Baghdad Railroad

Baghdad Railroad


a rail line, approximately 2,400 km in length, connecting the Bosporus with the Persian Gulf.

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries Germany’s ambition to construct and exploit the Baghdad Railroad, which was to pass through the territory of the Ottoman Empire (through the territory of present-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq), sharply increased the contradictions between the great powers. Imperialist circles in Germany strove to concentrate the construction of the railroad in their own hands in order to control the Ottoman Empire and threaten the British position in India and Egypt and the Russian position in the Caucasus and Middle Asia. In 1888 the Deutsche Bank acquired from the Turkish government the first concession for continuing construction on the railroad line they had bought from Turkey, extending the Istanbul-Izmit section (constructed in the year 1871) to Angora (Ankara). In 1893 the same bank received the concession to continue this line from Eskişehir to Konya. In 1899, after a visit by William II to the Ottoman Empire, Siemens, head of the Deutsche Bank, signed a preliminary agreement regarding the concession to construct and use the main trunk line of the Baghdad Railroad—from Konya through Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. In 1903 a final concession was formulated, guaranteeing the German monopolists an extremely high rate of payment for each kilometer of railroad put into operation (the so-called kilometric guarantee).

In response to Germany’s acquisition of the Baghdad concession, the British government sharply stepped up its expansion into the basin of the Persian Gulf, in order to prevent Germany’s access to it. In its turn, the Russian government bound Turkey in April 1900 to a secret agreement obligating the Turks not to grant any railroad concessions whatsoever north and northeast of Anatolia to any third power. Thus, the German thrust toward the Caucasian border was thwarted. At the same time the governments of Britain, Russia, and France blocked Turkey’s increase of the customs duties, without which it was very difficult to pay the kilometric guarantee to the stockholders of the Baghdad main line.

In striving to overcome resistance on the part of these powers, German diplomats attempted to reach a compromise agreement with each of their rivals. As a result of a Franco-German agreement on May 6, 1899, French capital was allowed to be invested in the construction of the Baghdad Railroad. In accordance with the Potsdam agreement of 1911, in return for Germany’s refraining from penetrating into Iran, Russia ceased its opposition to the construction of the railroad. In June 1914, Germany transferred to Britain the construction of the railroad main line south of Baghdad in the direction of the Persian Gulf.

At the beginning of World War I the Baghdad Railroad remained incomplete. To the north rails had been laid as far as Ras-el-’Ain (and during the war to Nusaybin) and to the south from Baghdad to Samarra. Construction of the section from Nusaybin to Samarra and thereby the completion of the entire main line was finished during the years 1934–41 by private British and French companies. At the present time the sections that constituted the former Baghdad Railroad belong to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The radical change in the international situation in the Near East—which occurred as a result of the Great October Socialist Revolution and two world wars—as well as the appearance of new types of military technology, transport, and means of communication, has considerably lessened the political and strategic importance the Baghdad Railroad possessed at the beginning of the 20th century.


Bondarevskii, G. L. Bagdadskaia doroga i proniknovenie german-skogo imperializma na Blizhnii Vostok. Tashkent, 1955.
Erusalimskii, A. S. Vneshniaia politika i diplomatiia germanskogo imperializma v kontse XIX v, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1951.
Wolf, J. B. The Diplomatic History of the Baghdad Railroad. Columbia [Mo.], 1938.


References in periodicals archive ?
A major project of the time that had a significant effect on Russia's energy relations with the Ottoman Empire was the Baghdad railroad.
One of the major reasons why the oil part of the Baghdad railroad project was unsuccessful was due to the lack of German scientific and technical capacity in addition to their lack of adequate capital.
The parliament began to investigate the Baghdad railroad project with the view that it had been a bad agreement for the Ottoman state as the Germans were receiving significant profits.
After the agreement, Russia, which had previously contested the Baghdad railroad project, ended its objections.
In between context and analysis, Balakian traces his own journey of deportation, which starts from prison and ends with his harrowing escape to work on the construction of the Berlin to Baghdad railroad.