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What is the Sykes-Picot Agreement?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 was a secret agreement between Great Britain and France regarding the division of territory in the Middle East after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Although Russia did not sign the treaty, they acknowledged and accepted the terms of Sykes-Picot, which allocated to them parts of a defeated empire. Sykes-Picot is named for its negotiators who were French diplomat in Beirut, Francois Georges Picot and senior British diplomat, Sir Mark Sykes. It is important to note that the Sykes-Picot Agreement was independent from and did not account for any mandates from the League of Nations. The territory partitions described in the Sykes-Picot Agreement were later reaffirmed and ratified at the inter – Allied San Remo conference in April of 1920, which further resulted in mandates from the League of Nations in July of 1922.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed on 16 May 1916, partitioned the Ottoman Empire into different zones of control or zones of influence for Great Britain, France, Russia and an Allied Powers or International Zone stretching from Haifa to Gaza. Great Britain was allocated the areas of Mesopotamia (southern Iraq), modern day Jordan, modern day Kuwait, north coast of modern day Saudi Arabia and an area around Haifa which allowed them access to the sea port. France was to control modern day Syria, modern day Lebanon, northern Iraq and Mosul, Armenia and parts of central-southern Turkey.

Russia’s control was extended to Constantinople, the Bosporus Strait, and the majority of the four provinces closest to Caucasian Russia. Some of the British and French areas were under direct control and other areas were just under the influence of Great Britain and France. It is important to know that although Palestine was never specifically mentioned in Sykes-Picot, the document did support an independent Arab state. The area of Palestine was under Allied or international control at this time.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Russia was denied their partition of Ottoman territory because it fell on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin, who was the new leader of Russia, released a copy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement which ended up being printed in the Manchester Guardian on November 26, 1917. The public disclosure of the secret Sykes-Picot was a cause of great embarrassment for Britain and France.

When Arabs in the Middle East learned of Sykes-Picot, they began distrusting the West. Sykes-Picot is commonly referred to as a turning point in relations between Arabs and the West. Because it didn’t specifically call for the creation of an independent Arab state, many Arabs feel that they had been mislead by other treaties and promises made to them.

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