Sykes-Picot And The Last Crusade
November 3o, 2017
-The Sykes-Picot Agreement saw France finally come to agreement with Britain’s plan to create an Arab confederation. Britain was given economic priority in the south and France economic priority in the north. Britain took the ports of Haifa and Acre in Palestine. Mosul and Damascus fell into the French sphere. Basra and Baghdad were to go with Britain. Russia was to be given Constantinople, the Dardanelles Straits and Armenia.
-Britain’s sphere of influence also included the coastal strip from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. France was given control of south-eastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and the northern part of Iraq. Palestine was to be under international administration.
-The First World War was a close run thing. Either the Western Powers or the Central powers could have won. Germany was a terrifying opponent, taking on all the Great Powers of the world and coming very close to winning the war in 1917.
-Sykes-Picot may not have decided the final map of the post-Ottoman Middle East. It was, however, good for sustaining the Anglo-French Alliance, which was not having a particularly good war during the dark days of 1916. The Sykes-Picot Agreement did much to keep the French fighting in the war by satisfying their aspirations in the Middle East; both Syria and Palestine had been important, strategically and spiritually, to French people since the days of the Crusades.
-Without this new partnership with France, the British Empire would not have been able to liberate Jerusalem from six hundred years of Muslim occupation.
Sykes-Picot And The Last Crusade
By David Semple
In David Lean’s Lawrence Of Arabia, there is a scene in the film where General Allenby is confronted by Sharif Faisal, son of Hashemite King Hussein of the Hijaz, about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, which set out the post-war spheres of influence of the Western powers for the territories controlled by the Ottoman Empire, with whom Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the Hashemites were all at war.
Faisal: “Well General, I will leave you. Major Lawrence doubtless has reports to make. About my people, and their weakness, and the need to keep them in the British interest. And the French interest too, of course. We must not forget the French now.”
Allenby: “I told you sir, no such treaty exists.”
Faisal: “Yes General, you have lied most bravely, but not convincingly. I know this treaty does exist.”
Lawrence: “Treaty sir?”
Faisal: “He does it better than you, General. But then, of course, he’s almost an Arab.”
Faisal walks out.
Dryden (a British civil servant) : “You really don’t know?”
Allenby: “Then what the devil’s this?”
Lawrence: “It’s my request for release from Arabia, sir.”
Allenby: “For what reason? Are you sure you haven’t heard of the Sykes-Picot Treaty?”
Lawrence: ” No. I can guess.”
Allenby: “Don’t guess. Tell him.
Dryden: “Well now, Mr Sykes is an English civil servant. Mr Picot is a French civil servant. Mr Sykes and Mr Picot met and they agreed, that after the war, France and England would share the Turkish Empire, including Arabia. They signed an agreement, not a treaty sir. An agreement to that effect.”
Lawrence: “There may be honour among thieves, but there’s none in politicians.”
Dryden: “And lets have no displays of indignation. You may not have known, but you certainly had suspicions. If we’ve told lies you’ve told half lies. And a man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half lies has forgotten where he put it.”
This one scene from a massive box office hit, one of the most famous and successful films ever made, propagated the myth of the Sykes-Picot betrayal to the wider general public around the world. Most people today think that the Sykes-Picot Agreement broke British promises made to the Arabs. Lawrence of Arabia reinforced the Arab myth of Western duplicity, even though most Arabs supported the Ottomans against Great Britain and France.
Like the Palestinian Arabs, who fully supported the Kaiser’s Germany in World War 1 and Nazi Germany in World War 2, the Arab Muslims love to store up grievances and myths of betrayal, even though the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed precisely to bring the French on side in supporting Britain’s new policy of establishing independent Arab states in the region after the defeat of the Ottomans.
These same independent Arab states were established after the war, starting with the formation of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1923, under the rule of the very same Sharif Faisal pictured in Lawrence of Arabia.
