Ottoman Syria

The Syrian economy did not flourish under the Ottomans. At times attempts were made to rebuild the country that had been shattered by the Mongols, but on the whole Syria remained poor. The population decreased by nearly 30%, and hundreds of villages virtually disappeared into the desert. At the end of the 18th century only one-eighth of the villages formerly on the register of the Aleppo pashalik (domain of a pasha) were still inhabited.

In the midst of World War I two Allied diplomats (Frenchman François Georges-Picot and Briton Mark Sykes) secretly agreed on the post war division of the Ottoman Empire into respective zones of influence. The end of the war and defeat of the Central Powers, of which the Ottoman Empire was one, allowed the victorious Entente powers of Britain and France to realise its provisions.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 set the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria, including what would become the state of Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Iraq and later, after renegotiations in 1917, Palestine (including what would become the state of Jordan) – 'to secure daily transportation of troops from Haifa to Baghdad' – agreement n° 7).

 Initially, the two territories were separated by a border that ran in an almost straight line from Jordan to Iran. However, the discovery of oil in the region of Mosul just before the end of the war led to yet another negotiation with France in 1918 to cede this region to 'Zone B', or the British zone of influence. The borders between the 'Zone A' and 'Zone B' have not changed from 1918 to this date. The two zones were recognized internationally under mandate of the League of Nations in 1920.

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