Sykes-Picot Agreement: Origins, Impact, and Legacy

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Division of the Middle East between European powers after the Ottoman Empire collapses (1918-1920).

The first country to fight for independence from the OE was Greece (with the help of Britain, France, and Russia who all had interest in Ottoman territory).

[Important for KSA] Hussein Bin Ali (Hashemite dynasty): Sharif of Mecca was asked by the Young Turks to get involved and help them (acknowledging the Jihad). But, he said that he would only do this if they united into one Arab state. Turks didn’t agree and left him. British, on the other side, offered him just what he wanted if he rebelled towards Turkey. He mobilized Arabs to revolt and put his son in charge along with Lawrence of Arabia. This was an important factor in the end of the Ottoman Empire.

In the Paris Peace Conference, King Faisal (son of Hussein) arrived with Lawrence to remind Englishmen of their promise of an Arab state. However, this is where the Sykes-Picot agreement gains relevance. These two diplomats had been secretly discussing ideas to divide Ottoman territories in two. South for Britain, North (Syria) for France. A battle took place to fight for the north (Syria) in which France forces Faisal into exile.

Reasons for the collapse: disputes against European powers and their domination over the Mediterranean. However, they continue to be a threat for Europe inland.

What Happened?

Sykes-Picot 1918 - 1925

One of the areas that was agreed upon after the collapse of the Ottomans was the Levant (area of the Middle East). Two diplomats (one French, the other British) drew up lines on a blank map of how the partition of some of the Middle East could be. However, the lines that were initially drawn look nothing like the ones that were actually established, this is why the agreement is relevant.

(A for France, B for Britain. The Red part for Britain, the blue part for French). A and B would only be parts in which they would have priority of enterprise and loans. These locations never actually came to be established. The legacy of the Sykes-Picot Agreement is not in the map of today’s Middle East: The vast majority of it was never implemented, and the borders that in fact emerged were instead influenced, to varying extents, by local actors and precedents. “Sykes-Picot” might be better understood as a regional colloquialism for the idea that Western powers attempted to shape the future of the region to serve their interests.

There were many aspects that influenced the partition of this area, even the European Union played its role, so did Turkey, Iran, and KSA.


What the French and the British knew for sure is that the former areas of the Ottoman Empire were not ready for self-governance yet. However, they were unsure as to how much each one would get.

Britain would get the Mesopotamia part from Baghdad, through Basra, all the way down to the East coast of the Arab peninsula.

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