This timeline focuses on Middle Eastern history since 1900. Some events prior to 1900 are included to provide points of reference, but these should not be taken as a comprehensive summary of earlier history in the region.
1901: The Jewish National Fund is established to purchase land in Palestine.
Under the guidance of Theodor Herzl, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is established to purchase land in Palestine. The JNF makes its first purchase in 1903, and at the 1948 declaration of the State of Israel, Jews will own nearly 7 percent of the whole country.
1902: Egypt's Aswan Dam, built by the British, opens.
The original Aswan Dam, or Aswan Low Dam, is built by the British. In 1970, it will be determined that the Aswan Low Dam is neither large enough nor strong enough to control extreme flooding, and a second High dam will be built.
1902-1932: Wahhabi leader Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud recaptures a major city in Saudi Arabia, beginning a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula.
Wahhabi leader Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud is the founder of Saudi Arabia and its first king. He spends his youth, along with his family, the Saud family -- leaders of the ultraorthodox Wahhabi movement in Islam -- in exile. In 1902 Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud and a small group of relatives and servants recapture Riyadh (now Saudi Arabia's country's capital and major city) and reclaim power for his family.
Over the next 30 years, ibn Saud will lead a campaign to unify, under his rule, the many warring tribes who live on the Arabian Peninsula. This unification lays the foundations for the modern state of Saudi Arabia, which is officially recognized on September 23, 1932. Many people in the Arabian Peninsula practice a revivalist form of Islam called Wahhabi Islam, after its founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It is sometimes unfairly characterized as "extremist" in today's media and society.
1905: Attendees at the Seventh Zionist Congress decide that Palestine is the only suitable place for a Jewish state.
At the Sixth Zionist Congress two years earlier, delegates had agreed to consider the establishment of a Jewish settlement in East Africa. But after considering a site in Uganda (now Kenya), attendees at the Seventh Congress (held in Basel, Switzerland), conclude that an East African site would be inappropriate for a mass Jewish settlement.
1905: Ottoman-controlled Northern Yemen and British-controlled Southern Yemen are officially divided.
In 1918, the Violet Line, as it is known, is a boundary drawn to separate the Ottoman and British spheres of influence in Yemen and to prevent future clashes. It is literally drawn on a map with a ruler, using violet ink. This line will later form the border between Northern and Southern Yemen when these lands gain statehood in the 1960s. The two divisions are united in 1990.
1906: The All-India Muslim League is founded by Aga Khan III.
The Aga Khan, a hereditary spiritual leader, is elected president of the All-India Muslim League. He will hold the position until his resignation in 1912. The League is founded to protect the political rights of Muslims living in India.
1906: Persia's (Iran's) Constitutional Revolution forces the ruler of Persia to accept a constitution.
Muzaffar al-Din Shah signs Persia's first constitution. The Constitutional Revolution aims to make the state leader accountable to a written code of law, thereby limiting royal power and lessening government corruption. The constitution also calls for the establishment of the Majlis, or elected parliament.
1906: Excavations in Turkey uncover the ruins of an ancient city.
The city unearthed by the excavations near Angora (now Ankara), Turkey, is the ancient Hittite city Hattusas, the capital of the Hittite Empire during the second millennium B.C.E. Though the Hittites inhabit Anatolia (the Asian part of what is now called Turkey), they are not the first Turks. The first Turks, nomadic tribes who bring Islam from Persia, will not settle in Anatolia until about 1030 C.E.
1907: The Shah of Persia (Iran) dies and is succeeded by his son.
Muzaffar al-Din Shah, who had become Shah after his father's death by assassination in 1896, dies in 1907. His son, Mohammed Ali Shah, succeeds him. Like his father, he is considered a weak leader, and after two years he is deposed and replaced on the throne by his son, 12-year-old Sultan Ahmed Shah, and a regency.
1907: The first Egyptian girl graduates from high school.
