Between 1911 and 1922, a series of wars would engulf the Ottoman Empire and its successor states, in which the central conflict, of course, is World War I—a story we think we know well. As Sean McMeekin shows us in this revelatory new history of what he calls the “wars of the Ottoman succession,” we know far less than we think. The Ottoman Endgame brings to light the entire strategic narrative that led to an unstable new order in postwar Middle East—much of which is still felt today.
McMeekin also brilliantly reconceives our inherited Anglo-French understanding of the war’s outcome and the collapse of the empire that followed. He chronicles the emergence of modern Turkey and the carve-up of the rest of the Ottoman Empire offering a new perspective on such issues as the ethno-religious bloodletting and forced population transfers which attended the breakup of empire, the Balfour Declaration, the toppling of the caliphate, and the partition of Iraq and Syria—bringing the contemporary consequences into clear focus.
- Thursday, June 4, 7 pm: Leila Fawaz, author of “A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War”
The Great War transformed the Middle East, bringing to an end four hundred years of Ottoman rule in Arab lands while giving rise to the Middle East as we know it today. Among those who suffered were the people of Greater Syria—comprising modern Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine—as well as the people of Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Beyond the shifting fortunes of the battlefield, the region was devastated by a British and French naval blockade made worse by Ottoman war measures. Famine, disease, inflation, and an influx of refugees were everyday realities. But the local populations were not passive victims. The war’s aftermath proved bitter for many survivors. Nationalist aspirations were quashed as Britain and France divided the Middle East along artificial borders that still cause resentment. The misery of the Great War, and a profound sense of huge sacrifices made in vain, would color people’s views of politics and the West for the century to come.Leila Fawaz chronicles the initiative and resilience of civilian émigrés, entrepreneurs, draft-dodgers, soldiers, villagers, and townsmen determined to survive the war as best they could. The right mix of ingenuity and practicality often meant the difference between life and death.