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Is Sykes-Picot pact responsible for present Middle East tension?

In its 100th year, Sykes-Picot pact was remembered, not for the brokered peace but for the long term tension that filled every sphere of life in the Middle East. It was actually a pact to satisfy the colonial greed of UK and France and supported by the Tsarist Russia. The pact, named after its British and French authors is widely considered a low point in colonial efforts to manipulate the region to fit the interests of outsiders. It failed to recognize the local division and regional aspirations and so there is local level regional rivalry that has totally engulfed the entire region. The border between Iraq and Syria has become irrelevant.


  • Syria itself is divided among multiple groups.
  • Iraq’s government has no control over at least a fourth of its territory.
  • IS is claiming major part of Syria and Northern Iraq. In fact, IS, calls for an end to the “Sykes-Picot conspiracy”
  • Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region, has demanded freedom from Baghdad.
  • The Syrian Kurdistan region is being run by the Kurds themselves for the first time in several decades.
  • Turkey, which fears that a breakaway Kurdistan would soon claim Turkish territory as well, is under stress to suppress the Kurds.
  • Saudis care less about Syria’s borders. They are more interested in getting rid of Mr. Assad.

Sykes–Picot Agreement

The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement between the UK and French Third Republic, with the assent of the Russian Empire. The agreement defined their proposed sphere of influence in the Asia Minor. The terms were negotiated by the British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot.

Sykes, an aristocratic racehorse breeder and Boer War veteran, died three years after the agreement was reached, killed by the Spanish flu while in Paris during the 1919 peace talks after World War I. Picot, the son of a historian and known for his skills as a lawyer and a diplomat, lived to be 80. He died in 1951, three years after the creation of Israel.

Time line:

  • The negotiation of the treaty occurred between November 1915 and March 1916
  • Was signed on 16 May 1916.
  • The deal was exposed to the public in Izvestia and Pravda on 23 November 1917 and in the British Guardian on November 26, 1917.

Result of Pact:

  • Britain was allocated control of areas roughly comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and River Jordan, Jordan, southern Iraq, and a small area including the ports of Haifa and Acre, to allow access to the Mediterranean.
  • France was allocated control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
  • Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia.
  • The controlling powers were left free to decide on state boundaries within these areas.
  • Further negotiation was expected to determine international administration pending consultations with Russia and other powers, including Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca.
  • An “international administration” was proposed for Palestine.
  • The British gained control of the territory in 1920 and ruled it as Mandatory Palestine from 1923 until 1948. They also ruled Mandatory Iraq from 1920 until 1932, while the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanonlasted from 1923 to 1946.

Why it is termed as British betrayal?

It is termed as British betrayal because UK negotiated with three different parties at the same time, with conflicting promises. These parties and treaties were:

  1. Promised Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria to Colonel T. E. Lawrence
  2. Sykes–Picot agreement with France to divide the region
  3. 1917 Balfour Declaration, a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, stating that: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object …”


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