Explain how the Sykes-Picot agreement is linked to the present day chaos in Middle East.

Sykes-Picot agreement:

  • Sykes and Picot are two diplomats belonging to Britain and France respectively.
  • In the middle of world war 1, while the Triple Entente(Britain, France and Russia) were fighting against Ottoman Empire which was an ally of Germany, these two people began discussing secret agreements about how to carve up the Arab lands(Middle East) between Britain and France after the defeat of the Ottomans.

  • It is officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement
  • The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence
  • France was allocated Syria and Lebanon, while Britain would control what is now Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and most of Iraq.
  • It was agreed that Palestine would be governed by an  “international administration”
  • The agreement is sometimes referred to as “Line in the sand”

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What is the problem:

  • The British promised the Arabs during the war that if they rebel against the Ottoman empire and ally with the British, they would support a national Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria. But in secret they were betraying the Arabs by carving up middle east.
  • US did not support the agreement as it was done through secret diplomacy and as the agreement was viewed as neo-colonialism. Woodrow Wilson’s(then president of US) 14 point agreement(includes provision for local populations determining their own political future) was rejected by Britain and France during the Versailles peace conference and so their agreement survived which led to the creation of artificial boundaries in middle east like the modern borders between Syria and Iraq
lawrence-of-arabia-006
A scene from the movie Lawrence of Arabia, based on the life of T. E. Lawrence who convinced Arabs to fight for British

Present problems:

  • ISIS claims one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse the effects of the Sykes–Picot Agreement.
  • As nation-states were artificially created, there is no strong national identity especially in Iraq. People’s religious identity over rides their national identity which is one of the reasons for prolonged sectarian strife in almost all midlle eastern countries.
  • The establishment in Palestine of a national home(Israel) for the Jewish people was also discussed during the agreement. This understanding was arrived at without consulting the Arabs which is also a chief reason for the present tensions between Israel and other middle east members.
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