Read this article to learn about the status of the West-Asian countries between the two world wars!
Soon after capturing power, Amanullah Khan declared the independence of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union signed a treaty with the new government of Afghanistan, which helped.
Amanullah Khan took some steps to modernise the country. In 1929, he was overthrown and Muhammad Nadir Shah became the king. During Nadir Shah’s reign, a new constitution was introduced, which aimed at making Afghanistan a constitutional monarchy.
After the Revolution, Russia had renounced the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907 under which northern Iran had become a Russian sphere of influence. The British—worried over the spread of revolutionary ideas and the danger to their oil interests in Iran— threatened to occupy the entire country. In 1919, they signed an agreement with the government of Iran, which established British control over the army and the economy of Iran.
There were uprisings in different parts of Iran against the British occupation and the agreement which the government had signed with Britain. The Iranian communists tried to use these uprisings to establish a soviet styled republic but failed.
However, in 1921, the pro-British government of Iran was overthrown with the help of Reza Khan, an army officer. The new government, while it ruthlessly put down the revolutionary uprisings, also annulled the 1919 agreement with Britain, which had made Iran more or less a protectorate of Britain.
Many Iranians looked up to Reza Khan as the Mustafa Kemal of Iran and supported him in his quest for absolute power. In 1925, the Iranian Constituent Assembly called the Majlis, deposed the ruler of Iran, and made Reza Khan the Shah of Iran.
The dynasty of Reza Khan is known as the Pahlavi dynasty. The new ruler took many steps for the modernisation of Iran. Industry and transport were developed, and efforts were made to introduce modern education and curb the influence of the mullahs.
Many reforms were made in the legal system. While the Anglo Iranian Oil Company continued to remain important, a larger share of its profits now went to Iranian government. However, in spite of these measures, the Shah’s rule was tyrannical and brought few benefits to the common people.
After the end of the First World War, Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan had been given to Britain as mandates. The decision to hand over Iraq to Britain provoked a rebellion there, which was suppressed by the British troops.
In 1921, the British installed Faisal, who had been deposed in Syria by the French, as the King of Iraq, but they retained with them the ultimate military, political and economic control of the country. Iraq’s rich oil resources were also brought under British control.
In 1930, Iraq was granted full independence, and soon after it became a member of the League of Nations. Iraq had become a constitutional monarchy with a pro-British government. The British troops continued to remain in Iraq, and the British also maintained its hold on the economy of Iraq.
In 1936, the National Reform Party, with the help of a section of the army, overthrew the pro-British government, and tried to introduce agrarian reforms and re-build Iraq’s economy. In 1937, however, this government was overthrown and replaced by one headed by the pro-British Nuri Said.
The British followed the same policy in Transjordan. They installed Faisal’s brother Abdullah as the king and, in f928, granted independence to that country while retaining military and financial control. In Palestine, however, the British policy ran into serious difficulties, and the region became a source of tension and conflict.
In the late nineteenth century, a movement to secure for the Jews a home in Palestine was started in Europe. The movement was called Zionism. The Jews in Europe and USA had been fighting for equal rights and for an end to discrimination which was commonly practised against them. Many of them had joined radical political movements.
Zionism, however, proclaimed that all Jews, irrespective of the countries to which they belonged, constituted a single nation and that they should have a state of their own in Palestine where they had a kingdom over 2,500 years ago.
The influence of Zionism among the Jews was limited as many Jews viewed it as a divisive force which would isolate them from the people of the countries in which they had been living for centuries. During the First World War, as mentioned earlier, the British government, under the influence of Zionist leaders, had promised the setting up of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
During the war, Arab nationalism had grown, and as soon as the British mandate in Palestine was set up, serious disturbances broke out. However, while the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinians were suppressed, there was a massive migration of Jews from the West.
The Jews took over some of the best lands from the Palestinians, who were rendered landless. In 1919, the population of Jews in Palestine was 58,000. In 1934, it had gone up to 960,000. In 1929, there was an Arab rebellion for the independence of Palestine and an end to Jewish migration to Palestine. The rebellion was crushed, and hundreds of Arabs were killed by the British police and army.
The nationalist struggle, led by the Arab Palestinian Congress, however, continued. In 1937, a British Royal Commission recommended the partition of Palestine into three states, one of which would be under Arab control, another under Jewish control, and the third under British control.
This recommendation was rejected by everyone, and there were strong protests by the Arabs of Palestine and by other Arab countries. In 1939, the British government issued a White Paper in which independence was promised to Palestine after ten years, with guarantees for the rights of both Jews and Arabs.
In the meantime, the Jewish migration was to be restricted and then completely stopped. Restrictions were also placed on the sale of land. However, the issue took a serious turn after the Second World War was over with dangerous consequences for the peace and stability of West Asia.
Syria and Lebanon:
Syria and Lebanon had become French mandates, and the French troops occupied these countries in the face of fierce resistance. Faisal, who, earlier, had been made king of Syria, with French support, was later deposed by the French.
The people of these two countries resisted the imposition of French rule from the very beginning. In 1925, a rebellion broke out in Syria and the rebels occupied almost the entire country, including the capital city of Damascus.
The rebellion also spread to parts of Lebanon. It took the French two years to suppress the rebellion. During this rebellion, Damascus was subjected to heavy bombing, which killed about 25,000 people.
However, strikes, demonstrations and armed uprisings for ending the French mandate continued. In 1936, when the Popular Front came to power in France, the French government signed agreements with representatives of Syria and Lebanon, promising independence after three years. However, later, the French government went back on its promise, and both Syria and Lebanon failed to win their independence.