The map of the Middle East is undergoing dramatic change as the old order that has existed since the infamous Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, that arbitrarily divided the region steadily disintegrates, triggered in large part by the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now, the Syrian bloodbath is accelerating this historic process.
In this month’s edition of The Middle East magazine, Ed Blanche examines some possible future.
Sykes- Picot: the great betrayal which started it all
The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding drawn up in May 1916, at the height of world war 1, between two British and french diplomats, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot, that with the tacit assent of Tsarist Russia dismembered the Ottoman Empire between the two western allies.
Under that agreement, after Turkey was defeated, Britain would have control of Palestine, plus an area between Palestine and Saudi Arabia named Transjordan – modern Jordan – and southern Iraq.
France got Syria, Lebanon and Turkish Cilicia. Northern Syria and Mesopotamia were also considered to be a region of french influence, while Arabia and the Jordan Valley were considered to be within the British sphere of influence. Jerusalem was to be governed by an international administration.
This agreement was concluded with the full knowledge that they unilaterally abrogated British pledges to the Hashemite leader, Sharif Hussein of Mecca, that he would be given independence across a wide swathe of the Middle East in return for heading the British-backed Arab revolt in the Hejaz against Turkish occupation. In 1915, henry McMahon, the British high Commissioner in Egypt, secured Hashemite support for the war against the Turks, a commitment later buttressed by Colonel T.E. lawrence, who was a pre-eminent leader of the Arab Revolt.
Sykes-Picot, which was a far wider realpolitik strategic agreement that reshaped the entire Middle East, betrayed both those commitments. That betrayal was deepened in November 1917, a month before British gen. Edmund Allenby led his forces into Damascus to effectively end the war against Turkey.
It was then that lord Balfour, formally recognised the Zionist organisation’s plan for “a National home for the Jews”, which turned out to be in British-administered Palestine. That consequences of that commitment has been perpetual war in the Middle East for the last six decades. for the Hashemites, the duplicity of Sykes-Picot was only partly assuaged by the British setting up kingdoms for them in Transjordan and Syria. Faisal, the Hashemite prince installed in Damascus by a disillusioned Lawrence, was swiftly booted out by the indignant French, leaving the British to establish him as King of Iraq in Baghdad.
“with the Islamic Awakening and Arab Spring toppling regimes, the natural map of the Middle East seems to be asserting itself,” observed Patrick J. Buchanan.