The Sykes-Picot scene in Lawrence of Arabia was set in Jerusalem after the liberation of the Holy City by General Allenby. Allenby mentions “the big push” towards Damascus to Lawrence, but the big push didn’t commence until the spring of 1918. After several setbacks, including the battle of Amman, the big push didn’t really get going until the autumn of 1918. The Dryden character in the film was actually based on Sykes himself, making the dialogue in the film above somewhat ludicrous.
First, let’s set the record straight. Robert Bolt, the screen writer of Lawrence of Arabia, got most things right, dramatically, but played loose with historical facts. Sir Mark Sykes was a British politician and junior Foreign Office minister, not a civil servant.
The Muslim Turks brought the war on themselves when they declared “jihad” against Britain and France in November 1914. The German-Ottoman strategy was very ambitious; to bring about Muslim revolts against the British and French empires. Germany’s primary war aim was to defeat Russia. The Ottoman Empire’s primary war aims were to drive the British out of Egypt and take back their former possessions in the Balkans. In the end, Britain supported a Hashemite Arab revolt against the fascist Young Turk regime in Constantinople, who wanted to “Turkify” Arabia and Syria.
Sir Mark Sykes
The Asia Minor Agreement was signed by Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Picot on May 16th 1916. Sharif Faisal and King Hussain actually knew about it one year before the Sykes-Picot scene in Lawrence of Arabia. “On 2nd May, I saw Sharif Faisal at Wejh and explained to him the principle of the Anglo-French agreement in regard to an Arab confederation; after much argument he accepted the principle and seemed satisfied.” Sir Mark Sykes wrote these words in a report to Reginald Wingate on the evening of May 5th, 1917. “Please tell Monsieur Picot that I am satisfied with my interview with Faisal and the King (Hussein) as they both now stand at the same point as was reached at our last meeting with the three Syrian delegates in Cairo.”
This was before the Arab capture of Aqaba in July 1917 and before Allenby’s conquest of Jerusalem in December 1917. Lawrence actually knew the full details of Sykes-Picot as early as the spring of 1916. He kept this secret from the Hashemites for over one year. Faisal and Lawrence were as guilty as anyone in not disclosing the terms of the Sykes-Picot Agreement to the wider Arab world. It was finally published by the Russian communist government in November 1917.
By then, the Arab Revolt, although limited in numbers and scope, was finally becoming useful to the British war effort in the Middle East. This revolt never amounted to much. The British campaign in Palestine and Syria was not a side show. The Arab Revolt was a sideshow. A sideshow designed to show the Muslims in the British Empire that they had the support of Muslim allies in the region against the Ottoman Caliphate. The British paid the Arabs gold in order to keep them on side. Yet this strategy almost failed. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Hashemites tried to cut a deal with the Ottoman Empire and switch sides. Fortunately for both the Hashemites and the British, the Ottomans rejected the terms proposed by King Hussain.
The British also conducted negotiations with the Ottomans in order to get them to change sides in the war, offering them the right to retain the very same territories promised to the Hashemites.
This happened during the later stages of the war, when the Western Front was not going well for the Allies. After the German offensive in 1918 failed, the British finally improved their military efficiency and conducted a successful offensive against the Germans. The Western offensive brought the Second Reich to the verge of collapse. In the end, the war was won on the Western Front, when Germany sued for an armistice following a revolution in Berlin; an armistice based on the principles set out in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
The First World War was a close run thing. Either the Western Powers or the Central powers could have won. Germany was a terrifying opponent, taking on all the Great Powers of the world and coming very close to winning the war in 1917. Germany failed precisely because it was a European continental empire conducting a war against much larger empires with immense overseas territories. Despite Britain’s Middle Eastern victories against the Ottoman Empire, the formidable Turkish military machine was still capable of conducting wars against Russian territories in Southwest Asia until the end of the war.
