Know Your History: The Colonial Make-up of the Middle East

With the tragic events taking place in Iraq, and the term Levant becoming once again a house-hold name, I thought I would go back in time a little bit and outline how the region was influenced by the colonial powers.

Levant is a French word which was used to describe the regions of modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. (Some might say that parts of Turkey were in the Levant as well.)

After World War II, the Ottoman Turks found themselves on the losing side of history and their claim over the vast areas of the Arabian Peninsula were lost to the Europeans who came in to stake claim on the land.

France claimed what we now know as Lebanon and Syria while Britain took over Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and Iraq. The Arabs were furious with the Brits, especially, because the Brits gave the Arabs the impression that the entire region from the Mediterranean Sea and down through the vast Arabian Peninsula would be controlled by Arabs. This was not to be. The Brits gave them only the arid, desert lands of the peninsula. (Now, if the Brits knew how much oil was on the peninsula, they may have thought twice about this, but that is another post entirely.)

In 1932, Iraq was the first country of the region to get its independence. Lebanon claimed their independence during WWII in 1943 and Syria attained theirs from a reluctance France in 1946, the same year that Jordan became independent from Great Britain. Furthermore, Britain, wanting no part of the impending conflict in Palestine over the influx of Jews into the region, deflected the crisis to the newly formed UN which granted Israel state status as they declared independence in 1948.


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