This gargantuan and impressively detailed map embraces all of Anatolia, the Levant, lower Egypt and western Iraq, and was made by the Service géographique de l’Armée, the French army’s mapping agency, on the eve of World War I. During and in the immediate wake of this conflict these regions were the scene of major military campaigns and audcaious espionage operations, in which France played a key role. The present map was the authoritative cartographic aid used by France politicians, senior field commanders and spies for strategic planning.
While France was too tied up defending itself along the Western Front to spare vast resources to fighting in the Levant, so playing a secondary role to Britain, its deep cultural and economic ties to the region, backed by its aggressive self-advocacy and espionage operations, ensured that Paris had a definitive role in shaping the outcome of the conflict and the postwar settlement. In the aftermath, France would succeed in gaining enduring control over Lebanon and Syria, even if its designs to dominate Cilicia (south-central Anatolia) did not materialize. France’s rule over Beirut and Damascus, and its belated, but consequential, support for the new Republic of Turkey, for both better or worse, helped to define the nature of the modern Near and Middle East with serious ramifications lasting to the present day.
The map, in grand scale and with great accuracy, showcases a vast area extending from the Anatolian shores of the Aegean Sea, in the northwest; over to Baghdad, in the east; and from the Black Sea in the north; down past Cairo and Ma’an (Jordan), in the south. Relief is shown by shading, while all coastlines, major rivers and lakes are carefully charted. All cities and towns of any note are marked, many of which feature their altitudes labeled in metres. All key roads are shown, while importantly, all railways (whether completed, in progress or planned) are carefully delineated. Of note are the lines of the half-completed Baghdad Railway, running from Istanbul towards Baghdad; and the Hejaz Railway, shown running south from Damascus towards Medina. Both were major Ottoman-German assets, as well as prime targets for Entente attacks, during the conflict.
The map also labels the locations of innumerable archaeological sites, as well as providing the ancient names of modern cities. Also noted, is the route of the Syrian Hajj Road, labeled ‘Route des Pelérins de la Mecque’, shown heading from Damascus down towards Medina and Mecca.
The mapping is updated form the stellar cartographic template created and continually updated by the German cartographer Heinrich Kiepert (1818-99) and his son, Richard Kiepert (1846 -1915).
In the lower-right, the map is adorned with four intriguing plans of major Levantine cities that are cumulatively seldom seen on general maps of the region. These are the ‘Plan de Jérusalem’ (Jerusalem); ‘Plan d’Alep’ (Aleppo); ‘Plan de Damas’ (Damascus); and ‘Plan de Beyrouth’ (Beirut).
Further to the right, below the title, is a detailed glossary translating geographical terms in Arabic, French, Persian and Turkish.
A Note on Rarity
The Service géographique de l’Armée published the map in three editions. The first edition was issued in 1897; the second in 1914 (being of the present example); and the third edition, with its 8 sheets issued serially between 1924 and 1928.
While there are several examples of each edition in libraries, the map is very rare on the market, for we cannot trace any sales records going back a generation.
The French Connection: France’s Ancient Ties to Turkey and the Levant, World War I and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
France had strong and long-standing historical ties to Turkey and the Levant. From the time that François I and Suleiman the Magnificent formed the Franco-Ottoman Alliance in the 1530s, all the way up the period immediately before World War I, France was the Sublime Porte’s principal foreign ally and a leading source of direct investment and technology transfer. France also assumed a role as the ‘guardian’ of the Ottoman Empire’s Christian communities (especially Roman Catholics and Maronites), as well as enjoying special trading privileges in key Ottoman ports, the Echelles du Levant.
France’s connection to the Levant was especially strong, as she possessed close ties to the region’s large Christian minority (ex. in Lebanon, Christians were even in the majority, while very large populations existed in most regions), while maintaining important trading links with ports such as Beirut, Tripoli, Latakia and Alexandretta (Iskenderun). More recently, in 1860-1, France briefly invaded Lebanon and Syria, supposedly in order to protect the local Christian communities. Subsequently, France was the dominant source of foreign direct investment in the region, notably financing most of the region’s earliest railways.
However, the beginning of the 20th century, the Sublime Porte turned its allegiance away from France and Britain and towards Germany, which became the main foreign investor in the country and the took a leading role in training and arming its military. With German technical and financial backing, commencing 1903, the Ottoman regime invested immense resources to build the Baghdad Railway through southern Anatolia (which was to run from Istanbul to Baghdad, although it was not completed until 1940!). The German-advised Hejaz Railway, built between 1900 and 1908, connected Damascus to the holy city of Medina (leaving Hajj pilgrims with only a relatively short final leg to Mecca).
The present map appeared on the eve of the complete rupture of Franco- and Anglo-Ottoman relations, which resulted in World War I. In the critical Levant-Egypt theatre of the conflict, the British Imperial forces, headquartered in Cairo, assumed the form of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF). The Central Powers side, headquartered in Damascus, was dominated by Ottoman Troops, but had a mixed Turkish-German command structure.
