Empires and States in the Middle East

De Baripedia

Based on a course by Yilmaz Özcan.[1][2]

The Middle East, cradle of ancient civilisations and crossroads of cultural and commercial exchange, has played a central role in world history, particularly during the Middle Ages. This dynamic and diverse period saw the rise and fall of numerous empires and states, each leaving an indelible mark on the region's political, cultural and social landscape. From the expansion of the Islamic caliphates, with their cultural and scientific apogee, to the prolonged influence of the Byzantine Empire, via the incursions of the Crusaders and the Mongol conquests, the Medieval Middle East was a constantly evolving mosaic of powers. This period not only shaped the region's identity but also had a profound impact on the development of world history, building bridges between East and West. The study of Middle Eastern empires and states in the Middle Ages therefore offers a fascinating window onto a crucial period in human history, revealing stories of conquest, resilience, innovation and cultural interaction.

The Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Foundation and expansion of the Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Ottoman Empire, founded at the end of the 13th century, is a fascinating example of an imperial power that had a profound effect on the history of three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. Its foundation is generally attributed to Osman I, the leader of a Turkish tribe in the Anatolia region. The success of this empire lay in its ability to expand rapidly and establish an efficient administration over an immense territory. From the middle of the 14th century, the Ottomans began to expand their territory in Europe, gradually conquering parts of the Balkans. This expansion marked a major turning point in the balance of power in the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. However, contrary to popular belief, the Ottoman Empire did not destroy Rome. In fact, the Ottomans laid siege to Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and conquered it in 1453, putting an end to that empire. This conquest was a major historical event, marking the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era in Europe.

The Ottoman Empire is known for its complex administrative structure and religious tolerance, notably with the millet system, which allowed a degree of autonomy for non-Muslim communities. Its heyday extended from the 15th to the 17th century, during which time it exerted a considerable influence on trade, culture, science, art and architecture. The Ottomans introduced many innovations and were important mediators between East and West. However, from the 18th century onwards, the Ottoman Empire began to decline in the face of rising European powers and internal problems. This decline accelerated in the 19th century, eventually leading to the dissolution of the empire after the First World War. The legacy of the Ottoman Empire remains deeply rooted in the regions it ruled, influencing the cultural, political and social aspects of those societies to this day.

The Ottoman Empire, a remarkable political and military entity founded at the end of the 13th century by Osman I, has had a profound impact on the history of Eurasia. Emerging against a backdrop of political fragmentation and rivalries between the beylicats in Anatolia, this empire quickly demonstrated an exceptional ability to extend its influence, positioning itself as a dominant power in the region. The middle of the 14th century was a decisive turning point for the Ottoman Empire, notably with the conquest of Gallipoli in 1354. This victory, far from being a mere feat of arms, marked the first permanent Ottoman settlement in Europe and paved the way for a series of conquests in the Balkans. These military successes, combined with skilful diplomacy, enabled the Ottomans to consolidate their hold on strategic territories and to interfere in European affairs.

Under the leadership of rulers such as Mehmed II, famous for his conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire not only reshaped the political landscape of the eastern Mediterranean but also initiated a period of profound cultural and economic transformation. The capture of Constantinople, which put an end to the Byzantine Empire, was a pivotal moment in world history, marking the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era. The empire excelled in the art of warfare, often thanks to its disciplined and innovative army, but also through its pragmatic approach to governance, integrating diverse ethnic and religious groups under a centralised administrative system. This cultural diversity, coupled with political stability, encouraged a flourishing of the arts, science and commerce.

Conflicts and Military Challenges of the Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Throughout its history, the Ottoman Empire experienced a series of spectacular conquests and significant setbacks that shaped its destiny and that of the regions it dominated. Their expansion, marked by major victories, was also punctuated by strategic failures. The Ottoman incursion into the Balkans was one of the first steps in their European expansion. This conquest not only extended their territory but also strengthened their position as the dominant power in the region. The capture of Istanbul in 1453 by Mehmed II, known as Mehmed the Conqueror, was a major historical event. This victory not only marked the end of the Byzantine Empire but also symbolised the indisputable rise of the Ottoman Empire as a superpower. Their expansion continued with the capture of Cairo in 1517, a crucial event that marked the integration of Egypt into the empire and the end of the Abbasid caliphate. Under Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottomans also conquered Baghdad in 1533, extending their influence over the rich and strategic lands of Mesopotamia.

However, Ottoman expansion was not without obstacles. The siege of Vienna in 1529, an ambitious attempt to further extend their influence in Europe, ended in failure. A further attempt in 1623 also failed, marking the limits of Ottoman expansion in Central Europe. These failures were key moments, illustrating the limits of the Ottoman Empire's military and logistical power in the face of organised European defences. Another major setback was the defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. This naval battle, in which the Ottoman fleet was defeated by a coalition of European Christian forces, marked a turning point in Ottoman control of the Mediterranean. Although the Ottoman Empire managed to recover from this defeat and maintain a strong presence in the region, Lepanto symbolised the end of their uncontested expansion and marked the beginning of a period of more balanced maritime rivalries in the Mediterranean. Taken together, these events illustrate the dynamics of Ottoman expansion: a series of impressive conquests, interspersed with significant challenges and setbacks. They highlight the complexity of managing such a vast empire and the difficulty of maintaining constant expansion in the face of increasingly organised and resistant adversaries.

Reforms and Internal Transformations of the Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Russo-Ottoman War of 1768-1774 was a crucial episode in the history of the Ottoman Empire, marking not only the beginning of its significant territorial losses but also a change in its structure of political and religious legitimacy. The end of this war was marked by the signing of the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (or Kutchuk-Kaïnardji) in 1774. This treaty had far-reaching consequences for the Ottoman Empire. Firstly, it resulted in the cession of significant territories to the Russian Empire, notably parts of the Black Sea and the Balkans. This loss not only reduced the size of the Empire but also weakened its strategic position in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region. Secondly, the treaty marked a turning point in international relations at the time, by weakening the position of the Ottoman Empire on the European stage. The Empire, which had been a major and often dominant player in regional affairs, began to be perceived as a declining state, vulnerable to pressure and intervention from European powers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the end of this war and the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca also had a significant impact on the internal structure of the Ottoman Empire. In the face of these defeats, the Empire began to place greater emphasis on the religious aspect of the Caliphate as a source of legitimacy. The Ottoman Sultan, already recognised as the political leader of the empire, began to be valued more as the Caliph, the religious leader of the Muslim community. This development was a response to the need to strengthen the authority and legitimacy of the Sultanate in the face of internal and external challenges, relying on religion as a unifying force and source of power. Thus, the Russo-Ottoman War and the resulting treaty marked a turning point in Ottoman history, symbolising both a territorial decline and a change in the nature of imperial legitimacy.

Foreign Influences and International Relations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The intervention in Egypt in 1801, where British and Ottoman forces joined forces to drive out the French, marked an important turning point in the history of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. The appointment of Mehmet Ali, an Albanian officer, as pasha of Egypt by the Ottomans ushered in an era of profound transformation and semi-independence of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire. Mehmet Ali, often regarded as the founder of modern Egypt, initiated a series of radical reforms aimed at modernising Egypt. These reforms affected various aspects, including the army, the administration and the economy, and were inspired in part by European models. Under his leadership, Egypt underwent significant development, and Mehmet Ali sought to extend his influence beyond Egypt. Against this backdrop, the Nahda, or Arab Renaissance, gained considerable momentum. This cultural and intellectual movement, which sought to revitalise Arab culture and adapt it to modern challenges, benefited from the climate of reform and openness initiated by Mehmet Ali.

Mehmet Ali's son, Ibrahim Pasha, played a key role in Egypt's expansionist ambitions. In 1836, he launched an offensive against the Ottoman Empire, which was then weakened and in decline. This confrontation culminated in 1839, when Ibrahim's forces inflicted a major defeat on the Ottomans. However, the intervention of the European powers, notably Great Britain, Austria and Russia, prevented a total Egyptian victory. Under international pressure, a peace treaty was signed, recognising Egypt's de facto autonomy under the rule of Mehmet Ali and his descendants. This recognition marked an important step in Egypt's separation from the Ottoman Empire, although Egypt remained nominally under Ottoman suzerainty. The British position was particularly interesting. Initially allied with the Ottomans to contain French influence in Egypt, they eventually opted to support Egyptian autonomy under Mehmet Ali, recognising the changing political and strategic realities of the region. This decision reflected the British desire to stabilise the region while controlling vital trade routes, particularly those leading to India. The Egyptian episode in the early decades of the 19th century illustrates not only the complex power dynamics between the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and the European powers, but also the profound changes that were taking place in the political and social order of the Middle East at the time.

Modernisation and reform movements[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt in 1798 was a revelatory event for the Ottoman Empire, highlighting the fact that it was lagging behind the European powers in terms of modernisation and military capacity. This realisation was an important driving force behind a series of reforms known as the Tanzimat, launched in 1839 to modernise the empire and halt its decline. The Tanzimat, meaning "reorganisation" in Turkish, marked a period of profound transformation in the Ottoman Empire. One of the key aspects of these reforms was the modernisation of the organisation of the Dhimmis, the non-Muslim citizens of the empire. This included the creation of the Millet systems, which offered various religious communities a degree of cultural and administrative autonomy. The aim was to integrate these communities more effectively into the structure of the Ottoman state while preserving their distinct identities.

A second wave of reforms was initiated in an attempt to create a form of Ottoman citizenship, transcending religious and ethnic divisions. However, this attempt was often hampered by inter-communal violence, reflecting the deep tensions within the multi-ethnic and multi-faith empire. At the same time, these reforms met with significant resistance within certain factions of the army, who were hostile to changes perceived to threaten their traditional status and privileges. This resistance led to revolts and internal instability, exacerbating the challenges facing the empire.

Against this tumultuous backdrop, a political and intellectual movement known as the "Young Ottomans" emerged in the mid-19th century. This group sought to reconcile the ideals of modernisation and reform with the principles of Islam and Ottoman traditions. They advocated a constitution, national sovereignty, and more inclusive political and social reforms. The efforts of the Tanzimat and the ideals of the Young Ottomans were significant attempts to respond to the challenges facing the Ottoman Empire in a rapidly changing world. While these efforts brought about some positive changes, they also revealed the deep fissures and tensions within the empire, foreshadowing the even greater challenges that would arise in the final decades of its existence.

In 1876, a crucial stage in the Tanzimat process was reached with the accession to power of Sultan Abdülhamid II, who introduced the Ottoman Empire's first monarchical constitution. This period marked a significant turning point, attempting to reconcile the principles of modernisation with the traditional structure of the empire. The 1876 constitution represented an effort to modernise the administration of the empire and to establish a legislative system and parliament, reflecting the liberal and constitutional ideals in vogue in Europe at the time. However, Abdülhamid II's reign was also marked by a strong rise in pan-Islamism, an ideology aimed at strengthening ties between Muslims within the empire and beyond, against a backdrop of growing rivalry with Western powers.

Abdülhamid II used pan-Islamism as a tool to consolidate his power and counter external influences. He invited Muslim leaders and dignitaries to Istanbul and offered to educate their children in the Ottoman capital, an initiative designed to strengthen cultural and political ties within the Muslim world. However, in 1878, in a surprising U-turn, Abdülhamid II suspended the constitution and closed parliament, marking a return to autocratic rule. This decision was motivated in part by fears of insufficient control over the political process and the rise of nationalist movements within the empire. The Sultan thus strengthened his direct control over the government, while continuing to promote pan-Islamism as a means of legitimisation.

In this context, Salafism, a movement aimed at returning to the practices of first-generation Islam, was influenced by the ideals of pan-Islamism and the Nahda (Arab Renaissance). Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, often regarded as the precursor of the modern Salafist movement, played a key role in spreading these ideas. Al-Afghani advocated a return to the original principles of Islam while encouraging the adoption of certain forms of technological and scientific modernisation. The Tanzimat period and the reign of Abdülhamid II thus illustrate the complexity of attempts at reform in the Ottoman Empire, torn between the demands of modernisation and the maintenance of traditional structures and ideologies. The impact of this period was felt well beyond the fall of the Empire, influencing political and religious movements throughout the modern Muslim world.

Decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The "Eastern Question", a term used mainly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, refers to a complex and multi-dimensional debate concerning the future of the gradually declining Ottoman Empire. This issue emerged as a result of the Empire's successive territorial losses, the emergence of Turkish nationalism, and the growing separation from non-Muslim territories, particularly in the Balkans. As early as 1830, with the independence of Greece, the Ottoman Empire began to lose its European territories. This trend continued with the Balkan Wars and accelerated during the First World War, culminating in the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 and the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. These losses profoundly altered the political geography of the region.

Against this backdrop, Turkish nationalism gained momentum. This movement sought to redefine the empire's identity around the Turkish element, in contrast to the multi-ethnic and multi-religious model that had prevailed until then. This rise in nationalism was a direct response to the gradual dismantling of the empire and the need to forge a new national identity. At the same time, the idea of forming a kind of "international of Islam" emerged, notably under the impetus of Sultan Abdülhamid II with his pan-Islamism. This idea envisaged the creation of a union or cooperation between Muslim nations, inspired by certain similar ideas in Europe, where internationalism sought to unite peoples beyond national borders. The aim was to create a united front of Muslim peoples to resist the influence and intervention of Western powers, while preserving the interests and independence of Muslim territories.

However, the implementation of such an idea proved difficult due to diverse national interests, regional rivalries and the growing influence of nationalist ideas. Moreover, political developments, notably the First World War and the rise of nationalist movements in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, made the vision of an "international of Islam" increasingly unattainable. The Question of the East as a whole therefore reflects the profound geopolitical and ideological transformations that took place in the region during this period, marking the end of a multi-ethnic empire and the birth of new nation-states with their own national identities and aspirations.

The 'Weltpolitik' or world policy adopted by Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries played a crucial role in the geopolitical dynamics involving the Ottoman Empire. This policy, initiated under the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, aimed to extend Germany's influence and prestige on the international stage, notably through colonial expansion and strategic alliances. The Ottoman Empire, seeking to escape pressure from Russia and Great Britain, found in Germany a potentially useful ally. This alliance was symbolised in particular by the project to build the Berlin-Baghdad Railway (BBB). This railway, designed to link Berlin to Baghdad via Byzantium (Istanbul), was of considerable strategic and economic importance. It was intended not only to facilitate trade and communications, but also to strengthen German influence in the region and provide a counterweight to British and Russian interests in the Middle East.

For the Panturquists and supporters of the Ottoman Empire, the alliance with Germany was viewed favourably. The Panturquists, who advocated the unity and solidarity of the Turkish-speaking peoples, saw in this alliance an opportunity to strengthen the position of the Ottoman Empire and counter external threats. The alliance with Germany offered an alternative to pressure from traditional powers such as Russia and Britain, which had long influenced Ottoman politics and affairs. This relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Germany reached its peak during the First World War, when the two nations found themselves allied in the Central Powers. This alliance had important consequences for the Ottoman Empire, both militarily and politically, and played a role in the events that eventually led to the dissolution of the Empire after the war. German Weltpolitik and the Berlin-Baghdad railway project were key elements in the Ottoman Empire's strategy to preserve its integrity and independence in the face of pressure from the Great Powers. This period marked a significant moment in the history of the Empire, illustrating the complexity of alliances and geopolitical interests at the beginning of the 20th century.

The year 1908 marked a decisive turning point in the history of the Ottoman Empire with the start of the second constitutional period, triggered by the Young Turks movement, represented mainly by the Union and Progress Committee (CUP). This movement, initially formed by reformist Ottoman officers and intellectuals, sought to modernise the Empire and save it from collapse.

Under pressure from the CUP, Sultan Abdülhamid II was forced to reinstate the 1876 constitution, which had been suspended since 1878, marking the start of the second constitutional period. This restoration of the constitution was seen as a step towards the modernisation and democratisation of the Empire, with the promise of more extensive civil and political rights and the establishment of parliamentary government. However, this period of reform soon came up against major challenges. In 1909, traditional conservative and religious circles, dissatisfied with the reforms and the growing influence of the Unionists, attempted a coup to overthrow the constitutional government and re-establish the absolute authority of the Sultan. This attempt was motivated by opposition to the rapid modernisation and secular policies promoted by the Young Turks, as well as fears of a loss of privileges and influence. However, the Young Turks, using this episode of counter-revolution as a pretext, succeeded in crushing the resistance and consolidating their power. This period was marked by increased repression against opponents and the centralisation of power in the hands of the CUP.

In 1913, the situation culminated in the seizure of parliament by CUP leaders, an event often described as a coup d'état. This marked the end of the Empire's brief constitutional and parliamentary experiment and the establishment of an increasingly authoritarian regime led by the Young Turks. Under their rule, the Ottoman Empire saw substantial reforms but also more centralising and nationalist policies, laying the foundations for the events that would unfold during and after the First World War. This tumultuous period reflects the tensions and internal struggles within the Ottoman Empire, torn between the forces of change and tradition, and laying the groundwork for the radical transformations that would follow in the empire's later years.

In 1915, during the First World War, the Ottoman Empire undertook what is now widely recognised as the Armenian genocide, a tragic and dark episode in history. This policy involved the systematic deportation, mass murder and death of the Armenian population living in the Empire. The campaign against the Armenians began with arrests, executions and mass deportations. Armenian men, women, children and the elderly were forced from their homes and sent on death marches through the Syrian desert, where many died of hunger, thirst, disease or violence. Many Armenian communities, which had a long and rich history in the region, were destroyed.

Estimates of the number of victims vary, but it is generally believed that between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians perished during this period. The genocide has had a lasting impact on the global Armenian community and remains a subject of great sensitivity and controversy, not least because of the denial or downplaying of these events by some groups. The Armenian genocide is often considered to be one of the first modern genocides and served as a dark precursor to other mass atrocities during the 20th century. It has also played a key role in the formation of modern Armenian identity, with the memory of the genocide continuing to be central to Armenian consciousness. The recognition and commemoration of these events continues to be an important issue in international relations, particularly in discussions on human rights and the prevention of genocide.

The Persian Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Origins and Completion of the Persian Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The history of the Persian Empire, now known as Iran, is characterised by impressive cultural and political continuity, despite dynastic changes and foreign invasions. This continuity is a key element in understanding the historical and cultural evolution of the region.

The Medes Empire, established in the early 7th century BC, was one of the first great powers in the history of Iran. This empire played a crucial role in laying the foundations of Iranian civilisation. However, it was overthrown by Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great, around 550 BC. Cyrus' conquest of Media marked the beginning of the Achaemenid Empire, a period of great expansion and cultural influence. The Achaemenids created a vast empire stretching from the Indus to Greece, and their reign was characterised by efficient administration and a policy of tolerance towards the different cultures and religions within the empire. The fall of this empire was brought about by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, but this did not put an end to Persian cultural continuity.

After a period of Hellenistic domination and political fragmentation, the Sassanid dynasty emerged in 224 AD. Founded by Ardashir I, it marked the beginning of a new era for the region, lasting until 624 AD. Under the Sassanids, Greater Iran experienced a period of cultural and political renaissance. The capital, Ctesiphon, became a centre of power and culture, reflecting the grandeur and influence of the empire. The Sassanids played an important role in the development of art, architecture, literature and religion in the region. They championed Zoroastrianism, which had a profound influence on Persian culture and identity. Their empire was marked by constant conflict with the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine Empire, culminating in costly wars that weakened both empires. The fall of the Sassanid dynasty came in the wake of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, but Persian culture and traditions continued to influence the region, even in later Islamic periods. This resilience and ability to integrate new elements while preserving a distinct cultural core is at the heart of the notion of continuity in Persian history.

Iran under Islam: Conquests and Transformations[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

From 642 onwards, Iran entered a new era in its history with the start of the Islamic period, following the Muslim conquests. This period marked a significant turning point not only in the political history of the region, but also in its social, cultural and religious structure. The conquest of Iran by Muslim armies began shortly after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632. In 642, with the capture of the Sassanid capital Ctesiphon, Iran came under the control of the nascent Islamic Empire. This transition was a complex process, involving both military conflict and negotiation. Under Muslim rule, Iran underwent profound changes. Islam gradually became the dominant religion, replacing Zoroastrianism, which had been the state religion under previous empires. However, this transition did not happen overnight, and there was a period of coexistence and interaction between the different religious traditions.

Iranian culture and society were profoundly influenced by Islam, but they also exerted a significant influence on the Islamic world. Iran became an important centre of Islamic culture and knowledge, with remarkable contributions in fields such as philosophy, poetry, medicine and astronomy. Iconic Iranian figures such as the poet Rumi and the philosopher Avicenna (Ibn Sina) played a major role in Islamic cultural and intellectual heritage. This period was also marked by successive dynasties, such as the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Saffarids, the Samanids, the Bouyids and later the Seljuks, each of which contributed to the richness and diversity of Iranian history. Each of these dynasties brought its own nuances to the region's governance, culture and society.

Emergence and influence of the Sefevids[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1501, a major event in the history of Iran and the Middle East took place when Shah Ismail I established the Sefevid Empire in Azerbaijan. This marked the beginning of a new era not only for Iran but for the region as a whole, with the introduction of Duodeciman Shiism as the state religion, a change that profoundly influenced Iran's religious and cultural identity. The Sefevid Empire, which reigned until 1736, played a crucial role in consolidating Iran as a distinct political and cultural entity. Shah Ismail I, a charismatic leader and talented poet, succeeded in unifying various regions under his control, creating a centralised and powerful state. One of his most significant decisions was to impose Duodecimal Shiism as the official religion of the empire, an act that had profound implications for the future of Iran and the Middle East.

This 'Shiitisation' of Iran, which involved the forced conversion of Sunni populations and other religious groups to Shiism, was a deliberate strategy to differentiate Iran from its Sunni neighbours, notably the Ottoman Empire, and to consolidate Sefevid power. This policy also had the effect of reinforcing Iran's Shiite identity, which has become a distinctive feature of the Iranian nation to this day. Under the Sefevids, Iran experienced a period of cultural and artistic renaissance. The capital, Isfahan, became one of the most important centres of art, architecture and culture in the Islamic world. The Sefevids encouraged the development of the arts, including painting, calligraphy, poetry and architecture, creating a rich and lasting cultural legacy. However, the empire was also marked by internal and external conflicts, including wars against the Ottoman Empire and the Uzbeks. These conflicts, along with internal challenges, ultimately contributed to the empire's decline in the 18th century.

The Battle of Chaldiran, which took place in 1514, is a significant event in the history of the Sephardic Empire and the Ottoman Empire, marking not only a military turning point but also the formation of an important political dividing line between the two empires. In this battle, Sefevid forces, led by Shah Ismail I, clashed with the Ottoman army under the command of Sultan Selim I. The Sefevids, although valiant in battle, were defeated by the Ottomans, largely because of the latter's technological superiority, in particular their effective use of artillery. This defeat had major consequences for the Sephardic Empire. One of the immediate results of the Battle of Chaldiran was the loss of significant territory for the Sefevids. The Ottomans succeeded in seizing the eastern half of Anatolia, considerably reducing Sefevid influence in the region. This defeat also established a lasting political boundary between the two empires, which has become an important geopolitical marker in the region. The defeat of the Sefevids also had repercussions for the Alevis, a religious community that supported Shah Ismail I and his policy of Shiitisation. Following the battle, many Alevis were persecuted and massacred in the decade that followed, due to their allegiance to the Sefevid Shah and their distinct religious beliefs, which were at odds with the dominant Sunni practices of the Ottoman Empire.

After his victory at Chaldiran, Sultan Selim I continued his expansion, and in 1517 he conquered Cairo, putting an end to the Abbasid Caliphate. This conquest not only extended the Ottoman Empire as far as Egypt, but also strengthened the Sultan's position as an influential Muslim leader, as he assumed the title of Caliph, symbolising religious and political authority over the Sunni Muslim world. The Battle of Chaldiran and its aftermath therefore illustrate the intense rivalry between the two great Muslim powers of the time, significantly shaping the political, religious and territorial history of the Middle East.

The Qajar Dynasty and the Modernisation of Iran[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1796, Iran saw the emergence of a new ruling dynasty, the Qajar (or Kadjar) dynasty, founded by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar. Of Turkmen origin, this dynasty replaced the Zand dynasty and ruled Iran until the early 20th century. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, after unifying various factions and territories in Iran, proclaimed himself Shah in 1796, marking the official start of Qajar rule. This period was significant for several reasons in Iranian history. Under the Qajars, Iran experienced a period of centralisation of power and territorial consolidation after years of turmoil and internal divisions. The capital was transferred from Shiraz to Tehran, which became the political and cultural centre of the country. This period was also marked by complex international relations, particularly with the imperialist powers of the time, Russia and Great Britain. The Qajars had to navigate a difficult international environment, with Iran often caught up in the geopolitical rivalries of the great powers, particularly in the 'Great Game' between Russia and Great Britain. These interactions often led to the loss of territory and major economic and political concessions for Iran.

Culturally, the Qajar period is known for its distinctive art, particularly painting, architecture and decorative arts. The Qajar court was a centre of artistic patronage, and this period saw a unique blend of traditional Iranian styles with modern European influences. However, the Qajar dynasty was also criticised for its inability to effectively modernise the country and meet the needs of its population. This failure led to internal discontent and laid the foundations for the reform movements and constitutional revolutions that occurred in the early 20th century. The Qajar dynasty represents an important period in Iranian history, marked by efforts to centralise power, diplomatic challenges and significant cultural contributions, but also by internal struggles and external pressures that shaped the country's subsequent development.

Iran in the 20th Century: Towards a Constitutional Monarchy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1906, Iran experienced a historic moment with the start of its constitutional period, a major step in the country's political modernisation and the struggle for democracy. This development was largely influenced by social and political movements demanding a limitation of the absolute power of the monarch and more representative and constitutional governance. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution led to the adoption of the country's first constitution in 1906, marking Iran's transition to a constitutional monarchy. This constitution provided for the creation of a parliament, or Majlis, and put in place laws and structures to modernise and reform Iranian society and government. However, this period was also marked by foreign interference and the division of the country into spheres of influence. Iran was caught up in rivalries between Great Britain and Russia, each seeking to extend its influence in the region. These powers established different "international orders" or zones of influence, limiting Iran's sovereignty.

The discovery of oil in 1908-1909 added a new dimension to the situation in Iran. The discovery, made in the Masjed Soleyman region, quickly attracted the attention of foreign powers, particularly Great Britain, which sought to control Iran's oil resources. This discovery considerably increased Iran's strategic importance on the international stage and also complicated the country's internal dynamics. Despite these external pressures and the stakes associated with natural resources, Iran maintained a policy of neutrality, particularly during global conflicts such as the First World War. This neutrality was in part an attempt to preserve its autonomy and resist foreign influences that sought to exploit its resources and control its politics. The early 20th century was a period of change and challenge for Iran, characterised by efforts at political modernisation, the emergence of new economic challenges with the discovery of oil, and navigation in a complex international environment.

