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The Sykes-Picot Agreement

This map is part of a series of 18 animated maps showing the history of The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century.

Towards the end of 1915, the French and English governments nominated Georges Picot and Mark Sykes to negotiate “spheres of influence” in the Middle East, taking into account the vague promises made to Sharif Hussein by the English.

Hussein thought that he had successfully obtained agreement for an independent Pan-Arabian State and British technical cooperation for the vilayets of Baghdad and Bassora, while retaining the option of later discussions on France’s interests in the vilayets of Beirut and Aleppo.

Instead the "Sykes-Picot Agreement”, signed in May 1916, identified three zones:

- areas under ‘direct control’, covering the Lebanese coast and Syria, together with Cilicia, for France and Southern Mesopotamia, together with the enclave of Haifa and Acre, for Great Britain.

- an independent area for the Arabs, as promised to Hussein, but remaining partly under French and partly under British supervision.

- finally, Palestine. Both Powers claimed their right to govern this area, but in the end, it was placed under an international administration protected by Russia.

Nevertheless, the English were determined to limit France’s influence in the Middle East. In 1917, they showed Sharif Hussein’s son, Faisal, the general terms of the Agreement and encouraged him to be the first to arrive in Damascus. After Russia withdrew from the war, Great Britain was free to operate alone on the Jordan’s west bank, and London, brandishing the Balfour Declaration, was able to challenge the international administration in Palestine

In March 1920, despite a compromise agreed between Faisal and Clemenceau on the future of Syria and Lebanon, Arab nationalists proclaimed Faisal King of an independent Syria while calling for independence for Iraq. During the San Remo Conference in April that year, France and England countered these moves and agreed to make good their Mandates. France, worried about obtaining guarantees for the Franco-German frontier, agreed to a British Mandate for Palestine and to its extension to the north to give the Jewish homeland access to water supplies and to the east into Mesopotamia as far as Mosul, in exchange for French involvement in the development of petrol reserves. The British also succeeded in obtaining recognition of the principle of “territorial continuity” for their two Mandates for Mesopotamia and Palestine.

The French Mandate covered the Lebanon and Syria, but Turkey managed to win back Cilicia.