Investigative Question

How did agreements dating from the World War I and postwar periods impact the map of the Middle East?

The leaders of the victorious countries drafted the treaty, which required the losing powers, particularly Germany, to assume responsibility for starting the war, and for paying the victors reparations with large amounts of currency and land. New states were created in Eastern Europe, carved from the territories of the German, Austrian, Ottoman, and Russian empires. The Treaty of Versailles also established the mandate system, which granted many of the Allied Powers, including Japan, administrative governance over former territories and colonies of Germany and the Ottoman Empire. However, in Africa and Asia, colonized peoples who had fought for the British and French soon realized that they would not be granted self-determination like Eastern Europeans were. Consequently, nationalist leaders began to organize independence movements to oppose the authority of colonial powers. The political and social map of the Middle East continued to be redrawn through European involvement during and following World War I. Students should learn about the significance of critical documents and agreements dating from the World War I and postwar periods in setting the world map and as a basis for future conflicts by addressing the question: How did agreements dating from the World War I and postwar periods impact the map of the Middle East?

In the course of World War I and the Paris Peace Conference afterwards, the Allied Powers made promises to Arab and Jewish leaders and to each other about the territories of the Middle East, or Southwest Asia. At the beginning of the war those territories formed part of the Ottoman Empire, which fought for the Central Powers (Source 1). Britain wanted to undermine the ability of the Ottoman Empire to wage war, a desire that motivated many of the promises made to Arab leaders. But the British and French also wanted control of parts of those territories as spheres of influence, so they also made secret promises to each other that conflicted with British promises to Arab leaders. At the Paris Peace Conference, British and French leaders insisted that the territories they claimed should be put under their control, in contradiction to Wilson's Fourteen Points and some of the promises Britain made during the war. The Great Powers created a new form of imperialism, the mandate, and designated the people of Greater Syria and Mesopotamia not ready for self-government, as compared to Europeans. The result was a division of the territory into mandates under Great Britain and France, and some of the borders of those mandates became the borders between the nations of Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Since the divisions did not correspond to ethnic, religious, or historical precedents, or the principle of self-determination, they have led to many problems inside and among these nations in the years since. In addition, Arab resentment at the broken promises fuels suspicion about European and US motivations.

This source set focuses on the conflicting agreements made during the war and the resulting division of the territory into mandates under Britain and France. The primary sources are excerpts from the texts of those agreements and documents relating to the postwar division. In Student Handout 10.6B there are maps for each set of conversations or agreements. These maps allow students to visualize the territories and track the changes by perspective and over time. Teachers might have students make interpretations and cite evidence to support them as students read the documents. For the agreements made during the war, students can identify the initial aims of the people living in the former Ottoman territories and the conflicting aims of the Allied Powers. For the postwar sources, students can record what happened to the territories following the mandates of 1920 and the fate of each group that had interests in the region.

During World War I, the British started negotiations with Arab leaders whose territories were in the Ottoman Empire. The British goal was to defeat the Ottoman Empire by encouraging its subjects to resist and revolt. One Arab ruler, Sharif Husayn Ibn Ali, whose territory was the Hijaz (western Arabia), proposed in 1915 that he would lead a revolt against the Ottoman Empire in exchange for British support for an independent Arab state after the war (Source 2). Aware of the benefits that a revolt in the Hijaz would have for the British war effort, the British governor of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, replied that Britain would support a more limited Arab state (Source 3). McMahon was cautious and vague in this response, as he knew about conflicting promises about to be made to France and others. Included in this set is a literacy strategy to help English learners and those who read below grade level to comprehend the nuances of this difficult source. In 1916, through the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the British and French divided up the territories into spheres of influence (Source 4). This agreement was secret, but the borders it established can still be seen in the borders between Syria and Iraq and between Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. Sykes-Picot also contradicted the commitments that McMahon had made to Husayn. Further contradiction came from the Balfour Declaration, by Great Britain, in 1917 (Source 5). In this, Britain endorsed the establishment of a Jewish state in the territory of Palestine.

