Sykes–Picot Agreement

Sykes–Picot Agreement

The Sykes-Picot(-Sazonov) Agreement [cite book
last = Fromkin
first = David
authorlink = David Fromkin
title = A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
publisher = Owl
date =1989
location =New York
pages =286, 288
isbn = 0-8050-6884-8
] of 1916 was a secret agreement between the governments of the UK and France, with the assent of Imperial Russia, defining their respective spheres of influence and control in west Asia after the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It was largely a trade agreement with a large area set aside for indirect control through an Arab state or a confederation of Arab states. The agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916. [ p. 8.] It did not contemplate the League of Nations system of mandates that were developed during the post-war period. The terms were negotiated by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and Briton Sir Mark Sykes.

Britain was allocated control of areas roughly comprising today's Jordan, southern Iraq, and a small area around Haifa, to allow access to a Mediterranean port. France was allocated control of southeastern Turkey (Cilicia, Kurdistan), northern Iraq around Mosul, Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Constantinople, the Turkish Straits and the Ottoman Armenian vilayets. The controlling powers were left free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. The region of Palestine was slated for international administration pending consultations with Russia and other powers, including the Sharif of Mecca.

This agreement is seen by many as conflicting with the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence of 1915–1916, although within the A. and B. zones it was intended to favour the creation of an independent Arab State or Confederation of Arab States and nothing precluded the rule of an Arab suzerain in the remaining areas. Any conflicts in the agreements are possibly the result of changing progress during the war, switching in the earlier correspondence from needing Arab help to subsequently trying to enlist the help of Jews in the United States in getting the US to join the war, in conjunction with the Balfour Declaration, 1917. The agreement had been made in secret. Sykes was also not affiliated with the Cairo office that had been corresponding with Sherif Hussein bin Ali, and was not fully aware of what had been promised the Arabs. However many academics believe the British, along with Sykes, knew exactly what they were doing and planned to deal with the consequences after the war.

Russian claims in the Ottoman Empire were denied following the Bolshevik Revolution and the Bolsheviks released a copy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (as well as other treaties). They revealed full texts in Izvestia and Pravda on 23 November 1917, subsequently the Manchester Guardian printed the texts on November 26, 1917. [ p. 9.] This caused great embarrassment between the allies and growing distrust between them and the Arabs. The Zionists were similarly upset, with the Sykes-Picot Agreement becoming public only three weeks after the Balfour Declaration.Fact|date=March 2008

The pledged that Great Britain and France would "assist in the establishment of indigenous Governments and administrations in Syria and Mesopotamia by "setting up of national governments and administrations deriving their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations".

On 6 January 1920 Faisal initialed an agreement with Clemenceau which acknowledged 'the right of Syrians to unite to govern themselves as an independent nation'. [ [Britain, the Hashemites and Arab Rule, 1920-1925, by Timothy J. Paris, Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0714654515, Page 69] ] A Pan-Syrian Congress meeting in Damascus had declared an independent state of Syria on the 8th of March 1920. The new state included portions of Syria, Palestine, and northern Mesopotamia. King Faisal was declared the head of State. The San Remo conference was hastily convened, and Britain and France agreed to recognize the provisional independence of Syria and Mesopotamia. France decided to administer Syria directly before the terms of the French Mandate of Syria had even received the formal approval of the Council of the League of Nations, and before the terms of the peace treaty were approved by the former sovereign, Turkey. The French intervened militarily at the Battle of Maysalun in June 1920. They deposed the indigenous Arab government, and removed King Faisal from Damascus in August of 1920.

Attempts to explain the conduct of the Allies were made at the San Remo conference and in the Churchill White Paper of 1922. The White Paper stated the British position that Palestine was part of the excluded areas of "Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus".

Lord Grey had been the Foreign Secretary during the McMahon-Hussein negotiations. Speaking in the House of Lords on the 27th March, 1923, he made it clear that, for his part, he entertained serious doubts as to the validity of the British Government's (Churchill's) interpretation of the pledges which he, as Foreign Secretary, had caused to be given to the Sharif Hussein in 1915. He called for all of the secret engagements regarding Palestine to be made public. [ [!OpenDocument Report of a Committee Set Up To Consider Certain Correspondence Between Sir Henry McMahon and The Sharif of Mecca] ]

Many of the relevant documents in the National Archives were later declassified and published. Among them were various assurances of Arab independence provided by Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener, the Viceroy of India, and others in the War Cabinet. The minutes of a Cabinet Eastern Committee meeting, chaired by Lord Curzon, held on 5 December 1918 to discuss the various Palestine undertakings makes it perfectly clear that Palestine had not been excluded from the agreement with Hussein. General Jan Smuts, Lord Balfour, Lord Robert Cecil, General Sir Henry Wilson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and representatives of the Foreign Office, the India Office, the Admiralty, the Wax Office, and the Treasury were present. T. E. Lawrence also attended. According to the minutes Lord Curzon explained:

"The Palestine position is this. If we deal with our commitments, there is first the general pledge to Hussein in October 1915, under which Palestine was included in the areas as to which Great Britain pledged itself that they should be Arab and independent in the future . . . Great Britain and France - Italy subsequently agreeing - committed themselves to an international administration of Palestine in consultation with Russia, who was an ally at that time . . . A new feature was brought into the case in November 1917, when Mr Balfour, with the authority of the War Cabinet, issued his famous declaration to the Zionists that Palestine 'should be the national home of the Jewish people, but that nothing should be done - and this, of course, was a most important proviso - to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Those, as far as I know, are the only actual engagements into which we entered with regard to Palestine." [cited in Palestine Papers, 1917-1922, Doreen Ingrams, page 48 from the UK Archive files PRO CAB 27/24.]

The British Notes taken during a 'Council of Four Conference Held in the Prime Minister's Flat at 23 Rue Nitot, Paris, on Thursday, March 20, 1919, at 3 p.m.' [ [ 'The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919, page 1'] ] shed further light on the matter. They revealed that:

*' [T] he blue area in which France was "allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they may desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab State or Confederation of Arab States" did not include Damascus, Homs, Hama, or Aleppo. In area A. France was "prepared to recognise and uphold an independent Arab State or Confederation of Arab States'. [ [ 'The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919, page 6'] ]
*Since the Sykes-Pichot Agreement of 1916, the whole mandatory system had been adopted. If a mandate were granted by the League of Nations over these territories, all that France asked was that France should have that part put aside for her.
*Lloyd George said that he could not do that. The League of Nations could not be used for putting aside our bargain with King Hussein. He asked if M. Pichon intended to occupy Damascus with French troops? If he did, it would clearly be a violation of the "Treaty with the Arabs". M. Pichon said that France had no convention with King Hussein. Lloyd George said that the whole of the agreement of 1916 (Sykes-Picot), was based on a letter from Sir Henry McMahon' to King Hussein. [ [ The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919, Page 7] ]
*Lloyd George, continuing, said that it was on the basis of the above quoted letter that King Hussein had put all his resources into the field which had helped us most materially to win the victory. France had for practical purposes accepted our undertaking to King Hussein in signing the 1916 agreement. This had not been M. Pichon, but his predecessors. He was bound to say that if the British Government now agreed that Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo should be included in the sphere of direct French influence, they would be breaking faith with the Arabs, and they could not face this.

Lloyd George was particularly anxious for M. Clemenceau to follow this. The agreement of 1916 had been signed subsequent to the letter to King Hussein. In the following extract from the agreement of 1916 France recognised Arab independence: "It is accordingly understood between the French and British Governments.-(1) That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognise and uphold an independent Arab State or Confederation of Arab States in the areas A. and B. marked on the annexed map under the suzerainty of an Arab Chief." Hence France, by this act, practically recognised our agreement with King Hussein by excluding Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo from the blue zone of direct administration, for the map attached to the agreement showed that Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo were included, not in the zone of direct administration, but in the independent Arab State. M. Pichon said that this had never been contested, but how could France be bound by an agreement the very existence of which was unknown to her at the time when the 1916 agreement was signed? In the 1916 agreement France had not in any way recognised the Hedjaz. She had undertaken to uphold "an independent Arab State or Confederation of Arab States", but not the King of the Hedjaz. If France was promised a mandate for Syria, she would undertake to do nothing except in agreement with the Arab State or Confederation of States. This is the role which France demanded in Syria. If Great Britain would only promise her good offices, he believed that France could reach an understanding with Feisal.' [ [ The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919, page 8] ]

"The agreement is seen by many as a turning point in Western/Arab relations, creating the animosity that we see today, as the Kurds under Russia, the Shiites under France, and the Sunnis under Britain, broke out into mass regional war, provoking the Treaty of Versailles, which led to WWII," according to Dr. Jane Wykowsky of Harvard University. It negated the promises made to Arabs [ "". Director James Hawes. PBS Home Video, 21 October 2003. Interview with Kamal Abu Jaber, former Foreign Minister of Jordan.] through T. E. Lawrence for a national Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria, in exchange for their siding with British forces against the Ottoman Empire.

The agreement's principal terms were reaffirmed by the inter-Allied San Remo conference of 19–26 April 1920 and the ratification of the resulting League of Nations mandates by the Council of the League of Nations on 24 July 1922.


Further reading

* [ The Sykes-Picot Agreement]
* [!OpenDocument Sykes-Picot agreement - text at UNISPAL]
* [ Sykes-Picot agreement - Key maps]

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