The Ottoman Empire in the First World War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]


Diplomatic manoeuvres and the formation of alliances[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Ottoman Empire's entry into the First World War in 1914 was preceded by a period of complex diplomatic and military manoeuvring, involving several major powers, including Britain, France and Germany. After exploring potential alliances with Britain and France, the Ottoman Empire finally opted for an alliance with Germany. This decision was influenced by several factors, including pre-existing military and economic ties between the Ottomans and Germany, as well as perceptions of the intentions of the other major European powers.

Despite this alliance, the Ottomans were reluctant to enter the conflict directly, aware of their internal difficulties and military limitations. However, the situation changed with the Dardanelles incident. The Ottomans used warships (some of which had been acquired from Germany) to bombard Russian ports on the Black Sea. This action drew the Ottoman Empire into the war alongside the Central Powers and against the Allies, notably Russia, France and Great Britain.

In response to the Ottoman Empire's entry into the war, the British launched the Dardanelles Campaign in 1915. The aim was to take control of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, opening up a sea route to Russia. However, the campaign ended in failure for the Allied forces and resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. At the same time, Britain formalised its control over Egypt, proclaiming the British Protectorate of Egypt in 1914. This decision was strategically motivated, largely to secure the Suez Canal, a vital crossing point for British shipping routes, particularly for access to the colonies in Asia. These events illustrate the complexity of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East during the First World War. The decisions taken by the Ottoman Empire had important implications, not only for their own empire but also for the configuration of the Middle East in the post-war period.

The Arab Revolt and Changing Dynamics in the Middle East[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the First World War, the Allies sought to weaken the Ottoman Empire by opening a new front in the south, leading to the famous Arab Revolt of 1916. This revolt was a key moment in the history of the Middle East and marked the beginning of the Arab nationalist movement. Hussein ben Ali, the Sherif of Mecca, played a central role in this revolt. Under his leadership, and with the encouragement and support of figures such as T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, the Arabs rose up against Ottoman domination in the hope of creating a unified Arab state. This aspiration for independence and unification was motivated by a desire for national liberation and by the promise of autonomy made by the British, in particular by General Henry MacMahon.

The Arab Revolt had several significant successes. In June 1917, Faisal, son of Hussein ben Ali, won the Battle of Aqaba, a strategic turning point in the revolt. This victory opened up a crucial front against the Ottomans and boosted the morale of the Arab forces. With the help of Lawrence of Arabia and other British officers, Faisal succeeded in uniting several Arab tribes in the Hijaz, leading to the liberation of Damascus in 1917. In 1920, Faisal proclaimed himself King of Syria, affirming the Arab aspiration for self-determination and independence. However, his ambitions came up against the reality of international politics. The Sykes-Picot Accords of 1916, a secret arrangement between Britain and France, had already divided large parts of the Middle East into zones of influence, undermining hopes of a great unified Arab kingdom. The Arab Revolt was a decisive factor in weakening the Ottoman Empire during the war and laid the foundations for modern Arab nationalism. However, the post-war period saw the division of the Middle East into a number of nation-states under European mandate, putting the realisation of a unified Arab state, as envisaged by Hussein ben Ali and his supporters, a long way off.

Internal challenges and the Armenian Genocide[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The First World War was marked by complex developments and changing dynamics, including Russia's withdrawal from the conflict as a result of the Russian Revolution in 1917. This withdrawal had significant implications for the course of the war and for the other belligerent powers. Russia's withdrawal eased the pressure on the Central Powers, particularly Germany, which could now concentrate its forces on the Western Front against France and its allies. This change worried Great Britain and her allies, who were looking for ways to maintain the balance of power.

With regard to the Bolshevik Jews, it is important to note that the Russian revolutions of 1917 and the rise of Bolshevism were complex phenomena influenced by various factors within Russia. Although there were Jews among the Bolsheviks, as in many political movements of the time, their presence should not be over-interpreted or used to promote simplistic or anti-Semitic narratives. As far as the Ottoman Empire is concerned, Enver Pasha, one of the leaders of the Young Turk movement and Minister of War, played a key role in the conduct of the war. In 1914, he launched a disastrous offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus, which resulted in a major defeat for the Ottomans at the Battle of Sarikamish.

Enver Pasha's defeat had tragic consequences, including the outbreak of the Armenian genocide. Looking for a scapegoat to explain the defeat, Enver Pasha and other Ottoman leaders accused the empire's Armenian minority of collusion with the Russians. These accusations fuelled a campaign of systematic deportations, massacres and exterminations against the Armenians, culminating in what is now recognised as the Armenian genocide. This genocide represents one of the darkest episodes of the First World War and the history of the Ottoman Empire, highlighting the horrors and tragic consequences of large-scale conflict and policies of ethnic hatred.

Post-war settlement and redefinition of the Middle East[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Paris Peace Conference, which began in January 1919, was a crucial moment in the redefinition of world order after the First World War. The conference brought together the leaders of the major Allied powers to discuss the terms of peace and the geopolitical future, including the territories of the failing Ottoman Empire. One of the major issues discussed at the conference concerned the future of the Ottoman territories in the Middle East. The Allies were considering redrawing the borders of the region, influenced by various political, strategic and economic considerations, including control of oil resources. Although the conference theoretically allowed the nations concerned to present their points of view, in practice several delegations were marginalised or their demands ignored. For example, the Egyptian delegation, which sought to discuss Egyptian independence, faced obstacles, illustrated by the exile of some of its members to Malta. This situation reflects the unequal power dynamics at the conference, where the interests of the predominant European powers often prevailed.

Faisal, son of Hussein bin Ali and leader of the Arab Revolt, played an important role at the conference. He represented Arab interests and argued for the recognition of Arab independence and autonomy. Despite his efforts, the decisions taken at the conference did not fully meet Arab aspirations for an independent and unified state. Faisal went on to create a state in Syria, proclaiming himself King of Syria in 1920. However, his ambitions were short-lived, as Syria was placed under French mandate after the San Remo Conference in 1920, a decision that formed part of the division of the Middle East between the European powers in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreements of 1916. The Paris Conference and its outcomes therefore had profound implications for the Middle East, laying the foundations for many of the regional tensions and conflicts that continue to this day. The decisions taken reflected the interests of the victorious powers of the First World War, often to the detriment of the national aspirations of the peoples of the region.

The agreement between Georges Clemenceau, representing France, and Faisal, leader of the Arab Revolt, as well as the discussions around the creation of new states in the Middle East, are key elements of the post-First World War period that have shaped the geopolitical order of the region. The Clemenceau-Fayçal agreement was seen as highly favourable to France. Fayçal, seeking to secure a form of autonomy for the Arab territories, had to make significant concessions. France, which had colonial and strategic interests in the region, used its position at the Paris Conference to assert its control, particularly over territories such as Syria and Lebanon. The Lebanese delegation won the right to create a separate state, Greater Lebanon, under French mandate. This decision was influenced by the aspirations of Lebanon's Maronite Christian communities, who sought to establish a state with extended borders and a degree of autonomy under French tutelage. On the Kurdish question, promises were made to create a Kurdistan. These promises were in part a recognition of Kurdish nationalist aspirations and a means of weakening the Ottoman Empire. However, the implementation of this promise proved complex and was largely ignored in the post-war treaties.

All these elements converged in the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which formalised the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. This treaty redrew the borders of the Middle East, creating new states under French and British mandates. The treaty also provided for the creation of an autonomous Kurdish entity, although this provision was never implemented. The Treaty of Sèvres, although never fully ratified and later replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, was a decisive moment in the history of the region. It laid the foundations for the modern political structure of the Middle East, but also sowed the seeds of many future conflicts, due to ignorance of the ethnic, cultural and historical realities of the region.

The Transition to the Republic and the Rise of Atatürk[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire, weakened and under pressure, agreed to sign the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. This treaty, which dismantled the Ottoman Empire and redistributed its territories, seemed to mark the conclusion of the long-running "Eastern Question" concerning the fate of the empire. However, far from ending tensions in the region, the Treaty of Sevres exacerbated nationalist feelings and led to new conflicts.

In Turkey, a strong nationalist resistance, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, formed in opposition to the Treaty of Sèvres. This nationalist movement opposed the treaty's provisions, which imposed severe territorial losses and increased foreign influence on Ottoman territory. The resistance fought against various groups, including the Armenians, the Greeks in Anatolia and the Kurds, with the aim of forging a new, homogenous Turkish nation-state. The ensuing War of Turkish Independence was a period of intense conflict and territorial recomposition. The Turkish nationalist forces succeeded in pushing back the Greek armies in Anatolia and countering the other rebel groups. This military victory was a key element in the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

As a result of these events, the Treaty of Sèvres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. This new treaty recognised the borders of the new Republic of Turkey and cancelled the most punitive provisions of the Treaty of Sevres. The Treaty of Lausanne marked an important stage in the establishment of modern Turkey as a sovereign and independent state, redefining its role in the region and in international affairs. Not only did these events redraw the political map of the Middle East, they also marked the end of the Ottoman Empire and opened a new chapter in Turkey's history, with repercussions that continue to influence the region and the world to this day.

Abolition of the Caliphate and its repercussions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 was a major event in the modern history of the Middle East, marking the end of an Islamic institution that had lasted for centuries. The decision was taken by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, as part of his reforms to secularise and modernise the new Turkish state. The abolition of the Caliphate was a blow to the traditional structure of Islamic authority. The Caliph had been considered the spiritual and temporal head of the Muslim community (ummah) since the time of the Prophet Mohammed. With the abolition of the Caliphate, this central institution of Sunni Islam disappeared, leaving a vacuum in Muslim leadership.

In response to Turkey's abolition of the Caliphate, Hussein ben Ali, who had become King of the Hijaz after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, proclaimed himself Caliph. Hussein, a member of the Hashemite family and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, sought to claim this position in order to maintain a form of spiritual and political continuity in the Muslim world. However, Hussein's claim to the Caliphate was not widely recognised and was short-lived. His position was weakened by internal and external challenges, including opposition from the Saud family, which controlled much of the Arabian Peninsula. The rise of the Sauds, under the leadership of Abdelaziz Ibn Saud, eventually led to the conquest of Hijaz and the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The ousting of Hussein bin Ali by the Sauds symbolised the radical shift in power in the Arabian Peninsula and marked the end of his ambitions for a caliphate. This event also highlighted the political and religious transformations underway in the Muslim world, marking the beginning of a new era in which politics and religion would begin to follow more distinct paths in many Muslim countries.

The period following the First World War was crucial for the political redefinition of the Middle East, with significant interventions by European powers, notably France and Great Britain. In 1920, a major event took place in Syria, marking a turning point in the history of the region. Faisal, the son of Hussein ben Ali and a central figure in the Arab Revolt, had established an Arab kingdom in Syria after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, aspiring to realise the dream of a unified Arab state. However, his ambitions came up against the reality of French colonial interests. After the Battle of Maysaloun in July 1920, the French, acting under their League of Nations mandate, took control of Damascus and dismantled Faisal's Arab state, ending his reign in Syria. This French intervention reflected the complex dynamics of the post-war period, in which the national aspirations of the peoples of the Middle East were often overshadowed by the strategic interests of the European powers. Fayçal, deposed from his Syrian throne, nevertheless found a new destiny in Iraq. In 1921, under British auspices, he was installed as the first king of the Hashemite monarchy of Iraq, a strategic move on the part of the British to ensure favourable leadership and stability in this oil-rich region.

At the same time, in Transjordan, another political manoeuvre was implemented by the British. To thwart Zionist aspirations in Palestine and maintain a balance in their mandate, they created the Kingdom of Transjordan in 1921 and installed Abdallah, another son of Hussein ben Ali, there. This decision was intended to provide Abdallah with a territory over which to rule, while keeping Palestine under direct British control. The creation of Transjordan was an important step in the formation of the modern state of Jordan and illustrated how colonial interests shaped the borders and political structures of the modern Middle East. These developments in the region after the First World War demonstrate the complexity of Middle Eastern politics in the inter-war period. The decisions taken by the European proxy powers, influenced by their own strategic and geopolitical interests, had lasting consequences, laying the foundations for the state structures and conflicts that continue to affect the Middle East. These events also highlight the struggle between the national aspirations of the peoples of the region and the realities of European colonial rule, a recurring theme in the history of the Middle East in the twentieth century.

The repercussions of the San Remo Conference[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The San Remo Conference, held in April 1920, was a defining moment in post-First World War history, particularly for the Middle East. It focused on the allocation of mandates over the former provinces of the Ottoman Empire, following its defeat and break-up. At this conference, the victorious Allied Powers decided on the distribution of the mandates. France obtained the mandate over Syria and Lebanon, thereby taking control of two strategically important and culturally rich regions. For their part, the British were given mandates over Transjordan, Palestine and Mesopotamia, the latter being renamed Iraq. These decisions reflected the geopolitical and economic interests of the colonial powers, particularly in terms of access to resources and strategic control.

In parallel with these developments, Turkey, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was engaged in a process of national redefinition. After the war, Turkey sought to establish new national borders. This period was marked by tragic conflicts, notably the crushing of the Armenians, which followed the Armenian genocide perpetrated during the war. In 1923, after several years of struggle and diplomatic negotiations, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk succeeded in renegotiating the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, which had been imposed on Turkey in 1920 and was widely regarded as humiliating and unacceptable by Turkish nationalists. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in July 1923, replaced the Treaty of Sevres and recognised the sovereignty and borders of the new Republic of Turkey. This treaty marked the official end of the Ottoman Empire and laid the foundations of the modern Turkish state.

The Treaty of Lausanne is considered a major success for Mustafa Kemal and the Turkish nationalist movement. Not only did it redefine Turkey's borders, but it also enabled the new republic to make a fresh start on the international stage, freed from the restrictions of the Treaty of Sèvres. These events, from the San Remo Conference to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, had a profound impact on the Middle East, shaping national borders, international relations and political dynamics in the region for decades to come.

Allied promises and Arab demands[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the First World War, the dismantling and partition of the Ottoman Empire was at the heart of the concerns of the Allied powers, mainly Great Britain, France and Russia. These powers, anticipating a victory over the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the Central Powers, began planning the partition of its vast territories.

In 1915, as the First World War raged, crucial negotiations took place in Constantinople, involving representatives of Great Britain, France and Russia. These discussions centred on the future of the territories of the Ottoman Empire, which was then allied to the Central Powers. The Ottoman Empire, weakened and in decline, was seen by the Allies as a territory to be divided in the event of victory. These negotiations in Constantinople were strongly motivated by strategic and colonial interests. Each power sought to extend its influence in the region, which was strategically important because of its geographical position and resources. Russia was particularly interested in controlling the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, which were essential for its access to the Mediterranean. France and Britain, meanwhile, were looking to expand their colonial empires and secure their access to the region's resources, particularly oil. However, it is important to note that, although these discussions had a significant impact on the future of the Ottoman territories, the most significant and detailed agreements concerning their division were formalised later, notably in the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, concluded by British diplomat Mark Sykes and French diplomat François Georges-Picot, represents a key moment in the history of the Middle East, profoundly influencing the geopolitical configuration of the region after the First World War. This agreement was designed to define the division of the territories of the Ottoman Empire between Great Britain, France and, to a certain extent, Russia, although Russian participation was rendered null and void by the Russian Revolution of 1917. The Sykes-Picot Agreement established zones of influence and control for France and Britain in the Middle East. Under this agreement, France was to gain direct control or influence over Syria and Lebanon, while Britain was to have similar control over Iraq, Jordan and an area around Palestine. However, this agreement did not precisely define the borders of the future states, leaving that to later negotiations and agreements.

The importance of the Sykes-Picot agreement lies in its role as the "genesis" of collective memories concerning the geographical space in the Middle East. It symbolises the imperialist intervention and manipulations of the European powers in the region, often in defiance of local ethnic, religious and cultural identities. Although the agreement influenced the creation of states in the Middle East, the actual borders of these states were determined by subsequent balances of power, diplomatic negotiations and geopolitical realities that evolved after the First World War. The consequences of the Sykes-Picot agreement were reflected in the League of Nations mandates given to France and Great Britain after the war, leading to the formation of several modern Middle Eastern states. However, the borders drawn and decisions taken often ignored the ethnic and religious realities on the ground, sowing the seeds of future conflict and tension in the region. The legacy of the agreement remains a subject of debate and discontent in the contemporary Middle East, symbolising the interventions and divisions imposed by foreign powers.

MOMCENC - promesses des Alliés et revendications arabes.png

This map illustrates the division of the territories of the Ottoman Empire as laid down in the Sykes-Picot agreements of 1916 between France and Great Britain, with zones of direct administration and zones of influence.

The "Blue Zone", representing direct French administration, covered the regions that would later become Syria and Lebanon. This shows that France intended to exercise direct control over strategic urban centres and coastal regions. The "Red Zone", under direct British administration, encompassed the future Iraq with key cities such as Baghdad and Basra, as well as Kuwait, which was represented in a detached manner. This zone reflected the British interest in the oil-producing regions and their strategic importance as a gateway to the Persian Gulf. The "Brown Zone", representing Palestine (including places such as Haifa, Jerusalem and Gaza), is not explicitly defined in the Sykes-Picot Agreement in terms of direct control, but is generally associated with British influence. It later became a British mandate and the focus of political tension and conflict as a result of the Balfour Declaration and the Zionist movement.

Arab Areas A and B" were regions where Arab autonomy was to be recognised under French and British supervision respectively. This was interpreted as a concession to Arab aspirations for some form of autonomy or independence, which had been encouraged by the Allies during the war to win Arab support against the Ottoman Empire. What this map does not show is the complexity and multiple promises made by the Allies during the war, which were often contradictory and led to feelings of betrayal among local populations after the agreement was revealed. The map represents a simplification of the Sykes-Picot agreements, which in reality were much more complex and underwent changes over time as a result of political developments, conflicts and international pressure.

The revelation of the Sykes-Picot agreements by the Russian Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917 had a resounding impact, not only in the Middle East region, but also on the international scene. By exposing these secret agreements, the Bolsheviks sought to criticise the imperialism of the Western powers, particularly France and Britain, and to demonstrate their own commitment to the principles of self-determination and transparency. The Sykes-Picot agreements were not the beginning, but rather a culmination of the long process of the "Oriental Question", a complex diplomatic issue that had preoccupied European powers throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This process concerned the management and sharing of influence over the territories of the declining Ottoman Empire, and the Sykes-Picot agreements were a decisive step in this process.

Under these agreements, a French zone of influence was established in Syria and Lebanon, while Britain gained control or influence over Iraq, Jordan and a region around Palestine. The intention was to create buffer zones between the spheres of influence of the great powers, including between the British and the Russians, who had competing interests in the region. This configuration was partly a response to the difficulty of cohabitation between these powers, as demonstrated by their competition in India and elsewhere. The publication of the Sykes-Picot agreements provoked a strong reaction in the Arab world, where they were seen as a betrayal of the promises made to Arab leaders during the war. This revelation exacerbated feelings of mistrust towards the Western powers and fuelled nationalist and anti-imperialist aspirations in the region. The impact of these agreements is still felt today, as they laid the foundations for the modern borders of the Middle East and the political dynamics that continue to influence the region.

The Armenian Genocide[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Historical Background and the Beginning of the Genocide (1915-1917)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The First World War was a period of intense conflict and political upheaval, but it was also marked by one of the most tragic events of the early 20th century: the Armenian genocide. This genocide was perpetrated by the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1917, although acts of violence and deportation began before and continued after these dates.

During this tragic period, Ottoman Armenians, a minority Christian ethnic group in the Ottoman Empire, were systematically targeted by campaigns of forced deportations, mass executions, death marches and planned famines. The Ottoman authorities, using the war as a cover and pretext to resolve what they considered to be an "Armenian problem", orchestrated these actions with the aim of eliminating the Armenian population from Anatolia and other regions of the Empire. Estimates of the number of victims vary, but it is widely accepted that up to 1.5 million Armenians perished. The Armenian genocide has left a profound mark on the Armenian collective memory and has had a lasting impact on the global Armenian community. It is considered one of the first modern genocides and cast a shadow over Turkish-Armenian relations for more than a century.

Recognition of the Armenian genocide remains a sensitive and controversial issue. Many countries and international organisations have formally recognised the genocide, but certain debates and diplomatic tensions persist, particularly with Turkey, which disputes the characterisation of the events as genocide. The Armenian genocide has also had implications for international law, influencing the development of the notion of genocide and motivating efforts to prevent such atrocities in the future. This sombre event underlines the importance of historical memory and recognition of past injustices in building a common future based on understanding and reconciliation.

Armenia's historical roots[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Armenian people have a rich and ancient history, dating back to well before the Christian era. According to Armenian nationalist tradition and mythology, their roots go back as far as 200 BC, and even earlier. This is supported by archaeological and historical evidence showing that Armenians have occupied the Armenian plateau for millennia. Historic Armenia, often referred to as Upper Armenia or Greater Armenia, was located in an area that included parts of eastern modern Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, modern Iran and Iraq. This region was the birthplace of the kingdom of Urartu, considered to be a precursor of ancient Armenia, which flourished from the 9th to the 6th century BC. The kingdom of Armenia was formally established and recognised at the beginning of the 6th century BC, after the fall of Urartu and through integration into the Achaemenid Empire. It reached its apogee under the reign of Tigran the Great in the 1st century BC, when it briefly expanded to form an empire stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

The historical depth of the Armenian presence in the region is also illustrated by the early adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD, making Armenia the first country to do so officially. Armenians have maintained a distinct cultural and religious identity throughout the centuries, despite invasions and the domination of various foreign empires. This long history has forged a strong national identity that has survived through the ages, even in the face of severe hardship such as the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century. Armenian mythological and historical accounts, although sometimes embellished in a nationalist spirit, are based on a real and significant history that has contributed to the cultural richness and resilience of the Armenian people.

Armenia, the first Christian state[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Armenia holds the historic title of being the first kingdom to officially adopt Christianity as its state religion. This monumental event took place in 301 AD, during the reign of King Tiridates III, and was largely influenced by the missionary activity of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who became the first head of the Armenian Church. The conversion of the Kingdom of Armenia to Christianity preceded that of the Roman Empire, which, under Emperor Constantine, began to adopt Christianity as its dominant religion after the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. The Armenian conversion was a significant process that profoundly influenced the cultural and national identity of the Armenian people. The adoption of Christianity led to the development of Armenian culture and religious art, including the unique architecture of Armenian churches and monasteries, as well as the creation of the Armenian alphabet by Saint Mesrop Mashtots in the early 5th century. This alphabet enabled Armenian literature to flourish, including the translation of the Bible and other important religious texts, thus helping to strengthen the Armenian Christian identity. Armenia's position as the first Christian state also had political and geopolitical implications, as it was often placed on the border of major competing empires and surrounded by non-Christian neighbours. This distinction has helped to shape Armenia's role and history over the centuries, making it an important player in the history of Christianity and in the regional history of the Middle East and the Caucasus.

Armenia's history after the adoption of Christianity as the state religion was complex and often tumultuous. After several centuries of conflict with neighbouring empires and periods of relative autonomy, the Armenians experienced a major change with the Arab conquests in the 7th century.

With the rapid spread of Islam following the death of the prophet Mohammed, Arab forces conquered vast swathes of the Middle East, including much of Armenia, around 640 AD. This period saw Armenia divided between Byzantine influence and the Arab caliphate, resulting in a cultural and political division of the Armenian region. During the period of Arab rule, and later under the Ottoman Empire, Armenians, as Christians, were generally classified as "dhimmis" - a protected but inferior category of non-Muslims under Islamic law. This status gave them a degree of protection and allowed them to practise their religion, but they were also subject to specific taxes and social and legal restrictions. The largest part of historic Armenia found itself caught between the Ottoman and Russian empires in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, Armenians sought to preserve their cultural and religious identity, while facing increasing political challenges.

Under the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II (late 19th century), the Ottoman Empire adopted a pan-Islamist policy, seeking to unite the diverse Muslim peoples of the empire in response to the decline of Ottoman power and internal and external pressures. This policy often exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions within the Empire, leading to violence against Armenians and other non-Muslim groups. The Hamidian massacres of the late 19th century, in which tens of thousands of Armenians were killed, are a tragic example of the violence that preceded and foreshadowed the Armenian genocide of 1915. These events highlighted the difficulties faced by Armenians and other minorities in an empire seeking political and religious unity in the face of emerging nationalism and imperial decline.

The Treaty of San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Treaty of San Stefano, signed in 1878, was a pivotal moment for the Armenian question, which became a matter of international concern. The treaty was concluded at the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, which saw a significant defeat for the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Russian Empire. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Treaty of San Stefano was the clause requiring the Ottoman Empire to implement reforms in favour of the Christian populations, particularly the Armenians, and to improve their living conditions. This implicitly recognised the mistreatment that the Armenians had suffered and the need for international protection. However, implementation of the reforms promised in the treaty was largely ineffective. The Ottoman Empire, weakened by the war and internal pressures, was reluctant to grant concessions that might have been perceived as foreign interference in its internal affairs. In addition, the provisions of the Treaty of San Stefano were reworked later that year by the Congress of Berlin, which adjusted the terms of the treaty to accommodate the concerns of other major powers, notably Great Britain and Austria-Hungary.

The Congress of Berlin nevertheless kept up the pressure on the Ottoman Empire to reform, but in practice little was done to actually improve the situation of the Armenians. This lack of action, combined with political instability and growing ethnic tensions within the Empire, created an environment that eventually led to the Hamidian massacres of the 1890s and, later, the Armenian genocide of 1915. The internationalisation of the Armenian question by the Treaty of San Stefano thus marked the beginning of a period in which the European powers began to exert more direct influence over the affairs of the Ottoman Empire, often under the guise of protecting Christian minorities. However, the gap between promises of reform and their implementation left a legacy of unfulfilled commitments with tragic consequences for the Armenian people.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a period of great violence for the Armenian and Assyrian communities of the Ottoman Empire. In particular, the years 1895 and 1896 were marked by large-scale massacres, often referred to as the Hamidian massacres, named after Sultan Abdülhamid II. These massacres were carried out in response to Armenian protests against oppressive taxes, persecution and the lack of reforms promised by the Treaty of San Stefano. The Young Turks, a reformist nationalist movement that came to power after a coup in 1908, were initially seen as a source of hope for minorities in the Ottoman Empire. However, a radical faction of this movement ended up adopting an even more aggressive and nationalist policy than their predecessors. Convinced of the need to create a homogenous Turkish state, they saw Armenians and other non-Turkish minorities as obstacles to their national vision. Systematic discrimination against Armenians increased, fuelled by accusations of treason and collusion with the enemies of the Empire, notably Russia. This atmosphere of suspicion and hatred created the breeding ground for the genocide that began in 1915. One of the first acts of this genocidal campaign was the arrest and murder of Armenian intellectuals and leaders in Constantinople on 24 April 1915, a date that is now commemorated as the start of the Armenian genocide.