Nabawiya Moussa is the first Egyptian girl to earn a baccalaureate degree and finish her high school education. Twenty-one years will pass before another Egyptian girl earns this degree. Throughout her life, Moussa is a pioneering figure in women's education, teaching, writing, and speaking about its importance.
1907: The first major underwater archaeological exploration takes place off the coast of Tunisia.
The Tunisian Antiquities Service finds bronze Greek statues from a ship believed to have sunk en route from Greece to Italy around 100 B.C.E.
1907: Persia (Iran) is divided into three zones, each one controlled by a different country.
To protect their economic interests in the region, Russia and Great Britain divide Persia into three zones. Russia controls the northern zone, Great Britain the southern zone, and the Shah of Iran controls the neutral middle zone.
May 1908: Oil is discovered in Persia (Iran).
British adventurer William Knox D'Arcy strikes oil in 1908, seven years after obtaining drilling rights to the land from the Persian government. In 1909, D'Arcy joins with Burmah Oil to form the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909. By 1917, the British government, which owns 51 percent of the company, is the most influential power in Persia. Britain uses the company's reserves during World War I.
July 6-24, 1908: The Young Turk Party leads the Turkish Revolution, demanding the restoration of the Ottoman constitution.
Concerned with the continuing centralization of power under Sultan Abdul Hamit and convinced that the growing economic influence of foreign powers will end the Ottoman Empire, the predominantly upper-class Young Turk movement takes action. The revolution, largely organized from France by the movement's exiled leaders, is proclaimed on July 6. The Young Turks manage to convince the troops sent to oppose any revolutionaries to refuse their orders. On July 21, the party sends a telegraph to the sultan demanding the immediate restoration and implementation of the constitution of 1876 and the restoration of a parliamentary form of government, threatening him with dethronement should he not comply. On July 24, the sultan announces that the old constitution is again in effect.
December 21, 1908: The Egyptian University (later renamed Cairo University) opens.
The establishment of a university in Cairo had been opposed by the British occupation authorities, who fear that the creation of an institution that produces well-educated citizens might lead to calls for independence.
1909: Tel Aviv is built by the Jews.
A group of Jews intent on founding an alternative city to the crowded, predominantly Arab port city of Jaffa buy uninhabited sand dunes to the north and create a garden suburb. They name it Tel Aviv, which translates to "Hill of Spring." Tel Aviv becomes the first modern Jewish city, with a population of 35,000 by 1921 and 200,000 by 1948.
1911: The Ottoman Turks grant Imam Yahya bin Muhammad autonomy in the highlands of Northern Yemen.
Starting in 1904, Yahya bin Muhammad, an imam, or religious leader, has been leading Yemeni tribes opposed to Ottoman occupation. In 1911, he, and not the centralized Ottoman government, is recognized as the ruling power of the Northern Yemen highland people.
1913: The founder of the Emirate of Qatar dies.
Sheikh Qassim bin Muhammad al-Thani dies 35 years after founding the Emirate of Qatar. His son, Sheikh Abdullah, formally assumes leadership.
1914-1918: World War I breaks out.
The Ottomans side with Germany against Allied forces.
1915-1916: The Ottomans initiate a policy of ethnic cleansing and kill 1.5 million Armenians.
The Young Turk government, the final Ottoman regime, massacres more than 1.5 million ethnic Armenians, a Christian minority within the empire. The killings are condemned by the world's major powers of the time -- even by their German and Austrian allies in World War I. Today, the Turkish government denies that there was an Armenian genocide, saying instead that Armenians were only relocated from the eastern war zone.
March 1915-January 1916: An estimated 500,000 are injured and 100,000 die when Ottoman forces fight against an Allied attack at Gallipoli.
Two waterways -- the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits -- provided the only passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea; thus, this was the only supply route between France and Britain and their ally Russia. The Allied forces wanted to wrest control of these waterways from Ottoman strongholds along the Gallipoli Peninsula, and committed nearly a half million troops in their attempt to do so. Naval and air strikes were followed by troop landings and ground combat at close range. The standoff was epic, and the number of casualties on both sides high. Ultimately, the Turkish forces repelled the Allied attack.
