This video is part of a series of 19 animated maps.

View series: Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939

An example of an animated map

Dividing up the Middle East

This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe's colonial expansion, 1820-1939.

In 1820, the Ottoman Empire and Persia dominated the Middle East. The two empires were in decline, but rivalry between European powers delayed their dismantlement.

In the following decades, the Ottoman Empire continued its withdrawal from Europe, losing almost all its territories in North Africa, particularly Egypt, but maintaining its position in Asia for a while longer. Russia took control of a few vilayets to the south of the Caucasus Mountains; Cyprus and several emirates, such as Kuwait, came under British domination.

Persia, on the other hand, shared Baluchistan with the British and left Turkmenistan to the Russians.

At the beginning of the 20th century, despite nationalist demonstrations, European economic and financial control led to a more direct form of domination: in 1907, Persia was divided into spheres of influence by Britain and Russia, separated by a buffer zone; while the Ottoman Empire, having lost almost all of its possessions in the Balkans, was about to be carved up by the European powers into spheres of influence: the Baghdad railway was conceded to Germany, and the Dodecanese to Italy.

Defeated during the First World War by France, Great Britain and their Arab allies, the Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the Treaty of Sevres. France and the United Kingdom, having signed the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, shared out the mandates established by the League of Nations: the British tried to obtain the protectorate for Persia, by taking advantage of the Russian withdrawal.

Following the nationalist revival led by Mustafa Kemal, Turkey negotiated the Treaty of Lausanne which confirmed its sovereignty and returned part of its lost territories; Reza Khan led Persia in a rebellion against British domination. However, the promises made to the Arabs for a Great Kingdom from Taurus to the Sinai were incompatible with the French and British mandates, while the Balfour Declaration encouraged Zionist immigration to Palestine.

The situation became even more complex with the discovery of potentially important oil fields: the British were in a position of force in Persia and in Iraq, but had to take into account French and American interests.