Mass deportations, death marches to the Syrian desert and massacres followed, with estimates of up to 1.5 million Armenians killed. In addition to the death marches, there are reports of Armenians being forced to board ships that were intentionally sunk in the Black Sea. In the face of these horrors, some Armenians converted to Islam to survive, while others went into hiding or were protected by sympathetic neighbours, including Kurds. At the same time, the Assyrian population also suffered similar atrocities between 1914 and 1920. As a millet, or autonomous community recognised by the Ottoman Empire, the Assyrians should have enjoyed some protection. However, in the context of the First World War and Turkish nationalism, they were the target of systematic extermination campaigns. These tragic events show how discrimination, dehumanisation and extremism can lead to acts of mass violence. The Armenian genocide and the massacres of the Assyrians are dark chapters in history that underline the importance of remembrance, recognition and prevention of genocide to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.

Towards the Republic of Turkey and the Denial of Genocide[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The occupation of Istanbul by the Allies in 1919 and the establishment of a court martial to try those Ottoman officials responsible for the atrocities committed during the war marked an attempt to bring justice for the crimes committed, in particular the Armenian genocide. However, the situation in Anatolia remained unstable and complex. The nationalist movement in Turkey, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, grew rapidly in response to the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres, which dismembered the Ottoman Empire and imposed severe sanctions on Turkey. The Kemalists rejected the treaty as a humiliation and a threat to Turkey's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

One of the sticking points was the question of the Greek Orthodox populations in Turkey, which were protected by the provisions of the treaty but were at stake in the Greek-Turkish conflict. Tensions between the Greek and Turkish communities led to large-scale violence and population exchanges, exacerbated by the war between Greece and Turkey from 1919 to 1922. Mustafa Kemal, who had been a prominent member of the Young Turks and gained fame as the defender of the Dardanelles during the First World War, is sometimes quoted as having described the Armenian genocide as a "shameful act". However, these claims are subject to controversy and historical debate. The official position of Kemal and the nascent Republic of Turkey on the genocide was to deny it and attribute it to wartime circumstances and civil unrest rather than to a deliberate policy of extermination.

During the resistance for Anatolia and the struggle to establish the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal and his supporters focused on building a unified Turkish nation-state, and any acknowledgement of past events that might have divided or weakened this national project was avoided. The period following the First World War was therefore marked by major political changes, attempts at post-conflict justice, and the emergence of new nation-states in the region, with the nascent Republic of Turkey seeking to define its own identity and politics independently of the Ottoman legacy.

The founding of Turkey[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Treaty of Lausanne and the New Political Reality (1923)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Treaty of Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923, marked a decisive turning point in the contemporary history of Turkey and the Middle East. After the failure of the Treaty of Sevres, mainly due to Turkish national resistance led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Allies were forced to renegotiate. Exhausted by the war and faced with the reality of a Turkey determined to defend its territorial integrity, the Allied powers had to recognise the new political reality established by the Turkish nationalists. The Treaty of Lausanne established the internationally recognised borders of the modern Republic of Turkey and cancelled the provisions of the Treaty of Sèvres, which had provided for the creation of a Kurdish state and recognised a certain degree of protection for the Armenians. By not including a provision for the creation of a Kurdistan or any measures for the Armenians, the Treaty of Lausanne closed the door on the "Kurdish question" and the "Armenian question" at international level, leaving these issues unresolved.

At the same time, the treaty formalised the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, which led to the "expulsion of Greeks from Turkish territories", a painful episode marked by the forced displacement of populations and the end of historic communities in Anatolia and Thrace. After the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, the Union and Progress Committee (CUP), better known as the Young Turks, which had been in power during the First World War, was officially dissolved. Several of its leaders went into exile, and some were assassinated in retaliation for their role in the Armenian genocide and the destructive policies of the war.

In the years that followed, the Republic of Turkey was consolidated, and several nationalist associations emerged with the aim of defending the sovereignty and integrity of Anatolia. Religion played a role in the construction of national identity, with a distinction often drawn between the "Christian West" and "Muslim Anatolia". This discourse was used to reinforce national cohesion and to justify resistance against any foreign influence or intervention perceived as a threat to the Turkish nation. The Treaty of Lausanne is therefore regarded as the cornerstone of the modern Republic of Turkey, and its legacy continues to shape Turkey's domestic and foreign policy, as well as its relations with its neighbours and minority communities within its borders.

The Arrival of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish National Resistance (1919)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The arrival of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Anatolia in May 1919 marked the beginning of a new phase in the struggle for Turkish independence and sovereignty. Opposing the Allied occupation and the terms of the Treaty of Sèvres, he established himself as the leader of the Turkish national resistance. In the years that followed, Mustafa Kemal led several crucial military campaigns. He fought on various fronts: against the Armenians in 1921, against the French in southern Anatolia to redefine borders, and against the Greeks, who had occupied the city of Izmir in 1919 and advanced into western Anatolia. These conflicts were key elements in the Turkish nationalist movement to establish a new nation state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. British strategy in the region was complex. Faced with the possibility of a wider conflict between Greeks and Turks on the one hand, and Turks and British on the other, Britain saw an advantage in letting the Greeks and Turks fight each other, which would allow them to concentrate their efforts elsewhere, notably in Iraq, an oil-rich and strategically important territory.

The Greek-Turkish war culminated in the Turkish victory and Greek withdrawal from Anatolia in 1922, which resulted in the Asia Minor catastrophe for Greece and a major victory for Turkish nationalist forces. Mustafa Kemal's victorious military campaign enabled the terms of the Treaty of Sevres to be renegotiated and led to the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which recognised the sovereignty of the Republic of Turkey and redefined its borders. At the same time as the Treaty of Lausanne, a convention for the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey was drawn up. This led to the forced exchange of Greek Orthodox and Turkish Muslim populations between the two countries, with the aim of creating more ethnically homogenous states. After repelling the French forces, concluding border agreements and signing the Treaty of Lausanne, Mustafa Kemal proclaimed the Republic of Turkey on 29 October 1923, becoming its first president. The proclamation of the Republic marked the culmination of Mustafa Kemal's efforts to found a modern, secular and nationalist Turkish state on the remnants of the multi-ethnic and multi-faith Ottoman Empire.

Border formation and the Mosul and Antioch issues[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the conclusion of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which marked the international recognition of the Republic of Turkey and redefined its borders, there were still unresolved border issues, particularly concerning the city of Antioch and the Mosul region. These issues required further negotiations and the intervention of international organisations in order to be resolved. The city of Antioch, located in the historically rich and culturally diverse region of southern Anatolia, was a subject of contention between Turkey and France, the latter exercising a mandate over Syria, including Antioch. The city, with its multicultural past and strategic importance, was a point of tension between the two countries. Eventually, after negotiations, Antioch was awarded to Turkey, although the decision was a source of controversy and tension. The issue of the Mosul region was even more complex. Rich in oil, the Mosul region was claimed by both Turkey and Great Britain, which had a mandate over Iraq. Turkey, on the basis of historical and demographic arguments, wanted to include it within its borders, while Great Britain supported its inclusion in Iraq for strategic and economic reasons, in particular because of the presence of oil.

The League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations, intervened to resolve the dispute. After a series of negotiations, an agreement was reached in 1925. Under this agreement, the Mosul region would become part of Iraq, but Turkey would receive financial compensation, notably in the form of a share of oil revenues. The agreement also stipulated that Turkey should officially recognise Iraq and its borders. This decision was crucial in stabilising relations between Turkey, Iraq and Great Britain and played an important role in defining Iraq's borders, influencing future developments in the Middle East. These negotiations and the resulting agreements illustrate the complexity of post-First World War dynamics in the Middle East. They show how the modern borders of the region have been shaped by a mixture of historical claims, strategic and economic considerations, and international interventions, often reflecting the interests of the colonial powers rather than those of the local populations.

The Radical Reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The post-First World War period in Turkey was marked by radical reforms and transformations led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who sought to modernise and secularise the new Republic of Turkey. In 1922, a crucial step was taken with the abolition of the Ottoman Sultanate by the Turkish Parliament, a decision that ended centuries of imperial rule and consolidated political power in Ankara, Turkey's new capital. The year 1924 saw another major reform with the abolition of the Caliphate. This decision eliminated the Islamic religious and political leadership that had been a feature of the Ottoman Empire and represented a decisive step towards the secularisation of the state. In parallel with this abolition, the Turkish government created the Diyanet, or the Presidency of Religious Affairs, an institution designed to supervise and regulate religious matters in the country. The aim of this organisation was to place religious affairs under the control of the state and to ensure that religion was not used for political ends. Mustafa Kemal then implemented a series of reforms aimed at modernising Turkey, often referred to as "authoritarian modernisation". These reforms included the secularisation of education, the reform of the dress code, the adoption of a Gregorian calendar, and the introduction of civil law to replace Islamic religious law.

As part of the creation of a homogenous Turkish nation-state, assimilation policies were put in place for minorities and different ethnic groups. These policies included the creation of Turkish surnames for all citizens, encouragement to adopt the Turkish language and culture, and the closure of religious schools. These measures aimed to unify the population under a common Turkish identity, but they also raised issues of cultural rights and autonomy for minorities. These radical reforms transformed Turkish society and laid the foundations for modern Turkey. They reflected Mustafa Kemal's desire to create a modern, secular and unitary state, while navigating the complex post-war context of nationalist aspirations. These changes had a profound effect on Turkish history and continue to influence Turkish politics and society today.

The period of the 1920s and 1930s in Turkey, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was characterised by a series of radical reforms aimed at modernising and westernising the country. These reforms affected almost every aspect of Turkish social, cultural and political life. One of the first measures was the creation of the Ministry of Education, which played a central role in reforming the education system and promoting Kemalist ideology. In 1925, one of the most symbolic reforms was the imposition of the European hat, replacing the traditional fez, as part of a policy to modernise the appearance and dress of Turkish citizens.

Legal reforms were also significant, with the adoption of legal codes inspired by Western models, notably the Swiss civil code. The aim of these reforms was to replace the Ottoman legal system, based on Sharia (Islamic law), with a modern, secular legal system. Turkey also adopted the metric system, a Gregorian calendar and changed its day of rest from Friday (traditionally observed in Muslim countries) to Sunday, bringing the country into line with Western standards. One of the most radical reforms was the change of alphabet in 1928 from Arabic to a modified Latin script. The aim of this reform was to increase literacy and modernise the Turkish language. The Institute of Turkish History, created in 1931, was part of a wider effort to reinterpret Turkish history and promote Turkish national identity. In the same spirit, the policy of purifying the Turkish language was aimed at eliminating Arabic and Persian borrowings and reinforcing the "Sun Language" theory, a nationalist ideology that asserted the ancient origin and superiority of the Turkish language and culture.

On the Kurdish question, the Kemalist government pursued a policy of assimilation, considering the Kurds as "mountain Turks" and attempting to integrate them into the Turkish national identity. This policy led to tensions and conflicts, particularly during the repression of Kurdish and non-Muslim populations in 1938. The Kemalist period was an era of profound transformation for Turkey, marked by efforts to create a modern, secular and homogenous nation-state. However, these reforms, while progressive in their intent to modernise, were also accompanied by authoritarian policies and efforts at assimilation that have left a complex and sometimes controversial legacy in contemporary Turkey.

The Kemalist period in Turkey, which began with the founding of the Republic in 1923, was characterised by a series of reforms aimed at centralising, nationalising and secularising the state, as well as Europeanising society. These reforms, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, aimed to break with the Ottoman Empire's imperial and Islamic past, which was seen as an obstacle to progress and modernisation. The aim was to create a modern Turkey aligned with Western values and standards. From this perspective, the Ottoman and Islamic heritage was often portrayed in a negative light, associated with backwardness and obscurantism. The shift towards the West was evident in politics, culture, law, education and even in everyday life.

Multipartyism and the Tensions between Modernisation and Tradition (Post-1950)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

However, with the arrival of the multi-party system in the 1950s, the Turkish political landscape began to change. Turkey, which had operated as a one-party state under the Republican People's Party (CHP), began to open up to political pluralism. This transition was not without its tensions. Conservatives, who had often been marginalised during the Kemalist period, began to question some of the Kemalist reforms, particularly those concerning secularism and westernisation. The debate between secularism and traditional values, between westernisation and Turkish and Islamic identity, has become a recurring theme in Turkish politics. Conservative and Islamist parties have gained ground, questioning the Kemalist heritage and calling for a return to certain traditional and religious values.

This political dynamic has sometimes led to repression and tension, as different governments seek to consolidate their power while navigating an increasingly diverse political environment. Periods of political tension and repression, notably during the military coups of 1960, 1971, 1980 and the attempted coup of 2016, bear witness to the challenges Turkey has faced in its quest to strike a balance between modernisation and tradition, secularism and religiosity, Westernisation and Turkish identity. The post-1950 period in Turkey has seen a complex and sometimes conflicting rebalancing between the Kemalist heritage and the aspirations of part of the population for a return to traditional values, reflecting the ongoing tensions between modernity and tradition in contemporary Turkish society.

Turkey and its Internal Challenges: Managing Ethnic and Religious Diversity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

As a strategic ally of the West, particularly since joining NATO in 1952, Turkey has had to reconcile its relations with the West with its own internal political dynamics. The multi-party system introduced in the 1950s was a key element in this reconciliation, reflecting a transition towards a more democratic form of governance. However, this transition has been marked by periods of instability and military intervention. Indeed, Turkey has experienced several military coups, approximately every ten years, notably in 1960, 1971, 1980, and an attempt in 2016. These coups were often justified by the military as being necessary to restore order and protect the principles of the Turkish Republic, in particular Kemalism and secularism. After each coup d'état, the army generally called new elections to return to civilian rule, although the army continued to play the role of guardian of Kemalist ideology.

However, since the 2000s, the Turkish political landscape has undergone a significant change with the rise of conservative and Islamist parties, in particular the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AKP won several elections and held power for an extended period. The AKP government, despite advocating more conservative and Islamic values, has not been overthrown by the military. This represents a change from previous decades when governments perceived to deviate from Kemalist principles were often targeted by military intervention. This relative stability of conservative government in Turkey suggests a rebalancing of power between the military and civilian political parties. This can be attributed to a series of reforms aimed at reducing the political power of the army, as well as a change in the attitude of the Turkish population, which has become increasingly receptive to governance reflecting conservative and Islamic values. The political dynamics of contemporary Turkey reflect the challenges of a country navigating between its secular Kemalist heritage and growing conservative and Islamist tendencies, while maintaining its commitment to multi-partyism and Western alliances.

Modern Turkey has faced various internal challenges, including the management of its ethnic and religious diversity. Assimilation policies, particularly towards the Kurdish population, have played a significant role in strengthening Turkish nationalism. This situation has led to tensions and conflicts, particularly with the Kurdish minority, which has not benefited from the millet (autonomous community) status granted to certain religious minorities under the Ottoman Empire. The influence of European anti-Semitism and racism during the 20th century also had an impact on Turkey. In the 1930s, discriminatory and xenophobic ideas, influenced by political and social currents in Europe, began to manifest themselves in Turkey. This led to tragic events such as the pogroms against Jews in Thrace in 1934, where Jewish communities were targeted, attacked and forced to flee their homes.

In addition, the Wealth Tax Law (Varlık Vergisi) introduced in 1942 was another discriminatory measure that mainly affected non-Turkish and non-Muslim minorities, including Jews, Armenians and Greeks. This law imposed exorbitant taxes on wealth, disproportionately high for non-Muslims, and those who could not pay were sent to labour camps, notably in Aşkale, in eastern Turkey. These policies and events reflected ethnic and religious tensions within Turkish society and a period when Turkish nationalism was sometimes interpreted in an exclusive and discriminatory way. They also highlighted the complexity of the process of forming a nation-state in a region as diverse as Anatolia, where a multitude of ethnic and religious groups coexisted. The treatment of minorities in Turkey during this period remains a sensitive and controversial subject, reflecting the challenges the country faced in its quest for a unified national identity while managing its internal diversity. These events also had a long-term impact on relations between different ethnic and religious groups in Turkey.

Separation between Secularism and Secularism: The Legacy of the Kemalist Period[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The distinction between secularisation and secularism is important for understanding social and political dynamics in different historical and geographical contexts. Secularisation refers to a historical and cultural process in which societies, institutions and individuals begin to detach themselves from religious influence and norms. In a secularised society, religion gradually loses its influence over public life, laws, education, politics and other areas. This process does not necessarily mean that individuals become less religious on a personal level, but rather that religion becomes a private matter, separate from public affairs and the State. Secularisation is often associated with modernisation, scientific and technological development, and changing social norms. Secularism, on the other hand, is an institutional and legal policy by which a state declares itself neutral in matters of religion. It is a decision to separate the state from religious institutions, ensuring that government decisions and public policies are not influenced by specific religious doctrines. Secularism can coexist with a deeply religious society; it is mainly about how the state manages its relationship with different religions. In theory, secularism aims to guarantee freedom of religion, treating all religions equally and avoiding favouritism towards any specific religion.

Historical and contemporary examples show different combinations of these two concepts. For example, some European countries have undergone significant secularisation while maintaining official links between the state and certain churches (such as the United Kingdom with the Church of England). On the other hand, countries such as France have adopted a strict policy of secularism (laïcité), while historically being societies strongly imbued with religious traditions. In Turkey, the Kemalist period saw the introduction of a strict form of secularism with the separation of mosque and state, while living in a society where the Muslim religion continued to play a significant role in people's private lives. The Kemalist policy of secularism aimed to modernise and unify Turkey, drawing inspiration from Western models, while navigating the complex context of a society with a long history of social and political organisation around Islam.

The post-Second World War period in Turkey was marked by a number of incidents that exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in the country, particularly affecting minorities. Among these incidents, the bombing of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's birthplace in Thessaloniki (then in Greece) in 1955 served as a catalyst for one of the most tragic events in modern Turkish history: the Istanbul pogroms. The Istanbul pogroms, also known as the events of 6-7 September 1955, were a series of violent attacks directed mainly against the city's Greek community, but also against other minorities, notably Armenians and Jews. These attacks were triggered by rumours of the bombing of Atatürk's birthplace and were exacerbated by nationalist and anti-minority sentiments. The riots resulted in massive destruction of property, violence and the displacement of many people.

This event marked a turning point in the history of minorities in Turkey, leading to a significant decrease in the Greek population of Istanbul and a general feeling of insecurity among other minorities. The Istanbul pogroms also revealed the underlying tensions within Turkish society over issues of national identity, ethnic and religious diversity, and the challenges of maintaining harmony in a diverse nation-state. Since then, the proportion of ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey has declined considerably due to a variety of factors, including emigration, assimilation policies, and sometimes inter-communal tensions and conflicts. Although modern Turkey has endeavoured to promote an image of a tolerant and diverse society, the legacy of these historical events continues to influence relations between the different communities and the State's policy towards minorities. The situation of minorities in Turkey remains a sensitive issue, illustrating the challenges faced by many states in managing diversity and preserving the rights and security of all communities within their borders.

The Alevis[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Impact of the Foundation of the Republic of Turkey on the Alevis (1923)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 and the secularist reforms initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had a significant impact on various religious and ethnic groups in Turkey, including the Alevi community. The Alevis, a distinct religious and cultural group within Islam, practising a form of belief that differs from mainstream Sunnism, greeted the founding of the Turkish Republic with a degree of optimism. The promise of secularism and secularisation offered the hope of greater equality and religious freedom, compared with the period of the Ottoman Empire when they had often been the subject of discrimination and sometimes violence.

However, with the creation of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) after the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, the Turkish government sought to regulate and control religious affairs. Although the Diyanet was designed to exercise state control over religion and promote an Islam compatible with republican and secular values, in practice it has often favoured Sunni Islam, which is the majority branch in Turkey. This policy has caused problems for the Alevi community, who have felt marginalised by the state's promotion of a form of Islam that does not correspond to their religious beliefs and practices. Although the situation of Alevis under the Turkish Republic was much better than under the Ottoman Empire, where they were frequently persecuted, they continued to face challenges regarding their religious recognition and rights.

Over the years, Alevis have fought for official recognition of their places of worship (cemevis) and for fair representation in religious affairs. Despite the progress made in terms of secularism and civil rights in Turkey, the Alevi question remains an important issue, reflecting Turkey's wider challenges in managing its religious and ethnic diversity within a secular framework. The situation of the Alevis in Turkey is therefore an example of the complex relationship between the state, religion and minorities in a context of modernisation and secularisation, illustrating how state policies can influence social and religious dynamics within a nation.

Alevi Political Engagement in the 1960s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 1960s, Turkey experienced a period of significant political and social change, with the emergence of various political parties and movements representing a range of views and interests. It was a time of political dynamism, marked by a greater expression of political identities and demands, including those of minority groups such as the Alevis. The creation of the first Alevi political party during this period was an important development, reflecting a growing willingness on the part of this community to engage in the political process and defend its specific interests. Alevis, with their distinct beliefs and practices, have often sought to promote greater recognition and respect for their religious and cultural rights. However, it is also true that other political parties, particularly those of the left or communist persuasion, have responded to the demands of the Kurdish and Alevi electorate. By promoting ideas of social justice, equality and minority rights, these parties have attracted significant support from these communities. Issues of minority rights, social justice and secularism were often at the heart of their political platforms, which resonated with the concerns of Alevis and Kurds.

In the context of 1960s Turkey, marked by growing political tension and ideological divides, left-wing parties were often seen as champions of the underclass, minorities and marginalised groups. This led to a situation where Alevi political parties, although directly representing this community, were sometimes overshadowed by broader, more established parties addressing broader issues of social justice and equality. Thus, Turkish politics in this period reflected a growing diversity and complexity of political identities and affiliations, illustrating how issues of minority rights, social justice and identity played a central role in Turkey's emerging political landscape.

Alevis Facing Extremism and Violence in the 1970s and 1980s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1970s were a period of great social and political tension in Turkey, marked by increasing polarisation and the emergence of extremist groups. During this period, the far right in Turkey, represented in part by nationalist and ultranationalist groups, gained in visibility and influence. This rise in extremism has had tragic consequences, particularly for minority communities such as the Alevis. Alevis, because of their beliefs and practices distinct from the majority Sunni Islam, have often been targeted by ultra-nationalist and conservative groups. These groups, fuelled by nationalist and sometimes sectarian ideologies, have carried out violent attacks against Alevi communities, including massacres and pogroms. The most notorious incidents include the massacres at Maraş in 1978 and Çorum in 1980. These events were characterised by extreme violence, mass murder, and other atrocities, including scenes of beheading and mutilation. These attacks were not isolated incidents, but part of a wider trend of violence and discrimination against Alevis, which exacerbated social divisions and tensions in Turkey.

The violence of the 1970s and early 1980s contributed to the instability that led to the military coup of 1980. Following the coup, the army established a regime that cracked down on many political groups, including the far right and the far left, in an attempt to restore order and stability. However, the underlying problems of discrimination and tension between different communities have remained, posing ongoing challenges to Turkey's social and political cohesion. The situation of the Alevis in Turkey is therefore a poignant example of the difficulties faced by religious and ethnic minorities in a context of political polarisation and rising extremism. It also highlights the need for an inclusive approach that respects the rights of all communities in order to maintain social peace and national unity.

The Tragedies of Sivas and Gazi in the 1990s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1990s in Turkey continued to witness tensions and violence, particularly against the Alevi community, which was the target of several tragic attacks. In 1993, a particularly shocking event occurred in Sivas, a town in central Turkey. On 2 July 1993, during the Pir Sultan Abdal cultural festival, a group of Alevi intellectuals, artists and writers, as well as spectators, were attacked by an extremist mob. The Madımak Hotel, where they were staying, was set on fire, resulting in the deaths of 37 people. This incident, known as the Sivas massacre or Madımak tragedy, was one of the darkest events in modern Turkish history and highlighted the vulnerability of Alevis to extremism and religious intolerance. Two years later, in 1995, another violent incident took place in the Gazi district of Istanbul, an area with a large Alevi population. Violent clashes broke out after an unknown gunman fired on cafés frequented by Alevis, killing one person and injuring several others. The following days were marked by riots and clashes with the police, which led to many more casualties.

These incidents exacerbated tensions between the Alevi community and the Turkish state, and highlighted the persistence of prejudice and discrimination against Alevis. They also raised questions about the protection of minorities in Turkey and the State's ability to ensure security and justice for all its citizens. The violence in Sivas and Gazi marked a turning point in awareness of the situation of Alevis in Turkey, leading to stronger calls for recognition of their rights and for greater understanding and respect for their unique cultural and religious identity. These tragic events remain etched in Turkey's collective memory, symbolising the challenges the country faces in terms of religious diversity and peaceful coexistence.

Alevis under the AKP: Identity Challenges and Conflicts[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since the Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came to power in 2002, Turkey has seen significant changes in its policy towards Islam and religious minorities, including the Alevi community. The AKP, often perceived as a party with Islamist or conservative leanings, has been criticised for favouring Sunni Islam, raising concerns among religious minorities, particularly the Alevis. Under the AKP, the government strengthened the role of the Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs), which was accused of promoting a Sunni version of Islam. This has caused problems for the Alevi community, which practises a form of Islam that is markedly different from the dominant Sunnism. Alevis do not go to traditional mosques to worship; instead, they use "cemevi" for their religious ceremonies and gatherings. However, the Diyanet does not officially recognise cemevi as places of worship, which has been a source of frustration and conflict for the Alevis. The issue of assimilation is also of concern to Alevis, as the government has been perceived as seeking to integrate all religious and ethnic communities into a homogenous Sunni Turkish identity. This policy is reminiscent of the assimilation efforts of the Kemalist era, although the motivations and contexts are different.

The Alevis are an ethnically and linguistically diverse group, with both Turkish-speaking and Kurdish-speaking members. Although their identity is largely defined by their distinct faith, they also share cultural and linguistic aspects with other Turks and Kurds. However, their unique religious practice and history of marginalisation sets them apart within Turkish society. The situation of the Alevis in Turkey since 2002 reflects the continuing tensions between the State and religious minorities. It raises important questions about religious freedom, minority rights and the state's ability to accommodate diversity within a secular and democratic framework. How Turkey manages these issues remains a crucial aspect of its domestic policy and its image on the international stage.

Iran[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Challenges and External Influences at the Beginning of the 20th Century[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The history of modernisation in Iran is a fascinating case study that illustrates how external influences and internal dynamics can shape a country's course. In the early 20th century, Iran (then known as Persia) faced multiple challenges that culminated in a process of authoritarian modernisation. In the years leading up to the First World War, particularly in 1907, Iran was on the verge of implosion. The country had suffered significant territorial losses and was struggling with administrative and military weakness. The Iranian army, in particular, was unable to effectively manage the influence of the state or protect its borders from foreign incursions. This difficult context was exacerbated by the competing interests of the imperialist powers, particularly Britain and Russia. In 1907, despite their historical rivalries, Great Britain and Russia concluded the Anglo-Russian Entente. Under this agreement, they shared spheres of influence in Iran, with Russia dominating the north and Britain the south. This agreement was a tacit recognition of their respective imperialist interests in the region and had a profound impact on Iranian policy.