Sir Mark Sykes was one of the architects of the new Middle East that emerged out of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. An aristocratic amateur of the type that was common in Britain during the late 19th Century, Sykes embraced the seemingly contradictory causes of Arab nationalism in the Middle East, Armenian nationalism in Turkey and Jewish nationalism in Palestine. Arab nationalism was manufactured out of thin air by the Hashemites, who cynically wanted to replace the Ottoman Caliphates with their own empire rather than truly liberate the subject peoples of the Arab world. They later lost the Kingdom of the Hijaz to Ibn Saud, whose primacy in Arabia was supported by the British India Office.
The Hashemites of Mecca became the new imperialist rulers of the Middle East, minus Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, thanks to the support they received from TE Lawrence. This Sharifian solution suited the Lloyd George Government, which was competing with the French for influence in the Middle East. The French wanted to rule their empire in the Middle East directly, whereas the British wanted to control the region through their Arab client states.
The wartime correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Cairo, and Sharif Hussein, King of the Hijaz, set out the basic agreement between the Hashemites and the British Government regarding which territories Hussein would acquire in return for launching a revolt against the Turks. Palestine, which included the vilayet of Beirut and the independent sanjak of Jerusalem, was excluded from the Arab sphere of influence. Palestine was to become the Jewish homeland later set out in the Balfour Declaration.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement saw France finally come to agreement with Britain’s plan to create an Arab confederation. Britain was given economic priority in the south and France economic priority in the north. Britain took the ports of Haifa and Acre in Palestine. Mosul and Damascus fell into the French sphere. Basra and Baghdad were to go with Britain. Russia was to be given Constantinople, the Dardanelles Straits and Armenia. Sir Mark Sykes wanted the Ottoman Empire to be wiped off the map. Britain’s sphere of influence also included the coastal strip from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan. France was given control of south-eastern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and the northern part of Iraq. Palestine was to be under international administration, but that changed after David Lloyd George became Prime Minister in December 1916. Once he set General Allenby with the task of conquering “Jerusalem by Christmas”, Lloyd George had his heart on establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, with close ties to Britain. Two years before President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, Sykes-Picot became the first ever recognition of the Arab right to self-determination by the Great Powers.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement, however, did not decide the borders of the Arabian peninsula, for the agreement was abandoned by Lloyd George immediately after the war. Nor did it decide the future of Asia Minor, which was meant to be divided between Russia, Italy and France. Russia, however, dropped out of the war in November 1917, following the Bolshevik Revolution.
700 years after Richard I, England finally enters Jerusalem 1917
Kemal Ataturk decided the future of Anatolia by driving the Greeks out of Asia Minor and creating the new secular modern state of Turkey in 1924, with the consent of Britain and France. Sykes-Picot, however, did set the stage for forty years of British-French hegemony in the region. After President Wilson’s Fourteen Points became the lynchpin upon which the post-war world was built, the war came to an early conclusion. Wilson’s charter of freedom called for the victorious powers to respect the right of subject peoples in the former Ottoman Empire to rule themselves.
League of Nations mandates were set up for those territories where the political and economic infrastructure for self-determination was not yet in place. The Mandatory powers had to supervise any reforms that were necessary before independence could be granted to countries of the Middle East. The United States was set to take responsibility for these Mandates. Britain and France, the liberators of the Ottoman subjects, were happy to hand these powers over to the Americans, especially in Palestine, where they thought the large Jewish population of the United States would strongly support the implementation of the Zionist terms of the Balfour Declaration. America, however, declined to take up their responsibility for the Mandates.
Thus, at the San Remo Conference in 1920, the Mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia were assigned to Britain, and those for Syria and Lebanon were assigned to France. Sykes-Picot had already been abandoned, but the spirit of Sykes-Picot continued to live on. Sherif Faisal set up an administration to rule Syria almost immediately. Then he was booted out by the French. During his brief rule in Syria, the Arabs of Jerusalem rose up in revolt against the British policies set out in the Balfour Declaration. They conducted a pogrom in Jerusalem with the cooperation of British officers who were not in favour of a creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The British military government of Palestine was replaced a few months later by direct rule under the British High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samuel.