For the first two years of the war, the Ottoman-German side was generally on the offensive, terrifying the British by invading the Sinai and mounting two (albeit unsuccessful) assaults upon the Suez Canal. However, in 1916, the British were gradually able to improve their performance in Egypt, holding the enemy well away from the canal.
Meanwhile, the Arab Revolt (June 1916 – October 1918), in which forces loyal to the Sharif of Mecca, advised by ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, mounted an insurgency against the Ottomans in Hejaz and Transjordan, began to sap the Sublime Porte’s strength and their authority in the Arab World, while attacking the Hejaz Railway.
Moreover, in the Spring of 1918, the British mounted two, ultimately unsuccessful, invasions of Transjordan, of which one of their primary objectives was the seizing and severing the Hejaz Railway.
Contrary to the portrayal of the Ottomans in David Lean’s epic film Lawrence of Arabia (1962) as blundering clowns, the Sultan’s troops and engineers did a remarkably good job protecting the line and quickly repairing it in the wake of enemy attacks. For the duration of the war, they controlled almost all the railway most of the time, keeping it running in most sectors.
France, in contrast to Britain’s muscular approach, was until the end of the war tied down fighting Germany on the Western Front and could spare only limited resources towards the Middle Eastern theatre; it was far from being able to muster an army to execute large-scale operations. France had to rely upon more subtle means to preserve influence and credibility in the region to ensure the preconditions necessary to gain control of Syria and Lebanon.
In the spring of 1917, France formed a special espionage command base, known as the Service des informations de la Marine dans le Levant (S.I.L.), operating out of Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal (then the only place in the Middle East where France enjoyed extra-territorial privileges). The S.I.L.’s mandate was to gather and analyse raw intelligence from the field and synthesize the resulting information into reports for the consumption of top-level French officials to implement policy or guide military operations.
With the guidance of S.I.L., France established extensive and effective espionage apparatuses, using its vast network of historical connections to Ottoman officials, Christians, Alawites and even sympathetic Muslims to win support for French hegemony in Syria and Lebanon. This included a sophisticated mixture of working old friendships, espionage and counterespionage operations, propaganda campaigns, as well as outright bribery and coercion.
Returning to the action in the Levant Theatre, by the beginning of 1917, the EEF had turned the tables, crossing onto Palestine and, albeit with difficulty, taking Jerusalem in December of that year.
However, the EEF soon lost its momentum, as it was compelled to send thousands of troops to the Western Front to counter a great German offensive. Despite valiant efforts, they became bogged down fighting in the Judean Hills and failed on two separate occasions to open a new front by invading Transjordan in the Spring of 1918. However, the Ottoman-German side was worn down by the attacks and began to suffer from supply shortages.
The gridlock was only shattered by the Battle of Megiddo, the ‘Breakthrough at Nablus’ (September 19-25, 1918), whereupon a force of 70,000 British Imperial troops, under General Edmund Allenby, backed by over 4,000 Hejazi warriors, broke the lines of an Ottoman-German force of 35,000 troops commanded by General Liman von Sanders.
In the wake of Megiddo, the EEF and their Hejazi allies (who had moved north, having secured control of most of Hejaz and Southern Transjordan) embarked upon a campaign to conquer Syria and Lebanon in anticipation of the end of the war; such an achievement would strengthen the Entente’s leverage in any post-war settlement.
In what became known as the ‘Pursuit to Haritan’ the British-Hejazi forces chased the Ottoman Yıldırım Army as they retreated northwards. They mounted their offensive in two prongs, one departed from Haifa along the coast, on September 29, while the other would attempt to conquer Damascus (the headquarters of the Ottoman-German forces in the Levant and Arabia), before moving north through the interior, up the Beqaa Valley, and then over to Homs, Hama and Aleppo.
The Entente forces captured Damascus on October 1, 1918, just after the Ottoman-Germans beat a hasty retreat northward. Lawrence of Arabia, who was part of the conquering force, was disappointed not to have been amongst the first Entente troops to enter the city, especially as he envisaged Damascus as the future capital of an independent and unified Arab state.
The Entente offensive continued until the Ottoman forces were chased to Haritan, Syria (today commonly known in English as Hraytan), just outside of Aleppo. After fierce fighting in that vicinity, the armies gained word that the Sublime Porte and Britain had signed the Armistice of Mudros (October 30, 1918), which formally ended the Ottoman’s participation in World War I.
Upon the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, Britain found itself in pole position. British-Arab forces had conquered Iraq, Palestine and, to the detriment of France, were the first to march into Damascus. In the wake of the Paris Peace Conference, the Entente Powers enforced the Treats of Sèvres (August 10, 1920) upon the doomed Sublime Porte, which largely followed the designs of the formerly secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. It was ordained that Britain would be given custodianship of Iraq, Palestine and Transjordan as League of Nations ‘Mandates’, implying that the lands would not be colonies, but rather semi-autonomous domains in a state of transition towards full independence. France was to be given a similar authority over Syria and Lebanon, although, as we will see, France had a different interpretation of the term ‘mandate’, preferring to see the designation akin to colonial hegemony. Constantinople, Eastern Thrace and Anatolia were to be de cleaved up into zones of foreign occupation, variously controlled by the Western Entente Powers and Greece.
