The Legacy of World War I


Join Active Minds for a look at how the agreements made at the end of World War I have contributed to present day conflicts around the globe. In particular, we will examine the way in which the former Ottoman Empire was divided and how that relates to disputes that continue to this day.

Key Lecture Points

  • Many suggest that the treaties signed following World War I did more harm than good, especially in the Middle East. Historian and author David Andelman writes, ‘The seeds of today’s terrorist wars were planted in the halls of the Paris peace talks—by those who were there and those who were not. The people dividing up the Middle East were there; the people being divided up were not. It was as if there were a lot of individuals with their noses pressed against the window, who could only watch as their part of the world was being carved apart and reassembled.”
  • Prior to WWI, the Ottoman Empire encompassed much of the Middle East as well as significant European territory. Muslims in Bosnia today are the descendants of the Ottoman reach in Europe in the 16th Century. At its peak, the Ottoman Empire reached from the gates of Vienna to the shores of Algeria and from the Black Sea to the Red Sea. Eventually, though, a weakened Ottoman Empire, allied with Germany and Austria-Hungary, was drawn into the broader European conflicts, culminating in WWI.
  • Although the Ottomans were eventually defeated by the Allies, they were able to inflict heavy losses during the war from 1914-18, particularly upon the British in the Battle of Gallipoli. That said, in 1919 the defeated Ottoman Empire was a significant topic for the victorious Allies at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The Treaty of Sevres, signed in 1920, drastically reduced the influence of the Ottoman Turks. Although it was later superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne which expanded Turkey to roughly its present size, both treaties resulted in control of large areas of the Middle east being handed over to Britain and France.
  • Today, we see the repercussions of the decisions made at the Paris Peace Conference 90 years ago. The frame of the current internal disputes within Iraq was set by the British Mandate period that followed WWI. The same can be said of Israel and the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. Additionally, cross border disputes, such as the 1st Gulf War in Kuwait and recent unrest within the Kurdish region on the Iraq-Turkey border can also be traced to 1919.

Exploration Questions

  • What do you feel explains the fact that WWI did not end up being the War to End All Wars?
  • Suppose the Ottoman Empire had not been disassembled the way that it was following World War I. How do you think that would have impacted modern day events?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever traveled to any of the countries of the former Ottoman Empire? What was the sense of history there?
  • Do you think the Allied powers had the right to take over so many countries following the war?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Boemeke, Manfred F. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After 75 Years. Cambridge University Press, 2006. 688 pages. This book illuminates events from the armistice in 1918 to the signing of the treaty in 1919, and scrutinizes the motives, actions, and constraints that informed decision making by the French, American, and English politicians who bore the principal responsibility for drafting the peace settlement.
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  • Finkel, Caroline. Osman's Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. Perseus Book Group, 2007. 660 pages. Caroline Finkel lucidly recounts the epic story of the Ottoman Empire from its origins in the thirteenth century through its destruction in the twentieth.
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