productions, they would necessarily have to import them. The local groups would keep up a just balance, and the customary needs would have to be supplied for a long time at the accustomed places.

Another, and perhaps one of the greatest advantages, would be the ensuing social relief. Social dissatisfaction would be appeased during the twenty or more years which the emigration of the Jews would occupy, and would in any case be set at rest during the whole transition period.

—Theodor Herzl, “The Jewish State

I lay down with emphasis four principles:

1. I assert that there is not a Jewish nation. [. . .] It is no more true to say that a Jewish Englishman and a Jewish Moor are of the same nation than it is to say that a Christian Englishman and a Christian Frenchman are of the same nation. [. . .

2. When the Jews are told that Palestine is their national home, every country will immediately desire to get rid of its Jewish citizens, and you will find a population in Palestine driving out its present inhabitants, taking all the best in the country, drawn from all quarters of the globe, speaking every language on the face of the earth, and incapable of communicating with one another except by means of an interpreter. [. . .

3. I claim that the lives that British Jews have led, that the aims that they have had before them, that the part that they have played in our public life and our public institutions, have entitled them to be regarded, not as British Jews, but as Jewish Britons. [. . .

4. I deny that Palestine is to-day associated with the Jews or properly to be regarded as a fit place for them to live in. [. . .] I would not deny to Jews in Palestine equal rights to colonisation with those who profess other religions, but a religious test of citizenship seems to me to be the only admitted by those who take a bigoted and narrow view of one particular epoch of the history of Palestine, and claim for the Jews a position to which they are not entitled.

—Edwin Montagu, Memorandum on the Anti-Semitism of the British Government

  • Compare the two positions and explain why some Jewish people would have favored the Balfour Declaration while others did not.
  • Which of these arguments do you find more convincing? Why?

The Asian and African holdings of the German Empire were also divided among the victors. Some of Germany’s Asian lands had been relinquished early in the war, such as Samoa, which New Zealand formally took over after the war. Australia took German New Guinea and Nauru. The Japanese Empire gained German-held islands north of the equator, such as the Marshall Islands and the Caroline Islands (Figure 12.15).

This is a map of formerly German colonies in the North Pacific Ocean. The colonies are labeled with dates and explanations of what happened to each former colony. The Caroline Islands (German) were occupied by Japan and turned over to Australia September 1914. New Guinea, which was German, British, and Dutch, was occupied by Australians September 1914. Bougainville Island (German) waw occupied by Australians in December 1914. The Samoa Islands were occupied by the British in August 1914. The Marshall Islands (German) were occupied by Australians December 1914.
Figure 12.15 Most of Germany’s Asian colonies were occupied by the Allied nations early in the war. This 1915 map reflects those changes and foreshadows the way the Allied powers continued to control these regions after the war. (credit: “German Pacific Colonies 1915 Map” by Project Gutenberg/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

In Africa, Germany had held Kamerun (including modern Cameroon as well as areas of Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, and the Congo), German East Africa (Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania), Togoland (Togo and part of Ghana), and German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia). These became mandates after the war. Both Britain and France gained land in Togo and Cameroon, South Africa took Southwest Africa, and the Belgians received land in Burundi and Rwanda. No one consulted the African peoples in making these divisions, and in fact the borders cut through ethnic groups, leaving some groups divided between two governments. Self-determination of nations was clearly not at work in Africa, and increasingly louder voices questioned whether Europe had any real moral authority over African colonies.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax