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Sykes–Picot Agreement

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Sykes–Picot Agreement
MPK1-426 Sykes Picot Agreement Map signed 8 May 1916.jpg
Sykes Picot Agreement Map, an enclosure in Paul Cambon's letter to Sir Edward Grey, 9 May 1916
CreatedNovember 1915 – March 1916
Presented23 November 1917 by the Russian Bolshevik government
Ratified16 May 1916
PurposeDefining proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire
The primary negotiators:
Top row: Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot;
Bottom row: Paul Cambon and Edward Grey (signed the Agreement for the French and British, respectively)

The Sykes–Picot Agreement /ˈskspiˈk/, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret 1916 agreement between the United Kingdom and France,[1] to which the Russian Empire assented. The agreement defined their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in West Asia. The agreement was based on the premise that the Triple Entente would succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The negotiations leading to the agreement occurred between November 1915 and March 1916 [2] and it was signed 16 May 1916.[3] The deal, exposed to the public in Izvestia and Pravda on 23 November 1917 and in the British Guardian on November 26, 1917,[4][5] is still mentioned when considering the region and its present-day conflicts.[6][7]

The agreement allocated to Britain control of areas roughly comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, Jordan, southern Iraq, and an additional small area that included the ports of Haifa and Acre, to allow access to the Mediterranean.[8] France got control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.[8] Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia.[8] The controlling powers were left free to determine state boundaries within their areas.[8] Further negotiation was expected to determine international administration in the "brown area" (an area including Jerusalem, similar to and smaller than Mandate Palestine), the form of which was to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other Allies, and the representatives of Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca.[8]

The agreement effectively divided the Ottoman Arab provinces outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of British and French control and influence.[9] In the Levant, it was initially used directly as the basis for the 1918 Anglo–French Modus Vivendi which agreed a framework for the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. More broadly it was to lead, indirectly, to the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire following Ottoman defeat in 1918.

The Acre-Haifa zone was intended to be a British enclave in the North to enable access to the Mediterranean.[10] The British later gained control of the brown zone and other territory in 1920 and ruled it as Mandatory Palestine from 1923 until 1948. They also ruled Mandatory Iraq from 1920 until 1932, while the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon lasted from 1923 to 1946. The terms were negotiated by British diplomat Mark Sykes and a French counterpart, François Georges-Picot. The Tsarist government was a minor party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, and when, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks published the agreement on 23 November 1917, "the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted".[11]

The agreement is seen by many as a turning point in Western and Arab relations. It negated the UK's promises to Arabs[12] made for a national Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria, in exchange for supporting the British against the Ottoman Empire.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Dividing Up The Middle East - The Sykes-Picot Agreement I THE GREAT WAR Week 92
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  • ✪ Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration | The 20th century | World history | Khan Academy
  • ✪ WWI Sykes--Picot Agreement: British Oil Imperialism - Faisal I of Iraq - Gertrude Bell