Faced with the problem of Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine and an unsuccessful Arab revolt in Mesopotamia, Lloyd George appointed Winston Churchill as Colonial Secretary in 1921, with instructions to reduce the British military commitment in the Middle East and set in motion the Zionist terms of the British Mandate for Palestine.
After appointing TE Lawrence and Gertrude Bell as advisors, Winston Churchill brought into place the Sharifian solution envisioned in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence of 1915. Mesopotamia and Mosul were merged into the Kingdom of Iraq, ruled by Sharif Faisal, just one year after his forced eviction from Damascus by the French.
Winston Churchill, TE Lawrence and Emir Abdullah, 1921
His brother Abdullah had crossed the Jordan River and threatened to conduct raids against Syria. Churchill drew a line in the map, this time along the River Jordan, and sliced Palestine into two Mandates, offering the area east of the Jordan, which was over 75% of the territory offered to the Zionists in the Balfour Declaration, to Sharif Abdullah on condition that he agreed to give up any claims he had on both Syria and the rest of Palestine, west of the Jordan, what is today Israel. Thus, Abdullah took over the Mandate of Trans-Jordan, the first Arab Palestinian state. Chaim Weizmann and his colleagues in the Zionist Organization were not too happy with this solution, but they accepted it. Unfortunately, although Abdullah and Faisal accepted a Jewish homeland in Palestine which might be the home to up to five million people, the leader of the Arabs in Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, led his people in violent revolts against both the British Administration and the Jewish Agency in Palestine for next thirty years.
Britain kept its promises to the Hashemites. David Lloyd George never made any promises to the Arabs of Western Palestine, knowing full well that they had supported the Ottoman Empire during the war.
Unfortunately, subsequent British governments went back on the terms of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate which was approved by the League of Nations in 1922, was almost fully abandoning it in 1939 on the eve of the Holocaust.
Sykes-Picot was never implemented after the war. The famous line in the sand remained a fantasy line. The French lost their share of Palestine. Yet they governed Syria and Lebanon more successfully than the independent Arab regimes that came after the Second World War, protecting the rights of minorities who today are being wiped out by Muslim fundamentalists.
The Hashemites got their desert kingdoms, nurtured and protected by the British Empire. Unfortunately, Iraq fell to extremists following the collapse of British power in the Middle East after the Suez War of 1956. Today, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, although very poor, is the only stable Arab country in the region. The Italians and Greeks lost out in Anatolia, supplanted by the Turkish Kemalist state in 1924.
The Zionists went on the create the only stable democracy in the Middle East, a success story which has far exceeded the expectations that Balfour, Lloyd George and Churchill held for the Jewish State. The Palestinian Arabs, unfortunately, are still living in the past, trying to restore a Muslim Caliphate which will never fit in with the modern world. Unless they destroy the modern world.
Sykes-Picot may not have decided the final map of the post-Ottoman Middle East. It was, however, good for sustaining the Anglo-French Alliance, which was not having a particularly good war during the dark days of 1916. The Sykes-Picot Agreement did much to keep the French fighting in the war by satisfying their aspirations in the Middle East. Both Syria and Palestine had been important, strategically and spiritually, to French people since the days of the Crusades. Allies for the first time since the Crimean War, Sykes-Picot was indispensable in binding and maintaining the uncertain wartime partnership between Britain and France. Rivals, sometimes outright enemies, for almost a thousand years, France and England had spent several centuries fighting each other in wars for the domination of the world. Now they had come together to stop Germany’s powerful, almost overwhelming, bid for European hegemony.
Without this new partnership with France, the British Empire would not have been able to liberate Jerusalem from six hundred years of Muslim occupation. Sykes-Picot made possible the destruction of the Muslim Caliphate and the final Western victory in what turned out to be the last crusade.