At the postwar Paris Peace Conference, it soon became clear to people in the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire that Great Britain and France would not honor either promises to Arab leaders or Woodrow Wilson's principle of self-determination, but they instead intended to divide the territory in accord with the Sykes-Picot Agreement (Source 6). This fueled resistance by the General Syrian Congress, whose resolution of 1919 claimed independence for a greater Syria and argued strenuously against the need for mandates and the claims of Zionists (Source 7). Although their protests were not heeded at the time, their arguments foreshadow the problems that have beset this region through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Source 8 is a map that shows the ethnic and sectarian groups living in the present-day nation of Iraq.

Literacy Support for McMahon's Response to Husayn (Source 3)


Teacher Background: This text comes from a carefully worded letter from Sir Henry McMahon to Sharif Husayn, responding to Husayn's proposal McMahon received by post a month before. McMahon wanted to encourage Husayn to revolt, as Husayn was the Sharif of Mecca and therefore the commander of the local military in the Hijaz. His rebellion would cause serious problems for the Ottoman Empire. But at the same time, McMahon did not want to promise too much. He threaded this difficult needle with diplomatic assurances that were vague and euphemistic. This type of convoluted, indirect innuendo is particularly difficult for English learners and students who read below grade level. The literacy strategy of close reading will help struggling readers understand this text as it guides them through successive rereadings; in each rereading they gain more understanding of the meaning.




Students should already have read Source 2, Letter from Sharif Husayn.

Divide students into pairs and hand out a copy of McMahon's Response to Husayn and Student Handout 10.6A to each student. For reference they should also have access to map 1 on Student Handout 10.6B.


Investigative Question:


Introduce the investigative question for this source: How did McMahon's promises and limits affect the map of the Middle East? Help students break down the question into its three component parts and tell them to write those down on Student Handout 10.6A.


First Read: Underlining Vocabulary

Have students read the document silently and underline any words whose meaning they are unsure of. Tell them: Circle the word "interests" wherever it appears in the document. This word has a special meaning in documents about imperialism. It is a kind of code. Think about its meaning as you read through the document.


Second Read: Author's Perspective and Purpose

Because this document is a response to Husayn's letter, first ask the whole class questions 1 – 4.

For questions 5 – 14, have students work in pairs. Two of the questions require outside knowledge of World War I. Tell them to consult their notes or textbooks for that information. When student pairs have completed the questions, review the answers as a class. Ask students to summarize Husayn's perspective and McMahon's perspective.


Third Read: Text-Dependent Questions

Tell student pairs to reread the text paragraph by paragraph and answer the text-dependent questions for each paragraph. You might stop after each set of questions to review the answers with them before going on to the next paragraph's questions.


Fourth Read: Vocabulary

Direct students to list the vocabulary they underlined in the second read, define those words together with their partners, and define the code word "interests" in their own words. Ask students to share sample words and discuss the meanings and context with the whole class.


Fifth Read: Answering the Investigative Question

Instruct student pairs to answer the three parts of the investigative question and record their answers. Discuss.

Corroboration and Inferences:

Before students can complete this activity they must read all the sources in the set. You might have them come back to this part of the student handout later.


10.6 Middle East Maps Student Handout

10.6 Middle East Maps Teacher Key

  • The Library of Congress. The Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool supports an inquiry model of instruction by asking students to first observe, then reflect, then question. Their customizable tool includes specific prompts for student interrogation of books and other printed materials, maps, oral recordings, photographs and paintings, and many other types of primary sources.
  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has developed a vast collection of document analysis worksheets, ready for classroom use. Their website offers teachers a wide collection of customizable tools – appropriate for working with photographs, maps, written documents, and more. NARA has also customized their tools to meet the needs of young learners, and intermediate or secondary students.