16/5/1916 The Sykes-Picot Agreement: Britain and France carve up the Middle East

The Allied war against Turkey continues, though progress is mixed. Russian advances in the Caucasus continue, but Britain has just suffered a major reverse in Mesopotamia. Although Turkey remains undefeated, the question of what to do with its empire perplexes the Allies. Before the failed Gallipoli campaign, the Allies agreed that Russia would be given Constantinople while France would be take over Syria. The British now start to think that they want some of the pie and begin negotiations with the French to divide the Middle East.

The negotiations are conducted by Sir Mark Sykes for Britain and François Georges-Picot for France. Their agreement is ratified in secret today. The deal gives France direct control over the Syrian coast and territory stretching further north into Anatolia (coloured blue in the map). The northern Syrian interior and territory stretching as far east as Mosul will be under indirect French control (shown on the map as Area A). Meanwhile the British will have the red coloured territory in Mesopotamia and indirect control over Area B. In deference to Russian concerns, the future arrangement of Palestine remains undecided.

The expectation is that the indirectly controlled territories will be administered by Arab clients. Britain has already been intriguing with Sharif Hussein of Mecca, offering to create an Arab state in Syria to be led by him under British supervision. Sharif Hussein is unaware of the Sykes-Picot agreement but will most likely not be pleased by the expanded Syrian role it offers to the French.

Read the full text of the short agreement here.

image source:

Map of the Sykes-Picot agreement (Wikipedia)

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