This week 100 years ago was the week of the Easter Uprising in Ireland, a pivotal point in Irish history, but that’s not my “hook” today. Instead we made a whole special episode about it so I can look at it a little deeper. But something else happened this week 100 years ago that still has major repercussions today; 100 years ago the Allies were planning how to divide up the Middle East after the war. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the spring floods had come and the scattered action on the Eastern Front was mostly in small boats since the rivers had burst their banks and the roads were non-existent. Flooding on the Tigris had also helped prevent the British r nelief force from reaching the British army under siege at Kut, and in Anatolia the Russians had taken Trabzon from the Turks, while sending nearly 20,000 men to fight on the Western Front, where the Battle of Verdun was now two months old. I want to look at some naval stuff for a minute first this week. Last year, Sir John Jellicoe, Commander of the British Grand Fleet, was worried that small German naval successes, U-Boat warfare, and the need to send part of the fleet to secondary theaters of the war was slowly eroding British naval superiority. Near the end of the year the ratio of British to German dreadnoughts had sunk to 17-15, down from 20-13 months before, and that of battlecruisers was only 5-4. But by now the balance had swung back toward Britain’s favor. The end of Gallipoli, the addition of the Italian fleet to the Mediterranean operations, and the destruction of German raiding cruisers had now made clear that the Grand Fleet had superiority. I read in John Keegan’s “the First World War” that this month it had 31 Dreadnoughts and 10 battle cruisers while the German High Seas Fleet had only 18 Dreadnoughts and 5 battle cruisers. The British also had a big advantage in light cruisers and destroyers. So it made sense to adopt a passive policy by which the navy would justify its existence simply by causing the German navy to protect its harbors, but German naval pride didn’t allow Germany the passive option, and in Germany the navy was junior to the army and not senior like it was in Britain, and this was a time of great German blood letting in the army. The German navy needed to gain the esteem of the German people and Admiral Reinhard Scheer made clear that the navy needed action, and he had been sending the fleet out looking for it, and this week he got it. On April 25th, the day after German naval forces bombarded Lowestoft and Yarmouth, came a battle between zeppelins, battle cruisers, and submarines on the German side, and destroyers, land batteries, airplanes, and seaplanes on the British side. The airplanes and seaplanes had flown up to attack the zeppelins that were heading west and flying high. The zeppelins turned out to sea and the planes followed, bringing them within range of the naval guns. Four U-boats appeared and began firing at the planes, one of the airplanes was actually destroyed by fire from a zeppelin and two seaplanes were damaged by fire from the subs. That sounds pretty mundane, but the timing of this, coming on the heels of the Irish Easter Uprising, caused a lot of concern and also big anti-German anger in civilian Britain, but showed that, as long as the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow blocked off the exit from the North Sea, German operations would be hit-and-run against targets close enough to run from to home before the big ships of the British could head south and intervene. And intervening is something the Allies were quite good at. The Sykes-Picot agreement, named after Englishman Sir Mark Sykes and Frenchman Georges Picot, was signed April 26, 1916, although some sources say May 9th and May 16th. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France, with Russian approval, which divided the Middle East between them. France would control Lebanon, with a capital at Beirut, there would be a sovereign Arab state in Syria, based around Damascus, which would still be under French protection. Britain would be in charge of the Port of Haifa and the city of Accre, controlling the bay that would make a Mediterranean terminal for Mesopotamian oil. Palestine would be under protection of Britain, France, and Russia combined. France would get Southeastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, Britain would also get southern Iraq, and Russia Istanbul and the Armenian regions of Anatolia. The map was divided pretty much with straight lines 100 years later this agreement still defines many of the conflicts of the region. It defined the borders of Syria and Iraq, certainly helped precipitate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and was a big turning point in Western-Arab relations since it, in advance, negated all the promises Britain would make to Arabs for an Arab homeland in Greater Syria. ISIS has even claimed that one of their goals is to reverse the effects of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which would be made public in 1917 to the great consternation of the Arab world. All that had to happen for it to go into effect was to defeat the Ottoman Empire. Thing is, the Ottoman Empire was far from being defeated, as they were showing in Mesopotamia. On April 27th- thee British officers, including Captain T.E. Lawrence, soon known as Lawrence of Arabia, offered the Ottomans two million pounds in gold to allow the besieged British and Indian troops at Kut to go free and rejoin their comrades. The Turkish commander replied, “Your gallant troops will be our most sincere and precious guests.” Russian troops were driving west from Persia, from the Paitak Pass, trying to reach Kut, but were still 150k from Baghdad, and by the 28th Kut was finally out of food. And looking just a bit to the west, we see some developments at the Suez Canal. Last month, General Sir Archibald Murray had taken command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, the EEF, which had been put together from some of the leftovers from Gallipoli, which had finally ended as the New Year was getting rolling. By this summer, the EEF would number four infantry divisions, a cavalry force, and the Imperial Camel Corps, a Corps that would number one British battalion, one New Zealand, and two Australian. Now, it was over a year since the Turks had tried to attack the Suez Canal, but Murray thought an active defense was his best bet anyhow, so he planned an advance to the coastal town of El Arish from where his men could disrupt any Turkish movement through the Sinai Desert. The main issue was, as you may guess, water supplies, so this month Murray had secured the oasis region between Qatiya and Bir el Abd and had sent small forces out to destroy the Turkish water supply points that they had used in early 1915, which would limit any future Turkish desert operations. Finally learning something from their mistakes in Mesopotamia last year, the British wanted to have a secure communication line back to the Nile Delta, but how do you create a transport infrastructure in such desert territory? Well, there was actually a simple solution, wire roads. Yep, wire roads. Ordinary wire netting was simply unrolled to make a “road” that prevented soldiers from sinking into the sands when they marched. Clever. But the railway was the only way for a larger force to travel and it went out to Romani, like 40 kilometers from the Suez Canal. Thing is, a large force would need a large amount of water, so a 12 inch pipeline was laid and water was pumped forward, and there were storage tanks from where camels could carry water to forward positions. Too little water at Suez and too much water in Europe. Rains prevented any big action at Verdun in the West and the Eastern Front was still flooded. Though on April 28th, German artillery began a bombardment of the area near the village of Stavarotche. Back on March 20th, the Germans had lost a series of important trenches there and a strong attack was now launched to regain that ground, and they captured not only the territory in question but went on to take a series of Russian trenches. Losses were high on both sides, but became higher for the Russians when they made a night counterattack in the face of machine guns. I don’t know the numbers killed or wounded, but the Germans took 56 officers and 5,600 men prisoner, as well as 28 machine guns and five big artillery pieces. And that was the week, a quiet and wet Europe, desperation in Mesopotamia, and action off the English Coast. National borders in much of the world are often natural boundaries or have developed over the centuries between ethnic groups and different peoples or tribes, but the partitioning of the Middle East ignored this and was completely fabricated from thin air in straight lines. These boundaries and the failure of the Allies to keep their promises of liberation have, in large part, led to 100 years of conflict, violence, and death in the whole region. That’s beyond the scope of this channel, though, but it serves as a huge example of the fact that the horrors of a war are never restricted to the boundaries of that war, and have far-reaching consequences that can affect the lives and deaths of millions of people decades, or even centuries after that war is over. War is hell. As I said earlier, the Irish Easter Uprising also shook things up on the British Isles this week. It is an extremely important event not only for the Irish but with a lot of ramifications for the rest of the world. So, we made a whole special episode about it and you can check that out right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Karl Whillier. Help us out on Patreon to make our show even better with new formats and more animations. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next week.


Motivation and negotiations

"Maunsell's map", the British government's pre-World War I ethnographical map of the area covered by the agreement.
"Maunsell's map", the British government's pre-World War I ethnographical map of the area covered by the agreement.