The Anglo-Russian Entente not only limited Iran's sovereignty, but also hindered the development of a strong central power. Britain, in particular, was reticent about the idea of a centralised and powerful Iran that could threaten its interests, particularly in terms of access to oil and control of trade routes. This international framework posed major challenges for Iran and influenced its path towards modernisation. The need to navigate between foreign imperialist interests and domestic needs to reform and strengthen the state led to a series of attempts at modernisation, some more authoritarian than others, over the course of the 20th century. These efforts culminated in the period of the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, who undertook an ambitious programme of modernisation and centralisation, often by authoritarian means, with the aim of transforming Iran into a modern nation-state.

MOMCENC - iran après accord anglo russe de 1907.png

The coup of 1921 and the rise of Reza Khan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1921 coup in Iran, led by Reza Khan (later Reza Shah Pahlavi), was a decisive turning point in the country's modern history. Reza Khan, a military officer, took control of the government in a context of political weakness and instability, with the ambition of centralising power and modernising Iran. After the coup, Reza Khan undertook a series of reforms aimed at strengthening the state and consolidating his power. He created a centralised government, reorganised the administration and modernised the army. These reforms were essential to establish a strong and effective state structure capable of promoting the country's development and modernisation. A key aspect of Reza Khan's consolidation of power was the negotiation of agreements with foreign powers, notably Great Britain, which had major economic and strategic interests in Iran. The issue of oil was particularly crucial, as Iran had considerable oil potential, and control and exploitation of this resource were at the heart of the geopolitical stakes.

Reza Khan successfully navigated these complex waters, striking a balance between cooperating with foreign powers and protecting Iranian sovereignty. Although he had to make concessions, particularly on oil exploitation, his government worked to ensure that Iran received a fairer share of oil revenues and to limit direct foreign influence in the country's internal affairs. In 1925, Reza Khan was crowned Reza Shah Pahlavi, becoming the first Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty. Under his reign, Iran underwent radical transformations, including modernisation of the economy, educational reform, westernisation of social and cultural norms, and a policy of industrialisation. These reforms, although often carried out in an authoritarian manner, marked Iran's entry into the modern era and laid the foundations for the country's subsequent development.

The era of Reza Shah Pahlavi: Modernisation and Centralisation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The advent of Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran in 1925 marked a radical change in the country's political and social landscape. After the fall of the Kadjar dynasty, Reza Shah, inspired by the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, initiated a series of far-reaching transformations aimed at modernising Iran and forging it into a powerful, centralised nation-state. His reign was characterised by authoritarian modernisation, with power highly concentrated and reforms imposed top-down. The centralisation of power was a crucial step, with Reza Shah seeking to eliminate traditional intermediate powers such as tribal chiefs and local notables. This consolidation of authority was intended to strengthen the central government and ensure tighter control over the country as a whole. As part of his modernisation efforts, he also introduced the metric system, modernised transport networks with the construction of new roads and railways, and implemented cultural and dress reforms to bring Iran into line with Western standards.

Reza Shah also promoted a strong nationalism, glorifying the Persian imperial past and the Persian language. This exaltation of Iran's past was intended to create a sense of national unity and common identity among Iran's diverse population. However, these reforms came at a high cost in terms of individual freedoms. Reza Shah's regime was marked by censorship, repression of freedom of expression and political dissent, and strict control of the political apparatus. On the legislative front, modern civil and penal codes were introduced, and dress reforms were imposed to modernise the appearance of the population. Although these reforms contributed to the modernisation of Iran, they were implemented in an authoritarian manner, without any significant democratic participation, which sowed the seeds of future tensions. The Reza Shah period was therefore an era of contradictions in Iran. On the one hand, it represented a significant leap forward in the modernisation and centralisation of the country. On the other, it laid the foundations for future conflicts because of its authoritarian approach and the absence of channels for free political expression. This period was therefore decisive in Iran's modern history, shaping its political, social and economic trajectory for decades to come.

Name change: From Persia to Iran[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The change of name from Persia to Iran in December 1934 is a fascinating example of how international politics and ideological influences can shape a country's national identity. Under the reign of Reza Shah Pahlavi, Persia, which had been the country's historical and Western name, officially became Iran, a term that had long been used within the country and which means "land of the Aryans". The name change was partly an effort to strengthen ties with the West and to emphasise the nation's Aryan heritage, against the backdrop of the emergence of nationalist and racial ideologies in Europe. At the time, Nazi propaganda had some resonance in several Middle Eastern countries, including Iran. Reza Shah, seeking to counterbalance British and Soviet influence in Iran, saw Nazi Germany as a potential strategic ally. However, his policy of rapprochement with Germany aroused the concern of the Allies, particularly Great Britain and the Soviet Union, who feared Iranian collaboration with Nazi Germany during the Second World War.

As a result of these concerns, and Iran's strategic role as a transit route for supplies to Soviet forces, the country became a focal point in the war. In 1941, British and Soviet forces invaded Iran, forcing Reza Shah to abdicate in favour of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Mohammed Reza, still young and inexperienced, acceded to the throne against a backdrop of international tensions and foreign military presence. The Allied invasion and occupation of Iran had a profound impact on the country, hastening the end of Reza Shah's policy of neutrality and ushering in a new era in Iranian history. Under Mohammed Reza Shah, Iran would become a key ally of the West during the Cold War, although this would be accompanied by internal challenges and political tensions that would ultimately culminate in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

Oil nationalisation and the fall of Mossadegh[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The episode of the nationalisation of oil in Iran and the fall of Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 constitute a crucial chapter in the history of the Middle East and reveal the power dynamics and geopolitical interests during the Cold War. In 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh, a nationalist politician elected Prime Minister, took the bold step of nationalising the Iranian oil industry, which was then controlled by the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, now BP). Mossadegh considered that control of the country's natural resources, particularly oil, was essential for Iran's economic and political independence. The decision to nationalise oil was extremely popular in Iran, but it also provoked an international crisis. The UK, losing its privileged access to Iran's oil resources, sought to thwart the move by diplomatic and economic means, including imposing an oil embargo. Faced with an impasse with Iran and unable to resolve the situation by conventional means, the British government asked the United States for help. Initially reluctant, the United States was eventually persuaded, partly because of rising Cold War tensions and fears of Communist influence in Iran.

In 1953, the CIA, with the support of Britain's MI6, launched Operation Ajax, a coup that led to the removal of Mossadegh and the strengthening of the power of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This coup marked a decisive turning point in Iranian history, strengthening the monarchy and increasing Western influence, particularly that of the United States, in Iran. However, foreign intervention and the suppression of nationalist and democratic aspirations also created deep resentment in Iran, which would contribute to internal political tensions and, ultimately, to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Operation Ajax is often cited as a classic example of Cold War interventionism and its long-term consequences, not just for Iran, but for the Middle East region as a whole.

The 1953 event in Iran, marked by the removal of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, was a pivotal period that had a profound impact on the country's political development. Mossadegh, although democratically elected and extremely popular for his nationalist policies, in particular the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry, was overthrown following a coup d'état orchestrated by the American CIA and British MI6, known as Operation Ajax.

The "White Revolution" of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After Mossadegh's departure, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi consolidated his power and became increasingly authoritarian. The Shah, supported by the United States and other Western powers, launched an ambitious programme of modernisation and development in Iran. This programme, known as the 'White Revolution', was launched in 1963 and aimed to rapidly transform Iran into a modern, industrialised nation. The Shah's reforms included land redistribution, a massive literacy campaign, economic modernisation, industrialisation and the granting of voting rights to women. These reforms were supposed to strengthen the Iranian economy, reduce dependence on oil, and improve the living conditions of Iranian citizens. However, the Shah's reign was also characterised by strict political control and repression of dissent. The Shah's secret police, the SAVAK, created with the help of the United States and Israel, was notorious for its brutality and repressive tactics. The lack of political freedoms, corruption and growing social inequality led to widespread discontent among the Iranian population. Although the Shah managed to achieve some progress in terms of modernisation and development, the lack of democratic political reform and the repression of opposition voices ultimately contributed to the alienation of large segments of Iranian society. This situation paved the way for the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which overthrew the monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Strengthening ties with the West and social impact[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since 1955, Iran, under the leadership of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, has sought to strengthen its ties with the West, particularly the United States, in the context of the Cold War. Iran's accession to the Baghdad Pact in 1955 was a key element of this strategic orientation. This pact, which also included Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, was a military alliance aimed at containing the expansion of Soviet communism in the Middle East. As part of his rapprochement with the West, the Shah launched the "White Revolution", a set of reforms aimed at modernising Iran. These reforms, largely influenced by the American model, included changes in production and consumption patterns, land reform, a literacy campaign and initiatives to promote industrialisation and economic development. The close involvement of the United States in Iran's modernisation process was also symbolised by the presence of American experts and advisers on Iranian soil. These experts often enjoyed privileges and immunities, which gave rise to tensions within various sectors of Iranian society, particularly among religious circles and nationalists.

The Shah's reforms, while leading to economic and social modernisation, were also perceived by many as a form of Americanisation and an erosion of Iranian values and traditions. This perception was exacerbated by the authoritarian nature of the Shah's regime and the absence of political freedoms and popular participation. The American presence and influence in Iran, as well as the reforms of the "White Revolution", have fuelled growing resentment, particularly in religious circles. Religious leaders, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, began to articulate increasingly strong opposition to the Shah, criticising him for his dependence on the United States and for his departure from Islamic values. This opposition eventually played a key role in the mobilisation that led to the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

The "White Revolution" reforms in Iran, initiated by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the 1960s, included a major land reform that had a profound impact on the country's social and economic structure. The aim of this reform was to modernise Iranian agriculture and reduce the country's dependence on oil exports, while improving the living conditions of peasants. The land reform broke with traditional practices, particularly those linked to Islam, such as offerings by imams. Instead, it favoured a market economy approach, with the aim of increasing productivity and stimulating economic development. Land was redistributed, reducing the power of the large landowners and religious elites who controlled vast tracts of agricultural land. However, this reform, along with other modernisation initiatives, was carried out in an authoritarian and top-down manner, without any meaningful consultation or participation of the population. Repression of the opposition, including left-wing and communist groups, was also a feature of the Shah's regime. The SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, was infamous for its brutal methods and extensive surveillance.

The Shah's authoritarian approach, combined with the economic and social impact of the reforms, created growing discontent among various segments of Iranian society. Shiite clerics, nationalists, communists, intellectuals and other groups found common ground in their opposition to the regime. Over time, this disparate opposition consolidated into an increasingly coordinated movement. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 can be seen as the result of this convergence of oppositions. The Shah's repression, perceived foreign influence, disruptive economic reforms and the marginalisation of traditional and religious values created fertile ground for a popular revolt. This revolution eventually overthrew the monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran, marking a radical turning point in the country's history.

The celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in 1971, organised by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a monumental event designed to underline the greatness and historical continuity of Iran. This lavish celebration, which took place in Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Achaemenid Empire, was intended to establish a link between the Shah's regime and the glorious imperial history of Persia. As part of his effort to strengthen Iran's national identity and highlight its historical roots, Mohammad Reza Shah made a significant change to the Iranian calendar. This change saw the Islamic calendar, which was based on the Hegira (the migration of the prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina), replaced by an imperial calendar that began with the founding of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great in 559 BC.

However, this change of calendar was controversial and was seen by many as an attempt by the Shah to play down the importance of Islam in Iranian history and culture in favour of glorifying the pre-Islamic imperial past. This was part of the Shah's policies of modernisation and secularisation, but it also fuelled discontent among religious groups and those attached to Islamic traditions. A few years later, following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran returned to using the Islamic calendar. The revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, overthrew the Pahlavi monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran, marking a profound rejection of the Shah's policies and style of governance, including his attempts to promote a nationalism based on Iran's pre-Islamic history. The calendar issue and the celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire are examples of how history and culture can be mobilised in politics, and how such actions can have a significant impact on the social and political dynamics of a country.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 and its Impact[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a landmark event in contemporary history, not only for Iran but also for global geopolitics. The revolution saw the collapse of the monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the establishment of an Islamic Republic under the leadership of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini. In the years leading up to the revolution, Iran was rocked by massive demonstrations and popular unrest. These protests were motivated by a multitude of grievances against the Shah, including his authoritarian policies, perceived corruption and dependence on the West, political repression, and social and economic inequalities exacerbated by rapid modernisation policies. In addition, the Shah's illness and inability to respond effectively to growing demands for political and social reform contributed to a general feeling of discontent and disillusionment.

In January 1979, faced with intensifying unrest, the Shah left Iran and went into exile. Shortly afterwards, Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual and political leader of the revolution, returned to Iran after 15 years in exile. Khomeini was a charismatic and respected figure, whose opposition to the Pahlavi monarchy and call for an Islamic state had won widespread support among various segments of Iranian society. When Khomeini arrived in Iran, he was greeted by millions of supporters. Shortly afterwards, the Iranian armed forces declared their neutrality, a clear sign that the Shah's regime had been irreparably weakened. Khomeini quickly seized the reins of power, declaring an end to the monarchy and establishing a provisional government.

The Iranian Revolution led to the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocratic state based on the principles of Shiite Islam and led by religious clerics. Khomeini became Iran's Supreme Leader, a position that gave him considerable power over the political and religious aspects of the state. The revolution not only transformed Iran, but also had a significant impact on regional and international politics, notably by intensifying tensions between Iran and the United States, and by influencing Islamist movements in other parts of the Muslim world.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 attracted worldwide attention and was supported by various groups, including some Western intellectuals who saw it as a liberation movement or a spiritual and political revival. Among them, the French philosopher Michel Foucault was particularly noted for his writings and commentary on the revolution. Foucault, known for his critical analyses of power structures and governance, was interested in the Iranian Revolution as a significant event that challenged contemporary political and social norms. He was fascinated by the popular and spiritual aspect of the revolution, seeing it as a form of political resistance that went beyond the traditional Western categories of left and right. However, his position was a source of controversy and debate, not least because of the nature of the Islamic Republic that emerged after the revolution.

The Iranian Revolution led to the establishment of a Shia theocracy, where the principles of Islamic governance, based on Shia law (Sharia), were integrated into the political and legal structures of the state. Under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, the new regime established a unique political structure known as "Velayat-e Faqih" (the tutelage of the Islamic jurist), in which a supreme religious authority, the Supreme Leader, holds considerable power. Iran's transition to a theocracy has led to profound changes in all aspects of Iranian society. Although the revolution initially enjoyed the support of various groups, including nationalists, leftists and liberals, as well as clerics, the years that followed saw a consolidation of power in the hands of Shiite clerics and increasing repression of other political groups. The nature of the Islamic Republic, with its mix of theocracy and democracy, continued to be a subject of debate and analysis, both within Iran and internationally. The revolution profoundly transformed Iran and had a lasting impact on regional and global politics, redefining the relationship between religion, politics and power.

The Iran-Iraq War and its Effects on the Islamic Republic[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The invasion of Iran by Iraq in 1980, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, played a paradoxical role in the consolidation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This conflict, known as the Iran-Iraq war, lasted from September 1980 to August 1988 and was one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century. At the time of the attack on Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran was still in its infancy, following the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi monarchy. The Iranian regime, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, was in the process of consolidating its power, but faced significant internal tensions and challenges. The Iraqi invasion had a unifying effect in Iran, strengthening national sentiment and support for the Islamic regime. Faced with an external threat, the Iranian people, including many groups previously at odds with the government, rallied around national defence. The war also allowed Khomeini's regime to strengthen its grip on the country, mobilising the population under the banner of defending the Islamic Republic and Shia Islam. The Iran-Iraq war also reinforced the importance of religious power in Iran. The regime used religious rhetoric to mobilise the population and legitimise its actions, relying on the concept of "defence of Islam" to unite Iranians of different political and social persuasions.

The Islamic Republic of Iran was not formally proclaimed, but emerged from the Islamic revolution of 1979. Iran's new constitution, adopted after the revolution, established a unique theocratic political structure, with Shiite Islamic principles and values at the heart of the system of government. Secularism is not a feature of the Iranian constitution, which instead merges religious and political governance under the doctrine of "Velayat-e Faqih" (the guardianship of the Islamic jurist).

Egypt[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Ancient Egypt and its Successions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Egypt, with its rich and complex history, is a cradle of ancient civilisations and has seen a succession of rulers over the centuries. The region that is now Egypt was the centre of one of the earliest and greatest civilisations in history, with roots going back to ancient Pharaonic Egypt. Over time, Egypt has been under the influence of various empires and powers. After the Pharaonic era, it was successively under Persian, Greek (after the conquest of Alexander the Great) and Roman domination. Each of these periods left a lasting mark on Egypt's history and culture. The Arab conquest of Egypt, which began in 639, marked a turning point in the country's history. The Arab invasion led to the Islamisation and Arabisation of Egypt, profoundly transforming Egyptian society and culture. Egypt became an integral part of the Islamic world, a status it retains to this day.

In 1517, Egypt fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire after the capture of Cairo. Under Ottoman rule, Egypt retained a degree of local autonomy, but was also tied to the political and economic fortunes of the Ottoman Empire. This period lasted until the early 19th century, when Egypt began to move towards greater modernisation and independence under leaders such as Muhammad Ali Pasha, often regarded as the founder of modern Egypt. Egypt's history is therefore that of a crossroads of civilisations, cultures and influences, which has shaped the country into a unique nation with a rich and diverse identity. Each period of its history has contributed to the construction of contemporary Egypt, a state that plays a key role in the Arab world and in international politics.

In the 18th century, Egypt became a territory of strategic interest to European powers, particularly Great Britain, due to its crucial geographical location and control over the route to India. British interest in Egypt increased with the growing importance of maritime trade and the need for secure trade routes.

Mehmet Ali and the Modernising Reforms[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Nahda, or Arab Renaissance, was a major cultural, intellectual and political movement that took root in Egypt in the 19th century, particularly during the reign of Mehmet Ali, who is often regarded as the founder of modern Egypt. Mehmet Ali, of Albanian origin, was appointed governor of Egypt by the Ottomans in 1805 and quickly set about modernising the country. His reforms included modernising the army, introducing new agricultural methods, expanding industry and establishing a modern education system. The Nahda in Egypt coincided with a wider cultural and intellectual movement in the Arab world, characterised by a literary, scientific and intellectual revival. In Egypt, this movement was stimulated by Mehmet Ali's reforms and by the opening up of the country to European influences.

Ibrahim Pasha, Mehmet Ali's son, also played an important role in Egyptian history. Under his command, Egyptian forces carried out several successful military campaigns, extending Egyptian influence far beyond its traditional borders. In the 1830s, Egyptian troops even challenged the Ottoman Empire, leading to an international crisis involving the great European powers. The expansionism of Mehmet Ali and Ibrahim Pasha was a direct challenge to Ottoman authority and marked Egypt out as a significant political and military player in the region. However, the intervention of European powers, particularly Britain and France, ultimately limited Egyptian ambitions, foreshadowing the increased role these powers would play in the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 marked a decisive moment in Egypt's history, significantly increasing its strategic importance on the international stage. This canal, linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, revolutionised maritime trade by considerably reducing the distance between Europe and Asia. Egypt thus found itself at the centre of the world's trade routes, attracting the attention of the great imperialist powers, in particular Great Britain. At the same time, however, Egypt faced considerable economic challenges. The costs of building the Suez Canal and other modernisation projects led the Egyptian government to incur heavy debts to European countries, mainly France and Britain. Egypt's inability to repay these loans had major political and economic consequences.

The British Protectorate and the Struggle for Independence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1876, as a result of the debt crisis, a Franco-British control commission was set up to supervise Egypt's finances. This commission took a major role in the administration of the country, effectively reducing Egypt's autonomy and sovereignty. This foreign interference provoked growing discontent among the Egyptian population, particularly among the working classes, who were suffering from the economic effects of the reforms and debt repayments. The situation worsened still further in the 1880s. In 1882, after several years of growing tension and internal disorder, including Ahmed Urabi's nationalist revolt, Britain intervened militarily and established a de facto protectorate over Egypt. Although Egypt officially remained part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of the First World War, it was in reality under British control. The British presence in Egypt was justified by the need to protect British interests, in particular the Suez Canal, which was crucial to the sea route to India, the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire. This period of British rule had a profound impact on Egypt, shaping its political, economic and social development, and sowing the seeds of Egyptian nationalism that would eventually lead to the 1952 revolution and the country's formal independence.

The First World War accentuated the strategic importance of the Suez Canal for the belligerent powers, particularly Britain. The Canal was vital to British interests as it provided the fastest sea route to its colonies in Asia, notably India, which was then a crucial part of the British Empire. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the need to secure the Suez Canal against possible attack or interference from the Central Powers (notably the Ottoman Empire, allied to Germany) became a priority for Britain. In response to these strategic concerns, the British decided to strengthen their hold on Egypt. In 1914, Britain officially proclaimed a protectorate over Egypt, nominally replacing the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire with direct British control. The proclamation marked the end of nominal Ottoman rule over Egypt, which had existed since 1517, and established a British colonial administration in the country.

The British protectorate involved direct interference in Egypt's internal affairs and strengthened British military and political control over the country. Although the British justified this measure as necessary for the defence of Egypt and the Suez Canal, it was widely perceived by Egyptians as a violation of their sovereignty and fuelled nationalist sentiment in Egypt. The First World War was a period of economic and social hardship in Egypt, exacerbated by the demands of the British war effort and the restrictions imposed by the colonial administration. These conditions contributed to the emergence of a stronger Egyptian nationalist movement, which eventually led to revolts and the struggle for independence in the years following the war.

The Nationalist Movement and the Quest for Independence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The post-First World War period in Egypt was one of growing tensions and nationalist demands. Egyptians, who had suffered the rigours of war, including drudgery and starvation due to British requisitioning of resources, began to demand independence and recognition for their war efforts.

The end of the First World War had created a global climate in which ideas of self-determination and an end to colonial empires were gaining ground, thanks in part to US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which called for new principles of international governance and the right of peoples to self-determination. In Egypt, this climate led to the formation of a nationalist movement, embodied by the Wafd (which means "delegation" in Arabic). The Wafd was led by Saad Zaghloul, who became the spokesman for Egyptian nationalist aspirations. In 1919, Zaghloul and other members of the Wafd sought to travel to the Paris Peace Conference to present the case for Egyptian independence. However, the Egyptian delegation's attempt to travel to Paris was obstructed by the British authorities. Zaghloul and his companions were arrested and exiled to Malta by the British, which triggered massive demonstrations and riots in Egypt, known as the 1919 Revolution. This revolution was a major popular uprising, with massive participation by Egyptians from all walks of life, and marked a decisive turning point in the struggle for Egyptian independence.

Zaghloul's forced exile and the repressive British response galvanised the nationalist movement in Egypt and increased pressure on Britain to recognise Egyptian independence. Ultimately, the crisis led to the partial recognition of Egypt's independence in 1922 and the formal end of the British protectorate in 1936, although British influence in Egypt remained significant until the 1952 revolution. The Wafd became a major political player in Egypt, playing a crucial role in Egyptian politics in the following decades, and Saad Zaghloul remained an emblematic figure of Egyptian nationalism.

The revolutionary nationalist movement in Egypt, strengthened by the 1919 Revolution and the leadership of the Wafd under Saad Zaghloul, put increasing pressure on Britain to reconsider its position in Egypt. In response to this pressure and the changing political realities after the First World War, Britain proclaimed the end of its protectorate over Egypt in 1922. However, this 'independence' was highly conditional and limited. Indeed, although the declaration of independence marked a step towards Egyptian sovereignty, it included several important reservations that maintained British influence in Egypt. These included maintaining the British military presence around the Suez Canal, which was crucial to British strategic and commercial interests, and control of the Sudan, the vital source of the Nile and a major geopolitical issue.

Against this backdrop, Sultan Fouad, who had been Sultan of Egypt since 1917, took advantage of the end of the protectorate to proclaim himself King Fouad I in 1922, thereby establishing an independent Egyptian monarchy. However, his reign was characterised by close ties with Great Britain. Fouad I, while formally accepting independence, often acted in close collaboration with the British authorities, which drew criticism from Egyptian nationalists who perceived him as a monarch subservient to British interests. The period following the declaration of independence in 1922 was therefore one of transition and tension in Egypt, with internal political struggles over the direction of the country and the real degree of independence from Britain. This situation laid the foundations for future political conflicts in Egypt, including the 1952 revolution that overthrew the monarchy and established the Arab Republic of Egypt.

The founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna is a major event in the social and political history of the country. The movement was created against a backdrop of growing dissatisfaction with the rapid modernisation and Western influence in Egypt, as well as the perceived deterioration of Islamic values and traditions. The Muslim Brotherhood positioned itself as an Islamist movement seeking to promote a return to Islamic principles in all aspects of life. They advocated a society governed by Islamic laws and principles, in opposition to what they perceived as excessive westernisation and a loss of Islamic cultural identity. The movement rapidly gained popularity, becoming an influential social and political force in Egypt. Alongside the emergence of movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt experienced a period of political instability in the 1920s and 1930s. This instability, combined with the rise of fascist powers in Europe, created a worrying international context for Britain.

Against this backdrop, Britain sought to consolidate its influence in Egypt while recognising the need to make concessions on Egyptian independence. In 1936, Britain and Egypt signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which formally reinforced Egypt's independence while allowing a British military presence in the country, particularly around the Suez Canal. The treaty also recognised Egypt's role in the defence of Sudan, then under Anglo-Egyptian rule. The 1936 Treaty was a step towards greater independence for Egypt, but it also maintained key aspects of British influence. The signing of the Treaty was an attempt by Britain to stabilise the situation in Egypt and to ensure that the country would not fall under the influence of the Axis powers during the Second World War. It also reflected Britain's recognition of the need to adapt to changing political realities in Egypt and the region.

The Nasser Era and the 1952 Revolution[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

On 23 July 1952, a coup d'état led by a group of Egyptian military officers, known as the Free Officers, marked a major turning point in Egypt's history. This revolution overthrew the monarchy of King Farouk and led to the establishment of a republic. Among the leaders of the Free Officers, Gamal Abdel Nasser quickly became the dominant figure and the face of the new regime. Nasser, who became president in 1954, adopted a strongly nationalist and Third Worldist policy, influenced by ideas of pan-Arabism and socialism. His pan-Arabism aimed to unite Arab countries around common values and political, economic and cultural interests. This ideology was partly a response to Western influence and intervention in the region. The nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 was one of Nasser's boldest and most emblematic decisions. This action was motivated by the desire to control a resource vital to the Egyptian economy and to free himself from Western influence, but it also triggered the Suez Canal crisis, a major military confrontation with France, the United Kingdom and Israel.

Nasser's socialism was developmentalist, aiming to modernise and industrialise the Egyptian economy while promoting social justice. Under his leadership, Egypt launched major infrastructure projects, the most notable of which was the Aswan Dam. To complete this major project, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for financial and technical support, marking a rapprochement between Egypt and the Soviets during the Cold War. Nasser also sought to develop an Egyptian bourgeoisie while implementing socialist policies, such as land reform and the nationalisation of certain industries. These policies aimed to reduce inequality and establish a fairer, more independent economy. Nasser's leadership had a significant impact not only on Egypt but also on the entire Arab world and the Third World. He became an emblematic figure of Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, seeking to establish an independent path for Egypt outside the Cold War power blocs.

