The Sykes-Picot Agreement
The 16th of May 1916 AD
The British at the time of WWI liked to refer to the conflict as The Great War for Civilisation. It was, however, not civilisation but markets, spheres of influence, and empires that were being fought over. Arguments that democracy opposed autocracy ignored Russia as a key ally of Britain and France. The Sykes-Picot Agreement signed on May 16 1916 is one of the clearest examples of how the allies expected to gain territorially when the slaughter ended.
Faced with the likely prospect of the fall of the Ottoman regime after the war Britain and France began negotiations in London in mid-1915 on a division of Middle Eastern territory, though these faltered. Subsequent talks between Sir Mark Sykes, an expert of sorts on Turkey and its territories, and French Diplomat Francois Georges-Picot, fared better. The agreement they signed on May 16 1916 assigned Britain what is now Jordan, Southern Iraq including Kuwait, and the Acre-Haifa Bay area (thus a Mediterranean port). France would have Syria’s coastal strip, the northern part of Iraq, the Lebanon, and an area of Southern Turkey. Russia was to get Constantinople and the Bosphorus, and some Armenian lands.
The double-dealing of the (at first clandestine) agreement, when the Arabs were being promised greater autonomy by T.E. Lawrence , has not helped British and French diplomats and politicians involved in talks in the region ever since. Its incompatibility with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 further complicated the developing situation. What a tangled web.
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