Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The World Wars and Interwar Period 



The first half of the 20th century saw the world entangled in two global wars, conducted with an unprecedented brutality. The First World War developed from a purely European affair into a conflict involving the colonies and the United States. It altered Europe's political landscape and shifted the power balance worldwide. In World War II, the nations of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa were drawn into the conflict through the aggressive policies of an ambitious Nazi Germany. The war was conducted with the most up-to-date weapons technology and cost the lives of more than 55 million people. The Holocaust, the systematic annihilation of the European Jews, represented an unparalleled moral catastrophe for modern civilization.


Pablo Picasso "Weeping Woman", 1937




Iran and Afghanistan: Battle for Independence 

CA. 1900-1945


Afghanistan and Persia (Iran after 1935) had to defend themselves against the imperialist interests of the Great Powers in the first half of the 20th century, and both were more or less successful in their struggles for independence from Great Britain. Domestically, those in power strove for modernization based on the Turkish model; this was more fully realized in Persia than in Afghanistan. During the World Wars, the Entente powers and then the Allies used Iran against its will as a military base for their troops.


Persia/Iran: Modernization in the Shadow of the Great Powers

In 1905 Persia was divided between British and Russian spheres of influence, with a neutral zone in between. Then, during World War I, it was occupied by Russia, Great Britain, and Turkey.


After the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, Russia withdrew from Persia and recognized its sovereignty. In response, Britain occupied the country in 1919, but it was unable to force a protectorate treaty upon Persia and ultimately also withdrew. For fear of Soviet expansion, the British demanded that a stable Persian government be set up.

2 Colonel Reza Khan, the minister of war, took power through a coup in 1921 and consolidated Persian central authority.

2 Reza Shah Pahlavi, 1925

In 1925, he had the parliament depose the last of the Qajars and elect him shah. As Reza Shah Pahlavi, he began in an authoritarian manner to westernize the country culturally, intellectually, and industrially, following the example of Ataturk. For example, he had the Trans-Iranian Railway built and introduced European legal systems through the passage of civil and criminal codes.

From 1929, men were required to wear Western-style clothing, women gave up the 3 veil, hospitals and new roads were built, and in 1935 the first modern university opened in Tehran.

Nevertheless there was little progress in the country because the system existed to serve the shah.

Through land reform, the shah forced the 5 nomads to settle in specially constructed  1 villages.

3 Women wearing the chador, 1930

5 Nomadic boy with
lamb, 1937

1 Mountainous region in Loristan, Iran

Revolts against his policies were brutally 4 crushed and opposing tribal leaders were killed.

Internationally, Persia strove to maintain its autonomy. In 1933, it forced a new agreement upon the Anglo-Persian Oil Company under conditions more favorable to Persia and in 1935 changed the official name of the state to Iran. Nevertheless, the attempt to remain neutral during World War II again failed, as British and Soviet troops in 1941, and later also Americans, occupied the country to keep the great oil reserves out of German hands. The presence of a large number of German agents in Persia was a cause of anxiety for Britain. The shah, who sympathized with the Axis powers, was compelled to abdicate and was sent into exile.

His son 6 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi became his successor to the throne and cooperated with the Allies.

Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill reassured Iran of its postwar independence at the 7 Tehran Conference in 1943 and held out the prospect of economic aid.

Accordingly, the United States and Great Britain left the country in 1945, the Soviets one year later.

4 Persian prisoners, ca. 1928

6 Mohammad Reza Pahlavi,

7 Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill at the
Tehran Conference



Afghanistan: Liberation from British Influence

Afghanistan was finally able to achieve its independence from Great Britain in 1919. Only limited state reforms after the Turkish model could be achieved over the opposition of conservative forces.


8 Afghanistan was able to maintain its neutrality in World War I under Amir Habibullah.

At first it did not defend itself when British India occupied parts of southeastern Afghanistan beyond the Durand line.

In 1919, however, 11 Amanullah—the son and successor of Habibullah, who had been murdered the same year— started the Third Anglo-Afghan War by crossing the frontier into India in May 1919 and was able to make initial gains against the British.

In the Treaty of Rawalpindi on August 8,1919, Great Britain finally released 9 Afghanistan into independence, recognizing the Durand line as the border.



8 Rock face with Buddhist cave monasteries and "Little Buddha," Afghanistan

11 Amanullah watches a German Army exercise in Berlin, ca. 1925

9 Street scene in Afghanistan

Amanullah Shah identified with secularly oriented young Afghans and introduced a sweeping modernization program following the model of laicized Turkey.

He sent young men abroad to study and planned a wide, if unrealistic, program of public works. However, his plans to give women equal rights, secularize the legal system, and institutionalize the protection of religious minorities crumbled against the resistance of the conservative forces in the country that held tight to their 10 tribal traditions and religious supremacy.

In 1929, internal revolts led to Amanullah's abdication.

Following nine months of bloody rule by Habibullah II, Mohammad Nadir Khan seized Kabul in October and, as Nadir Shah, took power. Taking into account conservative political sentiment, he proceeded cautiously to continue his predecessor's reform policies.

He fell back on the Sharia— Islamic law—as a legal foundation and made 13 Sunni Islam the state religion.

Under his successor Zahir Shah, Afghanistan was also able to maintain its neutrality throughout World War II. A non-aggression pact had already been signed with the Soviet Union in 1926.

The Allies accepted Afghanistan's neutral position, although they insisted that 12 Zahir Shah expel the diplomatic representatives of the Axis powers from the country.

10 Afghan dignitaries, ca. 1910

13 The Blue Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan

12 Mohammad Zahir Shah, 1937



Young Afghan Movement

The Young Afghan movement developed against the backdrop of British domination at the beginning of the 20th century.

Influenced by pan-Islamic enlighteners of the 19th century and the ideas of the Turkish politician Ataturk, they wanted to renew the nation.




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