From Sadat to Contemporary Egypt[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Six Day War in 1967, lost by Egypt along with Jordan and Syria to Israel, was a devastating moment for Nasser's pan-Arabism. Not only did this defeat result in a significant territorial loss for these Arab countries, it was also a serious blow to the idea of Arab unity and power. Nasser, deeply affected by this failure, remained in power until his death in 1970. Anwar Sadat succeeded Nasser and took a different direction. He launched economic reforms, known as Infitah, aimed at opening the Egyptian economy to foreign investment and stimulating economic growth. Sadat also questioned Egypt's commitment to pan-Arabism and sought to establish relations with Israel. The Camp David Accords of 1978, negotiated with the help of the United States, led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, a major turning point in the history of the Middle East.

However, Sadat's rapprochement with Israel was extremely controversial in the Arab world and led to Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League. This decision was seen by many as a betrayal of pan-Arab principles and contributed to a re-evaluation of pan-Arab ideology in the region. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group that had opposed his policies, particularly his foreign policy. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, who established a regime that would last almost three decades.

Under Mubarak, Egypt enjoyed relative stability, but also increasing political repression, particularly against the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups. However, in 2011, during the Arab Spring, Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising, illustrating widespread discontent with corruption, unemployment and political repression. Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was elected president in 2012, but his term was short-lived. In 2013, he was overthrown by a military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who was subsequently elected president in 2014. Sissi's regime has been marked by an increased crackdown on political dissidents, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and efforts to stabilise the economy and strengthen the country's security. The recent period in Egyptian history is therefore characterised by major political changes, reflecting the complex and often turbulent dynamics of Egyptian and Arab politics.

Saudi Arabia[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Founding Alliance: Ibn Saud and Ibn Abd al-Wahhab[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Saudi Arabia is distinguished by its relative youth as a modern nation-state and by the unique ideological foundations that have shaped its formation and evolution. A key element in understanding Saudi history and society is the ideology of Wahhabism.

Wahhabism is a form of Sunni Islam, characterised by a strict and puritanical interpretation of Islam. It takes its name from Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, an 18th-century theologian and religious reformer from the Najd region in what is now Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab advocated a return to what he considered to be the original principles of Islam, rejecting many practices that he deemed to be innovations (bid'ah) or idolatries. The influence of Wahhabism on the formation of Saudi Arabia is inextricably linked to the alliance between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud, the founder of the first Saudi dynasty, in the 18th century. This alliance united the religious aims of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab with the political and territorial ambitions of Ibn Saud, creating an ideological and political foundation for the first Saudi state.

Establishment of the Modern Saudi State[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the 20th century, under the reign of Abdelaziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, this alliance was strengthened. Saudi Arabia was officially founded in 1932, uniting various tribes and regions under a single national authority. Wahhabism became the official religious doctrine of the state, permeating governance, education, legislation and social life in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism has not only influenced Saudi Arabia's internal social and political structure, but has also had an impact on its external relations, particularly in terms of foreign policy and support for various Islamic movements around the world. Saudi Arabia's oil wealth has enabled the kingdom to promote its version of Islam internationally, helping to spread Wahhabism beyond its borders.

The pact of 1744 between Muhammad ibn Saud, the chief of the Al Saud tribe, and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a religious reformer, is a founding event in the history of Saudi Arabia. This pact united the political aims of Ibn Saud with the religious ideals of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, laying the foundations for what was to become the Saudi state. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab advocated a puritanical interpretation of Islam, seeking to purge religious practice of what he considered to be innovations, superstitions and deviations from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran. His movement, which came to be known as Wahhabism, called for a return to a "purer" form of Islam. On the other hand, Ibn Saud saw in Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's movement an opportunity to legitimise and extend his political power. The pact between them was therefore both a religious and political alliance, with Ibn Saud pledging to defend and promote Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's teachings, while Ibn Abd al-Wahhab supported Ibn Saud's political authority. In the years that followed, the Al Sauds, with the support of Wahhabi followers, undertook military campaigns to extend their influence and impose their interpretation of Islam. These campaigns led to the creation of the first Saudi state in the 18th century, covering a large part of the Arabian Peninsula.

However, the formation of the Saudi state was not a linear process. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Al Saud political entity suffered several setbacks, including the destruction of the first Saudi state by the Ottomans and their Egyptian allies. It was not until Abdelaziz ibn Saud, at the beginning of the 20th century, that the Al Sauds finally succeeded in establishing a stable and lasting kingdom, modern Saudi Arabia, proclaimed in 1932. The history of Saudi Arabia is therefore intimately linked to the alliance between the Al Sauds and the Wahhabi movement, an alliance that shaped not only the kingdom's political and social structure, but also its religious and cultural identity.

Ibn Saud's Reconquest and the founding of the Kingdom[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The attack on Mecca by Saudi forces in 1803 is a significant event in the history of the Arabian Peninsula and reflects the religious and political tensions of the time. Wahhabism, the strict interpretation of Sunni Islam promoted by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and adopted by the House of Saud, considered certain practices, particularly those of Shi'ism, to be alien or even heretical to Islam. In 1803, Saudi Wahhabi forces took control of Mecca, one of Islam's holiest sites, which was seen as a provocative act by other Muslims, particularly the Ottomans who were the traditional custodians of the Islamic holy sites. This takeover was seen not only as territorial expansion by the Saud, but also as an attempt to impose their particular interpretation of Islam.

In response to this Saudi advance, the Ottoman Empire, seeking to maintain its influence over the region, sent forces under the command of Mehmet Ali Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Egypt. Mehmet Ali Pasha, renowned for his military skills and efforts to modernise Egypt, led an effective campaign against the Saudi forces. In 1818, after a series of military confrontations, Mehmet Ali Pasha's troops succeeded in defeating the Saudi forces and capturing their leader, Abdullah bin Saud, who was sent to Constantinople (now Istanbul) where he was executed. This defeat marked the end of the first Saudi state. This episode illustrates the complexity of the political and religious dynamics in the region at the time. It highlights not only the conflicts between different interpretations of Islam, but also the struggle for power and influence among the regional powers of the time, notably the Ottoman Empire and the emerging Sauds.

The second attempt to create a Saudi state, which took place between 1820 and 1840, also encountered difficulties and ultimately failed. This period was marked by a series of conflicts and confrontations between the Saud and various adversaries, including the Ottoman Empire and its local allies. These struggles resulted in the loss of territory and influence for the House of Saud. However, the aspiration to establish a Saudi state did not disappear. At the turn of the 20th century, particularly around 1900-1901, a new phase in Saudi history began with the return of members of the Al Saud family from exile. Among them, Abdelaziz ibn Saud, often referred to as Ibn Saud, played a crucial role in the rebirth and expansion of Saudi influence. Ibn Saud, a charismatic and strategic leader, set out to reconquer and unify the territories of the Arabian Peninsula under the banner of the House of Saud. His campaign began with the capture of Riyadh in 1902, which became the starting point for further conquests and the expansion of his kingdom.

Over the following decades, Ibn Saud led a series of military campaigns and political manoeuvres, gradually extending his control over much of the Arabian Peninsula. These efforts were facilitated by his ability to negotiate alliances, manage tribal rivalries and integrate Wahhabi teachings as the ideological basis of his state. Ibn Saud's success culminated in the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, uniting the various regions and tribes under a single national authority. The new kingdom consolidated the various territories conquered by Ibn Saud, establishing a lasting Saudi state with Wahhabism as its religious and ideological foundation. The creation of Saudi Arabia marked a significant milestone in the modern history of the Middle East, with far-reaching implications for both the region and international politics, particularly following the discovery and exploitation of oil in the kingdom.

Relations with the British Empire and the Arab Revolt[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1915, during the First World War, the British, seeking to weaken the Ottoman Empire, established contacts with various Arab leaders, including Sherif Hussein of Mecca, who was a prominent member of the Hashemite family. At the same time, the British maintained relations with the Saudis, led by Abdelaziz ibn Saud, although these were less direct and involved than those with the Hashemites. Sherif Hussein, encouraged by British promises of support for Arab independence, launched the Arab Revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire. This revolt was motivated by the desire for Arab independence and opposition to Ottoman domination. However, the Saudis, under the leadership of Ibn Saud, did not take an active part in this revolt. They were engaged in their own campaign to consolidate and extend their control over the Arabian Peninsula. Although the Saudis and Hashemites had common interests against the Ottomans, they were also rivals for control of the region.

After the war, with the failure of British and French promises to create an independent Arab kingdom (as envisaged in the secret Sykes-Picot agreements), Sherif Hussein found himself isolated. In 1924, he proclaimed himself Caliph, an act that was seen as provocative by many Muslims, including the Saudis. Hussein's proclamation as Caliph provided a pretext for the Saudis to attack him as they sought to extend their influence. Saudi forces finally took control of Mecca in 1924, ending Hashemite rule in the region and consolidating the power of Ibn Saud. This conquest was a key stage in the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and marked the end of Sherif Hussein's ambitions to create a unified Arab kingdom under the Hashemite dynasty.

The Rise of Saudi Arabia and the Discovery of Oil[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1926, Abdelaziz ibn Saud, having consolidated his control over a large part of the Arabian Peninsula, proclaimed himself King of Hijaz. The Hijaz, a region of considerable religious importance due to the presence of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, had previously been under the control of the Hashemite dynasty. Ibn Saud's seizure of the Hijaz marked a significant step in the establishment of Saudi Arabia as a powerful political entity in the region. The recognition of Ibn Saud as King of the Hijaz by powers such as Russia, France and Great Britain was a key moment in the international legitimisation of his rule. These recognitions signalled a significant change in international relations and an acceptance of the new balance of power in the region. Ibn Saud's takeover of Hijaz not only strengthened his position as a political leader in the Arabian Peninsula, but also increased his prestige in the Muslim world, placing him as the guardian of Islam's holy places. It also meant the end of the Hashemite presence in the Hijaz, with the remaining members of the Hashemite dynasty fleeing to other parts of the Middle East, where they would establish new kingdoms, particularly in Jordan and Iraq. The proclamation of Ibn Saud as King of the Hijaz was therefore an important milestone in the formation of modern Saudi Arabia and helped to shape the political architecture of the Middle East in the period following the First World War.

In 1932, Abdelaziz ibn Saud completed a process of territorial and political consolidation that led to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom united the regions of Nedj (or Nejd) and Hedjaz under a single national authority, marking the birth of the modern Saudi state. This unification represented the culmination of Ibn Saud's efforts to establish a stable and unified kingdom in the Arabian Peninsula, consolidating the various conquests and alliances he had achieved over the years. The discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938 was a major turning point not only for the kingdom, but also for the world economy. The American California Arabian Standard Oil Company (later ARAMCO) was the first to discover oil in commercial quantities. This discovery transformed Saudi Arabia from a predominantly desert and agrarian state into one of the world's largest oil producers.

The Second World War accentuated the strategic importance of Saudi oil. Although Saudi Arabia remained officially neutral during the war, the growing demand for oil to fuel the war effort made the kingdom an important economic partner for the Allies, notably Britain and the United States. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, in particular, strengthened during and after the war, laying the foundations for a lasting alliance centred on security and oil. This period also saw the beginning of Saudi Arabia's significant influence in world affairs, thanks in large part to its vast oil reserves. The kingdom became a key player in the global economy and Middle East politics, a position it continues to occupy today. Oil wealth has enabled Saudi Arabia to invest heavily in national development and play an influential role in regional and international politics.

Modern Challenges: Islamism, Oil, and International Politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 had a profound impact on the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. The rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini and the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran raised concerns in many countries in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where it was feared that Shiite revolutionary ideology could be exported and destabilise the predominantly Sunni Gulf monarchies. In Saudi Arabia, these fears strengthened the kingdom's position as an ally of the United States and other Western powers. In the context of the Cold War and the growing hostility between the United States and Iran after the revolution, Saudi Arabia was seen as a vital counterweight to Iranian influence in the region. Wahhabism, the strict and conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam practised in Saudi Arabia, became central to the kingdom's identity and was used to counter Iranian Shiite influence.

Saudi Arabia also played a key role in anti-Soviet efforts, particularly during the Afghan War (1979-1989). The kingdom supported the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet invasion, both financially and ideologically, promoting Wahhabism as part of the Islamic resistance against Soviet atheism. In 1981, as part of its strategy to strengthen regional cooperation and counter Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia was a key player in the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The GCC, a political and economic alliance, comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The organisation is designed to foster collaboration between the Gulf monarchies in a variety of areas, including defence, economics and foreign policy. Saudi Arabia's position within the GCC has reflected and reinforced its role as a regional leader. The kingdom has used the GCC as a platform to promote its strategic interests and to stabilise the region in the face of security and political challenges, notably tensions with Iran and turbulence linked to Islamist movements and regional conflicts.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq under Saddam Hussein in August 1990 triggered a series of crucial events in the Gulf region, with major repercussions for Saudi Arabia and world politics. The invasion led to the 1991 Gulf War, in which a US-led international coalition was formed to liberate Kuwait. Faced with the Iraqi threat, Saudi Arabia, fearing a possible invasion of its own territory, accepted the presence of US military forces and other coalition troops on its soil. Temporary military bases were established in Saudi Arabia to launch operations against Iraq. This decision was historic and controversial, as it involved the stationing of non-Muslim troops in the country that is home to Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

The US military presence in Saudi Arabia was strongly criticised by various Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden, himself of Saudi origin, interpreted the US military presence in Saudi Arabia as a desecration of the holy lands of Islam. This was one of Al Qaeda's main grievances against the United States and was used as a justification for its terrorist attacks, including the attacks of 11 September 2001. Al Qaeda's reaction to the Gulf War and the US military presence in Saudi Arabia highlighted the growing tensions between Western values and certain radical Islamist groups. It also highlighted the challenges Saudi Arabia faced in balancing its strategic relationship with the US and managing conservative Islamic sentiments within its own population. The post-Gulf War period has been a time of change and instability in the region, marked by political and ideological conflicts, which continue to influence regional and international dynamics.

The incident at the Great Mosque in Mecca in 1979 is a landmark event in Saudi Arabia's contemporary history and illustrates the internal tensions linked to issues of religious and political identity. On 20 November 1979, a group of Islamic fundamentalists led by Juhayman al-Otaybi stormed the Great Mosque of Mecca, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Juhayman al-Otaybi and his supporters, mainly from conservative and religious backgrounds, criticised the Saudi royal family for its corruption, luxury and openness to Western influence. They considered these factors to be at odds with the Wahhabi principles on which the kingdom was founded. Al-Otaybi proclaimed his brother-in-law, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, as the Mahdi, a messianic figure in Islam.

The siege of the Grand Mosque lasted two weeks, during which time the insurgents held thousands of pilgrims hostage. The situation posed a considerable challenge to the Saudi government, not only in terms of security, but also in terms of religious and political legitimacy. Saudi Arabia had to ask for a fatwa (religious decree) to allow military intervention in the mosque, normally a sanctuary of peace where violence is forbidden. The final assault to retake the mosque began on 4 December 1979 and was led by Saudi security forces with the help of French advisers. The battle was intense and deadly, leaving hundreds of insurgents, security forces and hostages dead.

The incident had far-reaching repercussions in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. It revealed fissures in Saudi society and highlighted the challenges facing the kingdom in terms of managing religious extremism. In response to the crisis, the Saudi government strengthened its conservative religious policies and increased its control over religious institutions, while continuing to repress Islamist opposition. The incident also highlighted the complexity of the relationship between religion, politics and power in Saudi Arabia.

Countries created by decree[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the end of the First World War, the United States, under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, had a different vision from that of the European powers regarding the future of the territories conquered during the war. Wilson, with his Fourteen Points, advocated the right of peoples to self-determination and opposed the acquisition of territory by conquest, a position that contrasted with the traditional colonial objectives of the European powers, notably Great Britain and France. The United States was also in favour of an open and equitable system of trade, which meant that territories should not be exclusively under the control of a single power, in order to allow wider commercial access, thus benefiting American interests. In practice, however, British and French interests prevailed, the latter having made significant territorial gains following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the defeat of Germany.

To reconcile these different perspectives, a compromise was found through the League of Nations system of mandates. This system was supposed to be a form of international governance for the conquered territories, in preparation for their eventual independence. Setting up this system required a complex process of negotiations and treaties. The San Remo Conference in 1920 was a key moment in this process, during which the mandates for the territories of the former Ottoman Empire were awarded, mainly to Great Britain and France. Subsequently, the Cairo Conference in 1921 further defined the terms and limits of these mandates. The Treaties of Sèvres in 1920 and Lausanne in 1923 redrew the map of the Middle East and formalised the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sèvres, in particular, dismantled the Ottoman Empire and provided for the creation of a number of independent nation states. However, due to Turkish opposition and subsequent changes in the geopolitical situation, the Treaty of Sèvres was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, which redefined the borders of modern Turkey and annulled some of the provisions of the Treaty of Sèvres. This lengthy negotiation process reflected the complexities and tensions of the post-war world order, with established powers seeking to maintain their influence while confronting new international ideals and the emergence of the United States as a global power.

After the First World War, the dismantling of the Ottoman and German empires led to the creation of the League of Nations system of mandates, an attempt to manage the territories of these former empires in a post-colonial context. This system, established by the post-war peace treaties, notably the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, was divided into three categories - A, B and C - reflecting the perceived degree of development and readiness for self-government of the territories concerned.

Type A mandates, allocated to the territories of the former Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, were considered to be the most advanced towards self-determination. These territories, considered relatively "civilised" by the standards of the time, included Syria and Lebanon, under the French mandate, as well as Palestine (including present-day Jordan) and Iraq, under the British mandate. The notion of "civilisation" employed at the time reflected the prejudices and paternalistic attitudes of the colonial powers, assuming that these regions were closer to self-governance than others. The treatment of Type A mandates reflected the geopolitical interests of the mandating powers, notably Britain and France, who sought to extend their influence in the region. Their actions were often motivated by strategic and economic considerations, such as control of trade routes and access to oil resources, rather than a commitment to the autonomy of local populations. This was illustrated by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which Britain expressed its support for the creation of a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, a decision that had lasting and divisive consequences for the region. Type B and C mandates, mainly in Africa and certain Pacific islands, were considered to require a higher level of supervision. These territories, often underdeveloped and with little infrastructure, were managed more directly by the mandating powers. The system of mandates, although presented as a form of benevolent trusteeship, was in reality very close to colonialism and was widely perceived as such by the indigenous populations.

In short, the League of Nations system of mandates, despite its stated intention to prepare territories for independence, often served to perpetuate the influence and control of the European powers in the regions concerned. It also laid the foundations for many future political and territorial conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, where the borders and policies established during this period continue to have a significant impact on regional and international dynamics.

MOMCENC - Territories lost by the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East.png

This map shows the distribution of territories formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and North Africa after they were lost by the Empire, mainly as a result of the First World War. The different zones of influence and the territories controlled by the European powers are colour-coded. The territories are divided according to the power that controlled them or exercised influence over them. British-controlled territories are in purple, the French in yellow, the Italians in pink and the Spanish in blue. Independent territories are marked in pale yellow, the Ottoman Empire is in glass with its borders at their height highlighted, and areas of Russian and British influence are also shown.

The map also shows the dates of initial occupation or control of certain territories by colonial powers, indicating the period of imperialist expansion in North Africa and the Middle East. For example, Algeria has been marked as French territory since 1830, Tunisia since 1881 and Morocco is divided between French (since 1912) and Spanish (since 1912) control. Libya, meanwhile, was under Italian control from 1911 to 1932. Egypt has been marked as British-controlled since 1882, although it was technically a British protectorate. Anglo-Egyptian Sudan is also shown, reflecting joint Egyptian and British control since 1899. As far as the Middle East is concerned, the map clearly shows the League of Nations mandates, with Syria and Lebanon under French mandate and Iraq and Palestine (including present-day Transjordan) under British mandate. The Hijaz, the region around Mecca and Medina, is also shown, reflecting the control of the Saud family, while Yemen and Oman are marked as British protectorates. This map is a useful tool for understanding the geopolitical changes that took place after the decline of the Ottoman Empire and how the Middle East and North Africa were reshaped by European colonial interests. It also shows the complexity of power relations in the region, which continue to affect regional and international politics today.

In 1919, following the First World War, the division of the territories of the former Ottoman Empire between the European powers was a controversial and divisive process. The local populations of these regions, having nurtured aspirations to self-determination and independence, often greeted the establishment of European-controlled mandates with hostility. This hostility was part of a wider context of dissatisfaction with Western influence and intervention in the region. The Arab nationalist movement, which had gained momentum during the war, aspired to the creation of a unified Arab state or several independent Arab states. These aspirations had been encouraged by British promises of support for Arab independence in return for support against the Ottomans, notably through the Hussein-McMahon correspondence and the Arab Revolt led by Sherif Hussein of Mecca. However, the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, a secret arrangement between Britain and France, divided the region into zones of influence, betraying promises made to the Arabs.

Anti-Western feelings were particularly strong because of the perception that the European powers were not honouring their commitments to the Arab populations and were manipulating the region for their own imperialist interests. By contrast, the United States was often viewed less critically by local populations. American policy under President Woodrow Wilson was seen as more supportive of self-determination and less inclined towards traditional imperialism. Moreover, the United States did not have the same colonial history as the European powers in the region, which made it less likely to arouse the hostility of local populations. The immediate post-war period was therefore one of profound uncertainty and tension in the Middle East, as local populations struggled for independence and autonomy in the face of foreign powers seeking to shape the region according to their own strategic and economic interests. The repercussions of these events shaped the political and social history of the Middle East throughout the 20th century and continue to influence international relations in the region.

Syria[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Dawn of Arab Nationalism: The Role of Faisal[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Faisal, son of Sherif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca, played a leading role in the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and in subsequent attempts to form an independent Arab kingdom. After the war, he went to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, armed with British promises of independence for the Arabs in return for their support during the conflict. However, once in Paris, Faisal soon discovered the complex political realities and intrigues of post-war diplomacy. French interests in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon, were in direct contradiction with aspirations for Arab independence. The French were resolutely opposed to the creation of a unified Arab kingdom under Faisal, envisaging instead placing these territories under their control as part of the League of Nations system of mandates. Faced with this opposition, and conscious of the need to strengthen his political position, Faisal negotiated an agreement with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. This agreement aimed to establish a French protectorate over Syria, which was at odds with the aspirations of the Arab nationalists. Faisal kept the agreement secret from his supporters, who continued to fight for full independence.

Meanwhile, a Syrian state was being formed. Under Faisal's leadership, efforts were made to lay the foundations of a modern state, with reforms in education, the creation of a public administration, the establishment of an army and the development of policies to strengthen national identity and sovereignty. Despite these developments, the situation in Syria remained precarious. The secret agreement with Clemenceau and the lack of British support put Faisal in a difficult position. Eventually, France took direct control of Syria in 1920 after the Battle of Maysaloun, ending Faisal's hopes of establishing an independent Arab kingdom. Faisal was expelled from Syria by the French, but would later become King of Iraq, another newly formed state under the British Mandate.

Syria under the French Mandate: The Sykes-Picot Agreements[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Sykes-Picot Accords, concluded in 1916 between Great Britain and France, established a division of influence and control over the territories of the former Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Under the terms of these agreements, France was to gain control of what is now Syria and Lebanon, while Great Britain was to control Iraq and Palestine. In July 1920, France sought to consolidate its control over the territories promised to it by the Sykes-Picot agreements. The Battle of Maysaloun was fought between French forces and troops from the short-lived Syrian Arab Kingdom under the command of King Faisal. The ill-equipped and ill-prepared Faisal forces were greatly outnumbered by the better-equipped and better-trained French army. The defeat at the Battle of Maysaloun was a devastating blow to Arab aspirations for independence and ended Faisal's reign in Syria. Following this defeat, he was forced into exile. This event marked the establishment of the French Mandate over Syria, which was officially recognised by the League of Nations despite the aspirations of the Syrian people for self-determination. The establishment of mandates was supposed to prepare territories for eventual autonomy and independence, but in practice it often functioned as colonial conquest and administration. Local populations largely viewed the mandates as a continuation of European colonialism, and the period of the French mandate in Syria was marked by significant rebellion and resistance. This period shaped many of Syria's political, social and national dynamics, influencing the country's history and identity to this day.

Fragmentation and the French Administration in Syria[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After establishing control over the Syrian territories following the Battle of Maysaloun, France, under the authority of the mandate conferred by the League of Nations, set about restructuring the region according to its own administrative and political designs. This restructuring often involved the division of territories along sectarian or ethnic lines, a common practice of colonial policy aimed at fragmenting and weakening local nationalist movements.

In Syria, the French Mandatory authorities divided the territory into several entities, including the Aleppine State, the Damascene State, the Alawite State and Greater Lebanon, the latter becoming the modern Lebanese Republic. These divisions partly reflected the complex socio-cultural realities of the region, but they were also designed to prevent the emergence of an Arab unity that could challenge French domination, embodying the strategy of "divide and rule". Lebanon, in particular, was created with a distinct identity, largely to serve the interests of the Maronite Christian communities, which had historical links with France. The creation of these different states within Mandatory Syria led to a political fragmentation that complicated efforts for a unified national movement.

France administered these territories in a similar way to its metropolitan departments, imposing a centralised structure and placing high commissioners to govern the territories on behalf of the French government. This direct administration was accompanied by the rapid establishment of administrative and educational institutions with the aim of assimilating local populations into French culture and strengthening the French presence in the region. However, this policy exacerbated Arab frustrations, as many Syrians and Lebanese aspired to independence and the right to determine their own political future. France's policies were often seen as a continuation of Western interference and fuelled nationalist and anti-colonialist sentiment. Uprisings and revolts broke out in response to these measures, notably the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925-1927, which was violently suppressed by the French. The legacy of this period has left lasting marks on Syria and Lebanon, shaping their borders, political structures and national identities. The tensions and divisions established under the French mandate continued to influence the political and community dynamics of these countries long after their independence.

The 1925-1927 Revolt and the French Repression[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Great Syrian Revolt, which broke out in 1925, was a key episode in the resistance against the French Mandate in Syria. It began among the Druze population of Jabal al-Druze (Mountain of the Druze) in southern Syria and quickly spread to other regions, including the capital, Damascus. The Druze, who had enjoyed a degree of autonomy and privilege under Ottoman rule, found themselves marginalised and their powers curtailed under the French Mandate. Their dissatisfaction with the loss of autonomy and the policies imposed by the French, who sought to centralise administration and weaken traditional local powers, was the spark that ignited the revolt. The revolt spread and grew, gaining support from various segments of Syrian society, including Arab nationalists who opposed foreign domination and the administrative divisions imposed by France. The reaction of the French proxy authorities was extremely harsh. They used aerial bombardments, mass executions and public displays of the bodies of insurgents to deter further resistance.