However, there were two realities that challenged this envisaged new order. First, Britain had dramatically ‘overpromised’ concessions to its main Arab allies, the Hashemites of Hejaz, as well as the Zionists in Palestine. To make a long story short, they had pledged Lawrence of Arabia’s old comrade, Emir Faisal of Hejaz, the throne of Syria and Lebanon, while also pledging to make a large part of Palestine into a Jewish homeland, against the interests of the region’s Arab population.
Second, while the ailing and discredited Ottoman regime reluctantly accepted the dismemberment of both its empire and Anatolia, the later design was resolutely opposed by the rising Turkish nationalist movement led by the war hero of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Atatürk), who mounted effective military opposition to the Entente and Greek occupation of Turkey, eventually evicting the foreigners from the country.
France found Britain’s concessions to Emir Faisal to be unacceptable. France had long distrusted Lawrence of Arabia and the Hashemites and generally had poor relations with the Sunni Muslims on the Levant. France and Britain became “frenemies” in the Middle East; while technically still allies, their mutual interests often clashed as they supported opposing camps. French attempts to forge an agreement with Faisal and his regional allies always seemed doomed and a large and well-trained French force decidedly defeated Faisal at the Battle of Maysalun (July 24, 1920), removing the Hashemite regime from Syria and Lebanon once and for all. France then proceeded to install a quasi-colonial rule over the country (while sectioning Lebanon into a separate state, in the interests of her pro-French Christian majority). France would proceed to dominate Syria and Lebanon for the next generation into World War II.
Turning to Turkey, France, which was promised control over Cilicia (south-central Anatolia, the greater Adana region), by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, formed an alliance with the large local Armenian population, with the ultimate objective of creating a Franco-Armenian protectorate in the region. The Armenians, of course, had suffered at the hands of the Ottomans during the Armenian Genocide (1915-23), which was presaged in Cilicia by the Adana Massacre (1909), when Turkish mobs, supported by the authorities, killed over 20,000 Armenians in what became known as the Adana Massacre.
There was a gripping historical precedent for creating of an Armenian state in Cilicia. From 1080 to 1375, the Armenian Principality (from 1198, raised to become a ‘Kingdom’) of Cilicia, sometimes referred to as ‘New Armenia’, flourished in the region. However, the kingdom fell in 1375, causing most its leadership to go into the diaspora, while the remaining Armenians continued to live under varying degrees of repression.
Beyond the Armenian Question, Cilicia was of prime strategic importance as it hosted a key stretch of the partially completed Baghdad Railway, the Ottoman-German transport lifeline from Istanbul to the Middle East. Importantly, by October 1918, the Baghdad Railway was completed through all of Anatolia, save for two gaps; the German engineers could not complete the passages across the Taurus Mountains and the Amanus (Nur) Mountains, the latter being in Hatay.
Naturally, the Turks, led by Mustafa Kemal (later ‘Atatürk’, the founding President of the Republic of Turkey), resisted the France-Armenian designs in Anatolia. This resulted in the Franco-Turkish War, or the Cilicia Campaign (December 1918 – October 1921), whereupon France formed an army of survivors of the Armenian Genocide into the French Armenian Legion, with the objective of conquering Cilicia and presumably making it into an Armenian client state of France. The Franco-Armenian force, with the backing of the Royal Navy, landed 15,000 men at Mersin on November 7, 1918, and quickly took Adana, but encountered stiff Turkish resistance in the mountains beyond. With great difficulty they managed to expand their zone of control as far as Urfa, deep into the interior to the east.
Initially, Atatürk’s prime concern was driving Greece out of Western Anatolia, while France hoped to force him to divide his stretched armies between the west and the south. However, in 1919, the Greek side faltered, leaving the French-Armenian forces in Cilicia to face strong Turkish opposition.
At the brutal 22-day long Battle of Marash (January 21 – February 13, 1920), the Franco-Armenian side was throttled, forcing it into a gradual retreat towards the Adana region. In the fall of 1921, France resolved to abandon its Armenian allies and any hope of controlling Cilicia. It decided to make peace with Ataturk, seeing him as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, which was viewed as the ultimate threat to French (and all Western) interests in the Middle East, signing the Armistice of Mudanya (October 14, 1921) to this effect. The Adana region, and all of Cilicia was incorporated into the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.
The Armenian people would have to wait another 69 years, until 1991, to regain their own independent state (on roughly the same territory as held by the First Republic).
In the wake of Atatürk’s victory, and his foundation of the Republic of Turkey in October 1923, France mounted a volte-face, henceforth seeking to become a major economic and political supporter of the new Turkey.
The polices of Britain and France during the heady period in the wake of World War I had profound and long-lasting consequences. The interference of the Western powers in the Levant exacerbated and normalized existing sectarian tensions with consequences that have even persisted to fuel today’s Syrian Civil War.
References: Library of Congress: G7430 s1000 .F72; OCLC: 17613852; ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY, ‘New Maps and Photographs: Additions to the Map Room’, The Geographical Journal, vol. 47, no. 2 (February 1916), pp. 157-160.