In the Constantinople Agreement earlier in 1915, following the start of naval operations in the run up to the Gallipoli Campaign the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Sazonov, wrote to the French and UK ambassadors and staked a claim to Constantinople and the Straits of Dardanelles. In a series of diplomatic exchanges over five weeks, the UK and France both agreed, while putting forward their own claims, to an increased sphere of influence in Iran in the case of the UK and to an annex of Syria (including Palestine) and Cilicia for France. The UK and French claims were both agreed, all sides also agreeing that the exact governance of the Holy Places was to be left for later settlement.[13] Although this agreement was ultimately never implemented because of the Russian revolution, it was in force as well as a direct motivation for it at the time the Sykes–Picot Agreement was being negotiated.

The report of the De Bunsen Committee, prepared to determine British wartime policy toward the Ottoman Empire, and submitted in June 1915,[14] concluded that, in case of the partition or zones of influence options, there should be a British sphere of influence that included Palestine while accepting that there were relevant French and Russian as well as Islamic interests in Jerusalem and the Holy Places.[15][16]

On 21 October 1915, Grey met Cambon and suggested France appoint a representative to discuss the future borders of Syria as Britain wished to back the creation of an independent Arab state. At this point Grey was faced with competing claims from the French and from Hussein and the day before had sent a telegram to Cairo telling the High Commissioner to be as vague as possible in his next letter to the Sharif when discussing the northwestern, Syrian, corner of the territory Husein claimed and left McMahon with "discretion in the matter as it is urgent and there is not time to discuss an exact formula", adding, "If something more precise than this is required you can give it."[17]

Mark Sykes had been dispatched on instructions of the War Office at the beginning of June to discuss the Committee's findings with the British authorities in the Near and Middle East and at the same time to study the situation on the spot. He went to Athens, Gallipoli, Sofia, Cairo, Aden, Cairo a second time and then to India coming back to Basra in September and a third time to Cairo in November (where he was apprised of the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence) before returning home on 8 December and finally delivering his report to the War Committee on 16 December.

The first meeting of the British interdepartmental committee headed by Sir Arthur Nicolson with François Georges-Picot had already taken place on 23 November 1915. Picot informed the Nicolson committee that France claimed the possession of land starting from where the Taurus Mts approach the sea in Cilicia, following the Taurus Mountains and the mountains further East, so as to include Diabekr, Mosul and Kerbela, and then returning to Deir Zor on the Euphrates and from there southwards along the desert border, finishing eventually at the Egyptian frontier. Picot, however, added that he was prepared "to propose to the French government to throw Mosul into the Arab pool, if we did so in the case of Bagdad".

A second meeting of the Nicolson committee with Picot took place on 21 December 1915 wherein Picot said that he had obtained permission to agree to the towns of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus being included in the Arab dominions to be administered by the Arabs. Although the French had scaled back their demands to some extent, the British also claimed to want to include Lebanon in the future Arab State and this meeting also ended at an impasse.

On 28 December, Mark Sykes informed Clayton that he had "been given the Picot negotiations". On 3 January 1916, an initialled memorandum was forwarded to the Foreign Office and after having been circulated for comments,[a] An interdepartmental conference was convened by Nicolson on 21 January. On 16 January, Sykes told the Foreign office that he had spoken to Picot and that he thought Paris would be able to agree. Following the meeting, a final draft agreement was circulated to the cabinet on 2 February, the War Committee considered it on the 3rd and finally at a meeting on the 4th between Bonar Law, Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Kitchener and others where it was decided that:

M. Picot may inform his government that the acceptance of the whole project would entail the abdication of considerable British interests, but provided that the cooperation of the Arabs is secured, and that the Arabs fulfil the conditions and obtain the towns of Homs, Hama, Damascus and Aleppo, the British Government would not object to the arrangement. But, as the Blue Area extends so far Eastwards, and affects Russian interests, it would be absolutely essential that, before anything was concluded, the consent of Russia was obtained.

Picot was informed and 5 days later Cambon told Nicolson that "the French government were in accord with the proposals concerning the Arab question".[19]:100–102

Later, in February and March, Sykes and Picot acted as advisors to Sir George Buchanan and the French ambassador respectively, during negotiations with Sazonov. Eventually, Russia having agreed (for a price, as it obtained large portions of Ottoman territory in the bargain, including Constantinople and the Straits) on 26 April 1916, the final terms were sent by Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador in London, to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Edward Grey, on 9 May 1916, and ratified in Grey's reply on 16 May 1916.[20][21]

The Agreement in practice

Syria, Palestine and the Arabs

Asquith Government (1916)

While Sykes and Picot were in negotiations, discussions were proceeding in parallel between Cairo and Hussein (the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence); Hussein's reply of 1 January to McMahon's 14 December 1915 was received at the Foreign Office, McMahon’s cover stating:

Satisfactory as it may be to note his general acceptance for the time being of the proposed relations of France with Arabia, his reference to the future of those relations adumbrates a source of trouble which it will be wise not to ignore. I have on more than one occasion brought to the notice of His Majesty's Government the deep antipathy with which the Arabs regard the prospect of French Administration of any portion of Arab territory. In this lies considerable danger to our future relations with France, because difficult and even impossible though it may be to convince France of her mistake, if we do not endeavour to do so by warning her of the real state of Arab feeling, we may hereafter be accused of instigating or encouraging the opposition to the French, which the Arabs now threaten and will assuredly give.

