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The Great War in the Middle East

by Eugene Rogan

Pub Date: March 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-465-02307-3
Publisher: Basic

Rogan (Modern History of the Middle East/St. Antony’s Coll., Oxford Univ.; The Arabs: A History, 2009, etc.) corrects Western assumptions about the “sick man of Europe.”

In this well-researched, evenhanded treatment of the Ottomans’ role in World War I, especially in its assessment of the Armenian genocide of 1918, the author delineates the urgent internal and external causes spurring the crumbling Turkish empire to seek a defensive alliance with Germany and counter Britain, France and Russia when war broke out in 1914. The coalition of fiery Young Turks had risen against the aging autocratic sultan and demanded a restoration of the constitution in 1908, but during the tumult, they allowed Turkey’s European neighbors to annex more territory. Russia’s territorial ambitions were most feared, while Britain and France could not be trusted. The war became a “global call to arms” for all parties, with the Ottomans declaring a jihad in order to unite Muslims. Rogan walks through the “opening salvos” of the war, at Basra, Aden and Egypt, showing the vulnerability of the Ottoman defenses; yet the Ottomans showed enormous spirit and ingenuity against the Entente assault on the Dardanelles in February 1915. Rogan elucidates the Allied debacle at Gallipoli—although the lack of maps is frustrating—a reckless campaign he blames more on Lord Kitchener than on Winston Churchill and which provoked a government crisis back in Britain. The dire campaigns in Mesopotamia, Suez and Palestine were not a “sideshow” to be dismissed by the Allied planners in their hopes for a quick victory over a weak Ottoman Empire. Actually, they produced—through the Arab Revolt galvanized by T.E. Lawrence and the drafting of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration—an uneasy armistice and partition that promised to be deeply divisive for another century.

An illuminating work that offers new understanding to the troubled history of this key geopolitical region.