The repressive actions of the French, which included the destruction of villages and brutality towards civilians, were widely condemned and tarnished France's reputation both internationally and among the local population. Although the revolt was eventually crushed, it has remained engraved in the collective Syrian memory as a symbol of the struggle for independence and national dignity. The Great Syrian Uprising also had long-term implications for Syrian politics, strengthening anti-colonial sentiment and helping to forge a Syrian national identity. It also contributed to changes in French policy, which had to adjust its approach to the mandate in Syria, ultimately leading to increased Syrian autonomy in the years that followed.

The Road to Syrian Independence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The management of the French mandate in Syria was marked by policies that were more akin to colonial administration than to benevolent tutelage leading to self-determination, contrary to what the League of Nations system of mandates theoretically provided for. The repression of the Great Syrian Revolt and administrative centralisation strengthened nationalist and anti-colonial sentiments in Syria, which continued to grow despite oppression.

The rise of Syrian nationalism, together with global geopolitical changes, eventually led to the country's independence. After the Second World War, in a world that was increasingly turning against colonialism, France was forced to recognise Syria's independence in 1946. However, this transition to independence was complicated by regional political manoeuvring and international alliances, particularly with Turkey. During the Second World War, Turkey maintained a neutral position throughout most of the conflict, but its relations with Nazi Germany caused concern among the Allies. In an effort to secure Turkish neutrality or to prevent Turkey from allying itself with the Axis powers, France made a diplomatic gesture by ceding the Hatay region (historically known as Antioch and Alexandrette) to Turkey.

The Hatay region was of strategic importance and had a mixed population, with Turkish, Arab and Armenian communities. The question of its membership has been a bone of contention between Syria and Turkey since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. In 1939, a plebiscite, the legitimacy of which was disputed by the Syrians, was held and led to the formal annexation of the region to Turkey. The cession of Hatay was a blow to Syrian national sentiment and left a scar on Turkish-Syrian relations that has endured. For Syria, the loss of Hatay is often seen as an act of betrayal by France and a painful example of territorial manipulation by colonial powers. For Turkey, the annexation of Hatay was seen as the rectification of an unjust division of the Turkish people and the recovery of a territory historically linked to the Ottoman Empire.

During the Second World War, when France was defeated and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940, the Vichy government, a collaborationist regime led by Marshal Philippe Pétain, was established. This regime also took control of French overseas territories, including the French mandate in Lebanon. The Vichy government, aligned with the Axis powers, allowed German forces to use the military infrastructure in Lebanon, posing a security risk to the Allies, particularly the British, who were engaged in a military campaign in the Middle East. The Axis presence in Lebanon was seen as a direct threat to British interests, particularly with the proximity of oil fields and strategic transport routes. The British and the Free French Forces, led by General Charles de Gaulle and opposed to the Vichy regime, launched Operation Exporter in 1941. The aim of this military campaign was to take control of Lebanon and Syria and eliminate the presence of Axis forces in the region. After fierce fighting, British troops and the Free French Forces succeeded in taking control of Lebanon and Syria, and the Vichy regime was expelled.

At the end of the war, British pressure and changing international attitudes towards colonialism forced France to reconsider its position in Lebanon. In 1943, Lebanese leaders negotiated with the French authorities to gain independence for the country. Although France initially tried to maintain its influence and even briefly arrested the new Lebanese government, international pressure and popular uprisings eventually led France to recognise Lebanon's independence. 22 November 1943 is celebrated as Lebanon's Independence Day, marking the official end of the French mandate and the birth of Lebanon as a sovereign state. This transition to independence was a key moment for Lebanon and laid the foundations for the country's future as an independent nation.

After gaining independence, Syria moved towards a pan-Arab and nationalist policy, partly in reaction to the mandate era and the challenges posed by the formation of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nationalist sentiment was exacerbated by frustration at internal divisions, foreign interference and a sense of humiliation at colonial experiences.

Syria's participation in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war against the newly formed state of Israel was motivated by these nationalist and pan-Arab sentiments, as well as by the pressure of Arab solidarity. However, the defeat of the Arab armies in this war had profound consequences for the region, including Syria. It gave rise to a period of internal political instability, marked by a series of military coups that characterised Syrian politics in the years that followed. The defeat in 1948 and the internal problems that followed exacerbated the Syrian public's distrust of civilian leaders and politicians, who were often perceived as corrupt or ineffective. The army became the most stable and powerful institution in the state, and was the main actor in the frequent changes of governance. Military coups became a common method of changing government, reflecting the country's deep political, ideological and social divisions.

This cycle of instability paved the way for the rise of the Baath Party, which finally took power in 1963. The Ba'ath Party, with its pan-Arab socialist ideology, sought to reform Syrian society and strengthen the state, but also led to a more authoritarian and centralised government, dominated by the military and security apparatus. Syria's internal tensions, combined with its complex relations with its neighbours and regional dynamics, have made the country's contemporary history a period of political turbulence, which finally culminated in the Syrian civil war that began in 2011.

Political instability and the rise of the Baath Party[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Baathism, an Arab political ideology that advocates socialism, pan-Arabism and secularism, began to gain ground in the Arab world during the 1950s. In Syria, where pan-Arab sentiments were particularly strong after independence, the idea of Arab unity found favour, particularly following internal political instability. Syria's pan-Arab aspirations led it to seek closer union with Egypt, then led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, a charismatic leader whose popularity extended far beyond Egypt's borders, not least because of his nationalisation of the Suez Canal and his opposition to imperialism. Nasser was seen as the champion of pan-Arabism and had succeeded in promoting a vision of unity and cooperation between the Arab states. In 1958, this aspiration for unity led to the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR), a political union between Egypt and Syria. This development was hailed as a major step towards Arab unity and raised high hopes for the political future of the Arab world.

However, the union soon showed signs of strain. Although the UAR was presented as a union of equals, in practice the political leadership of Egypt and Nasser became predominant. The RAU's political and economic institutions were largely centralised in Cairo, and Syria began to feel that it was being reduced to the status of an Egyptian province rather than an equal partner in the union. These tensions were exacerbated by differences in the political, economic and social structures of the two countries. Egyptian domination and growing frustration in Syria eventually led to the dissolution of the RAU in 1961, when Syrian military officers led a coup that separated Syria from the union. The RAU experience left an ambivalent legacy: on the one hand, it showed the potential of Arab unity, but on the other, it revealed the practical and ideological challenges to be overcome in order to achieve true political integration between Arab states.

On 28 September 1961, a group of Syrian military officers, dissatisfied with the excessive centralisation of power in Cairo and Egyptian domination within the United Arab Republic (UAR), led a coup d'état that marked the end of the union between Syria and Egypt. The uprising was mainly motivated by nationalist and regionalist sentiments in Syria, where many citizens and politicians felt marginalised and neglected by the RAU government led by Nasser. The dissolution of the RAU exacerbated the political instability already present in Syria, which had experienced a series of coups d'état since its independence in 1946. The separation from Egypt was greeted with relief by many Syrians who were concerned about the loss of their country's sovereignty and autonomy. However, it also created a political vacuum that various groups and factions, including the Baath Party, would seek to exploit. The 1961 coup therefore paved the way for a period of intense political conflict in Syria, which would see the Ba'ath party make its way to power in 1963. Under Baath leadership, Syria would adopt a series of socialist and pan-Arab reforms, while establishing an authoritarian regime that would dominate Syrian political life for several decades. The period following the 1961 coup was marked by tensions between Baathist factions and other political groups, each seeking to impose its vision for the future of Syria.

After a period of political instability and successive coups d'état, Syria experienced a decisive turning point in 1963 when the Ba'ath party came to power. This movement, founded on the principles of pan-Arabism and socialism, aimed to transform Syrian society by promoting a unified Arab identity and implementing far-reaching social and economic reforms. The Baath Party, under the leadership of Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, had emerged as a major political force, advocating a vision of socialism adapted to the specific characteristics of the Arab world. Their ideology combined the promotion of a secular state with socialist policies, such as the nationalisation of key industries and land reform, aimed at redistributing land to peasants and modernising agriculture.

In the field of education, the Ba'athist government initiated reforms aimed at increasing literacy and instilling socialist and pan-Arab values. These reforms aimed to forge a new national identity, focusing on Arab history and culture, while promoting science and technology as means of modernisation. At the same time, Syria underwent a period of accelerated secularisation. The Ba'ath party worked to reduce the role of religion in state affairs, striving to create a more ideologically homogenous society while managing the country's religious and ethnic diversity.

However, these reforms have also been accompanied by an increase in authoritarianism. The Ba'ath party consolidated its hold on power, limiting political freedoms and repressing all forms of opposition. Internal tensions within the party and within Syrian society continued to manifest themselves, culminating in the rise of Hafez al-Assad to power in 1970. Under Assad, Syria continued along the path of Arab socialism, but with an even stronger hold by the regime on society and politics. The Baathist period in Syria was thus characterised by a mixture of modernisation and authoritarianism, reflecting the complexities of implementing a socialist and pan-Arab ideology in a context of cultural diversity and internal and external political challenges. This era laid the foundations for Syria's political and social development over the following decades, profoundly influencing the country's contemporary history.

The era of Hafez al-Assad: Consolidation of power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The evolution of the Baath Party in Syria was marked by internal power struggles and ideological divisions, culminating in a coup d'état in 1966. This coup was orchestrated by a more radically socialist faction within the party, which sought to impose a stricter political line more aligned with socialist and pan-Arab principles. This change led to a period of more dogmatic and ideologically rigid governance. The new Baath Party leadership continued to implement socialist reforms, while strengthening state control over the economy and accentuating pan-Arab rhetoric. However, the defeat of Syria and other Arab countries by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 dealt a severe blow to the legitimacy of the Ba'ath Party and to the pan-Arab vision in general. The loss of the Golan Heights to Israel and the failure to achieve the objectives of the war led to disillusionment and a questioning of the country's political direction. This period was marked by chaos and increased instability, exacerbating internal tensions in Syria.

Against this backdrop, Hafez al-Assad, then Minister of Defence, seized the opportunity to consolidate his power. In 1970, he led a successful military coup, ousting the radical Baathist leadership and taking control of the government. Assad changed the direction of the Baath Party and the Syrian state, focusing more on stabilising the country and on Syrian nationalism rather than pan-Arabism. Under Assad's leadership, Syria experienced a period of relative stabilisation and consolidation of power. Assad established an authoritarian regime, tightly controlling all aspects of political and social life. He also sought to strengthen the army and the security services, establishing a regime focused on security and the survival of power. Hafez al-Assad's seizure of power in 1970 thus marked a turning point in Syria's modern history, ushering in an era of more centralised and authoritarian governance that would shape the country's future for decades to come.

After taking power in Syria in 1970, Hafez al-Assad quickly realised that he needed a solid social base and a degree of legitimacy to maintain his regime. To consolidate his power, he relied on his home community, the Alawites, a minority sect of Shi'ism. Assad has strategically placed members of the Alawite community in key positions in the army, security services and government administration. This approach has ensured the loyalty of the most important institutions to his regime. While maintaining a pan-Arab rhetoric in official discourse, Assad has centred power around the Syrian nation, thus distancing Syrian politics from the wider ambition of pan-Arabism. He has adopted a pragmatic approach to domestic and foreign policy, seeking to stabilise the country and consolidate his power.

The Assad regime has used divide-and-conquer tactics, similar to those employed by the French during the Mandate, to manage Syria's ethnic and religious diversity. By fragmenting and manipulating different communities, the regime has sought to prevent the emergence of a unified opposition. Political repression has become a hallmark of the regime, with an extensive and effective security apparatus in place to monitor and control society. Despite the purge of many opposition factions, the Assad regime has faced a significant challenge from Islamist groups. These groups, which enjoy a strong social base, particularly among the more conservative Sunni populations, have represented persistent opposition to Assad's secular, Alawite regime. Tension between the government and Islamist groups culminated in the uprising in the city of Hamah in 1982, which was brutally suppressed by the regime. Hafez al-Assad's reign in Syria was therefore characterised by a centralisation of power, a policy of repression and a degree of stabilisation of the country, but also by complex and often conflicting management of the country's socio-political diversity.

The massacre in Hamah in 1982 is one of the darkest and bloodiest episodes in modern Syrian history. This brutal repression was ordered by Hafez al-Assad in response to an insurrection led by the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hamah. Hamah, a city with a strong Islamist presence and a bastion of opposition to the secular and Alawite policies of the Assad regime, became the centre of an armed revolt against the government. In February 1982, the Syrian security forces, led by Assad's brother Rifaat al-Assad, surrounded the town and launched a massive military offensive to crush the rebellion. The repression was ruthless and disproportionate. Government forces used aerial bombardments, heavy artillery and ground troops to destroy large parts of the city and eliminate the insurgents. The exact number of casualties remains unclear, but estimates suggest that thousands of people, perhaps as many as 20,000 or more, have been killed. Many civilians lost their lives in what has been described as an act of collective punishment. The Hamah massacre was not just a military operation; it also had a strong symbolic dimension. It was intended to send a clear message to any potential opposition to the Assad regime: the rebellion would be met with overwhelming and ruthless force. The destruction of Hamah served as a stark warning and suppressed dissent in Syria for years. This repression also left deep scars on Syrian society and was a turning point in the way the Assad regime was perceived, both nationally and internationally. The Hamah massacre became a symbol of brutal oppression in Syria and contributed to the image of the Assad regime as one of the most repressive in the Middle East.

Hafez al-Assad's rule in Syria had to navigate the complex waters of religious legitimacy, particularly because of his own membership of the Alawite community, a branch of Shi'ism often viewed with suspicion by the Sunni majority in Syria. To establish his legitimacy and that of his regime in the eyes of the Sunni majority, Assad has had to rely on Sunni religious figures for fatwa roles and other key positions in the religious sphere. These figures were responsible for interpreting Islamic law and providing religious justification for the regime's actions. The position of the Alawites as a religious minority in a predominantly Sunni country has always been a challenge for Assad, who has had to balance the interests and perceptions of the different communities in order to maintain his power. Although Alawites have been placed in key positions in the government and army, Assad has also sought to present himself as a leader of all Syrians, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Contemporary Syria: From Hafez to Bashar al-Assad[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

When Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, he was succeeded by his son, Bashar al-Assad. Bashar, initially seen as a potential reformer and agent of change, inherited a complex and authoritarian system of governance. Under his leadership, Syria has continued to navigate the challenges posed by its religious and ethnic diversity, as well as internal and external pressures. Bashar al-Assad's reign has been marked by attempts at reform and modernisation, but also by continuity in the consolidation of power and the maintenance of the authoritarian structure inherited from his father. The situation in Syria changed radically with the start of the popular uprising in 2011, which evolved into a complex and devastating civil war involving multiple internal and external actors and having profound repercussions on the region and beyond.

Lebanon[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Ottoman Domination and Cultural Mosaic (16th Century - First World War)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Lebanon, with its rich and complex history, has been influenced by various powers and cultures over the centuries. From the 16th century until the end of the First World War, the territory that is now Lebanon was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. This period saw the development of a distinct cultural and religious mosaic, characterised by ethnic and denominational diversity.

Two groups in particular, the Druze and the Maronites (an Eastern Christian community), have played a central role in Lebanon's history. These two communities have often been at odds with each other, partly because of their religious differences and their struggle for political and social power in the region. The Druze, a religious minority that developed out of Shia Ismaili Islam, settled mainly in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria. They have maintained a distinct identity and have often exercised significant political and military power in their regions. The Maronites, on the other hand, are an Eastern Christian community in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. They have settled mainly in the mountains of Lebanon, where they have developed a strong cultural and religious identity. The Maronites have also established close links with European powers, particularly France, which has had a significant influence on Lebanese history and politics. The coexistence and sometimes confrontation between these communities, as well as with other groups such as the Sunnis, Shiites and Orthodox, have shaped Lebanon's socio-political history. These dynamics have played a key role in shaping the Lebanese identity and have influenced the political structure of modern Lebanon, notably the confessional power-sharing system, which seeks to balance the representation of its various religious groups.

French Mandate and Administrative Restructuring (After the First World War - 1943)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the French Mandate in Lebanon, France attempted to mediate between the country's different religious and ethnic communities, while at the same time putting in place an administrative structure that reflected and reinforced Lebanon's diversity. Prior to the establishment of the French mandate, Mount Lebanon had already enjoyed a degree of autonomy under the Ottoman Empire, particularly after the establishment of the Mutasarrifiyyah in 1861. The Mutasarrifiyyah of Mount Lebanon was an autonomous region with its own Christian governor, created in response to the conflicts between Christian Maronites and Muslim Druze that had broken out in the 1840s and 1860s. This structure was intended to ease tensions by providing more balanced governance and a degree of autonomy for the region.

When France took control of Lebanon after the First World War, it inherited this complex structure and sought to maintain a balance between the different communities. The French Mandate expanded the borders of Mount Lebanon to include areas with large Muslim populations, forming Greater Lebanon in 1920. This expansion was aimed at creating a more economically viable Lebanese state, but it also introduced new demographic and political dynamics. The political system in Lebanon under the French mandate was based on a model of consociationalism, where power was shared between the different religious communities. This system aimed to ensure fair representation of Lebanon's main religious groups in administration and politics, and laid the foundations for the confessional political system that characterises modern Lebanon. However, the French mandate was not without controversy. French policies were sometimes seen as favouring some communities over others, and there was resistance to foreign domination. Nevertheless, the mandate played a significant role in the formation of the Lebanese state and the definition of its national identity.

During the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, which followed the end of the First World War, France played a strategic role in influencing the decision-making process concerning the future of the territories of the Middle East, including Lebanon. The presence of two Lebanese delegations at this conference was a manoeuvre by France to counter the claims of Faisal, the leader of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, who sought to establish an independent Arab state including Lebanon.

Fayçal, supported by Arab nationalists, was calling for a large independent Arab state that would extend over a large part of the Levant, including Lebanon. These demands were in direct contradiction with French interests in the region, which included the establishment of a mandate over Lebanon and Syria. To counter Faisal's influence and justify their own mandate over the region, the French encouraged the formation of Lebanese delegations made up of Christian Maronite representatives and other groups who favoured the idea of a Lebanon under French mandate. These delegations were sent to Paris to plead for French protection and to emphasise Lebanon's distinct identity from Syria and Faisal's pan-Arab aspirations. By presenting these delegations as representative of the aspirations of the Lebanese people, France sought to legitimise its claim to a mandate over Lebanon and to demonstrate that a significant proportion of the Lebanese population preferred French protection to integration into a unified Arab state under Faisal. This manoeuvre helped shape the outcome of the conference and played an important role in the establishment of the French and British mandates in the Middle East, in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreements.

The Struggle for Independence and Confessionalism (1919 - 1943)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The creation of the modern Lebanese state in 1921, under the French mandate, was marked by the adoption of a single communal political system, known as "political confessionalism". This system aimed to manage Lebanon's religious and ethnic diversity by allocating political power and government posts according to the demographic distribution of the different confessional communities. Lebanese confessionalism was designed to ensure fair representation of all the country's main religious communities. Under this system, the main government posts, including the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly, were reserved for members of specific communities: the President had to be a Christian Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Assembly a Shia Muslim. This distribution of posts was based on a population census carried out in 1932.

Although designed to promote peaceful coexistence and balance between the different communities, this system was criticised for institutionalising denominational divisions and encouraging politics based on communal identity rather than political programmes or ideologies. Moreover, the system was fragile, as it depended on demographics that could change over time. Political elites and community leaders, while initially supportive of the system as a guarantee of representation and influence, became increasingly frustrated by its limitations and weaknesses. The system was also put under pressure by external factors, notably the influx of Palestinian refugees after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the ideals of pan-Arabism, which challenged Lebanon's confessional political order. These factors contributed to demographic imbalances and heightened political and confessional tensions within the country. The confessional system, although an attempt to manage Lebanon's diversity, was ultimately a key factor in the political instability that led to the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990. This war left a profound mark on Lebanon and revealed the limitations and challenges of the confessional system in managing diversity and national cohesion.

Lebanese Civil War: Causes and International Impact (1975 - 1990)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Lebanese Civil War, which began in 1975, was influenced by a number of internal and external factors, in particular the growing tensions linked to the Palestinian presence in Lebanon. The massive arrival of Palestinian refugees and fighters in Lebanon, particularly after the events of "Black September" in Jordan in 1970, was a major trigger for the civil war. In September 1970, King Hussein of Jordan launched a military campaign to expel the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and other Palestinian armed groups from Jordan, following increasing attempts by these groups to interfere in Jordan's internal affairs. This campaign, known as "Black September", led to a large influx of Palestinians into Lebanon, exacerbating existing tensions in the country. The growing presence of armed Palestinians and PLO activism against Israel from Lebanese soil added a new dimension to the Lebanese conflict, further complicating the already fragile political situation. Palestinian groups, particularly in southern Lebanon, have often clashed with local Lebanese communities and have been involved in cross-border attacks against Israel.

In response to these attacks and the presence of the PLO, Israel launched several military operations in Lebanon, culminating in the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon was motivated by Israel's desire to secure its northern borders and dismantle the PLO's base of operations. The Lebanese civil war was therefore fuelled by a mixture of internal tensions, sectarian conflicts, demographic imbalances and external factors, including Israeli interventions and regional dynamics linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This war, which lasted until 1990, was devastating for Lebanon, resulting in enormous loss of life, massive displacement of populations and widespread destruction. It profoundly transformed Lebanese society and politics and left scars that continue to affect the country.

Syrian influence and the Taif Agreement (1976 - 2005)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Lebanese civil war and Syrian intervention in the conflict are key elements in understanding Lebanon's recent history. Syria, under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad, played a complex and sometimes contradictory role in the Lebanese civil war. Syria, with its own geopolitical interests in Lebanon, intervened in the conflict as early as 1976. Officially, this intervention was justified as an effort to stabilise Lebanon and prevent an escalation of the conflict. However, many observers noted that Syria also had ambitions for expansion and control over Lebanon, which was historically and culturally linked to Syria. During the war, Syria supported various Lebanese factions and communities, often according to its strategic interests at the time. This involvement was sometimes seen as an attempt by Syria to exert its influence and strengthen its position in Lebanon. The civil war finally came to an end with the Taif Accords in 1989, a peace agreement negotiated with the support of the Arab League and under Syrian supervision. The Taif Accords redefined the confessional political balance in Lebanon, changing the power-sharing system to better reflect the country's current demographics. They also provided for an end to the civil war and the establishment of a government of national reconciliation.

However, the agreements also consolidated Syrian influence in Lebanon. Syria maintained a considerable military presence and political influence in the country after the war, which was a source of tension and controversy in Lebanon and the region. The Syrian presence in Lebanon did not end until 2005, following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, an event that triggered massive protests in Lebanon and increased international pressure on Syria. The decision not to carry out a population census in Lebanon after the civil war reflects the sensitivities surrounding the demographic issue in Lebanon's confessional political context. A census could potentially upset the delicate balance on which the Lebanese political system is built, by revealing demographic changes that could call into question the current distribution of power between the different communities.

Assassination of Rafiq Hariri and the Cedar Revolution (2005)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on 14 February 2005 was a decisive moment in Lebanon's recent history. Hariri was a popular figure, known for his policy of post-civil war reconstruction and his efforts to re-establish Beirut as a financial and cultural centre. His assassination sent shockwaves through the country and triggered accusations against Syria, which was suspected of involvement. The assassination triggered the "Cedar Revolution", a series of large-scale peaceful demonstrations demanding an end to Syrian influence in Lebanon and the truth about Hariri's assassination. These demonstrations, in which hundreds of thousands of Lebanese of all faiths took part, put considerable pressure on Syria. Under the weight of this popular pressure and international condemnation, Syria finally withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005, putting an end to almost 30 years of military and political presence in the country.

Contemporary Lebanon: Political and Social Challenges (2005 - Present)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the same time, Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamist group and military organisation founded in 1982, has become a key player in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah was founded with Iranian support in the context of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and has grown to become both a political movement and a powerful militia. The party refused to disarm after the civil war, citing the need to defend Lebanon against Israel. The 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah further strengthened Hezbollah's position as a major force in Arab resistance against Israel. The conflict began when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, triggering an intense Israeli military response in Lebanon. Despite the massive destruction and loss of life in Lebanon, Hezbollah emerged from the conflict with a strengthened image of resistance against Israel, gaining considerable support among parts of the Lebanese population and in the Arab world in general. These events have had a considerable influence on Lebanese political dynamics, revealing the deep divisions within the country and the persistent challenges to Lebanon's stability and sovereignty. The post-2005 period has been marked by ongoing political tensions, economic crises and security challenges, reflecting the complexity of Lebanon's political and confessional landscape.

Jordan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

British Mandate and Territorial Division (Early 20th century - 1922)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

To understand the formation of Jordan, it is essential to go back to the period of the British Mandate over Palestine after the First World War. When Great Britain obtained the Mandate over Palestine following the San Remo Conference in 1920, it found itself in charge of a complex and conflict-ridden territory. One of the first acts of the British was to divide the Mandate into two distinct zones at the Cairo Conference in 1922: Palestine on the one hand, and the Transjordan emirates on the other. This division reflected both geopolitical considerations and the desire to respond to the aspirations of the local populations. Abdallah, one of the sons of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, played an important role in the region, notably by leading revolts against the Ottomans. To appease and contain his influence, the British decided to appoint him Emir of Transjordan. This decision was partly motivated by the desire to stabilise the region and create a reliable ally for the British.

The issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine was a major source of tension during this period. Zionists, who aspired to the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, protested against the British policy of banning Jewish immigration to Transjordan, considering that this restricted the possibilities of Jewish settlement in part of the Mandate territory.

Independence and formation of the Jordanian state (1946 - 1948)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Jordan River played a decisive role in the distinction between Transjordan (to the east of the Jordan) and the West Bank (to the west). These geographical terms were used to describe the regions on either side of the Jordan River. The formation of Jordan as an independent state was a gradual process. In 1946, Transjordan gained independence from Britain, and Abdallah became the first king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan, like Palestine, has been profoundly affected by regional developments, notably the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli conflicts that followed. These events had a considerable impact on Jordanian politics and society in the decades that followed.

The Arab Legion has played a significant role in Jordan's history and in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Founded in the 1920s under the British Mandate, the Arab Legion was a Jordanian military force that operated under the supervision of British military advisors. This force was crucial in maintaining order in the territory of Transjordan and served as the basis for the modern Jordanian army. At the end of the British Mandate in 1946, Transjordan, under the reign of King Abdullah, gained its independence, becoming the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Jordan's independence marked a turning point in the history of the Middle East, making the country a key player in the region.

Israeli-Arab conflicts and their impact on Jordan (1948 - 1950)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1948, Israel's declaration of independence triggered the first Arab-Israeli war. Neighbouring Arab states, including Jordan, refused to recognise Israel's legitimacy and committed military forces to oppose the newly formed state. The Jordanian Arab Legion, considered to be one of the most effective armed forces among Arab countries at the time, played a major role in this conflict. During the 1948 war, Jordan, under the command of King Abdullah, occupied the West Bank, a region west of the Jordan River that was part of the British Mandate over Palestine. At the end of the war, Jordan officially annexed the West Bank, a decision that was widely recognised in the Arab world but not by the international community. This annexation included East Jerusalem, which was proclaimed Jordan's capital alongside Amman. Jordan's annexation of the West Bank had important implications for Arab-Israeli relations and the Palestinian conflict. It also shaped Jordanian domestic politics, as the Palestinian population of the West Bank became an important part of Jordanian society. This period in Jordanian history continued to influence the country's politics and international relations in the decades that followed.