After discussions, Grey instructed that the French be informed of the situation although Cambon did not take the matter that seriously.[19]:103–104

Hussein's letter of 18 February 1916 appealed to McMahon for £50,000 in gold plus weapons, ammunition and food claiming that Feisal was awaiting the arrival of "not less than 100,000 people" for the planned revolt and McMahon's reply of 10 March 1916 confirmed the British agreement to the requests and concluded the ten letters of the correspondence. In April and May, there were discussions initiated by Sykes as to the merits of a meeting to include Picot and the Arabs to mesh the desiderata of both sides. At the same time, logistics in relation to the promised revolt were being dealt with and there was a rising level of impatience for action to be taken by Hussein. Finally, at the end of April, McMahon was advised of the terms of Sykes-Picot and he and Grey agreed that these would not be disclosed to the Arabs.[19]:108–112[22]:57–60

The Arab revolt was officially initiated by Hussein at Mecca on 10 June 1916 although his sons ‘Ali and Faisal had already initiated operations at Medina starting on 5 June.[23] The timing had been brought forward by Hussein and, according to Cairo,[24] "Neither he nor we were at all ready in early June, 1916, and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that a minimum of sufficient assistance in material could be scraped together to ensure initial success."

Colonel Edouard Brémond was dispatched to Arabia in September 1916 as head of the French military mission to the Arabs. According to Cairo, Brémond was intent on containing the revolt so that the Arabs might not in any way threaten French interests in Syria. These concerns were not taken up in London, British-French cooperation was thought paramount and Cairo made aware of that. (Wingate was informed in late November that "it would seem desirable to impress upon your subordinates the need for the most loyal cooperation with the French whom His Majesty’s Government do not suspect of ulterior designs in the Hijaz".)[19]:234–5

As 1916 drew to a close, the Asquith government which had been under increasing pressure and criticism mainly due to its conduct of the war, gave way on 6 December to David Lloyd George who had been critical of the war effort and had succeeded Kitchener as Secretary of State for War after his untimely death in June. Lloyd George had wanted to make the destruction of the Ottoman Empire a major British war aim, and two days after taking office told Robertson that he wanted a major victory, preferably the capture of Jerusalem, to impress British public opinion.[25]:119–120 The EEF were, at the time, in defensive mode at a line on the Eastern edge of the Sinai at El Arish and 15 miles from the borders of Ottoman Palestine. Lloyd George "at once" consulted his War Cabinet about a "further campaign into Palestine when El Arish had been secured". Pressure from Lloyd George (over the reservations of Chief of the General Staff) resulted in the capture of Rafa and the arrival of British forces at the borders of the Ottoman Empire.[25]:47–49

Lloyd George Government (1917 onwards)

Lloyd George set up a new small War Cabinet initially comprising Lords Curzon and Milner, Bonar Law, Arthur Henderson and himself; Hankey became the Secretary with Sykes, Ormsby-Gore and Amery as assistants. Although Balfour replaced Grey as Foreign Secretary, his exclusion from the War Cabinet and the activist stance of its members weakened his influence over foreign policy.[26]

The French chose Picot as French High Commissioner for the soon to be occupied territory of Syria and Palestine. The British appointed Sykes as Chief Political Officer to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. On 3 April 1917, Sykes met with Lloyd George, Curzon and Hankey to receive his instructions in this regard, namely to keep the French onside while pressing for a British Palestine. First Sykes in early May and then Picot and Sykes together visited the Hejaz later in May to discuss the agreement with Faisal and Hussein.[22]:166 Hussein was persuaded to agree to a formula to the effect that the French would pursue the same policy in Syria as the British in Baghdad; since Hussein believed that Baghdad would be part of the Arab State, that had eventually satisfied him. Later reports from participants expressed doubts about the precise nature of the discussions and the degree to which Hussein had really been informed as to the terms of Sykes–Picot.[19]:165

Italy's participation in the war, governed by the Treaty of London, eventually led to the Agreement of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in April 1917; at this conference, Lloyd George had raised the question of a British protectorate of Palestine and the idea "had been very coldly received" by the French and the Italians. The War Cabinet, reviewing this conference on 25 April, "inclined to the view that sooner or later the Sykes–Picot Agreement might have to be reconsidered ... No action should be taken at present in this matter".[19]:281

In between the meetings with Hussein, Sykes had informed London that "the sooner French Military Mission is removed from Hedjaz the better" and then Lord Bertie was instructed to request the same from the French on the grounds that the mission was hostile to the Arab cause and which "cannot but prejudice Allied relations and policy in the Hedjaz and may even affect whole future of French relations with the Arabs". After the French response to this, on 31 May 1917, William Ormsby-Gore wrote:

The British Government, in authorising the letters despatched to King Hussein [Sharif of Mecca] before the outbreak of the revolt by Sir Henry McMahon, would seem to raise a doubt as to whether our pledges to King Hussein as head of the Arab nation are consistent with French intentions to make not only Syria but Upper Mesopotamia another Tunis. If our support of King Hussein and the other Arabian leaders of less distinguished origin and prestige means anything it means that we are prepared to recognize the full sovereign independence of the Arabs of Arabia and Syria. It would seem time to acquaint the French Government with our detailed pledges to King Hussein, and to make it clear to the latter whether he or someone else is to be the ruler of Damascus, which is the one possible capital for an Arab State, which could command the obedience of the other Arabian Emirs.[27]

In a further sign of British discontent with Sykes-Picot, in August, Sykes penned a "Memorandum on the Asia Minor Agreement" that was tantamount to advocating its renegotiation else that it be made clear to the French that they "make good – that is to say that if they cannot make a military effort compatible with their policy they should modify their policy". After many discussions, Sykes was directed to conclude with Picot an agreement or supplement to Sykes-Picot ("Projet d'Arrangement") covering the "future status of the Hejaz and Arabia" and this was achieved by the end of September. However, by the end of the year, the agreement had yet to be ratified by the French Government.[19]:422

The Balfour Declaration along with its potential claim in Palestine was in the meantime issued on 2 November and the British entered Jerusalem on December 9, with Allenby on foot 2 days later accompanied by representatives of the French and Italian detachments.

