Sykes–Picot Agreement

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The Sykes–Picot Agreement /ˈsaɪks piˈkoʊ/, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement concluded between the United Kingdom and France in 1916.[1] The main aim of the British and French was to agree on who should get which sphere of influence in Ottoman territories in Southwest Asia.[2] In this way, they wanted to limit competition between each other after the First World War and secure strategically important territories for themselves.[3] The line separating their respective zones of influence was called the Sykes-Picot line.[4] The Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy consented to the agreement, receiving a territorial advantage in return. The agreement was named after the two diplomats who negotiated it: the British diplomat Mark Sykes and the French diplomat François Georges-Picot.[5] They negotiated for five weeks, from the 23rd of November 1915 to the 3rd of January 1916, before agreeing on a memorandum.[6] The agreement itself was concluded on the 9th and 16th of May 1916, when the British and French governments accepted and signed (ratified) the memorandum.[7]

When the Russian revolutionaries made the agreement public in 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution,[8] which caused embarassment among the British and French and growing distrust among the Arabs.[4] More than hundred years later, this agreement is still mentioned in the current conflicts and disputes in the respective regions of the Middle East.[9][10]

Historical context[change | change source]

The Ottoman Empire, under the lead of the CUP, entered the war in autumn 1914 on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and initially also Italy) and was therefore opposed to the Triple Entente (United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire).[11] The Sykes-Picot Agreement was concluded with the British and French expecting victory against the Central Powers and thus the demise of the Ottoman Empire.[11]

Mark Sykes, the English diplomat responsible for negotiating the agreement.

British and French interests in the Middle East[change | change source]

As scholars have argued, the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed with the aim to further the colonial and strategic interests of the British and French in the region and settle their rivalry, rather than to create viable states after the war.[12][13]

The main interest of the British was to secure their access to the Mediterranean Sea and thus the route to India, as well as access to the Iraqi oil fields. At the beginning of the twentieth century, oil replaced coal as the most important resource, being the lighter raw material. This lead to an increasing dependence on oil that was inaccessible on British soil.[8]

The French were interested in securing access to the Mediterranean through the port of Tyre in Lebanon[14] as well as getting their longstanding claims to Mount Lebanon and Damascus validated. [11][5]

Russian and Italian agreement[change | change source]

François Georges-Picot, the French diplomat responsible for negotiating the agreement.

For the Sykes-Picot agreement to pass, Britain and France needed to satisfy the Russians. In exchange for the Russian Empire’s approval of the treaty, the Russian Foreign minister Serkey Saznov and the French ambassador Maurice Paléologue concluded the Saznov-Paléologue Agreement in May 1916.[14] They mutually agreed that the Russian Empire would get Western Armenia in addition to the already earlier attributed Constantinople and the Turkish Straits.[15] The Kingdom of Italy also knew about the agreement and was convinced by being promised Southern Anatolia in the St-Jean-de-Maurienne agreement in 1917.[15]

The Saznov-Paléologue agreement, the St-Jean-de-Maurienne agreement, the Balfour Declaration (between the British and the Zionists) and the Sykes-Picot agreement (with a handful of others concerning the expected partition of the Ottoman Empire) are often referred to as "The Secret Treaties".[16]

The Hussein-McMahon correspondence[change | change source]

Prior to starting negotiations with the French, the British had already discussed the future of Greater Syria with Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, in 1915.[17] In what is known as the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, the British promised the Arabs an independent state in the area of Greater Syria. In return, Sharif Hussein would incite an Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.[11][18]

The Sykes-Picot Agreement map illustrates the division of the region: Area A) was supposed to fall under French control and area B) under British control.

Regional division[change | change source]

Geographically, the agreement primarily focused on the provinces outside of the Arabian Peninsula. A line separated a zone A (under indirect French rule) from a zone B (under indirect British rule).[14] Zone A included the major inland cities of Syria as well as the Iraqi city of Mosul, zone B stretched from Iraq to the Sinai borders of Egypt.[14] A blue zone along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline (and parts of what is today Turkey) was supposed to be placed under direct French rule. The United Kingdom was supposed to have direct control over the Iraqi provinces of Basra and Baghdad (the red zone), as well as parts of what is Israel today, ensuring British access to the Mediterranean Sea.[19] Palestine was supposed to be placed under international administration.[20][21]

The Arab state that McMahon had promised to Sharif Hussein was now supposed to be under indirect British and French control.[11] This has led historians to call the Sykes-Picot agreement "a startling piece of double-dealing"[22] by the British and an "outrageous example of imperial perfidy".[17]

Conflicting promises and consequences[change | change source]

Following the October Revolution of 1917, the Russian revolutionaries (Bolsheviks) released a series of secret documents.[8] Among these publications was the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The publication of the Sykes-Picot agreement made visible the conflicting promises the British had made concerning the Ottoman territory to the French, Sharif Hussein and the Arabs and the Zionists (in the Balfour Declaration).[23]

The Sykes-Picot line after the War[change | change source]