The period following Jordan's annexation of the West Bank in 1948 was marked by significant political and social developments. In 1950, Jordan officially annexed the West Bank, a decision that had a lasting impact on the country's demographic and political make-up. Following this annexation, half of the seats in the Jordanian parliament were allocated to Palestinian deputies, reflecting the new demographic reality of a unified Jordan, which now included a large Palestinian population. This political integration of Palestinians into Jordan underlined the extent of the annexation of the West Bank and was seen by some as an effort to legitimise Jordanian control over the territory. However, the move also raised tensions, both within the Palestinian population and among Palestinian nationalists, who aspired to independence and the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

Rumours of secret agreements between Jordan and Israel over issues of sovereignty and territory fuelled discontent among Palestinian nationalists. In 1951, King Abdullah, who had been a key player in the annexation of the West Bank and had sought to maintain good relations with the Israelis, was assassinated in Jerusalem by a Palestinian nationalist. This assassination underlined the deep divisions and political tensions surrounding the Palestinian question. The Six Day War in 1967 was another major turning point for Jordan and the region. Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other territories during this conflict, ending Jordanian control over these areas. This loss had a profound impact on Jordan, both politically and demographically, and exacerbated the Palestinian question, which has remained a central issue in Jordan's domestic affairs and foreign policy. The 1967 war also contributed to the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the main representative of the Palestinians and influenced the trajectory of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the following years.

Reign of King Hussein and Internal Challenges (1952 - 1999)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

King Hussein of Jordan, grandson of King Abdullah, ruled the country from 1952 until his death in 1999. His reign was marked by major challenges, including the issue of the Palestinian population in Jordan and the King's pan-Arab ambitions.

King Hussein inherited a complex situation with a large Palestinian population in Jordan, resulting from the annexation of the West Bank in 1948 and the influx of Palestinian refugees after the creation of Israel and the Six Day War in 1967. Managing the Palestinian question remained a major challenge throughout his reign, with growing internal political and social tensions. One of the most critical moments of his reign was the "Black September" crisis in 1970. Faced with the growing strength of Palestinian PLO fighters in Jordan, which threatened the sovereignty and stability of the kingdom, King Hussein ordered a brutal military intervention to regain control of the refugee camps and towns where the PLO had a strong presence. This intervention resulted in the expulsion of the PLO and its fighters from Jordanian territory, who then set up their headquarters in Lebanon.

Despite his participation in the Arab-Israeli wars, notably the 1973 Yom Kippur War, King Hussein maintained discreet but significant relations with Israel. These relations, often at odds with the positions of other Arab states, were motivated by strategic and security considerations. Jordan and Israel shared common concerns, particularly with regard to regional stability and the Palestinian question. King Hussein eventually played a key role in Middle East peace efforts. In 1994, Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel, becoming the second Arab country, after Egypt, to officially normalise relations with Israel. The treaty marked an important milestone in Arab-Israeli relations and reflected King Hussein's desire to seek a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite the challenges and controversies involved.

King Abdullah II and Modern Jordan (1999 - Present)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

When King Hussein of Jordan died in 1999, his son, Abdullah II, succeeded him to the throne. Abdullah II's accession to power marked the beginning of a new era for Jordan, although the new king inherited many of his father's political, economic and social challenges. Abdullah II, educated abroad and with military experience, has taken over a country facing complex internal challenges, including managing relations with the Palestinian population, balancing democratic pressures with the stability of the kingdom, and persistent economic problems. Internationally, under his reign, Jordan has continued to play an important role in regional issues, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and crises in neighbouring countries. King Abdullah II continued his father's efforts to modernise the country and improve the economy. He also sought to promote Jordan as an intermediary and mediator in regional conflicts, while maintaining close relations with Western countries, particularly the United States.

Abdullah II's foreign policy was marked by a balance between maintaining solid relations with Western countries and navigating the complex dynamics of the Middle East. Under his reign, Jordan continued to play an active role in Middle East peace efforts and was confronted with the impact of crises in neighbouring countries, notably Iraq and Syria. Internally, Abdullah II faced calls for greater political and economic reform. The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 also had an impact on Jordan, although the country managed to avoid the large-scale instability seen in other parts of the region. The King has responded to some of these challenges with progressive political reforms and efforts to improve the country's economy.

The historical trajectory of the Hashemites, who played a crucial role in events in the Middle East in the early 20th century, is marked by broken promises and major political adjustments. The Hashemite family, originally from the Hijaz region of Arabia, was at the heart of Arab ambitions for independence and unity during and after the First World War. Their aspirations for a great unified Arab state were encouraged and then disappointed by the European powers, particularly Great Britain.

King Hussein bin Ali, the patriarch of the Hashemites, had aspired to the creation of a great Arab kingdom extending over much of the Middle East. However, the Sykes-Picot Accords of 1916 and the Balfour Declaration of 1917, as well as other political developments, gradually curtailed these aspirations. Eventually, the Hashemites ruled only Transjordan (modern Jordan) and Iraq, where another of Hussein's sons, Faisal, became king. As far as Palestine is concerned, Jordan, under King Hussein, was heavily involved until the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. After the Six Day War in 1967 and Jordan's loss of the West Bank to Israel, King Hussein continued to claim sovereignty over Palestinian territory, despite the lack of effective control.

However, with the Oslo Accords in 1993, which established mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and laid the foundations for Palestinian autonomy, Jordan was forced to reassess its position. In 1988, King Hussein had already officially renounced all Jordanian claims to the West Bank in favour of the PLO, recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. The Oslo Accords consolidated this reality, confirming the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and further marginalising Jordan's role in Palestinian affairs. The Oslo Accords thus marked the end of Jordanian ambitions over Palestine, orienting the peace process towards direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, with Jordan and other regional actors playing a supporting rather than a leading role.

Jordan and International Relations: Strategic Alliance with the United States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since its creation as an independent state in 1946, Jordan has played a strategic role in Middle Eastern politics, skilfully balancing international relations, particularly with the United States. This privileged relationship with Washington has been essential for Jordan, not only in terms of economic and military aid, but also as diplomatic support in a region often marked by instability and conflict. American economic and military aid has been a pillar of Jordan's development and security. The United States has provided substantial assistance to strengthen Jordan's defensive capabilities, support its economic development and help it manage humanitarian crises, such as the massive influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. This aid has enabled Jordan to maintain its internal stability and play an active role in promoting regional peace and security. On the military front, cooperation between Jordan and the United States has been close and fruitful. Joint military exercises and training programmes have strengthened ties between the two countries and enhanced Jordan's ability to contribute to regional security. This military cooperation is also a crucial element for Jordan in the context of the fight against terrorism and extremism. Diplomatically, Jordan has often acted as an intermediary in regional conflicts, a role that corresponds to US interests in the region. Jordan has been involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and has played a moderating role in the crises in Syria and Iraq. Jordan's geographic position, relative stability and relationship with the United States make it a key player in efforts to mediate and resolve conflicts in the region.

The relationship between Jordan and the United States is not just a strategic alliance; it also reflects a shared understanding of the challenges facing the region. The two countries share common objectives in the fight against terrorism, the promotion of regional stability and the search for diplomatic solutions to conflicts. This relationship is therefore essential for Jordan, enabling it to navigate the complex challenges of the Middle East while benefiting from the support of a major world power.

Iraq[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Formation of the Iraqi state (Post-First World War)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The formation of Iraq as a modern state was a direct consequence of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War. Iraq, as we know it today, was born of the merger of three historic Ottoman provinces: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. This merger, orchestrated by the colonial powers, in particular Great Britain, shaped not only Iraq's borders but also its complex internal dynamics.

The province of Mosul, in the north of present-day Iraq, was a strategic region, not least because of its rich oil reserves. The ethnic composition of Mosul, with a significant Kurdish presence, added a further dimension to the political complexity of Iraq. After the war, the status of Mosul was the subject of international debate, with the Turks and the British both laying claim to the region. In the end, the League of Nations ruled in favour of Iraq, integrating Mosul into the new state. The vilayet of Baghdad, in the centre, was the historical and cultural heart of the region. Baghdad, a city with a rich history dating back to the era of the caliphates, continued to play a central role in Iraq's political and cultural life. The ethnic and religious diversity of the province of Baghdad has been a key factor in the political dynamics of modern Iraq. As for the province of Basra, in the south, this region, which is mainly populated by Shiite Arabs, has been an important commercial and port centre. Basra's links with the Persian Gulf and the Arab world were crucial to the Iraqi economy and influenced Iraq's foreign relations.

The merger of these three distinct provinces into a single state under the British mandate was not without its difficulties. Managing ethnic, religious and tribal tensions has been a constant challenge for Iraqi leaders. Iraq's strategic importance was reinforced by the discovery of oil, attracting the attention of Western powers and profoundly influencing the country's political and economic development. The decisions taken during and after the British Mandate laid the foundations for Iraq's political and social complexities, which have continued to manifest themselves throughout its modern history, including the reign of Saddam Hussein and beyond. The formation of Iraq, a mixture of diverse regions and groups, was a key factor in the many challenges the country faced in the following century.

British Influence and Oil Interests (Early 20th Century)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Britain's fascination with Iraq in the first half of the 20th century was part of a wider framework of British imperial policy, in which geostrategy and natural resources played a prominent role. Iraq, with its direct access to the Persian Gulf and proximity to oil-rich Persia, quickly became a territory of major interest to Britain as it sought to extend its influence in the Middle East. Iraq's strategic importance was linked to its geographical position, offering access to the Persian Gulf, a crucial waterway for trade and maritime communications. This control gave Britain an advantage in securing vital trade and shipping routes, particularly in relation to its colonial empire in India and beyond. Oil, which became a strategically vital resource in the early 20th century, heightened Britain's interest in Iraq and the surrounding region. The discovery of oil in Persia (modern-day Iran) by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later British Petroleum, or BP) highlighted the region's oil potential. Great Britain, anxious to secure oil supplies for its navy and industry, saw Iraq as a key territory for its energy interests.

The British Mandate in Iraq, established by the League of Nations after the First World War, gave Britain considerable control over the formation of the Iraqi state. However, this period was marked by tensions and resistance, as evidenced by the Iraqi revolt of 1920, a significant reaction to British rule and attempts to implant foreign administrative and political structures. British actions in Iraq were guided by a combination of imperial objectives and practical necessity. As the 20th century progressed, Iraq became an increasingly complex issue in British politics, especially with the emergence of Arab nationalism and the rise of demands for independence. Britain's role in Iraq, and more widely in the Middle East, has therefore been a mixture of imperial strategy, natural resource management and responding to the ever-changing political dynamics of the region.

Role of Mosul and Ethnic Diversity (Early 20th century)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Mosul region of northern Iraq has always been of crucial importance in the historical and political context of the Middle East. Its significance is due to several key factors that have made it a coveted territory over the centuries, particularly by Great Britain during the colonial era. The discovery of oil in the Mosul region was a major turning point. In the early 20th century, as the importance of oil as a global strategic resource became increasingly apparent, Mosul emerged as a territory of immense economic value. The region's substantial oil reserves attracted the attention of imperial powers, particularly Great Britain, which sought to secure sources of oil for its industrial and military needs. This hydrocarbon wealth not only stimulated international interest in Mosul, but also played a key role in shaping Iraqi politics and economy over the next century. In addition, Mosul's geographical position, close to the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, gives it particular strategic importance. The control of water sources in this arid region is vital for agriculture, the economy and daily life. This geographical importance has made Mosul an issue in international relations and regional dynamics, particularly in the context of tensions over the distribution of water in the region. Control of Mosul was also seen as essential to the stability of Iraq as a whole. Because of its ethnic and cultural diversity, with a population made up of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians and other groups, the region has been an important cultural and political crossroads. Managing this diversity and integrating Mosul into the Iraqi state have been constant challenges for successive Iraqi governments. Maintaining stability in the northern region was crucial to Iraq's national cohesion and unity.

Gertrude Bell's Contribution and Foundations of Modern Iraq (Early 20th Century)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Gertrude Bell's contribution to the formation of modern Iraq is an eloquent example of Western influence in the redefinition of borders and national identities in the Middle East in the early 20th century. Bell, a British archaeologist and colonial administrator, played a crucial role in the creation of the Iraqi state, notably by advocating the use of the term "Iraq", a name of Arabic origin, instead of "Mesopotamia", of Greek origin. This choice symbolised recognition of the region's Arab identity, as opposed to a designation imposed by foreign powers. However, as Pierre-Jean Luisard pointed out in his analysis of the Iraqi question, the foundations of modern Iraq were also the cradle of future problems. The structure of Iraq, conceived and implemented by colonial powers, brought together diverse ethnic and religious groups under a single state, creating a breeding ground for persistent tension and conflict. The domination of Sunnis, who are often in the minority, over Shiites, who are in the majority, has given rise to sectarian tensions and conflicts, exacerbated by discriminatory policies and ideological differences. In addition, the marginalisation of the Kurds, a large ethnic group in northern Iraq, has fuelled demands for autonomy and recognition, often repressed by the central government.

These internal tensions were exacerbated under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who ruled Iraq with an iron fist, exacerbating sectarian and ethnic divisions. The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 are examples of how Iraq's internal and external policies were influenced by these power dynamics. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 by a US-led coalition and the fall of Saddam Hussein ushered in a new period of conflict and instability, revealing the fragility of the foundations on which the Iraqi state had been built. The years that followed were marked by increased sectarian violence, internal power struggles and the emergence of extremist groups such as the Islamic State, which took advantage of the political vacuum and the disintegration of the state order. The story of Iraq is one of a state shaped by foreign influences and facing complex internal challenges. Gertrude Bell's contribution, while significant in the formation of Iraq, was part of a wider context of nation-building and conflict that continued to shape the country well beyond its founding.

Divide and rule and Sunni domination (early 20th century)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Britain's colonial approach to the creation and management of Iraq is a classic example of the 'divide and rule' strategy, which had a profound impact on Iraq's political and social structure. According to this approach, colonial powers often favoured a minority within society in order to keep it in power, thereby ensuring its dependence and loyalty to the metropolis, while at the same time weakening national unity. In the case of Iraq, the British installed the Sunni minority in power, despite the fact that Shiites made up the majority of the population. In 1920, Faisal I, a member of the Hashemite royal family, was installed as ruler of the newly formed Iraq. Faisal, despite having roots in the Arabian Peninsula, was chosen by the British for his pan-Arab legitimacy and his presumed ability to unify the various ethnic and religious groups under his rule. However, this decision exacerbated sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country. Shiites and Kurds, feeling marginalised and excluded from political power, were quick to express their discontent. As early as 1925, Shiite and Kurdish uprisings broke out in response to this marginalisation and to the policies implemented by the Sunni-dominated government. These protests were violently suppressed, sometimes with the help of the British Royal Air Force, with the aim of stabilising the state and maintaining colonial control. The use of force to quell the Shiite and Kurdish revolts laid the foundations for continuing instability in Iraq. British-backed Sunni domination engendered long-lasting resentment among Shia and Kurdish populations, contributing to cycles of rebellion and repression that marked Iraqi history throughout the 20th century. This dynamic also fuelled nationalist sentiment among Shiites and Kurds, reinforcing their aspirations for greater autonomy and even independence, particularly in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

Independence and Continued British Influence (1932)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iraq's accession to independence in 1932 represented a pivotal moment in the history of the Middle East, highlighting the complexity of decolonisation and the continuing influence of the colonial powers. Iraq became the first state, created from scratch by a League of Nations mandate following the First World War, to formally achieve independence. This event marked an important stage in Iraq's evolution from a British protectorate to a sovereign state. Iraq's membership of the League of Nations in 1932 was hailed as a sign of its status as an independent and sovereign nation. However, this independence was in practice hampered by the maintenance of considerable British influence over Iraq's internal affairs. Although Iraq formally gained sovereignty, the British continued to exercise indirect control over the country.

This control was expressed in particular in the Iraqi government administration, where each Iraqi minister had a British assistant. These assistants, often experienced administrators, had an advisory role, but their presence also symbolised British control over Iraqi politics. This situation created an environment where Iraqi sovereignty was in part hampered by British influence and interests. This period in Iraqi history was also marked by internal tensions and political challenges. The Iraqi government, while sovereign, had to navigate a complex landscape of ethnic and religious divisions, while managing the expectations and pressures of the former colonial powers. These dynamics contributed to periods of instability and internal conflict, reflecting the difficulties inherent in Iraq's transition from mandate to independent nation. Iraq's independence in 1932, although an important milestone, did not put an end to foreign influence in the country. On the contrary, it marked the beginning of a new phase of international relations and domestic challenges for Iraq, shaping its political and social development in the decades that followed.

1941 Coup and British Intervention (1941)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1941, Iraq was the scene of a critical event that illustrated the fragility of its independence and the persistence of British influence in the country. It was the year of the coup d'état led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, which triggered a series of events culminating in British military intervention. Rashid Ali, who had previously served as Prime Minister, led a coup against the pro-British government in place. The coup was motivated by a variety of factors, including Arab nationalism, opposition to the British presence and influence in Iraq, and growing anti-colonial sentiments among certain factions of the Iraqi political and military elite.

Rashid Ali's seizure of power was seen as a direct threat to Britain, not least because of Iraq's strategic position during the Second World War. Iraq, with its access to oil and its geographical position, was crucial to British interests in the region, particularly in the context of the war against the Axis powers. In response to the coup, Britain quickly intervened militarily. Fearing that Iraq would fall under Axis influence or disrupt oil and supply routes, British forces launched a campaign to overthrow Rashid Ali and restore a British-friendly government. The operation was swift and decisive, ending Rashid Ali's brief reign. Following this intervention, Britain placed a new king in power, reasserting its influence over Iraqi politics. This period underlined Iraq's vulnerability to foreign intervention and highlighted the limits of its sovereign independence. The British intervention of 1941 also had a lasting impact on Iraqi politics, fuelling an anti-British and anti-colonial sentiment that continued to influence future political events in the country.

Iraq during the Cold War and the Baghdad Pact (1955)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iraq's history during the Cold War is an example of how the geopolitical interests of the superpowers continued to influence and shape the internal and external politics of the countries in the region. During this period, Iraq became a key player in the containment strategies pursued by the United States against the Soviet Union.

In 1955, Iraq played a major role in the formation of the Baghdad Pact, a military and political alliance initiated by the United States. This pact, also known as the Middle East Pact, aimed to establish a security cordon in the region to counter the influence and expansion of the Soviet Union. In addition to Iraq, the pact included Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and the UK, forming a united front against communism in a strategically important region. The Baghdad Pact was in line with the United States' policy of "containment", which sought to limit Soviet expansion around the world. This policy was motivated by the perception of a growing Soviet threat and the desire to prevent the spread of communism, particularly in strategic areas such as the oil-rich Middle East.

However, Iraq's involvement in the Baghdad Pact had internal implications. This alliance with the Western powers was controversial within the Iraqi population and exacerbated internal political tensions. The pact was seen by many as a continuation of foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and fuelled nationalist and anti-Western sentiment among certain factions. In 1958, Iraq experienced a coup that overthrew the monarchy and established the Republic of Iraq. The coup was largely motivated by anti-Western sentiments and opposition to the monarchy's pro-Western foreign policy. After the coup, Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact, marking a significant change in its foreign policy and underlining the complexity of its geopolitical position during the Cold War.

1958 Revolution and Rise of Baathism (1958)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1958 revolution in Iraq was a decisive turning point in the country's modern history, marking the end of the monarchy and the establishment of the Republic. This period of profound political and social change in Iraq coincided with major political developments in other parts of the Arab world, in particular the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR) by Egypt and Syria. Abdel Karim Kassem, an Iraqi army officer, played a key role in the 1958 coup that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. After the revolution, Kassem became the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq. His seizure of power was met with widespread popular support, as many saw him as a leader capable of leading Iraq into an era of reform and greater independence from foreign influence. Meanwhile, in 1958, Egypt and Syria merged to form the United Arab Republic, a pan-Arab unification effort led by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The UAR represented an attempt at political unity between Arab nations, based on Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism. However, Abdel Karim Kassem chose not to join the RAU. He had his own visions for Iraq, which differed from Nasser's model.

Kassem focused on consolidating power in Iraq and sought to strengthen his internal support by reaching out to groups that were often marginalised in Iraqi society, notably the Kurds and Shiites. Under his regime, Iraq underwent a period of social and economic reform. In particular, Kassem enacted land reforms and worked to modernise the Iraqi economy. However, his government was also marked by political tensions and conflicts. Kassem's policies towards the Kurds and the Shiites, although aimed at inclusion, also gave rise to tensions with other groups and regional powers. In addition, his regime faced stability challenges and internal opposition, including coup attempts and conflicts with rival political factions.

The post-revolutionary period in Iraq in the early 1960s was marked by rapid and often violent political change, with the emergence of Baathism as a significant political force. Abdel Karim Kassem, who had ruled Iraq since the 1958 revolution, was overthrown and killed in a coup d'état in 1963. The coup was orchestrated by a group of Arab nationalists and members of the Baath Party, a pan-Arab socialist political organisation. The Baath Party, founded in Syria, had gained influence in several Arab countries, including Iraq, and advocated Arab unity, socialism and secularism. Abdel Salam Aref, who replaced Kassem at the head of Iraq, was a member of the Ba'ath party and held different political views to those of his predecessor. Unlike Kassem, Aref favoured the idea of a United Arab Republic and supported the concept of pan-Arab unity. His accession to power marked a significant change in Iraqi politics, with a move towards policies more aligned with Baathist ideals.

The death of Abdel Salam Aref in a helicopter crash in 1966 led to another transition of power. His brother, Abdul Rahman Aref, succeeded him as President. The Aref brothers' period of governance was a time when Baathism began to gain a foothold in Iraq, although their regime was also marked by instability and internal power struggles. Baathism in Iraq, although having common origins with Syrian Baathism, developed its own characteristics and dynamics. The governments of Abdel Salam Aref and Abdul Rahman Aref faced various challenges, including internal tensions within the Baath Party and opposition from different social and political groups. These tensions eventually led to another coup in 1968, led by the Iraqi sector of the Baath Party, which saw the rise of figures such as Saddam Hussein into the ranks of the Iraqi leadership.

Saddam Hussein's reign and the Iran-Iraq War (1979 - 1988)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1979 marked a new era in Iraq's political and social history. As the dominant figure in the Ba'ath Party, Saddam Hussein undertook a series of reforms and policies aimed at strengthening state control and modernising Iraqi society, while consolidating his own power. One of the key aspects of Saddam Hussein's governance was the process of tribal statehood, a strategy aimed at integrating traditional tribal structures into the state apparatus. The aim of this approach was to win the support of the tribes, particularly the Tiplit, by involving them in government structures and granting them certain privileges. In return, these tribes provided crucial support to Saddam Hussein, thereby strengthening his regime.

In parallel with this tribal policy, Saddam Hussein launched ambitious modernisation programmes in various sectors such as education, the economy and housing. These programmes aimed to transform Iraq into a modern, developed nation. A major element of this modernisation was the nationalisation of Iraq's oil industry, which allowed the government to control a vital resource and fund its development initiatives. However, despite these modernisation efforts, the Iraqi economy under Saddam Hussein was largely based on a clientelist system. This clientelist system involved the distribution of favours, resources and government positions to individuals and groups in exchange for their political support. This approach created a dependency on the regime and contributed to the maintenance of a network of loyalty to Saddam Hussein. Although Saddam Hussein's initiatives led to certain economic and social developments, they were also accompanied by political repression and human rights violations. Saddam Hussein's consolidation of power has often been at the expense of political freedom and opposition, leading to internal tensions and conflict.

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and continued until 1988, is one of the bloodiest and most destructive conflicts of the 20th century. Initiated by Saddam Hussein, the war had far-reaching consequences for both Iraq and Iran, as well as for the region as a whole. Saddam Hussein, seeking to exploit Iran's apparent vulnerability in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, launched an offensive against Iran. He feared that the revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini would spread to Iraq, particularly among the country's Shiite majority, and destabilise his predominantly Sunni Baathist regime. In addition, Saddam Hussein aimed to establish Iraq's regional dominance and control over oil-rich territories, particularly in the border region of Shatt al-Arab. The war quickly escalated into a protracted and costly conflict, characterised by trench fighting, chemical attacks and massive human suffering. More than half a million soldiers were killed on both sides, and millions of people were affected by the destruction and displacement.

Regionally, the war has led to complex alliances. Syria, led by Hafez al-Assad, chose to support Iran, despite ideological differences, partly because of the Syrian-Iraqi rivalry. Iran also received support from Hezbollah, a Shiite militant organisation based in Lebanon. These alliances reflected the growing political and sectarian divisions in the region. The war finally ended in 1988, with no clear winner. The ceasefire, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, left the borders largely unchanged and no significant reparations were made. The conflict left both countries severely weakened and in debt, and laid the foundations for future conflicts in the region, including Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and subsequent interventions in the region by the United States and its allies.

The end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 was a crucial moment, marking the end of eight years of bitter conflict and considerable human suffering. Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, finally accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, which called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to hostilities between the two countries. Iran's decision to accept the ceasefire came against a backdrop of growing difficulties on the home front and an increasingly unfavourable military situation. Despite initial efforts to resist Iraqi aggression and make territorial gains, Iran has been under enormous economic and military pressure, exacerbated by international isolation and the human and material costs of the protracted conflict.

A particularly disturbing element of the war was Iraq's use of chemical weapons, a tactic that marked a dramatic escalation in the violence of the conflict. Iraqi forces used chemical weapons on several occasions against Iranian forces and even against their own Kurdish population, as in the infamous Halabja massacre in 1988, when thousands of Kurdish civilians were killed by poison gas. Iraq's use of chemical weapons was widely condemned internationally and contributed to the diplomatic isolation of Saddam Hussein's regime. The 1988 ceasefire ended one of the bloodiest conflicts of the second half of the 20th century, but it left behind devastated countries and a region deeply scarred by the aftermath of war. Neither Iran nor Iraq succeeded in achieving the ambitious goals they had set themselves at the start of the conflict, and the war was ultimately characterised by its tragic futility and enormous human cost.

Invasion of Kuwait and Gulf War (1990 - 1991)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, under the command of Saddam Hussein, triggered a series of major events on the international stage, leading to the Gulf War of 1991. The invasion was motivated by a number of factors, including territorial claims, disputes over oil production and economic tensions. Saddam Hussein justified the invasion by claiming that Kuwait was historically part of Iraq. He also voiced grievances about Kuwait's oil production, which he accused of exceeding OPEC quotas, thereby contributing to the fall in oil prices and affecting the Iraqi economy, already weakened by the long war with Iran. The international response to the invasion was swift and firm. The United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion and imposed a strict economic embargo against Iraq. Subsequently, a coalition of international forces, led by the United States, was formed to liberate Kuwait. Although the operation was sanctioned by the UN, it was widely perceived as being dominated by the US, due to its leadership role and significant military contribution.