After public disclosure (1917–18)

Excerpt from the Manchester Guardian, Monday, November 26, 1917, This was the first English-language reference to what became known as the Sykes Picot Agreement.
Excerpt from the Manchester Guardian, Monday, November 26, 1917, This was the first English-language reference to what became known as the Sykes Picot Agreement.

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.[28] This caused great embarrassment between the allies and growing distrust between them and the Arabs. The Zionists had previously confirmed the details of the Agreement with the British government, earlier in April.[19]:207 Wilson had rejected all secret agreements made between the Allies and promoted open diplomacy as well as ideas about self-determination. On 22 November 1917, Leon Trotsky, addressed a note to the ambassadors at Petrograd "containing proposals for a truce and a democratic peace without annexation and without indemnities, based on the principle of the independence of nations, and of their right to determine the nature of their own development themselves". Peace negotiations with the Quadruple Alliance – Germany, Austria–Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey – started at Brest–Litovsk one month later. On behalf of the Quadruple Alliance, Count Czernin, replied on 25 December that the "question of State allegiance of national groups which possess no State independence" should be solved by "every State with its peoples independently in a constitutional manner", and that "the right of minorities forms an essential component part of the constitutional right of peoples to self- determination".

In his turn, Lloyd George delivered a speech on war aims on 5 January, including references to the right of self-determination and "consent of the governed" as well as to secret treaties and the changed circumstances regarding them. Three days later, Wilson weighed in with his Fourteen Points, the twelfth being that "the Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development".

On December 23, 1917, Sykes (who had been sent to France in mid-December to see what was happening with the Projet d'Arrangement) and a representative of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs had delivered public addresses to the Central Syrian Congress in Paris on the non-Turkish elements of the Ottoman Empire, including liberated Jerusalem. Sykes had stated that the accomplished fact of the independence of the Hejaz rendered it almost impossible that an effective and real autonomy should be refused to Syria. However, the minutes also record that the Syrian Arabs in Egypt were not happy with developments and absent a clearer, less ambiguous statement in regard to the future of Syria and Mesopotamia then the Allies as well as the King of the Hedjaz would lose much Arab support.[29]

Sykes was the author of the Hogarth Message a secret January 1918 message to Hussein following his request for an explanation of the Balfour Declaration and the Bassett Letter was a letter (also secret) dated 8 February 1918 from the British Government to Hussein following his request for an explanation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement.

The failure of the Projet d'Arrangement reflected poorly on Sykes and following on from the doubts about his explanations of Sykes-Picot to Hussein the previous year, weakened his credibility on Middle Eastern affairs throughout 1918. Still (at his own request, now Acting Adviser on Arabian and Palestine Affairs at the Foreign Office) he continued his criticism of Sykes-Picot, minuting on 16 February that "the Anglo–French Agreement of 1916 in regard to Asia Minor should come up for reconsideration" and then on 3 March, writing to Clayton, "the stipulations in regard to the red and blue areas can only be regarded as quite contrary to the spirit of every ministerial speech that has been made for the last three months".

On 28 March 1918 the first meeting of the newly formed Eastern Committee was held, chaired by Curzon.[b]

In May, Clayton told Balfour that Picot had, in response to a suggestion that the agreement was moot, "allowed that considerable revision was required in view of changes that had taken place in the situation since agreement was drawn up", but nevertheless considered that "agreement holds, at any rate principle".

The British issued the Declaration to the Seven on June 16 the first British pronouncement to the Arabs advancing the principle of national self-determination.[30]

On 30 September 1918, supporters of the Arab Revolt in Damascus declared a government loyal to the Sharif of Mecca. He had been declared King of the Arabs by a handful of religious leaders and other notables in Mecca.[31]

The Anglo-French Declaration of November 1918 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". The French had reluctantly agreed to issue the declaration at the insistence of the British. Minutes of a British War Cabinet meeting reveal that the British had cited the laws of conquest and military occupation to avoid sharing the administration with the French under a civilian regime. The British stressed that the terms of the Anglo–French declaration had superseded the Sykes–Picot Agreement in order to justify fresh negotiations over the allocation of the territories of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Palestine.[32]

George Curzon said the Great Powers were still committed to the Règlement Organique agreement, which concerned governance and non-intervention in the affairs of the Maronite, Orthodox Christian, Druze, and Muslim communities, regarding the Beirut Vilayet of June 1861 and September 1864, and added that the rights granted to France in what is today modern Syria and parts of Turkey under Sykes–Picot were incompatible with that agreement.[33]

At the French embassy in London on Sunday December 1, David Lloyd George and Clemenceau had a private meeting where the latter surrendered French rights to Mosul and to Palestine that had been given by the Sykes–Picot Agreement. There are conflicting views as to whether or not France received anything in exchange. Although Lloyd George and others have suggested that nothing was given in return, according to Rutledge and others, Lloyd George promised at least one or even all of, support for French claims on the Ruhr, that when oil production in Mosul began, France would receive a share and that Sykes–Picot obligation would be maintained as regards Syria.