The agreement is often accused of having "drawn lines in the sand",[9] i.e. artificially dividing the Middle East without regard to ethnic or cultural factors. In fact the agreement was never (fully) implemented.[1] It was in the San Remo Conference (1920) and Treaty of Lausanne (1923) that the lines were definitely drawn[1] and decided who was going to govern (directly and indirectly) which parts of the partitioned Ottoman Empire, with Turkey wanting to rule areas that the French had initially hoped to govern.[24] Although the agreement was indeed not implemented in its original form, the British and French were able to secure strategically important lands.[25] The Arabs on the other hand did not see the establishment of an independent Arab kingdom as promised and felt betrayed.[23]

Modern politics[change | change source]

The year 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was heavily debated given its frequent mention by ISIS (ISIS released a video[26] entitled "The End of Sykes-Picot" in 2014).[10][3] ISIS claimed that in order to create a unified Islamic State, it intended to reverse the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement.[27]

See also[change | change source]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bilgin, Pinar (2016). "What is the point about Sykes–Picot?". Global Affairs. 2 (3): 355–359 (356). doi:10.1080/23340460.2016.1236518. hdl:11693/48859. ISSN 2334-0460. S2CID 157520423.
  2. Jeffery, Keith (December 1982). "Great Power Rivalry in the Middle East". The Historical Journal. 25 (4): 1029–1038. doi:10.1017/S0018246X00021415. ISSN 0018-246X. S2CID 162469637.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Siddhartha Patel, David (2016). "Repartitioning the Sykes-Picot Middle East? Debunking Three Myths" (PDF). Middle East Brief. No. 103 – via Brandeis Universitiy.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mansfield, Peter (1973) British Empire magazine, Time-Life Books, no 75, p. 2078
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tell, Tariq (2017). Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer. "Sykes-Picot Agreement". 1914-1918-Online International Encyclopedia of the First World War: 2–3. doi:10.15463/IE1418.11062.
  6. Hurewitz, J. C. (1979). The Middle East and North Africa in World Politics: A Documentary Record. British-French supremacy, 1914–1945. 2. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-02203-2.
  7. Sicker, Martin (2001). The Middle East in the Twentieth Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-96893-9.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Barr, James (2011). A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the struggle that shaped the Middle East. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-84983-903-7.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kitching, Paula (2015). "The Sykes-Picot Agreement and lines in the sand". Historian. 128: 18–22.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bâli, Aslı (2016). Sykes-Picot and 'Artificial' states. AJIL Unbound 110 : 115–19. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27003191.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Anderson, Betty (2016). A History of the Modern Middle East: Rulers, Rebels, and Rogues. Stanford: Stanford University Press. pp. 193–195. ISBN 9780804798754.
  12. Bilgin, Pinar (2016). "What is the point about Sykes–Picot?". Global Affairs. 2 (3): 355–359 (356). doi:10.1080/23340460.2016.1236518. hdl:11693/48859. ISSN 2334-0460. S2CID 157520423.
  13. Ottaway, Marina (2015). Learning from Sykes-Picot. WWIC Middle East Program Occasional Paper Series. Retrieved from https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/learning-sykes-picot (16.05.2022)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Rogan, Eugene (2015). "A century after Sykes-Picot". The Cairo Review: 102.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Mikaberidze, Alexander (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 861 ISBN 978-1-59884-337-8
  16. Bowman, Isaiah (1922). "A Note on the Political Map of Turkey," Foreign Affairs 1, no. 2 (December 15, 1922): p. 159
  17. 17.0 17.1 Rogan, Eugene (11 October 2015). "A century after Sykes-Picot". The Cairo Review: 101.
  18. Tauber, Eliezer (2014). The Arab Movements in World War I. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-1-135-19978-4. OCLC 871860671.
  19. Cleveland, William L. (2016). A history of the modern Middle East. Martin P. Bunton (6 ed.). Philadelphia, PA. ISBN 978-0-8133-4980-0. OCLC 958111939.
  20. Rogan p102
  21. Tell, Tariq: Sykes-Picot Agreement , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2017-02-27. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.11062. (p.2-3)
  22. Antonius, George (1946). The Arab Awakening. New York: Paragon Books. p. 248.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Rogan, Eugene (2015). "A century after Sykes-Picot". The Cairo Review: 105.
  24. Tell, Tariq: Sykes-Picot Agreement , in: 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2017-02-27. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.11062. (p.1)
  25. Tell, Tariq (2017). Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer. "Sykes-Picot AgreementSykes-Picot Agreement". 1914-1918-Online International Encyclopedia of the First World War: 101. doi:10.15463/IE1418.11062.
  26. Bilgin, Pinar (2016-05-26). "What is the point about Sykes–Picot?". Global Affairs. 2 (3): 355. doi:10.1080/23340460.2016.1236518. hdl:11693/48859. ISSN 2334-0460. S2CID 157520423.
  27. "Watch this English-speaking ISIS fighter explain how a 98-year-old colonial map created today's conflict". Daily News. 2014-07-02. Retrieved 2022-05-04.