1916 – Sykes-Picot Agreement

The French and the British Make a Secret Agreement Dividing up the Land Promised to the Arabs

The Sykes–Picot Agreement was a 1916 secret treaty between the United Kingdom and France, with assent from the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, to define their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in an eventual partition of the Ottoman Empire.

France and British representative signed the agreement a year after the Hussein-McMahon correspondence in which Britain granted the Arabs a homeland if they entered the war against the Ottoman Empire, and it divided much of the land promised to the Arabs.

The agreement divided the Ottoman Empire outside of the Arabian Peninsula into areas of French and British control, giving the British southern Palestine, Jordan, and Mesopotamia (Iraq), while the French took southeastern Turkey, the Kurdistan Region, Syria and Lebanon.

The Russians were given Western Armenia in addition to Constantinople and the Turkish Straits, and the Italians got southern Anatolia, which includes much of present Turkey.

Sykes-Picot placed the rest of Palestine under a jointly operated International Administration.

Much of what was promised to Italy and some of what was promised to France would become modern day Turkey, the remnant of the Ottoman Empire, and Palestine was significantly redrawn as was Mesopotamia/Iraq.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement’s significance lies not so much in the details of the secret agreements made, but in its very existence, especially considering that the British had promised the same territories to the Arabs just months earlier. That Sykes-Picot was a secret Agreement indicates that the British knew they were reneging on their agreement with the Arabs.

This would be indicative of all British dealings with the Arabs, in particular the Palestinians. Agreements might be made to placate the Arabs, or to entice them into taking some action beneficial to the British, but there was never any intention of honoring these agreements. At the same time as the British were making agreements with the Arabs, they were engaged in length discussions with European Zionists to grant them a homeland on land promised to the Arabs, a homeland they could take possession of once the mandates dividing up the conquered Ottoman territories expired. In the meantime, Zionist immigration into British controlled Palestine would be encouraged, and indigenous Palestinians would be dispossessed of their land.

The Palestinians, who came to be known as the Palestinian Problem, were never consulted on their situation, nor were other Arab leaders emerging in the region and in Egypt and North Africe. Instead, almost all of the discussions regarding the Palestinians following the carving up of the Ottoman Empire would take place between the British and the Zionists, the latter of whom were advocating for an ethnic cleansing of Arabs.

The Russian Empire collapsed in 1917 following the Bolshevik Revolution, leading to the exposure of the Sykes-Picot agreement as the new Bolshevik government published the details, revealing the secret agreement to the world.