Paris Peace Conference (1919–20)

Zones of French (blue), British (red) and Russian (green) influence and control established by the Sykes–Picot Agreement. At a Downing Street meeting of 16 December 1915 Sykes had declared "I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk."[34]
Zones of French (blue), British (red) and Russian (green) influence and control established by the Sykes–Picot Agreement. At a Downing Street meeting of 16 December 1915 Sykes had declared "I should like to draw a line from the e in Acre to the last k in Kirkuk."[34]
Sykes-Picot Division[35]
Sykes-Picot Division[35]
David Lloyd George in 1915
David Lloyd George in 1915
Emir Faisal in 1920
Emir Faisal in 1920
Georges Clemenceau
Georges Clemenceau

The Eastern Committee met nine times in November and December to draft a set of resolutions on British policy for the benefit of the negotiators.[36] On 21 October, the War Cabinet asked Smuts to prepare the peace brief in summary form and he asked Erle Richards to carry out this task resulting in a "P-memo" for use by the Peace Conference delegates.[37][38] The conclusions of the Eastern Committee at page 4 of the P-memo included as objectives the cancellation of Sykes–Picot and supporting the Arabs in their claim to a state with capital at Damascus (in line with the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence).[39]

At the Peace Conference, which officially opened on 18 January, The Big Four (initially, a "Council of Ten" comprising two delegates each from Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Japan) agreed, on 30 January, the outlines of a Mandate system (including three levels of Mandate) later to become Article 22 of the League Covenant. The Big Four would later decide which communities, under what conditions and which Mandatory.

Minutes taken during a meeting of The Big Four held in Paris on March 20, 1919 and attended by Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando as well as Lloyd George and Lord Balfour,[40] explained the British and French points of view concerning the agreement. It was the first topic brought up during the discussion of Syria and Turkey, and formed the focus of all discussions thereafter.

The Anglo-French Declaration was read into the minutes, Pichon commenting that it showed the disinterested position of both governments in regard to the Arabs and Lloyd George that it was "more important than all the old agreements".[41] Pichon went on to mention a scheme of agreement of 15 February based on the private agreement reached between Clemenceau and Lloyd George the previous December. (According to Lieshout, just before Faisal made his presentation to the conference on the 6th, Clemenceau handed Lloyd George a proposal which appears to cover the same subject matter; Lieshout having accessed related British materials dated the 6th whereas the date in the minutes is unsourced.[19]:340 et seq)

In the subsequent discussions, France staked its claim to Syria (and its mandate) while the British sought to carve out the Arab areas of zones A and B arguing that France had implicitly accepted such an arrangement even though it was the British that had entered into the arrangement with the Arabs.[42]

Wilson intervened and stressed the principle of consent of the governed whether it be Syria or Mesopotamia, that he thought the issues involved the peace of the world and were not necessarily just a matter between France and Britain. He suggested that an Inter-Allied Commission be formed and sent out to find out the wishes of local inhabitants in the region. The discussion concluded with Wilson agreeing to draft a Terms of Reference to the Commission.[43]

On 21 April, Faisal left for the East. Before he left, on 17 April Clemenceau sent a draft letter, in which the French government declared that they recognized "the right of Syria to independence in the form of a federation of autonomous governments in agreement with the traditions and wishes of the populations", and claimed that Faisal had recognized "that France is the Power qualified to render Syria the assistance of various advisors necessary to introduce order and realise the progress demanded by the Syrian populations" and on 20 April, Faisal assured Clemenceau that he had been "Deeply impressed by the disinterested friendliness of your statements to me while I was in Paris, and must thank you for having been the first to suggest the dispatch of the inter-allied Commission, which is to leave shortly for the East to ascertain the wishes of the local peoples as to the future organisation of their country. I am sure that the people of Syria will know how to show you their gratitude."[19]:353

Meanwhile, as of late May, the standoff between the French and the British as to disposition of forces continued, the French continued to press for a replacement of British by French troops in Syria amid arguments about precise geographical limits of same and in general the relationship suffered; after the meeting on the 21st, Lloyd George had written to Clemenceau and cancelled the Long–Bérenger Oil Agreement (a revised version of which had been agreed at the end of April) claiming to have known nothing about it and not wanting it to become an issue while Clemenceau claimed that had not been the subject of any argument.[44][45]

In June 1919, the American King–Crane Commission arrived in Syria to inquire into local public opinion about the future of the country. After many vicissitudes, "mired in confusion and intrigue",[46]"Lloyd George had second thoughts...",[19]:352 the French and British had declined to participate.[47]

The Syrian National Congress had been convened in May 1919 to consider the future of Greater Syria and to present Arab views contained in a July 2 resolution[48] to the King-Crane Commission.

The Peace treaty with Germany was signed on 28 June and with the departure of Wilson and Lloyd George from Paris, the result was that the Turkey/Syria question was effectively placed on hold.[49]

On 15 September, the British handed out an Aide Memoire (which had been discussed privately two days before between Lloyd George and Clemenceau [19]:374 ) whereby the British would withdraw their troops to Palestine and Mesopotamia and hand over Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo to Faisal's forces. While accepting the withdrawal, Clemenceau continued to insist on the Sykes–Picot agreement as being the basis for all discussions.[50]

On 18 September, Faisal arrived in London and the next day and on the 23rd had lengthy meetings with Lloyd George who explained the Aide Memoire and British position. Lloyd George explained that he was "in the position of a man who had inherited two sets of engagements, those to King Hussein and those to the French", Faisal noting that the arrangement "seemed to be based on the 1916 agreement between the British and the French". Clemenceau, replying in respect of the Aide Memoire, refused to move on Syria and said that the matter should be left for the French to handle directly with Faisal.