The Gulf War, which began in January 1991, was brief but intense. The massive air campaign and subsequent ground operation quickly expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, the embargo imposed on Iraq had devastating consequences for the Iraqi civilian population. The economic sanctions, combined with the destruction of infrastructure during the war, led to a serious humanitarian crisis in Iraq, with shortages of food, medicine and other essential supplies. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War had a major impact on the region and on international relations. Iraq found itself isolated on the international stage, and Saddam Hussein faced increased internal and external challenges. This period also marked a turning point in US policy in the Middle East, strengthening its military and political presence in the region.

Impact of the September 11th Attack and the American Invasion (2003)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The period after 11 September 2001 marked a significant turning point in US foreign policy, particularly with regard to Iraq. Under President George W. Bush, Iraq was increasingly seen as part of what Bush described as the "Axis of Evil", an expression that fuelled the American public and political imagination in the context of the fight against international terrorism. Although Iraq was not directly involved in the 11 September attacks, the Bush administration put forward the theory that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and represented a threat to global security. This perception was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a decision that was widely controversial, particularly after it was revealed that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq by US-led forces resulted in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but also led to unforeseen consequences and long-term instability. One of the most criticised policies of the US administration in Iraq was "de-Baathification", which aimed to eradicate the influence of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. This policy included the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the dismantling of many administrative and governmental structures. However, de-Baathification created a power vacuum and exacerbated sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq. Many former members of the army and the Ba'ath party, suddenly deprived of their jobs and status, found themselves marginalised and in some cases joined insurgent groups. This situation contributed to the emergence and rise to power of jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (EIIL), known as Daesh. The chaos and instability that followed the US invasion were key factors in the rise of the new jihadism represented by Daesh, which exploited the political vacuum, sectarian tensions and insecurity to extend its influence. The US intervention in Iraq, although initially presented as an effort to bring democracy and stability, has had profound and lasting consequences, plunging the country into a period of conflict, violence and instability that has persisted for many years.

The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2009 marked a new phase in the country's political history, characterised by the rise of Shiite groups and changes in power dynamics. After decades of marginalisation under the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime, Iraq's Shiite majority gained political influence following the fall of Saddam Hussein and the process of political reconstruction that followed the US invasion in 2003. With the establishment of a more representative government and the organisation of democratic elections, Shiite political parties, which had been repressed under Saddam Hussein's regime, have gained a prominent role in the new Iraqi political landscape. Shiite political figures, often supported by Iran, began to occupy key positions within the government, reflecting the demographic and political change in the country.

However, this shift in power has also led to tension and conflict. Sunni and Kurdish communities, who had held positions of power under Saddam Hussein's regime or had sought autonomy, as in the case of Iraqi Kurdistan, found themselves marginalised in the new political order. This marginalisation, combined with the disbanding of the Iraqi army and other policies implemented after the invasion, created a sense of alienation and frustration among these groups. The marginalisation of Sunnis, in particular, has contributed to a climate of insecurity and discontent, creating fertile ground for insurgency and terrorism. Groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later the Islamic State (Daesh), took advantage of these divisions to recruit members and extend their influence, leading to a period of intense sectarian violence and conflict.

Israel[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The beginnings of Zionism and the Balfour Declaration[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 is a major historical event that has been interpreted in different ways, reflecting the complexities and tensions inherent in this period of history. On the one hand, it can be seen as the culmination of diplomatic and political efforts, marked by key decisions at international level. On the other, it is seen as the culmination of a national struggle, driven by the Zionist movement and the aspirations of the Jewish people for self-determination.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British government supported the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, laid the foundations for the creation of Israel. Although this declaration was a promise rather than a legally binding commitment, it was a key moment in the international recognition of Zionist aspirations. The British Mandate over Palestine, established after the First World War, then served as the administrative framework for the region, although tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities increased during this period. The partition plan for Palestine proposed by the UN in 1947, which envisaged the creation of two independent states, Jewish and Arab, with Jerusalem under international control, was another decisive moment. Although this plan was accepted by Jewish leaders, it was rejected by Arab parties, leading to open conflict after the British withdrawal from the region.

Israel's War of Independence, which followed the proclamation of the State of Israel in May 1948 by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, was marked by fierce fighting against the armies of several neighbouring Arab countries. This war was a struggle for existence and sovereignty for the Israelis and a tragic moment of loss and displacement for the Palestinians, an event known as the Nakba (the catastrophe). The founding of Israel was thus greeted with jubilation by many Jews around the world, particularly in the context of persecution during the Second World War and the Holocaust. For Palestinians and many in the Arab world, however, 1948 was synonymous with loss and the beginning of a long conflict. The creation of Israel was therefore a pivotal event, not only for the people of the region, but also in the wider context of international relations, profoundly influencing Middle East politics in the decades that followed.

The Balfour Declaration, written on 2 November 1917, is a crucial document for understanding the origins of the State of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Drafted by Arthur James Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary at the time, the Declaration was sent to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The text of the Balfour Declaration pledged the British government's support for the establishment in Palestine of a "national home for the Jewish people", while stipulating that this should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in the country, nor the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. However, the non-Jewish populations of Palestine were not explicitly named in the document, which has been interpreted as a significant omission. The reasons behind the Balfour Declaration were multiple and complex, involving both British diplomatic and strategic considerations during the First World War. These included the desire to win Jewish support for Allied war efforts, particularly in Russia where the Bolshevik Revolution had created uncertainties, and the strategic interest in Palestine as a key region close to the Suez Canal, vital to the British Empire. The issue of the Balfour Declaration marked a turning point in the history of the region, as it was interpreted by the Zionists as international support for their aspiration to a national home in Palestine. For the Arab Palestinians, on the other hand, it was seen as a betrayal and a threat to their territorial and national claims. This dichotomy of perceptions laid the foundations for the tensions and conflict that followed in the region.

The historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and extends well before the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Jewish presence in Jerusalem and other parts of historic Palestine dates back millennia, although the demographics and composition of the population have fluctuated over time as a result of various historical events, including periods of exile and diaspora. During the 1800s and particularly in the 1830s, a significant migration of Jews to Palestine began, partly in response to persecution and pogroms in the Russian Empire and other parts of Europe. This migration, often seen as part of the first Aliyahs (ascents) within the nascent Zionist movement, was motivated by the desire to return to the Jewish ancestral homeland and to rebuild a Jewish presence in Palestine.

An important aspect of this Jewish revival was the Askala or Haskala (Jewish Renaissance), a movement among European Jews, particularly Ashkenazim, to modernise Jewish culture and integrate into European society. This movement encouraged education, the adoption of local languages and customs, while promoting a renewed and dynamic Jewish identity. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, often cited as the father of modern Hebrew, played a crucial role in the revival of Hebrew as a living language. His work was essential to Jewish cultural and national renewal, giving the Jewish community in Palestine a unifying means of communication and strengthening their distinct cultural identity.

These cultural and migratory developments helped lay the foundations for political Zionism, a nationalist movement aimed at establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine. Zionism gained popularity in the late 19th century, partly in response to anti-Semitic persecution in Europe and the aspiration for self-determination. Jewish migration to Palestine in the 19th and early 20th centuries coincided with the long-standing presence of Palestinian Arab communities, leading to demographic changes and growing tensions in the region. These tensions, exacerbated by the policies of the British Mandate and international events, eventually led to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we know today.

The history of the Zionist movement and the emergence of the idea of a Jewish national home is closely linked to the Jewish diaspora in Europe and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This period was marked by a renewal of Jewish thought and a growing awareness of the challenges facing the Jewish community in Europe, particularly anti-Semitism. Leon Pinsker, a Russian Jewish physician and intellectual, was a key figure in the early stages of Zionism. Influenced by pogroms and anti-Semitic persecution in Russia, Pinsker wrote "Self-Emancipation" in 1882, a pamphlet that argued for the need for a national homeland for Jews. Pinsker believed that anti-Semitism was a permanent and inevitable phenomenon in Europe and that the only solution for the Jewish people was autonomy in their own territory. Theodore Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist and writer, is often regarded as the father of modern political Zionism. Deeply affected by the Dreyfus Affair in France, where a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was falsely accused of espionage in a climate of blatant anti-Semitism, Herzl came to the conclusion that assimilation would not protect Jews from discrimination and persecution. This case was a catalyst for Herzl, leading him to write "The State of the Jews" in 1896, in which he argued for the creation of a Jewish state. Contrary to popular belief, Herzl did not specifically envisage founding the Jewish national home in France, but rather in Palestine or, failing that, in another territory offered by a colonial power. Herzl's idea was to find a place where Jews could establish themselves as a sovereign nation and live freely, away from European anti-Semitism. Herzl was the driving force behind the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, which laid the foundations of the Zionist movement as a political organisation. This congress brought together Jewish delegates from diverse backgrounds to discuss the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

Antisemitism and Jewish Migration[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Anti-Semitism has a long and complex history, deeply rooted in European religious and socio-economic beliefs, particularly during the Middle Ages. One of the most prominent aspects of historical anti-Semitism is the notion of the "deicidal people", an accusation that the Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. This idea was widely promulgated in European Christendom and served as a justification for various forms of persecution and discrimination against Jews over the centuries. This belief contributed to the marginalisation of Jews and their portrayal as 'other' or foreign within Christian society.

In the Middle Ages, the restrictions imposed on Jews in the professional and social spheres had a significant impact on their place in society. As a result of Church laws and restrictions, Jews were often prevented from owning land or practising certain professions. For example, in many areas, they could not be members of guilds, which limited their opportunities in trade and crafts. These restrictions led many Jews to turn to trades such as money-lending, an activity often forbidden to Christians because of the Church's ban on usury. Although this activity provided a necessary economic niche, it also reinforced certain negative stereotypes and contributed to economic anti-Semitism. Jews were sometimes perceived as usurers and associated with avarice, which exacerbated mistrust and hostility towards them. In addition, Jews were often confined to specific neighbourhoods, known as ghettos, which limited their interaction with the Christian population and reinforced their isolation. This segregation, combined with religious and economic anti-Semitism, created an environment in which persecution, such as pogroms, could occur. Medieval anti-Semitism, rooted in religious beliefs and reinforced by socio-economic structures, thus laid the foundations for centuries of discrimination and persecution against Jews in Europe. This painful history was one of the factors that fuelled Zionist aspirations for a secure and sovereign national home.

The evolution of anti-Semitism in the 19th century represents a significant turning point, when prejudice and discrimination against Jews began to be based more on racial notions than on religious or cultural differences. This change marked the birth of what is known as 'modern' anti-Semitism, which laid the ideological foundations for 20th century anti-Semitism, including the Holocaust. In the pre-modern period, anti-Semitism was mainly rooted in religious differences, with accusations of deicide and negative stereotypes associated with Jews as a religious group. However, with the Enlightenment and the emancipation of Jews in many European countries in the 19th century, antisemitism began to take on a new form. This 'modern' form of anti-Semitism was characterised by the belief in the existence of distinct races with inherent biological and moral characteristics. Jews were seen not only as a distinct religious community, but also as a separate 'race', with hereditary traits and presumed behaviours that made them different and, in the eyes of anti-Semites, inferior or dangerous to society.

This racial ideology was reinforced by various pseudoscientific theories and writings, including those of figures such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an influential racial theorist whose ideas contributed to Nazi racial theory. Racial anti-Semitism found its most extreme expression in Nazi ideology, which used racist theories to justify the systematic persecution and extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. The transition from religious anti-Semitism to racial anti-Semitism in the 19th century was therefore a crucial development, fuelling more intense and systematic forms of discrimination and persecution against Jews. This development also contributed to the urgency felt by the Zionist movement for the creation of a Jewish nation-state where Jews could live in security and be free from such persecution.

The Zionist Movement and Settlement in Palestine[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The end of the 19th century was a crucial period for the Jewish people and marked a decisive turning point in the history of Zionism, a movement that would eventually lead to the creation of the State of Israel. This period was characterised by a combination of response to anti-Semitic persecution in Europe and a growing desire for self-determination and a return to their ancestral homeland. The Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement played a fundamental role in the early stages of Zionism. Formed by Jews mainly from Eastern Europe, this movement aimed to encourage Jewish immigration to Palestine and to establish a base for the Jewish community in the region. Inspired by the pogroms and discrimination in Russia and elsewhere, members of Hovevei Zion implemented agricultural and settlement projects, laying the foundations for Jewish renewal in Palestine. However, it was the first Zionist Congress, organised by Theodor Herzl in 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, that marked a historic milestone. Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist deeply affected by the anti-Semitism he had observed, particularly during the Dreyfus affair in France, understood the need for a Jewish national home. The Basel Congress brought together Jewish delegates from various countries and served as a platform for articulating and propagating the Zionist idea. The most notable outcome of the Congress was the formulation of the Basel Programme, which called for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. The Congress also led to the creation of the World Zionist Organisation, charged with promoting the Zionist goal. Under Herzl's leadership, the Zionist movement gained legitimacy and international support, despite challenges and controversies. Herzl's vision, although largely symbolic at the time, provided a framework and direction for Jewish aspirations, transforming an idea into a tangible political movement. The period at the end of the 19th century was pivotal in the formation of the Zionist movement and set the stage for future events that would lead to the creation of the State of Israel. It reflects a period when the historical challenges faced by Jews in Europe converged with a renewed desire for self-determination, shaping the course of Jewish and Middle Eastern history.

The early 20th century was a significant period of development and transformation for the Jewish community in Palestine, marked by an increase in Jewish immigration and the creation of new social and urban structures. Between 1903 and 1914, a period known as the "Second Aliyah", around 30,000 Jews, mainly from the Russian Empire, immigrated to Palestine. This wave of immigration was motivated by a combination of factors, including anti-Semitic persecution in the Russian Empire and the Zionist aspiration to establish a Jewish national home. This period saw the creation of the city of Tel Aviv in 1909, which became a symbol of Jewish renewal and Zionism. Tel Aviv was conceived as a modern city, planned from the outset to be an urban centre for the growing Jewish community. One of the most innovative developments of this period was the creation of Kibbutzim. Kibbutzim were agricultural communities based on principles of collective ownership and communal work. They played a crucial role in Jewish settlement in Palestine, providing not only a means of subsistence, but also contributing to the defence and security of Jewish communities. Their importance went beyond agriculture, as they served as centres for culture, education and social Zionism.

The period between 1921 and 1931 saw a new wave of immigration, known as the "Third Aliyah", during which around 150,000 Jews arrived in Palestine. This significant increase in the Jewish population was partly stimulated by the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, particularly in Poland and Russia, and by British policies in Palestine. These immigrants brought with them a variety of skills, contributing to the economic and social development of the region. Jewish immigration during this period was a key factor in the demographic configuration of Palestine, leading to substantial social and economic changes. It also exacerbated tensions with Palestinian Arab communities, who saw this growing immigration as a threat to their territorial and demographic claims. These tensions eventually escalated, leading to conflict and unrest in the following years and decades.

The period following the Balfour Declaration in 1917 was marked by a significant increase in tensions and conflicts between the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine. The Declaration, which expressed the British government's support for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, was enthusiastically welcomed by many Jews but provoked opposition and animosity among the Palestinian Arab population. These tensions manifested themselves in a series of confrontations and violence between the two communities. The 1920s and 1930s witnessed several episodes of violence, including riots and massacres, in which both sides suffered casualties. These incidents reflected rising nationalist tensions on both sides and the struggle for control and the future of Palestine.

In response to these rising tensions and the perceived need to defend themselves against attack, the Jewish community in Palestine formed the Haganah in 1920. The Haganah, which means "defence" in Hebrew, was initially a clandestine defence organisation designed to protect Jewish communities from Arab attack. It was founded by a group of representatives of Jewish settlements and Zionist organisations in response to the Jerusalem riots of 1920. The Haganah evolved over time from a local defence force into a more structured military organisation. Although primarily defensive in its early years, the Haganah developed a more robust military capability, including the training of elite forces and the acquisition of weapons, in anticipation of wider conflict with Arab communities and neighbouring countries. The formation of the Haganah was a crucial development in the history of the Zionist movement and played an important role in the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Haganah formed the nucleus of what would later become the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the official army of the State of Israel.

The collaboration of Zionist circles with the proxy powers, in particular Great Britain, which had received the mandate from the League of Nations to govern Palestine after the First World War, played an important role in the development of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This cooperation was crucial to the progress of the Zionist movement, but it also fuelled tensions and anger among the Palestinian Arab population. The relationship between the Zionists and the British proxy authorities was complex and at times conflictual, but the Zionists sought to use this relationship to further their aims in Palestine. Zionist efforts to establish a Jewish national home were often seen by Palestinian Arabs as being supported, or at least tolerated, by the British, exacerbating tensions and mistrust.

An important aspect of Zionist strategy during the Mandate period was the purchase of land in Palestine. The Jewish Agency, established in 1929, played a key role in this strategy. The Jewish Agency was an organisation that represented the Jewish community to the British authorities and coordinated the various aspects of the Zionist project in Palestine, including immigration, settlement building, education and, crucially, land acquisition. The acquisition of land by Jews in Palestine was a major source of conflict, as it often led to the displacement of local Arab populations. Palestinian Arabs saw the purchase of land and Jewish immigration as a threat to their presence and future in the region. These land deals not only changed the demographic composition and landscape of Palestine, but also contributed to the intensification of nationalist sentiment among Palestinian Arabs.

The year 1937 marked a turning point in the British management of the Mandate of Palestine and revealed the first signs of British disengagement in the face of escalating tensions and violence between the Jewish and Arab communities. The complexity and intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict challenged British efforts to maintain peace and order, leading to a growing recognition of the impossibility of satisfying both Zionist aspirations and Palestinian Arab demands.

In 1937, the Peel Commission, a British commission of enquiry, published its report recommending for the first time the partition of Palestine into two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem under international control. This proposal was a response to escalating violence, particularly during the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, a mass insurrection by Palestinian Arabs against British rule and Jewish immigration. The partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by both sides for various reasons. The Palestinian Arab leaders rejected the plan because it implied the recognition of a Jewish state in Palestine. On the other hand, although some Zionist leaders saw the plan as a step towards a larger Jewish state, others rejected it because it did not meet their territorial expectations.

This period was also marked by the emergence of extremist groups on both sides. On the Jewish side, groups such as the Irgun and the Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) began to carry out military operations against Palestinian Arabs and the British, including bombings. These groups adopted a more militant approach than the Haganah, the Jewish community's main defence organisation, in pursuit of the Zionist goal. On the Arab side, violence also intensified, with attacks on Jews and British interests. The Arab revolt was a sign of growing opposition to both British policy and Jewish immigration. Britain's inability to resolve the conflict and extremist responses on both sides created an increasingly unstable and violent climate, laying the foundations for future conflict and further complicating efforts to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the Palestine question.

The UN Partition Plan and the War of Independence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1947, faced with the continuing escalation of tensions and violence in Mandatory Palestine, the United Nations proposed a new partition plan in an attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This plan, recommended by UN General Assembly Resolution 181, envisaged the division of Palestine into two independent states, one Jewish and the other Arab, with Jerusalem placed under a special international regime. Under the UN partition plan, Palestine would be divided in such a way as to give each state a majority of its respective population. The Jerusalem area, including Bethlehem, would be established as a corpus separatum under international administration, because of its religious and historical importance to Jews, Christians and Muslims. However, the UN partition plan was rejected by the majority of Arab leaders and peoples. Palestinian Arabs and neighbouring Arab states felt that the plan did not respect their national and territorial claims, and that it was unfair in terms of land distribution, given that the Jewish population was then a minority in Palestine. They saw the plan as a continuation of the pro-Zionist policy of the Western powers and as a violation of their right to self-determination.

The Jewish community in Palestine, represented by the Jewish Agency, accepted the plan, seeing it as a historic opportunity for the creation of a Jewish state. For the Jews, the plan represented international recognition of their national aspirations and a crucial step towards independence. The rejection of the partition plan by the Arabs led to an intensification of conflicts and confrontations in the region. The period that followed was marked by an escalation of violence, culminating in the 1948 war, also known as Israel's War of Independence or the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians. This war led to the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948 and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, marking the start of a protracted conflict that continues to this day.

The declaration of independence of the State of Israel in May 1948 and the events that followed represent a crucial chapter in the history of the Middle East, with major political, social and military repercussions. The expiry of the British Mandate in Palestine created a political vacuum that Jewish leaders, led by David Ben-Gurion, sought to fill by proclaiming Israel's independence. This declaration, made in response to the 1947 United Nations partition plan, marked the realisation of Zionist aspirations but was also the catalyst for a major armed conflict in the region. The military intervention of neighbouring Arab countries, including Transjordan, Egypt and Syria, was aimed at thwarting the creation of the Jewish state and supporting the demands of the Arab Palestinians. These countries, united by their opposition to the creation of Israel, planned to eliminate the nascent state and redefine the political geography of Palestine. However, despite their initial numerical superiority, the Arab forces were gradually pushed back by an increasingly organised and effective Israeli army.

The Soviet Union's indirect support for Israel, mainly in the form of arms deliveries via the satellite countries of Eastern Europe, played a role in reversing the balance of power on the ground. This Soviet support was motivated less by affection for Israel than by a desire to diminish British influence in the region, in the context of the growing rivalry of the Cold War. The series of ceasefire agreements that ended the war in 1949 left Israel with substantially more territory than that allocated by the UN partition plan. The war had profoundly tragic consequences, including the mass displacement of Arab Palestinians, which gave rise to refugee and rights issues that continue to haunt the peace process. The War of Independence also solidified Israel's position as a central player in the region, marking the beginning of an Arab-Israeli conflict that persists to this day.

The Six-Day War, which took place in June 1967, was another decisive moment in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. This conflict, which pitted Israel against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon, led to major geopolitical changes in the region. The war began on 5 June 1967 when Israel, faced with what it perceived as an imminent threat from Arab armies aligned on its borders, launched a series of pre-emptive air strikes against Egypt. These strikes quickly destroyed most of the Egyptian air force on the ground, giving Israel a crucial air advantage. In the days that followed, Israel extended its military operations against Jordan and Syria. The conflict unfolded rapidly, with Israeli victories on several fronts. In six days of intense fighting, Israel succeeded in capturing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. These territorial gains tripled the size of the territory under Israeli control. The Six Day War had profound and lasting consequences for the region. It marked a turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict, strengthening Israel's military and strategic position while exacerbating tensions with its Arab neighbours. The war also had significant implications for the Palestinian population, as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza posed new dynamics and challenges for the Palestinian question. In addition, the loss of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights was a major blow to the Arab countries concerned, in particular Egypt and Syria, and contributed to an atmosphere of disillusionment and despair among the Arabs. The war also laid the foundations for future conflicts and negotiations, including efforts for a lasting peace process between Israel and its neighbours.

The Yom Kippur War and the Camp David Accords[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Yom Kippur War, which broke out in October 1973, was a crucial milestone in the history of Israeli-Arab conflict. The war, triggered by a surprise joint attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria, took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, which accentuated its psychological impact on the Israeli population. The Egyptian and Syrian attack was an attempt to recapture the territories lost in the Six Day War in 1967, in particular the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The war began with significant successes for the Egyptian and Syrian forces, challenging the perception of Israeli military supremacy. However, Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, quickly mobilised its forces for an effective counter-offensive.

This war had major repercussions. The Yom Kippur War forced Israel to reassess its military and security strategies. The initial surprise of the attack highlighted shortcomings in Israeli military intelligence and led to significant changes in Israel's preparation and defence doctrine. Diplomatically, the war acted as a catalyst for future peace negotiations. The losses suffered by both sides paved the way for the Camp David Accords in 1978, under the aegis of US President Jimmy Carter, leading to the first Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979. This treaty was a turning point, marking the first recognition of Israel by a neighbouring Arab country. The war also had an international impact, notably by triggering the 1973 oil crisis. Arab oil-producing countries used oil as an economic weapon to protest against US support for Israel, leading to significant increases in oil prices and global economic repercussions. The Yom Kippur War therefore not only redefined Arab-Israeli relations, but also had global consequences, influencing energy policies, international relations and the Middle East peace process. The war marked an important step in the recognition of the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the need for a balanced approach to its resolution.

In 1979, an historic event marked a major milestone in the Middle East peace process with the signing of the Camp David Accords, which led to the first peace treaty between Israel and one of its Arab neighbours, Egypt. These agreements, negotiated under the aegis of US President Jimmy Carter, were the fruit of difficult and daring negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The initiative for these negotiations came in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which had highlighted the urgent need for a peaceful resolution to the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. Anwar Sadat's courageous decision to visit Jerusalem in 1977 broke down many political and psychological barriers, paving the way for direct dialogue between Israel and Egypt.

The peace talks, held at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, were marked by periods of intense negotiation, reflecting the deep historical divisions between Israel and Egypt. Jimmy Carter's personal intervention was instrumental in keeping both parties engaged in the process and overcoming impasses. The resulting agreements comprised two distinct frameworks. The first agreement laid the foundations for Palestinian autonomy in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while the second agreement led directly to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Signed in March 1979, this treaty led to Israel withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had occupied since 1967, in exchange for Egypt's recognition of the State of Israel and the establishment of normal diplomatic relations.

The Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was a revolutionary breakthrough, changing the political landscape of the Middle East. It signified the end of the state of war between the two nations and set a precedent for future peace efforts in the region. However, the treaty also provoked fierce opposition in the Arab world, and Sadat was assassinated in 1981, an act widely seen as a direct response to his policy of rapprochement with Israel. Ultimately, the Camp David Accords and the peace treaty that followed demonstrated the possibility of peaceful negotiations in a region marked by protracted conflict, while highlighting the challenges inherent in achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East. These events had a profound impact not only on Israeli-Egyptian relations, but also on regional and international dynamics.

The Right of Return of Palestinian Refugees[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The right of return of Palestinian refugees remains a complex and controversial issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This right refers to the possibility for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to the lands they left or from which they were displaced in 1948 when the State of Israel was created. Resolution 194 of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted on 11 December 1948, states that refugees wishing to return to their homes should be allowed to do so and live in peace with their neighbours. However, this resolution, like other General Assembly resolutions, does not have the capacity to determine laws or establish rights. Rather, it is recommendatory in nature. Consequently, although it has been confirmed on several occasions by the United Nations, it has not been implemented to date.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), established in 1949, supports over five million registered Palestinian refugees. Unlike the 1951 Convention on refugees in general, UNRWA also includes the descendants of the 1948 refugees, which significantly increases the number of people concerned. Peace agreements such as those negotiated at Camp David in 1978 or the Oslo Accords of 1993 recognise the question of Palestinian refugees as a subject for negotiation within the framework of the peace process. However, they do not explicitly mention a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. The resolution of the refugee problem is generally considered to be a matter to be settled by bilateral agreements between Israel and its neighbours.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]