Around half a million Arabs fought in World War I, which
ended 100 years ago. Arabs fought with both camps. Arab soldiers fought and
died from Sudan to the Levant and Morocco. Some were transported by ships to
Europe to serve the combating armies.
The Ottoman Turks used around 300,000 Arabs in their armies to fight with Germany, Austria, Hungary and Serbia – they were called Central Powers – against Britain, France, the US, Russia, China and others from the Allies. Most of the fighting was in Europe and most of those killed, whose number reached 10 million, were also in Europe. The destruction, however, reached most of the world, including Arab countries.
The authority’s greed, the illusion of expansion and the emergence of extremist European nationalism were the reasons behind the war.
As for Arabs, they had no causes in this war, except for the Arabs in the countries which were under Ottoman rule and who suffered from the “humiliating taxes” and mismanagement, especially that the Turkish rule back then was underdeveloped and weak, and could not keep up with the industrial progress in European colonial countries. As a result, Arab countries under Ottoman rule became poor, unlike the countries that were governed by the British or French empires.
At the end of WWI, Turkey itself became the first victim and the target of the victorious countries which wanted to seize it and not just seize its Arab colonies. Russia, Greece, Britain and France targeted Turkey. However, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk emerged and was able to manage the battles and save most of Turkish Anatolia. This is what makes Ataturk the greatest figure in modern Turkey, in addition to his modernist and industrial project.
The management of the Arab region was transferred to European colonials who won the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was reached before the war, had nothing to do with the results, although this is what is commonly known in history. Dividing the region came as a result of defeating the Turkish colonizer and succeeding it in its colonies.
Neither the victors nor the losers learnt from the lessons of WWI. The nationalist intellect that dominated Europe had a major role in feeding hostility and pushing events towards World War II, in which more than 60 million people died.
Lessons from great wars are often forgotten and all that’s left from them are military academic papers on how to mitigate losses and achieve victories. Europe, which was the reason behind the two world wars, was the loser and it finally accepted the concepts of the free market over the policy of colonization, which had its motive in securing raw material resources and guaranteeing markets for their products, as buying one barrel of oil for $1 is not better than a barrel of oil for $100, because it leads to the continuity of fighting. Countries like South Korea or Sweden influenced world markets without sending a single soldier beyond their borders.
The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI comes at a time when the world is facing more crises as a result of the conflicts between the Russian and American powers and amid escalating suspicions and fears due to the Chinese dragon’s expansion beyond its territories and amid indicators of divisions within the European Union, which was based on the concept of cancelling single nationalism and on the concept of regional unity. World wars ended, but they did not die.