Faisal arrived Paris on 20 October and eventually on 6 January 1920 Faisal accepted a French mandate "for the whole of Syria", while France in return consented "to the formation of an Arab state that included Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, and was to be administered by the Emir with the assistance of French advisers" (acknowledged "the right of Syrians to unite to govern themselves as an independent nation".[51]). In the meantime, British forces withdrew from Damascus on 26 November.

Faisal returned to Damascus on 16 January and Millerand took over from Clemenceau on the 20th. A Syrian National Congress meeting in Damascus declared an independent state of Syria on the 8th of March 1920. The new state intended to include portions of Syria, Palestine, and northern Mesopotamia. Faisal was declared the head of State. At the same time Prince Zeid, Faisal's brother, was declared Regent of Mesopotamia.

In April 1920, the San Remo conference handed out Class A mandates over Syria to France, and Iraq and Palestine to Britain. The same conference ratified an oil agreement reached at a London conference on 12 February, based on a slightly different version of the Long Berenger agreement previously initialled in London on 21 December.

France had decided to govern Syria directly, and took action to enforce the French Mandate of Syria before the terms had been accepted by the Council of the League of Nations. The French issued an ultimatum and intervened militarily at the Battle of Maysalun in June 1920. They deposed the indigenous Arab government, and removed King Faisal from Damascus in August 1920. Great Britain also appointed a High Commissioner and established their own mandatory regime in Palestine, without first obtaining approval from the Council of the League of Nations, or obtaining the formal cession of the territory from the former sovereign, Turkey.

Iraq and the Persian Gulf

In November 1914, the British had occupied Basra. According to the report of the de Bunsen Committee, British interests in Mesopotamia were defined by the need to protect the western flank of India and protect commercial interests including oil. The British also became concerned about the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. Although never ratified, the British had also initialled the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913.

As part of the Mesopotamian Campaign, on 11 March 1917, the British entered Baghdad, the Armistice of Mudros was signed on 30 October 1918 although the British continued their advance, entering Mosul on the 14 November.

Following the award of the British Mandate of Mesopotamia at San Remo, the British were faced with an Iraqi revolt against the British from July through February 1921 as well as a Kurdish revolt in Northern Iraq. Following the Cairo conference it was decided that Faisal should be installed as ruler in Mandatory Iraq.

The Kurds and Assyrians

An ethnographic map of Eastern Turkey after WW1[52]
An ethnographic map of Eastern Turkey after WW1[52]

As originally cast, Sykes-Picot allocated part of Northern Kurdistan and a substantial part of the Mosul vilayet including the city of Mosul to France in area B, Russia obtained Bitlis and Van in Northern Kurdistan (the contemplated Arab State included Kurds in its Eastern limit split between A and B areas). Bowman says there were around 2.5 million Kurds in Turkey, mainly in the mountain region called Kurdistan.[52]

Partitioning of Ottoman Turkey according to the aborted Treaty of Sèvres
Partitioning of Ottoman Turkey according to the aborted Treaty of Sèvres

Sharif Pasha presented a "Memorandum on the Claims of the Kurd People" to the Paris peace Conference in 1919 and the suppressed report of the King–Crane Commission also recommended a form of autonomy in "the natural geographical area which lies between the proposed Armenia on the north and Mesopotamia on the south, with the divide between the Euphrates and the Tigris as the western boundary, and the Persian frontier as the eastern boundary".

The Russians gave up territorial claims following the Bolshevik revolution and at the San Remo conference, the French were awarded the French Mandate of Syria and the English the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. The subsequent Treaty of Sèvres potentially provided for a Kurdish territory subject to a referendum and League of Nations sanction within a year of the treaty. However the Turkish War of Independence led to the treaty being superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne in which there was no provision for a Kurdish State.

The end result was that the Kurds, along with their Assyrian neighbors, were included in the territories of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Conflicting promises and consequences

Many sources contend that Sykes-Picot conflicted with the Hussein–McMahon Correspondence of 1915–1916 and that the publication of the agreement in November 1917 caused the resignation of Sir Henry McMahon.[53] There were several points of difference, the most obvious being Iraq placed in the British red area and less obviously, the idea that British and French advisors would be in control of the area designated as being for an Arab State. Lastly, while the correspondence made no mention of Palestine, Haifa and Acre were to be British and the brown area (a reduced Palestine) internationalised.[54]

Leading up to the centenary of Sykes-Picot in 2016, great interest was generated among the media[55] and academia[56] concerning the long-term effects of the agreement. The agreement is frequently cited as having created "artificial" borders in the Middle East, "without any regard to ethnic or sectarian characteristics, [which] has resulted in endless conflict."[57] The extent to which Sykes-Picot actually shaped the borders of the modern Middle East is disputed.[58][59]

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claims one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse the effects of the Sykes–Picot Agreement.[60][61][62] "This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders," a jihadist from the ISIL warned in a video titled End of Sykes-Picot.[60] ISIL's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a July 2014 speech at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, vowed that "this blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy".[63] [64] Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin presented a similar geopolitical analysis in an editorial contribution for the French newspaper Le Monde.[65]


  1. ^ In 12 January 1916, a memorandum commenting on a draft of the agreement, William Reginald Hall, British Director of Naval Intelligence criticised the proposed agreement on the basis that "the Jews have a strong material, and a very strong political, interest in the future of the country" and that "in the Brown area the question of Zionism, and also of British control of all Palestine railways, in the interest of Egypt, have to be considered".[18]
  2. ^ Formed from the merger in March of the Middle East Committee (previously the Mesopotamia Administration Committee) with the Foreign Office Committee on Russia and the interdepartmental Persia Committee.


