Middle East History Overview

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Which event led to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine?

What significant territorial changes occurred as a result of the Treaty of Sevres (1920)?

Which region did the Ottoman province of Mosul get transferred to as a result of the Versailles Treaty in 1919?

What did the discovery of oil and gas reserves across the Middle East lead to?

Which country is heavily reliant on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for its civilization but lacks control over their headwaters?

Why did the British Empire find the Middle East strategically important?

Which empire dominated the Middle East for many centuries before its decline in the 19th century?

What was the purpose of the Sykes-Picot Agreement negotiated in 1916?

What was a key reason for the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century?

Why did the British acquire protectorates in the Middle East, starting with the modern United Arab Emirates?


  • The Middle East has been synonymous with warfare, instability, and conflict for nearly a century, with major wars being fought in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Yemen since the turn of the 21st century.
  • The region, which spans from Hungary to Yemen, has been dominated by the Turkish Ottoman Empire for many centuries, with diverse ethnicities, languages, and religions.
  • The Ottoman Empire, which had no tolerance for nationalism or separatism, began a long period of decline by the 19th century, attracting the interest of the British Empire.
  • The Middle East was strategically important to the British due to its geographic location between India and the British home islands, and the Suez Canal, which granted the quickest possible journey time between the two.
  • The British began acquiring protectorates in the Middle East, starting with the modern United Arab Emirates, to safeguard their access to the Suez Canal.
  • The Ottoman Empire joined the first world war on the side of Imperial Germany, and the British and French decided to completely destroy the Ottoman Empire and partition its lands.
  • The Sykes-Picot Agreement, negotiated in 1916, outlined the division and partition of the Ottoman Empire's lands between Britain and France, creating artificial borders that ignored ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries.
  • The initial political lines drawn by the British and French in 1916 also paid little attention to the complex real borders of the Middle East, with further complications arising from British promises and guarantees.
  • The discovery of oil in the Middle East during World War One highlighted its strategic importance, and the British were incentivized to acquire influence and control over as much of the region as possible to secure future oil supplies.
  • The Versailles Treaty in 1919 shifted the borders of the Middle East once again, transferring the Ottoman province of Mosul from the French zone of influence to the British zone.- The Treaty of Seves (1920) resulted in significant territorial changes in the Middle East, including the creation of independent states of Armenia and Hatay (later annexed by Turkey), Italian control over several Aegean Islands, Greek annexation of Eastern Thrace and Izmir, and international control over the Turkish Straits.
  • The treaty's terms outraged the Turkish government, leading to a two-year rebellion and negotiations that resulted in the more favorable 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
  • The Middle East map created in the 1920s left many unresolved issues, including the lack of an independent Kurdish state and disputed territories between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.
  • The Ottoman provinces of Basra, Masul, and Baghdad contained different people with varying identities and interests. Shia Arabs populated Basra and Masul, while Sunni Arabs dominated Baghdad.
  • The discovery of oil and gas reserves across the Middle East has been a significant source of conflict between various ethnic, religious, and political groups.
  • Iraq, a landlocked country, is heavily reliant on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for its civilization but lacks control over their headwaters, which are located in Turkey.
  • The French mandates in Lebanon and Syria were also internally fragmented, leading to territorial disputes and various conflicts.
  • The British created a Jewish state in Palestine following World War I, which led to the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser led a secular Arab nationalist movement and nationalized the Suez Canal, leading to conflicts with European powers and Israel.
  • The Six Day War in 1967 resulted in significant Israeli territorial gains, leading to increased tensions between Israel and the Arab and Islamic worlds.
  • The United States took on a more prominent role in securing oil supplies in the Middle East following the British withdrawal.
  • Egypt and Syria attempted to retake the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, leading to peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League.
  • Lebanon's complex demographics led to a 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990.
  • Syria invaded Lebanon in 1976 to annex the country, and Israel invaded to fight Palestinian forces, resulting in direct conflicts between the two.
  • The Israeli occupation of Lebanon ended in 2000, and the Syrian occupation ended in 2005.- In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights, leading to a permanent territorial dispute with Syria.
  • During the same period, a revolution occurred in Iran, leading to the establishment of a theocratic Shia Muslim regime under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • The new Iranian regime sought to spread its Islamic revolution throughout the Middle East, targeting Arab monarchies and Israel.
  • Iraq, with a Shia Muslim majority and significant oil reserves, was a particular concern for Iran.
  • In response, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab leader, sent the Iraqi army to invade Iran in 1980, starting the Iran-Iraq War.
  • The war lasted eight years and claimed the lives of half a million people and injured over a million more.
  • During the war, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait lent billions of dollars to Saddam to keep him fighting against Iran.
  • The Saudis also feared the spread of the Iranian revolution to Bahrain, an island off the Saudi coast with a large Shia Muslim population and significant oil reserves.
  • To prevent the revolution from spreading to Bahrain and ultimately to Saudi Arabia's oil-rich eastern provinces, Saudi Arabia supported Saddam financially and militarily.
  • After the war ended in a stalemate in 1988, Saddam requested that Kuwait forgive the loans they had given him, but they refused.
  • In response, Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, annexing it and adding its oil reserves to his own.
  • The Iraqi army then lined up on the border with Saudi Arabia, threatening to invade and conquer their oil fields.
  • The United States and a coalition of 32 nations intervened in the Gulf War of 1990-91, ejecting the Iraqi military from Kuwait and restoring the previous map of the Middle East.
  • After the Gulf War, the United States became the primary security guarantor of the Persian Gulf and its oil supplies.
  • The defeat of secular Arab nationalist movements in the Middle East led to the rise of new brands of Sunni Islamist organizations, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS.
  • ISIS sought to establish a worldwide Islamic State and destroy the borders and terms of the Sykes-Pico Agreement.
  • ISIS emerged as a radical Sunni Islamist organization with roots in Al Qaeda and exploded onto the world stage with a series of conquests across the border between Iraq and Syria.
  • The video discusses how ISIS managed to rise to power in Iraq and Syria and become the latest force in the Middle East seeking to overturn the results of the Sykes-Pico Agreement.
  • The video is part of a larger series of exclusive real-life lore videos available only on Nebula, a subscription-based platform co-owned by creators.
  • Nebula offers access to exclusive content from hundreds of other creators and classes on various topics related to creating content.
  • An annual subscription to Nebula costs $250 a month, but new subscribers can get a 40% discount, bringing the cost down to $150 a month.


Test your knowledge on the complex history of the Middle East, spanning from the decline of the Ottoman Empire to modern conflicts and wars. Explore the impact of colonialism, oil discovery, regional alliances, and the rise of extremist groups like ISIS in this region.

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