100 years ago, on 16 May 1916, Britain and France signed a secret agreement carving up the Ottoman Empire. Named after its creators, Mark Sykes (MP for Hull Central and attached to the Directorate of Military Operations) and FranÃ§ois Georges-Picot (a French diplomat), the Sykes-Picot Agreement was never popular; it is still perceived today as a tangible manifestation of Anglo-French imperialist perfidy and the source of all troubles in the Middle East.
Anticipating the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and anxious to secure their foothold in the region, Britain and France started negotiating in 1915 to divide it up between themselves, â€˜on the hypothesis that France and Britain [were] desirous of assisting in the creation of an Arab State or Confederation of Arab States.â€™
The first meeting, held on 23 November to â€˜examine French and British desiderata in the Asiatic dominions of Turkeyâ€™ (CAB 42/11/9), wasnâ€™t overwhelmingly positive. Picot, it seems, wasnâ€™t very popular; â€˜M. Picot is well known as being very extreme in his ideas,â€™ Clayton, the Director of British Military Intelligence in Cairo, wrote a few weeks after the meeting, â€˜and completely saturated with the vision of a great French possession in the Eastern Mediterraneanâ€™ (FO 141/734/1).
Picot was admittedly rather uncompromising. Informed of ongoing negotiations between the High Commissioner in Egypt and the Sharif of Mecca about Arab nationalist aspirations, the French diplomat explained that France would â€˜never consent to offer independence to the Arabsâ€™, that Syria was â€˜very near the heart of the Frenchâ€™ and that he had very little faith in the Arab nationalist movement Britain was trying to trigger. He also demanded the whole of Syria and Palestine for France. The negotiations, unsurprisingly, reached a deadlock at this point and Picot went back to Paris to lay the matter before his government. Continue reading »