After its defeat in World War I, European powers partitioned the Ottoman Empire, annexing some of its territories, and setting up other territories as their "zones of influence". What do the zones of influence mean? Why would they be interested in having zones of influence in the Anatolian lands?

See the following map from Wikipedia illustrating this. It seems that more than half of modern Turkey was intended as "zones of influence" before the Treaty of Lausanne. Image from Wikipedia

  • I would like to critisize an answer above that said China was carved into "zones of influence". The only places that were effected were coastal ports like Shanghai, Tianjin etc. At no point in history did the Chinese provinces under foreign "zones of influence". Only Manchuria was effected because of the establishment of the Chinese Eastern Railway. Other than that all the other Chinese provinces remained on a similar status as other independent nations like the Ottoman Empire, Siam and Japan. I would argue that the Ottomans fared worse as literally all of her railways were owned and operated Mar 3, 2020 at 16:23

3 Answers 3


"Zones of influence" were primarily a means of dividing land between two or more colonising nations. This enabled these nations to avoid armed conflict while acquiring more colonies. China and Afghanistan are other examples of lands divided into zones of influence.

Carving a place "Zones of influence" doesn't seem to be that different from colonisation, and probably carried the same benefits that makes colonisation desirable - Access to cheap raw material, market for produced goods, population for military enlisting etc.


What would characterize "zones of influence" is that, legally, the territories dividied would not be ruled by the colonizing power. They would leave a nominally independent local power, but that power would be subordinated completely to the local representative (embassador, etc.) of the foreign power.

It was a form of "soft" colonization, which would ensure the colonizing power that natural resources and trade of the region would be in the hands of its companies and individuals, while not meddling with the internal politics (unless the local administration wanted to assert its independence, or was in danger of being topped by an hostile -to the foreign power- faction).

The recognition in a treaty of the zones of influence was meant to be a way to prevent the powers signing the treaty from trying to extend their own zones of influence at the expense of zones recognized to other power.

For example, with the treaty of Sevres, SW Turkey would have been legally a part of Turkey, but mining operations, critical infrastructures (like ports) and trade would have been controlled by the Italian government (which would have handed them to Italian corporations), and France could not make any intervention in that zone. That ruled out the possibility of the Turkish government playing them one against the other.

  • Looking at the map by the OP and the Wikipedia articles on the Treaty of Sevres, Iraq was totally ceded to the UK, not merely "zones of influence". An example of a zone of influence would be the parts of Eastern Anatolia which became a French zone of influence (whatever that means, as opposed to Syria which was totally ceded to France).
    – user69715
    Nov 6, 2015 at 17:15
  • @user69715 I stand corrected, the original idea was making Iraq a Society of Nations Class A Mandate under British (legal) control, but in my mind was the the <a href="en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Iraqi_Treaty">Anglo-Iraqi Treaty</a> who gave (a little) more autonomy to local population (after they rebelled against the Mandate proposal). After the treaty, Irak was legally independent but controlled by the UK.
    – SJuan76
    Nov 6, 2015 at 17:48

The phrase, "zone(s) of influence" is a likely forerunner to the contemporary sounding phrase, "sphere(s) of influence".

When The Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of the First World War, Western Asia, was essentially, "up for grabs"-(geopolitically speaking or so the West European countries thought). Of all the areas of the Ottoman Empire, it was Western Asia-(what was called, "Asia Minor" or "Anatolia" during Pre-Ottoman times) which had the largest percentage of ethnic Turkish Muslims-(as well as other ethno-religious minorities, such as Kurdish Muslims, as well as Greek, Armenian & Assyrian Christians) residing in this region. The WW I victors, namely the British and the French, had established earlier "zones of influence" with the neighboring country of Greece, as well as having a strong partnership with Italy-(also a British and French ally during the First World War).

By establishing "zones of influence" within West Asia-(or the beginning point of the Middle East), the British and French could either directly occupy the Middle East by balancing their colonial power or (as the British would do during the reign of Egypt's King Farouk), would establish puppet regimes who were friendly to British and French colonial interests-(The "Our Man in x country" policy).

In the case of Western Asia, it was-(and is still), a land and region rich in waterways, as well as land resources, thus, an ideal center for trade/ commerce. For the British, the West Asia "zone of influence" would expand their colonial state and in turn their "influence" throughout the massive continent of Asia, while also being in close proximity to the beginnings of the African continent-(through Egypt). Instead of a defeated and politically beleaguered Turkish state continuing its own centuries old "zones of influence" throughout wider Western Asia, the French and particularly, the British, would emerge as the new colonial puppeteers.

By also allying with the Italians and the Greeks, the French and British could essentially, Europeanize the beginning point of Asia in commercial, military, diplomatic and even cultural terms. The 1920 Treaty of Sevres would help to pioneer the Modern "zone of influence" or "sphere of influence" concept, though it was, historically speaking, a short-lived policy that resulted in abject failure. The result, did not produce a stable and governable demarcating of British, French, Italian and Greek zones of influence, but, instead, unwittingly galvanized a rabid and ruthlessly determined Post-Ottoman Turkish Nationalist movement which would conquer every European zone of influence within Turkish West Asia, thereby establishing the Modern nation-state of Turkey in 1922.

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