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  27. ^ UK National Archives CAB/24/143, Eastern Report, No. XVIII, May 31, 1917
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  31. ^ Jordan: Living in the Crossfire, Alan George, Zed Books, 2005, ISBN 1-84277-471-9, page 6
  32. ^ See Allenby and General Strategy in the Middle East, 1917–1919, By Matthew Hughes, Taylor and Francis, 1999, ISBN 0-7146-4473-0, 113–118
  33. ^ CAB 27/24, E.C. 41 War Cabinet Eastern Committee Minutes, December 5, 1918
  34. ^ A Line in the Sand. James Barr, Simon and Schuster, 2011, Ch. 1
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  38. ^ Prott, Volker (2016). The Politics of Self-Determination:Remaking Territories and National Identities in Europe, 1917–1923. Oxford University Press. p. 35. ISBN 9780191083549.
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  41. ^ The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919 Archived 2017-08-07 at the Wayback Machine, p. 3
  42. ^ "FRUS: Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919". Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  43. ^ "FRUS: Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919". Archived from the original on 2017-08-07. Retrieved 2017-08-07.
  44. ^ "FRUS: Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919". Archived from the original on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  45. ^ "FRUS: Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: The Council of Four: minutes of meetings March 20 to May 24, 1919". Archived from the original on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  46. ^ Allawi, Ali A. (11 March 2014), Faisal I of Iraq, Yale University Press, p. 213, ISBN 978-0-300-12732-4
  47. ^ "FRUS: Papers relating to the foreign relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: The Council of Four: minutes of meetings May 24 to June 28, 1919". Archived from the original on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
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  53. ^ See CAB 24/271, Cabinet Paper 203(37)
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  55. ^ Such coverage includes Osman, T. (2013) "Why border lines drawn with a ruler in WW1 still rock the Middle East Archived 2018-08-02 at the Wayback Machine"; Wright, R. (2016) "How the curse of Sykes-Picot still haunts the Middle East" Archived 2016-10-19 at the Wayback Machine; and Anderson, S. (2016) "Fractured lands: How the Arab world came apart Archived 2017-03-07 at the Wayback Machine"
  56. ^ See, for example, academic conferences hosted by York St. John University Archived 2016-11-07 at the Wayback Machine, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Archived 2016-11-07 at the Wayback Machine, and symposium by the American Society of International Law Archived 2016-11-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  57. ^ Ibrahim, S.E. "Islam and prospects for democracy in the Middle East" (PDF). Center for Strategic and International Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 14, 2010. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  58. ^ Bali, A. "Sykes-Picot and "Artificial" States". American Journal of International Law. 110 (3).
  59. ^ Pursley, Sara (June 2, 2015). "'Lines Drawn on an Empty Map': Iraq's Borders and the Legend of the Artificial State". Jadaliyya. Arab Studies Institute. Archived from the original on 2016-10-28.
  60. ^ a b Mark Tran; Matthew Weaver (2014-06-30). "Isis announces Islamic caliphate in area straddling Iraq and Syria". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2014-07-01. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  61. ^ "Watch this English-speaking ISIS fighter explain how a 98-year-old colonial map created today's conflict". LA Daily News. 2014-02-07. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-07-03.
  62. ^ David L. Phillips. "Extremists in Iraq need a history lesson". CNBC. Archived from the original on 2015-03-22. Retrieved 2017-09-15.
  63. ^ Wright, Robin (April 30, 2016). "How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2017-11-12. Retrieved 2017-11-05.
  64. ^ "First Appearance of ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi". 17 November 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  65. ^ Dominique de Villepin (2014-08-09). "Ne laissons pas le Moyen-Orient à la barbarie !". Le (in French). Le Monde. Archived from the original on 2014-08-10. Retrieved August 10, 2014.

See also

Further reading

  • Anghie, Antony T. "Introduction to Symposium on the Many Lives and Legacies of Sykes-Picot." American Journal of International Law 110 (2016): 105–108.
  • Dodge, Toby. "The Danger of Analogical Myths: Explaining the Power and Consequences of the Sykes-Picot Delusion." American Journal of International Law 110 (2016): 132–136.
  • Donaldson, Megan. "Textual Settlements: The Sykes–Picot Agreement and Secret Treaty-Making." American Journal of International Law 110 (2016): 127–131.
  • James Barr (2012). A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-84739-457-6.
  • Fitzgerald, Edward Peter. "France's Middle Eastern ambitions, the Sykes-Picot negotiations, and the oil fields of Mosul, 1915–1918." Journal of Modern History 66.4 (1994): 697–725.
  • Friedman, Isaiah (1992). The Question of Palestine. Transaction Publishers. pp. 97–118. ISBN 978-0-88738-214-7.
  • Fromkin, David. A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (1991)
  • Gil‐Har, Yitzhak. "Boundaries delimitation: Palestine and Trans‐Jordan." Middle Eastern Studies 36.1 (2000): 68-81. excerpt
  • Kedourie, Elie. England and the Middle East: the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, 1914–1921 (1978).
  • Kitching, Paula. "The Sykes-Picot agreement and lines in the sand." Historian 128 (2015): 18-22.
  • Ottaway, Marina. "Learning from Sykes-Picot." (WWIC Middle East Program Occasional Paper Series, 2015). online
  • Erik Jan Zürcher (2004). Turkey: A Modern History. I.B.Tauris. pp. 143–145. ISBN 978-1-86064-958-5.

External links

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