With so many Allied troops committed to the unsuccessful campaign at Gallipoli, Germany was able to more easily pursue its military objectives on the eastern front, and World War I continued another two years. The courage shown by the Turkish forces in defending their positions, as well as the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, served as great examples for their War of Liberation, which followed in 1920.
July 1915-March 1916: Britain gains the support of Arabs in World War I after promising independence for Arab states.
While the Ottoman Empire enters the war on Germany's side, the Arabs (led by Sherif Hussein of Mecca) agree to side with the Allies (Britain, France, and Russia). They do so because of an agreement known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence in which Britain promises independence to what is now Syria, Palestine (Israel), Jordan, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula should the Allies win the war. Unbeknownst to the Arabs, however, Britain also signs the Sykes-Picot Agreement with France later in 1916. This pact, which directly contradicts Hussein-McMahon, details a plan to split up most of the Middle East region between Britain and France should they defeat the Axis powers.
Britain makes a third conflicting agreement, the Balfour Declaration. After ousting the Ottomans from both Jerusalem and Baghdad, they promise to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
May 1916: British and French negotiate the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
A secret understanding negotiated during World War I between Great Britain and France (with Russian consent), the Sykes-Picot agreement outlines the division of Ottoman-controlled lands into various French- and British-administered areas. The agreement is named after its negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France.
The agreement, implemented in 1919, contradicts the agreement the British made with the Arabs at the start of the war (the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence), which promised the Arabs independence of what is now Syria, Palestine (Israel), Jordan, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula.
1917: In the Balfour Declaration, the British promise to help create a national home for the Jews in Palestine.
Since the late 1800s, Zionists had wanted a Jewish state to be created in Palestine, part of the Jews' holy land. Though the wording of the Balfour Declaration is vague, it implies that Great Britain will support the Zionists in establishing such a state.
"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
The Arabs perceive the Balfour Declaration as an act of British dishonesty. They believe the British had promised them to help with the establishment of a united Arab country reaching from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf in return for their support during World War I.
1918-1922: A nationalist movement in Egypt leads to Egyptian independence.
Saad Zaghlul leads a delegation to meet with the ruling British High Commissioner and demand independence for Egypt. He is refused, and his subsequent arrest and deportation spark anti-British riots. The growing popular support of the nationalistic Wafd Party -- "wafd" is Arabic for "delegation" -- prompts Britain to grant Egypt limited independence in February 1922 and install a king as head of state. Britain, which has served as Egypt's protectorate since 1914, retains control over essential government institutions, including the parliament; finances; education; and the Sudan. It also keeps troops in the Suez Canal zone. Egypt will gain full independence after World War II.
1918-1919: Famine devastates the Persian (Iranian) people.
As much as a quarter of the population living in the north of Iran dies in a famine. The devastating effect of a world war and a period of severe drought and widespread crop failure are the primary contributing factors to the famine.
August 18, 1919: Afghanistan declares its independence from Great Britain.
When Afghan King Emir Habibullah Khan is murdered in February near Jalalabad, his son, Amanullah Khan, seizes power, proclaims Afghanistan a sovereign and independent nation, and attacks British troops in India. The Third Anglo-Afghan War lasts just one month. Britain agrees to an armistice and recognizes Afghan independence.
1919-1929: Amanullah Khan rules Afghanistan for a decade, instituting reforms and encouraging modernization.
Afghanistan's first constitution (1923) guarantees civil rights and creates a legislature and court system to enforce the new laws. Amanullah privatizes land, abolishes slavery, and improves educational opportunities for boys and girls. He also seeks to Westernize Afghan culture, overturning centuries-old customs. Conservative tribal and religious leaders resist these changes, however, and call for new leadership.