A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

November 5, 1914; War Comes to the Middle East

One hundred years ago today, Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Russia had done so three days earlier, and its troops crossed the border in what became known as the Bergmann Offensive in the Caucasus, which I'll discuss soon.. As I noted yesterday, on November 3 Britain jumped the gun and anticipated its declaration of war by two days by shelling the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. On November 6, it would land forces in Mesopotamia.

Authors writing from a western European perspective often would characterize the great War in the Middle East as a "sideshow" of the horrors of the Western Front, and outside the region itself few people know much about it. Everybody knows Lawrence of Arabia (or at least Lawrence of Arabia, the David Lean film), and thus something about the Arab Revolt. Australians and New Zealanders know Gallipoli, and the exploits of the Light Horse in Palestine, but only Turks remember the hard, slogging, snowy war in the Caucasus. Even British memory has tended to forget the mass surrender at Kut.

Yet every student of the Modern Middle East knows that this is the era that gives us the creation myth of most modern nation-states in "our" region. The postwar settlement, usually and incorrectly attributed to "Sykes-Picot" (whose map would be largely unrecognizable today) created the Middle East we know today. To quote David Fromkin's wonderful title of his book on the subject, "the war to end all war" ended with "A Peace to End All Peace." (The original joke was made in 1066 and All That, referring to Versailles, but Fromkin gets credit for applying it to the Middle East.)

In the coming days, weeks, and months (and given the opportunity, till 2018), I plan to take the "historical and cultural context" mission of this blog literally and (being a historian by training), retell or, when possible, tell mostly forgotten aspects of the war that forged the Middle East we know today. Since, except for the Caucasus and Mesopotamia, which we'll be discussing soon, the actual battle fronts took some time to develop, I'll also be looking at the strategic calculations and war plans of the various belligerents. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Thanks for the useful reminder that the turmoil and violence of the "Arab Spring" has an antecedent in the affairs of the civilized West.